Once you've seen the giant pandas on your China vacation you might fancy a little Chinese history. If so then the perfect place to head for after your Yangtze River Cruise is the Sanxingdui Museum in Chengdu. It's one of the biggest archeological museums in the whole of China and very much worth the short trip from the city center.
What are the Three-Star Piles?
The Three-Star Piles are gigantic earth mounds which cover nearly 4.6 square miles of Sichuan countryside. They are relics of the Shu people (the founders of the Sichuan region). Local legend has it that the three-star piles were formed when the Heavenly Emperor threw down earth from the heavens. The truth, whilst no less exciting, is that they were the walls of a truly ancient city. They would have been designed so that soldiers could tour their length and breadth to defend the Shu Emperors of China.
What makes them special?
Like many of the most exciting discoveries in China the Three-Star Piles were discovered by a farmer who would travel out from his farm each day to dig irrigation ditches for his crop. In 1929 he was digging and found a wonderful piece of jade. There's nothing like an enormously valuable find to bring treasure hunters running to the site and quickly 400 more jade pieces had been found. This brought archeologists from across China to further explore the site.
Excavations to date have found signs of life from China's Neolithic Period (7-5,000 B.C) and then the Shang Dynasty (1,600-1,100 BC) and the Zhou (1,100 – 711 B.C.) and there is strong evidence that the site might also be the ancient capital of Shu.
The site is one of the richest anywhere in the world. In 1986 two pits were unearthed with the clear remains of human sacrifice within. These yielded nearly a 1,000 artifacts of extreme cultural significance included golden statues, bronze masks, and jade necklaces that would have been worn by extremely important members of the Shu people. If you're going to make the trip out to the museum you mustn't forget your camera, the opportunity for some of the most interesting vacation photos in China are here.
The site still has enormous potential for further discovery as the dig has barely scratched the surface so far. Many of the items retrieved have yet to be named and when you see them displayed in the museum you may find that you're among the first Westerners ever to witness this culture.
What's in the Museum?
The museum is divided into four sections and you'll want to allow plenty of time for your trip as it covers nearly an acre of space in its own right. The first section is based around the Shu culture and tries to recreate the history and cultural achievements of the race. The handicrafts on display are particularly intriguing as the styles are no longer found in China anywhere.
As you travel through Section 2 you'll be asked to consider divinity and spirituality in reference to the Shu. This is especially interesting as China would once have ignored this important aspect of their culture.
The third section is a major highlight of China tour and focuses solely on the most exquisite finds from the dig. If you're running short of time you really want to rush round the rest of the museum and spend a little longer here.
The last section walks you through the excavation on the site including what's already been accomplished and what is planned in the future.
Finally there's an exhibition center that displays many of the less important signs a little further down the road from museum.
When you're planning your China vacation one thing you probably won't have thought of seeing on your trip is baseball. China's not as new to the game as you might expect and if you're a keen fan you'll almost certainly want to sneak away one evening on your tour and catch a game. We think it's worth taking a look at how baseball is growing in popularity in China and how the game came to travel so far East in the first place.
Early Baseball in China
You'd probably be surprised to learn that baseball made the trip to China more than a hundred years ago. You'd be even more amazed to find out that it wasn't Americans who brought baseball to China. Instead it was a group of students sponsored by the Qing Dyansty government who'd had to travel to the United States to study engineering that fell in love with the game. They'd been so keen on baseball that they started the Chinese Baseball Team at Yale. When they returned home they couldn't give it up and baseball found a niche in China.
The first official Chinese baseball team was founded in 1895. The players were all students at the Huiwen Academy of Classical Learning in the capital which was then known as Peking. The first tournament took a little while longer to organize and it wasn't until the Xiehe Academy (from Tongzhou) formed another team in 1907 that they had their first official game.
In 1913 the sport became an official sport of the Far East Games which was mostly attended by China, the Philippines and Japan. The Chinese team seem to have seen these events as nothing more than a vacation and came rank last in every baseball tournament held there.
Until 1949 the sport was a featured in the National Games but few teams participated and the quality of competition was abysmal. Following the Cultural Revolution the People's Liberation Army adopted baseball as a sport but in 1961 the sport was removed from the national games of China and wouldn't appear again until the 1970s.
Baseball in China Today
Baseball has a powerful new sponsor in China. Leon Xie the former sponsorship director for the Olympic Games in Beijing decided that it was time to make baseball popular in the nation. In 2008 when he took the task on, there were less than 10,000 baseball players in the whole of China. That's out of 1.3 billion people! When the professional teams went on tour they'd attract less of an audience than an escaped chicken according to Mr. Xie.
It took less than 4 years for baseball to become one of China's most popular sports. During rush hour travel in Beijing commuters can watch This Week in Baseball in Mandarin. The government now broadcasts baseball on 10 different channels. There's been a connection made between China's Confucian values and the game itself.
Of course the game itself is still developing. You can find a baseball match in any town during your China vacation (just ask in your hotel and they'll point you in the right direction) but the players are still years behind their American equivalents. One thing's for certain – given the amount of political will for Chinese players to get better, one day there might just be a Chinese team in the world series.
A China vacation is often an exhilarating experience and you can find that you spend a lot of time on your feet. That's great, you choose a China tour because you want to see as much as you can but… there can be advantages to taking in some more relaxing places as you travel through China. You can take a load of your tired feet and enjoy the company of the people around you. A great place to do this during your China trip would be the Longsheng Hot Springs.
The best time to visit the Longsheng Hot Springs is probably after a long day's walking out on the Lognsheng Dragon Rice Terraces. The terraces are spectacular and one of the “must see” items during a China tour but there's a fair amount of trekking to be done to get the best of them and when you're done a rest may be well in order.
About the Longsheng Hot Springs
The Longsheng Hot Springs are a short trip in a taxi from the terraces and can be found near the Jiangdi Village to the Northwest. The area itself is a natural wonder and the Chinese government awarded it a AAAA (the highest possible grade) scenic zone status back in 2007. Given that space is often at a premium in China that's an extraordinary accolade to be bestowed on a place and it means that the countryside and spring area really is first-rate.
The water is extremely healthy. The National Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources has confirmed that there are ten elements present in the water which have been shown to benefit human health. That includes; Iron, Zinc, Copper, Lithium and Strontium. The mineral rich water has also been confirmed as safe to drink by China's Ministry of Health. That means you don't have to worry too much about swallowing a little if you decide to jump in and splash around during your tour of the area.
The water is very warm. It stays at a temperature of between 48 and 58 degrees centigrade all year round. That's thanks to the dormant volcanic system running underground. It's that heat that pushes the water up through the rocks. As it travels through the rock it becomes purified by multiple layers of rock which acts as a filter and adds the precious mineral content. Visitors come from across China to enjoy bathing in the area.
The locals refer to the Longsheng Hot Springs as a “fairyland on earth” and while we're not sure that we'd go quite that far, it is an absolutely lovely place. So while you're wandering around the Longsheng Dragon Terraces during your China vacation you might want to think about taking that well-deserved break from your China tour and soothing your aches and pains away in the beautiful hot water of one of China's most pleasant natural hot springs. You should be aware that swimwear is required to take a dip, so make sure to pack some.
