Chongqing Municipality is the largest of four province-level municipalities in China (the others are Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin). Chongqing City is the largest city in Chongqing Municipality. Modern-day Chongqing, municipality and city, is one of the fastest growing and dynamic regions in the country; it is one of the main industrial centers in southwest China.

Chongqing (also known as Yu and formerly as Chung King), is the largest of four province-level municipalities in China. A municipality is not the same as a city; it encompasses urban areas, suburbs, and surrounding farmland and wilderness. Chongqing City, with a population of 5 million, is the largest city in the municipality and an important river port. Chongqing Municipality is one of the main industrial centers in southwest China. Also, with its rich natural resources, its favorable location, and its potential for development, Chongqing Municipality is one of the fastest growing regions in the country.


Chongqing Municipality runs from latitude 28 degrees north (roughly the latitude of Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida) to 32 degrees north (roughly the latitude of Savannah, Georgia), about 450 kilometers (280 miles). From east to west, it stretches some 470 kilometers (292 miles) between longitudes 105 and 110 east. The municipality covers 82,300 square kilometers (31,776 square miles), roughly the size of South Carolina. Chongqing shares borders with the provinces of Hunan to the southeast, Guizhou to the south, Sichuan to the west, Shaanxi to the north, and Hubei to the east. Along the Chongqing–Hubei border the Yangzi (Chang) River cuts through Mount Wushan to form the famous Three Gorges.

The climate is subtropical, with extremely hot summers (Chongqing City is known as the “Furnace City”), mild winters, and two monsoon seasons. It has an annual rainfall of 1,000–1,400 millimeters (39–55 inches). The area is quite foggy and humid year round. Rain in late spring and early summer usually falls at night, making the city famous for its night rain in the Ba Mountains.

The Chongqing region is mountainous and crisscrossed with springs and rivers—most notably the Yangzi and Jialing rivers—and dotted with caves and gorges. Chongqing City is very hilly and the only major city in China without a lot of bicycles. More than 20 percent of the region is forested, with many species of harvestable trees, along with a number of rare indigenous species protected by the state.

Natural Resources

The area is also rich in mineral resources. Chongqing Municipality is a major producer of coal, manganese, mercury, aluminum, vanadium, molybdenum, barium, and strontium, along with natural gas. Chongqing also produces nonmetal minerals such as rock salt, barite, fluorite, limestone, and silicon. The area is also rich in underground thermal energy and drinkable mineral water.

The Yangzi River runs through the municipality. The Yangzi is joined by the Jialing, Qujiang, Fujiang, Wujiang, and Daning rivers and hundreds of streams to make the municipality one of the most important in China for actual and potential hydropower. In 1994 the central government began work to control the Yangzi with the ambitious but controversial Three Gorges Dam project.

Three Gorges Dam

East of Chongqing City the Yangzi cuts through the limestone Wushan Mountains to form the celebrated Three Gorges: Qutang, Wuxia, and Xiling. The river then spills over the Yangzi Plain at Yichang and continues its course to the Pacific Ocean. At 6,276 kilometers (3,900 miles), the Yangzi is China’s longest river and the third longest in the world, behind the Nile and Amazon. The watershed created by the great river covers 19 percent of China’s total landmass.

The Three Gorges Dam is the world’s largest hydropower project and the biggest engineering project in China since the Great Wall. When the dam reaches full operational capacity in 2009, twenty-six generators will produce some 8,200 megawatts of power, enough to meet almost 10 percent of China’s requirements. It will be the largest source of clean, renewable energy in the world.

But the damming of the river has drowned fertile farmland and destroyed settlements of the ancient Ba people. Many artifacts were also lost although archeologists were able to save some, which now reside in the Three Gorges Museum in central Chongqing City. The dam project has also forced the relocation of 1.3 million people at a cost of more than 45 billion yuan ($6.5 billion). In 2007, because of instability problems with newly formed land, the Chongqing Municipality government relocated an additional 4 million people.

Cultural Resources

The people of Chongqing Municipality are said to be straightforward, enthusiastic, and generous yet somewhat rustic. The majority of the people of the municipality are Han, but people from forty-nine minority groups also live in the municipality, mainly in rural areas. The population of the minority groups is about 1.75 million, or 5.6 percent of Chongqing’s total of 31.4 million. The Tujia people are the largest minority group, at 1.13 million, followed by the Miao at 520,000. The other groups include Mongolians, Tibetans, and Koreans. Mandarin is the principal language. Only about 20 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Sichuan is the main cooking style, with variations of the hotpot one of the most popular dishes.

Chongqing Municipality is rich in traditional Chinese culture and performing arts. Chongqing City alone boasts of twelve museums and memorial halls, including the Chongqing Museum, the Hongyan Memorial Hall of Revolution, and the Geleshan Revolutionary Martyrs Tomb. Traditional performing arts have a strong folk-art flavor, with some 3,000 arts organizations and twenty-nine professional troupes in the area. Two local performance groups have won international acclaim. The Chongqing Artistic Troupe combines acrobatics with traditional folk music and Chinese opera. The Chongqing Municipal Acrobatics Troupe, formed in 1951, performs traditional martial arts, juggling, and acrobatics. Its artists are famous for their juggling bowls while on an unbalanced teeterboard routine. The troupe has won many international acrobatics competitions. A popular street scene is groups of older citizens dancing for exercise, instead of practicing the art of Tai Chi, which is so common throughout China.

