Located on the edge of the fertile Red Basin, Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province in southwest China. The city is more than 2,000 years old and has always been called Chengdu; the name is said to mean “becoming capital” after the Chinese saying, “It takes one year to form a community, two years to form a town, and three years to form a capital.” In the past it has been known for its hibiscus trees and for production of brocade cloth; it is also thought to be the birthplace of the world’s first widely circulated paper money. With 14 million inhabitants, today’s Chengdu is an important modern center of economic, transportation and communication activities; it still produces silk brocade, as well as cotton, wool and satin.
Travelers to Chengdu will see a very modern city, but there are still outposts of traditional culture. Visit one of the city’s charming traditional teahouses, very popular with the locals, who may play rousing games of mahjong there. Also highly recommended is Sichuan opera, a highly ritualized form that began during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) and is performed in the local dialect. Those interested in the ancient history of the Chengdu area can visit the Sanxingdui Museum, housing artifacts from nearby archeological sites that date back to the Neolithic, Shang and Zhou periods. Study pottery made on a wheel nearly 5,000 years ago; highly sophisticated gold, bronze and jade objects from 3,000 years ago; and spectacular Shang and Zhou bronze pieces.
Chengdu has established a world-renowned breeding and research base for giant pandas. The giant panda and other rare animals, such as the red panda and the golden monkey, are cared for and bred at the at the Panda Research Base, founded in 1987 with six rescued giant pandas, a population that has grown to nearly 100.