Chengdu History

It’s proven that there were humans settling in Chengdu at least 3,700 – 4,500 years ago. But the generally acknowledged Chengdu history began about 2,300 years ago from when the city was constructed in 367BC. In its over 2,300 year’s history, the location of Chengdu had not changed once, which is rarely seen all over the world. After Dujiangyan Irrigation System was completed in 256BC to control flood and irrigate land, the area developed fast since after. Up to Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), Chengdu was famous for the excellent Shu Brocade. To Three Kingdom Period (220 - 280 AD), it was very important as the capital of Kingdom of Shu (221 - 263 AD). It developed into a major city in Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD), and reached a golden time during Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD). The wars in late Ming (1368 - 1644 AD) and early Qing (1644 - 1911 AD) made Chengdu a chaotic place and declined, but recovered soon after large-scale immigration. After Opium War begun in 1840, the city came to decline again but gradually recovered after People’s Republic of China was founded and now it’s a quite important city in southwest China.

A Center of Ancient Shu Kingdom 2,300 – 3,000 Years Ago

The ancient Shu Kingdom established in Chengdu Plain and the upper reach of Minjiang River about 3,600 years ago. Sanxingdui and Jinsha are the two most influential sites dated then. The Sanxingdui Site dated around 3,000-1,200 BC, is in the northeast suburb of today’s Chengdu and was its most prosperous place at that time. The astonishing relics of bronze masks, tree-shaped articles, gold masks and staffs, etc. in Sanxingdui Museum show the excellent but exotic ancient civilization of ancient Shu Kingdom. Later Jinsha Site, in the west of present Chengdu downtown, was speculated as the capital and central area of Shu Kingdom.

Gold Mask displayed in Sanxingdui Museum
Gold Mask displayed in Jinsha Site Museum
Wine vessel excavated from Sanxingdui Cultural Site
Wine vessel excavated from Sanxingdui Cultural Site

See Also: Jinsha Site Museum

Became a City & Capital of Shu Kingdom over 2,300 Years Ago

Up to 367 BC, the king of Shu Kingdom moved the capital from Fanxiang – today’s Huayang to the south of Chengdu downtown, northwards to a new site. He named the newly built capital as Chengdu, which meant the final capital of Shu Kingdom in ancient Chinese. People deemed that this point of time was the real start of Chengdu history, as a city was shaped here. It had been the capital until 316 BC, when Shu Kingdom was conquered and became a shire of Qin State.

Later, Zhang Yi, the prime minister of Qin, and Sima Cuo, the general of Qin, ordered to expand Chengdu city. To 311 BC, the king of Qin ordered the buildings of Chengdu along the lines of the then capital, Xianyang and the city became even more magnificent.

Dujiangyan Irrigation Project
Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Land of Abundance Since 256 BC Benefiting from Dujiangyan Irrigation System

In 256 BC, the governor Li Bing at that time took charge of water control of Minjiang River, and built the world-famous Dujiangyan Irrigation System, which is still used at present. It is a milestone in Chengdu history, because the flood there was controlled effectively since then, and people got good harvests. Thus Chengdu came into a time of rapid development. To the late Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 BC) and early Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD), Chengdu had been a land of abundance in China.

Famous for Shu Brocade in Han Dynasty (202 BC - 220 AD)

Chengdu had always been a regional metropolis, with well-developed business of trade, Shu Brocade, lacquerware and teas during Han Dynasty. It was the center of world's lacquer craftwork and the birthplace of tea culture. In particular, the brocade industry boomed with skilled techniques. Therefore, the central government appointed an officer to manage this industry in Chengdu. Later the city got another name that was widely spread – Jin Guan City. Jin Guan is the title of the officer and Jin is the brocades in Chinese. Sometimes, people called it as Jin City as well.

Capital of Shu Kingdom in Three Kingdoms Period (220 - 280 AD)

During Three Kingdoms Period, Liu Bei established the Kingdom of Shu in 221 AD in Chengdu, contending with other two powers. Meanwhile, he, his son and the prime minister Zhuge Liang aroused their all efforts to make the kingdom prosperous. In the heyday, it was not only the key city in the southwestern regions where many ethnic groups settled, but also one of three centers in whole China.

One of China’s Four Major Cities in Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD)

After the chaotic Three Kingdoms Period (220 - 280 AD), Chengdu recovered quickly and became one of the four largest cities in Tang Dynasty. It was a flourishing age in Chengdu history, with thriving economy, culture and Buddhism during the time. Agriculture, silk industry, handicrafts, trading, papermaking and lithographic printing were all advanced. The earliest printing pieces in the world are precisely found in Chengdu. Meanwhile, Chengdu attracted many litterateurs, too, as the famed poets, like Li Bai, Du Fu, Wang Bo and Li Shangyin, lived in the city once.

Got the Name “Rong Cheng” (Hibiscus City) in the 10th Century

During the period of Five Dynasties and Ten States (907 - 960 AD), Meng Chang, the last emperor of Later Shu State lived in Chengdu and was on his throne during 934 – 965 AD. His wife was fond of flowers very much, so he ordered to plant hibiscus all over the city wall. Another said it’s to protect the poor city wall. Hence Chengdu got the nickname, Furong City (Hibiscus City), or Rong City for short.

A Golden Age in Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD)

Chengdu led the list of foremost prosperous cities in China during Song Dynasty. For example, the brocades were made in Chengdu, with more patterns, accounted for 70% of congeneric tributes to the royal court. In the city, there were the specialized markets for silkworms and related products, herbs and medicines, flowers, etc. The lantern fairs on festivals were very bustling as well. Because of the developed commerce, Jiao Zi – the earliest paper currency around the world was issued in Chengdu during the Northern Song Dynasty (960 - 1127 AD). And the government founded an office in the charge of the management of Jiao Zi.


Large-scaled Migration to Sichuan after Wars in around 1671 - 1776 AD

In the years of late Ming (1368 - 1644 AD) and early Qing (1644 - 1911 AD) dynasties, the previously flourishing city vanished because of the wars. Going with the pestilence, the population declined severely in Chengdu history. To help the city as well as the region to recover, the emperor Kangxi, the second emperor of the Qing Dynasty, asked the people in richest southern provinces to move to Sichuan. What’s more, some businessmen in adjacent provinces also became immigrants to Chengdu. In such a way, Chengdu made a gradual recovery in the following long time.

Chengdu in Modern Times after 1840 AD

Following the Opium War (1840 - 1842 AD), the city went into a decline for the long-term chaos and wars, and its role was overtaken by the adjacent Chongqing. After the foundation of People’s Republic of China, Chengdu gradually grows up into one of the super cities in western China, with vigorous growth only after the top cities in the country.

- Last updated on Aug. 24, 2023 -
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