There can't be many materials that are so firmly bound up in mystique and sensuality. During your China tour you're bound to come into contact with what was once China's most valuable material; silk. You'll be pleased to know that there's no longer a death sentence for possessing silk (which was the case during the earliest periods of China's history) so feel free to bring some back as a souvenir from your China vacation. As you travel China you'll see so much silk that it's natural to wonder how it came to be so important.
A History of Silk
It is said that the wife of the Yellow Emperor a Goddess known as Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih discovered the properties of the silkworm and invented both the silkworm farm and the loom to process the raw material. There's certainly plenty of evidence to show that silkworms were cultivated in China even earlier than that and there's a recent dig from the Yangtze River area where it's been established that silkworms were farmed nearly 7,000 years ago. Sometimes as you'll probably discover during your China vacation, the truth is even more impressive than the legend.
The Silkworm – Not a Worm at All
If you visit a silk farm during your China trip, you'll be amazed to learn that silkworms aren't actually worms; they're caterpillars. There are many different silkworms as there are many different silk moths around the world. However, the most productive was only found in China – it's a blind and flightless moth (which might explain why it didn't travel naturally outside of China) with a life span of only a week. During that week it will lay 500 eggs (or sometimes more). These eggs are so tiny that it takes over 100 of them to make a single gram of eggs.
You need an ounce of eggs to produce nearly 30,000 worms. Those worms can then consume over a ton of leaves from the mulberry bush. How much silk will that produce? Only 12 pounds. That's after 6,000 years of specialist breeding programs to make the moth's offspring the most productive they can be. This is one of the reasons that silk is as expensive as it is, so don't expect too many bargains on your China tour.
Each silk worm produces a thread of between 500 and 1,000 meters in length. It takes the threads of up to 8 worms to produce a single thread of silk. During the process the silk worms must be kept at the same temperature throughout and must be protected against both noise and odors.
Silk in China
In the early years of silk production the fabric was reserved for imperial use up until the 6th or 7th century A.D. anyone taking a silkworm egg or cocoon out of China would be executed. When the Han Dynasty came to power silk was considered to be a currency and the Chinese farmer would travel great distances to pay his taxes in silk as well as grain.
China lost its monopoly on silk many years ago but even today it is one of the largest silk producing nations on earth alongside Japan. If your China tour gives you the opportunity to visit a silk farm you should go and hear the noise of thousands of silk worms eating mulberry it sounds like rain on a tin roof. Silk provides a great opportunity for you to bridge the gap between modern and ancient China during your vacation.
We recently took a look at the opportunity to catch a baseball game during your China vacation; this week we're going to take a look at the chances of catching an NFL game. You might think that it's impossible to see American Football during your China tour but it really does depend where you're going to visit. If your China trip is taking in Shanghai you'll be visiting one of only four places in the world where the NFL has an office outside of the U.S. The sports travels in China haven't always been the easiest but there's no doubt that there's a firm will to bring the game to life here.
Some dismiss NFL China as an impossibility. They say that if you travel round China the people are too small and the culture to adverse to risk taking for American football to thrive. That's ignoring the fact that 1 in 5 of the world's people is Chinese and that there is huge diversity here. It also fails to recognize that Chinese people are becoming much bigger now that the economic opening up of the country is leading to a better diet for the people here. It is true that team sports haven't always been popular but exposure to international sports on television has encouraged kids to get involved. Sure some will still trip over their feet but that's true everywhere and not just in China.
The Truth of the Matter
In China's major cities and particularly in Shanghai; American Football is one of the fastest growing sports in the nation. The youth of China is taking a trip to the sports store and kitting themselves out in the pads, cleats, etc. that are necessary to get involved. There are almost 40 university team running games on a weekly basis and the league they're in is sponsored by the NFL. Millions of Chinese families sit around the TV on a weekend and watch the action both locally and in the United States. American expats on their corporate tours of duty are also heavily involved with promoting the game in China and ensuring that real enthusiasm develops at a grass roots level.
Youth is the Key
If you're passing through Shanghai on your China vacation and you'd like to see how the sport is developing here – check out the China Sea Dragons. They're the most successful team in the Chinese youth leagues and they travel throughout the country demonstrating their skills to other children. They say they love the game and it gives them a chance to try something truly exotic. It's nice to be one of the first people to do something even here and there's real enthusiasm for the players about the possibilities of international competition one day.
You won't find a big well organized professional game just yet but that's half the fun. You're on vacation in China and that means enjoying the way the country is developing. Catching your favorite sport in action is just an added bonus.
If you're heading to Xi'an on your China tour you'll probably be excited about the terracotta warriors. It's worth noting that there are other things to do in Xi'an that might also be worth your time on your China vacation. If you travel to Yan Ta Road; you'll find one of China's largest museums. It's definitely worth the trip as it's housed in an impressive modern take on Tang Dynasty architecture and is considered to be a national treasure of China in its own right.
About the Shaanxi History Museum
IIn a country which likes to build things big there's no doubt that 60,000 square meters of floor space for a museum is exceptional. If you're going to take a trip out here you'll need to be prepared for some serious walking around the exhibits. The exhibit focuses mainly on China's history through Shaanxi territory.
IHowever, in the first exhibition hall you'll find 2,700 works of art spread over 2,300 meters of corridors to enjoy. It's not until you move through this that you'll find the Shaanxi relevant exhibition which is spread over three rooms covering nearly 5,000 square meters. Your tour through China's dim and distant past begins with the rise of the Zhou in pre-history and then you travel through the Qin, the Han, the Wei-Jin (both Northern and Southern dynasties), the Sui-Tang before accompanying the more recent dynasties of China's past the Song, the Yuan, the Ming and the Qing.
IThere are nearly 2,000 objects which illustrate the march of Chinese history and it's perhaps the most complete collection that you'll find on a China vacation. The earliest ceramics are still vibrantly painted; the bronze weaponry and art of the Zhou remain burnished and impressive throughout. It's also really quite amazing to see how the Tang Dynasty prized objects of silver and gold.
IThere is also a series of temporary exhibits on the Eastern wing of the museum. The paintings taken from the walls of the Tang-tombs are the finest examples of funereal art from this period in the whole country. These paintings are rather more permanent than temporary but the rest of the collection changes at a whim and you never know what the museum's curators will be sharing from month to month. It makes for a pleasant surprise and ensures that your China tour is always different to someone else's.
You will also find that there's an enormous “special exhibition hall” and the special exhibitions may draw from any of the collections across China's most famous museums. There are no guarantees that they'll fit the overall theme of the museum as they are designed to keep local people coming back to experience new aspects of China's history. They are always worth a look though.
In total there are over 115,000 works in the Shaanxi History Museum which present a complete picture of Chinese history through a single place. So when your China trip passes through Xi'an you might want to take a break from your tour and go and soak up a place that many never get to see in their hurry to the Terracotta Warriors.
If you're taking a Yangtze River Cruise as part of your China tour then you'll be visiting Chengdu. Chengdu is one of China's nicest cities and it's home to the panda sanctuary which many people count as the highlight of their China vacation. However, many people have never heard of Chengdu before they make their trip so we thought we'd share a few interesting facts about the city so you can enjoy the thought of going to Chengdu even more.
- Soon Chengdu will be joined with Chongqing the largest city in Sichuan and the former capital of China by the world's largest industrial developed zone. So getting there today on your Yangtze River Cruise may be a priority as the surrounding area won't be anywhere near as pretty when they've finished the construction of the zone.
