Category Archives: Articles

Articles about Chongqing



Chongqing, mountain-water city, middle of the middle country, megalopolis sprawling outwards, upwards, downwards, for a time even the temporary capital of the nation.

Its immenseness swallows the first-time visitor, makes one feel one’s own minuteness, insignificance. The first impression it makes is striking. It’s easy to draw comparisons between Chongqing and Hong Kong with the two cities’ mountain-water-skyscraper combination, but the former dwarfs the latter in scale, in rawness, and in ambition for what will be.

This behemoth of a city is outgrowing itself, its shell cracking at the seems, the quiet scientist unstoppably morphing into the Incredible Hulk. Buildings gutted, or ripped apart from the outside in, banners hung or chalk scrawls indicating that the structure will be torn down. City of hills and narrow streets that wrap around and around like onion layers. Skyscrapers and busy, rundown wholesale markets. Buses and small yellow taxis speed around the tight curves. The private vehicles, including bicycles, that are ubiquitous in most Chinese cities, are noticeably few. The only cyclist who whizzes past means business: suited up in full spandex, helmet, biker’s bike. Shoulder-pole bearers walk the steps transporting goods.

But while bicycles might not be anywhere to be seen, another cliché of Chinese cities—that juxtaposition between the old and the new, massive wealth and abject poverty—is represented perhaps more strongly in Chongqing than it is anywhere else in the country at this point. When you see Chongqing, you realize how much and how quickly Chengdu has changed in the last few years, even months.

Chongqing’s central area is a peninsula hugged by the intersection of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers, and it is this unique topography more than anything, the people will tell you, that gives the city its particular vibe. With temperatures climbing into the 40s in the summertime, Chongqing is one of the infamous “furnace cities.” The people crowding the small streets in this enormous city look weathered, roughened by the exertion of daily moving from point A to point B.

We stop to ask for directions to the cable car, and a small crowd starts pointing us in a dozen different directions—up stairs, through buildings, around winding streets. Finally, a wiry man offers to walk us there if we pay him. We politely decline, and the crowd disperses. The message is clear—don’t waste our time. In contrast to Chengdu’s leisurely friendliness, Chongqing is no-nonsense: Mountains must be moved, and there’s little time for mucking around with indecision.

Chongqing proper is home to about 5.4 million people; but it is the 80,000 square kilometer area and the 31-million-strong population of the entire municipality that has, at times, earned it the city the “world’s biggest city” label.


Photo by Leo Chen

Today, Chongqing’s historical richness can still be felt, and steps are being taken to preserve those traces of history with the construction of museums and memorials. Home to the ancient Ba people some 3,000 years ago, it served as a capital several times throughout the Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Foreign trade was in place by the late 1800s. During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, Chongqing served eight years as provisional capital for the retreating National Army after the fall of capital Nanjing and ensuing attacks on Wuhan. Its inland position did not provide a great degree of much-needed protection, however, and in 1938, the Japanese began a five-year-long series of aggressive bombings on the city, killing tens of thousands of civilians, with the hopes of breaking into Sichuan and securing total dominance of China.

The war pushed heavy industry inland from the eastern cities, propelling Chongqing’s development. In 1997, the Chongqing Municipality was formed, removing the city from provincial administration under Sichuan.


Chongqing is emerging as an art powerhouse on the national art scene. The city’s Sichuan Art Institute is one of the nation’s upper-crest art schools and the most well-reputed in southwest China. On a 1.25-kilometer stretch of Huangjueping Street, opposite and surrounding the main gate university, the city has turned public space into art space: Every visible inch of façade—mostly the walls of 1970s apartment blocks—has been covered in mural and graffiti art. The art institute’s director, Luo Zhongli, originally wanted to modify the area with total renovation hoping to align its image with that of an internationally recognized fine arts institute, but with a budget shortage, he compensated with the murals. By the end of the year—2007, the ten-year anniversary of Chongqing’s becoming a municipality—graffiti was painted over 40,000 square meters of wall space on 37 buildings by hundreds of students, artists.

Next to the university, sits the notorious Tank Art Space—a former tank storehouse, that now serves as studios and living/workspaces for local artists, many of whom are graduates of the institute.


Anyone suspecting that China’s cities somehow spontaneously, organically appear need only visit the Chongqing City Planning Museum. Showcasing Chongqing’s ambitions to secure a spot as one of China’s—and perhaps the world’s—megacities. Tracing the history of Chongqing’s urban development (the first city planning was executed in 1946; by 1960, a city master plan had been created, and in 1983 the final, overall planning was approved by the state council) and projecting the city’s future (by 2020, the municipality will comprise 6 big cities, 25 medium cities, and 495 small towns), the museum offers a digestible overview of the skyscraper city. Its futuristic displays are befitting of a city that plans in the next decade to add six additional monorail lines, both above and underground, and that has at least 130 over-200-meter-tall buildings vying for approval to begin construction.

With steep, narrow roads that wind around mountains and rivers, pedestrian passageways through buildings, and multilevel layout, Chongqing is much harder for the uninitiated to navigate than flat Chengdu’s dartboard layout. The hills and stairs will quickly wear out the most fit walkers and the city map, with its inability to show multiple planes or enough detail, will confuse the most skilled of navigators. Two cable car lines transport commuters across the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers every few minutes—one of the more efficient ways to cross the river—and the one completed line of the monorail snakes through the city to various points, although they might not be where you want to go. While both of these are simply a mode of transportation for many, they do offer superior views of the city. Buses and taxis are both relatively inexpensive and quick options as well.

Chongqing, even more so than Chengdu, is known for its hotpot restaurants. Much of Chongqing’s cuisine is, in fact, shared with Sichuan’s—the border between municipality and province is a recent one of economy and politics, and locals will tell you that Chongqing is actually the birthplace of Sichuan cuisine. Chongqing dishes are reputed as being more spicy, more pungent, and more numbing than Chengdu dishes. Standard fried dishes, noodles, cold dishes, etc., are widely available. Western restaurants are extremely few; Subway, one pizzeria, and a couple of international youth hostels serve allegedly Western food. We’d advise staying away.

This is an incomplete list of Chongqing highlights; many more historical and other points of interest can be found in and around the city. For further reading, refer to the websites listed below.

Jiefang Bei (解放碑)

This commercial “city center” district, similar to Chunxi Lu, with the Liberation Monument, an underwhelming clock tower, set right in the heart of the shopping and skyscrapers.


Cable Cars (索道)

These suspended aerial tramways will transport you across either the Yangtze (长江索道) or the Jialing River(嘉陵江索道) for RMB5. Nowhere is the construction-caused juxtaposition of old and new more apparent than from here, as you’re whisked from among the skyscrapers right over the soon-to-be-torn-down shanties.

Monorail (轨道) Another way to get a good literal overview of parts of the city.


Hongya Dong (洪崖洞)

This 11-story building juts out from a cliff along the bank of the Jialing River. With its classical-style architecture and shops selling all sorts of tourist kitsch on the third and fourth floors, it’s an attraction for Chongqing visitors. The mid-levels house food courts with a wide variety of inexpensive snacks and meals while the upper floors contain upscale restaurants and a Starbucks.

World Trade Center (世贸大厦)

Standing right in the heart of the city center at 62 stories and 283 meters, it’s advertised as offering the best view of Chongqing. Visitors must buy a ticket to access the panoramic viewing center on the 56th floor.
City Planning Museum (朝天门规划展览馆)

For those with an interest in urban development, including zoning and transportation networks, this is a must-visit. Anybody else will likely find it boring and not worth the RMB20 ticket price. Offers a great overview of both the past, present, and future of the city’s layout with plenty of information (displayed in Chinese and English), interactive displays, and a massive, 892-square-meter model of the city.


Art District (杨家坪 Yangjiaping – south central)
Sichuan-Chongqing is a hotbed of activity in the country’s art circles, with much of the action centered here, at the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute (四川美术学院) and surrounding areas. On campus is one of the country’s better art museums (美术馆) exhibiting both international works as well as student and graduate pieces; just outside the campus is the Chongqing Contemporary Art Center, also called Tank Loft (坦克库) as it is housed on a former military-tank storehouse. The area is an alley (Huangjiaoping Road) lined with artist studios and small galleries representing a range of mediums, from painting and sculpture to photography and print to video and installation art. Later in the season, Chengduers will have a chance to see the Institute’s curatorial skills when the Chengdu Biennale comes to town.

