China, a vast country, has more than 160,000 kilometers of expressways connecting hundreds of millions of people. Bringing people together and helping them achieve their dreams is key to the country's miraculous development.
Join us and take a look at China along its highways starting this April, and experience the country's scenery and stories.
Highways arteries of prosperity

Over the past decades, China has built more than 160,000 kilometers of expressways, connecting hundreds of millions of people.

China plans to build or rebuild 25,000 kilometers of expressways during the 14th Five-Year Plan period.

Roads lead to development miracle

Over the past decades, China has built more than 160,000 kilometers of expressways, connecting hundreds of millions of people.

The total mileage of China's road network stood at about 5.2 million kilometers as of the end of 2020, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Battle of White Horse Mountains laid foundation for freeing SW China
By TAN YINGZI in Chongqing
The Chongqing section of the Baotou-Maoming Expressway in May 2020. QU MINGBIN/FOR CHINA DAILY

Driving along the Chongqing section of the Baotou-Maoming Expressway, travelers will encounter the majestic White Horse Mountains, site of a major battle in 1949 during the War of Liberation (1946-49).

Now this beautiful land, where hundreds of martyrs were buried, is undergoing large-scale development to become a travel destination. People here have been lifted out of poverty in recent years, striving for a better life. But one cannot forget the sacrifice of the soldiers who fought for a bright future for coming generations.

In White Horse Town, there is a cemetery for about 400 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army who lost their lives. In the center stands a black marble stele engraved with the words "Revolutionary Martyrs Immortal", and on the base below, the story of the Battle of White Horse Mountains is retold.

Although the Communist Party of China declared the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct 1 in 1949, some areas in the southwest remained under the control of Kuomintang, including Chongqing, for a time.

In early November 1949, led by Liu Bocheng and Deng Xiaoping, the Second Field Army and Fourth Field Army of the PLA launched an attack on Chongqing.

At the end of the month, the PLA entered the urban area of Chongqing and declared the liberation of the city, which had served as a wartime capital of the KMT government during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

The victory laid a solid foundation for PLA to free the entire southwestern region of China.

In a series of battles during the war, one of the most decisive was the Battle of White Horse Mountains in the Wulong district of Chongqing.

In the three-day battle, PLA and Kuomintang soldiers fought fiercely over an area of about 400 square kilometers in the White Horse Mountains.

Facing the reality that they had already lost the war, most KMT soldiers and officers in the White Horse Mountains battle fought unwillingly and passively, and the PLA soon rolled to victory, destroying the last line of defense for the KMT army and paving the way toward the liberation of Chongqing.

The White Horse Mountains, covering one-sixth of Wulong district, have rich natural resources, a long history and a revolutionary past. But in the past, the remote location and poor transportation infrastructure hindered its development and held the local people in poverty.

With the construction of Baotou-Maoming Expressway and other cross-regional highways, it's now only an hour's drive from downtown Chongqing to White Horse Mountains Scenic Area, opening the way for tourists and bringing higher incomes for local residents.

Chen Daping, 50, who once lived below the poverty line, now works as a security guard in the scenic area, making more than 2,000 yuan ($308) a month. His wife is a cook at a homestay.

"We make much more money than just growing crops, and we are going to build our own homestay," Chen said. "Life is getting much better."

Expressway leads to a big discovery: Prosperity
By ZHANG LI in Nanning
Tourists take a trip on the scenic Lijiang River on bamboo rafts in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, on April 14. MAO YANZHENG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Mo Shuifeng moves swiftly and expertly between the vegetables she grows for guests in her garden in Hetang village, Zhongshan county, Hezhou of Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

She feels she is dreaming. Just five years ago she was living in poverty because of the financial burden of her children's school tuition.

With limited transport and a lack of arable land for farming, Hetang had been one of the poorest areas of the county. In 2015, severe poverty affected more than 33 percent of the population.

But the village had a secret asset that had never been tapped: It boasts 16 kilometers of picturesque karst landscape that few people have ever heard about.

In 2017, an expressway linked Baotou in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region with Maoming, Guangdong province. The expressway passes Guilin, Wuzhou and Hezhou in Guangxi.

Located just 11 km from the expressway entrance, the scenic landscape of Hetang village could not stay hidden and was soon discovered by the world.

In 2018, the local government decided to expand the 16 km landscape into a scenic spot characterized by idyllic scenery. The project called for an investment of 800 million yuan ($123 million).

"The updated scenic spot attracted visitors from different cities in the region and even from Guangdong province because of its proximity," said Yang Tingming, director of Zhongshan county's tourism administration.

So Mo remodeled her house, making it into a hotel to accommodate tourists.

"We can earn 800 yuan a day during peak season," said Mo, who shook off poverty through the new business after just one year. Other residents benefited from tourism in similar ways.

According to Zhong Yinsheng, the village head, the parking area alone brought in 80,000 yuan for the village in 2019. "With more visitors, residents can increase their incomes in a number of ways-for example, running a guesthouse or selling agricultural products or beverages," Zhong said.

The expressway also promoted the integration of tourism resources in Hezhou and Guilin. The latter is world-famous for karst landscape, and is just two hours away by car.

Last year, Guilin and Hezhou in Guangxi, and Zhaoqing in Guangdong, signed an agreement to accelerate the tourism integration of the three cities. The aim was to create a health resort drawing from development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, since the three cities had been connected on land by the expressway and high-speed rail.

It is expected that the number of tourist visits to the three cities will surpass 358 million by 2025 and that tourism revenue will exceed 490 billion yuan.