- It's not just holidaymakers who make the trip to Chengdu. Chengdu is a firm favorite with multi-national companies and the city is home to 133 out of 500 of the world's biggest companies. With Microsoft, Ericsson, Sony and Toyota amongst the best known foreign brands who've made Chengdu their home in China.
- Chengdu was founded in 311 BC and has been the official capital of Sichuan province ever since. Whilst Chonging is technically in Sichuan it's so big that it is considered a separate province from a government perspective.
- If you've got a bit of money left after souvenir shopping on your Yangtze River Cruise you might spare a thought for the fact that the very first paper money used anywhere in the world was invented in Chengdu and it was the first place that it became widely accepted too.
- Not one but two breakaway kingdoms in China (the Dashu and Daxi) made Chengdu their capital but both were forced back into the fold quickly.
- If you'd like a little slice of Americana in Chengdu then there's a fun (but infamously unsafe) theme park, Happy Valley, just a short trip from the city center. We don't recommend that you take any time out of your China tour to visit it though.
- For a more somber time Chengdu is also home to the museum which commemorates the victims of the worst earthquake in China's recent history. The Winchuan Earthquake Museum remains practically unknown outside the country.
- There are 10 UNSECO world heritage sites within driving distance of Chengdu including the Dujiangyan Water Project, the Leshan Grand Buddha and the Sanxingdui Ruins.
- The city's reputation for arts, crafts and business comes from World War 2 when Chengdu became a safe haven from the Japanese. Many academics and traders made the trip across China to hide out in Chengdu and many of them stayed even after the Japanese had been run off.
Chengdu is a truly amazing city and the perfect place to catch your breath after the excitement of a cruise on the Yangtze River. It's justly famed for its hospitality and Sichuan food is amongst the tastiest in all of China. We know you'll enjoy your vacation memories of the people and the sites and we hope that you can't wait to visit because we can't wait to show you round.
A little while ago we took a trip through the past and examined China's Xia Dynasty. Today we're going to look at the Shang Dynasty. One thing's for certain on a China vacation; you'll be exposed to huge amounts of history. We think it's a good idea to get better acquainted with the backstory before you begin your China tour so that when you travel round China you'll be able to fully appreciate everything you see.
Introducing the Shang Dynasty
If you'd made your trip to China back in the 16th and 17th centuries BC you'd have found it hard to recognize the place. The Shang dynasty controlled only a small fraction of the country's current area and their capital city would have been found in Anyang (a long way from Beijing). Much of the ancient capital has been excavated and this part of Chinese history is extremely well documented when compared to the Xia. The Shang Dynasty oversaw the development of the written word in China and it is clear that art, medicine and economics were all beginning to be understood during this period.
A Little History of A Kind
It is said that the Shang Dynasty began when the wife of Emperor Ku accidentally ate an egg that was dropped on her by a large black bird. This event is said to have sparked an immaculate conception which led to the birth of Yu the Great who became renowned for his great service to the Xia Dynasty. 13 Generations later his great-great (and a bit more great)-grandson Tang defeated the last Xia Emperor at the Battle of Mingtiao. He would found a great capital which would then travel round China least 5 times during the course of the dynasty until it finally settled in Anyang.
The people of the Shang Dynasty almost certainly chose Anyang for its proximity to the Yellow River and during modern scholastic tours of China there has been an enormous amount of evidence to place the Shang Dynasty's holdings along the length of the river. In fact it was a chance encounter during just such a tour in 1899 that led to the discovery of ancient bones being sold in local pharmacies – that led to a huge archaeological dig throughout Henan province that finally proved the existence of the Dynasty once and for all.
What will I see of the Shang Dynasty?
Unfortunately modern Anyang isn't the most developed of areas and at the moment there are no trips to that part of China. However, in many of the museums in Beijing and Shanghai you can see the bronze working for which the dynasty is famed. Unlike in many Bronze Age societies the Shang didn't use the metal exclusively for weaponry and they also applied their craft to art. The Houmuwu Ding is the largest and most ornate example of this so far excavated in China.
If you're really lucky you may see some of the chariots that would have carried China's finest warriors of the time in to battle. There are also many displays around the nation that you may encounter on your China vacation of the ornate axes and armor cast from bronze by the Shang Dynasty. What's really incredible about the Shang Dynasty is that the amount of surviving material from the dynasty dwarfs any other comparable ancient society in the world. There is far more material from this part of China's history than there has been discovered in the Egyptian pyramids for example. You'll definitely encounter some of the finest examples during your journey through China.
We've found that many people would like to know more about Chinese culture before their China vacation. They want to fully immerse themselves in China so their tour is a deeper and richer experience. One of the best ways to understand China is to travel with a guide and you can do that when you read Chinese literature without ever having to leave home. Perhaps the finest introduction to China can be made through the greatest living Chinese author you can take a trip through China through his eyes and really appreciate the nation in a very different way.
About Jin Yong
Jin Yong was born on the 6th of February 1924. He wasn't called Jin Yong then because it's actually a pen name. His real name is Louis Cha Leung-Yung. His writing career started at the relatively late age of 35 when he opened his first newspaper in Hong Kong; the Ming Pao. He also began writing fiction at around the same time and his last book was published in 1972. In total Jin Yong wrote 15 novels all of them in the same genre; Wuxia.
What is Wuxia?
Wuxia is a genre that is almost exclusively Chinese. It describes the adventures of martial artists as they travel around China getting into (and out of) scrapes. The heroes are normally from the lowest order of Chinese society and are almost never from the noble classes. They are required to take a tour of China to right wrongs and oppose evil because of their ancient code of chivalry.
Jin Yong's wuxia novels are part of a movement that is known as the “new school” they took the ancient form of wuxia and blended in large chunks of romance and mystery in addition to the original action movie style concepts. The young hero invariably begins his travel thanks to the loss of a loved one and goes on to become part-crime fighter, part-problem solver and all round Chinese good guy.
Most of the new school's novels aren't really novels at all. Instead these works of fiction were usually serialized in China's media and then compiled as books at a later date. Jin's debut novel was serialized in the New Evening Post and wasn't made into a book for several years. Today; The Book and the Sword is one of the best known works in Chinese literature.
Chen Jialuo, is hired to assist some Islamic Tribesmen who are pursuing a group of evil soldiers who have stolen their copy of the Quran. During his trials and tribulations Chen earns the respect of the tribes-people and the affections of the chieftain's daughter. They travel the length and breadth of China to rescue the holy book. They then return to the Muslim tribe's home but Chen is quickly embroiled in new adventures and has to fight for the woman he loves.
We said at the start of this piece that Jin Yong is the best-selling author you've never heard of. It's true too. His work has been translated into many languages and the current estimate is that he's sold 100 million legitimate copies of his work. This means that he's probably out-sold J K Rowling in truth. As you'll discover on your China vacation everything that can be copied will be copied in China. That means his sales figures are drastically under-rated as the vast majority of his sales will have been pirated works. If you'd like to start your China tour with a better appreciation of Chinese culture then Jin Yong's work is the perfect place to start.
If your China tour is passing through Beijing then you're guaranteed to visit the Ming Dynasty Tombs. This spectacular UNSECO world heritage site is an integral part of a China vacation in the country's capital. You'll have to travel a little way out from the center as they're 44 kilometers out in the Changping District.
