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From the series Cities of China

My first visit to Chengdu was in 1985, just before the Spring Festival holiday in late January. Having just completed one semester of teaching in Zhengzhou, Henan Province my teammates and I decided to take a boat ride down the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Wuhan on our way out to Hong Kong for a teaching conference. A dozen or so other teachers working in other parts of the country wanted to make the journey as well, so we decided to meet up in Chengdu.

Nobody flew back in those days (there weren’t any flights), so we all made our way there, from as far away as Daqing and Harbin, in Heilongjiang Province, by train. We were there for just one day before setting off for Chongqing to catch our ferry down the Yangtze. 

I did not return to Chengdu until 2012, while on a research trip with a friend. Nothing was recognizable from my previous visit except for the statue of Chairman Mao looming over Tianfu Square in the middle of the city. Now, of course, he just looks like he’s trying to hail a cab. 

This is a fantastic video of what the city looks like today. 

In the early 20th century Chengdu served as a base of operations for mission work in southwest China. It was also the home of the West China Union University, founded in 1914 by a consortium of mission agencies for the purpose of “the advancement of the Kingdom of God by means higher education in West China under Christian auspices.” It was also the place where newly-arrived missionaries did their language and culture training. After 1949, the school was taken over by the government, and today it is Sichuan University. 

As a result of the “Develop the West” campaign launched by the government 20 years ago, Chengdu has become one of China’s major urban centers. No longer isolated in southwest China, there are now non-stop flights to Chengdu from cities in Europe, the Middle East, and now, even San Francisco (United Airlines).

Image credit: Lounge Bridge in Chengdu, by George Lu, via Flickr
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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