China is a country of superlatives, beginning with it’s almost 10,000 years of history and culture, it´s probably the country with the oldest one on earth. No European or Western Country can reach this heritage and keep it for this many centuries. With about 24.6 million square kilometers it is the fourth largest country on earth and the country with the biggest population, about 1.4 billion inhabitants.
The oldest and most spoken Language
The Chinese language, also known as Mandarin, has the most native users in the world today with more than 1.4 billion speakers. The Chinese written language with the Chinese characters, is one of the oldest, and the only pictographic language in modern use. It is about 4,000 years old and consists of more than 100,000 characters, but only 3,000 – 4,000 are required for functional literacy. Characters convey meaning often through symbolic units, quite unlike phonetic written languages. Profound and elegant, they lend themselves to beautiful calligraphy and poetic phrase and idiom.
More than 5,000 years of history
About 5,000 years ago the area of today’s China was divided in many kingdoms. Many dynasties fought for the right of their existence, seeking to expand their power. In this era of incertitude raised the General and later Emperor Qin Shihuangdi. He conquered and unified a huge area in Eastern Asia and founded the first united Chinese Empire. Qin Shihuangdi, literally means the “first god’s emperor of the Qin Dynasty”. The name “China” is deviated from the Word “Qin”. The cultural Heritage of Qin Shihuangdi is still visible near the city of Xi’an with the world famous Terracotta Army, placed there as guards for his tomb. His tomb has never been opened, and will never be; according to Chinese tradition to open a tomb of the ancestors is the worst you can do to someone.
Over the Centuries China has had three capital cities: Beijing – the northern capital, Nanjing – the southern capital and Xi’an – the western peace. All are related to the reign of the many Dynasties ruled in China: The most known are the Shang, Xia, Han, Ming and Qing-Dynasties. In 1911 the latest Empire of China was disposed and the Emperor and his household had to flee. For a short time eastern China was divided by western colonial concessions – such as the French, British, German or Dutch Concessions – until Dr. Sun Yat-Sen took back the control of power, and formed the Republic of China.
In the 1930’s Japanese military forces invaded in northern China, and occupied a huge area from Beijing to Hong Kong. The Japanese occupation ended in 1945, after Japan was hit by the two nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In 1949 the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China and constructed a socialist regime. After his death in 1976 China has slowly been opened to the western capitalist markets. In the last 20 Years China has made remarkable economic development and growth by rebuilding cities, production factories for western companies, and engineering. This economic growth lasts until now. China’s development into the “factory of the world” has captured the largest slice of the global supply chain.
All roads lead to Beijing
Beijing, the “Northern Capital”, the capital city and political center of China, is the most populated city in China, with about 24 million inhabitants. The main square in the center of Beijing is the Tiananmen-Square (Square of Heavenly Peace) which occupies a huge area in the city center, representing the political strength of China with the People’s Congress Hall, the National Museum, the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong, the Peoples-Monument and the entrance gate to the former Emperors Palace, which is called “the Forbidden City”. The name derives from the fact, that it was forbidden for the public to enter this area. The whole palace has had exactly 9,999 rooms – only heaven can have 10,000!
It still is the largest imperial palace complex in the world. On the north side of the palace lays the Coal Hill – an artificial hill, to prevent the Forbidden City from the Siberian/Mongolian cold in the winter – from where you will have a nice panorama throughout the city of Beijing. The town’s landmark is though, is “the Temple of Heaven”, where the emperors prayed twice a year for a good weather and a good harvest.
About 70 km northeast of Beijing crosses the probably most famous Chinese construction: “The Great Wall of China” or, how the Chinese would say “The Long-Wall”. It was constructed within 2,500 years, especially to protect the trade on the silk road from the Mongolian invaders coming from the north, and has had a total length of about 21,000 km (ca. 13,000 mi).
Off the famous Terracotta Army, the Old Town of Xi’an, “the western Peace”, is surrounded by a 14 km long city wall. It has been a wealthy city, being situated on the silk road, and so in the past many traders had to pass it. Still today it has many pagodas, temples, and city markets, which sell street food and souvenirs.
Boomtown Shanghai and surroundings
The second largest city of China is also the economic center of China: Shanghai – situated at the Delta of the Yangtze-River and constructed along the Huangpu-river with the world famous Pudong-Skyline at the “Bund”. Near Shanghai about 100 km to the west is the city of Suzhou: Yet the Chinese Emperors admired the city and constructed the “Emperor Channel” from Beijing to Suzhou and on to Hangzhou, more than 2,000 kilometers. Suzhou was known for it’s silk industry, and it is still today. The city center is well known for the Suzhou Gardens for example the Garden of the Master of Nets and the Garden of the Humble Administrator. The channels crossing the City, which gave it the nickname “Venice of the East”.
The Yangtze-River is the third longest river in the world and very important for the Chinese economy and culture. The Chinese people say it divides the country between North and South, with different cuisines, languages and also social behavior. The Yangtze Headwaters lay in the autonomous region of Tibet and it crosses many big cities, such as Chongqing, Wuhan and Shanghai, but the probably best known part are the Three Gorges – Qutong, Wu and Xiling, and the majestic 125 meters high Three-Gorges-Dam.
The Southern Part of China is characterized by social poverty and poor infrastructures, a big exception though, is the area around Guilin. It is the international touristic hotspot of China and well known for the marvelous Carst-Hills and Rice Fields. Highly recommended is to take a bamboo-float-ride along the Yulong-River near Yangshuo, or a boat-ride on the Li-River, from Guilin to Yangshuo, but also to take a hike to one of the many Carst-Hills-Panorama-Platforms. North of Guilin is the Scenic Area of Longsheng, very famous for it’s rice terraces.
More southwards along the Southern Chinese Sea Shoreline rises another economic hotspot area in China: The Guangzhou-Shenzhen Area, with many enterprises, markets and international companies and also another language: “Cantonese”.
“One Country, two Systems” – Hong Kong & Macau
At the Pearl River Delta two special administrations and former colonies, Hong Kong and Macau, still stand more or less independent from Mainland China: Hong Kong since 1997 was part of the British Empire, meanwhile Macau was given back from Portugal in 1999. Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong and Macau maintain a separate political and economic system from China. Except in military defense and foreign affairs, the two states have their independent executive, legislative and judiciary powers.
Hong Kong, on the eastern side of the Pearl-River-Delta, is 1,106 square kilometers (427 sq mi) big and has a population of over 7.3 million inhabitants. It’s one of the worlds most densely populated states. It is very important for the financial industry and international trade: many banks have their headquarters in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one of the world’s most significant financial centers, and it is renowned for its deep natural harbor, which enables ready access by international cargo ships, and its skyline, with a very high density of skyscrapers; the territory boasts the second largest number of high rises of any city in the world. It has a very high Human Development Index ranking and the world’s longest life expectancy. But Hong Kong also has many touristic attractions, probably the most famous one is the Panorama at the Victory Peak. Other famous places are the floating village of Aberdeen and Kowloon, from where you can admire Hong Kong’s Skyline.
Best season to travel to China is in spring (March to June) and fall (September-October). Please check for visa-inquiries: Most western and European citizens need to apply for a Travel-Visa. Many travel agencies offer organized round-trips for groups. Individual tourists must pay attention, public transportation in cities and high-speed-trains are well operated. Please consider the dimensions of the country.