About the Ming Dynasty Tombs
Your trip begins at Tianshou Mountain which was chosen by China's 33rd Ming Emperor (Yongle). He was also the emperor who chose to move the capital to Beijing from its previous location in Nanjing. He was the brains behind the construction of the original Forbidden City too (something else you won't want to miss during your China travel).
Before Yongle died he chose where he would be laid to rest and had his mausoleum constructed on the site of Tianshou Mountain. This started a bit of a trend amongst the Ming Emperors and after each one had finished his tour of duty running China they too would be buried in the same place. There are 13 Ming Emperors in total that chose Tianshou as their final resting place.
There is a missing Emperor from the period and that was Jingtai who was deposed by his brother and refused an imperial burial. Instead Jingtai was buried to the West of modern Beijing.
As you travel round the site you'll also notice that one of the Ming Rulers has a much smaller mausoleum than the rest. That was the final Ming Emperor; Chongzhen. He actually hung himself on the site and was buried in the tomb of his concubines as a punishment. However, the next Emperor of China; Si Ling decided that it would be deemed an Imperial Tomb after all and it is considered to be one of the official Ming Dyansty tombs now.
The tombs are placed over an area of over 40 square kilometers. The valley was chosen according to the principles of feng shui and it was designed to ensure the peace of the Emperors' spirits as they made the trip from the land of the living to the land of the dead. The Sacred Way (Shendao) is a 7 kilometer road along which you will travel to appreciate the majesty of this tribute to China's most famous dynasty.
You enter the complex through the gates of one of the largest stone archways in China; the Great Red Gate.
Head for the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavillion and be certain you don't miss one of the best photo opportunities of your China vacation; there's a tortoise-dragon hybrid bearing a tablet of stone. That's a 50 ton tortoise-dragon hybrid to be precise. Strangely it's not even from the Ming Dynasty but was an addition to the complex made during the Qing Dynasty. On top of the tablet you'll see four columns and each column supports another mythical beast. Along the road there are additional pillars and a further 18 mythical creatures to enjoy.
You are then free to explore three of the tombs; Chang Ling, Ding Ling and Zhao Ling. The others have not been excavated as yet. In fact Ding Ling as we shall see in another article is the only one that has been fully excavated and is completely open to the public during your China tour.
Hong Kong often gets all the attention for those looking for a quick break from their China tour. However, there’s much to be said for heading to Macau on your China vacation as well or even instead. A trip to Macau lets you enjoy the unique blend of Cantonese and Portuguese cultures something that you can’t find anywhere else in China. If you time your China travel right you might also be able to get in on a few of the more interesting events that Macau holds each year.
Macau Arts Festival (May to June)
Macau comes alive during May as the whole place brings its artistic talents to bear in a long-running celebration of life and art. Galleries around the city open to bring you the best of local and international talents. The focus tends to be on vibrant, modern work and it can be quite a breathtaking experience. Those who’ve made the trip always remark on how vivid the experience and how modern-China’s culture can be much better understood through the works and the chance to speak to some of the Chinese artists.
If you can’t travel to China during May and early-June; don’t despair. There are yearlong rehearsals for the event and while they don’t offer quite the volume of displays as the festival itself, they’re well worth checking out.
Macau Lotus Flower Festival (Late June)
If you enjoy floral displays then timing your China tour for the Lotus Flower festival might be the best thing to do. This annual event makes the most of China’s best known symbol from the plant world. There are exhibits throughout the area during this festival and it won’t be hard to stumble upon some of them. It’s a nice laid back affair thanks to the heat of the summer and wandering around outside with an ice cream in hand is thoroughly recommended.
Macau International Fireworks Festival (September)
If there’s anything that the Chinese love more than fireworks we don’t know what it is. This festival isn’t any old fireworks display either – it’s a purely competitive venture. If your China vacation is during September then a visit to Macau will allow you to watch over 100 teams from around the world fighting it out to bring you the definitive pyrotechnic experience. The best place to watch it from is Taipa Island but you can grab a vantage point on the peninsula easily enough too. This is perhaps Macau’s finest hour and if you can you really should take an extra day out of your China tour to enjoy it.
Macau Food Festival (November)
If you’re a foodie then the best time to travel to Macau might be November. China’s richest special administrative region goes mad during this time of year. You’ll be able to enjoy a blend of Mainland, Local, European and pan-Asian dishes everywhere. There are plenty of street stalls and even some tents and booths around to get stuck into the culinary treats. To add to the fun there are beer drinking contests and plenty of live entertainment too. It’s a great way to really enjoy the best food that China has to offer.
This is a great question and one we’re often asked when people consider adding Macau as a destination to their China vacation package. They wonder whether Macau will be similar to other places on their China tour or whether their trip to Macau will be completely different? There’s no doubt that if you travel to Macau you’ll see some noticeable differences from China’s Mainland but there are plenty of similarities too. Let’s take a quick look at what you might expect.
Lasting Portuguese Influence
Unlike Goa (India) where the Portuguese population was slowly assimilated into the local one; the Portuguese culture remains distinct and to some extent separate from the indigenous Chinese culture. This is partly because the Portuguese maintained their presence on Macau until 1974. Most members of the Portuguese military would do a tour of duty in Macau to complete the requirements of their compulsory national service. Once they were there many fell in love with China and chose not to make the trip back home but rather to settle in Macau instead.
You’ll spend most of your China vacation in the North of China where everyone speaks Mandarin (Putonghua) in the South of China (excluding Shenzhen) almost everyone speaks Cantonese. This is true in Macau too. Portuguese is an official language and widely spoken too. English speakers are more common in Macau than on the mainland. You may also be able to find a Macanese speaker or two as well; this is a blend of several Asian tongues with a touch of Portuguese thrown into make it even more complex, it’s really interesting to hear.
Whilst the Catholic Christian influences of Portugal are clear to see throughout your travel in Macau, the main religion is one adopted from mainland China – Buddhism. There’s also a clear sense of the people of Macau slowly shifting their whole culture to more closely mirror that of China. That means you’ll be one of the privileged few to witness this period of cultural transformation and to talk to people about how they feel about the transition. There is also a bit of resistance in the local youth who are now turning to the Protestant faith to counterbalance this change.
Food in Macau is very different from much of the mainland. It takes Southern (Cantonese) Chinese dishes and adds a touch that’s uniquely Portuguese. The egg-custard tarts may be the best in the world and people talk throughout the region of this sweet dish with awed tones of respect. If you do take some time in Macau from your China tour you should also try the famous; Galinha a Portuguesa which is a sort of chicken and potato (or more unusually rice) curry which is baked in a dish and served with a golden brown crust. It’s absolutely delicious.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
If you’d like to try TCM on your China vacation then you might enjoy doing so in Macau. The region has real ambitions of becoming the heart of TCM from an international perspective and you’ll be able to enjoy the widest range of possible treatments her.
Your China vacation will often leave you breathless with the pace of life on the Mainland. However, if you fancy something a little more relaxed you might want to take a break from the thrills of your China tour and head to Macau for a day. Coloane village is the perfect place, on a China vacation, to discover traditional village life with a blend of Portuguese and Cantonese heritage.
