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Flight to Chengdu easier than finding a stairway to heaven

Updated: Aug 1, 2019 By Huang Zhiling in Chengdu China Daily Print
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The high speed Xi'an-Chengdu rail line and the Sino-Euro Cargo Railway crisscross in Jiangyou, Sichuan province. YANG ANWEN/FOR CHINA DAILY

Before accompanying her son 980 kilometers to check out a bar in Chengdu made famous by a hit pop song, Mei Chun thought traveling to the Sichuan capital was like going to another realm.

The middle-aged woman had only three days to enjoy Chengdu after the pair flew from Wuhan, Hubei province. But Mei and her son - a 20-something studying in Canada - managed to see more than just the bar.

They visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where they took photos of the cuddly bears, and later went to the Jinsha Site Museum and viewed the gold foil sunbird, believed to be 3,000 years old, and other ancient artifacts. The pair also had time to visit Mount Qingcheng, the birthplace of Chinese Taoism.

"As a child, I was told traveling to Sichuan was as difficult as ascending to heaven and it would take several days to reach Sichuan from Hubei by boat," Mei said.

"Thanks to airplanes, however, it is easy to travel to Sichuan."

Mei likely formed her opinions about the difficulties of reaching Sichuan by reading a poem by Li Bai (701 to 762) who penned the famous line about it being as hard to reach as heaven. The poem is required reading for every Chinese school student, and there is a kernel of truth at its center.

Sichuan was still a largely inaccessible province in 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded. Back then the province had no railways or airlines, and most of the roads were dirt.

The desire for better transportation in Sichuan also played a crucial role in the history and development of modern China, said Shen Zaiwang, from the Sichuan People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Shen said in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Sichuan people - who wanted the right to build, control and manage their own railways - started the Railway Protection Movement that triggered the revolution to overthrow the Qing government, which planned to nationalize the railway system.

"The Monument to the Martyrs of the Railway Protection Movement is in the People's Park in the center of Chengdu," Shen said.

But the dream of building a railway system for Sichuan was not realized until the founding of the People's Republic of China, he said.

The Chengdu-Chongqing Railway, running from the capital to the then largest city in Sichuan, took only two years to build and was completed in 1952. It was the first railway built by the People's Republic of China.

In 1957, the Baoji-Chengdu Railway, running to neighboring Shaanxi province, opened. It was Sichuan's first rail link to another province.

Since China started opening up in the late 1970s, Sichuan has made great strides in transportation, said Xia Yongjing, an information officer with China Railway Chengdu Group. Trains not only connect with major Chinese cities, but since 2013, also major European destinations for both passenger and freight services.

Sichuan also boasts 332,000 km of roads, the most for any Chinese province. Its expressways total 7,238 km, ranking third in the country, according to the Sichuan Provincial Bureau of Statistics.

Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the country, has 106 international routes and direct passenger flights to major cities in Asia, the United States, Europe, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region.

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