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Revival of Chinese civilization: through kaleidoscope of old capital

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-10-17 11:26

LUOYANG, Henan Province - It takes four hours for a high-speed train to travel from the modern capital of Beijing to Luoyang, capital of China's first dynasty, the Xia (2070-1600 B.C.), in central China's Henan Province.

But it would take Luoyang almost six and a half years to produce what Beijing achieved last year in terms of GDP.

In historical documents and fiction, Luoyang is depicted as a mighty political center just like Beijing. By the middle of the 10th century, Luoyang was already a bustling metropolis, and had already spent half of its then-3,000-year history as the capital of 13 dynasties.

Today, the city resembles many of the country's other 600 cities. Visitors may hardly notice any trace of its past glory at first glance.

One reason is that its oldest architecture, which was made of wood, was destroyed by wars.


Despite being home to six UNESCO World Heritage sites, Luoyang is not as well known as western equivalents.

It is among several cities in China that had expanded away from instead of building on top of its ancients ruins in early 1950s.

The modern city landscape gives few clues of its historic past, except a designated field of 47 square kilometers, 10 times the size of Vatican City, in the downtown area.

Cultural relics have been detected underground. The city government has an ambitious plan to restore architecture of the 6th and 7th centuries.

"City planning and construction are intertwined with cultural relic protection," says Li Ya, Party secretary of Luoyang, "If we can handle them well, it will be a win-win situation. But if we mess it up, the relics will either constrain development or they will be damaged."

"President Xi Jinping told us to have pride in our culture," he says, "And people need something tangible to reach consensus on."

Luoyang is the home to the Chinese civilization origin. Archaeologists identify the Erlitou ruins discovered in Luoyang in 1959 as one of the capital cities during the Xia Dynasty.

The local government is investing billions trying to restore the grandeur of what is believed to have been world's most populous city at the end of the 7th century.

It hints, according to some experts, that China will not only continue to be an economic powerhouse, but also strive to pick up its lost glory as a major civilization. China is promoting its cultural values and making its voice heard worldwide.


Luoyang was at its peak during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), when China's sole empress, Wu Zetian, moved the capital there from Chang'an (today's Xi'an), during her reign from 690 to 705.

Following the rises and fall of dynasties, Luoyang gradually lost its luster as the center of China, and even of the world.

The city is underrated compared to other ancient capitals of China such as Xi'an which is known worldwide for its Terracotta Warriors.

Fallen but not forgotten, Luoyang was chosen as one of new China's heavy industry bases in the 1950s when the Communist Party of China (CPC) rebuilt the country after years of war.

Being the cradle of industries such as heavy mining machinery, tractors, bearings, nonferrous metal, and high-speed diesel engines, Luoyang has absorbed so many migrants that it became one of the most populated Chinese cities 60 years ago.

Today, Luoyang has more than 7 million people, about the population of Bulgaria. Its GDP in 2016 was valued at 379.5 billion yuan (about 57.5 billion U.S. dollars), ranking second in Henan Province, and 51st among all cities in China.

China's aggregate economic output last year exceeded 74 trillion yuan (about 11.2 trillion U.S. dollars), representing a growth rate of 6.7 percent, among the fastest in the world.

The economic miracle sustained for almost 40 years since the country adopted the reform and opening up strategy in 1978. Luoyang is a beneficiary of the process.

To inject more vigor into its economy and maintain sustainable growth, China introduced supply-side structural reform at the end of 2015, which is expected to receive an endorsement at the 19th CPC National Congress scheduled to open on Oct.18.

"As an old industrial base, Luoyang has no chance other than undertaking the reform to revive," says Li.

He summarizes the city's development strategy as "9+2". Basically it aims to build systems of modern innovation, modern industries, modern market, modern urbanization, modern infrastructure, cultural inheritance and creation, eco-environment, openness, and public services.

The strategy echoes the five development concepts of innovation, coordination, green development, opening up and inclusiveness, proposed by the CPC in 2015. The "big five" is supposed to be a theme topic at the upcoming Party congress to produce future growth.

Henan Province expects much from Luoyang, hoping it becoming one of the engines that drive the province's economy.

Almost all the provincial leaders - Party secretaries and governors - are deputies to the CPC congress, the most important meeting to decide China's next five year or even longer plans. The country's future development rests on the growth of hundreds of cities like Luoyang and thousands of counties.

"If we can make good use of the policies to be adopted at the congress, the effect would be as major as that of the 1950s," says Li.


"We are in a tough battle on two fronts," says Li, referring to carrying out the supply-side structural reform and fighting poverty.

He is not exaggerating by comparing poverty elimination to war.

Five years ago, the 18th CPC National Congress proclaimed to build the country with nearly one fifth of the world's population into a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020.

China has brought an annual average of 13.9 million people out of poverty in the past five years, which means almost 1.16 million per month, or at least 26 people per minute.

China is in a race against time, as there are more than 43 million people, or three percent of its total population, still living below the poverty line of 2,300 yuan (344 U.S. dollars) annual income.

"This is the most significant Chinese solution to the worldwide problem," says Li, who is a delegate to the 18th and the 19th CPC National Congress.

Challenges ahead are not limited to poverty reduction.

Environmental protection is on the top agenda of Li and all Chinese local officials as well as central government leaders.

Luoyang launched a three-year river cleanup campaign in September, aiming to improve the water quality of and environment along four major rivers running across the city with a total length of 554 km (344 miles).

The rivers are expected to be clean enough for swimming and raising fish. More trees and bushes, parks and wetlands will be planned along the river banks to benefit the public.

"The concept of eco-civilization is becoming increasingly popular among local people," says Li, "We must do something to satisfy people."

China is expected to introduce tougher measures in the coming five years to solve environmental problems. Nearly 15,000 officials have been held accountable for pollution over the past year, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.


People believe the returning strength of Luoyang is a suggestion of China's long march to national rejuvenation.

The Chinese Dream, which aims to modernize the country by the mid-21st century, has never been so true to Luoyang residents as well as Chinese people elsewhere. By then the largest group of people in the world will be free from the threat of poverty as China becomes the biggest economy, surpassing the United States.

The 19th CPC National Congress is expected to make profound progress in theory and policy development, which will be guiding China in a new stage of growth, according to Liu Dezhong, a researcher specializing in Marxism and international strategies from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"The new CPC top leadership will be elected during the milestone congress," he says, "A new phase of building a modern socialist country will be ushered in."

In Li Ya's eyes, in line with the country's new development, Luoyang could be opened wider.

As the place where the Grand Canal meets the Yellow River, China's second longest river, Luoyang is more than qualified in claiming itself as a pivotal Silk Road player.

"We should make full use of the free trade zone to boost bonded logistics, trade and manufacturing in Luoyang," he says.

The Henan Free Trade Zone has received more than 1,000 companies on Luoyang's part since its inauguration in April.

Express freight trains replace horses and camels to connect Luoyang with Europe again. The commodities include electronic devices, high-tech products, as well as farm produce.

"We are getting closer to the center stage of the world," says Li.

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