About Coloane Village
Coloane Village has a dark past. It was once the center of piracy on China's southern coast. The pirates would attack not just rich-merchant vessels but also poor fishermen too. They were amongst the most feared high-seas bandits of all time. When the Portuguese navy finally turned up in force on a tour of China to secure the colony they fought pitched battles with the pirates. The Portuguese finally overcame the threat in 1910 and if you take a look outside the chapel of St. Francis Xavier on your trip you'll be able to find a plaque commemorating the victory.
That's quite strange in its own right because the chapel itself wasn't built until 1928, though other chapels have stood on the site before. If you're hoping to get a feel for Christianity in China during your vacation this may be one of the highlights of your trip. It holds some of the most sacred relics in all of China. This includes the remains of 26 priests who were martyred in Nagasaki in the 16th century. There are also remains from Japanese Christians who fell during the Shimabara Rebellion.
It is said that the chapel once housed the arm of St. Francis Xavier though this can now be found in the Sacred Art Museum in Macau.
If you'd like to take in some Chinese traditional religions; then take a trip down the Avenida de Conce de Outubro in Coloane Village. Here you can find a Daoist Temple which is dedicated to the God of the Seas; Tam Kung. This God was said to have been able to predict the weather in China and ensure that boats which left port would always return. The temple is picturesque. It is also still in use and it's a nice place to learn about Daoism where it's more likely that the monks will speak a little English. It was constructed back in 1862 and is thus one of the older buildings you'll find in Macau.
In the same area you'll find another Daoist temple and it's also dedicated to keep seafaring travel as safe as possible. That's the thing with fishing villages in China – life has been very precarious for many of their inhabitants for centuries. It's nice to reflect that life is much safer than it has ever been as your China tour progresses round Coloane.
The Tin Hau temple is the only of only three examples of a temple dedicated to Mazu (or Matsu) in Macau. It is also the oldest temple of its type you will see on a China vacation. It was constructed back in 1448 and remains unchanged to this very day.
As you travel round Coloane you'll meet many locals who will normally be quite happy to engage in conversation. It's one of the highlights of Macau and a wonderfully peaceful moment compared to the hectic pace of China's mainland life.
If you're thinking about joining a China tour to take in Hong Kong then you might want to time your trip carefully. If your China vacation coincides with the dates 21st June to 31st of August 2013 then there's a bit more to see than usual in Hong Kong. The city offers the chance to participate in the Hong Kong Summer Spectacular and travel during this festival is always a little bit more interesting than you might expect. There are interesting events that demonstrate the culture of China's former British colony.
Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival
China's traditional sport is a reason to travel all on its own. The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival is the largest dragon boat racing event in the world. If you'd like to get caught up in something truly unique on your China vacation this is the place to do it. 400,000 spectators watch 5,000 rowers from over 20 countries compete on the waters of Victoria harbor.
The boats are over 10 meters long and each boat is supported by heavy drumming. There are 20 (or sometimes more) oarsmen on board and the fight to the finish line is a grueling one. To make it easier to withstand the fierce summer heat they also hold a San Miguel Beer Festival so you can ensure that your China trip remains a comfortable one with a cold beer in hand for every event.
There are several concerts held at the Hong Kong Coliseum during the course of the Summer Spectacular. If you'd like to hear what the latest and greatest sounds are from China's pop artists there's no better time to do it. Tickets are generally cheap as they're subsidized for the event and last year the superstar Taichi was the main event. This year they're keeping the details close to their chests but you can be certain that whichever act is on tour for this – they'll be awesome.
Shop 'Til You Drop and Win Prizes
The festival also encourages you to splurge during your China vacation as there's always a shopping promotion on. Normally these promotions guarantee anyone spending a certain amount in participating outlets some gift vouchers or rewards. In addition you also get entered in a free prize draw to win some serious spending money. In 2012 there was also a competitive shopping event which may be repeated this year – Team China drew with Team Thailand to prove who could travel to the most stores and nail the best bargains.
Lan Kwai Fong Beer Festival
If you prefer somewhere a bit more relaxed then a trip to Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong's party district might be in order. It's a chance to try many of China's finest beers and in fact those from quite a few other countries too. There are normally mini-music festival events here too and you may be able to join in some of the impromptu eating and drinking contests as well. Lan Kwai Fong is very popular with travelers at any time of the year the Summer Spectacular just gives you another great reason to visit.
If you're thinking about taking in Hong Kong during your China tour we've got some interesting facts to share that we hope will improve your China vacation experience. Travel to China's former British colony is always fun but a little extra spice never hurts does it?
- Hong Kong means fragrant harbor and as you might expect it's because it used to be quite stinky in the early years of its' being a port. Don't worry though, your China vacation will be much less fragrant as the island maintains very strict hygiene standards today.
- Hong Kong is rumored to be the most densely populated place on earth. 7 million people share a tiny area of land. The strange thing is that it doesn't always feel that way with many areas of wide open space which are much less packed than they would be in mainland China. Travel around the city's museums and parks is always pleasant.
- The city is home to the world's longest suspension bridge and you'll find the Tsing Ma Bridge just outside of the airport. It's worth taking a taxi over it at least once for the spectacular views on either side as well as the view of the bridge itself.
- People drive on the left in Hong Kong whereas in the rest of China they drive on the right. This is a throwback to its days as a British colony. If you're thinking of renting a car during your trip you'll need to remember this.
- Hong Kong is the world's leading city for skyscrapers. A skyscraper is officially defined as any building with more than 14 floors. You'll find over 8,000 of them on the island. By comparison New York only has 4,000.
- If you like a little bit of luxury during your travel then you might want to track down a ride in a Rolls-Royce. There are more Rolls-Royces in this tiny place than there are on mainland China and there are more per capita than anywhere else on earth.
- They don't speak Mandarin very much in Hong Kong. The first language of Southern China is Cantonese and most Hong Kongers (or Honkies) speak English as a second language.
- This one's not something you'll really want to think about during your China vacation but one of Hong Kong's premier exports is umm… human waste. It's sold to China as a fertilizer and it ensures that the city's sewer system never becomes overloaded.
- If you're worried that there's no greenery to see while your China tour is in Hong Kong you should be aware that over 40% of the island is dedicated to parks and nature reserves. You can hike the MacLehose trail for over 100 kilometers without ever seeing a building.
- Hong Kong is the only place to see pink dolphins in the world. You can join an eco-cruise on the harbor to see them.
- There is one restaurant per 600 people in Hong Kong. You could literally eat out every night for 3 decades without having to try the same one twice. It's why Hong Kong is a great place for a foodie's tour of all China's menus.
We hope you've enjoyed these fun facts about Hong Kong, we hope they make your visit just a little bit more fun.
If your China vacation takes you into Hong Kong you might want to try something a little different. Your China tour will give you some time to explore the city and while there are many things to choose from you might want to take a trip to somewhere a little off the beaten path. What could be more appropriate for China travel than a journey into Chinese tea culture?
About the Flagstaff Tea Museum
You can find the Flagstaff Tea Museum in the heart of Hong Kong Park. If you’re really lucky you’ll have picked a day when it’s hosting a marriage ceremony. The area is quite lovely and China’s brides like to turn up and have their photographs taken there.
Flagstaff House itself is one of the oldest colonial remnants in Hong Kong. It’s a strikingly British building and it was once the home of the commander of Britain’s forces in China. He’s taken a trip back to England since the handover but the building is now fully accessible by the public. It was declared a national monument in 1989 for its distinctive architecture.