Foreigner Street (洋人街 – northeast) We have to assume whoever named this foreigner street did so with a heavy dose of irony as the day we went the only foreigner we ran into was working in an Indian restaurant. The entrance-free theme park of sorts features all sorts of entertainment, from fun houses to horseback riding and horse-drawn carriages, and even go-karts. The main attraction, however, is the record-setting public toilet, billed as the world’s largest with over 1,000 stalls, including some novelty toilets. Toilet humor and trivia is helpfully posted on the walls (Americans use the most toilet paper, we learned), and the whole area is shockingly stench-free. Apart from this attraction there are food stalls aplenty, including a Café de Paris and numerous Indian Cuisines, all of which amount to shaokao stands. Most bewildering are the large banners hanging around the area, displaying slogans and words of wisdom that in both English and Chinese, sound like deep nonsense.

Ge Le Mountain Revolutionary War Sites (沙坪坝 Shapingba – west)
This corner of the city houses a number of civil-war sites, including the Kuomintang-controlled prisons Bai Gongguan (白公馆) and Zhazi Dong (渣滓洞), where hundreds of communist prisoners were massacred. As the buildings had been set on fire, they have been reconstructed, and the cells converted to small displays offering readings in both Chinese and English about the prisoners they housed. Much of it is rather poorly displayed, dull propaganda glorifying the Party and the prisoners’ martyrdom; however, there are a few original artifacts on display as well as a recreated cell model. In this region, you can also find the Red Cliff Martyrs Memorial Museum (红岩魂陈列馆), Chiang Kai Shek’s Hideout (蒋家院子), and the Song Lin Execution Grounds (松林坡). Be prepared to be hounded by aggressive tour operators hawking overpriced, prepackaged tours of all the sites as soon as you arrive.


White Crane Ridge Underwater Museum(白鹤梁题刻水下博物馆)
China’s first underwater museum lies 40 meters below ground level and houses a viewing cabin that enables visitors to see the now-underwater ancient White Crane Ride (Baiheliang) inscriptions made on the stone reefs, where thousands of years ago people would track the water level of the Yangtze River. The museum was constructed over the course of six years, before the Three Gorges Dam caused the water level to rise to the point of submerging the ridge. From Chongqing, take a bus, train, or taxi (60 to 90 minutes’ travel time) to Fuling (涪陵).

Dazu Rock Carvings (大足石刻)
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Dazu caves feature thousands of images carved into cliff faces and caves dating back thousands of years. Dazu is two to three hours northwest of Chongqing; from the main bus station in Dazu city, transfer to a local bus or taxi to Baodingshan (宝顶山) or Beishan (北山), the two most famous spots.


Cici Park (西西公园)
Hippie-style bar and lounge reminiscent of Hemp House or Jah Bar with occasional events. The friendly owner’s menagerie, including a dog, cat, and goose, all hang out at the bar. One side of the plaza overlooks the Jiefang Bei city center area; the other side offers a view of the Jialing River and Hongya Dong.

2 Linjiang Lu, Jiefang Bei, Yuzhong District西西公园解放碑渝中区临江路2号(原酒吧一条街)

Nuts Club
The city’s only venue for live rock, something like Chengdu’s Little Bar without the history and reputation in the national rock scene. Regularly hosts bands touring through the city.
Gutai Green Donkey Hotel, 1st Fl., opp. Shapingba Primary School坚果俱乐部沙坪坝小学对面,古苔青驴旅馆负一楼)

The downtown area also houses a number of commercial chain discos: Cotton Club, Babyface, BABI, etc.


train timetable
Trains depart from the north station in Chengdu and arrive in the north station in Chongqing. The journey between the two cities is becoming ever-faster, with high-speed trains now making the trip in under four hours. The new Hexie bullet train, which started running July 1 of last year, makes the trip in under three hours. Depending on the speed and amenities of the train, a one-way ticket will cost between RMB117 and 98.

Chengdu to Chongqing
Train No. Departs Arrives Journey Time
D5102 08:00 10:24 2 hours, 24 min
D5104 09:00 11:10 2 hours, 10 min
D5106 10:26 12:25 1 hour, 59 min
D5108 11:40 14:03 2 hours, 23 min
D5110 13:30 16:10 2 hours, 40 min
D5112 14:05 16:22 2 hours, 17 min
D5114 15:10 17:33 2 hours, 23 min
D5116 16:55 19:04 2 hours, 9 min
D5118 18:30 20:45 2 hour, 15 min
D5120 19:15 21:26 2 hours, 11 min

Chongqing to Chengdu
Train No. Departs Arrives Journey Time
D5101 08:00 09:59 1 hour, 59 min
D5103 09:10 11:15 2 hours, 5 min
D5105 10:40 13:05 2 hours, 25 min
D5107 11:30 13:40 2 hours, 10 min
D5109 12:50 14:49 1 hours, 59 min
D5111 14:25 16:29 2 hours, 4 min
D5113 16:10 18:10 2 hours
D5115 16:40 18:51 2 hours, 11 min
D5117 17:50 19:48 1 hour, 58 min
D5119 19:30 21:40 2 hours, 10 min


Photo by Leo Chen


Chongqing, More Than A City

Skyscrapers rise like bamboo shoots in Chongqing.

-by Ernie Diaz

It has the population of Iraq, and the land mass of Austria. So calling Chongqing a city is somewhat deprecating, like calling the Grand Canyon a crevasse, or Australia a South Pacific island. Chongqing contains worlds,echoing through its many hills, veiled in perpetual mist. Better, perhaps, that most travelers just pass through on their way to the gorges, for Chongqing will overload their senses as surely as their leg muscles.

Huge and modern as it is, Chongqing still sees relatively few foreigners, who must be ill-bred indeed not to receive a healthy dose of southwestern charm.

No one knows what special blend of air, water, and chili oil makes Chongqing’s women so beautiful. If they did, it would be bottled and sold, and Chongqing would be richer than the UAE.

Chongqing has often served as a capital, most recently in the War of Resistance against Japan. Moist air and chlorophyll soften the ugly memories of Hongyang Revolutionary Hall.

No water, no life; no Jiang, no Chongqing. The Yangtze River has brought wealth, disaster, and everything in between.

This Daoist temple was first built in the Tang, and rests on Jinyun Mountain – the kinder, smaller, just as beautiful as Emei.

General Zhang Fei, hero of the Three Kingdoms, lost his head here in the river. Some loyal followers fished it out with a bag of gold, built this temple with the treasure, and buried the head in it.

The only thing less than magnificent about this miracle of karst erosion is its name, the Heavenly Pit. 626 meters around, 500 wide, and 660 deep makes for more than a pit. May we suggest “the Celestial Void”?

The Qutang Gorge finally gets some morning sun. The boats are rising with the waters and catching light earlier now, thanks to that dam project upriver.

In Chongqing, fortunes rise and fall like the river, like the place itself, precipitously. Bodhisatva the thousand-handed hears many prayers, this one from Baoding Mountain, granting mercy since the Southern Song dynasty.

What’s waiting at Four-Face Mountain? Why, the highest waterfall in China. Come for the 150-meter splash, stay for the eco-wonderland, a sea of sub-tropical woods, rare plants, and protected species.

What’s a Chinese destination without an ancient town? Gongtan, the western pearl, close and cozy on the western bank of the Wujiang, collected tribute from Hunan and Guizhou some 2,000 years ago.

Seems like there’s always someplace a little higher to climb to in Chongqing, but few higher than the Qianlong Bridge out in Wulong county, overlooking river and caves.


Chongqing the Invisible City

Chongqing is the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet. Its population is already bigger than that of Peru or Iraq, with half a million more arriving every year in search of a better life. And yet so frequently is this story repeated in China, that outside the country its name barely registers. Jonathan Watts spends 24 hours in the megalopolis you’ve never heard of…

No one knows for sure precisely where and when urban life started. But we can make a good guess about where the urbanising trend will reach its zenith. Simply count which skylines have the most cranes, track where the bulk of the world’s concrete is being poured or follow one of the biggest, fastest movements of humanity in history. All lead east, to China.

