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A look at the city of Wuhu

WUHU, China—Like the rest of China, the city of Wuhu has gone through tumultuous changes.

Wuhu occupies a populous spot near the heart of central China. Some 250 million people live within a 250-mile radius of the city, which is anchored in Anhui province.

"The appearance of the city has changed beyond recognition," said Cheng Xiaosu, the vice mayor. Four-fifths of Wuhu's 2.3 million residents live in new housing.

The city's economy has grown ninefold in barely two decades, Cheng said, partly because of its crossroads location, intersected by five rail lines and four highways, as well as the mightiest river in China.

China is now the No. 1 producer of digital cameras, color TVs, cell phones, footwear, bicycles, home air conditioners, eyeglasses, wedding gowns and even the freight containers that carry exports abroad.

Wuhu's industries include automaker Chery. Established only six years ago, Chery plans to boost production capacity from 350,000 cars to 1 million by 2007 in order to export its low-priced cars to the United States and other foreign markets.

A few hours down the Yangtze River from Wuhu is Shanghai, China's richest city. Shanghai has at least 2,093 buildings 18 stories and higher, many of them new. Its metropolitan area has more high-rises than the West Coast of the United States.

Most small cities in China's less-developed western regions have new airports, and nearly all are linked by a superhighway system with divided medians and green signs, like the U.S. interstates.

Shanghai's per-capita economic output is $5,600 a year, far above the $1,040 for the nation's 1.3 billion citizens. China's 768 million rural residents are lucky to earn $400 a year, with little safety net.

Gunning China's economic engine is the only way to create common prosperity for the country's vast majority and to satisfy rising expectations, said Zhou Shuchun, the director of the Xinhua Research Center for World Affairs.

"We need to do in a matter of a few decades what the West has done over a span of centuries, so it is much more difficult," Zhou recently told a television program.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): chinarise

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