Up until 1932 Flagstaff House was called Headquarters House. When it was built back in 1846 it overlooked the British naval barracks that was stationed on Queen’s Road. These barracks are no longer there so don’t waste any time on a trip to find them.
It’s a curious truth but no-one knows who designed the building. There are long debates between China’s historians as to whether it was a Scottish Chap called Murdoch Bruce (better known for inspecting rather than designing buildings) or an English Gentleman from the sapper corps of the Army; Lieutenant Bernard Collinson. It’s certain that the first military officer on tour to be stationed in Flagstaff House was Major-General George D’Aguilar who move in before it was complete in 1844.
When the Japanese invaded China the building was repeatedly shelled and both wings took a certain amount of damage from Japanese bombing campaigns. The Japanese commander like Flagstaff House so much that he moved in when his forces took Hong Kong. He wouldn’t remain there long and when they Japanese were expelled from the country the British took up occupancy once more. After the handover to China Flagstaff House was given to the Urban Council of Hong Kong to look after.
The tea museum that you’ll find there on your China vacation was installed during 1984. There is a permanent exhibition of tea through the ages which introduces you to China’s obsession with tea and how the plant has been embraced throughout the country to become its national drink. You can also see a temporary exhibition on how tea travels from the farm to every corner of China in a long and fascinating mix of modern and ancient supply chains.
The rest of the exhibition is made up of Chinese tea pots and Chinese Ceramics. There is also a slightly out of keeping with the rest of the collection exhibition on stone carving for calligraphy in Hong Kong. That’s probably because it’s the Hong Kong Museum of Art which sponsors all the collections at Flagstaff House.
For those taking a China tour that passes through Hong Kong Flagstaff House represents a wonderful chance to connect with the colonial past of the country. No China vacation is complete without enjoying a little tea either – so what better place to find out more?
We've seen that sometimes it can be hard to understand the depth of Chinese history during a China tour. You'll visit so many places on your China vacation that you may find that it's awkward to pick out the details from each other. One of the key concepts you'll encounter during your China travel will be the dynasties of China. Each dynasty refers to a specific period in time and the leadership of the country at that point. We'll start introducing them today by taking a trip back in time to China's earliest dynasty the Xia Dynasty.
Xia Dynasty – What We Know
The Xia Dynasty was the first ruling family in China and they rose to power in the year 2070 B.C. (or thereabouts) and held on to it until around the year 1600 B.C. The date is given differently in each record so it should be treated as a reasonable estimate and not a hard fact. The little bit we know about them has been handed down through the ages in Chinese historical chronicles. These chronicles all date from 1300 B.C. onwards. In the times of the Xia Dynasty there was no written medium that would have lasted long enough to be reviewed by modern archaeologists.
The Dynasty began with a tour of duty. The general “Yu the Great” began a campaign to unite China and established himself as the first emperor of China when the last emperor of the 5 emperors (who ruled the separate states that would soon form ancient China) bent his knee to him and conceded defeat. Interestingly, the 5 emperors were reputed to be wise and honest men.
What We Think Might Have Happened
Yu the Great's father was a man called Gun. He is reputed to have been executed for failing to stop the Yellow River (the Huang He which is the second longest river in Asia after the Yangtze) from flooding the plains around his emperor's home. His son Yu was asked to travel home to witness the execution and to fix the problems that his father had failed to fix. It is said that in order to do this he took a long trip around all the neighboring towns and united the people to help him dig a network of canals that would redirect the flood waters.
This further increased has popularity with the people and Yu was credited with the rising influence of the newly prosperous Xia people. Yu rose to a position of leadership and established his military credentials by crushing the Sanmiao tribe who had been raiding the Xia's borders. His emperor was impressed by his courage and when the emperor was dying he named Yu his successor. His dynasty would then continue for nearly 500 years…
Or Perhaps Not
As you'll discover on your China vacation there's plenty of healthy academic debate over Chinese history. The facts above are strongly disputed by many of China's leading historians. They point out that the “documentary evidence” shares little with the reality of archaeological discovery. However, in 2011 an imperial palace was found on the site described in these tales and has been carbon dated to support the story above.
Whatever the truth it's highly likely that you'll see some pieces from this time period in any one of the many museums you visit during your China tour. A trip through China's history is all the better for a little mystery and this one is interesting enough that they'll probably still be talking about who is right in a hundred years' time.
There’s plenty of history to be found on a China vacation. However, if you’d like to take a little diversion when your China tour hits Beijing you can explore the most ancient history of all. The Geological Museum of China lets you travel through the country before any human beings had arrived. As you might expect there are plenty of interesting rocks to be found but there are many other good reasons to take a trip across the city to visit a museum that so many visitors miss out on.
The Geological Museum of China – Where is It?
The museum can be found in the Xicheng District of China which is relatively easily accessible by taxi and also by Metro. The museum is on the Fujing Culture Street which is also called the Fuchengmen-Jingshan Tourism and Culture Street which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue easily. It’s a good place to see a whole host of other places too – you’ll find the only example of two Imperial dynasty’s temples side-by-side in the whole of China. There’s also a great Buddhist Temple in the form of Guangji Temple. If you’re a literary expert then the home of Lu Xun is also a Museum to his work and can be found on the same street.
The Beijing authorities have spent a lot of money during the Chinese Olympics to make this a nice area and if you travel down the street – you can enjoy the best pavements and walking spaces in China.
The Geological Museum of China – What’s There?
The museum is one of China’s oldest modern museums and was built in the early 20th century in 1916. Today it has over 200,000 examples of “geological specimens” which sounds less interesting than the reality.
The best reason to take the time out of your China tour to visit is the chance to come face-to-face with the “Sinornithosaurus” which is better known as the “Giant Shandong Dinosaur” which would have roamed the land nearly 140 million years ago. Why is it the best reason to come? It’s because it is reputed to be the largest dinosaur fossil in the world and it is also incredibly well preserved. In fact there’s a huge fossil collection in the museum and there are dozens of examples of species that can only be viewed here. We think it’s worth the travel across Beijing just for that.
If people are more your thing than dinosaurs then the earliest remains of humanity in China are also in the museum. The teeth of Yuanmou Man are on display alongside Stone Age remnants from sites excavated across China; including the Peak Cave Man site.
The rocks themselves are worth a look. The crystal formations are really superb and there’s the world’s largest Cinnabar crystal to enjoy too. Sometimes it’s nice to do something completely unique during a China vacation. Why not take a break from your China tour and be one of the very few visitors to Beijing who enjoy the spectacle of China’s most ancient history?
Last week we took a look at some of the unique sports you might encounter during your China tour. This week we’ll branch out a bit further and examine some of the aerial sports you might come into contact with on your China vacation. These are performed through the year so you don’t need to travel to China at a particular time to watch them but they are a little unusual so you’ll have to ask your China guide if there’s somewhere to see them during your trip.
What are Aerial sports?
By this point you probably have visions of someone flying through the air on some kind of device. That’s pretty much the point though there are no helicopters, planes, etc. involved.
The most common aerial sport in China is Dang Qiuqian. It involves the folks involved dangling from ropes a reasonable distance away from the ground and then performing feats of physical dexterity on them. It’s quite breathtaking to watch as the performers are genuinely risking their well-being and if you can catch it you’ll get some of the best photos for your China vacation album possible.
