Cruising along Yangtze River Ⅰ
Chongqing retains its old charm as modernity kicks in

Author's Note: As China is becoming increasingly important internationally, with a rise in its economic and political power, in some foreign eyes China has also become synonymous with an ambiguous monolithic bloc. However, China’s rise consists of many different elements and behind each of these elements is a story.  This series tries to narrate experiences in different, contrasting places along a single journey in China. It will start in Chongqing and follow the Yangtze River down to the coastal cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Chaotianmen Photos: Matt

It has been two years since I last came to Chongqing and apparently the face of the city has changed again in an exceptional way. More new apartment buildings, many subsidized by the government for low-income households, office blocks and bridges have mushroomed all over the city. My friend Xu Chuan, a Chongqing native, has now started to call Chongqing “the city of bridges”. As his car mingled into the daily evening traffic flow, we passed by the flourishing Jiangbei district. Suddenly office towers make way for a formidable view of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. Many bridges, illuminated by colorful lights, span over the mighty streams.
 
Chongqing lies in the center of China, in the so-called “middle west”, bordering Sichuan province to the west, Hubei province to the east, Guilin and Shaanxi provinces in the south and north respectively. The center of the city, Yuzhong district, is framed by the Yangtze and Jialing river, which eventually flows into the bigger “Long River” at the scenic headland of Chaotianmen – dividing the water color into muddy brown (Yangtze) and dark blue (Jialingjiang).

Because of this encirclement by the two big streams, Chongqing needs bridges. And since my last visit, at least two new ones have been completed, linking the city center with the northern and the southern shore of the Yangtze. (More are under construction.)
 
The speed of construction is incredibly high, but it also comes at the price of maybe the most iconic public transportation of the city: the cable cars. Of the many cable cars, which were once used for normal transportation, only one survived and is now declared a famous tourist spot. After all, it is a popular scene in movies like Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chongqing Blues.
 
Many foreign reports describe Chongqing as the biggest city in the world, which is true in the terms of land area. The urban population in Chongqing city itself amounts to about 8 million, and the rest of the population lives in the large hinterland. Chongqing is double the size of the Netherlands and as big as Austria, but with a much bigger population.
 
Chongqing became a very important economic hub under the policy to develop China’s west, and now, with the proposal of a new silk road – this importance has increased.
 
In 2013, a new train route between Chongqing and the western German city of Duisburg had been established called Yuxinou Railway. Cargo can now be transported directly by land from China to central Europe, covering a distance of about 11,000 kilometers in only two weeks.
 
Befitting its importance, Chonqing obtained the status of a municipality directly under the control of the central government in 1997. This status was formerly granted mainly to coastal cities like Shanghai and Tianjin, or the capital Beijing. This administrative reform changed the life of many Chongqingers, mainly because they now can move to the urban areas without caring about the household registration (hukou), a friend told me.


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