Chengdu (成都), the capital of Sichuan Province in Southwestern China, is a city that loams tall in Chinese and East Asian cultural history. It was the capital of the Shu Kingdom (蜀国) during the Three Kingdoms (三国) period, and was the setting of many tales of loyalty, betrayal, love and intrigue in the great classic, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
I last visited Chengdu in 1995, while as a junior auditor on my overseas assignment. I almost vomited when hit by the vicious numbness of Sichuanese cuisine for the first time, but have come to enjoy the city’s delicious and varied snacks (小吃).
Chengdu, like all Chinese cities, has changed dramatically since then. The statue of Chairman Mao still stood, in the central city square of Chengdu. In 1995, it was surrounded by factory chimneys and Soviet-style functional city blocks, and I recall being woken up to the tunes of Internationale and other communist military anthems at 6.30am every morning, played by loudspeakers across the city. Today, the statue is surrounded by skyscrapers and malls, adorned by billboards proclaiming the virtues of capitalist vanguards such as Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior.
I did not have enough time, and focused instead on two attractions that did not exist in 1995: The archaeological museum/parks of Sanxingdui (三星堆) and Jinsha (金沙) which were devoted to the mysterious Shu civilization (unrelated to the Shu of the Three Kingdoms) 3000-5000 years ago, contained a treasure trove of large alien-alike masks and other bronze objects. I was particularly impressed by the preservation of Jinsha, which was discovered in 2001 during the construction of a property development project merely 5km from the city centre of Chengdu. The whole site would have been bulldozed to build a shopping mall if this had occurred in Singapore.
I also visited the mausoleum of Wang Jian 王建, the founding emperor of the Former Shu (前蜀) during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (五代十国). What I also enjoyed in Chengdu was the food: the delicious wonton dumplings and many snacks the city is famous for. I had two meals at the renowned restaurant, Long Chao Shou (龙抄手). In 1995, it was a noisy and dirty canteen; today it has a restaurant section and a fast food section, and branches in many Chinese cities. Definitely a must-do when one is in Chengdu.