Posted by: CS
A Brief History of Cinema in China

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.

Leftist Movement

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

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.

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Posted by: CS
An Early History of Christianity in China

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.

European Influences

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.

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Posted by: CS
The Qipao – China's National Dress

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.

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Posted by: CS
Interesting Facts about the Forbidden City

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.

China Tour: the Forbidden City

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.

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Posted by: CS
Your Health and Your China Trip

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.

Prescription Medicine

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.

Emergency Healthcare

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.

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Posted by: CS
How does Chinese humor work?

We find that a shared laugh always makes a China vacation go better. However, we know from many people on their China tours that Chinese humor often seems a little confusing. So we've put together a simple walk through of Chinese jokes so you can better understand things before you travel to China. We know, explaining a joke doesn't make it funny but it might help people appreciate it a little more.

Plays on Words

As you travel round China you'll come to find that the Chinese are hugely proud of their language and it is in their language that you'll find the roots of most of their traditional humor. You see the Chinese like to use puns – a lot. A pun is a play on words that allows one word to be mistaken for or replaced by another one that sounds the same.

This can make it very difficult to follow a Chinese joke as the words in translation aren't the same in English. Your China vacation may well encounter a few moments like this. It's polite to offer a smile anyway – the person you're talking to is just trying to make you feel more comfortable.

Here's an example of one such joke; “A student goes to the bank for the first time to cash a check. He walks up to the counter and hands over the check. The teller says; ‘Endorse It!' and in his nervousness the student replies; ‘Which section should I memorize?”

This works in Chinese because the words Bei Shu either mean “Endorse a check” or “Memorize a Passage.” So if you want to tell the joke on your China tour, you might need to learn it in Mandarin…

The Reverse is True

This is also true of English jokes translated into Chinese. There's a famous Chinese comedian in the US – Joe Wong. When he starts talking to a group he says; “Hi! I'm Irish!” the contrast between his appearance and his claim makes us laugh. Unfortunately it makes no sense to the Chinese nor does the rest of Joe's act.

In fact even the topics of Western humor can leave the Chinese puzzled. Women shouldn't use physical humor because it's considered to be unladylike and therefore not funny. No one should tell jokes about the economy because it's considered unpleasant. Marriage is no laughing matter either as it's too personal to laugh about in public. So a little care is needed before trading jokes on a China vacation.

A Glimmer of Hope

However, there's one area where Westerners and Chinese can agree. Jokes about the rich and powerful (without getting in any way political) are funny and sarcasm is the order of the day.

Here's a good example; “A Chinese child calls his father from Germany where he is currently studying at university. He says; 'Dad, it's not fair I just can't fit in. I think it's because I'm the only one who drives a Benz to college while everyone else takes the train!' His dad thinks for a second and then says; 'Stop worrying. I've put 5 million Euro in your account now. You can buy a train too.'"

That's much better right? The good news is that the Chinese do have a sense of humor and they'll share it with you during your China tour. A China vacation is always better for a laugh and if you don't always know what you're laughing at – don't let it stop you from bonding with someone. It's hard to learn a nation's sense of humor during a brief travel experience but we hope you'll understand China's humor a little better now.

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Posted by: CS
A Brief History of the Yangtze River

A Yangtze River Cruise is one of the most popular options for a China tour. We’ve found that a China vacation is just that little bit more special for a journey down the world’s third largest river. Many of our guests would like to know a little more about the history of the area before they travel to China. So with that in mind we’ve taken a quick trip back in time to put together the key points so you can enjoy your cruise all the more.

China Tour: the Yangtze River

The Yangtze River and Human Beings

There is evidence that people have been living and working along the Yangtze for nearly 2 million years. However, the earliest identifiable groups to make the area their home were the Ba and Shu tribes of Sichuan province. They had been based near the modern city of Chongqing and down the river into Hubei province. The Chu would have settled further down the river in Hunan and Jiangzi and possible as far as Anhui. The delta as the Yangtze River finishes its trip through China would have been home to the Wu and Yue tribes.

