Sometimes you just want to kick back with a movie. You should be able to squeeze in a film or two in China during your vacation if you want to. Your China tour will stop in plenty of cities with cinemas though you should be warned that most films are in Mandarin or Cantonese – so it’s best to pick a big blockbuster epic and enjoy the spectacle if you don’t speak the language. We thought it might help if we took a quick trip through China’s cinematic past.
In the Beginning
There’s not much left of China’s early years of cinema. The first film ever made in China was the Battle of Dingjunshan. It was produced in 1905 and contains scenes from a performance of the Opera in Beijing. By 1920 Shanghai was the center of the Far East’s movie making but despite this only one film survives from this period Laborer’s Love from 1922. You won’t be able to see this on your China vacation though a live show has been developed by the Australian Theater Company and that’s occasionally performed in Beijing and Shanghai.
You might find that you can track down a small cinema with a copy of some of the films from this era during your China tour These films tended to focus on class struggle or external events (anti-Japanese propaganda was a key theme). Popular movies from the period include The Big Road, The Goddess and Song of the Fishermen. This period ran from 1930-1937 and the main takeaway from films of this era was the struggle between communism and nationalism.
The Invasion of Shanghai
When the Japanese invaded Shanghai the film industry quickly found itself without a home and many of the major studios had to travel to Hong Kong and set up there instead. There are a couple of films that were produced in Shanghai up to 1945 in the foreign enclaves controlled by the Allies and the famous Mulan Joins the Army (directed by Bu Wancang in 1939) is a not so subtle dig at the Japanese occupation. China’s film industry did recover and as the Japanese fled many of their film companies were taken over by Chinese film makers once again.
The Second Golden Age
The nationalist government lost no time in investing in the film industry that remained in Shanghai. However, the best films from this brief period prior to Communist victory were angry prices showing the disconnect between the Chinese people and their oppressive government. The Spring River Flows East was a 3 hour piece showing ordinary Chinese on a military tour during the Japanese invasion. It offered biting lines and highly critical content all aimed Chiang Kai-Shek’s government.
The film Spring in a Small Town directed by Fei Mu during this second golden age is considered to be the greatest Chinese movie of all time. If you can track down a copy during your China vacation it’s well worth seeing. Sadly, it was banned for a long time during the early communist rule because of its’ clever message of family loyalty.
Early Communist Period
From 1949 Chinese cinema boomed. 47 million people in China watched a movie in 1949 – 415 million did so in in 1959. The Chinese government invested heavily in propaganda and newsreels. Though the best movie of the time was Havoc in Heaven a children’s movie based on traditional Chinese folk arts. Wan Laiming who directed it was given permission to travel to London where the film won the Best Film Award at the London International Film Festival.
Following the Cultural Revolution
During the cultural revolution China’s film production stagnated and most of the material from this period is pretty much unwatchable. As the period finished in the mid 1980’s “scar dramas” were permitted to criticize some of the old policies of the party and show the emotional scars on the Chinese psyche of the transition. The best movie from this period is probably Xie Jin’s Hibiscus Town but it’s hard to track down copies of so you may not be able to find it on your China vacation.
Today China is the 2nd largest cinema going nation on earth. Only Japan and America produce more feature films a year. Modern films are either glorious martial arts-fests with strange (and for Westerners hard-to-follow plots) or romances in the main. However, there are also emerging documentary films some of which are internationally acclaimed. Where you go on your China tour you should be able to watch a local movie or two. We hope you enjoy the emerging brilliance of a new generation of Chinese directors.
We know that many people want to know about Christianity in China before their vacation. They like to feel connected to their faith during their China travel and want to be sure that they can worship during their China tour. The truth is that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in China today with perhaps 14 – 70 million Chinese Christians actively involved in their faith. We thought it might be interesting to take a quick tour through China’s very early Christian period today.
The beginnings of Christianity in China
Christianity in China began when the Church of the East began to travel through central Asia during the 7th century. The first documented presence of the faith is the Nestorian Stele (a kind of stone tablet) that shows there were Christians freely worshipping in Xi’an.
Then during the 9th century the Emperor Wuzong became concerned that religion was usurping the traditional Chinese way of life. He banned Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity and seized all the assets belonging to these groups. By the year 986 it was reported that Christianity was nearly extinct in China by a monk taking a tour of the country.
