Yangzhou: a History of Fast Growth and Preservation in the Jiangsu Province


China is a melting pot of different experiences and multifaceted successes. Among the top PRC cities with the highest GDP growth rate, in Jiangsu province, Yangzhou managed to combine historical preservation with the national development plans


Cities are what drives a country’s economy. They boost innovation and develop industries that shape the nation’s strength. This is especially true in China, where cities’ GDP is growing at an unprecedented rate changing the whole world’s economic geography.

Indeed, China dominates the list of cities with the fastest growing economies. Among the first 50 metropolitan areas that experienced the fastest growth from 2014 to 2016, only five cities do not belong to the Celestial Empire.

According to a report released by the Brookings Institution in 2018, the world’s 300 largest metropolitan areas accounted for almost 70% of GDP growth in those two years and China dominated the chart with over 100 cities and an average growth’s rate of 7.2%.

Thanks to this steady growth, second, third or even fourth-tier cities are now all challenging the dominance of Tier 1 cities like Beijing or Shanghai. Today, lower-tier cities not only benefit of incentives from the central government but they also attract foreign investments from the companies that aim at global expansion.

In the latest years, Hefei has become the fastest growing city in China. However, after Hefei, 155 miles east from the Anhui capital, Yangzhou recorded an extraordinary year-on-year growth ranking second in the top five Chinese cities with the highest growth rate.


Yangzhou - jiangsu - five pavilion bridge - cifnews

© Xuehua. Five-pavilion bridge, Yangzhou, Jiangsu. Famous for its beautiful gardens and parks, Yangzhou, ranked second among China’s fastest growing city.


Officially considered a third-tier city, Yangzhou is located at the center of the Jiangsu province, right at the north bank of the Yangtze river and close to the coastal cities that historically served as China’s doors for the outside world such as Shanghai and Nantong, neighboring the provincial capital Nanjing to the southwest.

Famous for its beautiful gardens and parks since Ming dynasty, Yangzhou’s GDP rose from $46.4 billion in 2012 to $75 billion in 2017, recording an incredible increase of 72.65%.

Due to this fast growth, Yangzhou’s 4.5-million population has witnessed a complete transformation not only of the country as a whole but also of their own town and neighboring areas.


Situated in the middle part of Jianghuai Plain and on the north bank of lower reaches of the Yangtze River, Yangzhou vibrant economy, is one of the best locations in China to conduct business.


The ancient capital of Yangzhou prefecture in imperial China is often cited in Chinese poems and literary works and it is also remembered for its most famous resident Marco Polo, who served as a municipal official here. However, together with beautiful nature, Yangzhou also has a long history of wealth.

By the middle of the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century, Yangzhou was a hub for water transportation in China attracting merchants from Syria, Arabia, and the Iberian Peninsula. Then, 200 years later, during the Song Dynasty, it was the richest city in the country, whose main source of wealth was salt.

Even back then, Yangzhou was a real booming metropolis whose GDP equaled 1% of that of the entire world. And since then, the city developed around many sectors becoming a leading center for the machinery, tourism, software, and the food processing industry.

In 2017, the local government released plans to strengthen strategic emerging industries such as the new energy, new medicine, novel materials, high-end manufacturing, information technology, and biotechnology becoming also the only city in Jiangsu province to receive the “pioneer” status as a result of its support for small and micro-enterprises.

The city’s goal is to generate an output value of $105.6 billion from these industries by 2020. Therefore, in 2018, the government announced many incentives to attract high-end professionals, including a monthly rental allowance and a one-time housing subsidy worth up to $301,390.


Yangzhou - jiangsu - preservation and innovation - cifnews

© Sohu.com. Yangzhou, Jiangsu. The “Garden city” managed to combine historical heritage with innovation attracting foreign investors and governmental incentives.


Nevertheless, in its run to a fast development, Yangzhou had a peculiar integrated approach managing to combine innovation and preservation. Actually, the city has rebuilt its past to make room for a brighter future, which will bring Yangzhou to its ancient splendor.