Red history thriving along highway
By CHEN MEILING in Beijing and SHAN JUAN in Xi'an
Pupils of the Zhaojin Beiliang Red Army Primary School in Zhaojin town, Tongchuan, Shaanxi province, learn the history of the Communist Party of China. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Rich experiences await those who want to get a feel for the heroism and patriotism of past generations

At 7 am, students stood ramrod straight as they sang the national anthem during the flag-raising ceremony at Zhaojin Beiliang Red Army Primary School in Zhaojin town, Tongchuan, Shaanxi province. The song was followed by another about how young people bugle and vow to support the rejuvenation of the country.

The school was built around the site of the Chenjiapo conference, which played an important role in the victory of the Red Army during wartime from the 1920s to 1940s. It was held in August 1933, when the Communist Party of China consolidated and strengthened forces of the army in Northwest China's Shaanxi and Gansu provinces.

In 2018, the school was designated a demonstration school for Red education, which refers to Chinese revolutionary history, the spirit of role models and stories of the CPC. All 160 pupils are immersed in Red songs, Red tales and Red films. They also visit historical museums and sites where major events happened, sometimes outside the province, according to Feng Gangzhan, the school's principal.

"Red culture can help to build their view of the world, life and values, and to develop good morals and civilized behavior," Feng said, adding that behaviors encouraged include picking up trash, saving food, protecting the environment and helping people in need.

Wang Tianjiao, a sixth-grade student, told Shaanxi Daily: "The spirit of heroes inspires me to stick to my dreams." Hou Shiyu, another student, said she learned to cherish life, as it was purchased at a high price through the sacrifices of earlier generations.

Zhaojin, a central base area of the Red Army, witnessed one of the key stages upon which modern Chinese history played out. Red education spreads from children to adults and then around the country. The town has a training center for CPC officials, and its influence has been enlarged as China celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Party this year.

At the Xuejiazhai revolutionary site in a secluded mountain area of Zhaojin, the old military hospital, clothing factory, machinery factory, warehouse and armory have been preserved. Tourists, some wearing Red Army uniforms, learned how the army had built a community and overcome daunting challenges to carry on the fight.

Visits to the Shaanxi-Gansu revolutionary memorial hall in Zhaojin exceed 800,000 annually and is expected to surpass 1 million this year, Song Jianbin, deputy head of the hall, told media in April.

On the Red commercial block, locals have revived old food recipes to offer visitors a taste of the primitive dishes the army once ate-wild plants and steamed cornbread, for example-to give them an appreciation of those hard times and help them learn to cherish the good days today.

Tourists visit a memorial hall of the Red Army in Tongdao Dong autonomous county of Huaihua, Hunan province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Since 2015, about 3,400 people got jobs thanks to the Red tourism boom, and incomes have steadily increased, especially among the poor, Bai Wei, mayor of Zhaojin, told

Besides farming, locals can earn money by renting land, working at local companies, receiving dividends or beginning their own business. Many young people have returned to their hometown to join the tourism industry.

The salary of Zhu Jin, a college student who returned, grew from 1,800 yuan monthly as a docent to 4,000 yuan as an investment manager at a local tourism company. She told China Central Television that besides Red sites, tourists can also experience the beautiful natural landscape of mountains, waterfalls and pastures, as well as skiing in the town, which made a stir on video platforms.

Zhaojin is one example of regions that have benefited from Red history. Driving along the Baotou-Maoming Expressway-which starts from Baotou, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, and runs south to Maoming, Guangdong province-tourists can visit several major sites in the formative life of the CPC.

Yulin, Shaanxi, witnessed the founding of the first CPC organization in northern Shaanxi in 1924 and the beginning of armed resistance against the Kuomintang regime in northwestern China in 1927. Yan'an was base of the Central Committee of CPC from 1935 to 1948 during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) and the War of Liberation (1946-49). In Shaanxi province's capital, Xi'an, the office of the Eighth Route Army, the force aimed at fighting the Japanese, functioned to promote an anti-aggression movement among the public, buy medical and communication supplies for the army and organize more than 20,000 young adults to aid Yan'an, which contributed significantly to victory.

Jiao Yibo, a pupil in Xi'an who visited the site, said he learned the meaning of "difficult condition" after seeing the cramped basement that was used for surgeries.

"The footprints of revolution show hardships as China moved forward, and I realized the responsibility of our generation in national rejuvenation," he wrote in his diary.

Tongdao Dong autonomous county of Huaihua, Hunan province, along the expressway, was the site of a major conference in 1934, when the Red Army decided to turn toward Guizhou province, where the enemy forces were weak. The fateful decision turned out to be a matter of life and death, but the Red Army prevailed.

Today, the memorial hall for the event, with more than 1,000 exhibits, welcomes about 1.2 million visits annually. Tourists range from children to the elderly-people from across the country, said Zheng Xiang, president of the hall.

He said that besides sightseeing, it's important to talk, sing and participate in other experiences. The hall has organized a flower basket ceremony to honor martyrs, and activities such as symposiums, songs and even the making of straw sandals to "help tourists fully feel and learn from history".

In a major program that attracts 5,000 people a year in Tongdao, tourists can walk 7 kilometers on a mountain road to get a taste of the difficulties the Red Army once underwent and learn its stories.

More than 35,000 rural people in Tongdao are associated with tourism services, which have helped 25,700 poor people shake off poverty. Locals' incomes grew by an average of 800 yuan ($123) per person annually, according to the local government.

The expressway, which links seven regions-the provinces of Shaanxi, Sichuan, Hunan and Guangdong, along with the Inner Mongolia and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions and the city of Chongqing-offers rich resources for Red tourism and continues to play an important role in the development of western China.

Zhu Youfang in Changsha contributed to this story.