Sadly, the strategic importance of the river has made it a place of war too. Nanjing which is host to the very first bridging point was chosen as the capital of the Republic of China (1912-1949) and it was sacked by the Japanese because of it.

The Yangtze River and Transport

It's probably fair to say that a Yangtze River Cruise wasn’t the first requirement of man from the river. The priority would have been moving goods from (and to) China’s heartland. Travel along the Yangtze wouldn’t have been easy then. Water levels fluctuated with the seasons and hidden rock formations could easily sink an unwary boat. Many areas would have needed teams of rowers to guide boats through safely due to the lack of available wind. Junks wouldn’t have been able to make it upstream at all between June and September as winds wouldn’t have carried them at all.

In the 1900’s a Yangtze River Cruise became a distinct possibility when the British introduced paddle-steamers to the river and a journey upstream all the way to Chongqing could be made without oars. It wasn’t completely safe though as a German passenger steamer failed to avoid the rocks in 1900 and sank without a trace.

Today a trip down the Yangtze is completely safe. Thanks to China’s engineering capacity modern vessels are built with motion stabilizers. The hydroelectric dams also ensure that the water levels remain constant throughout the year.

The Yangtze River and Culture There are plenty of cultural hotspots along the river. You can find the hanging coffins (in the lesser three gorges area), the ghost city of Fengdu (abandoned at least in part due to rising water levels from the dam projects), and the famous cave of the three travelers. Many Chinese minorities consider the Yangtze to be their home; your cruise may well encounter Tebtans or the Naxi.

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Posted by: CS
The Chinese Hot Pot – A Culinary Art Form?

We've found that many people on a China tour want to try Chinese hot pot but they're not certain as to what the form is for ordering and eating. In fact the hot pot is such an important part of Chinese cookery that it would be a shame to miss out on your China vacation. The news this week in China takes it to another level – the hot pot is now the subject of an exhibition in Vermont. 20 Chinese artists and cooks have made the trip from China to the US to share their knowledge. However, if you can't travel to Vermont then we've put together a brief introduction to this essential China dish.

What is a Chinese Hot Pot?

The Chinese Hot Pot

The hot pot is perhaps a quintessentially Chinese dish and can be found in many forms throughout the country. There is no standard presentation and each hotpot is unique. This is true even if you travel from one restaurant to another, so your China vacation will offer plenty of opportunities to experience and then re-experience the hot pot.

The idea is very simple. You are presented with a boiling pot full of broth, or sometimes a pot which has been divided into two both sides full of different broths. The broth is usually a very simple stock and you might find the bones of the animal used to make it in the broth. If there are two broths present one is usually a very spicy (lots of chili peppers) variant of the other. In Sichuan the broth is likely to be spicy if you're only presented with one choice. It's a good idea to check first before ordering if you can't handle this much spice.

You then order accompaniments to the broth. You'll be presented with a menu with a tour of the local vegetable offerings and plenty of meat (and occasionally fish too). It's good form to order some green leaved vegetables which can add a little bitterness to the broth and add some contrast to the rest of the food. The meat comes delicately sliced in wafer thin portions. This is for speed of cooking.

If you've not become comfortable with chopsticks on your China vacation when you hit a hot pot restaurant you'll probably want to ask for a spoon and fork at this point. You now take the vegetables and put them in the broth. Meat can be either be supported on chopsticks or between the spoon and fork and is placed into the broth for a few seconds to quickly cook and then you pull it back out and eat it. You shouldn't worry unduly about the health aspects of sharing a hot pot – the broth is boiling constantly so there should be no chances of catching something from someone else sharing the same pot.

A China tour always offers some exciting opportunities to try new foods. We've found that many people really enjoy a hot pot as part of their China trip. It's a great way to eat with friends, it provides a chance to try a wide range of local produce and of course there's always an opportunity for a great China vacation photo too.

If you can make it to Vermont you can find out a lot more about the hot pot in the Brattlebro Museum and Art Center until June 23rd 2013.

