Getting to know Chengdu is like cuddling a Great Panda: plunge into the soft underbelly of traditional Chinese ideology, imagery, practices and arts to emerge with that soft, fuzzy feeling of enlightenment. For those of a curious bent, Chengdu offers more answers to the eternal questions than, say, the acrobats of Shanghai or market vendors of Xian, fun though they may be. Most outsiders know little about Chengdu, and yet among the Chinese themselves this inland city enjoys a formidable reputation for its fiery hotpots, cultured teahouses and Taoist temples.
What separates Chengdu from much of the rest of China is its authenticity: a modern Zen Buddhist might not know how much he owes the monks of China’s only homegrown religion. Today they still practice meditation, taichi and tea ceremonies at the Temple of the Dark Ram, a time-honored sanctuary for the most original and intriguing aspects of traditional Chinese culture.
A puzzle that may never be solved was recently excavated 25 miles north of the Sichuan province capital: one of China’s most spectacular discoveries, challenging the orthodoxy that the first Chinese people settled in the central plains near modern-day Xian. Excavated in the late 1980s, the burial pits of Sanxingdui not only reveal extensive evidence of a highly sophisticated society residing here 32 centuries ago, but have also brought to light some of the most beautiful art pieces of this period in the world.