Angela Merkel: The Good Woman of Setzuan
“The most powerful women in the world” just visited us in Chengdu: Angela Merkel. So after Michelle Obama visited the city a few months back, the people of Chengdu were yet again delighted that such an important person found the way to their city. News on Chinese national and local TV channels covered almost every step of her stay and even now, two weeks after her departure, TV screens in the city’s metro stations still show reports about her stay.
But why Chengdu? Why did Ms Merkel chose to visit Chengdu? This is what many people in Europe, especially in Germany, asked themselves when they read about her visit to the capital of Sichuan (and yet again: Sichu…. what? Where?). Visiting Beijing goes without saying for a head of state, and that’s what Ms Merkel did right after her departure from Chengdu. But the destination Chengdu was clearly going beyond the political horizon for many politically interested.
After all, Chengdu is indirectly known to Germans due to the fact that Berthold Brecht’s famous play “The Good Person of Szechwan” [“Der gute Mensch von Sezuan“], firstly published under “The Good Woman of Setzuan“, takes place in Chengdu. But then again, the play only refers to “the capital of the province Sichuan” and does not mention Chengdu explicitly. So it is still an unknown place for basically everyone in Germany (and I suppose it’s the same in every other Western country).
On the contrary, Merkel’s visit to Chengdu was hardly a surprise for most Chinese commentators. Chengdu’s economy is at the very core of China’s export-oriented and manufacturing-centered economic model. Based on cheap labor, which is still abundant in China’s back country, you find a vast amount of IT and electronic factories in and around Chengdu. The iphone or ipad you may be holding in your hand right now has probably been produced in one of the many Apple-factories, or one of its component suppliers somewhere here in the region. So what seems more obvious than going to see one of the world’s main workbenches?
But Chengdu is actually more than the manufacturing engine of the world. Based on this rock-solid manufacturing industry, the city indeed has huge potential to become one of the world’s most important hub for IT and electronic industries. The state of the city’s gaming industry, for instance, is a good indicator for the development of Chengdu towards a highly sophisticated level of economic growth. Some of the state-of-the-art software games that currently rule the world have actually been planned and designed by smart IT cracks (and nerds) in the city’s “Tianfu Software Park“.
But Angela Merkel was not only interested in seeing the cities aspiring economy, but also its fascinating vast variety of culture, too. Ms Merkel visited a marketplace that is only a few Kilometres (or miles, whatever) away from my home, and actually is a small and very down-to-earth place, where you only see locals, with no tourists in sight. In fact, I have been there for my own groceries just a few weeks ago.
At the Shenxianshu market, the German chancellor learned how to cook Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁 / Gong Bao Jiding) and she bought some local spices such as the famous Sichuan Pepper. Just like I did at exactly the same place four weeks ago.
Follow Angela Merkel and get your groceries at Shenxianshu in Chengdu. Apply now for an internship in Qingdao, Chengdu or Zhuhai!