China endeavors to build characteristic towns

Visitors in Han costumes pose for a picture during a Mid-autumn Festival activity held in the Tang West Market Culture and Tourism Town activity, Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Wang Jian/People’s Daily Online

By Li Jie, People’s Daily Overseas Edition

Characteristic towns are innovative and entrepreneurial platforms that China has been striving to build in the recent years. Covering several square kilometers each, they are clusters of featured industries that advocate a combination of different lifestyles and eco-spaces. They are different from administrative townships and traditional industrial parks.

To better guide the development of characteristic towns, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) recently issued a notice introducing the successful experiences of 36 exemplars across the country.

The 36 “benchmark” characteristic towns all have their respective pillar industries, including auto manufacturing, online communication, new materials, high-tech incubation, pharmaceutical research and development, cultural and art innovation, fragrance, rice farming culture and sports.

Having developed strong industries with distinctive features is something shared by all the 36 characteristic towns, the notice said.

The Tang West Market Culture and Tourism Town is one of the 36 exemplars. Located in Xi’an, Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, it is built on the original site of the west market of Tang Dynasty (618 A.D.-907 A.D.) in the city of Chang’an (today’s Xi’an).

“What’s under our feet is the ruin of the west market that once prospered over 1,000 years ago. It was the start of the Silk Road during the Sui (581 A.D.–618 A.D.) and Tang Dynasties,” said Li Zhonghang, CEO of Tang West Market Group, adding that the scarce resource enabled the group to fully tap into the value of history and culture.

The unique cultural resource made the Tang culture and the Silk Road a bedrock for the characteristic town, attracting 20 million tourists each year and generating a revenue of around 3 billion yuan ($429 million).

Architectures featuring a style that combines traditional Tang expression and modern designing techniques now stand in the Tang West Market Culture and Tourism Town, presenting a historical look of the ancient Chang’an city.

At present, a cultural activity that showcases the charm of the ancient Chang’an city in 24 different hours of the day is being held in the characteristic town. Many young people are wearing Tang costumes there on weekends. As progress is being made in China’s efforts to prevent and control COVID-19, the characteristic town with distinctive historical features has once again become a popular destination among tourists.

“Popularity drives consumption, and the operation of the shops here gradually got on track,” said Li, referring to the impacts brought COVID-19 earlier.

The characteristic town adjusted its commercial structure according to the changes of the market, increasing the supplies of daily necessities, and it also made further exploration of the unique connotation of the cultural industry.

In this 1.5-square kilometer characteristic town, there is the Tang West Market Museum, a first-class museum focusing the Silk Road culture, Tang commercial culture and the history of the west market. Besides, the town is also home to a Silk Road cultural street and an international antique market. They both resurged the history and made the place a “must-go” destination.

“The last thing that a characteristic town wants to see is being in a rut, and we made clear from the very beginning that we want to present the cultural features of the Silk Road based on history and culture and relying on the cultural industry,” Li told the People’s Daily. According to him, the town has been selected as a starting point for many Chinese organizations to retrace the Silk Road, and it is also the final destination for foreigners who travel along the ancient trade route from the west.

Industry is vital but not all for a characteristic town. According to the definition of relevant department, characteristic towns shall offer space for production, living and ecology, and develop industries, culture, tourism and community as well. In general, they should combine production with lifestyles and be suitable for both business and residence.

At present, the phase-2 project of the Tang West Market Culture and Tourism Town is under construction, including office buildings, hotels and theaters. The town will also introduce areas for cultural and innovative experience, as well as cultural shows the next year in its phase-3 construction. Upon completion, the town is expected to attract over 10,000 entities and create nearly 100,000 jobs, generating 500 to 600 million yuan in tax revenue, according to Li.

A batch of distinctive and energetic characteristic towns that are suitable for both business and living have been developed in recent years, said an official with the NDRC. Some of the towns became new engines for the concentrated development of emerging industries, and some paved roads for the upgrading of traditional enterprises. Some blazed a trial in the relocation of rural population, and some became a new force in the integrated urban-rural development. Besides, some of them have built a new platform for the inheritance and protection of traditional culture. It is believed that more such towns are going to prosper.

Photo shows the Tang West Market Culture and Tourism Town. Photo courtesy of Shaanxi Daily

An actor dances during a Mid-autumn Festival held in the Tang West Market Culture and Tourism Town activity, Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Wang Jian/People’s Daily Online

Visitors shop in Han costumes during a Mid-autumn Festival activity held in the Tang West Market Culture and Tourism Town activity, Sept. 13, 2019. Photo by Wang Jian/People’s Daily Online