Virtually every aspect of Chengdu has improved over the past five years, from economic performance to artistic expression. New business models have bolstered the tea, traditional medicine and tourism industries, while new technologies and partnerships have raised the IT and finance sectors to new heights. A few years ago, only China analysts spoke of Chengdu. Now no analysis of the mainland's growth can leave the city out of its scope. The cities of the eastern seaboard, geographically well endowed to receive the lion's share of foreign and domestic investment, now count Chengdu as one of them: a rising star with influence and power beyond the borders of the municipality and ambitions beyond the borders of China. Chendgu is often described as the bowstring, while the coastal cities represent the bow. This is an interesting analogy in many respects. First, it acknowledges that Chengdu, although deep in the hinterland and for years virtually inaccessible, is an indispensable component of the mainland's economic miracle. Moreover, this analogy leaves out such prominent cities as Xi'an, Chongqing and Kunming. These other western cities are powerful and growing in their own right, but Chengdu has managed to incorporate the strengths of all three - the tourism of Kunming, the industry of Chongqing and the history of Xi'an - and combine them with its political and managerial prowess. Thus, Chengdu represents not only a vital part of the economic miracle - in the form of energy for Shanghai's factories, for example - but also takes the role of leader in the western regions. Chengdu, therefore, must continue to improve itself to meet its responsibilities to the east as well as the west. For the western regions, Chengdu represents the brain; the centre from which development and progress must radiate. Most foreign companies and consulates choose Chengdu as their operational base. Nabors, an American manufacturer of oil rigs, has production bases outside of Xi'an and Guanghan, but the executives make their home in Chengdu. Most of their business meetings are conducted in Chengdu. The same goes for most other foreign enterprises in the area and increasingly for domestic companies doing business in the western regions. Companies produce where the resources are and meet where the administrative capital is. Without Chengdu to provide the political and business atmosphere, industrial cities such as Deyang, Jiang You, Mianyang and Chongqing would founder. For the eastern regions, Chengdu also acts as a base of operations. Although Japanese entrepreneurs buy their tea and traditional medicine from locals in Sichuan's western mountains, they live, eat and meet in the teahouses and hotel lobbies of Chengdu. All business must pass through here. If there is an issue with a provider somewhere in the countryside or a problem with a dam in some mountain region, the problem is solved in Chengdu. Companies from outside the province must register in Chengdu. Attuned to its role, the Chengdu government has spent millions of dollars building a new exhibition centre and a new seat of government in the south of the city - away from the bustle of downtown - to capitalise on the clean and comfortable environment just outside the Third Ring Road. Taking this idea a step further, renovations are under way throughout the city to keep it clean, convenient and charming. Chengdu would like to become a Dalian or Xiamen in terms of the environment - clean, modern and easy on the nerves. Chengdu's nong jia le - a type of bed and breakfast inn - and the government's quick realisation that such a business model may help to counteract pollution while maintaining a beautiful environment and bringing peasants out of poverty, is a homegrown solution to an environmental problem. The cleaning of the Fu Nan River more than six years ago was a welcome development and won praise from the United Nations. However, there is still much room for improvement. With modernity taking priority, there is a need to preserve the city's history and culture. Heritage proponents must engage the authorities in a dialogue to find a middle path between headlong development and the preservation of what makes Chengdu special. This city has a long and glorious history and is renowned for being a haven for poets and painters from antiquity to the present day. It would be an achievement if Chengdu's pivotal role in the economic miracle sweeping across the mainland is balanced with the preservation of this legacy. It is evident that the government and the people of Chengdu have realised that the city occupies a special place in China - a cauldron of economic and technological activity as well as a bastion of traditional Chinese culture. It is up to the next generation of businessmen, politicians and artists to keep the ball rolling, to take the city to a new level of modernisation, from a developing one reaching out to the world to an established metropolis the world is eager to visit.