Xuzhou's pavements overflow with shoppers on weekends, forcing people to walk in streets choked with fumes from gridlocked taxis. Lines form outside clothing boutiques and at night, spas and restaurants in the outlying hills shine blinking neon lights as carload after carload of customers roll up. But Xuzhou, to many outsiders, raises images of the canals and gardens of Suzhou, another Jiangsu province city about six hours south by train. In fact few outsiders are aware of Xuzhou's appeal, as it rarely promotes itself, unlike Suzhou or many other southern Chinese cities. Xuzhou has not needed to advertise itself to the outside world ever since the city was crowned the state capital of the Han dynasty 2,200 years ago. Rural inhabitants and people living in smaller towns scattered across five provinces - Jiangsu, Anhui, Henan, Shandong and Hebei - have naturally travelled to the city, because of its status as a crossroads. The railways and highways draw traders and shoppers from a wide area to Xuzhou, making it a logical place to sell or transfer loads of construction materials or coal bricks, or to offload and sell farm produce. From Hebei, people travel to the city via canal. Xuzhou's important status in the region continues today, hence the crowds and nightlife. 'That's why, if you look out my front door, you see licence plates from four provinces,' said Xing Bing, manager of the centrally located Xuzhou City Shopping Building Travel Agency. But with east-coast Chinese cities stealing the limelight and prospering as a result, many in business are expecting a change in the city's low-key image. They expect officials to promote Xuzhou as a tourist town and a key business centre. 'It will be as good as a coastal city, though it hasn't got to that level yet,' said Zhu Tao, general manager of the Hot Spring City bathhouse. 'We will emphasise the idea of being in the centre, to make it the big city at the middle of a circle and therefore attract more people.' City leaders would not comment on development plans, but hinted that some form of promotion was on the way. One foreign trade bureau official said Xuzhou needed outside investment as much as any Chinese city. 'We have to use our geographic position as an advantage,' he said. Xuzhou natives talk up their two railway lines - the Beijing-Shanghai and Gansu-Shanghai lines pass through the city, as well as their four expressways and 20 provincial highways. A canal from Huangzhou to Beijing leads to four Xuzhou ports, and flights from Xuzhou's domestic airport go to 10 cities. A staff member at the Garden Hotel said Xuzhou boasted more shopping centres than most cities with a comparable population of about 1.5 million people. Like most east-coast cities, it has an economic development zone with 500 companies, including Haier and Caterpillar. The zone's strengths are low prices and availability of resources, Mr Xing said. Much of the industry there now deals in foodstuff, and about 300 enterprises operate throughout Xuzhou. However, Xuzhou still depends largely on industry, manufacturing coal bricks and iron and steel products. For travellers, Xuzhou has its own army of underground Han dynasty terracotta warriors, although they are smaller than the better-known army in Xian. Han tombs and traces of an old city wall are potential tourist attractions, as are 12 public parks around the lakes and forested hills just outside town. Flower pots and palmettos line some of the city's streets. 'We want it to be a tourist city, too, with more promotions,' said Zhu Yamin, assistant manager of a company in Xuzhou. Over the past two years, Chinese tourists have learned through promotional literature about Xuzhou's Han dynasty ruins and visited in greater numbers, said the head of the provincial Chinese Academy of Sciences economics research unit. But he said that to reach the level of a first-tier coastal city, Xuzhou must first overcome its shrinking coal resources, which could hurt local industry. He also suggested the city's distance of more than 100 km from the ocean could make it more difficult to compete for investment.