History of Chengdu

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Listed by the Chinese State Council as one of China's 24 most important cities in terms of historical and cultural significance, Chengdu's history dates back to over 2,300 years.

As early as 4th century BC, the Shu State moved its capital to where Chengdu city is presently located, and in the year 311 BC, the Qin people built a city wall of 12 li (6 km) in circumference and seven zhang (about 25m) high, which marked the formal establishment of Chengdu city. In 1985, an ancient building complex was unearthed by the west city gate of Chengdu, which was identified as a palace of the Shang Dynasty, built more than 3,600 years ago. This discovery pushes Chengdu's recorded history back over 1,000 years.

During the Western Han Dynasty (206-25 BC) the city was known as Brocade Cityfor its then-thriving silk brocade industry. During the Wudai Dynasty (907-960), the top of the city wall was extensively planted with hibiscus flowers, and at the time, the city was frequently referred to as Hibiscus City, a name by which it is stilled called today.

An Ancient City with Flourishing Industry and Commerce

In the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-220 AD) Dynasties, Chengdu was a well-known hub of commerce. By the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties, the traditional business workshops were gradually replaced by a pattern of selling shops facing the street and manufacturing shops attached behind (qiandian houfang). The whole city consisted of five big commercial centers plus a large out-of-town hay market. Throughout the year, a theme fair would be held each month: January for lantern; February for flower; March for silkworm; April for brocade; May for fan; June for incense; July for seven treasures; April for fragrants; September for medicine; October for wine; November for plum and December for peach wooden charms. The city also saw brisk night fairs at the time. Today, people can still hear such names as Business Street and Button Fair Street, a reflection of the city's historical commerce.

China is the world's first country to use paper money, and Chengdu is the forerunner in China. Paper money was issued in Chengdu in the early North Song Dynasty (420-479), which greatly pushed the development of trade and economy. Chengdu is also the first place in the world to extract and use natural gas. That was in the Western Han Dynasty when Chengdu people utilized it to produce salt.

Contributions to World Culture

Papermaking is a great invention China brought to the world and Chengdu led the way in China in papermaking technique since it was first invented here (around 600-1200 AD). Paper produced in the city in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) was officially picked as the paper to print imperial decrees and edicts, as well as books for the State Library.

Woodblock printing is another great contribution China made to human civilization, and this printing technique was also originated in Chengdu. Among the Chinese Dunhuang documents stored in the London Museum, the woodblock-printed almanac produced in Chengdu around 220 AD is the earliest of its kind seen in the world. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), Chengdu was one of China's three major printing bases, and the height it reached in printing at the time was unparalleled across the country.

Chengdu is also a city renowned for its handicrafts. The lacquerware it produced in the Warring State and Han Dynasty (around 200 BC) enjoyed great reputation at home and abroad. Some of the exquisite lacquerware excavated in the Mawandui Han tome were made in Chengdu. As the origin and major production base of Chinese silk, Chengdu was reputed for producing in ancient times the sort of silk calledSichuan silk brocade, and a chunk of the silk brocade exported to Central Asia through the famous Silk Road was produced in Chengdu; the linen it manufactured was sold as far as to what is today's Afghanistan.

Tea-drinking originated in China where its origin was traced to Sichuan province, while Chengdu's Xinjin was the first to engage in tea trading. In the Tang and Song periods (600-1200 AD), Chengdu was China's principal tea production and trading center. During the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911 AD), Chengdu formed its unique style of tea drinking culture, which has been carried on to this day, and today Chengdu houses the largest number of teahouses in the world.

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