Every year, 8.5 million Chinese peasants move into cities. Most of their destinations are mere specks on western maps, if they appear at all. But their populations put them on a par with some of the world’s megalopolises. Britain has five urban centres of more than a million people; China has ninety. A few – Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Nanjing – are well known around the world. The names of many others – Suqian, Suining, Xiantao, Xinghua, Liuan – are unfamiliar even to many Chinese. Nowhere is the staggering urbanisation of the world more evident than in Chongqing. Never heard of it? This is where the pace and scale of urbanisation is probably faster and bigger than anywhere in the world today. This is the Coketown of the early 21st century.

Set in the middle reaches of the Yangtze, this former trading centre and treaty port has long been the economic hub of western China. But after its government was given municipal control of surrounding territory the size of many countries, it has grown and grown, becoming what is now the world’s biggest municipality with 31 million residents (more people than Iraq, Peru or Malaysia). The population in its metropolitan areas will double from 10 million to 20 million in the next 13 years.

When the planet’s rural-urban balance tips, it is as likely to happen here as anywhere. To get a snapshot, I spent a day with a Channel 4 film crew in this megalopolis – just the sort of day, in fact, when humanity might pass the halfway point on its millennia-long journey out of the countryside.

5.30am – the bangbang man

In the hour before dawn, the poor district of Qiansimen has a distinctly Dickensian feel. With the rain lashing down, puddles fill the dark, narrow alleys, flanked on either side by tall, ramshackle tenements. An old man’s wrinkled face glows orange as he warms himself over a brazier.

Nestling between the port and the commercial centre, this area is the home of Chongqing’s most distinctive and traditional population – the bangbang army, a 100,000-strong crew of porters who bear the city’s weights on their shoulders. Arriving from the countryside with no skills and minimal education, they pick up the cheapest of tools – a bamboo pole (or bang bang) and some rope – and hang around the docks, the markets and the bus stations waiting for goods to carry up the steep slopes of this mountain port.

Yu Lebo has just woken up in the cramped three-room apartment that he and his wife share with three other couples, all of whom are porters or cleaners or odd-job men. There are two double beds in one room, separated by a thin sheet, a third in a tiny room next door and another in the kitchen. There is no time for breakfast before he heads out into the rain and the dark. “We want to move out and get a place of our own, but we don’t have the money yet,” he says once we are outside. He explains why he came to Chongqing four years ago. “I used to be a farmer, but I could not afford to raise my two children. So we left them behind with relatives. I see them two or three times a year.”

On an average day, Yu earns about 20 yuan (£1.50) for 12 hours work. Most of this, and the money his wife earns as a cleaner, goes on rent and food, but as long as they stay healthy they can save enough to send money home to buy clothes and books for their children. It is vital. Education and health care – free in the days of Mao Zedong – are now the biggest burden on peasants.

The first job of the day is in the Chaotianmen market, where Yu must carry several huge bundles of goods. Each is probably heavier than Yu, who weighs just over 50kg. The stallholder pays him 2 yuan (15p). “Not bad,” Yu says. “Sometimes they are heavier. Sometimes we get paid less.”

It looks exhausting. Does Yu ever regret coming to the city? “No, my life is a little better than it was when I first got here. Then, I only earned 10 yuan a day. This city is changing so fast. It is getting richer. But our lives are not keeping up. Cities are good for the rich. If you have money you can do anything. If you don’t want to carry something, you just hire a bangbang man.”

7.30 am – the city official

It is just after dawn, but the sun remains hidden behind a thick haze. The giant movement of humanity that is Chongqing is about to get into full swing, working, building, consuming, discarding, developing. If today is typical, builders will lay 137,000 square metres of new floor space for residential blocks, shopping centres and factories. The economy will grow by 99 million yuan (£7m). There will be 568 deaths, 813 births and the arrival of 1,370 people from the countryside – each year, the city limits are pushed further outwards as the urban population grows by half a million, the equivalent of all the people in Luxembourg being added to the municipal register.

Our next stop is at one of the municipal offices, where Zou Xiaoping, deputy director of the economic relations commission, explains that her city is at the centre of China’s drive to address the huge inequalities between the rich eastern coastline and the poor western interior.

The scale of the “Go West” policy – with 1.6 trillion yuan (£114bn) spent since 1999, mainly on roads, bridges, dams and pipelines – is sometimes compared with the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild postwar Europe. Much of the money has flowed up the Yangtze to drive the growth of Chongqing, at the heart of the plan to revitalise the west. It has also paid for the Three Gorges dam, the world’s biggest hydroelectric project, which has provided the city with power and people. City residents in Chongqing have seen their incomes rise 66% in the past five years to 10,240 yuan (£731 per year), almost three times that of their country cousins on 3,800 yuan (£271).

“Now is the peak time of the development of western China. Chongqing is in the middle of it. That is why we are growing so fast,” says Zou. “We must maintain momentum. This is a crucially important time for our city.”

10am – the industrialist

I leave Zou’s office flabbergasted. Even at the height of Britain’s urbanisation in the 19th century, there was nothing to compare with the scale and speed of change taking place here. How can space and jobs be found for so many new arrivals?

Now accompanied by a government guide, we drive to the city limits and the newly built Lifan Sedan factory in the Chongqing Economic Zone, where newly employed workers are putting together newly designed cars.

“This was farmland a couple of years ago,” says proud boss Yin Mingshan. “It is my 14th factory, 14 years after I started business.”

A dapper, twinkly-eyed 68-year-old, Yin is one of the nation’s great industrial pioneers, the 21st-century Chinese equivalent to Titus Salt, Josiah Wedgwood or the Cadbury brothers. Imprisoned for much of the Mao era for his views on free speech and capitalism, he set up a motorcycle repair company in 1992 with nine staff. His Lifan company now employs 9,000 workers and has a turnover of 7.3bn yuan (£521m).

“China has become a wonderland for entrepreneurs,” says Yin. “There are many people who are doing what I have done.”

It is not as easy to build a business in Chongqing as in coastal Shanghai or Shenzhen, which benefit from access to overseas markets. But those rich eastern cities are now investing inland and providing a market for the cheaper goods made in second-tier cities. Chongqing is famous for motorbikes; Yin is now also trying to make it famous for cars, by buying a BMW-Chrysler factory in Brazil, breaking it down, shipping it up the Yangtze and then rebuilding it in Chongqing. He has also set up plants in Vietnam, Thailand and Bulgaria and plans to open a research centre in Britain, where his daughter studies at Oxford.

His creed is one of benevolent self-interest. “China is too poor. We need high-speed growth. The rich need to increase the income of the poor,” he says. “If we improve the living standards of peasants, then they can buy our motorcycles and cars.” Within five years, he aims to more than double his workforce to 20,000. Next to the factory, bulldozers are already churning up fields for another one.

12pm – the builder

Even by the standards of the giant construction site that is modern-day China, Chongqing’s building frenzy is impressive. More transport links have been built here in the past four years than in the previous hundred. More new floor space is being completed than in Shanghai. As well as eight new railways, eight highways and eight bridges, the port is in the midst of a £1.15bn redevelopment and the airport’s capacity is planned to quintuple by 2010.

Driving back from the factory, I count more than 30 cranes in less than five minutes. Just outside the Jiangbei toll booth, farmers toil under heavy loads in vegetable fields and women wash their clothes in a stream. Behind them, 30-storey towers are silhouetted against the grey mist. Where the two worlds meet is a corridor of rubble where land is being cleared for further expansion.

We make an impromptu visit to the building site, where Chen Li, a brash window-fitter, reckons he has worked on 70 to 80 tower blocks in the nine years since arriving in the city at the age of 16. “The buildings are getting taller and better,” he says. Yet he lives in a hut, his breakfast is a glass of soya milk and a steamed bun, and on an average day he works 11 hours for about 50 yuan (£3.60). “I’m a city resident now. But life is still difficult.”

2pm – Spiderman

As people move off the land and into the sky, they produce less and consume more. In theory, they become socialised and civilised. In practice, they spend more time shopping and eating junk food. A nearby shopping centre, home to Kentucky Fried Chicken, could almost belong to any city on earth: pedestrianised streets, boutiques and fast-food outlets, a giant screen blaring out pop jingle ads, a monorail train running overhead. There are even police girls on roller skates, the latest must-have security accessory.

