The most industrialised city in northwest China, Xian is the focal point for the development of the nation’s central and northwestern regions, and the revitalisation of land trade routes to Central Asia and Europe.
Xian benefited early from the national government’s decision to make the city a centre of the aviation industry. That decision resulted in heavy investment in infrastructure, higher education and hi-tech industries, providing a solid foundation for the modern, industrialised, hi-tech city Xian was set to become at the turn of the 21st century.
The Go West initiative, launched in 2000, provided additional investment across the board and helped to expand the six development zones clustered around the city. These zones, including the Hi-Tech Zone, Economic and Technological Development Zone, the Civil Aviation Industrial Base (CAIB) and the Xi-Xian New Area, drive economic activity in and around the Greater Xian metropolis.
The surrounding area is also rich in natural resources, leading to the rise and development of several heavy industries such as mining, coal and oil production, and steel production. These industries accounted for as much as 40 per cent of Xian’s GDP in 2012.
Tourism is another pillar industry for the city. The Terracotta Warriors and nearby Huashan attract millions of visitors each year, and the city centre, with its majestic Ming-era walls and well-preserved imperial museums and buildings, further accommodates many domestic and international tourists. The tourism industry has grown at a steady 20 per cent year-on-year since 2008 and sees no signs of slowing down.
Even with this strong foundation, however, Xian’s development still lagged behind major cities on the coast and other cities in the interior with stronger logistical ties to the economic and trade engines of the eastern seaboard. That is changing now as the belt-and-road initiative announced in 2013 is likely to restore Xian to its former glory as both the origin and terminus of the Ancient Silk Road.
The city is also uniquely positioned to meet the challenge of increased development in terms of human resources. Xian has more than 60 institutions of higher learning and annually graduates more men and women than any other city in China save for Beijing. For decades, the graduates of Xian settled in part where they studied, but mostly headed out to other, more dynamic cities to seek out careers. Today, those same graduates enjoy fantastic job prospects in Xian, which is one of the most competitive cities in the country in terms of salaries.
It’s been a long road back to glory for the former imperial capital. Although Xian has always held a special place in the minds of Chinese people, the modern economic miracle took its time in reaching the deep interior of the country. But now that the wave is crashing over the city walls of this ancient cultural capital, expect Xian to resume its role as the heart of Chinese civilisation.