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Posted by: CS
Shopping in China – Some Do's and Don'ts

We've found that many people are unsure of the protocols for shopping in China during their vacation. They want to know if it's appropriate to haggle during their China tour, they want to know if the products they buy will last long enough to travel home from China and they want to know what kind of goods are cheaper in China. So to help you out before your trip to China we've put together a quick guide to shopping here.

What to Buy

Some things are much cheaper in China than back home. If you're looking to buy clothes or textile products they'll be considerably lower priced during your tour than in the US. However, electronic goods are usually of a similar price to the US except for those which are produced by domestic manufacturers for the domestic market. Those products are significantly less expensive than US electronic goods but we've found they're also considerably less reliable.

Where to Buy

You'll find all sorts of places to shop during your China vacation. A good rule of thumb is as follows: the best quality goods are normally to be found in high-end shopping malls and Western branded supermarkets. However, you need to be careful even in these places and be sure that your cash is buying you the genuine article. Fakes abound and you should always follow the rule; “If it seems too good to be true then it probably is.” You almost always get what you pay for on a China trip.

There are also plenty of “mom and pop” stores and markets to do your shopping in. These tend to be cheaper than malls but the quality of products tends to be lower too. These are a great place to shop for consumable items or souvenirs or pirated goods.

Where and How to Haggle

Haggling is expected in China but not everywhere. The days of haggling in a shopping mall are long gone – though designer clothes stores may be prepared to offer a discount for bulk purchases. You can't haggle in a supermarket or a 7/11 either. You can haggle almost everywhere else. Indoor and outdoor markets and mom and pop stores are perfect for haggling.

Your China trip can become substantially cheaper in these places if you do haggle. A good principle to follow is that the vendor is applying a “foreigner tax” in the mistaken but pervasive belief that all Westerners are rich. If you have a rough idea what a product is worth – you want to target this number for your negotiations. If you don't then starting an offer at about 25% of the asking price and paying no more than 50% is also a good rule of thumb.

If you can't speak Mandarin or you haven't mastered the Chinese hand signals for numbers – don't worry, you can still haggle on your China vacation. Use a calculator or mobile phone to type your offer and hand it to the vendor. They will then come back with a counter offer. The trick is to increase your offer very slowly while the vendor starts by making dramatic cuts and then slows to meet you somewhere in the middle. We've found that you can get real bargains during your China travel by sticking with your first offer 2-3 times before increasing it at all.

As with all negotiations in China haggling should be good spirited and you should never raise your voice during them. If you can't get the price you want – walk away. The vendor may chase you to offer a better price and if not you can always find another store close by with something similar where the seller may be more reasonable.

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Posted by: CS
Beijing's Best Kept Secrets

Beijing is one of the main destinations for a China tour and we've found that people enjoy getting off the beaten path during their China vacation in the capital. Beijing is such a big city that there are always unique experiences to be had on your China trip and you won't normally have to travel all that far to unlock them. We've put together some of the best kept secrets of China's biggest city.

Exploring the Parks

China Tour: Beijing Park

There are many parks in Beijing and they make for a lovely break from the hectic pace of city life. However, many of them have strict rules about how you use them and it can spoil a trip to find yourself being whistled at for walking on the grass. The trick is to get out of the center of the city and find some of the more relaxed parks. You could take a picnic of some of China's best food and wine andwhile away a day with the locals.

We're very fond of the Beitucheng Xily Park where you'll find dancing, singing, music and spinning tops. You're welcome to join in if you know any of the revolutionary songs but you can just kick back and enjoy the local folks at play.

You could also try Xihai Park where there's a beautiful rock garden to appreciate and you can wander round the edges and watch local fisherman hard at work trying to catch their suppers.

Eating in a Private Kitchen

This may not be the cheapest way to eat on a China vacation but it's one of the best. You'll need to make a reservation for these places but who wouldn't want to eat somewhere that Chairman Mao's cook's descendants work?

