Why Chengdu? : Chengdu Diary Why We Picked Chengdu
NPR logo Why Chengdu?

Why Chengdu?

A number of you have asked how we came to choose Chengdu as our base.

Chengdu is far inland from China's major port cities. Alice Kreit, NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Alice Kreit, NPR

I have to admit, when we began talking about putting together a week of programming on China, I was pushing to do it from Beijing. I know Beijing very well, having lived there in the 90s. I love Beijing's parks and hutongs (old alleyways). I can understand most Beijing residents, since they speak Mandarin. I was confident that we would find lots of interesting stories to report on.

But our executive producer Chris Turpin, and others in NPR management, kept insisting that we take our listeners somewhere besides Beijing or Shanghai. Today, I'll be the first to say it was the right decision.

Teahouse inside Wenshu Monastery on a Monday morning. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Andrea Hsu, NPR


Through our coverage, we hope to convey to our audience just how complex a place China is. We want to reflect the enormous changes taking place, and the challenges and the opportunities that they present. While we certainly could have accomplished that in Beijing or Shanghai, it seemed more appropriate to get out to a city that's still in the process of developing.

Lower left, statue of Chairman Mao watches over Tianfu Square; Upper left, Construction workers in Chengdu's "Narrow Alley"; Upper right, Kids throng Chengdu Panda Base; Lower right, Chinese grocery and department store chain Ren Ren Le - the name translates as "Everybody's happy." Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Andrea Hsu, NPR

We solicited ideas from a number of people. We were looking for a place with a vibrant cultural scene, a place with some historical significance, a place where the economy is booming. Chongqing was mentioned more than once, but as many of you will remember, our friends over at Marketplace did a week of excellent programming (live, I might add!) from Chongqing back in 2006. We also considered Wuhan and Xi'an. But on a scouting trip that Chris, our Beijing assistant Joy Ma, and I took in February this year, we decided Chengdu would be the place.


We liked that Chengdu is part of a big government effort to "develop the west". We were impressed with the local music and arts scene here, not to mention the teahouse culture. We liked that we could get out to the countryside in less than an hour. We were intrigued by the fact that we'd pass Intel and Motorola offices along the way. We felt welcomed by just about everyone we met. And, I cannot lie, we ate really, really well on that trip.

Old homes give way to new highrises in downtown Chengdu. Andrea Hsu, NPR hide caption

toggle caption
Andrea Hsu, NPR

People here in China seem to think we picked well. A foreign ministry official in Beijing congratulated us on the choice, and said that Chengdu represents China's heartland. "It would be like going to Kansas City," he told us, beaming.

In the five weeks that I've been here, something else has struck me. Chengdu very much reminds me of Beijing ten years ago. There are brand-name stores and western fast food outlets galore, but you can also find little noodle shops everywhere you go. There are big grocery stores (including Carrefour and Wal-Mart, but also Chinese chains like Ren Ren Le) in every neighborhood, but you can also still buy vegetables in open-air markets, which are hard to find in Beijing these days.

Most of our team has never been to China before. And so I'm really glad that they're getting a chance to experience a place that's still evolving. Hopefully through our exploration of Chengdu, we'll be able to capture and document for you -- our audience -- some of the forces that are shaping not only this city, but China as a whole.