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The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has long been seen as an enigma in the West. Since economic reforms began in 1978, opening up the country to foreign investment and allowing for private business, the pace of the move of China from the class struggles of the days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution to today’s economic powerhouse has been staggering.
Today, it is the Chinese tourism boom that is astonishing the world – both that of the new middle class of China exploring the world, as well as travel to China, now the third most visited country on the planet, extraordinary given that it was almost impossible for tourists to visit the globe’s most populous country until the late 1970s. Taking into account the huge size of the country and the difficult language barrier, China for the majority of visitors revolves around an organised highlights tour, which is a suitable introduction for most, or an extended backpacking sojourn for the more intrepid travellers.Read more
Beijing, the capital, is one of the most populous cities in the world, but still one of the most impermeable for the visitor. Highlights such as Tiananmen Square and the Mao Zedong Mausoleum are rather austere, however, the sprawling Forbidden City, dating back to 1406, is well worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. In contrast, the hutongs (historic low-rise neighbourhoods of narrow alleys) of the city offer a vastly different experience to that of the massive sights.
Often visited next is the famous Great Wall, originally built to protect China from invaders. Constructed from many different materials and in different sections over centuries, the 6,000 kilometres of wall obviously can’t be tackled in a short stay, but most visitors do a small section to get a sense of its grandeur and scale.
The city of Xi’an has some fine pagodas and the striking Great Mosque of Xi’an, but it’s clear the biggest tourist attraction is the Terracotta Warriors archaeological site, with 8,000 terracotta warrior sculptures, dating to the 3rd century BC that were only rediscovered in 1974. Nature lovers would not miss the cute pandas at the world famous Chengdu Research Centre, or seeing a section of the Yangtze, China's longest river.
Besides the city of Hong Kong, Shanghai is the country’s most outward looking and sophisticated city. A wonderful mix of the old and the futuristic, you can eat dumplings on the street or linger over a degustation menu at one of the city’s fine dining restaurants. Shanghai is also a great place to try the many styles of Chinese cuisine – there’s plenty more for your taste-buds to explore than just Cantonese and if you have time to investigate, there is more to this fascinating country.
Places of interest in China
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