It is difficult to overstate the influence China has had on most, if not all, cultures of the Far East. China’s role as the central political power in Asia for centuries has so deeply embedded Chinese culture, art and religion in other Asian cultures that they are, ironically, scarcely recognizable as Chinese at all. Now mobilizing and buzzing with an immense energy, China is swiftly propelling itself into the modern age, re-inventing itself into an evolving hodgepodge of hard-line communism, rehabilitated Confucianism and unbridled free-market capitalism. The sense of dynamic change is palpable as China reclaims its historic role as Asia’s greatest power before our very eyes
Chengdu is the capital of the Sichuan Province. It’s known as the home of the giant pandas. The city covers 4,749 square miles and has a population of over 11 million. Along side downtown skyscrapers sit two neighborhoods which have been preserved and re-created to represent older times. Cusine is everywhere including inexpensive hot pot shops and stalls all over town where barbecue skewers are a popular street food. One of the many popular day trips from Chengdu is sacred Mount Emeishan, with forested trails for hikers and a temple and statue of Bodhisattva Puxian’s six-tusked elephant at the top.
Suzhou is located in southern Jiangsu Province in the center of the Yangtze Delta with Shanghai directly to its east. 42% of the area is covered by water including a vast number of ponds and streams. This is why it’s labeled the ‘Venice of the Orient’. With 2,500 years of history and a mild climate, the city is a desirable destination all year round. This area is famed for its greenery and silk and the town itself is built on a network of interlocking canals whose waters feed the series of renowned, classical gardens.
Pingyao, to some, is considered the best ancient walled city in China. The city is mostly off-limits to cars, and constructed of cobbled streets and buildings. Pingyao is the birthplace of Jin merchants and China’s first bank Rishengchang Bank. The climate has averages of 35F in the winter and 85F in the summer. It is an amazing Han Chinese city of the Ming and Qing dynasties and retained its historic features making it a first class destination. Be sure to explore the back alleys around Pingyao Street—the real attraction of the area. Explore small museums, traditional courtyard houses, temples, and food stalls selling all kinds of snacks and beverages. While the palaces, temples, pagodas and walled cities with their bell and drum towers are well publicized, there are also ancient villages and noteworthy houses built long ago to explore.
Pulsing with Imperial legends, communist history and fledgling capitalist dreams, Beijing is the fascinating nerve center of China both ancient and modern. The heart of Beijing is Tiananmen Square, and the largest public square in the world. You will likely see families flying kites, elderly people taking walks, and other aspects of everyday life.
Established by Europeans in the mid-19th century to facilitate their trade in opium, silk and tea, Shanghai has since grown into a vibrant, contemporary city in its own right and is one of the economic powerhouses of Asia.
Travel expert recommendations
HIGH SPEED RAIL TRAVEL
China already has the longest high-speed rail network of its kind in the world and it continues to expand and update the fleet. In 2015, about 961 million people used it for travel. It is modern, clean and reliable. Recently China has launched its newest train Fuxing (Rejuvination), further cutting down the travel time Beijing-Shanghai. Travelling on the highspeed rail is great way to experience modern China. Due to continued rail connectivity, some remote parts of China have become much more accessible. Turpan, Dunhuang and other parts of Southwest China for example.
Hangyang Ling Tomb (Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, the fourth emperor of the Western Han Dynasty). The site of the Terracotta Warriors is world famous; however, Hangyang Tomb is also amazing for people who are into history and archeology. It is only a 10 minutes’ drive from Xian Xianyang International Airport and can be easily incorporated into part of the city program. This is the site of the eastern-most Western Han Imperial Mausoleum on the Loess Plateau (there are a total of 9). The Yangling Mausoleum is the joint tomb of Liu Qi, the fourth Emperor of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) and his Empress, Wang. Empress Wang, mother of the famous Han Wudi, died in 126 BC and was buried in Yangling alongside her husband's tomb. Construction of the mausoleum took 28 years, beginning in 153 BC and ending when the empress died. The mausoleum covers an area of more than ten square kilometers—nearly six kilometers east to west, and up to three kilometers north to south. In ancient China it was the custom that an empress, although she held much power, be buried separately from her husband.
SHAANXI INSTITUTE OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH
This institute is not open to the general public. For people who are into history and archeology, we can arrange a visit by special permit and see the restoration work in action on murals over 1,300 years old. View bronze pieces and very special, the crown of a princess that took two years to restore by a team of Chinese and German archeologists.
GUILIN (Sanjiang Dong Autonomous Region)
The new high-speed rail networks make some of the remote regions in the area very accessible. Sanjiang Dong Autonomous Regions is a very short train ride away from Guilin. Or it can be incorporated as part of overland trip to Longsheng Dragon Spine Terraces region. This destination is popular with people who are into ethnic minority culture, folklore and photography. The area of Chengyang has eight traditional Dong villages and all of the houses are made of wood. Inside the villages you will find traditional drum towers, which were used to announce important things or simply to perform plays to entertain the villagers. The well preserved Chengyang Wind and Rain Bridge dating back to 1920 is a national historic landmark. People in the region still maintain their traditional way of life despite rapid modernization.
The mortar used to bind the Great Wall’s stones was made with sticky rice!
Fortune cookies are not a traditional Chinese custom. They were invented in 1920 by a worker in the Key Heong Noodle Factory in San Francisco.
Despite its size, all of China is in one time zone.
Red symbolizes happiness for the Chinese and is commonly used at Chinese festivals and other happy occasions such as birthdays and weddings.
Cuisine & Recipe
Chinese food has 5 key flavors – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and of course spicy. Chinese dishes include many ingredients that sometimes shock foreigners. Anything from heavy chili pepper dishes to boiled or fried cucumbers and a variety of meats and seafood may be used.
Shrimp Egg Foo Young (Serves 3)
6 large eggs, room temperature recommended
2 fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 small bunch of bean sprouts (around 100g, root removed)
1 cup shrimp, unshelled and deveined+ a pinch of salt and pepper for marinating
2 green onions
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder or white pepper powder
Oil for pan-frying or deep-frying
Ingredients for gravy
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Cut the shrimp into finger size pieces and then marinate with a small pinch of salt and pepper.
Slice the mushrooms firstly and then shred into thin shreds. Cut bean sprouts into 6-8cm sections and green onion into 4 cm long sections.
Beat all the eggs and add mushroom, bean sprouts, green onion, five spice powder, salt and shrimp together.
In a small bowl, mix all the gravy ingredients and simmer for 5 minutes over slow fire.
Heat around 3 tablespoons of oil on a smaller frying pan and then pour in 1/3 of the mixture and fry for 4-5 minutes over medium slow fire. Turn over and fry the other side for 2-3 minutes and then transfer out. Repeat to finish the remaining 2 portions.
Serve with the gravy and drizzle before enjoying.
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
When Deng Xiaoping’s efforts to “open up” China took root in the late 1980s, Xinran recognized an invaluable opportunity. As an employee for the state radio system, she had long wanted to help improve the lives of Chinese women. But when she was given clearance to host a radio call-in show, she barely anticipated the enthusiasm it would quickly generate. Operating within the constraints imposed by government censors, “Words on the Night Breeze” sparked a tremendous outpouring, and the hours of tape on her answering machines were soon filled every night. Whether angry or muted, posing questions or simply relating experiences, these anonymous women bore witness to decades of civil strife, and of halting attempts at self-understanding in a painfully restrictive society. In this collection, by turns heartrending and inspiring, Xinran brings us the stories that affected her most, and offers a graphically detailed, altogether unprecedented work of oral history.