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A pioneering spirit

By Ma Zhenhuan| China Daily| Updated: September 27, 2023 L M S

For more than 8,000 years, Ningbo and its people have contributed greatly to the nation's development and growth, Ma Zhenhuan reports.

Ningbo, a coastal city in Zhejiang province, is a historic, cultural and trade city, with a history dating back more than 8,000 years.

In 1973, villagers in Hemudu town in Ningbo accidentally discovered prehistoric ruins dating back 7,000 years while working on a drainage project.

The relics unearthed at the site, including remains of rice kernels, ceramic fragments with carbonized rice and husks, wooden joints and pottery vessels, provided evidence of a flourishing Neolithic culture.

The wooden oars, model boats and canoes discovered at the site also indicate that Ningbo inhabitants were engaging in maritime activities at least 7,000 years ago.

In 2013, archaeologists in Ningbo unearthed remains of a shell mound, which became known as the Jingtoushan site, dating back 8,300 years. The discovery further advanced the history of maritime activity in the region by more than 1,000 years.

Located in the middle of China's coastline, the port in Ningbo, which is linked to the ancient Grand Canal — one of the most important waterways in ancient China — was an ideal transport hub for cargo ships. As one of the starting points of the historic Maritime Silk Road, Ningbo also served as one of the earliest cities in China to open up to the world.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), as the celadon-glazed pottery from the Yue kilns across Zhejiang became a popular export, Ningbo, then called Mingzhou, emerged as one of China's top three port cities, shipping the distinctive green porcelain overseas.

During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Ningbo gradually formed a method of subsidizing agriculture with business. In 1213, the Department of State Affairs, the highest executive institution of the imperial government, issued a document specifically for Ningbo, stating that its merchants would be exempted from taxes. The favorable tax policy accelerated the city's development into an international port.

In addition to celadon-glazed pottery, the city also transported other goods, such as tea and silk, and became a destination for envoys seeking diplomatic relationships, craftsmen for the arts, and monks for Buddhist exchanges.

That tradition has carried through to today. Home to Ningbo Zhoushan Port, the world's largest port in terms of cargo throughput volume, Ningbo has become a global hub for shipping, resource distribution and trade.

There is a Chinese saying that a market cannot be formed without Ningbo merchants. The city is the birthplace of the Ningbo merchant group, which is famed in Chinese history and was the largest commercial group in modern China, promoting the development of the country's industry and commerce. Businesspeople from Ningbo established the country's first bank, the first shipping company and its first machine factory.

They believed that education offers a solid foundation for the development of a country. That's why many Ningbo merchants participated in the establishment of, and donations to, schools.

They helped set up middle schools, technical schools and colleges, not only in Ningbo, but also in other cities. These new-style schools focused on teaching Western science and technology, which have cultivated a large number of graduates who have contributed to China's social progress.

Academia is an area where the pioneering spirit of Ningbo people has shone brightly.

In 2015, Tu Youyou, a pharmaceutical chemist from Ningbo whose discovery of the malaria drug artemisinin saved millions of lives across the globe, received the Nobel Prize in physiology, becoming the first Chinese scientist to win this award.

More than 100 academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and Chinese Academy of Science, China's top academic institutions, are from Ningbo. They contribute to a wide range of research areas, ranging from astronomy, atomic structure and atomic weaponry to artificial satellites and genetics.

Such high academic achievement has also contributed to Ningbo's status as "a city of culture".

Wang Yangming (1472-1529), one of China's leading philosophers, was born in Yuyao, a county-level city in Ningbo. Wang is best known for his doctrine of the "unity of knowing and acting". It states that knowledge and action should be combined, and that one can acquire knowledge through actions. His thoughts still live on and exert a profound influence on Chinese people.

It is also home to China's oldest extant private library at the Tianyi Pavilion. Built in 1561 by Fan Qin, an official during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), in addition to traditional preservation methods, strict family rules were established to manage the library, including one that forbade people from going there after drinking alcohol, and that the descendants should not divide the collection and the books should never be taken away from the library permanently. The book protection program of Fan's family has lasted more than 400 years.

There is a folk song in Ningbo that goes "east or west, Ningbo Jiangxia (a busy street in Ningbo) is the best". It shows that Ningbo people, however accomplished, will never forget their hometown, wherever they are.