Perched on steep hills at the confluence of the Yangtze and its major tributary, the Jialing River, Chongqing is the gateway for Yangtze River cruises. This proud mountain city was the capital of China during World War II when the American Volunteer Air Group, the “Flying Tigers,” was based here. Today Chongqing, with a population of nearly 30 million (compared with New York City at just over 8 million) and a Manhattan-style skyline, is China’s most important inland industrial city, and is particularly lively at night with its neon-lit Liberation Monument.
By contrast, approximately 37 miles outside the city is an extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Dazu Stone Carvings, comprising 75 protected areas with some 50,000 statues and more than 100,000 carved Chinese characters dating as far back as 650 A.D. These carvings provide unprecedented insight into China’s culture and ways of life from the Tang through the Song Dynasties. Fortunately these carvings survived the Chinese Cultural Revolution; they have been open to Chinese visitors since 1961 and have only been accessible to foreign visitors since 1980. According to the UNESCO listing, “…their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period. They provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.”