Look for Chengfu Courtyard which hides between the Forbidden City and Zhongnanhai. It's not that much of a diversion from your China tour when you visit the Forbidden City. Here you'll find historical recreations of famous meals that have been served to China's elite. You can even have the same meal that Nixon and Mao shared when the American president took a tour of China back in 1972. This is seriously good food.

You could also take a trip to Yuanluo which is another private courtyard kitchen in Di'anmen. They're famous for their baby duck in honey and their extraordinary clay pot kaoyu. This is one of China's best kept secrets for a reason.

Drink Whisky

OK, this isn't a Chinese tradition as yet but the Chinese have adopted what has become a Japanese tradition very quickly. You can try some of the finest whiskeys in the word when your tour reaches Beijing. You won't find anyone mixing these drinks with green tea (something that is popular in China's nascent club scene) because they're too darned good to spoil.

Ichikura, is probably the best whisky bar in Beijing. You can find nearly 160 whiskeys including single malts, blends and bourbons. You might want to try the Japanese single malts which are a point of pride for the owner who will be only too happy to talk to you about their history.

If you'd prefer to keep your whisky American style then the best selection of bourbons you'll find on a China vacation can be found in Bar Promise (2nd floor, Jianwai Soho) they're simply superb.

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Posted by: CS
A Brief History of Guilin

Guilin is one of the top destinations on a China tour. It may be the most beautiful city in China. A trip there gives you the archetypal China vacation experience; Karst Mountains, a delicate town and plenty of other attractions. To help you better understand the city we’ve put together a brief history of how it came to be.

Guilin – An Early Start

China Tour: A Brief History of Guilin

We’ll need to take a trip back to 111 BC to find the Emperor Wu to find Guilin’s roots. He established the county of Shi An in this part of China and while Guilin wasn’t founded formally for another few hundred years it is based on a settlement on the Li River which actually dates back to 314 BC.

In the year 507 A.D. the city was formally founded as Guizhou; over the years its name would gradually mutate to Guilin. While it might have been considered “a city” back then, the truth is that the name really referred to the whole county and it took a long time (across the Song and Tang dynasties) for the settlement to grow into a city. If you’d have taken a China vacation back then all you’d have found would be a sleepy fishing village cum trading post.

Guilin expanded rapidly during the Ming Dynasty and it was during this period (1368 A.D. to 1664 A.D.) that it became one of China’s most important cities. The reason for this is that Guilin is amongst some of the most fertile land in the country. People would travel from all over China to work the fields and the city grew greatly as a consequence.

Guilin was the capital of the Guanxi Province from the Ming Dyansty onwards but in the early 1900’s it was stripped of its title and the city of Nanning took over the prominent role. It officially became the city of Guilin in 1940. Before this it had been known for quite some time as Kweilin but the adoption of pin-yin (a way of transliterating Mandarin Chinese into the Roman alphabet) necessitated a change.

In 1921 Guilin enjoyed a brief moment of fame when it became the headquarters of the Northern Expeditionary Army. This wasn’t to last and the army quickly moved out to tour the rest of the region. Guilin then returned to its role as a sleepy provincial town in China. During the communist era the city has slowly prospered with big investments made in chemical and paper manufacture. The agricultural base of the region also brought in some of the major names in agricultural equipment who didn’t want to have to travel too far through China to test their new products.

Guilin was only one of four cities recognized by the State Council as a priority project for preserving the wealth of cultural heritage within its boundaries. (The other cities were Beijing, Hangzhou and Suzhou). The Nan Mountains provide the perfect background to this inspiring city and when your China vacation passes through you might want to visit the Zhuang people who live among them. They are the largest ethnic minority in the state and well worth a little diversion on your China tour.

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Posted by: CS
What should I pack for China?

China's a big place and most tours will take in a large amount of the country. We find that many people aren't certain what they need to pack for their China vacation. It can be frustrating to travel to China and then have to run around finding what you need. So here's a quick guide to what you should have in your suitcase before you take your China trip.

Clothing

You need to think about the time of year your China trip is. During the summer it's warm pretty much everywhere during the day and in the North it can get cool at night. It will almost certainly rain during the day at some point. So in the summer you want some light clothing for the day, a jacket or a light coat for the evening and something water-proof.

