When I returned to Chenzhou this last time, in 2019, I was immediately struck with how much the city had advanced since my last trip.
Chenzhou is a – by China standards – small city, in the far south of Hunan province and near the border of Guangdong province.
I first visited Chenzhou back in 2010, as my partner at the time had roots in the city. We travelled there together. Coming from Beijing, I found Chenzhou to be a hopelessly backwater place. The local language was unintelligable even to someone with passable Mandarin. Many people had possibly never seen a foreigner before and would sometimes gawk at you in the street. Some of the countryside around the city had a thin layer of soot coating the leaves of the trees.
Now in 2019, things couldn’t be more different. And the change is a testament to the awe-inspiring progress China has continued to make in just a few short years. The polluting factories in the countryside have since been closed down, no longer do their smoke stacks spew fumes or their pipes drain into the rivers. The city has hired more street sweepers and worked hard to educate the populace – now the city streets are clean of litter and the roads are kept in good condition.
Now, amongst the younger generations, Mandarin is spoke as a mother tongue (I don’t mean to necessarily indicate this is progress, simply a truth), and the younger generation might even strike up a conversation with you in English. The gawking days of yore have since passed and now the sight of a foreigner might merely illicit a curious glance (or two).
It’s an incredible thing: to bear witness to an otherwise nondescript city going from 2nd to (almost) 1st world in less than a decade. I have since learned that much of the manufacturing that fueled the economic growth of neighbouring Guangdong is relocating to Hunan, including significant development in Chenzhou. The Hunanese economy has gone from one of the bottom ten in China (in the 70’s) to one of the top ten today. The Hunan capital of Changsha has propelled itself to being among the top group ‘Tier 1’ cities in China.
Chenzhou stands in a unique position, a gateway that links Guangdong with Hunan, on the high-speed rail line that links Shenzhen with Beijing. A young, dynamic workforce, and a beautiful city with clean air, on the doorstep of the beautiful landscapes of Zhangjiajie.
This is a a part of a series on the cities where Learnabli’s partner schools are located. Coming up next: Yueyang.