Li Zhiguan was once a farmer, then a factory worker; now he earns more as one of the many high-wire artists who clean skyscraper windows, earning him the nickname of Spiderman. We meet him at the top of a 24-storey telecom office just before he abseils down the glass on a rope attached to him by a single clip. “It is 100% safe. You can go too if you wish,” says his boss, He Qing, with a strong German accent picked up during an MBA in Mannheim.

With so many towers going up, Li is never going to be short of work. And he has a bird’s eye view of the transforming cityscape. “In six months, there have been huge changes. You can notice it from one week to the next.”

3pm – the psychologist

China’s growing gap between winners and losers has created an intensely competitive, restless society where stress and conflict are the norm. How do people cope? Kuang Li is a psychologist at a hospital affiliated to Chongqing University of Medical Science, where new facilities are rising on a huge construction site. She has no couch; instead, this is the most formal interview of the day in huge leather chairs in a special reception room, flanked by hospital and government officials.

Kuang is upbeat. “People have to make a big adjustment because the pace of life, work and study are all accelerating. It puts extra stress on people, but so far our research suggests they can adjust.” But it is not easy. She says cases of depression, anxiety, insomnia and mood swings have doubled in the past 20 years. Between 10% and 25% of Chongqing’s people suffer mental problems. Suicide appears to be too sensitive a subject to discuss; the otherwise helpful authorities decline to give statistics. But the city has launched a new campaign to prevent suicide among university students, including counselling services, a telephone hotline and free books on ways to avoid depression. Kuang says she has spent the past year researching student suicide, but she too is reluctant to give figures.

Her mental health department was established only in 1998; before that, mental problems were largely either ignored or associated with western decadence. Now, Kuang says, there is a recognition of the strains imposed by city life. “There is a conflict between rising expectations and people’s sense of achievement.” At the same time, she says, psychological disorders are “a sign of improved quality of life. People did not have time to worry about themselves so much 10 years ago.”

5pm – the waste engineer

China’s development is one of humanity’s worst environmental disasters. Cheap coal and a doubling of car ownership every five years has made the country the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. According to the World Bank, 16 of the planet’s 20 dirtiest cities are in China, and Chongqing is one of the worst. Every year, the choking atmosphere is responsible for thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of cases of chronic bronchitis. Last year, the air quality failed to reach level 2, the government health standard, one day in every four. Today’s haze is so thick that I still haven’t seen the sun.

Chongqing is trying to clean up, but this is a low priority compared to economic growth. And it is hard to find a place for the ever-expanding waste. We head into the hills to see the biggest of the mega-city’s rubbish mega-pits: the Changshengqiao landfill site. It is an awesome sight; a giant reservoir of garbage, more than 30 metres deep and stretching over 350,000 square metres.

The waste engineer, Wang Yukun, tells me the city produces 3,500 tonnes of junk every day. None of it is recycled. Some is burned. Here, it is layered like lasagne: six metres of rubbish, half a metre of earth, a chemical treatment and then a huge black sheet of high density polyethylene lining. The site opened in 2003 and it already contains more than a million tonnes of rubbish.

“It was designed to serve the city for 20 years, but it has filled faster than we expected. I guess it will be completely full in 15 years,” Wang says. “Once it is finished we will build a golf course on top.”

6pm – the cop

In many Chinese cities, the public security bureau is more likely to detain journalists than to take them for a drive. But in Chongqing, the city goes so far as to dispatch an English speaking officer, Lai Hansong, as our guide. Lai insists he is a regular beat cop, who has been patrolling the Yuzhang district for the past six years. “It is a low-crime area,” he says. “We mostly deal with thefts or fights.” In an average week, he says, he deals with fewer than five incidents.

It is not what I expected, having heard lurid stories of drugs, prostitution and organised crime. The city has also been the focus of violent industrial protest. Last November, 20 strikers required hospital treatment after police broke up a 10,000-strong protest over lay-offs from the Tegang state-owned steel factory. Less than a year earlier, police cars were torched and overturned in a riot by thousands in the satellite city of Wanzhou.

The picture Lai paints is very different: “There are no criminal gangs in China. Our country has few riots.” But someone must be worried about something. The police force, Lai says, is increasing every year and officers must travel three to a car.

8pm – the intellectuals

This is a city that dazzles when night falls. Multi-coloured illuminations light up everything from the housing blocks that rise up on the hillside to the giant city centre replica of the Empire State Building. Motorway crash barriers glow pink, green and purple. The swirling surface of the Yangtze reflects the glow.

In a riverside restaurant I am meeting some of the city’s alternative thinkers. What do they make of the place? The group laughs at the notion that there are no gangsters and some shake their heads at claims that the haze is just bad weather. Overall, they feel living standards have improved. Cultural development might be slower than material development, “but this is a city of the future,” says Li Gong, a poet and cartoonist.

“Compared with 10 years ago, the air quality is better. But compare it with other cities in China or other countries and we are still far behind,” says Wu Dengming, an environmental activist who founded the Green Volunteer League, which has highlighted many of the problems of the Three Gorges dam.

Zeng Lei, a documentary maker who spent seven years recording the lives of Chongqing’s poorest residents, relates unhappy anecdotes of urban life – the bangbang man who burst into tears when he returned to his home village for the first time in three years; the housewife who felt so neglected by her family that she hired a team of bangbang men to carry banners through the city celebrating her birthday.

Song Wei, a publisher, notes that the evident problems – pollution, loss of heritage, inequality and crime – are not confined to Chongqing. “We could be talking about almost any city in China.”

10.30pm – the new rich

Or for that matter, almost any city in the world. Chongqing is not just urbanising, it is globalising. Little more than a generation ago, this was a city where Red Guards in Mao tunics chanted anti-imperialist slogans. Today, young people with money dress much like their counterparts in Birmingham, Chicago or Nagoya. If anything, their values are even more materialistic.

I am sitting in Falling, which Spiderman’s boss He Qing recommended to me as the hottest nightspot in Chongqing. It is Wednesday night, but the dancefloor is packed with beautiful people moving to techno music. Our table has an 800 yuan (£57) minimum charge, which covers a bottle of vodka, a few imported beers and a plate of elegantly carved fruit.

He joins us, along with some of Chongqing’s new rich, including the founder of a sweet factory, a restaurant owner and a bank employee. Almost without exception they are in their 20s, foreign educated and well connected – either through family or political ties – with the city’s movers and shakers. “No businessman can thrive unless they have contacts in the Communist party and the underworld,” I am told.

I feel uneasy spending more on a night’s entertainment than bangbang man Yu earns from a month’s gruelling work. I’m not the only one conscious of the gap. Qing tells me his plan for the future. “Inequality and environmental destruction are the two biggest problems facing China.” He says he wants to establish a new clean-energy company that will employ more migrants to build a cleaner city, using German technology.

00.30 – the street kid

Outside at midnight, the bright lights cannot mask a seedier side of city life – the poor trawling through rubbish bins, the homeless on street corners, the touts offering drugs and sex for sale. Many of the women working as prostitutes are rural migrants. Their children are left with relatives or sent to the streets to beg, sell flowers or sing songs for money until the early hours.

At a night market, a queue of hawkers comes to my table to offer to clean my shoes, sell me cigarettes or pour me soup from a flask. A seven-year-old girl plucks at my arm and then coyly entreats me to buy a rose from her. “Where is your mother?” I ask. “Oh, she’s at work,” the girl replies.

A desperate-looking girl is carrying a menu of songs and a battered, badly-tuned guitar. She says she is 16 but looks more like 12. She has been in Chongqing only a few months and has already decided she does not like it. I pay 3 yuan (20p) and pick the song Pangyou (Friend). The young busker stares at some faraway point as she strums the one chord she knows and sings out of tune. It is miserably sad. Further along the street, a bangbang man wanders into the distance carrying his bamboo pole. I wonder if he is about to finish work or start it.

(Source: Jonathan Watts. The Guardian)

City of spice

By Anthony Dennis

Bright lights, big city: Chongqing by night.Bright lights, big city: Chongqing by night. Photo: Jonipoon

There’s more to Chongqing than its notoriously hot cuisine. This rising city’s a bustling sample of Chinese life, writes Anthony Dennis.