Roads lead to development miracle

China has built the world's largest expressway network, with a total length of 160,000 kilometers by the end of 2020. Currently, the network has embraced 98.6 percent of cities and regions whose urban population exceeds 200,000. By 2035, the network will cover all cities and counties with a population exceeding 100,000.

China's expressways lay new path for growth
By Wang Junwei

China has created the world's largest expressway network, connecting hundreds of millions of people.

As China's expressway network expands and improves, the country's progress will also keep rolling along with it.

Watch this video for an overview.

Voiceover: Ian Goodrum

Highways bring money, development
By QIU QUANLIN in Shenzhen, Guangdong
An electric train runs on BYD's Cloud Rail, a straddle-type monorail, at the company's headquarters in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, in February. ZHU HONGBO/FOR CHINA DAILY

Greater Bay Area makes major gains over long term from infrastructure thrust

Su Xiuyi bought a sewing machine from Taiping Handbags Factory when the first export-oriented processing factory in China closed its doors in 1996.

"The machine was then donated to an exhibition hall, which was built in 2019 to mark the marvelous development of the factory since the reform and opening-up policy,"Su said.

Su, 72, worked on an assembly line at the factory, which was established by a Hong Kong company in 1978 in Humen township, Dongguan, Guangdong province.

"Back in the 1980s, many female workers like me were eager to work in the factory, which provided very competitive pay," she said.

Taiping Handbags Factory, the first company to start manufacturing processed goods on the Chinese mainland and export them to Hong Kong, followed China's reform and opening-up policy and its strategy of developing foreign trade.

"Following the success of the Taiping plant, many entrepreneurs from Hong Kong and Taiwan established factories in Dongguan and other cities in the Pearl River Delta region to make shoes, bags, garments and suitcases for export," Su said.

As of 2020, Humen, in the heart of the delta, has more than 782 overseas-funded companies registered, with import and export volume reaching 55.31 billion yuan ($8.51 billion) last year, according to local government data.

Humen's GDP increased from 74.66 million yuan in 1978 to 64.5 billion yuan in 2020, according to the local government.

"Rapid development of expressways in the Pearl River Delta region has helped attract foreign investment," said Huang Liangren, director of the Taiping Handbags Factory Exhibition Hall.

Citing the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway, which connects Guangzhou, Dongguan, Shenzhen and Hong Kong in the delta, Huang said the highly efficient transportation network will further push local industrial upgrades.

Along the Guangzhou-Shenzhen route, a number of emerging industries have been rapidly developed in Guangzhou, Dongguan and Shenzhen over the past decades, according to Huang.

BYD Co Ltd, which was founded in 1995 in Shenzhen, has established over 30 industrial parks worldwide, building its business related to electronics, automobiles, new energy and rail transit.

"Our business covers more than 300 cities in over 50 countries and regions, providing green energy and low-carbon vehicle services," said Luo Hao, public relations director at BYD.

Zhang Lei, deputy general manager of Shenzhen New Industries Biomedical Engineering Co Ltd, said the company has realized an annual increase of more than 30 percent in sales over the last few years.

"Emerging businesses have played a significant role in driving the economic development of Shenzhen. We have increased our production capacity to meet global market demand for biomedical products and services," Zhang said.

Convenient and efficient transportation services have been key to helping boost the local economy, Zhang added.

"We are expecting more business growth as there will be an intercity expressway soon to be completed and running through Pingshan new area, where our company is located,"Zhang said.

In the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, a number of new transportation facilities are being constructed, helping further strengthen connectivity among cities within the GBA.

The main bridge towers of Zhongshan Bridge, one of the key projects amid ongoing construction along the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Link, will be completed before the end of this year, according to the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Link Administration Center.

The Shenzhen-Zhongshan Link connects the city clusters of Shenzhen, Dongguan and Huizhou in the eastern part of the PRD region with the prosperous cities of Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing to the west, helping strengthen connectivity in the GBA.

"The link will play an important role in expanding cooperation and exchanges among cities in the GBA in the future and further help boost industrial upgrading," said Chen Yue, deputy chief engineer and director of the Chief Engineer's Office at the Shenzhen-Zhongshan Link Administration Center.

It will take only about 30 minutes to travel between Zhongshan and Shenzhen when the eight-lane structure, which also connects Guangdong's three pilot free trade areas of Qianhai-Shekou in Shenzhen, Nansha in Guangzhou and Hengqin in Zhuhai, is completed and opens to traffic in 2024.

Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway key to delta region's prosperity
By QIU QUANLIN in Shenzhen, Guangdong
Foxconn employees work at a production facility in Shenzhen, Guangdong province. WANG YISHU/FOR CHINA DAILY

Tech giant Foxconn's investment in Guangdong province, an economic powerhouse in South China, has developed since the 1980s in a way similar to the route of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway.

"Our investment in Guangdong was particularly concentrated along the expressway between Guangzhou and Shenzhen in recent decades," Terry Gou, founder of Foxconn, said in an earlier interview.

Foxconn, the world's largest original equipment manufacturer, started its first investment project in Shenzhen in 1988, a year after the construction of the 122.8-kilometer expressway began.

Average daily traffic flow along the expressway between the two major cities in the Pearl River Delta region increased from 36,300 vehicles in 1994 when began trial operations to 650,000 vehicles in 2020, according to the Department of Transportation of Guangdong Province.

"In addition to preferential investment policies since the reform and opening-up in late 1970s, the high efficiency of transportation infrastructure following the opening of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway was very attractive for overseas investment in the delta region," Gou said.

Foxconn then started its construction of a liquid-crystal display plant in Zengcheng district, Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, with an investment of 61 billion yuan ($9.39 billion) in early 2017.

