China never fails to leave an impression on foreign visitors; they either love it or consider leaving before their itinerary is finished. A trip to two of Jiangxi province's most popular destinations - the bustling city of Nanchang and the picturesque peaks of Lushan - provides two opportunities to find out if you're in the former or latter category. Jiangxi serves as a primer on the history of China's Communist Party. The first glimpse of the province usually comes while flying into Nanchang, seat of the provincial government and the showpiece metropolis for all communist compatriots. It was here, after all, the party began. Communist militias attacked Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist troops in the Nanchang Uprising of August 1, 1927, the first battle of the Chinese civil war. By noon the city was theirs, if only for a while. Twelve years later the two armies, this time side by side, would be routed by the Japanese in the Battle of Nanchang. Because of its history, Nanchang is today a kind of Mecca to which all serious party cadres must make a pilgrimage. Once here, they stand solemnly at the memorials marking the momentous events of the past and have their pictures taken at the historic Tengwang Pavilion, overlooking the Gan River. One of the 'great towers' of China, it was originally erected in AD653 but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. From its ninth storey and on a clear day (so guides claim; there are precious few clear days any more) you can see across the river to Bayi Square, which, at 78,000 square metres, is the second largest public square in China, after Tiananmen. It takes its name from the date of the Nanchang Uprising (ba = eight; yi = one) and is a marvel of one-party town planning. Years ago, locals too poor to afford air-conditioners would spend hot summer nights camped at the square to catch the breeze that blows through the 'canyon' formed by huge government buildings. Today they're more likely to be found in karaoke lounges at the upmarket hotels nearby. Less well-heeled locals still choose to cool off at the musical water fountain - the largest in Asia - that lies between the square and the banks of the Gan. At 8pm on summer nights, huge crowds are entertained by water cannon blasting in time to March of the Volunteers and How Great is our China. Later they might stroll down to the Star of Nanchang, a 160-metre-high Ferris wheel that, when illuminated, is the only star that can be seen in the night sky. Until Singapore's wheel is finished, locals can boast the structure is the tallest Ferris wheel in the world (superlatives are an important source of pride). Its 60 air-conditioned gondolas each carry up to eight passengers, who pay 50 yuan a head for a 30-minute spin. The Star can be seen from Bayi Square - where your hotel will be, unless you choose to chance local un-starred accommodation. In fact, it can be seen from almost everywhere in Nanchang. But be warned: it is much farther away than it looks and walking there from Bayi Square will take up nearly an hour of your evening. Apart from these few diversions, this city of 4 million people is short on appeal and most holidaymakers, failing to fall in love with the place, make their way four hours north to Lushan, the real star attraction of Jiangxi. Though this scenic mountain resort has existed for more than 1,000 years, its modern history dates to the late 1800s, when European and American concessionaires established a base here to escape the summer heat. The stone cottages they built throughout Kuling, as they called the town, still stand and constitute one of the reasons Lushan National Park was, in the mid-1990s, listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Another reason Unesco put Lushan on the list is the fact it was here, in about AD400, that monk Hui Yuan helped root Pure Land Buddhism into Chinese culture, while living at Donglin Temple. The temple still rises among Lushan's peaks and excerpts from Hui Yuan's venerable text, A Monk Does Not Bow Down Before a King, have been inscribed on walls and stone promontories around the area. Which makes it all the more odd Lushan became the site where Mao Zedong seized control of the Communist Party and began a purge of all those deemed to have been overtaken by 'leftist tendencies'. Originally intended to review the developments of the Great Leap Forward, the Lushan conference of the summer of 1959 took an unexpected turn when Mao castigated straight-talking Marshal Peng Dehuai for a letter he'd written criticising aspects of Mao's plan. Mao extended the conference by 10 days, during which he won over party members sympathetic to Peng and had his photograph taken at scenic points along the now-famous Lushan Trail. As a result of the conference, Peng was dismissed and arrested, Mao became forever a part of China's landscape in those famous images and the Great Leap Forward claimed tens of millions of lives. Today, tourists can have their photograph taken at those same vistas in a wicker chair identical to the one in which Mao sat. The photo hucksters and accompanying food vendors make a scene of what is otherwise one of China's most spectacular sights, but respite can be found in other parts of the park. Floral Path, for instance, is nearly as scenic and doesn't require visitors to climb steep mountain steps, walk along precipices or fend off insistent salesmen - at least not as many. A spur off the main path leads to the thatch-roofed cottage of Li Bai, the 8th-century poet who raised white deer. Today the cottage houses a master calligrapher, who will put to parchment whatever piece of profound prose you fancy and read it aloud with such grandiloquence as to make the money you spent seem almost worth it. You'll be followed there by fruit-mongers flogging plums and peaches said to be the freshly picked produce of a nearby orchard - a famous one, of course. The peaches in particular are a soft-sell for locals, who know them as the fruit of the immortals. For foreigners, who are charged twice as much, buying one is the best way to keep the fruit-floggers from following. But if it's peace you're after, your money is perhaps better spent at the movies - not just any movie, but a world record-holding movie. Lushan Lian, or Romance on Lushan, was shot on location in the town and is noted in Guinness World Records as the film that has had the longest run in a single movie house. It has been screened in the local cinema every day since 1980 and, to date, has sold more than 140 million tickets. And it's no wonder when the story of two young comrades who escape the city and fall in love in front of this beautiful backdrop is hokey, poorly acted and pulls insistently at heartstrings. But it puts the mountain retreat in its best light. As with the rest of your trip, you might love it, or you might choose to leave before it's finished. Getting there: Hong Kong Airlines ( www.hkairlines.com ) flies from Hong Kong to Nanchang. Rooms at the Sofitel Trilec Nanchang (tel: 86 791 882 8888; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ) cost from 500 yuan a night.