"Chengdu" Top 5 Page for this destination Chengdu by mke1963
Chengdu Travel Guide: 630 reviews and 1,688 photos
The provincial capital of Sichuan, Chengdu lies in the centre of the Chengdu Plain, a large flat saucer of land hemmed in by mountains to the west and smaller hills to the east. It is one of China's more pleasant big cities, with an identity of its own and a rather proud ancestry that goes back beyond Sichuan to the early Ba, Shu and Wu kingdoms.
Excavations at Sanxingdui, 40km north of Chengdu, have revealed one of the most mysterious cultures of the world - a late Neolithic industry that has left absolutely no written records but a rich legacy of artefacts. Between 2,800 and 4,800 years ago, an advanced civilization lived in the Chengdu Plain and no-one knew about it until the last 20 years. It was some thousands of years later that Chengdu reappeared on the map when in the 4th Century BC, the capital of the Shu kingdom was moved from Shuangliu (close to Chengdu's civilisan airport) to the present city location. Less than a hunded years later, in 311BC a protective wall was built around the city, and this coincided with the construction of the incredible Dujiangyan irrigation works (see separate entry) that massively improved the surrounding countryside. The 3.5m high walls lasted through the centuries until the 1960s when the last of them were demolished by China's current 40-somethings in the Cultural Revolution.
The city grew quickly as the new Shu capital and became well-known for its fine brocade, and the emperor wanted to make sure that the brocade industry was properly administered. He sent an official, the Jinguan to Chengdu, and the city became known as Jinguanzhou during the Western Han Dynasty.
A thousand years later, Jinguanzhou was to become known as the Hibiscus City after King Mengchang decreed that hibiscus bushes be planted around the city - a name that Chengdu still uses in its promotional material, although it actually uses a lot of names, as is common in Chinese municipal hyperbole: the "Land of Abundance" is another. But "Chengdu", meaning "fit to be a capital" would seem to be the most apt, as a number of regional kings proclaimed this inland city as their capital - most famoulsy by Liu Bei, the Shu king made famous by the novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Chengdu's fame rose and fell down the centuries. Although well-loved and admired, this was often from afar, and from a perspective that it was too remote to be much of a threat to the eastern provinces. It concentrated on becoming a major commercial and industrial centre, and was famous for its eleven monthly fairs, each one focused on a different trade: January lamps, February flower, March silkworms, April embroidery, May fans, June incense, July jewellery, August osmanthus trees, September wine, October plum trees and finally in December peach trees.
But Chengdu has always balanced its commerce and industry with more leisurely and scholarly pursuits, with the city still home to many significant temples, institutes and universities, and with them come the famous teahouses. With the relaxed world of teahouses and genteel conversation, so came Sichuan opera, Sichuan shadow theatre and the city became home to two of the foremost Tang poets, Du Fu and Xue Tao.
But all this mixture of life, combined with the fiery local cuisine has also given Chengdu a reputation as a hotbed of political activity, with a number of uprisings starting in the city, and most notably it was the base for the 1911 'Railway Uprising' that eventually led to the end of the Qing Dynasty.
Today, Chengdu is a big, warm and friendly city which is certainly busy and growing, but also somewhat more confident of its identity than many Chinese cities that are building cluelessly into the surrounding countryside with little idea of why or what the outcome may be. Chengdu feels, perhaps surprisingly, a lot less nationalistic than most other places in China, and there is a strong sense of being Sichuanese and the memories of those early kingdoms lives close to the surface.
It may seem that there aren't sufficient reasons to visit Chengdu, but in fact the city has many interesting sites that should keep anyone happy for a week. The city is filled with interesting temples, and there are a number of excellent museums (including the excellent Sichuan University Museum and the Sanxingdui Museum to the north). The Panda Breeding Research Centre lies in the north-eastern suburbs, and the city has thousands of hectares of parks and a number of huge arboretums and forest parks.
Within stiking distance of the city are the major UNESCO World Heritage sites of Dujuangyan, Emeishan and now the Giant Panda reserves at Wolong. Slightly closer are fascinating - and largely unknown villages including some that are being restored (good or bad?....hard to tell), such as the Hakka village of Luodai just 30 minutes drive east of the city.
The Lonely Planet and Rough Guides to China both describe Chengdu as being green and leafy, and this is misleading: overall, the streets of the city are no more green than Beijing or Shanghai. Some small areas could be considered to be laid-back, shady backwaters with children playing under the canopies of trees, but most of the city is not. There are many parks, and some of the better known ones are described in the Tips sections here, but visitors will be disappointed if they believe they will be seeing a city that loks like the West Lake area of Hangzhou. No Chinese city can escape the 21st Century development rush, and the ruban air and water pollution that goes with it. The city is noisy, dusty and crowded like anywhere else; however, Chengdu does seem to make it easier to escape the noise in its parks and by getting out of the city to nearby villages and nature reserves.
This spectacular site is reviewed separately on this VT page. more travel advice
Sichuan University Museum is a superb set of collections and themese housed in a non-descript building alongside the Jin... more travel advice
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