The project, covering an area of about 1.5 square kilometers, was designed to produce 8K displays, smart TVs and electronic white-boards, among other products, helping attract more than 70 upstream and downstream companies in the industrial chain to invest in Guangzhou.

Before the operation of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway, it took about half a day to travel between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, given there had been only a highway with more than 150 kilometers between the two cities.

The Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway was fully opened in 1997, becoming the first expressway invested and constructed by Guangdong and neighboring Hong Kong.

Widely claimed as the busiest expressway in China, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen route has greatly helped accelerate the economic and social development of the cities along the route, according to Wang Wei, Party secretary of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway Administration Center.

"It is of great importance to economic development of Guangzhou and Shenzhen, helping form an industrial cluster in the delta region," said Wang.

According to local government data, Shenzhen's GDP increased from 56.7 billion yuan in 1994 to 2.76 trillion yuan in 2020.

"A megacity cluster along the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Expressway is forming, with total GDP of Guangzhou and Shenzhen surpassing 4 trillion yuan," Wang said.

In the last two decades, emerging industries including modern logistics and advanced manufacturing in cities along the expressway also enjoyed rapid development, Wang added.

"The expressway has greatly accelerated the development of modern logistics and helped form a city cluster in the delta region," Wang said.

Over the past two decades, a large number of logistics companies and industrial zones sprouted up along the expressway, which runs through Dongguan, a manufacturing hub in the delta region.

China's expressway work keeps on trucking


The path to China's economic miracle

An event themed "Pathways to Progress" kicked off on April 6, exploring China along its many highways from April to June and showing the country's lightning-speed development.

China had the world's largest expressway network, with a total length of 160,000 kilometers by the end of 2020. By 2035, the network will cover all cities and counties with a population above 100,000.

Scan the QR code on this poster and join us as we take a look at China along its highways, and experience the country's scenery and stories.

Smart expressways in China at a glance
Shenzhen Outer Ring Expressway in Guangdong province. [Photo/Baoan Daily]

Shenzhen Outer Ring Expressway in Guangdong province

Shenzhen Outer Ring Express Way opened to traffic on Dec 29, 2020. The highway begins from the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Riverside Expressway in the west and ends at the Yanba Expressway in the east, weaving its way through Shenzhen's districts of Baoan, Guangming, Longhua, Longgang, Pingshan, Dapeng and the city of Dongguan. Spanning 93 kilometers, it is a two-direction six-lane road, with a design speed of 80 to 100 km per hour.

The expressway is able to monitor and forecast traffic and accidents in real time based on data and a monitoring system. It is also the first expressway equipped with multi-function smart piles along the road with total 5G network coverage in China.

Tianjin-Shijiazhuang Expressway in Beijng-Tianjin-Hebei region. [Photo/]

Tianjin-Shijiazhuang Expressway in Beijng-Tianjin-Hebei region

The Tianjin-Shijiazhuang Expressway opened to traffic on Dec 22, 2020. With a total investment of 35.53 billion yuan ($5.42 billion), the road is 233.5 km long and has a designed speed of 120 km per hour.

It shortens travel hours from four to three and aims to help realize an all-weather traffic with a "smart-expressway" system.

Chengdu-Yibin Expressway in Sichuan province. [Photo/China News Service]

Chengdu-Yibin Expressway in Sichuan province

The Chengdu-Yibin Expressway opened to traffic in the end of 2020. With a total investment of 24.6 billion yuan ($3.75 billion), the two-direction six-lane road is constructed following the highest design standard in Sichuan province. The 157 km long road has reduced travel from Chengdu's Tianfu International Airport to Yibin to 90 minutes.

The road will be digitalized in the next three to five years. "Auto pilot" infrastructures will first be mounted in a 10 km long section, making it comply with the level 3.5 auto pilot standard. Next, a car-to-road coordination system will be established along the road, realizing functions such as video analysis, traffic forecast and alerting. The 5G signal coverage of the road will be completed by June 2021.

Shaoxing section of the Hangzhou-Shaoxing-Taizhou Expressway in Zhejiang province. [Photo/]

Shaoxing section of the Hangzhou-Shaoxing-Taizhou Expressway in Zhejiang province

The Shaoxing section of the Hangzhou-Shaoxing-Taizhou Expressway in Zhejiang province is the first smart expressway in the province in nearly 20 years. The 67 km long section starts at the Jianhu Transportation Hub and ends at the Jingling Intersection, connecting Shaoxing's districts of Yuecheng and Keqiao, the city of Shengzhou and the county of Xinchang.

The cloud control platform of the section that enables information sharing and interacting realizes the road to conduct active traffic control and offer active service, and makes the road support pilot driving in technical respect.

Changsha-Yiyang Section of Changsha-Chengde Expressway (North Line) in Hunan. [Photo/Hunan Daily]

Changsha-Yiyang Section of Changsha-Chengde Expressway (North Line) in Hunan

On August 31, 2020, with the official opening of the Changsha-Yiyang Section of Changsha-Chengde Expressway (North Line), Changsha, Hunan province, built China's first intelligent expressway at the time that supports collaborative autonomous driving between vehicles and the road.

The 93 km long project has created a total of 98 scenes related to intelligent connected cars, which mainly meet the functions of intelligent traffic management, intelligent connected car testing and connected auxiliary driving.

The section can realize the testing of level 3 or above autonomous driving and smart road operation supervision.