The sport is supposed to have originated in the days of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911 A.D.). The story goes something like this; the people of Jia Yi (a Chinese village) had contracted the plague and it was spreading like wildfire. Given the lack of medical facilities back then the usual way to combat the plague was to try and appease the spirits. So the folks of Jia Yi began to build temples to honor their saints who they hoped would intercede in the problem. It appears the solution worked (or at least they stopped dying from the plague).
This left the folks of Jia Yi wondering how they could keep the saints on their side for the future. They decided to do this by holding celebrations for each saint on their special day. They’d travel China looking for more and more interesting ways to make these celebrations special for the saint. One local was passing through a village when he spied a little girl playing on a swing. He was so impressed by her skills that he made the trip back to Jia Yi to introduce the game. Dang Quiqian is translated as “to have a swing”.
Today the best displays of this sport are to be found in the Korean and Bai communities in China. They go all out to decorate the swings and wear their finest clothing to make the display as eye-catching as possible. The ropes are designed to enable participants to swing up into the trees nearby and collect ribbons from the branches – it’s hard to watch this without flinching, as there’s a real risk of a performer smashing into a tree.
The other aerial sport to be found during your China tour is called Tioban. The rumor is that it was invented by two young ladies who had been separated from their men because the men had been jailed. There weren’t any visiting hours in China back then so they decided they would have to see over the walls to get a glimpse of their loved ones.
They invented a “springboard” with a pivot in the middle. As the players jump up and down they travel higher and higher in the air. The boards themselves are nearly 6 meters long and participants end up 2 or 3 meters above the ground during the game. To keep things interesting, they perform acrobatic feats such as back flips while they’re up there.
You can find Tiaoban being practiced throughout China and if you’re there during any major festival on your trip – you’ll see public displays in almost every city you visit.
We're often asked; what sports are unique to China? We've found that there are an enormous variety of local sports many of which you might be able to catch during a China vacation. So if you'd like to see some of the Chinese talent embracing their own games during your China tour we've put together a quick guide to some of them. If you're lucky you might even get a chance to take part in some of them on your trip.
Cuju – The Oldest Game of Football in the World
If you thought that soccer was a recent invention, you'd be surprised. In fact the earliest form of football known to man was being played back in the days of the Shang Dynasty in China (that's somewhere between 1600 and 1100 B.C.). It would have been hard on the feet as player's used a stone ball and it was designed to toughen up warriors before combat. Back then there were at least 25 different rule sets so it's hard to say precisely what the rules would be.
The first Chinese football club was formed in the Song Dynasty (1127 - 1279 A.D.). In that time it was China's number one game and even members of the Royal Court would have been found kicking a ball about. However, it fell out of favor soon after and nearly disappeared until the present day. If you'd like to see Cuju during your China tour you'll have to time your travel to coincide with China's National Games of Minority Nation Sports. That's the only time when the sport is played at a competitive level for spectators.
Da Tuoluo – Spinning Tops
This is another Chinese sport with a long history. There is a top recently excavated in China that was nearly 4,000 years old. It's a simple premise you use a whip to keep the top spinning and then drive your top into the opponent's top to knock it over. There's also a variation where the top is driven through an obstacle course. This game was popular with early Chinese explorers who came across it during their travel and exported it worldwide. Sadly it has fallen out of favor in the rest of the world but can often be seen being played by children in parks in China.
Bahe – The Tug-of-War
This sport is easy to find if you time your China trip for the Lantern Festival. It's common to all ethnic groups across China and is especially popular in rural locations. You can also see it at many sporting events for schools and colleges across the country. The rope is often made from bamboo and can be extended to enable a hundred or more participants. This is done by enabling additional branches from the main rope. It's a real test of coordination as well as strength and it's a very good natured event.
Gaoqiao – Stilt Walking
You can see this in many places during your China vacation. Legend has it that during the 14th century in Hunnan Province that poor people couldn't raise the money to buy good shoes. Sadly, that province is prone to heavy rainfall and their feet would become soaked and painful. To overcome this they developed stilts from bamboo which they could strap to their legs. Believe it or not despite the fact that they are nearly a meter high – people can (and do) run in them.
China has many sports for you to discover during China tour. We've just dipped our toes in the water with a few of the most popular here. Your China vacation can really benefit from a trip to see traditional Chinese games as they're a lot of fun and very much good-natured.
The National Art Museum in China is something special. If your China tour passes through Beijing you’ll have the opportunity to go exploring and it’s a place you might want to consider. One of the nice things about visiting this museum on a China vacation is to see how the Chinese react to art from other cultures. If your travel is during the next few months you’ll have the chance to see two new exhibits in China's most famous home of the arts.
Two New Exhibitions
One thing you’re almost certainly not expecting on a China vacation is an exhibition dedicated to Spanish sculpture. Yet, that’s what you’ll see on a trip to the National Art Museum at the moment. They have an exhibition of nearly 80 sculptures and drawings which capture the essence of Spanish sculpture during the 20th century. You’ll travel through the century from Picasso to the completely different aesthetics of Barcelo.
The challenge here both for China locals and foreign visitors is to detach your conceptions of how the human body should be rendered. This show is not about realism but rather expression. The works of Gargallo and Gonzales offer the chance to appreciate how large iron works can display the human form in a variety of ways and how abstract can transform that vision.
Of course there’s a nod to the surrealist movement and both Dali and Miro are represented in the collection too. The exhibit then moves on to encompass the constructive conceptual and expressionist periods of the 1980s. It’s a unique opportunity to take time out of your China tour and experience something truly different. The nice thing about this exhibit is that each sculpture is accompanied by drawings from the artist that were used to give their vision form.
The other new exhibit is Transportation and is a study of modern visual art. Here you’ll find many “made in China” pieces as electronics and green-tech and a certain amount of animation take center stage. Transportation was developed by Tsinghua University (one of China’s top 3 universities equivalent to Harvard or Yale back home perhaps) and it takes guests on a trip through motion and the way it interacts with our own behavior to form new art.
This collection includes the work of Tim Hawkinson (an American) whose piece “Gimbaled Klein Basket” has a basket suspended in the air in perpetual motion thanks to the cunning use of electronics. It demonstrates as it travels through the air the idea that action is created even through the slowest of motions.
Many of the pieces in this exhibition are interactive and there’s a slightly strange piece from Lawrence Malstaf (of Belgium) which leaves you lying (absent your shoes) on a conveyor belt as you travel in the opposite direction of someone else doing exactly the same thing.
Of course there’s plenty of China’s own art in the Museum and taking a break from your China vacation to check out the exhibits doesn't mean that you should miss out on the greater collection. It can be nice to check in with other cultures as you enjoy China though and this is a great opportunity to do just that.
We've looked at many of the religions you may encounter on your China tour already. However, we haven't really checked out Daoism/Taoism yet. On your China vacation you'll find that Daoist beliefs are among the most pervasive in the country. Unlike Buddhism, Daoism didn't travel to China from elsewhere - it began there. That makes it one of the only indigenous beliefs still remaining today.
The Origins of Daoism
Back in the 6th century B.C. a philosopher called Laozi wrote a book called; Dao De Jing. He had no idea that this would transform into a religious text in the centuries following his death. He was only outlining the principles he believed the world and people should live by. These principles would be refined by others over the coming centuries. In particular China's 4th century (B.C. again) philosopher Zhuangzi would describe his travel through his own consciousness in the “Butterfly Dream” and directly connect it to Laozi's teaching.
