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Wenchang: China’s space city honoring the heritage, launching the future

By Xian Jiangnan (People's Daily Online)    13:37, January 08, 2021

The view over Wenchang’s bay areas is postcard-perfect. Gleaming yachts sail smoothly on the sea, surrounded by coconut palms and white sand beaches. A fantastic respite with a tropical climate, Wenchang city shines like a pearl on the east coast of Hainan Province, the southernmost tip of China.

Photo shows the Mulan Lighthouse standing in a triangular bay in Wenchang City, south China’s Hainan Province. (Photo provided by Wenchang International Space City Administration Bureau)

But Wenchang is much more than that. In the past, adventurous Wenchang trailblazers took to the sea for a livelihood, becoming the first in Hainan to set foot on foreign lands. Nowadays, Wenchang is home to over 1.2 million overseas Chinese in over 50 countries across the world. In this ancient city with a history of 2000 years, traditional Chinese and Southeast Asian culture coexist harmoniously.

The unique cultural blend have become part of the city’s charm: downtown, the time-honored Confucius Temple is a stone’s throw from the exotic arcade street; the mixed smell of local Wenchang chicken and Singapore’s fish balls sold in the night markets wake up the taste buds of food lovers.

Photo shows the arcade buildings of Wennan Street in Wenchang City, south China’s Hainan Province. (People’s Daily Online/Meng Fansheng)

A critical transit point for cultural exchanges between Southeast Asia and China, Wenchang is also emerging as a new aerospace hub, boasting the nation’s only coastal launch site, the fourth launch site in China following three others in Jiuquan, Xichang and Taiyuan. In the latest launch in Dec. 22, 2020, the Long March 8 rocket took off from here, marking the fifth space mission of Wenchang throughout the year. A rising star in the aerospace development, Wenchang will play a more significant role in the nation’s future space missions.

Tradition that never fades

The Wenchang Confucius Temple was built in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) to commemorate and offer sacrifices to Confucius. (People’s Daily Online/Xian Jiangnan)

Despite sitting in the middle of downtown Wenchang, the Confucius Temple escapes the hustle and bustle of the modern city with a protected enclosure of 3,300 square meters. Traceable to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), the temple was built to commemorate and offer sacrifices to Confucius, a great thinker, educator and the founder of Confucianism in the late Spring and Autumn Period (770BC- 476BC).

As the best-preserved ancient architecture in Hainan, the Wenchang Confucius Temple, then and now may be considered the cultural heart of Wenchang. Stepping into the ancient complex, one may savor the unique atmosphere of Confucian culture that has permeated Chinese society for millennia.

Photo shows the main entrance of the Wenchang Confucius Temple. Unlike other Confucius Temples scattered across China, the one in Wenchang does not open its original main entrance. (People’s Daily Online/Xian Jiangnan)

Unlike other Confucius Temples scattered across China, the one in Wenchang does not open its original main entrance, as an old anecdote has it that the main gate would never open until a Wenchang local ranked first in the imperial exam (known as “Zhuangyuan” in Chinese). Though not proved, this might be evidence for Wenchang’s fine tradition of esteeming culture and education.

The atmosphere of culture and education that characterized this land has made it a cradle of talented people. It is the birthplace of Xing You, a noteworthy scholar and politician in the Ming Dynasty, while also the ancestral home of Soong Ching-ling, former honorary president of China and the wife of Chinese revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Throughout history, a total of 200 or so generals were born in this small city, giving it the name “hometown of generals.”

Down through the ages, the influence of traditional culture has not faded, and the Confucius Temple has been reinvigorated with new vitality. In 2015, a Confucius academy was established in the temple, offering free lectures and classes on Chinese culture to local students and residents. Being Hainan’s first government-led Confucius academy, the institute aims to spread fine traditional Chinese culture to Wenchang locals.

Fu Mingchao, an overseas Chinese born in Wenchang, visits the students and teachers at the primary school in Changsa town. (People’s Daily Online/Gao Ge)

Overseas Chinese from Wenchang fill out a more complete picture of the city’s cultural inheritance. After living in the US and Japan for decades, Fu Mingchao came back to Wenchang several years ago. The 70-year-old helped fund a rural primary school in his hometown, as education has always been a matter of great concern for him.

“I left here when I was seven. At that time, this place was kind of poor, so I want kids here to have a better education and better facilities for school,” said Fu, who worked together with his overseas friends to donate nearly four million yuan (over 600,000 US dollars) in total to the primary school in Changsa town.

Fu is not the only overseas Chinese from Wenchang that has made contributions to the educational development of the city. In Wenchang, school buildings donated by overseas Chinese can be seen everywhere. They have also supported the funding of an array of hospitals and other charities.

Over the moon

On Nov. 24, 2020, a Long March 5 rocket carrying the Chang’e-5 lunar spacecraft blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site. (Photo/Xinhua)

On Nov.24, a Long March 5 rocket carrying the Chang’e-5 lunar spacecraft blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, the first mission of its kind by any country in more than four decades. Twenty-three days after a whirlwind journey to the moon, the Chang’e-5 mission returned to earth with lunar samples, signaling the completion of one of the most complicated and challenging missions in China’s aerospace history.

Put into operation in 2016, the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site is China’s only low-latitude coastal launch site. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, China has successfully implemented 39 space launches in 2020, of which five were carried out in Wenchang, marking a significant step forward for this rising aerospace hub.

The future of an aerospace industry cluster has been staked out here, which is billed to focus on the development and manufacturing of high-end aerospace products, aerospace launch and supporting services. More than 40 fields, such as satellite remote sensing and Beidou high-precision positioning technology, will be integrated.

Wenchang Aerospace Supercomputing Center, China’s first of its kind, is also under construction in Wenchang, which will play an important role in promoting the country’s satellite application research and development, along with the big data industry around spatial information.

The “space craze” has also stimulated the tourism industry in Wenchang. Vivid evidence of this might be Longlou, a once forgotten township hidden in jungles and bushes, which has now been transformed into a special aerospace-themed township. From 2009 to 2019, the town’s GDP rose by 23.6 times, and the income of rural residents secured an annual increase of 19.7 percent. On July 23, 2020, nearly 200,000 visitors came to the site for the launching of Tianwen-1, China’s first mission to Mars, packing the inns, hotels and restaurants in Longlou township with tourists.

Like those in Longlou, many local residents are now on the road to prosperity thanks to Wenchang’s aerospace development. In 2019, Wenchang witnessed a total tourism revenue of about 1.97 billion yuan (290 million US dollars), a year-on-year increase of 26.1 percent.

The Qishui Bay overlooks the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site. Every time there is a launch, the place would get crowded with people who come to watch it alive. (People’s Daily Online/Meng Fansheng)

On June 1, 2020, Chinese authorities released the Overall Plan for the Construction of Hainan Free Trade Port, listing the Wenchang International Aerospace City as one of the 11 key industrial projects. A series of preferential policies have been rolled out, such as implementing zero tariffs for most of its imports and lowering income tax rates for high-level talent, creating new opportunities for Wenchang to promote high-level opening up and advancing its sci-tech innovations.

“Having a new generation of China’s spaceports, Wenchang is tasked with carrying out a series of important launches of our nation. While serving China’s mighty space dream, Hainan also has its own dream, which is to accelerate the building of an international aerospace city in Wenchang,” Shen Xiaoming, current secretary of the CPC Hainan Provincial Committee, was quoted as saying at Wenchang International Aerospace Forum on Nov. 24, 2020.

In Wenchang, the future is cleared for takeoff. 

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(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)

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