In China, there are the Three Gorges and then there are the Three Furnaces. Until I’d been to the under-visited Chongqing, a rising urban star of the People’s Republic right on the banks of the Yangtze River, I’d heard of the former but not the latter. It’s a reference to the wickedly hot and humid summers endured annually by a trio of Chinese cities – Wuhan, Nanjing and Chongqing itself.

Yet, even though I’m here in the cool of early spring, “furnace” is a description that could easily be bestowed on Chongqing’s notorious chilli and pepper-laden hot-pot dishes. It’s dinner (make that banquet) time at a Chongqing restaurant overlooking the Yangtze, and, after my first taste of the local hot-pot speciality, my lips are feeling as though I’ve smeared them with a certain brand of muscular relief cream.

Local diners enjoy hot-pot.Local diners enjoy hot-pot. Photo: Alamy

The cuisine in this part of south-western China owes its origins to neighbouring Sichuan, the province from which Chongqing split when the latter outgrew it and was declared a municipality (some municipality, since it is 470 kilometres wide with roughly the population of Canada). While Chongqing is inescapably China, this is a place wholly distinct from the more familiar Beijing and Shanghai. And I, for one, am glad to be discovering a less trammelled part of the country.

My journey began aboard a Silk Air flight between Singapore and Chongqing. As evidence of Chongqing’s relative lack of celebrity as a visit-worthy city, at least in the West, I’m the sole Caucasian on the flight, save for “Craig”, the Australian pilot, whose unmistakable cadence crackles over the aircraft PA prior to takeoff. And, after arrival at my destination, having negotiated the quiet airport, it’s not until I reach my hotel that I finally spot a foreigner.

Chongqing – in a country that by 2025 is predicted to have more than 220 cities with populations of more than one million – has emerged as one of China’s most increasingly important yet curiously overlooked cities. During the Sino-Japanese War in the 1930s and 1940s, the Japanese sought to bomb Chongqing off the map (at least on the occasions when they could actually find it through the perpetual dense cloud that palls the city).

Ancient trade: workers carry baskets of produce up steps leading from the river dock in Chongqing.Ancient trade: workers carry baskets of produce up steps leading from the river dock in Chongqing. Photo: Alamy

Decades later, the local Communist Party supremo, Bo Xilai, did his best to put Chongqing on the map as China’s fastest-growing and newly dynamic city. Now in Chongqing the names of Bo Xilai and wife Gu Kailai are uttered only in, well, Chinese whispers. The city had hardly come to my own attention until a few years ago. Before, that is, the scandal that gripped China and the rest of the world. Thanks to the disgraced couple, once dubbed China’s answer to the Kennedys, the city has acquired a reputation for spiciness not just in its fiery cuisine but also for its politics.

Charismatic Bo’s efforts to eradicate the city’s notorious underworld and make Chongqing the next great city of the People’s Republic were well publicised following the death of a British businessman at the instigation of wife Gu, who has subsequently been tried and found guilty of his murder. Unlike others, the late Briton had seen the potential of a city on a roll, originally thanks to the development of the Three Gorges Dam down river and Bo’s entrepreneurial leadership in spending $7 billion on transforming the city, including construction of a lavish Chongqing Grand Theatre, opened in 2009, above the Yangtze.

As a would-be tourist destination, Chongqing has battled unfair perceptions that it is some kind of grim, smog-bound hell-hole. Most passengers on Yangtze River cruises board here barely getting a glimpse of the city. I too am booked on a river cruise between Chongqing and Shanghai but, rather than fleeing the city as soon as possible, I’ve allowed a few days to explore it. How on earth can you ignore a city that claims a population of 32 million, at least in its extended municipal area?

One of the city's pampered pandas.One of the city’s pampered pandas. Photo: AFP

Chongqing is known as the “Mountain City”, with its untold number of hills tumbling all the way down to the banks of both the Yangtze and the Jialing rivers. The confluence of these waterways is a collision of brown and jade waters at a bend where river ships and barges moor below huddled, neon-drenched skyscrapers. By night this scene, reminiscent of Shanghai’s pulsating Pudong district, is best viewed from the other bank of the river via a ride in an old public cable-car strung high above the waterway.

The rivers and the commerce they carry still dominate and define Chongqing. Away from the wharves themselves, you can spot the city’s traditional dockside porters on street corners in the centre of town, hard-bitten, sun-beaten, stooped figures playing mah-jong and waiting for their next job. They’re easily identified since they all carry with them their tools of trade: bamboo poles and a strand of rope that they use to cart fearfully heavy loads up and down the hillsides.

Although the porters aren’t the prettiest of specimens, inescapable are the constant reminders by the Chinese – men and women alike – that the females of Chongqing are admired throughout China as the most beautiful in all of the People’s Republic. It’s something, they explain, to do with all those steep hills and the effect it has on muscles of female legs. But the vertiginous nature of the city takes its own toll on those who make a living from its rivers.

Residents play mah-jong.Residents play mah-jong. Photo: Getty Images

Beside the Jialing is Ciqikou Ancient Town, a series of narrow riverside lanes tarted up for tourists. I watch as an elderly porter – probably younger than he looks – struggles with a pair of heavy boxes, suspended by rope from a straining bamboo pole. He’s squeezing through an impossibly tight passageway, finally emerging into one Ciqikou’s lively crowded pedestrian streets, where you can buy chilli and peppers in bulk and sought-after handmade noodles.

Despite the toll it still clearly takes on its underclass, the citizens of Chongqing are fiercely proud of their distinctive if not difficult topography.

“Beijing is not only flat physically, it’s also flat socially,” says a local Ciqikou artist, whose studio is located up a side street.

Porters unload goods.Porters unload goods. Photo: Alamy

“Chongqing is more three-dimensional. Chongqing’s personality is like our hot-pot; a spicy mix with so many different ingredients.”

But in order to glimpse Chongqing’s true, more unvarnished past it’s necessary to leave Ciqikou and head back to the city centre. Slap-bang in the middle of the CBD is one of Asia’s most remarkable communities, known as the 18 Steps. It’s a reference to the number of stairs that the locals in the past needed to negotiate in order to fetch fresh water. The start of this tumbledown area, ripe for redevelopment and which could double as a film set were it not too real for its own good, is marked by one of Chongqing’s surviving stilt houses, an early, makeshift version of high-rise living consisting of fearfully flimsy houses made of bamboo and scraps and built against hillsides for support.

Such is the legendary status of the Chongqing stilt-house that a fancy, and sturdy, replica shopping and dining complex for tourists has been constructed well away from the 18 Steps beside the Yangzte.

Women on novelty stools in a park.Women on novelty stools in a park. Photo: Reuters

Of course, the 18 Steps, with its stalls of meat for sale hanging from hooks in the open air and fresh vegetables spread out over footpaths, cannot survive since it’s situated on the most prime of real estate in the heart of the CBD, the equivalent, more or less, of a slum off Bourke Street Mall or Martin Place.

The residents of the 18 Steps are being gradually relocated by the authorities to more salubrious but blander flats and houses in the suburbs or countryside. Some houses, with red crosses painted on them, are already vacant and awaiting demolition. It’s a pattern being repeated in other Chinese cities, including Shanghai and Beijing. But, across town, Chongqing’s precious resident pandas at the municipal zoo, located in a beautiful botanic garden setting, seem to enjoy more space than the folk at the 18 Steps. No one is waiting to tear down the houses of these pandas since they’re an essential stop on any tour of the city.

Many tourists visit Chengdu in Sichuan to visit the pandas there, but Chongqing’s own collection represents one of the world’s most successful breeding programs.

A resident of the 18 steps.A resident of the 18 steps. Photo: Anthony Dennis

As I stand and watch a panda, surrounded by youngsters with panda-themed backpacks, devouring her brunch of bamboo with her remarkably dexterous, human-like hands, I realise that it’s time to tackle another chilli-hot Chongqing meal with my Chinese hosts at a nearby hotel. It’s only when I’m close to leaving Chongqing that I finally realise the error of my prandial ways. Although the local cuisine would be considered fiendishly hot even at your average diner in Hades, it needn’t be quite the minor ordeal it has become for me.

As it turns out my mistake since my arrival in Chongqing was to eat the powerfully hot Sichuan pepper, called hua jiao, which is a staple in the city’s hot-pots in order to add that extra heat. Locals, my Chinese travelling companions finally get around to informing me, simply put the pepper to one side, should it find its way from hot-pot to food bowl. It’s much too hot to eat, even for them.

