New additions compliment original wooden frameworks and ancient carvings at the Exposition Park in Bengbu, Anhui Province, November 9, 2013. The park will be home to 450 ancient buildings which were preserved by Ma Guoxiang, a collector of cultural relics and prominent real estate developer, and is due to be complete in around 5 years.
Bengbu, a city in Anhui province with over 3 million residents, might not be the most recognisable of names among China's economic powerhouses; but if the local authorities have anything to do with it, that will all change within the next few years. A city brimming with historical significance, Bengbu lies next to the Huai River: the channel which separates the North of China from the South. Local officials are proud of Bengbu's historic past and are keenly aware that their present status does not reflect the rich history of the area.
However, the city is undergoing something of a rapid transformation, as evidenced by a number of locations scattered across the area. Billed as the third city of Anhui Province, behind the capital city of Hefei and Wuhu, Bengbu is no different from any other prefecture-level city in terms of investment in its commercial property sector. The Yiwu International Commerce and Trade City development is a clear example of Bengbu's ambition and investment in commercial property. The 450,000 meter squared commercial development, which houses a vast number of retailer units, opened on October 20. Expectations are so high for this mega market complex that an entire bus station terminal was built nearby.
However, like many commercial developments across the country, Yiwu International is eerily quiet as less than a quarter of the retail units are currently occupied and very few customers are currently coming to buy goods. Of course, this may be due to the fact that the complex only opened in October, and according to a spokesperson of Yiwu International, rental contracts for all units have been agreed upon and the complex is simply waiting for the arrival of those retailers.
Similarly, the Xingyu Creative and Cultural Industry Park, a 4 million yuan project which hopes to attract creative companies from China and around the world, is also vast in size, covering 1,040,000 square meters. The park expects to have over 100 large-scale research and production enterprises, employing between twenty to thirty thousand employees. However, despite being finished, the park is virtually empty at present; a situation not helped by the fact that some of the major creative companies expected to set up home in the park are Japanese. A spokesperson for the park noted that political issues between China and Japan may have slowed down the entry of such companies to the park.
But there is little concern from officials within the city regarding Bengbu's outlook for the future. Xun Yiran, Vice Director of the Publicity Department of Bengbu Municipal Committee of the CPC was candid in his description of Bengbu's present situation, noting that in two years the city will be closing in on its goal and the development which is currently in the foundation stages will be far more visible than it is now.
Such optimism is the result of success which has already been achieved by industries such as the Bengbu Design and Research Institute for Glass Industry. This state of the art glass research centre turns around 60 billion yuan a year in profit, up from 6 million yuan profit only ten years ago.
Research being conducted by the centre into float glass, including energy saving processes and emission reduction, has led to a large amount of support from the Ministry of Science and Technology. The production plant of the research centre is almost entirely automated, with only a few engineers roaming the factory floor. 650 tons of glass are produced a day and exported to countries including Turkey, Vietnam, Australia, Iran and Kazakhstan. While a number of glass processing factories in China have closed as a result of environmental concerns involving the production process, the research center and manufacturing plant in Bengbu remains operating thanks to its production processes which do not threaten the surrounding environment.
Even in the cultural realm, Bengbu has a lot to look forward to in terms of future development. Outside of the city's centre, an amazing project is underway on what was once a mud flat. Ma Guoxiang, chairperson of Shanghai Xiangjiang Industries Limited and member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference, is a prominent real estate developer who has devoted himself for the past twenty years to the renovation of ancient buildings.
During the last two decades, Ma has saved and disassembled around one thousand ancient buildings in order to restore them to their former glory. Starting last year, 450 of these buildings were selected to be resurrected by an Anhui subsidiary of Shanghai Xiangjiang Industries as part of an Exposition Park.