Beautiful tourist highway in Hainan
By Ma Zhiping
The Wanning coastal tourist highway in eastern Hainan connects a dozen beautiful spots, including Shimei Bay, Nanyan Bay and the Shenzhou Peninsula. [Photo by Yang Shizhong/for]

The Wanning coastal tourist highway in eastern Hainan connects a dozen beautiful spots, including Shimei Bay, Nanyan Bay and the Shenzhou Peninsula. Charming scenery along the 35-kilometer highway attracts thousands of tourists every year to go sailing, diving, fishing or surfing, or to take sightseeing tours on a yacht.

The Wanning coastal tourist highway in eastern Hainan connects a dozen beautiful spots, including Shimei Bay, Nanyan Bay and the Shenzhou Peninsula. [Photo by Yang Shizhong/for]
Charming scenery along the 35-kilometer highway attracts thousands of tourists every year. [Photo by Yang Shizhong/for]
Charming scenery along the 35-kilometer highway attracts thousands of tourists every year. [Photo by Yang Shizhong/for]
Let's hit the road together!

An event themed "Pathways to Progress" kicked off on April 6, exploring China along its many highways from April to June and showing the country's lightning-speed development.

China had the world's largest expressway network, with a total length of 160,000 kilometers by the end of 2020. By 2035, the network will cover all cities and counties with a population above 100,000.

Scan the QR code on this poster and join us as we take a look at China along its highways, and experience the country's scenery and stories.

Expressways drive China into a prosperous future
Rapeseed flowers are in full bloom on both sides of an expressway in Baokang county of Central China's Hubei province, on March 4, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

China has built the world's largest expressway network, with a total length of 160,000 kilometers by the end of 2020. Currently, the network has embraced 98.6 percent of cities and regions whose urban population exceeds 200,000. By 2035, the network will cover all cities and counties with a population exceeding 100,000.

The expressways bridge cities and villages, providing strong support for the country's economic development and poverty alleviation.

The Baoshan-Lushui Expressway, highway and Nujiang River in Southwest China's Yunnan province are seen on March 5, 2021. The total length of the Baoshan-Lushui Expressway is 85.17 kilometers; it officially opened to traffic this year, and promotes the integrated development of western Yunnan province. [Photo/Xinhua]
Sections of a 1.72-kilometer suspension bridge for the Duyun-Anshun Expressway are joined in Guiding, Southwest China's Guizhou province, on Jan 18, 2021. This marks a key step for the 276-km expressway, the largest road project in the mountainous province. The expressway is expected to open in June. [Photo/Xinhua]
A section of a bridge for the Simao-Lancang Expressway in Southwest China's Yunnan province is seen on Jan 20, 2021. The expressway shortens travel time between the two ends of the expressway from 3.5 hours to 1.5 hours. Its operation is expected to boost joint economic development in Puer's downtown and in the triangle-shaped region consisting of Lancang, Menglian and Ximeng counties. In addition, the expressway will link the Kunming-Bangkok Expressway, the Lancang-Mekong "international golden waterway", and Lancang Jingmai Airport, which will promote opening-up of the border areas. [Photo/Xinhua]
Photo taken on Dec 30, 2020 shows a section of the Hainan Ring Expressway in South China's Hainan province. As the expressway from Baoting Li autonomous county to Haitangwan officially opened on Dec 31, every county in Hainan now has expressway access. Currently, expressways on the island total 1,255 kilometers, which is providing a high-speed tourism passage in the province. [Photo/Xinhua]
A bridge over the Shantou-Chaozhou Ring Expressway in South China's Guangdong province creates an intriguing scene, on Dec 28, 2020. The expressway is 82.23 kilometers long and connects Shantou, Chaozhou and Jieyang to further optimize the layout of the expressway network in eastern Guangdong province. It is set to lead the three cities to integrate development, and accelerate the area as it integrates with the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. [Photo/Xinhua]
Cars cruise down a section of expressway from Ankang city to Langao county in Northwest China's Shaanxi province, on Dec 23, 2020. The expressway opened to traffic on Dec 23, which means that every county in Ankang city now has expressway access. [Photo/Xinhua]
Twisting and turning through lush greenery, a section of expressway from Sanjiang Dong autonomous county to Liuzhou city in South China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region stands out in an aerial photo, on April 15, 2020. The expressway provides a convenient channel for local agricultural products to be sent from remote mountains to cities. Guangxi has gradually formed a road network with expressways, national-level roads, provincial-level roads and rural roads, which provide strong support for local economic development and poverty alleviation. [Photo/Xinhua]
A section of expressway from Huaiji county to Yunan county in South China's Guangdong province cuts through the landscape on Dec 18, 2020. The 102-kilometer expressway is a cultural and ecological tour route of Zhaoqing city, which will drive regional economic development in northwestern Guangdong. [Photo/Xinhua]
A bridge for the Panzhihua-Dali Expressway pans majestically across the landscape in Southwest China's Sichuan province, on Dec 6, 2020 . At 41 kilometers long, the expressway connects Panzhihua in Sichuan province and Dali in neighboring Yunnan province. It opened to traffic last year, and is an important tourist corridor between Sichuan and Yunnan to promote the interconnection between the two provinces and facilitate economic development along the route. [Photo/Xinhua]
A dramatic aerial photo taken on Nov 12, 2020 shows an expressway (left) and a highway (right) hugging the side of a cliff in North China's Shanxi province. The expressway provides a convenient path to Hongni village, which is deep in the Taihang Mountains. As the expressway opened to traffic, the village started to develop tourism, photovoltaic power generation, and grain processing industries that have effectively broadened the channels for villagers to increase their incomes. By the end of 2018, all people in the village had been lifted out of poverty. [Photo/Xinhua]
Sections of the Jinan-Tai'an Expressway in East China's Shandong province stretch across the landscape, on Oct 27, 2020. The expressway opened to traffic last year and it shortens travel time between the two terminations to 30 minutes. It's also driving economic development along the route. [Photo/Xinhua]
The Nanchuan-Liangjiang New Area Expressway in Southwest China's municipality of Chongqing stretches across thickly forested mountains, on Oct 20, 2020. The 77 kilometers expressway connects Nanchuan, Fuling, Banan and Yubei in Chongqing. [Photo/Xinhua]
A bright spot of color characterizes the Qingshuijiang Bridge of the Jianhe-Rongjiang Expressway in Southwest China's Guizhou province, on Oct 11, 2020. With a height of 184 meters and length of 540 meters, the bridge is an important part of the high-speed project connecting the province's Jianhe and Rongjiang counties. Last year, the Jianhe-Rongjiang Expressway opened to traffic. It spans Sansui, Jianhe and Rongjiang counties in Guizhou province, with a total length of about 118 kilometers. [Photo/Xinhua]
Expressway network spreads across nation
By CAO CHEN in Shanghai
The Huzhou section of the Changchun-Shenzhen Expressway [Photo provided to]