By the time I reach Shanghai a week or so later, having journeyed down the Yangtze by riverboat, the city, compared with Chongqing, feels somehow flat, physically and socially, by comparison, just as the artist remarked back in Ciqikou. What glamour-puss Shanghai needs, with all the hype that surrounds it, I conclude, is a few more hills and a bit more of the spiciness of the city of the burning lips, now a seeming world away back down the Yangtze.

The writer was a guest of Wendy Wu Tour, the Chongqing Tourism Bureau and Singapore Airlines.

(Read more:

The Army of Bangbang (Bang Bang Jun)

Yu Gang, a 32-year-old migrant farmer worker in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality, has been in a good mood these days, for the mayor of Chongqing had called for citizens not to discriminate against migrants but show them respect.

Yu has been working as a porter, called “Bang Bang” in the local dialect, for over a decade in the mountain city of Chongqing. “Bang Bang,” a somewhat discriminatory term, actually refers to the pole that a porter uses to carry things for local people.

The “Army of Bang Bang”,  which comes from rural areas, can be seen almost everywhere in Chongqing. When a local resident cannot carry his or her heavy belongings in street, he or she just needs to cry for “Bang Bang,” then a “Bang Bang” will come on for business.

As a “Bang Bang,” Yu said he does not care about how tiring, hard and dirty the job is. He is most afraid of “being looked down upon”.

Each year, more than six million farmers leave countrysides for cities for jobs in transportation, construction or cleaning. Chongqing itself absorbs 400,000 new migrant farmer workers annually.

Shopping in Chongqing

Although Chongqing Municipality is not as modern as Beijing or Shanghai, it still provides a superior shopping environment for locals and tourists alike. Rich in natural resources, Chongqing produces a great variety of local and special products including valuable traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and famous fruit, such as pears, navel oranges, pomeloes, and persimmons. Chongqing is noted for fine quality tea as well – among the most widely known are Chongqing Tuo Tea, Yinping Silver Needle Tea and Xinong Fur Tip Tea.

Folk culture and traditional Chinese art compliment the modern offerings of Chongqing. Since the Southern Song Dynasty, Shu embroideries have been cited as one of the most famous embroideries in China and Chongqing’s elaborate folding paper fans have been exported to foreign countries since the Qing Dynasty. The many various kinds of bamboo articles, brocade of Tujia minority and ink slabs from the Three Gorges also reflect the flavor of the local culture.

Today, Jiefangbei is the central business district of the urban city and the center of economic development of Chongqing Municipality. The Jiefangbei commercial Pedestrian Street centers this well-known shopping area. Clusters of modern shopping malls and exclusive shops line the roadsides. Banks, theatres, KTV clubs, bookstores, hotels, bars and pubs are also quite easy to find. Some of the main buildings worth seeing include Chongqing Department Store, New Century Department Store, Commercial Mansion, Friendship Shopping Center, Carrefour Supermarket and New Oriental Women Plaza.

Chaotianmen Market, located on East Jiefang Road, is the biggest market in Chongqing and very popular amongst locals and foreigners, where everything and anything can be found. Some of the items include; plastic ware, Christmas decoration, toys, souvenirs, teapots, shoes, handbags, candles and everyday knickknacks. Bargaining is expected.

Dealing primarily in Garment wholesale, it is reported that goods traded in the market come from or are sold to more than 200 counties in Sichuan, Hubei and Hunan provinces. Shoppers can expect to find stylish clothes at very reasonable prices. Still, bargaining with the vendors in most stalls and shops will ensure a great deal!

Nan Bin Road, located on the south bank of Yangtze River,  boasts a newly opened flower market that has become a leisure hotspot for locals and tourists. Over 100 flower shops, handicrafts stores and tea houses line both sides of the street. Flower houses in European and traditional Chinese styles provide a picturesque setting for enjoying the vibrant colors and scents of the merchants’ offerings that await you. In addition to the various kinds of blossoms, you can also find many delicate potted plants. Located at the entrance of Huang Ge Du Park, Nan Bin Flower Market is a great place to unwind day or night.

Jiang Bei district, an emerging CBD located on the north bank of Jialing River, is developing into a very modern and prosperous business center for local people. There are many upmarket shops and restaurants in Jiang Bei, along with most luxury housing complexes catering for high income groups of Chongqing city. It is said that Jiang Bei district will become the major part of the city in all areas in the future.

- Some major markets / shops -

Antique Market

A market situated in a multi-storey building selling all kinds of ‘antiques’ (most are reproductions) and knickknacks: Chinese furniture, wooden carvings, ceramics, teapots, old Chinese books, stamps, Mao statues etc. The best days to attend are Saturday and Sunday, but try to get there in the morning as many vendors start packing up by mid-afternoon. Bargaining is an absolute must, as most vendors will charge ridiculous prices.

Add: Zhongxin Road

Chaotianmen Material & Haberdashery Market

If it’s material you’re after, then this is the place to visit. All sorts of fabrics and colours at very good prices. From men suiting material, to denim, linen and traditional Chinese silks. Go in the mornings as most vendors tend to pack up at around 1.00 p.m. The fabrics do change with the seasons, in the warmer months you are likely to come across a greater variety of cottons and linen whilst during the colder months, you’ll find more woollen fabrics and corduroys.

Add: Xinhua Road, Yu Zhong District

- Plazas -

Metropolitan Plaza (Da Du Hui)

This glitzy seven-storey plaza hosts around 160 shops, such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Kenzo, Hugo Boss and the like. It also hosts a food court on the 6th floor with various restaurants, from hotpot to Japanese, an ice-skating rink, a cinema and a bowling alley on the 5th floor.

Add: Jiefang Bei Area, in between Harbour Plaza Hotel and Metropolitan Plaza Office Tower

Pacific Plaza Department Store (Tai Ping Yang Bai Huo)

Has a good range of foreign and local labels from shoes to clothing to kitchenware. It’s a little pricier than the other department stores.

Add: located inside Metropolitan Plaza

Chongqing Department Store (Chongqing Bai Huo Dalou)

The largest state-run department store in Chongqing. Now it has many chain stores around the city with the flagship store situated in downtown Jiefangbei.

Add: 2 Min Quan Road, Jie Fang Bei

- Clothing Shops -

Chongqing is swarming with clothing stores. The main ones are:

Giordano (Hong Kong chain)
Jeans West

- Supermarkets -

Carrefour (Jia Le Fu)

Add: New Chongqing Plaza, Mian Hua Street, Yu Zhong District

Metro Jinjiang Cash & Carry (Mai De Long)

Easily reached by taxi, this is Chongqing’s largest supermarket, providing a considerable range of foreign and Chinese products, from food to houseware. A membership card is required and you can apply for it at the counter by the entrance. Plastic bags cost RMB1.

Add: Corner of Dashi Road & Baihe Road, Li Jiao Qiao

Immanuel Foreign Food Store

This husband and wife team stock a large range of foreign food products including breakfast cereals, baking products, salad dressings, preserved foods, spices and more!!! You can either make your way down to the store, or order on line and take advantage of the free delivery.

