Inside China: Eleven emerging cities explored

17 Sep 2018 by Business Traveller Asia Pacific
Chongqing, China skyscraper cityscape


Location: Capital of Sichuan province, central China
Notable for… Local cuisine, giant pandas, major infrastructure development

From its spicy food to the rare giant panda, Chengdu, the capital of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, is making its mark on the global map for a multitude of reasons.

In 2000, the Chinese government initiated an economic policy to develop its landlocked western provinces, and Chengdu emerged as a natural focal point. Logistically, the 2,300-year-old city has been a centre for cross-country communication and transport since the days of the Silk Road, when it contributed spices, tea and silk brocade to the earliest intercontinental trade.

This legacy remains apparent in modern Chengdu, from where dozens of major Chinese cities are reachable by high-speed rail, whose network of direct global air links is growing rapidly, and where a sizeable outsourcing and communications industry is in place.

But Chengdu’s charm has not been entirely lost in the frenzy of development. The teahouses, traditional opera theatres and ancient temples still stand their ground among the ever-expanding cityscape.



Location: Direct-controlled municipality, southwest China
Notable for… Computer and auto manufacture, tourism

Chongqing is one of the biggest cities in the world, with the population of its extended municipal area standing at 30.48 million as of the end of 2016, according to the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (HKTDC). In total, the city covers an area of about 82,400sq km.

The city is also the largest industrial city in southwest China, and a hub for communications, and automobile and computer manufacture. It is estimated that a third of the world’s laptop computers are produced in the gargantuan city.

However, tourism is also a growing industry here, with the picturesque Three Gorges area being the main attraction, while many of the city’s older streets are lined with banyan trees – an intriguing contrast to the industrial heart that powers the city.

Inside China…Chongqing


Location: Liaoning province, northeast China
Notable for… Financial sector and business events 

Located on the southern tip of the Eastern Liaoning Peninsula, Dalian looks out over the Yellow Sea to the east and the Bohai Sea to the west. For most of the 19th century, the area was peppered with small military settlements created by the Qing government, until colonial powers took over.

In 1950, Dalian was merged with nearby Lushun to form the city of Luda, covering 12,574sq km in area. However, a subsequent decision was made in March 1951 to rename the merged city as Dalian. Today, it is home to some six million people and is an industrial hub, with shipping and finance two of the major sectors, though in recent years the city’s business events sector has also been undergoing substantial development.



Location: Capital of Hainan province, southern China
Notable for… New hotel developments and ample golfing options

Mention Hainan Island in China’s tropical south and nearly everyone will know about Sanya on the south coast, already an international tourism destination and still growing. But of Haikou, the island province’s north coast capital, relatively little is known outside China. This, however, looks set to change.

Located just across the Qiongzhou Strait from Leizhou Peninsula on the Chinese mainland, the port city of Haikou is the focal point for business in Hainan, with a population of more than two million people, and air quality that is among the best in urban China. Today, with the Chinese government’s drive to develop a new Maritime Silk Road to the West, Haikou is experiencing a resurgence in its value as a sea transport hub.

This being Hainan, however, leisure is top of the list of priorities as well and the city’s retail, lifestyle and notably its golf scene are some of the best in the country.


Hangzhou and Suzhou

Location: Capital of Zhejiang province (Hangzhou) and major city in Jiangsu province (Suzhou), east China
Notable for… Booming tech sector (Hangzhou), lakes and landscape

For centuries, Hangzhou’s idyllic lakeside tableau has captivated eager pilgrims, from artists to men of letters and high officials, from loved-up couples to those seeking escape from life’s bruising crush. In the second decade of this new millennium, the gateway to China’s eastern Zhejiang province is sparing no effort in welcoming a wave of visitors, attracted not only by its enduring postcard-pretty scenery but also by the rapid expansion – since the local economy opened up in 1992 – of industries such as e-commerce, IT services, pharmaceuticals, electronics and food processing, among others.

Meanwhile nearby Suzhou, famed for its classical gardens, ageless pagodas and serene waterways, will always be regarded as an idyllic getaway. The world keeps forgetting it has been home for more than 20 years to two major industrial zones – Suzhou Industrial Park and Suzhou New District. Nevertheless, city officials are determined to carve a modern face for this historic hub on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, approving a slew of construction projects that are quickly changing the urban landscape.



