Panda's Hometown Lures Tourists, Investors With Wonders

When the delightful Giant Panda was discovered by a Frenchman in Ya'an, Sichuan Province, in 1869, it was difficult for outsiders to get to the area closed by high mountains and torrential rivers. It remained so till 1999, when a standard highway was built to link the town with Chengdu, the provincial capital.

The city also plans to improve its infrastructure as a whole, not only to guide Panda researchers into the mysterious homeland of the Panda, but also to attract investors and tourists.

"We've got three wonders here," said Mayor Huang Yanrong, one of the few female mayors in China. The so-called "three wonders" refer to the so-call "Ya'an Rain", which dominates two-thirds of the year's 365 days and provides abundant water resources, the "Ya 'an Fish," which is very delicious, and the "Ya'an Women", who are widely known for their beautiful skin, explained Ms. Huang.

Being one of the main gateways between the inland areas and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other Tibetan-Dominant areas outside TAR, Ya'an boasts a history of over 2,000 years and was once the capital of Xikang Province which was abolished in 1955. In 2000, Ya'an was made a prefecture-level city, now including one urban district and seven counties with a 1.5 million population and covering 15,300 sq km. Ninety-four percent of its land is hilly or mountainous.

However, the Panda remains the top attraction for the city, said the mayor, adding that over the past five decades, Ya'an has provided 127 of the animals for research purposes or zoological exhibitions, or as peace envoys to send to foreign nations by the central government.

As 50 percent of the total 1,000 Panda population, which are only found in China, live in Ya'an, the Ministry of Forests, responsible for animal breeding and study, plans to build the country's second Panda research center in the city. The first is located in the Wolong Nature Reserve, in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan.

The central government will invest 20 million yuan to set up the center, while the local government plans to resettle local villagers to clear 400 ha. of land for the purpose, according to the mayor.

In addition to tourism, Ya'an is also developing a hi-tech industry. So far, many domestic hi-tech giants have settled in the town, the mayor noted.

The introduction of funds from other parts of the country and the rest of the world has been one of the main jobs for the local government. Last year, the city lured one billion yuan from outside investors. In 2001, the city government plans to attract another 1.6 billion yuan.

"We want to turn Ya'an into one of the most livable places in China," said the official. Since the State Council ordered an end to the cutting down of trees in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in 1998, local lumbering companies have turned to planting trees. The city has planted trees on 78,000 ha. of former cropland on the mountain slopes over the past three years.

(People's Daily 08/23/2001)

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