After having spent three very busy days in Xi’an, I with my family flew to another historical site and city of China Chengdu. The history of Chengdu dates back to the early fourth century BC. From that time, the first emperor, Kaiming of the Shu Kingdom, shifted his capital from Pixian County to its current location and named the city Chengdu. As the emperor Kaiming believed that the new location would take one year to become a town and two years to become a capital, he named the city Chengdu, Cheng meaning ‘to become’ and du meaning ‘capital’. Though thousands years have passed, the city has proudly retained the name Chengdu to this day. Chengdu has also maintained its status as the Province's capital and major economic and political hub. In 316 BC, the Shu Kingdom was taken over by the Qin State. At this point several additions to city were made. Chengdu has the distinction of introducing first ever paper currency in the history of mankind. Northern Song Dynasty did the epoch making revolution in around 960 AD. This currency was named jiao zi, not, of course, the same as the delicious dumplings we enjoy today.

Chengdu is a city of rivers and bridges. Trees grow in profusion and flowers bloom all year around. “No wonder that a traveler from France in the 19th century praised Chengdu as Oriental Paris.” Over 2,000 years, Chengdu has remained a city representing military might in Southwest China. Gongsun Shu, king of Western Han Dynasty, was a warlord and military figure of the Xin Dynasty and early Eastern Han Dynasty he controlled the region of modern-day Sichuan, proclaiming himself as the Emperor of Chengjia. With Chengdu as his capital, he ruled for 12 years between 25 AD and 36 AD. Liu Bei, emperor of the Three Kingdoms and Meng Zhixiang, King of the Latter Shu Kingdom both founded their capital in Chengdu. Later in the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Chengdu remained the seat of government for Sichuan province and that status Chengdu has maintained till today.

Chengdu is also known for its handicrafts. From the Warring States (770 BC-476 BC) to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), lacquer wares of Chengdu enjoyed tremendous popularity worldwide. Chengdu is also the home of the famous Shu brocade. Shu Brocade is the significant cultural heritage and famous traditional handicraft of Chengdu as well as of China with a history of 2,000 years. It is noted for exquisite craftsmanship and gorgeous patterns. At present time, the Chengdu Shu Brocade Factory still employs ancient techniques for extracting colours from plants, and produces brocade of amazing designs and variety. During the Han Dynasty (220 BC- AD 206) and the Jin Dynasty (265-420), the coloured silk from Sichuan became the main ingredient of Chinese couture. For a long period of time between the Six Kingdoms and the Tang Dynasty (618-907), most of the silks exported to the Middle Asia were made in Chengdu. In the Han Dynasty, the hemp cloth was the first-grade cloth, finding a ready market in countries as far as Europe.

Though there are numerous places to be visited while in Chengdu sites like Anlan Suspension Bridge, Baoguang, Baoguo Temple, Chengdu Panda Research Base, Du Fu Cottage, Dujiangyan Canal, Emei Mountain, Erwang Temple and Fulong Temple should not be missed.

“When referring to Chengdu food, we naturally talk about Sichuan cuisine. That’s because Sichuan cuisine is composed of Chengdu cuisine, Chongqing cuisine, Zigong cuisine as well vegetarian cuisine, usually observed for its religious significance.  Sichuan cuisine specializes in a variety of flavors, especially hot, sweet, sour, salty and tongue-numbing. The truth of the saying “All tastes can be tried in Sichuan”, is readily admitted by travelers to the region.  In total, Sichuan cuisine employs around 4,000 different ingredients and around 40 methods of cooking, especially decocting, stir-frying sautéing, dry-braising, Pao (soaking in water), and Hui (frying, and then braising with corn flour sauce).”  

Chengdu's most typical dish is Chen Ma Po’s Bean Curd, which was developed at the end of the Tongzhi Period, in the Qing Dynasty. Sautéed Sliced beef with Pepper and Chili is another dish typical of Chengdu-Sichuan cuisine, in which green and red seasonings add taste dramatic color to the dish. Dengying dried beef, (named for its puppet-like shape), is bright, red, spicy and wholly delicious. Other popular dishes include spicy diced chicken with peanuts; fish flavored shredded turkey, and twice-cooked spicy turkey. In addition, Chengdu hotpot and snacks are simply out of the world dishes. The best places to enjoy authentic Sichuan cuisine in Chengdu are Chen Ma Po’s Bean Curd Restaurant, Baguo Buyi, and Tan Fish Head Hotpot, among others.   

 Those interested in Chinese cuisine can visit Pixian and the Sichuan Cuisine Museum. It is just delightful half-a-day trip from Chengdu. The museum has displays of historic kitchen utensils, crockery, silverware, models of dishes and pictures depicting history of Chengdu eatery delights. For foreigners who cannot read Chinese text there are English captions also. The food museum precincts also includes a small farm and a bean paste 'distillery' where the famous Pixian chili bean paste ferments in clay jars in the courtyard. The museum has paste as well as pickles and snacks for sale. The museum restaurant is equipped with the demonstration hall where you can take lessons of Chinese dishes. The tea-house of the museum is hugely popular with visitors and locals alike. There, if you are lucky you can catch a Sunday afternoon Sichuan opera show, it is a bit costly though. 

In spite of so many locales of tourists’ interest in Chengdu, Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center remains the real attraction. In fact, today, the name Chengdu has become a synonym of Panda and Panda a synonym of Chengdu. I shall write about this Research Centre next week.