Add: Ground floor, Building D, Zi Jing Yuan (Garden), Sha Ping Ba

- Traditional Chinese Clothing -

Mr. Li’s Chinese Dress Shop

Add: 101 Zhong Shan Yi Road, Yu Zhong District

Local specialties to buy in Chongqing
As a large metropolis, Chongqing boasts rich natural resources and local specialties, making it a good place to do some shopping.
Herb Medicine and Fruit
Due to the fact that Chongqing is a city surrounded by mountains, there are many rare Chinese traditional herbal medicines in these parts including the rhizome of Chinese goldthread (huanglian), Gastrodia elata (tianma) and the bark of eucommia (duchong). Besides this, the fertile land here is ideal for the fruit growing, such as orange, pear, pomelo and persimmon.
Gastrodia Elata
Mentioning Chinese herbal medicine in Sichuan, one will not fail to recall Gastrodia elata (tianma), which contributes a great deal to patients with eclampsia. Duck braised in Gastrodia elata soup is the most famous medical dish you might encounter when dining in the local restaurants in Chongqing.
Huangsha Pomelo
Huangsha pomelo is probably the most famous fruit in Chongqing. Unlike some other kinds of pomelo, it is unusually succulent and sweet, with a rich fragrance of honey.
Folk Handicraft
Folk handicraft in Chongqing has long been highly appraised. Since the Southern Song Dynasty, Shu Embroidery (also known as Sichuan Embroidery) has been ranked among the four most famous embroidery types in China. The Rongchang paper fan is also a well-known handicraft that has been exported since the Qing dynasty.
Shu Brocade
Shu brocade (also known as Sichuan brocade), soft in feel and flamboyant in color, has a history of over two thousand years, and it is one of the four best and most famous brocades in China along with Nanjing Brocade, Suzhou Brocade and Guangxi Brocade.
Through out such a long history, over several hundred types have evolved and brocade has become an integral part of the ornament of women in the ethnic groups in Southwest of China. However, handmade brocade has given way to modern textile industries and there is only one factory in the city that specializes in making Sichuan Brocade at present.
Rongchang Paper Fan
It is almost 450 years since the first Rongchang paper fan was made. Since then, the fan has enjoyed unique renown domestically and internationally. It is by no means surprising then, that hundreds of years ago the fans were exported to India and Burma.
The past several decades have seen rapid innovation utilizing different materials to make the fan more elegant and the original few have now expanded into 345 different types.
Print Painting
With the rapid economic development, peasants in rural Chongqing have witnessed great improvement in their material wealth. Conceivably they desire more cultural activities in their spare time. It just seems that print painting has become their beloved form of self-cultivation and self-relaxation.
And there is no lack of artistic genius here: for ten years 874 works have been on exhibit in US, Japan, UK, Canada and Italy and over 600 works have become personal collections.
Three Gorge Inkstone
For travelers fascinated by Chinese calligraphy, Three Gorge Inkstone might be the best shopping item in Chongqing. Made from the special stone excavated on the Libi Gorge section of Jialing River, the fine-shaped inkstone is delicately engraved with beautiful patterns.
Chongqing is also a major tea producing area. With a long history of cultivation, Chongqing Tuo Tea, Cuiping Silver Needle Tea and Xinong Maojian Tea enjoy high prestige both at home and abroad.
Gourmets have no right to feel disappointed when traveling in Chongqing: Old Sichuan translucent beef slices, Fuling mustard tuber and Hechuan preserved peach slices are all unusual things to try.

Chongqing Culture

Chongqing is a famous city with a long history and a brilliant culture. There are many ancient ruins, ancient tombs, ancient buildings, grottoes, and temples, and tens of thousands of collections of cultural relics.

The Chongqing Museum has nearly 500 National Grade 1 relics and 100,000 National Grade 3 relics. The Chongqing Museum of Natural History leads China with its collection of 100,000 specimens of rare plants and animals including fossils of vertebrate animals such as 24 kinds of dinosaurs from the Jurassic period.

Bayu Culture is one of the special ethnic cultures along the upper reaches of Yangtze River. The origin of Bayu Culture came from Ba culture. Ba people lived and fought in the mountains and river valleys. Living in this tough environment these people developed a tenacious character for which they are famous even today.

Ancient Ba people were good at singing and dancing and many of thier dances developed while they were fighting battles.  Gradually this kind of dance became  popular in the court of the Emperors and until the Han dynasty, Bayu dance was one of the required court dances at banquets. It was group dancing which was rough and vigorous and changed continuously.

Along the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Wushan the river is often narrow with many reefs and dangerous shoals. In those days boats could only be pushed or pulled upriver through the rapids and currents. It was very hard work with from 10 to 100 men tracking the boats as they strained against the currents. As they strained they sang in rhythm with their movements which developed into the ‘working song’ called ‘Haozi’ lead by the leading tracker.

The Daxi Culture in eastern Chongqing and the Tongliang Culture in western Chongqing are representative of the cultures of the Old Stone Age and the New Stone Age in central and west China. The fossils and stone articles of the Wushan Ape Man of more than 2 million years ago, unearthed from the ruins of Longgupo in Wushan, are of great value for the study of the origins of mankind.

Chongqing is proud of its rich folklore and culture represented by the dragon dance in Tongliang, the lantern shows in Xiushan, the drums and gongs of the Tujia people, the folk songs sung in the fields during and after work in Mudong, and the traditional musical instruments in Jielong.

Chongqing has many folk arts well-known to the world.

The top 10 folk arts are Dragon dance of Tongliang, Dazu’s carved stone, Qijiang’s hands winding dance, boatman’s song, Xiushan’s festive lantern, Chongqing’s beating (Jielong. Gold Bridge), Jiulong two pairs, Xiaohe gong and drum, Liangping three arts (Liangshan light, bamboo curtain pictures, New Year pictures), Square story (Shapingba) .

The main ethic groups in Chongqing are:

1. Han
2. Tibetan
3. Miao
4. Others – Yi, Qiang, You and Tujia.

The Chongqing native speak the dialect of Southern Mandarin Chinese.

Most people there are straightforward, enthusiastic, humorous and generous.

Many elders in Chongqing are likely to watch the Sichuan opera.

With numerous of sports facilities and parks, the major activities in Chongqing are sports and recreation.

Women in Chongqing like to gather and exercise the Yangge dance and Yaogo dance on the open ground around town. This has turned out to be an interesting  street scene in Chongqing.

Teahouses of various of styles can be seen everywhere in Chongqing. It is one of the best place for people get together, dating or just to relax after work.


Chongqing Cuisine

Chongqing Hotpot (重庆火锅)

Chongqing Hotpot has long been the symbol of Chongqing’s food culture. The most famous thing in Chongqing is the hotpot. With the spicy and hot characteristic, Chongqing Hotpot can be regarded as one wonder of Chinese food. Chongqing Hotpot is mainly divided into two kinds – one is red soup and the other is clear soup. The red soup is mainly characterized by being spicy, delicious and fragrant, while the clear soup is mianly characterized by light color and delicious taste. Yuanyang Hotpot is the combination of these two kinds of soup. Namely, the hotpot is divided into two parts by an s-shaped metal slice and forms a pattern of Taiji. The colors of the two parts are distinct, with a half white and a half red. Chongqing Hotpot can use many things as materials. “Hun” (meat or fish diet) can be taken from poultry, domestic animal, viscera organ and aquatic products. Almost all vegetables can be used as the vegetable dish. As regards oil dish, Chongqing people like to mix castor oil with crushed garlic. It has the function of clearing away heat and can make the taste more delicious. In Chongqing, all seasons are suit to eat hotpot. It’s perfectly justifiable to eat it in winter, but the hotpot business is more flourishing in summer.

Shanjiang Hechuan Peach Slices (合川桃片)

With a history of more than 140 years, Hechuan Peach Slices is made from best-quality glutinous rice, Sichuan white sugar, gingili, lard, walnut kernel, rose, etc. It tastes soft, fragrant and sweet. It has the functions of nourishing Kidney, moistening lung and reducing cough.

Mayuan (麻元)

Mayuan is a kind of food which is a small ball of glutinous rice balls, with sweet filling inside and some sesame outside. It’s fried until its color changes into brown. It’s characterized by crisp surface and soft inside, round shape with empty core, and sweet taste with fragrance.

Small Glutinous Rice Dumplings (小汤圆)

Knead glutinous rice powder evenly into small balls, fill in sweet filling, and then cook them. It’s characterized by white color like pearl, transparent surface, indistinct filling, and sweet taste with fragrance.

Jiangjin Rice Sugar (江津米花糖)

This traditional famous local product has already had a history of nearly one hundred years. Jiangjin Rice Sugar is synthesized by refined glutinous rice, white sugar, maltose, oil made out of animals and plants, shelled peanut, peach kernel, rose candy, sesame, etc. It has many characteristics. It’s crisp, sweet and tasty with faint scent. It has the functions of nourishing kidney, stimulating appetite, and invigorating the spleen etc.

Lai Walnut Crisp Cake (桃酥)

Invented in the twenties, Lai Walnut Crisp Cake is a famous traditional dessert in Chongqing. It’s famous for being fragrant, sweet, crisp and loose. The surface presents the pattern of the walnut shell, with the natural breaches. It is deep yellow, shiny and smooth. It tastes delicious.

