The growth of Shijiazhuang into one of China's major cities began in 1905, when the Beijing–Wuhan (Hankou) railway reached the area, stimulating much new trade and encouraging local farmers to grow cash crops. Two years later the town became the junction for the new Shitai line, running from Shijiazhuang to Taiyuan in central Shanxi province. This connection immediately transformed the town from a local collecting center and market into a communications center of national importance on the main route from Beijing and Tianjin to Shanxi and — later, when the railway from Taiyuan was extended to the southwest — to Shaanxi province as well. The city also became the center of an extensive road network.
During the pre-World War II period, Shijiazhuang was a large railway town as well as a commercial and collecting center for Shanxi and the regions farther west and for the agricultural produce of the North China Plain, particularly for grain, tobacco, and cotton. By 1935 it had far outstripped Zhengding as an economic center. At the end of World War II the character of the city changed once again. Not only did it assume an administrative role as the preeminent city in western Hebei but it also developed into an industrial city. Some industry, such as match manufacturing, tobacco processing, and glassmaking, had already been established before the war.
Only after 1949, however, did the planned industrialization of the city gather momentum. Its population more than trebled in the decade 1948–58. In the 1950s the city experienced a major expansion in the textile industry, with large-scale cotton spinning, weaving, printing, and dyeing works. In addition, there are various plants processing local farm produce. In the 1960s it was also the site of a new chemical industry, with plants producing fertilizer and caustic soda. Shijiazhuang also became an engineering base, with a tractor-accessory plant. There are important coal deposits at Jingxing and Huailu, now named Luquan, a few miles to the west in the foothills of the Taihang Mountains, which provide fuel for a thermal-generating plant supplying power to local industries. The city's role as a transport center has been supplemented by the construction of an airport handling regular domestic flights.
Shijiazhuang has direct jurisdiction over:
Since Sanlu, the region's largest purchaser of milk, was ordered to halt production, farmers in Hebei are suffering hardship because of the lack of purchasers for their milk. Many are said to be contemplating selling their cows into a buyerless market.
Shijiazhuang is a transportation hub: it is at the intersection point of the Beijing-Guangzhou, Taiyuan-Dezhou, and Shuozhou-Huanghua railroads and many expressways, including the Beijing-Shenzhen and Taiyuan-Cangzhou Expressways. The Shijiazhuang Daguocun International Airport has flight connections to major cities in China.
As a young industrial city, Shijiazhuang city proper is generally considered to have relatively few sights of historical or cultural interest. Exceptions are:
However, several sites of historical and cultural significance are located in the surrounding area, including: