City founding and cultural tradition

Authors: Go Chengdu


The name of the city, 成都 (Chengdu), literally means “become a capital” in its original use. Since the character 成 (Cheng) has the implication of “achievement”, the city is often referred to as “a place for success”.
The name of the city, 成都 (Chengdu), literally means “become a capital” in its original use. Since the character 成 (Cheng) has the implication of “achievement”, the city is often referred to as “a place for success”. In fact, Chengdu is the original city name, which dates back to its founding over 2000 years ago and has remained unchanged ever since. However, the city has two well-known nicknames: the City of Hibiscus and the Brocade City. Archaeological discoveries at the Sanxingdui and Jinsha sites have established that the Chengdu region was inhabited over four thousand years ago and was an important center of a unique ancient culture. During the period of Shang (1,600BC - 1,100 BC) and Zhou (1, 100BC - 256BC) dynasties, the region was the center of the Shu culture. The recent excavation of the Jinsha Site in the west of downtown Chengdu suggests that Chengdu was the center of the ancient Shu Kingdom around the time period lasting from 1, 200 BC to 600 BC. Among the unearthed relics of ivory, jade artifacts, bronze objects, gold objects and carved stone artifacts, a ring-shaped piece of foil was discovered, receiving the name the “Golden Sun Bird.” This spectacular find, wrought from pure gold, is adorned with the pattern consisting of four birds, flying in the same counter-clockwise direction. In 2011, the “Golden Sun Bird” was chosen to be the city logo of Chengdu. The ancient Shu Kingdom was conquered by the State of Qin in 316 BC, and a new city was founded at the present site of Chengdu in 310 BC. Chengdu is the only major city in China to have remained in the same location with the same name after more than 2, 000 years. As a central city for at least 2, 000 years, Chengdu’s influence gradually spread outwards from Sichuan to the rest of western China. At its height, Chengdu was once named “One of the Five Metropolis” in China. During the partition following the fall of the Eastern Han dynasty (i.e. the era of the Three Kingdoms) Liu Bei founded the Shu-Han State (221-263) with Chengdu as its capital. The period was known as “The Era of Heroes” and many historical figures of the time have become household names since the publication of the famous novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” some 600 years ago. During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, Chengdu was one of the most prosperous cities in China. The city was also the birthplace of the first widely used paper money (Jiao Zi) in the world (Northern Song Dynasty, 960 - 1,127). At the beginning of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), a large number of immigrants from other parts of China, mostly from Guangdong, Hubei and Hunan, arrived and settled down in Chengdu and the rest of Sichuan. The influx of immigrants was the result of the drastic depopulation of Sichuan during the warring years. The mass immigration that took place during the period has left deep impact on local culture. For instance, a large Hakka community can still be found at Luodai Town in Longquanyi District in eastern Chengdu. Tradition of literature and art Chengdu has been home to literary giants, such as Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong, two top-level writers in rhymed prose (辞赋, the most popular literary form in the Han dynasties, 206 BC- 220 AD) in China, Yang Sheng’an, an eminent scholar of the Ming dynasty (1, 368-1, 644) , Ba Jin and Li Jieren, two of the great novelists of the last century. Many literature giants in the Chinese history, including Li Bai, Du Fu, Su Shi and Lu You, wrote great works during their stay in the city. During the period of the Five Dynasties (907-960), Huang Quan, a painter in Chengdu, hosted the Hanlin Art Academy of the regional state with Chengdu as its capital. What’s more, Huang initiated the Fine Art Flower-and-Bird Painting school. The academy was the earliest royal academy in China. Chengdu has a large number of art galleries and museums, making it one of the most important cities in China of art displays. First public school in the world Wen Weng, administer of Chengdu during the Western Han dynasty (206 BC-9 AD), established the first local public school named Shishi (literally a stone house), in the world. The school site still sits at its original site in today’s Shishi High School. Sichuan Opera Chengdu is one of the most fountainheads of Sichuan Opera, which is well-known the world over for its thrilling theatrics, such as the use of face-changing masks and fire breathing. The Sichuan Opera Troupe and Sichuan Opera School are both located in Chengdu.
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