Other typical Chongqing dishes:

Hui Guo Rou (Twiced cooked spicy pork slices. 回锅肉)
Suan Cai Yu (Fish slices in sour and spicy pickled vegetable soup. 酸菜鱼)
Tang Cu Li Ji (Fried pork fillet slices in sweet and sour sauce. 糖醋里脊)
Shao Bai (Steamed fatty pork with preserved vegetables. 烧白)
Dou Fu Yu (Fish with tofu. 豆腐鱼)
Yu Xiang Rou Si (“Fish flavoured” pork shreads. 鱼香肉丝)
Hong Shao Rou (Chinese bouilli. 红烧肉)
Gong Bao Ji Ding (Gongpao Chicken. 宫爆鸡丁)
Mu Er Rou Pian (Black Agaric and pork slice stir-fries. 木耳肉片)
Shui Zhu Rou Pian (Pork/beef slices in hot and spicy soup. 水煮肉片)
Ma Po Dou Fu (Numbing and spicy tofu. 麻婆豆腐)


Xiao Mian (Noodle with no tops. 小面)
Niu Rou Mian (Beef noodle. 杂酱面)
Liang Mian (Spicy cold noodle. 凉面)
Liang Fen (Spicy rice/soybean pudding slices. 凉粉)
Chao Shou (Szechuan dumplings. 抄手)


Chinese New Year in Chongqing

I have been fortunate to participate in the Chinese New Year  with my Chinese friends in Chongqing.

The Chinese New Year activities are significant, exciting and joyous but there is also an element of risk and danger.

The brilliant fireworks are exciting to watchbut be careful. Firworks are let off anywhere in any direction. Mix in a lot of alcohol consumption and anything can be happen.

Chinese Fireworks

Exercise common sense and you will be okay.

I have been to New Year’s Celebrations in the UK and Australia, and whilst very good, they do not compare to the passion and participation by the Chinese in their Chinese New Year celebrations.

The history of the Chinese New Year is a long one over many thousands of years.

The legend of the Chinese New Year is that a long time ago a monster called Nian (which now is the Chinese word for year) terrorized a village at about the time of the new moon approximately twelve months apart at the time what is now the Chinese New Year.

The villagers tried to placate the monster by giving it food.

One time the monster seemed to be scared away by the colour red and some exploding fireworks – so the villagers started to hang red lanterns to scare it away and let off fireworks.

So today you will see an abundance of red lanterns and other decorations at the Chinese New Year as well as numerous fireworks.

The Chinese New Year occurs between January 21 and February 20 according to the Western Gregorian Calendar.

In the Chinese calendar, the Chinese New Year occurs on the second new moon after the winter solstice (when the sun is lowest in the sky). The Chinese regard this as the start of spring so it is often called the “Spring Festival”.

In 2010 the Chinese New Year is on February 14, in 2011 it is February 3 and in 2012 it is January 23.

Many Chinese New Year activities have been done for many years.

Most important is the family reunion where family and relatives get together to eat and celebrate and enjoy each other’s company. I was fortunate enough to be invited to a Chinese New Year celebration with a Chinese family. It was a boisterous noisy evening with lots of food and drink. Also the number of relatives! Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins – they were all there. They all seemed to live close to each other in the housing estate.

Although the family reunion tradition is old, it has lead to a new phenomena in modern times.

The modernization of China has lead to a mass movement, particularly of younger people, to cities from rural areas for work.

At the Chinese New Year, all these people go home to celebrate with their families. The result is one of the biggest annual migration of peoples in the world.

I have seen queues of people a kilometer long at the Chongqing railway station waiting patiently in freezing cold weather to get onto a train to go home for the Chinese New Year.

Another tradition is the giving of gifts in red envelopes (red for good luck) by family members (parents, aunties, uncles, grand parents) to children, whether they are young or adults.

In the west we give presents at Christmas.

The Chinese give money which is placed in the red envelope. The Chinese then pool the money to buy a more expensive gift.

If you want to give a gift at the Chinese New Year, give a red envelope with money inside. (but not an amount which is a multiple of four because four is an unlucky number!).

Another tradition is to thoroughly clean the family home. It is supposed to bring good luck for the year to come.

The actual Chinese New Year celebration lasts for fifteen days.The actual Chinese New Year eve is when celebrations are at their wildest.

Chinese New Year activities can be summarized by the following – family get togethers, large amounts of food and even larger amounts of alcohol AND a ridiculous amount of fireworks.

Chinese fireworks are characteristic of the Chinese New Year. It seemed like everybody had to have fireworks. Many shops started selling fireworks. Other people sold fireworks as well. For example, I was playing pool at an outside bar area in Chongqing. The owner wanted to sell me some fireworks. She lead me through her house (kitchen and lounge) to the bedroom. She pulled out an amazing array of fireworks from under the bed – all for sale.

The Chinese New Year eve in Chongqing reminded me of a war zone!

There was a continuous barrage of fireworks from 6pm to well after midnight.

It was not controlled like in Western cities such as Sydney. In Chongqing, anybody and everybody let off fireworks. In Chongqing, this means several millions of people. There is a tremendous continual noise. There is a dense plume of smoke over the city. And if you are outside, you will end up being covered in black powder.

If you are in Chongqing during the Chinese New Year, you can’t but help join in. If you are in the public squares you will find plenty of people to celebrate with. The staff in the Chongqing bar I was in were only too happy to join in letting off fireworks.

However do be careful! Fireworks are fired upwards – but also sideways and down from apartment buildings. I know the Chongqing fire brigade were quite busy during the Chinese New Year period when I was there.

But join in. I did – I couldn’t resist it!

There are so many Chinese New Year activities happening. Another activity is the “office” theatre production.

In the west, we have Christmas parties.In Chongqing, the “office” stages a short theatrical production. An organization (such as a Government Department) will have an afternoon, just prior to the Chinese New Year, devoted to the Chinese New Year concert.

There is a lot of preparation and excitement. Singing and dancing routines are rehearsed and costumes made. It really is quite a show!

Be in China if you can during the Chinese New Year and join in the Chinese New Year activities.

It is not easy in some ways.

It is cold and crowded, particularly on the transport systems.

But that is more than compensated by the joy and deep meaning of the celebrations for the Chinese.

AND join in the Chinese New Year Activities!

Chongqing is an exciting place to be during the Chinese New Year!


Chongqing and Chengdu

These two well known Chinese cities are about 400 kms apart but are the dominant cities in this western part of China. They share a lot in common in culture food and customs but there is a healthy rivalry as well.

Although I lived in Congqing I made several short trips to Chengdu as did many of my work colleagues. You can go by plane, bus or train. I would recommend the train. When I first went it was a 4 hour journey, now the new fast trains do the journey in two hours.

Another way is by car. Some friends of mine hired a car and driver for a weekend trip to Chengdu – so that is a possibility too.

Chongqing was my home and I didn’t like Chengdu the first time I saw it as the train rolled in through the suburbs to the Chengdu railway station.

Chongqing is situated in a geographically interesting area – between two giant rivers (Yangtze and Jialing) and surrounded by nice mountains. In contrast, Chengdu seemed bland and flat. It took me a couple of visits to discover Chengdu and its delights, and after that I was a convert.

Chengdu is smaller than Chongqing – about half the population. But for some reason it seems more international than Chongqing. The Americans have a consulate there and KLM have a flight to Europe from Chengdu international airport.

And Chengdu seems well setup for tourists. Jinli Street is like Chiquiko in Chongqing but cleaner, bigger and it has several good bars and restaurants. And of course there are the world famous Pandas at the Panda Research station on the outskirts of Chengdu.

The shopping center (equivalent of Jiefangbei) is around Zongfu Street which has a very nice shopping mall and there are several markets nearby.

The Chengdu People’s Park is a delight. Observe local residents dancing, singing, flying kites or other activities in this green oasis in the middle of the city.
Chengdu People's Park

But the beauty about Chengdu is that there are a several very interesting one or two day trips from Chengdu. Leshan with its Giant Buddha is an excellent day trip as is the ancient irrigation system at Duijiangyan or the sacred Buddhist Mountain at Mt Emei and there are others as well.

So if you are living in Chongqing, I suggest you take some time and get to know Chengdu as well. I think you will not be disappointed.

Find out more about Chengdu here.