Discuss as:

Changing China and Chongqing

Here is what I knew about Chongqing when we rolled into town late last week: it's big.  Really, really big – over 31 million big, up from a mere 6 million in 1997.

The industrial and economic growth has been mind-boggling – with locals caught up in widening city limits and rapid development whether they want in on it or not.

Marisa Buchanan / NBC News
The bright lights of Chongqing, China beckon from the Yangtze River.

Our NBC team was there at the invitation of the local government – but throughout our visit, we tried to define the city for ourselves. What slogan would we give it?

Economic 'zone'

If local party officials had their way the slogan might simply be: Chongqing: Boomtown.

On the official tour we were introduced to investor after investor taking us from one growing development to another. Chongqing (pronounced: Chong- ching) has changed dramatically in part from the blessing (read: money) it received from the central government to recreate itself as a standalone municipality.

Beijing has direct oversight of the city – it's as if Chicago reported directly to President Bush rather than to the governor of Illinois.

As a result, Chongqing is a place where big investment gets the red carpet and essentially its own play land – known here as "parks" and "zones." There are lots of them, like "the high and new technology zone," "the technology development zone," "the southern new city development zone," "the new northern zone," "city college park," "university hi-tech zone," and, my favorite, the "jiu long zone of high tech zone".

All of these parks are working toward the same goal – the big G – GROWTH. And it seems to be working.

Marisa Buchanan / NBC News
A Coca-Cola bottling plant in Chongqing, China.

Changan (China's largest automaker) and Ford paired up here in 2003 in a joint venture which was recently joined by Mazda. The JV folks told us they were short of supply because the domestic demand is so great.

In another zone, home-grown Loncin's Motorcycle is pumping out 10,000 small engines and 3,000 motorcycles in their Chongqing plant a day. They supply more than 60 brands around the world besides their own.

Each day in every direction we looked there were construction cranes. In an "electronics park" being advertised as the equivalent of Silicon Valley, we found Hewlett-Packard – it planted a flag here a few weeks ago with a software development team – while IBM and Oracle are reportedly following suit and Coca-Cola is already here.

Slogan number #2: 'HOT POT'

At dinner one night a party official showed me a local newsletter. Under the hype for the 10th anniversary a headline read: "Peoples lives are wonderful day by day." That was just about the time she put the duck tripe on my plate and encouraged me to eat it.

If you don't think the food is just as important as the development in this place you might as well drop yourself in a hot pot. That's the boiling, spiced water they dump just about everything in from cows throat to duck tripe to chicken stomachs – and that was just at my table. In the guide book we looked at – a good 75 percent of the book was about the food. It too was one of the most pressing questions I got from local journalists: Had I ever had hotpot?

Marisa Buchanan / NBC News
Dessert treats for sale in a tourist section of Chongqing, China.

Slogan #3 Welcome to Demolitionville

What the local press didn't ask me about was the other big story in Chongqing in recent months. The flipside of rapid development – displacement.

Some readers might recall an image of a lone house in a giant construction pit standing firm against the real estate developers who the owners alleged had underpaid the family for their home. Known as the "nail house" it was an inspiring David versus Goliath story that circled the globe and the blogosphere.

It would have been more inspiring if others in Chongqing had been able to reap the benefits of all the attention paid to the "nail house," but that has not been the case. Last week, a French human rights organization released a report with reams of testimony from people who say they failed to get adequately compensated when big retail blocks and marked up apartments redesigned their neighborhoods. The report is a scathing look at an issue that was hidden from view on the official tour.

The central government knows it has as an explosive issue on its hands and has given the local government the responsibility to handle it. But since the local officials also are being tasked with the success of the enormous growth plan, they have gotten mixed reviews to say the least on how they address the problems caused by the rapid development.

Chongqing: 'Carrying Life'

Ultimately, for our team, the slogan we thought would best fit Chongqing wasn't based on the scale of the place, the sparkle of the auto plants or the Vegas style riverfront. It wasn't (dare I even say it), the food, either.

Marisa Buchanan / NBC News
A bang bang man in Chongqing, China.

For us it was the people hidden in plain sight. The "bang - bang jun" (pronounced "bung-bung") - people who carry bamboo poles across their shoulders and balance bricks, to shoeboxes, to cargo by rope for little more than $7 dollars a day. They are all over the city – diligently climbing up and down stairs, ramps, and highways, looking like workers from another era.

Marisa Buchanan / NBC News
Bang bang men in Chongqing, China.

But they are not from another era, they are rural men and women trying for a piece of the pie in the big city. Of all the things we saw in Chongqing – it was their character, work, and tenacity that showed us the big G. Carrying the city's business on their backs they seemed the very definition of the complex issues in this growing city.