Changsha, capital city of Hunan province in central China, has long been a place of radical thought and ideas. A statue of its most famous thinker, Mao Zedong, towers above Orange Island in the city’s Xiang River at the spot where he penned a poem, Changsha, in 1925. It was a continuation of literary thought in the region going back to poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), the founder of Chinese romanticism.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Changsha today punches above its weight as a leader of the creative industries in China. Many of the country’s top TV shows are conceived and produced in the city, including Happy Camp, a celebrity-led variety show; and Super Girls, a female-only singing contest. Both are created by Hunan Broadcasting Systems, which also runs Mango TV, an internet platform with about 50 million daily users and a wealth of original programming.
In the heart of the city, the Meixi Lake International Culture and Arts Centre is a spectacularly sinuous cultural complex, home to high-tech theatres, a contemporary art museum and creative-industry offices. It’s a dramatic showcase of the city’s ambitions, and another reason why, in 2017, Changsha became the first in China to be recognised as a UNESCO Creative City in the media arts.
Changsha has built on its rich culture and recreational highlights to attract tech entrepreneurs, becoming the primary city for high-tech development in the central southern part of China. The city has developed new-economy sectors such as 5G telecoms, the internet of things, 3D printings and robotics; but perhaps more crucially it has pushed its well-established manufacturers – such as machinery maker Sany – to upgrade to smart, robotics-based systems, in accordance with a national strategy called ‘Made in China 2025’.
Technology companies occupy several industrial parks, including the Changsha High-Tech Industrial Development Zone, built in 1988 and given national status, which affords it special government incentives including lower tax rates.
The People: Zhou Qunfei
With all those Changsha-made TV shows, you need screens to watch them on. Step up Zhou Qunfei, entrepreneur and founder of Lens Technology, a major touch-screen manufacturer headquartered in Hunan. Zhou was named the world’s richest self-made woman in 2018. Her company supplies smartphone screens for Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and Nokia and display panels for Tesla, employing almost 90,000 people. It’s a long way from her humble beginnings making watch parts in her apartment with family members in the 1990s.
Hard work, determination and a desire to learn have long been at the root of Zhou’s working philosophy. Her father lost a finger in an industrial accident before she was born, and her mother died when she was only five. As a child she helped raise animals for the family. She took her first job close to a university so she could also enrol in part-time classes like accounting and computing.
Taking care of her father in his later years proved to be a valuable lesson for Zhou, she revealed in an interview. ‘My father had lost his eyesight, so if we placed something somewhere, it had to be in the right spot, exactly, or something could go wrong. That’s the attention to detail I demand at the workplace.’
In 2018, Zhou’s company shipped more than one billion pieces of glass around the world.
The Produce: J57 Mini Sky City
At first glance, this 57-storey building in Changsha, with about 800 apartments and plentiful office space, is decidedly unprepossessing. That’s until you learn it was constructed in just 19 days by Broad Sustainable Building, a prefab construction firm. Using modular blocks on a steel frame, the firm can construct up to three floors a day, and its buildings are highly rated for energy efficiency and air-pollution filtering. The building itself houses further innovations, including a ‘street’ that spirals upwards through the building for 3.6 kilometres for walking, jogging and even cycling.
The building was erected as a precursor to Changsha’s ill-fated Sky City, designed to be the tallest building in the world at 838 metres. Despite claims that it would be built in just 90 days, the project was eventually dropped due to environmental concerns for the surrounding wetlands. Nevertheless, Broad Sustainable Building’s modular method could become a template for future developments in Changsha and beyond
Ones to watch
Developed by Changsha Shangjia Green Environment Co, Leitu is a breeze block made of a cultured soil-type material that allows for cheap, widespread and rapid urban greening, and doubles as an environmentally friendly building material.
Phone to TV
Mango Hi Q is a set-top box enabling viewers to watch 4K Mango TV through their television. The box can be controlled using a smartphone and custom software integrated with China’s most popular social media app, WeChat.
Learn and dine
An innovator in agritourism, Changsha Dijin Farm is a mushroom-themed ‘fun farm’, where visitors can learn about the whole process of mushroom planting, breeding and harvesting, pick mushrooms in the open air and finish with a delicious, nutritious mushroom feast.