Chengdu was isolated from the outside world for much of history because of the formidable nature of the terrain around the Sichuan plateau, leaving a mysterious impression handed down to us through poets’ words and phrases. But now, after lifting the veil, the world surprisingly finds it is an earthly paradise
As the capital of the inland province of Sichuan, Chengdu sits on the largest plain in China’s southwest mountain region. Sitting on top of Greater China peacefully and glamorously, she has now become the focus of people’s gaze, on par with other first-tier and coastal cities.
In ancient times, Chengdu, the capital of the kingdom of Shu, was cut off from the rest of the world by mountains and valleys. Even the bravest warriors had difficulty getting to her. Tortured by constant floods, she became a land of exiles and things would not have gotten better if it had not been for the grand water project at Dujiangyan. Today, that all has changed. The city is now the capital of Sichuan Province and the largest urban center in western China with a population of 14 million. It is the commercial and financial hub connecting the west with the rest of China, and, increasingly, the world.
Sichuan is a huge region, mostly a basin surrounded by mountains. Chengdu is located at the western edge of the basin. Its agricultural land is immensely rich and productive, and the province has been a major producer of rice throughout history. With the implementation of the government’s “Go West” policy, the electronics and high-tech industry in Chengdu has gone through rapid development, becoming one of the centers of high and new technology industry in China. With the opening of the mainland financial markets, Chengdu became a target city of foreign banks, such as HSBC, Citibank, Standard Chartered etc. The subway system is also under construction and operations are spreading step by step.
In recent years, International hotel and resort brands have arrived in Chengdu and nearby regions as well: the Ritz-Carlton with its hottest FLARE BAR; the St. Regis which is known for its most luxurious SPA and high-standard services; the classic Waldorf which is coming soon; the poetic Temple House with its award-winning MI XUN SPA; and the mysterious Six Senses tucked away in Qing Cheng Mountain. Chengdu is opening its warmest arms to the world with its profound beauty gradually being unveiled.
Due to its advantageous geographic location and abundant natural resources, Chengdu has a long-standing reputation elsewhere in China for being more relaxed and less industrious than the coastal cities – at the very least, it lives up to its nickname as the country’s “leisure capital,” with its perpetually crowded teahouses, hotpot restaurants and jumping night spots. Chunxi Road, the city’s shopping epicenter, hums with activity every day of the week. A saying goes that people in Chengdu spend nine yuan for every 10 that they earn, while their more frugal counterparts in Beijing spend one-tenth and save the rest.
Bars, café, KTV, teahouse and hotpot restaurants are indispensible for fashionable young people. Whether meeting friends in newly-opened cafés, spending the whole afternoon chatting, or waiting for two hours in line to have a taste of a famous hotpot helps to keep a good mood for the whole day. Young people in Chengdu rarely bury their heads in cell phones for fun. They would rather party, develop new friendships after sharing a delicious meal, all of which is well matched with its reputation as a culinary steeplechase.
Recently, in the trend of health wellness, many people go back to countryside, where they can enjoy the company of family or friends, firing up grills along the water courses or picking their own vegetables. It is such a take-it-easy attitude towards life and ready to go enthusiasm that gives the fast developing city space for leisure and peace.
Chengdu has a long history of teahouse culture, which is a symbol of this city. Chengdu’s teahouses fall roughly into three groups. The first and most basic are the small teahouses in the narrow alleys of the older part of the city where the style of the architecture and furniture is simple. Next comes the open-air teahouse found along the banks of the rivers that intersect the town, and in the public parks where local people go during the day and into the evening to relax and chat. Then finally are the teahouses which are large-scale entertainment venues, more like a bar or café.
Holding the cup on the saucer prevents burnt fingers as the drinker enjoys the tea in its hottest and most delicious state. The lid is used to brush away the tea leaves floating on the surface before the drinker takes a sip. The flavor of the tea depends to a large extent on the quality of the water. Teahouses use water from the rivers filtered and purified in the teahouse itself. Copper kettles with long spouts were and are commonly used in the teahouses. Use of the kettle requires great skill and is in effect a performance of which the male attendants particularly are proud.
Drinking is not the only thing you can do in a teahouse. Patrons spend their time chatting and reading newspapers, playing Chinese chess or mahjong. The teahouses traditionally have been a place where news and gossip are exchanged. They are also places where poor people have been able to make a living on the side. Blind people offer to massage the shoulders of patrons, while shoe-polishers, fortune-tellers, musicians and portrait painters ply their trades. But the most original vendors in the teahouses are the ear-cleaners.
These ear experts patrol the teahouses with ten kinds of ear-picking tools including tuning forks. The ear picker cleans out the ears, then places a particularly long metal cleaner into the ear and puts the tuning fork against it, sending vibrations deep into the skull of the customer. The ear picking and tuning fork process leaves the patron feeling calmed, relaxed and ready for a nap.
Busy food stalls, ubiquitous teahouses and cozy coffee bars, which are already part of people’s life, not only neutralize the crazy tempo of city life, but also hold up people’s pursuit of leisure time among the increasing skyscrapers.
The wide variety of food attracts large numbers of tourists and gourmets. However, you would totally underestimate its charm if you come here only to satisfy your taste buds. This land experienced thousands of years’ vicissitudes, presenting the past and the present briefly and clearly so that we can see the past with our eyes and touch the present with our hands.
To experience the history, the thatched cottage of Du Fu and River Viewing Pavilion are two must-see places for poetry lovers and you won’t want to miss mausoleums of Liubei, the first king of Shu and temple of Marquis if you are interested in the Romance of Three Kingdoms. Surrounded by towering trees and bamboo, you can even read the turbulent times through the precious calligraphy and manuscript well-kept in the architecture.
If the cites above are the monuments of history, Dujiangyan is definitely a dam of history which is actually a water project characterized by water diversion without a dam. Built in 250 B.C., Dujiangyan, the masterpiece of ancients, has been diverting water of Min River to irrigate farmland for 2,000 years, creating a land of abundance covering thousands of square miles.
Many bars are scattered in the old lanes of Chengdu, attracting numerous young people. Chengdu’s bars are truly authentic. For example, those tucked in the Kuan & Zhai Alley are built in the mode of classic British-style pubs and thus convey a noble ambience. Elaborately arranged tables and seats are wrapped in mood lighting changing with different settings, sometimes dim and sometimes bright. The laughter and joy flowing out of young hearts fill the whole space.
Not far from the fertile lands, there is a one and only place home to a special species: the giant panda. This chubby species with big dark eye circles won the favor of almost the whole world within a few decades. Thousands of tourists come to Sichuan to visit the hometown of giant panda. While admiring the wonders of nature, you will definitely fall in love with this city. Recently, Meilun and Meihuan, two Chinese pandas born in the U.S., have celebrated their 4th birthday. According to the original agreement, it was time for them to return to their hometown, Chengdu. But these two lovely overseas returnees could only understand English and preferred American biscuits. Now their keepers are trying to teach them Sichuan dialect and change their diets to Chinese steamed bread. This amusing piece of news again shows the notable role of Chengdu’s giant pandas in diplomatic relations.
Li Bai, one of the most prominent poets of China, vividly expresses his deep love for this city in his poems. The breathtaking geographic beauty, the flourishing city life, as well as the peaceful natural environment are not only engraved in Li Bai’s verses, but also allure many more people’s hearts. Generation after generation, they come to seek the rich and unique charm of this mountain city, enjoying its spicy specialties, its leisurely pace and the religious and cultural essence of Buddhism.
There is no doubt that Chengdu is undergoing rapid development. The lucky thing is that becoming a metropolis for Chengdu is not at the expense of the city’s characteristics.