With the goal to upgrade urban areas while preserving the cultural heritage, Yangzhou has moved in the direction of sustainable development with integrated urban renewable projects supported by the Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA).

With over 2,500 years of history, the city’s old canals and historical sites that attract millions of tourists every year resulted to be a challenge for the realization of a modern and innovative Yangzhou.

Therefore, as the years passed, younger and wealthier residents started to move out of the city center making the Old Town to be left behind compared to other China’s historical sites. Indeed, in 2009, 40% of the old town’s residents belonged to low-income groups resulting in an increasing decay of the city center, which did not bring wealth to the city, either innovation or progress.

While private investors preferred to build new structures instead of renewing the old ones and the public fundings were not sufficient to upgrade the local infrastructures, the city had to fight also with the canals’ water pollution problem.


Yangzhou residents have been a key partner in the city’s development plan as multiple projects combined people’s needs and cultural heritage with modernization.


However, since the 1950s, with the CDIA support, Yangzhou managed to implement some development projects that ranged from the preservation and launch of the city’s Old Town to the providing of better quality water through small-scale investments.

The Yangzhou Construction Bureau worked closely with the CDIA in the introduction of new concepts and the design for urban upgrading and redevelopment. The residents became a key partner in the planning as their needs were considered in modernizing the living conditions. Then, the same concept was applied to other districts afterward.

Thanks to these projects, existing housing stock and infrastructures were upgraded with a modern approach managing to turn the city into a hub for foreign investments like the San Wan Wetland Park project, which CDIA helped planning in 2009. After having picked up by private investors under a public-private partnership model, it led to having an estimated investment value of $375 million.

Although it is still an ongoing project, it has already been cleaned up to finally become the most popular recreational space for Yangzhou residents. The park now attracts about 10,000 visitors per week and it also adds ecological value to the city.

As a result of the project to upgrade the Old Town, the Yangzhou’s central area has become an attraction for both residents and tourists thanks to its preserved historical architecture and lively culture. In addition, all these projects also helped to improve the residents’ quality of life. 


Yangzhou - jiangsu - zhongshuge bookstore - cifnews

© Unsplash. Zhongshuge bookstore, Yangzhou. Bookstores of Yangzhou are leading the way among readers, who are encouraged to cultivate both their cultural heritage and consciousness of the modern culture.


When the Secretary of the CPC Jiangsu Provincial Committee, Lou Qinjian, inspected Yangzhou in 2018, he stressed the importance of promoting the upgrading of traditional industries while boosting the development of the emerging ones. He also highlighted how Yangzhou represents a crucial area in the creation of the Jianghuai – a geographical area between the Yangtze and Huai Rivers – eco-economic zone.

Therefore, among many successful Chinese cities, this particular case in the Jiangsu province shows a different way to catch up the extraordinary country’s development.

Today, Yangzhou is a highly livable city, which is going to keep growing economically through innovation and industry experts’ contribution. But as the city’s GDP grows faster than other Chinese cities, its historical heritage is preserved as part of its economic strength.


“One of the major factors has been the city government’s strong political and financial commitment to ensuring that Yangzhou’s past wealth is preserved to the benefit of present as well as future generations,” said Eva Ringhof, CDIA’s Program Coordinator.


Among many changing mega-cities in the People’s Republic, Yangzhou focused on combining the features of a modern China with its history of wealth and the residents’ needs.

The Dragon, again, is showing there is not just a single way to reach the economic success that amazed the whole world. But the country is rather made of many different stories of local successes. A melting pot of single experiences that find their way in the global world and that contribute to the growth of the world’s second-largest economy.

Yangzhou recognized the importance of improving what deserves to be upgraded for the sake of both its residents’ quality of life and of tourism but it still makes sure to satisfy the national development plans focusing also on innovation, hi-tech, and sustainability.

Now the “Garden city” ranks second among the cities with the fastest-growing economy in China. As well as the Middle Kingdom, it went from being a leading city and a historical capital to the fall, hosting a decaying city center and outdated infrastructure. But then, right like the PRC, Yangzhou has resurrected and it is now more motivated than ever to be part of China’s history of magnificence again.


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