Chongqing Municipality is also noted for its historic sites. There are about fifty national, provincial, and municipal preservation sites. These include the Shi Bao Zhai tower, a twelve-story temple built in the eighteenth century; the Ba hanging coffins, ancient burial sites in and along rock formations; and the Dazu Rock Carvings, a collective name for some 50,000 carved and sculpted religious figures, created between 665 and 1249, at seventy-five sites.


Human activity in the locale now called Chongqing Municipality goes back to the end of the Old Stone Age, 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. When the Zhou dynasty (1045–256 BCE) replaced the Shang dynasty (1766–1045 BCE), the Ba people established their state with present-day Chongqing City as its capital. The city was known first as Jiangzhou and then Ba Prefecture. During the North and South dynasties (220–580 CE), it was renamed Chu Prefecture. It was renamed Yu Prefecture in 581 CE by Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty (581–618) because the area was known as Yu. Emperor Guangzong of the Song dynasty (960–
1279) gave the city, and later the municipality, its present name, which means “double happiness.”

Throughout the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, Chongqing City became an important trading, transportation, and industrial center and the link between southwest China and the upper Yangzi River with the rest of the world. In 1891 it was declared an open port, and a customs house was established there.

In 1929 Chongqing was officially established as a city. In 1939 it was elevated to the status of municipality. From 1940 to 1946, it served as the wartime provisional capital for the Nationalist government and became China’s political, economic, financial, commercial, transportation, and cultural center. When the Nationalist government returned to its former capital, Nanjing, in 1946, Chongqing was returned to its position as a municipality.

In the early years of the People’s Republic of China, Chongqing served as the seat of the Southwest Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, the seat of the Southwest Military and Administrative Commission, and the political, economic, and cultural center of southwest China. It functioned as a municipality directly under the central government until 1954 when its official status was changed again to a city, under the government of Sichuan Province. This last change was part of a nationwide administrative reorganization. In the 1950s Chongqing City became a center for trade. In addition, bridges and railways were built in southwest China, making Chongqing an important transportation hub connecting railways from the west to the far cheaper river transport to the east.

Chongqing City’s star continued to rise after the opening of China in 1979. In 1981 it became China’s first inland port opened to the outside world. Over the next several years, it became an official foreign port, a designated model city for market economics to attract foreign investments, the first pilot city to test a comprehensive reform of China’s economic system, and the first city at the provincial level granted the authority to manage its own economic affairs. In the 1980s Chongqing was given jurisdiction over the cities of Wanxian and Fuling, and the Qianjiang Prefecture. Finally, on 14 March 1997, Chongqing became China’s fourth direct-controlled municipality and the only one in western China, thus opening a new chapter in its long history.


Direct-controlled municipalities are the highest level cities under China’s administrative structure. Their status is equal to that of provinces. The municipalities are enclaves, culturally and ethnically distinct from the territory and people that surround them. They occupy strategic positions within or between provinces. There are three other municipalities besides Chongqing in the People’s Republic of China: Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. Chongqing is divided into thirteen districts, six counties, five autonomous counties, and sixteen county-level cities.

Chongqing City and its environs is also one of the main industrial centers in southwest China, with such heavy industries as iron works and steel mills. There are many factories for the manufacture of motorcycles, cars, heavy machinery, electronic equipment, chemicals, and textiles, and for the processing of food, farm products, and timber. The city is the largest port along the Yangzi River and the transportation and communication hub of southwest China.

Chongqing Municipality is rich in natural resources and natural beauty, attracting a steady stream of tourists from China and around the world. Since ancient times, the area has been known as the Land of Abundance.

The Literary Scene in Chongqing

With its rich cultural heritage, Chongqing holds an important position in China. During World War II famous writers congregated in the city. Chongqing became a cultural center, with many renowned works of literature produced in the city during this period.

In the early stages of the founding of the PRC, Chongqing was southwest China’s political, economic and cultural centre. This period witnessed the emergence of more Chongqing writers and an expanding canon of literary works coming out of the city. However, after the Southwest Bureau of the CCP was dismissed, Chongqing gradually lost its position as a cultural centre and most writers from the area went to Chengdu, Guizhou, Beijing and other regions of China. As a result, the Chongqing literary group shrank and creativity hit a low point. In the 1980s, poetry by writers like Li Gang and Fu Tianlin prospered in the city, with many locally produced works winning national poetry awards. As China’s only large-scale literature periodical, Chongqing’s leading literary magazine, Red Rock, also enjoyed a strong reputation nationwide.

The establishment of the Chongqing Writers’ Association was a turning point in the development of Chongqing literature, and literature in the city enjoyed further development after the designation of Chongqing as a municipality. For example, the theatrical work Jin Zi won more than 30 awards, including the Splendour Award, China Opera Academy Award and China Arts Festival Award. Poetry came back to the fore and following the lead of Li Yuansheng’s anthology Life in Chongqing, mainstream poets, avant-garde poets and even student poets have had a great impact on China’s cultural scene.

Source: China-UK Connections Through Culture.. (2008). Chongqing literature and publishing overview. Retrieved March 9, 2009, from,

Further Reading

Hessler, P. (2007). Oracle bones: A journey through time in China. New York: Harper Perennial.

Ho, Samuel P. S., & Kueh Yak-Yeow. (2000). Chongqing: Sustainable economic development in south China. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

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

Source: Nielsen, Bent, & Anderson, Wendell (2009). Chongqing. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 379–382. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

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