Chengdu is the westernmost metropolis in China. The city is the capital of Sichuan, one of China’s richest provinces when it comes to culture. Most people around the world know Chengdu for its famous panda rescue centers. However, Chengdu is much more than that. Tall mountains covered in pine forests surround the city from the north and west. At the base, lush green subtropical vegetation covers the flat terrain. The city center is lovely, full of outstanding old temples, interesting contemporary architecture, and lively traditional streets. Additionally, the world’s largest Buddha is only a step away. The following are our 10 most interesting facts about Chengdu.
01 Chengdu Is China’s Seventh Largest City
Chengdu is China’s seventh-largest city trailing behind Guangzhou and Shenzhen. According to the last census of 2010, the urban population of Chengdu was 6.3 million people. At that time, the population within the Chengdu Administrative Area stood at 7.4 million people. In the last decade, Chengdu grew considerably and is now the home of some 9.1 million people. The vast majority of inhabitants are Han Chinese. Nevertheless, several minority groups live in the city, including Tibetans, Qiang, Yi, and Nakhi. Some 30,000 Tibetans live permanently in the city, while 200,000 are temporary residents.
02 The Origin of Its Name Is Unclear
Chengdu is the only major Chinese city that kept the same name through most of its history. The name Chengdu dates back to the Warring States period that extended from the 5th century BC to the 3rd century BC. Its origin is unclear though. The most widely accepted explanation comes from a 10th-century geography book. In this book, King Tai from the Zhou Dynasty famously pronounces that a place needs one year to be a town, two years to become a city, and three to become a capital. According to this interpretation, Cheng means to become, and Du means a capital. As popular as the theory is, most modern scholars question it.
03 Chengdu Was the Capital of Several Shu Kingdoms
The ancient Kingdom of Shu governed the area around Chengdu during the Neolithic period, though its history is longer. According to historical records, Chengdu already existed in the 11th century BC. Centuries later, during the Three Kings period, Chengdu was the capital of the Shu Han State. The state existed between 221 AD and 263 AD in the territory of present-day Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, and Yunnan. In the 10th century, Chengdu was the capital of two Shu states. The Former Shu (from 907 to 925) and the Later Shu (from 934 to 965) were two of the Ten Kingdoms that ruled between the Tang and Song Dynasties.
04 The City Center Is Big
Chengdu has a large, clearly-defined city center. The city’s geographical and transportation center is rectangular Tianfu Square. The Sichuan Science and Technology Museum, the Chengdu Museum, the Sichuan Art Gallery, and the Jincheng Art Palace tower above the square. East of the square, Chunxi Road is the main street in Chengdu’s large central pedestrian area. Tall skyscrapers surround the area with shops, restaurants, and cool sculptures in between. To the east, there is another fabulous pedestrian area: Tai Koo Li shopping center. This architectural masterpiece combines modern structures with ancient houses. Many considered it China’s nicest shopping mall.
05 Chengdu’s Contemporary Architecture Is Avant-garde
Chengdu’s modern architecture has evolved from monumental and boring, to fascinating and avant-garde. The city’s most famous building, the New Century Global Center, is a fantastic example. This massive multipurpose structure from 2013 is one of the world’s largest buildings. On the other hand, the Sliced Porosity Block from 2012 is a beautiful contemporary multifunctional complex. Renowned architect Steven Hall designed it. The Chengdu Museum New Building is as monumental as architecture can be. It looks like a giant gate adorning the west side of Tianfu Square. Chengdu’s future looks promising too. The Zaha Hadid designed Unicorn Island, south of the city, is currently under construction.
06 Wonderful Ancient Streets and Towns Populate the City
Chengdu is a vibrant metropolis, full of modern buildings and wide avenues. However, a closer look reveals ancient streets and towns with an intimate feel. The Wide and Narrow Alley (Kuan and Zhai) are actually three ancient parallel streets. These streets are the only surviving section of the large Chengdu Old City. The area homes the city’s best restaurants, bars, and teahouses. Jinli Street is another historic street bustling with life. Locals and tourists come here to buy the best traditional Shu embroidery. A fabulous park with a temple lies next to the street. Among the numerous ancient towns close to Chengdu, the nicest ones are Huanglongxi, Anren, and Luodai.
07 Chengdu Has Wonderful Temples
After Beijing, Chengdu is probably the city in China with the most beautiful ancient temples and monasteries. The Wenshu Yuan Monastery, originally built during the Tang Dynasty, is the best-preserved temple in the city. The Wuhou Memorial Temple, next to Jinli Ancient Street, is from the 16th century. The Green Ram Temple (Qingyang) is the largest and oldest Taoist temple in the city. Though the first Daci Temple was built in the 3rd century, the current structure is from the late 19th century. The Baoguang Temple stands out for its large collection of relics. The current temple is from the 17th century.
08 Chengdu Is the City of Pandas
As everybody knows, the gorgeous giant panda is one of the world’s most endangered species. Today, it is estimated that only 1500 pandas live in the wild. Of that number, about 80 percent live in the province of Sichuan. To protect these endangered animals, Sichuan created 16 Giant Panda Sanctuaries: seven nature reserves and nine scenic parks. These centers rehabilitate, study, and breed pandas. The lucky ones get back into the wild. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is quite popular amongst locals and tourists. This prestigious center is the only one within the urban area.
09 The World’s Largest Buddha Is a Step Away
The Leshan Giant Buddha is the world’s largest and tallest Buddha statue. Everything about it is extraordinary. The 71 meters (233 feet) high Buddha was the world’s tallest statue for more than 1000 years. It is carved out of a red sandstone cliff that overlooks the confluence of two large rivers: Dadu and Min. Centuries ago, vessels had a hard time negotiating the two turbulent rivers. A monk thought that building a Giant Buddha would tame nature. Due to insufficient funds, construction stopped several times. Fortunately, after 80 years, the massive statue was completed in 803.
10 Chengdu Metro Is an Engineering Marvel
Chengdu Metro is not the oldest or the longest metro system in China. What makes it unique is speed, accessibility, and design. When the first line of metro opened in 2010, it was the first conventional metro line in western China. Note that though Chongqing’s line 2 opened in 2005, it’s a monorail. Since then, six additional lines opened, including a 38.6 km long circular line. Today, 7 lines with a total length of 302.7 km and 222 stations cover Chengdu. Therefore, the metro serves the entire center, reaching almost every major landmark and attraction. Besides, it is among the few metro systems in China with a website in English.