Chengdu is one of the most livable places in China and is constantly ranked in the top ten of China’s happiest cities. Despite being a massive provincial capital with millions of inhabitants, Chengdu still manages to have numerous bright parks and a small-village aura. The locals of this famed city are also unique. Unlike the eastern provinces caught up in the rat-race of new China, the residents here prefer to live life slowly at a panda’s pace. Actually, the local culture can be summed up with just three activities: drinking tea, eating spicy hot pot and playing mahjong. What else more do you need in life?
Formally Romanized as Chengtu, the capital of spicy Sichuan, has a population of over 14 million and the plain – on which it is located – is also known as ‘The Land of Abundance’, the ‘Country of Heaven’ or ‘The Hibiscus City’.
In the last twenty to thirty years, a number of high-profile archaeological sites have been discovered with rare gems – including some amazing gold-plated face masks – were discovered from an unknown semi-Chinese culture dating back as far as 2000BC.
Although at some point the city was also known as Yizhou, essentially Chengdu – literally translated is ‘become the capital’ – is the only city proper whose name and location have remained the same for over 2000 years. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, circa 960 AD – during the times of the Northern Song dynasty – Chengdu was allegedly the birthplace of the first commonly used paper money in the world.
Alas, it wasn’t always just about the money – even today, the city boasts more than 260 Fortune 500 companies who all have offices here – back in the Tang dynasty the hugely famous Chinese bards, the ‘Poet Sage’ Du Fu and his friend Li Bai the ‘Poet God’ spent time here writing classic scriptures. The former also left a legacy of ‘Caotangs’ (grass-huts or thatched cottages), of which one still stands today – although this was actually built in 1078 in Du Fu’s memory.
Though family values and happiness come first in Chengdu, the times are changing. Billions in public funds are being poured in from Beijing’s attempt to develop the west, while international economic forums are bringing in direct foreign investment by the ton. What this means for any traveler coming through Chengdu, whether for a few days visit or to use the city as a hub to the next destination, is that Chengdu and its spicy food, adorable pandas, burgeoning nightlife and relaxing attitude have something to please just about any taste.