Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China and a major city in Western China. It holds sub-provincial administrative status. The urban area houses approximately 14 million inhabitants, making Chengdu the fourth most populous city in China, and most populous among prefecture-level cities as well. The city is one of the most important economic, commerce, finance, science, technology, transportation, and communication centres in Western China. It is also an important base for manufacturing and agriculture. In 2007, Chengdu was chosen – by the Public Appraisal for Best Chinese Cities for Investment – as one of the top ten cities to invest in out of a total of 280 urban centres in China. In 2006, it was named China’s 4th-most liveable city by China Daily.
Some of China’s most important literature comes from Chengdu; it is home to literary giants, such as Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong. During the Western Han dynasty, the world’s first local public school – named Shishi – was established. Today, it is home to the greatest number of universities and research institutes in South-western China; 49 colleges and universities
What to Do in Chengdu
Fast City, Slow Life. This love for enjoying life in this city can be experienced in many ways. You cannot miss giant pandas in Panda Breeding Research Centre. Open since 1988, the Centre includes an open research laboratory, veterinary hospital, enclosures, and an activity ground for the resident pandas; it is one of the most important ecological institutions in China. Over the past 25 years, the centre has been crucial to the survival of critically endangered species, taking care of over 80 giant pandas, as well as 30 red pandas. Fun Fact: people actually get paid to walk around the forest in a panda suit!
Feeling exhausted? Take a stroll around the grounds of the Wenshu Monastery and Temple. Regarded as the best-preserved Buddhist temple in Chengdu, the Wenshu monastery was built over 1000 years ago during the Tang Dynasty. Over 500 cultural relics, renowned paintings and works of calligraphy have been stored here since the Tang and Song dynasties. Arguably the rarest of the precious relics is a piece of Xuan Zhang’s broken skull (Zhang was a renowned monk of the Tang Dynasty).
If you have not had an opportunity to experience park life in China, Chengdu’s People’s Park is well worth visiting. Strangers stand shoulder to shoulder, gathered round stereo systems watching and cheering as someone sings karaoke. Wander through old-style flower gardens and feed the fish, or choose a teahouse to sit in and relax as you watch the locals getting their ears cleaned by professionals. Watch as street food vendors spin gorgeously impossible shapes out of sugar and visit one of the stalls selling popular Sichuan snacks.
If it is souvenirs that you are after, take a walk around the market next to Wenshu Temple. Be tempted by the wonderful fragrances diffusing from incense stores and food stalls as you haggle for a Tibetan-style singing bowl or a colourful hat. With a huge selection of products, ranging from antiques and minority-style wares to cuddly toys and jewellery, you are sure to find the perfect memento of your visit to Chengdu.
After all the sightseeing, you may feel it is time for some rest and relaxation. To experience the real China, get a blind massage. In China it is common for those that are visually impaired to work as massage therapists, as it is believed that losing one sense (e.g. sight) means that your other senses (in this case, touch) improve. It is therefore thought that these blind masseuses are some of the best people to be rubbing out all those aches and pains you may have acquired throughout your journey.
What to eat?
No one would miss out on the chance to indulge in one of Chengdu’s most famous past times: eating. But be warned, Sichuan food is renowned for being the spiciest in China!
The local people love to discuss food almost as much as they love to make and eat it, so come armed with opinions and an eager appetite. “Eat the best to live the fullest” is a popular saying in Chengdu, and its people definitely do their best to live up to that saying.
The city is famed for having China’s most beautiful women, and locals say that their spicy food is to thank for it, as they believe it is good for the skin. With their uniquely spicy flavour coming from Sichuan pepper and an alarming number of chillies, Sichuans signature dishes include Hot Pot, Mapo Tofu, and an endless list of snacks such as DanDan noodles, Chengdu wontons, and Sichuan sticky rice balls. If you aren’t a fan of spicy food, don’t worry, just remember the words “bu yao la de” to let your waitress know you don’t want your food too fiery! After a spicy meal, keep the fire roaring by enjoying a sizzling night out in Chengdu. With everything from English style pubs to bustling local clubs, the area around Sichuan University is buzzing with nightlife. However, don’t be surprised if you walk into a club and find the dance floor empty with everyone sitting at tables or booths; it is a popular pastime to play drinking games with dice while you are out so pull up a chair and learn the rule!