Chengdu is the modern, busy capital city of Sichuan Province in south central China. It is a key economic area, a major transportation hub, an important communication center, and the gateway to the Wolong Nature Reserve, the natural habitat of the giant panda. It also became widely known in 2008: the epicenter of the deadly Sichuan earthquake was a mere 80 kilometers away.

Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in south-central China, lies on the western edge of the Sichuan Basin. The climate of the area is mild, with long summers and short winters but quite humid and cloudy all year round. Chengdu, in fact, has fewer sunny days per year than London has.

Sichuan Province is rich in natural resources and fertile farmland. The Min and Tuo rivers, two branches of the Yangzi (Chang) River, supply an irrigation area of more than 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) and help supply Chengdu with abundant hydroelectric power.

Chengdu covers a total area of 12,300 square kilometers (4,749 square miles), which is quite large for a city (again, for comparison: London, a large city by any standard, covers 2,263 square kilometers). In China’s administrative structure, Chengdu is one of sixteen subprovincial cities, an entity that controls other cities and counties in its region. A subprovincial city is governed by its province but independently manages its own economy and legal structure. Its status is below that of a municipality, which does not belong to any province, but above that of a prefecture-level city, which is governed by its province. Chengdu’s government controls nine districts, four cities, and six counties.

Greater Chengdu has a population of more than 11 million people. The majority of the people are of the Han ethnic group. Chengdu residents have a reputation for being relaxed and fun loving. The city has more bars and teahouses than Shanghai has, even though Shanghai has twice the number of people. The local cuisine is the hot and spicy Sichuan style, with such popular dishes as dan dan noodles and the many varieties of the hotpot.

Chengdu was founded in the third century BCE by the ancient state of Qin, and benefited from one of the oldest and best Chinese irrigation systems constructed in the same century with water from the Min River, which is still in effective use today. It has remained a prosperous city through the centuries and gained a position as one of the most important trade centers of the empire. Traders in Chengdu were the first to use paper money, in the tenth century. Chengdu also became the center of the silk brocade manufacturing industry.

The 1937–1945 Japanese occupation of eastern China gave Chengdu an unexpected boost because the Chinese Nationalist Party (Guomindang) established its capital in Sichuan and moved important industries to the city.

Today Chengdu has a wide variety of industries. Heavy machinery, aluminum plants, chemical plants, and especially electronics are important. In addition, the textile industry—manufacturing cotton, wool, silk, and satin products—is a major part of the economy. In recent years the city has become a major regional financial center. The city also has a number of universities and other higher education institutions, including Sichuan University and a college of traditional Chinese medicine.

Chengdu received international attention on 12 May 2008 when the deadly Sichuan (or Wenchuan) earthquake struck the region, killing more than 69,000 people and injuring a further 374,000. The initial quake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale, and there were as many as 21,000 aftershocks for several weeks after. The epicenter of the earthquake was 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Chengdu in Wenchuan County. The areas hardest hit were within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the epicenter. Dams, bridges, and schools collapsed, and about 3.5 million homes were destroyed. In some of the smaller cities and villages, as many as 80 percent of the structures were demolished. Estimates are that more than 14 million survivors have had to rebuild their homes.

Chengdu became a hub for rescue operations and humanitarian aid. The city’s hospitals and shelters were forced to erect tents to help care for the injured and homeless. The city itself, however, was mostly untouched. There was no disruption of essential services or business or business. Within a few days of the quake, Chengdu was back to its bustling normalcy.

Further Reading

Gates, H. (1999). Looking for Chengdu: A woman’s adventure in China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Kirk, M. (Ed.). (2009). China by numbers 2009. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Quian, J. (2006). Chengdu: A city of paradise. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Stapleton, K. E. (2000). Civilizing Chengdu: Chinese urban reform, 1895–1937. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walcott, S. (2007). The dragon’s tail: Utilizing Chengdu and Chongqing technology development zones to anchor west China economic advancement. Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, 5(2), 131–145.

It is easy to dodge a spear that comes in front of you but hard to avoid an arrow shot from behind.


Míng qiāng yì duǒ, àn jiàn nán fang

Source: Nielsen, Bent, & Anderson, Wendell. (2009). Chengdu. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 316–317. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Chengdu (Chéngdū 成都)|Chéngdū 成都 (Chengdu)

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