Banging Heads with Buddhism
Buddhism made the trip from India to China during the early centuries AD. Daoism had been established as a formal religion in the year 100 A.D. Zhang Daoling had taken up a hermetic life and spent much of it developing a codified formal version of Daoist principles which would become the basis of the Dao religion.
Much is made of the similarities of the two faiths but there is a central difference. Buddhism espouses that life is pain and suffering. Daoism does not. Daoists believe that life should be a generally happy event. They both believe that life should be lived on a path of virtuous balance with nothing taken to excess.
This led to a certain healthy conflict between the two initially but disputes became more fractious as each religion attempted to assert itself as China's official religion. The initial trip to the top was won by Daoism, which was later supplanted by Buddhism and finally Daoism won out when Buddhism and other foreign beliefs were (for a time) purged from China by the imperial court.
The Principles of Daoism
One thing you're certain to encounter during your China vacation is the yin and yang of life. This is a Daoist principle of harmony between opposite forces which is often simplified to male and female forces in literature. The Dao itself is the way that these two forces drive everything in existence. The Dao is considered to be ineffable and to guide even those who do not believe in Daoism.
Daoism also combines the early ancestor worship of China with the more modern principles of the faith and it is important to recognize the importance of people's spiritual descendants even now in China. The Tomb Sweeping holiday is a reflection of this and a day is devoted to appeasing and pleasing the spirits of those now departed every year. Daoism encompasses reincarnation too and the final point on the Daosit path is immortality.
What's to See?
Daoism suffered a few setbacks following the Cultural Revolution but it is now back in full force across China. During your China tour you'll be able to see one (or more) of the 1,500 temples of Daoism in the country. It's a unifying faith in that many members are from the ethnic minorities of the country as well as the Han Chinese majority.
Your China vacation will offer many spiritual opportunities but one of the most unique experiences you have will be when you travel to a Daoist temple. It's China's own religion and unlike Confucianism (which is more of a guiding principle than a faith) it's a vibrant and thriving faith in modern China.
It's quite possible to take a tour of China and never connect Islam to the country at all. Many people take a China vacation and leave without ever encountering a Chinese Muslim or seeing a mosque. In fact, China has a reasonable number of Muslims but most of them live in Xinjiang province which is seldom visited by foreigners. However, Islam made the trip to China during the 7th century and one of the most impressive remains of China's Islamic past is the Great Mosque of Xi'an.
About the Mosque
You'll need to take a trip up Huajue Lane (past the famous drum tower – Gu Lou) to find it. It's one of China's oldest, biggest and most cared for mosques and it's in absolutely superb condition. It's not immediately apparent from the outside that it is a mosque at all as there are no minarets adorning the grounds.
There is a stone tablet that was found within the grounds that suggests the mosque was built during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.) and was either started or completed in 742 A.D. Merchants from central Asia and the Islamic nations of the Far East would travel into China down the old Silk Road. This profitable trade route would have brought Persians and Afghans in particular into China and many of them married Chinese women and chose to retire in the country or set up businesses there. Even today the Old Silk Road offers a unique opportunity for trade with China, though travel along it is difficult for tourists thanks to the difficulties in obtaining visas for all the countries along the route.
These merchants and their Muslim descendants played an important part in the unification of China during the later dynasties and many mosques would be constructed as a reward for their faithfulness. However, it is likely that the Great Mosque of Xi'an would have been funded by the Muslim community itself. You'll need to take a little time out from your China tour to explore the mosque properly as it covers an area of nearly 12,000 square meters. There are four courtyards on the grounds and each one is nearly 250 meters by 50 meters. They are well laid out so it's easy to take a trip round the mosque without crossing over your path too often. The architecture is a unique blend of China and Islam and you may never see another mosque like it anywhere in the world.
The first courtyard has a wonderful archway that was made out of wood in the 17th century and then coated in glazed tiling. In the next courtyard you'll find a stone archway surrounded by two steles. One of these is covered in the writing of Dong Qichang one of the most famous calligraphers in China during the Ming Dynasty. The other features the writing of a famous Song Dynasty calligrapher – Mi Fu.
In the next courtyard there are many steles to enjoy and the entrance to the Xingxin Tower where the prayers are held is here. Please note; you are welcome to explore the whole mosque as long as you are respectful but non-Muslims must not enter the Xingxin tower during prayers. The final courtyard holds the Prayer Hall itself and services often attract 1,000 or more people.
If you're at all curious about Islam in China this is the perfect place to stop on your trip. You're guaranteed a warm welcome and you'll be very pleased with the vacation photographs you take here of China's greatest mosque.
Buddhism is subtly woven into the fabric of China. During your China tour you’ll come across many figures of the Buddha in temples and museums. We’ve found that you can gain a better appreciation of these images on your China vacation if you have a little background on their evolution. So let’s take a quick trip through China’s history and the evolution of the images of Buddha.
Buddhism Arrives in China
Buddhism was brought to China from India. People would travel across Asia to share ideas and beliefs and the legend is that it was the Ming Emperor (in A.D. 60) Liu Zhuang of the Eastern Han Dynasty who first accepted the tenets of the faith. He is said to have dreamed of a man in gold who came from a far off land. He demanded that his advisors explain the dream to him. One of his attendants reported that the man must be the Buddha that he had recently heard of. The emperor is then said to have demanded representations of the man so he could compare them. Sadly, these representations are no longer with us and you won’t be able to find any during your China tour.
It was during the period of the 5 Dynasties that Buddhism began to take more of a hold in China. Figures from this time are very similar to Indian figures of the Buddha and the only surviving representations are of the whole body of the Buddha – there appear to have been no simple carvings or reliefs of his image from this time.
During the time of the Northern Wei Buddhism began to travel around China and local craftspeople began to add their own interpretations to his image. The most famous example of this can be found in Hebei in the Yungang Grottoes where two golden Buddhas may be found entwined in the same statue.
As the years progressed the Western Wei period took hold and the Grotto on the mountain of Majishan was said to hold a cornucopia of highly expressive Buddha carvings.
As the Northern Qi dynasty rose to prominence the art of the Buddha took a strong emphasis on character. Buddha began to be represented on colorful backdrops and in group scenes with his family. If you’re lucky enough to see these on your China tour they are perhaps the most striking examples of Chinese influence in Buddhism of any era.
The Sui Dynasty changed direction again by concentrating on stone carving rather than more delicate images. You’ll very likely see some examples of this work during your China vacation and the figures tend to be large, imposing and impressive. There’s particular attention paid to his physical gestures and clothing in Sui work.
Then during the Tang Dynasty the Chinese decided that the form of the Buddha was important. Art from this period focuses on light, thin clothing that enables an image of the body behind it to be projected to the viewer. Subtle curves of the chest and arms give an almost feminine appearance to Buddha images made then.
The images made during the Song Dynasty aren’t as good (in general) as those from the Tang Dynasty but there’s a subtle expression of personality and psychology in this era that can’t be found in other periods. The facial features are extremely detailed. Chinese Buddhism offers a wide range of Buddha images and if you look carefully during your China vacation you’ll quickly be able to identify which period an image was made in. Your China tour will certainly take in Buddhist temples and it’s nice to be able to feel involved in the art they offer.