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Zhongshan is named after Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China. Photo: Handout

ExplainerZhongshan, the birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, revamps as Greater Bay Area transport hub to reinvigorate economy

  • Zhongshan is set to benefit from the increased connectivity as it sits at the intersection of major transport projects in the Greater Bay Area
  • The city has planned to invest 150 billion yuan in building roads, ports and bridges to increase its importance to the region

Many people living outside mainland China may not be familiar with Zhongshan city, but the birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China, is keen on taking its place as a leading city in the country’s ambitious Greater Bay Area development plan.

Zhongshan sits at the centre of the bay area, a region around southern China’s Pearl River Delta that Beijing plans to transform into an integrated 11-city urban cluster to power the nation’s economic growth.

The city, whose economic growth has slowed down in recent years, is revamping itself into a transport hub for the region, leveraging on its central geographical location and several major transport infrastructure projects in the area.

Zhongshan also aims to grow its manufacturing prowess and become a forerunner in advanced manufacturing in the country. Guzhen, a district in Zhongshan, already hosts some of the finest lighting companies in the world, earning it the nickname of “China’s lighting capital”.

Tourists pose for photos in front of the former residence of Sun Yat-sen, now turned into a museum in Zhongshan, in Guangdong province. Photo: AFP

Beyond its economic ambitions, the city of some 3.14 million boasts a rich culture.

Why is the city named Zhongshan?

The city was renamed in 1925 to commemorate Sun Yat-sen, who died the same year. Sun was the provisional first president of the Republic of China and led the revolution to overthrow the Qing dynasty. Sun was born into a family of farmers in Cuiheng village where he saw first-hand the hardships they faced, which inspired him to change things for the better.

Why is Zhongshan important to the overall Greater Bay Area development plan?

To integrate the 11 cities in the area, a number of transport projects are already under way. Zhongshan is set to benefit from the increased connectivity as it sits at the intersection of major projects. The city has planned to invest 150 billion yuan (US$23 billion) in building roads, ports and bridges to increase its importance to the region.

One of the most important infrastructure projects is a sea crossing that will link Zhongshan and Shenzhen, the technology hub. The 24km crossing is expected to open in 2024, and involves an eight-lane, 46-metre wide undersea tunnel that will be the widest in the world. When the project is ready, it will take only 30 minutes by road from Zhongshan to Shenzhen, which could be a game changer for the industries and companies there.

What challenges does Zhongshan face in developing its economy?

Zhongshan used to be a leading city in Guangdong province, driving the region’s economic growth with its strong manufacturing industry. It was dubbed one of the “four tigers” of the province in the 1980s, when China first implemented market reforms and opened up to the world.

But the city has failed to catch up with peers in the region over the past two decades, and slipped to the bottom of economic growth rankings. In 2019, Zhongshan’s gross domestic product only grew 1.2 per cent, much lower than the provincial average of 6.2 per cent. A lack of successful home-grown companies contributed to the slow growth.

Lai Zehua, the Communist Party chief of Zhongshan, said earlier this year that the city faces some key challenges going forward, including a lack of industrial investment to drive an upgrade of its industries, as well as fragmented and excessive development of land.

Lai, who took office in October 2019, has set a goal of lifting Zhongshan’s economic growth to “medium to high level” within Guangdong province by 2024.