‘Chéngdū’, or Perfect Metropolis, has seen the rise and fall of nearly a dozen independent kingdoms or dynasties since its founding in 316 BC; agricultural potential and strategic geography were key to its political power. Yet throughout history it has been equally well-known for culture; not by accident did the Tang dynasty poet Du Fu brush his strokes here. The city is also split by the Brocade River (Jǐn Jiāng), a reminder of the city’s silk brocade industry which thrived during the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25–220); from here the Southern Silk Road guided caravans to the known world. The city’s name eventually shifted from Jǐnchéng (Brocade City) to ‘Hibiscus City’, still used today by locals. By the time of the Tang dynasty (AD 618–907) the city had become a cornerstone of Chinese society. Three hundred years later, during the Song dynasty, Chéngdū began to issue the world’s first paper money.
It is also a survivor. Devastated first by the Mongols in retaliation for its fierce resistance, from 1644 to 1647 it was presided over by the rebel Zhang Xianzhong, who set up an independent state in Sìchuān and ruled by terror and mass executions. Three centuries later the city became one of the last strongholds of the Kuomintang.