The arrival of the Mongol Horde
Genghis Khan’s Mongol horde descended on China during the 13th century. It was during this conquest that Christianity was permitted to return. Genghis Khan’s wives were often Christians and they expected to be able to practice their religion during their travel through China.
Nestorianism was quickly re-established and many of the most famous monks made pilgrimages from deep within China to the West to confirm that Christianity was alive and well there. In 1287 Bar Sauma took a trip to the courts of Europe to confirm Christianity as the faith of the Mongols.
Then in 1368 the Ming Dynasty rose to power in China and chose to reject all foreign cultural influences and once again Christianity began to dwindle within China.
There are no real records from the following two centuries of how Christianity fared in China. It wasn’t until European travel to China became established in 1513 that we have any certain knowledge of Christians in the country.
The Society of Jesus in 1540 reported that two Chinese children had joined their college in Goa and one of these was reported to have begun missionary work on the island of Shangchuan before his death in 1552. The Jesuit monk Alessandro Valignano visited Macau in 1578 and quickly worked out that in order for Christianity to flourish in China it would be necessary for the Bible and other texts to be presented in Mandarin. As you’ll see, if you take a tour of Macau during your China vacation, this resulted in a very strong Christian presence on the Portuguese held island which remains today.
In fact Macau would remain the only serious outpost of Christianity in China until the 17th century and we’ll come back another day to see how the faith began to grow from there. Until then you may rest assured that there are plenty of churches in modern-day China where you may share the local faith during your China tour.
One thing you may notice during your China vacation is the beauty of the national dress for Chinese women. We find that it often attracts attention and comment on a China tour. It's an extremely elegant design and something you won't often see outside of China. We thought we'd share a little of the garment's history with you so you can appreciate it a little more during your travel in the country.
The Legend of the Qipao
It is said that there once was a young fisherwoman who worked and lived near the Jingbo Lake. As is traditional for this sort of legend she was reputed to be a lady of both striking good looks and great intelligence. She found that her traditional clothing made travel difficult. It caught on her arms and legs while she was fishing. So one day she began work on developing a more practical dress. China's national costume was born when she came up with a design for a long-gown that buttoned up at the top and had slits down the side. She found the new garment immensely more practical and wore it every day from then on.
It might have gone no further than the lady's village but the emperor of China had a dream the very day she finished work. His father took a trip back from the grave to let him know that the lady in the Qipao should be his bride. He immediately sent his men on a tour of China to find the lady of the lake and when they arrived in Jingbo they knew immediately they'd found the right woman.
She made the long journey back to the palace and when the Emperor set eyes on her, he fell deeply in love. They were soon married and as a tribute to his dream she would wear the qipao every day from then on. As other women chose to travel across China to pay their respects the dress grew increasingly popular and soon it became the preferred form of dress for most well-to-do Chinese ladies.
The History of the Qipao
It's not known whether the legend has any basis in fact but it makes for a lovely story doesn't it? What we do know is that the Manchu people began wearing a simple dress in the early 17th century. The simple collarless and tube-shaped dress is almost certainly the forerunner of the qipao. The Manchu became a unified force and were to be found marching under the "eight banners". The word qipao means "banner dress" and thus it is thought to be an invention of the people who lived under the "eight banners".
The style would travel the length and breadth of China during the Qing Dynasty and would be adopted by all those with royal connections and aspirations. The ladies of the time preferred a looser fitting to the one's more commonly found today.
The qipao that you're likely to see during your China vacation is one that comes from the introduction of Western culture in China. It wasn't until the 1940's that the modern qipao finally evolved as a close-fitting and practical garment.
The most famous (from a Western perspective) wearer of the qipao was the movie character Suzie Wong from the 1960s.
On your China tour you should see many women still wearing the qipao. It is often worn in upmarket hotels, at weddings and by the wives of diplomats and senior politicians. The style has even been adopted by major design houses like Versace and Ralph Lauren. If you want to buy a qipao during your China vacation you should have one tailor made – they aren't too expensive but you may need a couple of days for the fitting process.
A China vacation that passes through Beijing has to take in the Forbidden City, it's one of the many treasures of the nation. We've found that many people have interesting questions about the Forbidden City during their China tour. To help your enrich your China travel experience we've put together a few weird and wonderful facts about the place for your entertainment.
Was it good to be an Imperial Concubine to the Ming Emperors?