Editor's Note: China Daily reporters traveled along some of the country's major expressways recently to observe the tremendous changes that have taken place. China's road network is the most extensive in the world. In this series, we share what we found on the journey.

From zero to 160,000 kilometers, China has built the world's largest expressway network in less than the past four decades.

The network has embraced 99 percent of cities and regions whose urban population exceeds 200,000, Wang Songbo, deputy director of the comprehensive planning department of the Ministry of Transport, said on Tuesday.

He added it will be upgraded by 2035 to cover all cities and counties with a population exceeding 100,000.

"In the meantime, technology has made transportation smarter, with timely monitoring of the status of the expressways and handling of emergencies," Wang said. He added that highway mileage accounts for 3.1 percent of the nation's total road mileage, but carries over half the freight nationwide.

"We have also been exploring digital infrastructure. Based on the Beidou satellite navigation system, big data and cloud computing, a smart road network management platform is under development."

China entered the expressway era when the 15.9-kilometer-long Hujia (Shanghai-Jiading) Expressway, which links downtown Shanghai with Jiading district in its northwest, opened to traffic in October 1988.

Following its success was the opening of the first highway in Liaoning province, between Shenyang and Dalian, which is 348.5 km long.

Zhang Kuihong, deputy chief engineer of the Hujia Expressway project, said he was very excited to see the rapid growth of China's transportation sector, especially in Shanghai.

Recalling the day when the Hujia Expressway opened in 1988, the former engineer, who was in a helicopter introducing the route to a local TV station at the time, said it looked like "a golden ribbon" in the sunshine.

"Products such as chicken, fish and shrimp needed to be transported from suburbs such as Jiading to Shanghai's downtown area by road. However, before the highway, it could take more than two hours to travel the 20 km between the two areas if the traffic was heavy," the 79-year-old said.

That was the major reason the government initially decided to build the highway. However, there were disagreements about the need for the road among officials, as some felt that the very low level of automobile ownership in China at the time did not justify the expense.

However, after conducting thorough research, the government supported the Hujia Expressway pilot project and construction started in 1984.

"Thanks to the highway, the commute time from downtown Shanghai to Jiading was reduced to 30 minutes, and that accelerated the development of the economy and tourism in the city," Zhang said.

Near the highway's entrances and exits, for example, an industrial park was built in the town of Taopu. Nanxiang, an ancient town in Jiading that is famous for its steamed buns, also welcomed more visitors due to the highway.

"Witnessing these achievements brought by the highway, I am so proud," he said.

Pathways to Progress event revs up

An event themed "Pathways to Progress" kicked off on Tuesday, exploring China along its many highways from April to June and showing the country's lightspeed development.

Over the past decades, China has built more than 160,000 kilometers of expressways, connecting hundreds of millions of people.

The total mileage of China's road network stood at about 5.2 million kilometers as of the end of 2020, according to the Ministry of Transport.

Range of projects improve rural lives
Children play at a new settlement in Songlang village, Maonan autonomous county, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. [Photo/Xinhua]

Investment brings major changes

Qin Zhaozhi, 29, a roads inspector from the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, has visited the regional capital, Nanning, only four times.

For decades, there was just one road for people to escape the monotony and isolation of Qin's home in Huanjiang Maonan autonomous county in northern Guangxi, where he was born, raised and educated.

Cars recently became affordable for members of his Maonan ethnic group, but before that, Qin would set out by bus for Nanning before dawn to visit its shops and entertainment venues. Reaching the city entailed a lengthy journey in a darkened vehicle that crept along winding lanes clinging to cliffs. He was lucky to reach his destination before nightfall.

On arrival in Nanning, the travel-weary passengers were greeted by the sounds of a bustling city, flashing neon signs and other aspects of urban life they never experience at home.

"The bus ride was a headache, but it was worth it to reach the city, which mesmerized me," Qin said.

However, it soon will be much quicker for him and others to escape the isolation of home, as a high-speed railway is being built to link Nanning with Guiyang, capital of neighboring Guizhou province, as part of a push to integrate regional development.

Staff members from the village committee in Xiatang, Maonan, help a senior leave the area. [Photo/Xinhua]

Situated midway between the two economic heartlands, Huanjiang is poised to benefit.

The county, which is home to more than 70 percent of China's some 100,000 Maonan people and also to other ethnic groups, used to be entrenched in poverty.

Last year, local authorities announced that the county no longer had any poor residents-a result of the sweeping campaign to eradicate rural poverty.

This achievement marked a milestone in the history of the Maonan people, one of a few dozen ethnic groups with small populations in China that until recently have led slash-and-burn lifestyles.