Location: Direct-controlled municipality, northeast China
Notable for… Commerce and manufacturing

Directly administered by the Beijing central government, this port municipality, facing onto the Bohai Gulf and Yellow Sea, has long figured in China’s illustrious history. It first attracted the world powers in the 1900s, who established a presence there and used it as a convenient base for their merchants.

A century and more later, Tianjin’s profile has hardly dimmed, gaining even more cachet in these economically driven times, and impressing dozens of Fortune 500 companies enough to set up operations in the Binhai New Area, representing pillar industries such as telecommunications, food and beverage, electronics, biochemicals and logistics, among others.

No wonder, therefore, that one of China’s earliest high-speed train services – in 2008 – linked Beijing and Tianjin in a mere 30 minutes, signifying the importance of this port city to the country’s national fortunes.



Location: Capital of Liaoning province, northeast China
Notable for… Its burgeoning conference and exhibition sector

The capital of Liaoning province boasts a huge urban population of around eight million and is widely regarded as a “ 1.5-tier city”. It is certainly the most important city in the northeast and its rise to prominence has largely been based on its role as an industrial heavyweight, a legacy that began in the 1930s when Liaoning province was in the vanguard of China’s industrial revolution.

In the last couple of years however, the city has had a slight fall from grace and its decline in fortunes has sent Beijing scrambling to address the issue and reaffirm its commitment to revitalisation plans. This resulted in China’s 13th Five-year Plan (2016-2020), in which the government set out proposals to promote reform and encourage innovation to bolster the northeast region’s economy – with Shenyang set to be one of the main benefactors.



Location: Capital of Hubei province, central China
Notable for… Its myriad lakes

One of the most undervalued cities in China, Wuhan was once three separate jurisdictions located around the confluence of the Han and Yangtze rivers. Its history dates back some 3,500 years, older even than the famous ancient capital of Xian. The city of Hanyang, now the southwestern district of Wuhan, was already booming during the Han Dynasty (206BC–220AD), and by the Song Dynasty (960–1279AD) it had become one of the few Chinese seaports open to foreign trade.

Wuhan has its own version of “The Bund”, which was once lined with foreign banks and embassies. Many of these buildings have been preserved – some taken over by government agencies, others occupied by private businesses.

Although it has lost its place as an important economic hub, Wuhan is set to make a comeback with new developments in infrastructure, such as the high-speed rail. More recently, the city has also been the focus of numerous international airline routes, with non-stop flights to London launched earlier this year by China Southern and startup carrier Air Belgium targeting flights to the city from Brussels in the coming months.



Location: Fujian province, southeast China
Notable for… History, tourism and business events

Located on the southeast coast of China facing the Taiwan Strait, Xiamen was one of China’s first five special economic zones (SEZ), consisting of six districts – Siming, Huli, Jimei, Haicang, Tong’an and Xiang’an. The first two are located on the main island where the city was founded, while the others are newer incorporated areas on the mainland.

The city has a long history as a business hub, which in recent years has translated into a growing tourism sector. One such example can be seen with Gulangyu, a two-square-kilometre islet southwest of the main island, which was made an international settlement in 1903 resulting in significant offshore economic activity. Today, Gulangyu is popular among tourists for its colonial architecture and attractions such as the Piano Museum. Tourism remains a big revenue generator for this destination and it has also become an increasingly popular destination for meetings, incentive travel and trade events.



Location: Capital of Shaanxi province, northwest China
Notable for… Rich history (Terracotta Army), modern cultural attractions

Xian is the capital of Shaanxi province in northwest China and one of the oldest, most important cities in Chinese history, becoming the first ancient capital of China (formerly called Chang’an) – a legacy that lasted for 1,200 years and spanned 13 dynasties.

Eventually, power shifted to a “new” ancient capital (Luoyang) and the city slowly faded into obscurity. However, in 1974 a freak discovery of the now famous Terracotta Warriors put Xian firmly back in the spotlight. With more than a millennium of rich history to celebrate, tourism has become big business and according to the Xian Municipal Bureau of Statistics, 136 million tourists visited the city in 2015.

But while Xian’s unique historical attractions have fuelled a booming tourism industry, the city is wary of becoming a one-hit wonder. To counter this, the government has been investing heavily – not just in restoring historic artefacts to their former glory, but also by creating new, modern cultural attractions.

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