Chongqing - the Dragon Tail of ChangjiangAfter 3 hours of sightseeing at Baodingshan, we proceeded to Chongqing, the largest city (but not capital, as Chengdu is the political heart of Sichuan) of Sichuan. Situated on the steep cliffs at the confluence of the Changjiang and Jialingjiang, Chongqing is the natural river gateway to the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou. However, apart from minor events such as the foundation of the capital of the ancient Ba kingdom near the city, and the ennoblement and subsequent enthronement of a Gongzhou resident (Emperor Zhaodun of the Sung Dynasty, who renamed the city of Gongzhou "Chongqing", or "Double Celebration"), the city never achieved any form of real political importance in Sichuan. This state of affairs lasted until the forced opening of the Changjiang trade in 1876 after the Cheefoo Convention, when foreign traders realised the importance of the city to inland China. However, even then, a voyage to Upper Changjiang (or Yangtze) involved a certain degree of risk for one had to brave the rapids, not to mention the depressingly cold, damp weather in most of the year and the extreme heatwave in summer (which earned the city the distinction of one of the "three furnaces of China", the other two being Wuhan and Nanjing). And indeed, visiting foreigners described it as "a dripping, mouldy, crass ant-heap." The arrival of the streamer and later the blowing up of the treacherous rapids brought relief but Chongqing’s real break came in 1939.
In 1937, the Japanese invaded China, overrunning much of northern and eastern China, including the great cities of Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. Before they took over Nanjing (or Nanking) in 1937 and where they were to commit the infamous Nanjing Massacre (or Rape of Nanjing), the Kuomintang (or Nationalist) government shifted to Chongqing. Together with them were hundreds of thousands of people, universities, factories, enterprises, etc. And these refugees were to endure the next few years of constant bombardments with the local Sichuanese. It was this period that propelled Chongqing into a world capital, for the city was the wartime capital of China - Chungking (as it was known as then) - capital of one of the four great WWII allied nations. For the first time in modern history, China was accorded certain respect, and indeed, Chiang Kai Shek, Kuomintang leader, portrayed himself as a world leader. The people of Chongqing were relieved when the WWII ended in 1945. However, this state of affairs did not last for long, for by 1949, the Kuomintang were on the run again, this time from the Communists. Once again, they fled to Chongqing when Nanjing fell, but the communists closed in, and after killing leading communists and dissidents, the Kuomintang government fled to Taiwan where they remained till today.
Under the communists, Chengdu, the provincial capital once again became predominant. Chongqing fell back into the role of an inland port. When China broke up with the Soviet Union in the early 1960’s, important heavy industries were shifted to Chongqing, away from the range of Soviet bombers. This built on the earlier industries shifted here during WWII, and hence turned Chongqing into another industrial powerhouse of China. However, with the opening up of China, Chongqing, burdened by its backward and largely old heavy industries, together with the lack of funding from the provincial authorities, fell behind Chengdu once again. Chengdu, the political centre of Sichuan, with a rich cultural and educational heritage unburdened by inefficient heavy industries, had become the clear favourite of investors. This is changing too, as the Chinese government had began to appreciate Chongqing in bringing change into inland China. The city is declared as the "Dragon Tail" of Changjiang, whereas Shanghai is the "Dragon Head". The heads and tails will work together to transform southwestern inland China into a new economic powerhouse. In addition, the building of the gigantic Three Gorges Dam (Sanxia in Chinese) project on the Changjiang will further increase the importance of Chongqing. Informal news had revealed the setting up of a new centrally administrated municipality of Chongqing (split from Sichuan), which will have greater autonomy than Sichuan Province itself. The separation of Chongqing into a separate territory with more than 30 million people will be officially announced in March 1997, during the National People’s Congress. This new political change has already boosted local morale and confidence, and the city was under such euphoria that I visited in Nov 96.