The Ming Emperors had a charmed life as you'll see on your tour of the Forbidden City. Unfortunately, the concubines didn't have quite as much fun. When the emperor of China died, so did they. They would be buried alive alongside their imperial sponsor. The first Emperor (Taizu) had 46 concubines entombed alongside him when he passed away.
Are there really 10,000 rooms in the Forbidden City?
It's a nice rumor but no, it's not quite true. There is a claim that the city has 9,999 and a half rooms. This was because the celestial palace of heaven has 10,000 rooms and the emperor (who was seen as a descendant of God) could not have as many rooms in his palace. The truth, as you'll discover during your China trip, is that there are only 8,707 rooms in the city. There's also no such thing as half a room.
What about cultural artifacts? How many are there inside the Palace Museum?
The Palace Museum's collection is very, very big. There's been a lot of work conducted recently to open up more of this collection to the public. We've found that it's one of the main highlights of a tour through the Forbidden City. The precise number of artifacts is hard to come up with but there are nearly 1 million pieces from China's history here. That includes 20,000 sculptures, 100,000 paintings, 150,000 pieces of jade and over 300,000 ceramic items.
How many eunuchs served at the Forbidden City?
You won't meet any eunuchs during your China vacation as thankfully this practice has long since been abandoned. However, during the time of the Ming Dynasty there would have been around 10,000 eunuchs working in the Forbidden City. By the time the Last Emperor was required to quit the city this had dwindled to about 1,000.
What were the eating habits of the Chinese emperors?
The Emperor of China would have his own special kitchen and in general they prepared his meals as a solo affair. It was only during festivals and special occasions of state that he would dine with his wives. He would generally have two large meals a day (breakfast and lunch). How large? Large enough to take two hours to eat them. He would then have a snack during the evening. His food would be brought by the eunuchs on silver plates and they would be required to taste everything in his presence before he began eating. Merchants would travel the length of China to find the rarest foods for him to eat. Even the water used for cooking was brought from the Jade Spring Mountain and not sourced around the palace.
Why are all the nails in the doors in patterns of 9? As you travel through China you'll discover that 9 is a “lucky” number and is associated with Imperial power. Part of the reason for this was that 9 was the biggest and therefore strongest number in ancient China. Thus the nails are a symbolic reflection of the emperor's power over his people.
A trip to the Forbidden City is often at the top of the list for things to do on China vacation. We find that it often raises many questions for those who participate. Don't hesitate to ask your guide for a more detailed explanation of something if it catches your imagination.
With the current news of a new strain of bird flu in China, we know that some travelers are a bit nervous about health care on their China trip. First, let us reassure you that you will not catch bird flu on your China vacation. The virus is not communicable from person to person and those who have caught it work with poultry. If you are particularly worried you might ask your physician to prescribe Tamiflu before you travel but it really isn’t necessary. However, we’ve put together a quick guide to health care in China so you know what to expect on your tour.
If you have a prescription that you need to take regularly it is a good idea to bring enough of the medicine to cover your whole China vacation. While there are plenty of pharmacies in China it can be difficult to get some medicines over the counter and others may not be available at all. If this isn't possible, it is a good idea to get a translation of the name of the medicine (into Mandarin Chinese) before you travel. This will make it easier to obtain in China.
China’s healthcare system works on a paid for basis. That means you should have adequate travel insurance to cover any costs during your China trip. In general in the major cities healthcare can be found that is of a Western standard and a visit to the doctor is usually much cheaper than it is at home. If you do need to visit a doctor for any reason please talk to your China tour guide who will help arrange a translator for you. It is very unusual for healthcare professionals to speak English to any degree. You may be asked to make a payment either in part or in full prior to receiving treatment.
Emergency Dental Care
Dentists in China are normally of a high standard and equivalent to anywhere else in the world. Treatment is much less expensive than it would be back home. However, it is still a good idea to have travel insurance to cover any unexpected costs. It’s a good idea to choose a dentist based on local recommendations and your tour guide can ask in your hotel for a name if you need one. You should also ask your tour guide to assist with locating a translator as again it’s not likely that the dentist will speak English very well. However, as most dental problems can be identified by a dental examination this isn’t as important as it is when finding a doctor.
We've found that in most cases medical care isn’t needed at all during a China vacation. The vast majority of people have a break that is problem free. However, if you do need medical treatment then you will find that it isn’t hard to access either. Your tour guide can help you make the best out of local care and ensure that no problem becomes a crisis.