In the Winter apart from January and February it's warm in Hong Kong and Macao but it's cold in Beijing and Shanghai (and very cold in Jan/Feb). So you'll need to look at heavier clothing for the day and night. Coats are a must.

While you're touring China it's vital to have comfortable and durable footwear – sneakers or even walking boots are a good idea for the day times. At nights you'll probably want something more suitable for eating out but most places (even in expensive hotels) are informal so you can get away with just sneakers if you like.

It's worth noting that you can buy clothing very cheaply in China during your vacation; however, if you're a little on the large side it can be very hard to find clothes and shoes to fit. A little on the large side for China means anything above a size 10 shoe for men and Size 7 for the ladies and anything over a 36” waist for men and 32” for the ladies. Leg lengths tend to max out at 32” for men and 30” for ladies.

Other

Don't forget your camera; a China tour without pictures is just not the same. You can buy electronics in China but they're not much cheaper than back home (except for unknown brands of unknown quality) and it's hard to get an international warranty. If you need a cheap cell phone during your trip because it's too expensive to get your operator to unlock yours that won't be a problem to buy in China. Laptops and tablets don't generally come with legitimate operating systems and the “cracked” ones supplied are often full of viruses – it's best to avoid them unless you have an emergency.

If you travel during the summer you want to consider bringing sun tan lotion (high SPF factor) and a hat to keep from burning. Some insect repellant might not be a bad idea either though most areas you'll visit won't require it.

Most other essentials can be bought easily in China and usually for less money than back home. There may not be the same choice of brands but you can find well-known international brands for everything from shampoo and toothpaste to bags and watches.

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Posted by: CS
Rock and Roll in China – Xie Tianxiao

You may not associate China with rock music but this week the press is all a flutter with excitement about it. Xie Tianxiao is releasing his new album and embarking on his latest China tour. If you're lucky you might be able to catch one of the dates during your China vacation. You certainly won't miss hearing him on the radio during your China travel.

About Xie Tianxiao

China Tour: Rock and Roll in China – Xie Tianxiao

Xie's journey to Chinese megastar wasn't an easy one. He started nearly 20 years ago and back then it wasn't easy to get support for his career. His band released their first record in 2,000. It made the trip to the top of China's charts in record time – and sold nearly 200,000 copies. (Given China's track record for music piracy this is a serious accomplishment).

Despite his amazing success he couldn't afford to pay his bills on his earnings from China. So he jumped at the offer to do a tour in the United States. The band would make $300-$500 per person during their travels and that meant they could afford to quit their day jobs. Xie Tianxiao landed in New York in 2001 and threw himself into the festival circuit as well as working in restaurants and even subways to add a little more income.

When he wasn't working he was out watching other bands on tour and picking up their influences. He'd take these influences home to China and in particular the blues influence of a single musician that he couldn't help but marvel at. He felt that it was now time to develop a true stage personality.

He returned to China following an extended vacation soaking up a variety of American acts. He decided to focus on playing the Guzheng (a Chinese instrument that he had mastered as a boy) to create a contrast that is uniquely Chinese. The soothing sound of his Guzheng made for a sharp and enjoyable difference from the heavy beats of the rest of the band's sound.

His album; “Cold-Blooded Animal” is considered to be one of the five greatest records ever made in China. Its funky grunge feeling combined with a Chinese character really worked with the audience. Here was rock and roll China-style.

People report that his live tour appearances and simply breath taking and it convinced Modern Sky Records a Beijing based label to offer him a contract. They're certain that Xie's music will revolutionize the live-scene in China.

Xie has been working on adding other influences to his music and recently took a trip to the Peking Opera to work with the band and other musicians on diversifying their core-sound. He cites his early influences as other early rock bands like “Tang Dynasty” and also “Black Panther”.

If you get a chance during your China vacation you really ought to take a night out to experience China's nascent rock music scene. It may be a while before China's bands get their share of the international limelight so enjoy it while you can.

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