Often bypassed in favour of neighbouring Sìchuān, Chóngqìng is worthy of more attention, with its imposing location overlooking the Yangzi River and conversation-stalling spicy food. Modern China’s futuristic cityscape contrasts with the clutter of old steel boats at the docks and the city’s ‘bangbang’ army of porters who suspend goods on stout bamboo poles, transporting anything and everything over its steep hills.
After years as a kind of understudy to Sìchuān, Chóngqìng is getting its moment in China’s spotlight.While more or less ignored by the rest of the country since its glory days as the wartime capital, Chóngqìng’s development is now seen by Běijīng as the key to getting China’s interior up to speed with the east coast’s economic success.
It’s a tall order for a city of five million and Chóngqìng is going through a fascinating awkward stage. Old stilted homes cling to hills in front of gleaming skyscrapers and massive architectural projects. Stick porters loaded with goods trot underneath the soaring new light-rail system.
For travellers, it makes Chóngqìng much more than just a place to kill time before your Three Gorges cruise.
Perched on the steep hills overlooking the confluence of the Yangzi River (Cháng Jiāng) and Jialing River (Jiālíng Jiāng), Chóngqìng spends most days blanketed by fog. By night-time, however, the cloak is thrown off to reveal flashing neon and swooping spotlights.
A city ordinance against horns also means things are a lot quieter than in other Chinese cities. And with Chóngqìng’s rolling hills you’ll notice the absence of bicycles as motorbikes and cars fight for space on the city’s crowded streets.
The city is originally named Gongzhou but Emperor Zhaodun of the Song dynasty renamed it in 1190 when he ascended the throne. As he had previously been made the prince of the city, he called it Chóngqìng in celebration of these two happy events.
Billions of yuán have gone into its development and a major construction boom is on in full force. Just some of the ambitious projects that may be finished by the time you’re reading this include a huge gleaming library in the Shāpíngbá district, a Science and Technology Exhibition Hall in Jiāngběi district and the 96, 000-sq-metre Grand Theatre across from Chaotianmen Sq. The government hopes the theatre will become as much a symbol of Chóngqìng as the Opera House is of Sydney.
There are 30 million people in the metropolitan area and almost seven million in the city. (There are 170 metropolitan areas in China with over one million inhabitants.) We walked through the old city, with Ming residences, shops, and a tea house where we had a performance by string and woodwind quartets playing classical Chinese music. We also visited the Stilwell Museum, in the former residence of General Joseph Stilwell, who assisted Chiang Kai Shek. After checking out of the hotel, we had dinner near the docks, and boarded the Victoria Katerina, for our cruise down the river