CHENGDU - CITY OF BROCADESPast & Present : Rebirth of past glories
Chengdu, founded 2,400 years ago, has been capital of China’s most populous province since the founding of the Shu Province during the Qin Dynasty. It became a city of political importance during the period of the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 220 -265, immortalised in Sanguo Yanyi - Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a great classic known to almost every Chinese) when Liu Bei set up the Shu Han Kingdom with Chengdu as its capital. Chengdu, also known as the city of brocades, after the beautiful silk embroidery it manufactures, soon reverted back to its old status as a sleepy provincial centre after the fall of the Shu Kingdom. Even the enforced opening of China to international trade at the turn of the century did not help. Traders prefer to set up operations at Chongqing on the Changjiang, than to trek more than 300 km across mountains to reach the provincial capital.
Change came in the early 1980’s when China once again opened itself to the rest of the world. The foreign investments that were showered on the coastal provinces soon seeped into inland Sichuan. Chengdu, with its numerous universities and research institutes, as well as light industries, finds itself in an advantageous competitive position over its old rival, Chongqing, which is by now overburdened with inefficient state-run heavy industries. Foreign investors like Siemens, Thakral, Mitsubishi, Ericson and Coca Cola have opened factories in Chengdu. The rising income as well as economic optimism has led to a boom in infrastructural construction - the whole city, and indeed the whole province, look like a gigantic construction site. New highways, power stations, office blocks, shopping malls are mushrooming everywhere. The old Chengdu with city walls and a huge governor’s palace was gone in the 1950’s - torn down by a newly victorious communist government. And in the late ‘80s and early 90’s, what remains of the narrow medieval alleys and little old houses are being replaced by numerous skyscrapers and shopping malls - icons of a new economic age of China.
Diary : 20 October 1996 Arrival
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon when we arrived on a Dragonair flight from Hong Kong. The client’s representatives picked us up at Chengdu Airport and then drove us to Minshan Hotel, where we were to stay for the next 2 weeks. On the journey to the city centre, we passed by many abandoned property development projects. It seems that many have overrated the boom in China and were caught in the credit crunch imposed by the Central Bank a few years ago. Rumours say that the credit controls will soon be lifted. Perhaps these projects will be revived again.
Minshan Hotel is located on the southern edge of the city centre. From here, the wide Renmin Nan Lu (People’s South Road) leads one to the geographical central of the city, where the governor’s palace used to be. The Communists replaced it with a giant statue of Chairman Mao. This was where we headed for after leaving our luggage at the hotel. True enough, the statue was there, but what really drew our attention were the huge commercial billboards with neon lights behind - Samsung, Bossini, etc. Which is more influential in today’s China is anyone’s guess...
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