Chongqing, my ulitmate favourite city in China
When you look up Chongqing in most guide books they don’t say much about it other than it being the biggest city in China with 32 Million inhabitants, which is not even true. It actually “only” has 8 Million inhabitants itself and the remaining 24 Million live in cities and villages around Chongqing in an area of the size of Austria, who just are responding to the same municipal.
While much can be said about Chongqing’s former party chief Bo Xilai, and he apparently left the city with a great debt, he still had a positive impact on a lot of aspects of life in Chongqing. In his reign he focused of five points:
1) He instructed each neighbourhood to have their own police station, which has the duty to patrol their district regularly. Since this has been put into action, the crime rate is said to have diminished over 50%.
2) He wanted a city of movement, not congestion, so he invested a lot of money into infrastructure. And indeed all the time we were in Chongqing we not once got stuck in traffic (compared to the hours we spent on standstill in the traffic of a lot of other cities in China).
3) He wanted Chongqing to be an economically well situated city and therefore put a lot of time and effort in its promotion as an industry investments and developments.
4) He dreamed of a city in the forest and therewith initiated a grand reforestation of both the city itself and it´s surrounding. Apparently he even launched “The day of the trees”, where all party officials and everyone who thought something of himself had to plant a new tree.
5) He wanted Chongqing to be a city of community, which is why it was important for him to ensure that there was a community space maximum 500meters away from all residential areas for the community to come together.
The Square of the people in the middle of the city centre of Chongqing is just one example of such a space. I was advised to visit this square twice once in the evening between 7.30pm and 10pm and once between 6.30am and 8am. Both times one can magically immerse in Chinese everyday life. In the evenings young and old come together to play cards, do gymnastics, dance to various types of music (people just bring music player with their favourite songs and start a dancing group), go roller skating or just have a wee picnic while watching the world go by. Anyone can just join in the fun, but be aware as a) all the ichnographies look much easier than done as when the Chinese people do them they probably have already been practicing these moves for a while and b) even once you finally get the moves you will get a lot of laughs and stares being a Westerner in a sea of black hair.
While the morning is not as busy as the evening on the square of the people, it is still packed with people doing Tai Chi, Qui Gong or Kung Fudance. Some dance like in the evening and some jus jog around the square and do other gymnastics. The importance of physical health as base of spiritual and emotional health is much more integrated and accepted in the Chinese way of life than one can see in most Western societies.
Another point that fascinated me was that even though the sense of constant progress, which you can feel in a lot of Chinese cities, is apparent here as well, it is paired with a sense of conservation and proud of their Old Town and University district. It is a labyrinth of deep and narrow alleys full of a diverse range of merchants, musicians and street artists.
Furthermore, Chongqing is a mere hour drive away from the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Dazu rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th century, which are absolutely amazing. They are said to be the most Chinese of all Buddhist rock carvings in China, including influences of Confucianism and Taoism. They are also home to one of the biggest Buddhas ever carved out of rock in one piece in the world. In the words of UNESCO: “They are remarkable for their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period.”
What is your ulimate favourite city in China and why?