"A flyover carrying the railway can be seen from my village," Qin said.

Thanks to the anti-poverty campaign, paved roads now reach rural families. Better transportation links, which have reduced costs, have prompted farmers to shift to cash crops such as tangerines, Qin added.

With the pandemic under control in China, heavy machinery resumed operating at more than 200 construction sites in Guangxi alone earlier this month, as workers raced to drill tunnels, build bridges and lay rail tracks.

Regional authorities said they plan to pump 850 million yuan ($131 million) into the rail project in the first quarter of this year. They hope the 500-kilometer bullet train line will be in use by 2023.The total cost of the project is estimated at 13.1 billion yuan.

When the link is completed, it will take less than two hours to travel from Nanning to Guiyang, which will be a boon for local tourism, experts said.

For locals, the railway has become a source of pride.

Tan Chunli, a railway worker from the Maonan ethnic group in Liuzhou, Guangxi, said she takes photos of the fast-growing rail line every time she returns home to Huanjiang.

"I hope the bullet train service will bring more visitors to Huanjiang to admire its breathtaking scenery," she said.

Farmers harvest tomatoes in a greenhouse in Tangwan village in the county. [Photo/Xinhua]

Highway project

Meanwhile, work on a new highway is due to start this month.

The link, which will connect Huanjiang with Libo, Guizhou, a scenic location known for its karst mountains, will be the first highway to pass through Huanjiang, according to the county government.

Huang Bingfeng, the county head and a deputy to the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, said Huanjiang has tourism resources that rival those in Libo, which welcomes more than 20 million visitors a year due to bridge-building and other infrastructure projects in recent years.

However, only 2 million visitors arrive in Huanjiang annually, he said, adding, "The highway will help divert some tourists to the county."

Guizhou Party secretary Sun Zhigang said at a news conference in Beijing in 2019 that the province had earned the title "the world's museum for bridges" due to numerous construction projects that have resulted in nearly half the world's 100 highest bridges falling within its jurisdiction.

Huang, an ethnic Maonan, said he suggested during the recently concluded annual two sessions that another highway be built linking the county with Rongjiang, Guizhou, which is known for its revolutionary-themed scenic spots, which attract "red tourism". The suggestion was greeted enthusiastically among delegates from the transportation sector.

The infrastructure projects underway are part of a broader effort by local authorities to build a "one-hour economic zone" for the once-impoverished county.

Huang said that when the projects are completed, Huanjiang will be just one hour from major nearby cities by train or car.

"I believe these projects will help usher in a new era for local tourism, agriculture and industry," he said, adding that the county is catching up in fields such as electronic manufacturing and clean energy.

Farmers have resettled in Keai village (above), Daan township, Maonan, after leaving their old location (top) in 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

National strategy

Huanjiang is among the choices for new transportation projects aimed at bringing vitality to the nation's less-affluent areas.

In 2019, central authorities unveiled a blueprint for vitalizing China through better transportation links from this year to the middle of the century.

One stated goal is to make the country's major cities within three hours travel time of one another before 2035. Another is to create one-hour commuter zones for all cities during this period.

The blueprint also promises favorable policies for railway networks and airports that benefit rural tourism and agricultural production.

Qin, the road quality inspector, is working on a new road linking Huanjiang with nearby Luocheng Mulam autonomous county.

Expected to open by the end of this month, the link will shorten travel time between the two counties and benefit a number of communities dotting the karst mountains in between.

"I now see more farmers going to their fields on electric scooters," Qin said. "The road will make it easier to transport organic farm produce to a larger consumer market."

Tunnel, tech feat, connects 2 provinces
An aerial view of the Sunan-Qilian section of the G213 national highway. Builders from First Engineering Co Ltd of China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group on Tuesday finished connecting the 3,639-meter-long Dongshan Tunnel. [Photo by HAN XINLIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Gansu, Qinghai will benefit from smooth flow of goods, services and manpower

Asia's highest tunnel, located in Northwest China's Qilian Mountains, was fully connected on Tuesday, breaking the transport bottleneck between landlocked Gansu and Qinghai provinces and boosting the flow of goods and services in the region.

The Dongshan Tunnel, part of the Sunan-Qilian section within the G213 national highway, is dubbed a key project of the Belt and Road Initiative.

It is expected to immensely enhance traffic flow between Sunan Yugu autonomous county in Gansu and Qilian county in Qinghai.

The 3,639-meter-long tunnel, built by the First Engineering Co Ltd of China Tiesiju Civil Engineering Group (CTCE) since June 2018, has an elevation of 4,200 meters.

It was built amid harsh geological conditions and very high risks in digging and construction, said Ma Zhikui, project department manager.

The Sunan-Qilian Highway, starting at Baizhuangzi in Sunan and ending at S215 provincial highway in Qinghai, entailed a total investment of 1.4 billion yuan ($215 million).

It will save travelers between Sunan and Qilian more than 400 kilometers on the road and cut travel time by some five hours, said Ma.

The Qilian Mountains, stretching for over 1,000 kilometers to the south of the Hexi Corridor, the main artery on the ancient Silk Road, have an average elevation of 4,500 meters, with high ridges piercing the skies.

Ma said CTCE built the No 5 bid, which is 15.01 km long, of the Sunan-Qilian Highway, covering roadbeds, bridges and culverts. The Dongshan, or East Mountain, tunnel was the most difficult project for the highway. First Engineering's bid entailed an investment of 496 million yuan.

Since first entering the region in March 2018 for preparation, CTCE started digging the tunnel in June 2018, intending to make it a transport artery in China's northwestern region, Ma said.

