China's hosting of the 2008 Olympics provided China with the opportunity to show the world a nation of enormous historical and contemporary achievement, where ancient riches are complemented by modern marvels of architecture and engineering. The energy of the country is palpable as the world's most populated nation emerges from the shadows of the last two centuries and the turmoil of the twentieth century, and rushes headlong into a future a major global player. China is a must-see travel destination.
China's multi-millennial history has been a tumultuous one. The period from the overthrowial of the Qing dynasty in 1911 to the civil war to 1949 defined the China of today. When the defeated Nationalists fled to Taiwan, Mao's victorious Communists founded the People's Republic of China. Ideological struggle culminating in the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) effectively closed the country and constrained modernisation. However, China has made up for lost time since the 1990s now boasting the world's fastest growing major economy and its main cities are emerging as cosmopolitan global centres.
Heritage culture and cuisine
China is a land of natural and cultural superlatives too, encompassing 37 UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the Great Wall and Forbidden City in Beijing; Xian's Terracotta Army; traditional Suzhou gardens and the misty peaks of Huangshan; China’s art in all of its forms from painting to ceramics, lacquer work, cloisonné, to cite a few, exhibit unique beauty; Chinese food ranks among the world's great cuisines; and, its distinctive performing art forms, including acrobatics, martial arts and Chinese opera, add more flavour to the mix. The traveller has much to see and experience in all of these areas.
From Beijing's medley of ancient and futuristic monuments to cosmopolitan Shanghai's skyscrapers and art-deco heritage; and from the heights of the spectacular Tibet (Xizang) Autonomous Region to the karst peaks and rivers of Guizhou, the experiences on offer in China are many and varied. Investment spurred on by hosting world events like the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou means urban and tourist infrastructure is constantly evolving. And while flexibility and patience are still required to travel around China, in return, the Middle Kingdom rewards visitors with a welcome and memories to treasure for a lifetime.
China is bordered to the north by Russia and Mongolia; to the east by Korea (Dem Rep), the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea; to the south by Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, India, Bhutan and Nepal; and to the west by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. China has a varied terrain ranging from high plateau in the west to flatlands in the east; mountains take up almost one-third of the land. The most notable high mountain ranges are the Himalayas, the Altai Mountains, the Tian Shan Mountains and the Kunlun Mountains. On the border with Nepal is the 8,848m Mount Everest. In the west is the Qinghai/Tibet Plateau, with an average elevation of 4,000m, known as ‘the Roof of the World'. At the base of the Tian Shan Mountains is the Turpan Depression or Basin, China's lowest area, 154m below sea level at the lowest point. China has many great river systems, notably the Yellow (Huang He) and Yangtze River (Chang Jiang, also Yangtze Kiang). Only 10% of all China is suitable for agriculture.
China is a vast country, with long travel times between its many cultural, historical and natural wonders of the land, 23 of which have already been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Altogether there are 26 provinces, each with their own dialect and regional characteristics. The western provinces of Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan occupy an enormous area of land, and Sichuan alone is about the size of France. Independent travel is becoming both easier and more popular, a trend that has increased following China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001.