Visitors to China often talk of the country’s great environmental and historic riches. Despite constituting one-fifteenth of the world’s land mass, the People’s Republic of China remained isolated, by choice, for centuries.
After opening its gates to the world, Chairman Mao’s Communist party once again isolated China from the outside world in the 1940s. Following his overthrow, however, China began its own second industrial revolution and today enjoys the world’s fastest growing economy.
Mao’s totalitarian regime reflects the many dynasties that have risen and fallen throughout China’s 5,000 year history. Yet this very history created a unique cultural identity. From philosophy, to the arts, politics and scientific advancement, China stands alone.
China’s rich cultural history and its expansive natural beauty can make it difficult to settle on a travel itinerary, but you may wish to consider visiting a few of these highlights. (Because China’s climate is greatly diverse, from the tropical south to the sub-arctic north, consider weather patterns before selecting your itinerary.)
No trip is complete without a visit to the capitol city of Beijing, considered the country’s crown jewel. Here you’ll find the enticing Forbidden City, the exotic Summer Palace and the start of the Great Wall of China.
Likewise, you won’t want to miss the famous terracotta warriors of Xi’an. Another equally popular tour consists of a sailing trip down the Yangzi River to explore China’s historic Silk Road route.
The Labrang Monastery in the south-western Gansu Province is a popular destination point for spiritual voyagers and historical buffs alike.
Adventure travelers should look to Mount Everest, on the border between Tibet and Nepal. Long considered the highest point on earth, Mount Everest kisses the clouds at 29,000 feet.
Pilgrims also have long been attracted to China’s many other sacred mountains. Over time, stairways have been carved into the very rock to facilitate the hike. Along this route you’ll find poems, inscriptions and numerous temples. The unmatched sunrises at the summit may prove to be the height of your visit.
Another must-see is the serene Grand Buddha at Leshan, in the Sichuan Province. This largest existing Buddha in the world is carved directly into the red-stone cliff. The 230-foot tall Buddha towers over the union of the Dadu and Min rivers.
Once a walled fishing village, modern Shanghai sprouted up around the maze of tiny alleys that composed the original old Chinese city. Shanghai’s Chenghuang Temple and its classical Chinese Yu Gardens are popular tourist spots. In the middle of the gardens you’ll find the famous Huxing Teahouse, as well as the Bridge of Nine Turns. The bridge’s many zigzags reflect the ancient belief that evil spirits are unable to cross water at corners.
Return to modern day with a walk along the city’s seacoast. One of the world’s largest seaports, this “Gate of China” is now the center of the country’s major industrial and commercial enterprises. Here you’ll find an impressive collection of modern European architecture.
In direct contrast to the modernity of Shanghai, you’ll find a host of charming colonial architecture in Xiamen in the Fujian Province.
Many other well-known attractions, from Tiananmen Square to its unique rural provinces, make China the cultural treasure-house of East Asia. With so much to explore, an extended visit may be the only way to truly understand this ancient country and its tumultuous history.
CHINA - FACTS
Full country name: People's Republic of China
Area: 9.6 million square kilometers (3.7 million square miles)
Population: 1.3 million (July 2006 est.)
Time Difference: 13 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time
Location: Eastern Asia, bordering the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, between North Korea and Vietnam
Climate: Extremely diverse; tropical in south to sub-arctic in north
Terrain: Mostly mountains, high plateaus, deserts in west; plains, deltas and hills in east
Reference map: http://worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/asia/cn.htm
Currency: Yuan, also referred to as the Renminbi
Exchange rate: $1 = 7.79675 Yuan or One Yuan = $0.12826
International calling code: 86
Ethnic groups: Han Chinese 91.9%, Zhuang, Uygur, Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Buyi, Korean, and other nationalities 8.1%
Languages: Standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages
Religions: Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Christian 3%-4%, Muslim 1%-2% -- note: officially atheist
Government: Communist state
Capital city: Beijing
GDP: $8.883 trillion (2005 est.)
GDP per capita: $6,800 (2005 est.)
Agricultural products: Rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, peanuts, tea, millet, barley, apples, cotton, oilseed; pork; and fish
Major products/Industries: Mining and ore processing, iron, steel, aluminum, and other metals, coal; machine building; armaments; textiles and apparel; petroleum; cement; chemicals; fertilizers; consumer products, including footwear, toys, and electronics; food processing; transportation equipment, including automobiles, rail cars and locomotives, ships, and aircraft; telecommunications equipment, commercial space launch vehicles, satellites
Environmental concerns: Air pollution (greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide particulates) from reliance on coal produces acid rain; water shortages, particularly in the north; water pollution from untreated wastes; deforestation; estimated loss of one-fifth of agricultural land since 1949 to soil erosion and economic development; desertification; and trade in endangered species
Recommended vaccinations: http://www.cdc.gov/travel/eastasia.htm
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