Sunan, home to the Yugu ethnic group, comes under the administrative purview of Zhangye city, which was once called Ganzhou prefecture. It was one of the biggest international trading hubs on the ancient Silk Road.

Ma said as the average annual temperature covering the tunnel is-10 C, the frozen soil there is half a meter deep on average. The full completion of the project once again showed CTCE's enterprise spirit of endeavoring to overcome difficulties with hard work, and to dare to compete and never rest content.

The Dongshan Tunnel, a landmark project in China's northwest, is the first plateau tunnel for builders of 70-year-old CTCE, said Chen Taiheng, Party secretary of the project department.

Chen said when they first entered the work site, they had no running water, no electricity and no mobile communication for almost four months due to the high elevation, which also brought headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and tinnitus to newcomers.

To ensure the health of builders, he said, CTCE hired a local doctor to conduct regular check-ups, treating them for any adverse reactions in a timely way.

Wang Yongtao, 32, a native of Fugou county in Henan province, conducts checks on building materials and equipment. He said within half a month of joining the project in June 2018, he overcame discomfort such as chest tightness and headaches, and became very satisfied with the work, the more so because of the realization that he is able to contribute to an important project.

Chen said he was pleased all the diligent and dedicated work finally bore fruit in what might appear as a no man's land. Besides 60-odd managerial staff, around 300 workers worked tirelessly to make the project a reality.

In addition to daily necessities, heating equipment and various cold-proof materials were provided by CTCE to the builders on site, creating a warm home for them in the harsh environment, Chen said.

Since the region is home to wildlife like marmots, wolves, wild sheep and hawks, each dormitory was equipped with an attached washroom for employee safety.

Zhao Changping, a 45-year-old native of Yunyang county in Chongqing, said as a CTCE employee, he earns a monthly salary of 12,000 yuan, which helps supports his wife and three kids aged 17, 10 and 8 back home.

Han Xinliang, publicity director of CTCE First Engineering Co Ltd, said due to the low temperature, the project department innovated a method of second heating on concrete tankers entering the tunnel.

When a tanker arrives at the work site, it enters the heating room for further heating to ensure the concrete's temperature is just right for use.

The main entrance and exit of the project, only four meters wide, were narrow and rugged, posing much difficulty in transporting building materials to the perpetually snow-covered mountain.

Pan Jihong, Party secretary of CTCE First Engineering, said his staff members are proud of taking part in building the tunnel. The project has also helped CTCE deepen its experience of applying its technology in the construction in plateau areas.

It has also helped lay a solid foundation for the full opening of the Sunan-Qilian highway to the public in June this year.

Bai Yong, magistrate of Sunan, thanked the CTCE builders, who in spite of the harsh geological conditions, successfully completed the tunnel construction in a timely manner.

It will undoubtedly help elevate the local social and economic progress, Bai said.

Zhou Mingjie contributed to this story.

Xinjiang targets transportation
By CUI JIA in Beijing and MAO WEIHUA in Urumqi
Members of the 13th Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region People's Congress attend a meeting at Xinjiang People's Hall in the region's capital, Urumqi, on Monday. [CUI ZHIJIAN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Five-Year Plan continues trend that has brought 'profound changes' to region

The Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region plans to further boost investments in key transportation infrastructure, including highways and airports, during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25). It will also improve the facilities in core economic zones at border areas so the region will open up more under the Belt and Road Initiative, the region's chairman said.

Poor transportation and issues with water conservancy and energy infrastructure have always been key obstacles in the economic and social development of Xinjiang, which covers about one-sixth of China's territory.

"With continuous efforts in investing in and constructing such infrastructure in the past five years, they have been able to provide strong support for the development of Xinjiang and made profound changes to both urban and rural areas," Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the region, said in his government work report during the annual session of the regional people's congress in the regional capital of Urumqi on Monday.

Xinjiang's fixed-asset investments reached 4.1 trillion yuan ($637.8 billion) from 2016 to 2020, about 1.29 times that of 2011 to 2015. The region built 1,184 kilometers of highway from 2016 to 2020, more than 21.5 percent of its total highway length, according to the work report.

Xinjiang aims to build a highway network around the Tarim Basin linking the cities and counties of southern Xinjiang to support local development. The highway length is expected to reach 10,000 km by 2025 from the current 5,500 km.

The region also plans to build 15 new airports by 2025, bringing its total number of airports to 37. Xinjiang is already the region with the most airports in China. The new planned airports help the region, which was an essential link on the ancient Silk Road, to have a Silk Road in the air, Shohrat said.

Another focus will be building the International Land Port of Urumqi and two economic zones in Kashgar in southern Xinjiang and Horgos in northern Xinjiang to accelerate the region's opening-up progress under the Belt and Road Initiative, Shohrat said. More infrastructure to support that will be constructed and a series of international cooperation projects will be started in the economic zones.

The region's 5,600 km border touches eight countries, including Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The central government considers it a core area on the Silk Road Economic Belt.

Due to the penetration of extremism, separatism and terrorism, the region was frequently hit by terrorist attacks for a period of time, but "such a passive situation has been completely turned around", Shohrat said, adding that no terrorist incident has happened in the region for more than four years.

Social stability has safeguarded economic and social development, he said. The average growth of the region's annual GDP from 2016 to 2020 was about 6.1 percent. The average annual disposable income of rural residents reached 14,056 yuan, more than 2.8 times that in 2010, according to the report.

Stability has also boosted the tourism industry of Xinjiang, which is known for its grand scenery and diverse cultures. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the region received 158 million visits from tourists in 2020.The number is expected to reach 400 million in 2025, Shohrat said.

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