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From the series Cities of China

You may have heard that Chongqing is China’s largest city by population (approximately 30 million), but as is the case with many things in China, “nothing is as it seems.”

Chongqing is one of China’s four municipal districts directly run by the central government. This means that, even though it is called a city, it is the size of a small province. In fact, it is larger than the autonomous region (province) of Ningxia. 

In other words, there are two Chongqings: the actual city, which has a population of around 8 million, and the surrounding countryside. 

Prior to 1997, Chongqing was the second major city in the province of Sichuan. In that year, as part of the government’s newly-launched “develop the west” campaign, Chongqing was lopped off and designated as a municipal district. That marked the city’s journey to what it has become today, a booming metropolis deep in China’s interior. Here’s a video tour:  

The city’s main historical claim to fame was being the capital of Republican-era China during World War II. When the Japanese invaded China, Chiang Kai-shek up and moved the government from Nanjing to Chongqing (called Chungking at the time). Although it was too far away for the Japanese army, it was, however, within the range of their air force, and during the war the city was heavily bombed. 

By the late 19th century and early 20th century, Christian missionaries began setting up stations in Sichuan and southwest China. Chongqing, situated on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, became an important launch pad for those efforts. The only way into Sichuan at the time was to travel upriver from Shanghai to Chongqing (several weeks) and then overland by foot or cart to other parts of the province. 

One of my favorite stories out of Chongqing during that era involves an airplane. After the war, a missionary named Daniel Nelson bought an old C-47 from the US air force. He christened it the “St. Paul” and used it to transport missionaries and their supplies around the country. (Go here to read more about the plane and what I dub “The Flying Lutherans.”)

Today there are at least eight Three-Self Protestant churches in the city. Go here for a list of the Protestant churches and their addresses. The largest Catholic Church is St. Joseph’s. And as is the case in all other cities in China, there are numerous unregistered churches.

 I would be remiss in writing about Chongqing if I didn’t mention that Chongqing is famous for its tongue-and-lip-burning, brain-searing spicy food (my favorite!) If you find yourself in the city, be sure to feast on some Chongqing Hot Pot!

And finally, traveling to Chongqing has become quite easy, with international flights to/from cities in East and Southeast Asia, as well as the Middle East and Europe.  

Image credit: Wikimedia

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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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