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Fancy a Chinese Getaway

China has everything that the intrepid traveller could dream of. Its vast size and awe-inspiringly dramatic landscapes – together with its ancient cultural history – make it one of the most popular attractions for tourists from across the globe.

As China’s economy booms and its enormous population is dragged into modernity, its innermost secrets are being revealed for all to see.

Getting there
It should be noted that obtaining a visa to visit mainland China is a must. But fear not, as it has never been easier to get one. You no longer need to stand all day outside the Chinese embassy as websites like the Chinese Visa Direct (www.chinesevisadirect.co.uk) have sprung up to take the work out of it for you.

So, all you need is a visa, some pocket-money, a decent guide-book and loads of time and your Chinese trip of a lifetime can become a reality.

Historical China
China is one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations. Turtle shells with markings reminiscent of ancient Chinese writing from the Shang Dynasty have been carbon dated to around 1500 BC. Chinese civilization originated with city-states in the Yellow River valley. 221BC is the commonly accepted year when China became unified under a large kingdom or empire. Successive dynasties in Chinese history developed bureaucratic systems that enabled the Emperor of China to control the large territory.

The foundations of Chinese civilization were the Qin Dynasty Emperor’s imposition of a common system of writing in the 3rd century BC and the development of a state ideology based on Confucianism in the 2nd century BC. China alternated between periods of political unity and disunity, with occasional conquests by foreign peoples, some of whom were assimilated into the Chinese population. Cultural and political influences from many parts of Asia, carried by successive waves of immigration, expansion, and assimilation, merged to create Chinese culture.

For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries the country was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats and foreign occupation. After World War II, the Communists under MAO Zedong established an autocratic socialist system that, while ensuring China’s sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the lives of tens of millions of people. After 1978, his successor DENG Xiaoping and other leaders focused on market-oriented economic development and by 2000 output had quadrupled. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded, yet political controls remain tight.

Shanghai city break
Shanghai, or Hu for short, is situated on the estuary of the vast Yangtze River of China.

It is the largest industrial city in China. Covering an area of 5,800 square kms (2,239 square miles), Shanghai has a mega-population of 18.7
million, including a 2 million floating population.

Serving as the centre for Chinese industrial technology, a key seaport and China’s largest commercial and financial centre, Shanghai is at the heart of China’s booming economy and attracts investment from all over the world.

Known as ‘the Oriental Paris’, Shanghai is a shopper’s paradise. One of the musts for tourists is a visit to Nanjing Road. China’s premier shopping street, Nanjing Road starts at the Bund in the east and ends in the west at the junction of Jinaan Temple and Yan’an West Street. Today Nanjing Road is a must-see metropolitan destination attracting thousands of fashion-seeking shoppers from all over the world.

Huaihai Road is an up-market district for those after high fashion and chic boutiques, whereas Sichuan North Road offers a more authentic look at how the ordinary folk of Shanghai live and shop, with its bustling streets and markets.

In addition, the Xujiahui Shopping Centre, the Yuyuan Shopping City, and Jiali Sleepless City are all thriving and popular destinations and well-worth a visit, particularly for those wishing to buy something special as a memento of their stay. Shanghai offers a plethora of culinary delights, focusing on the cooking traditions of Beijing, Yangzhou, Sichuan, Guangzhou – as well as offering many of its own local dishes. Shanghai’s restaurants are among the finest to be found in China and offer a warm welcome for diners.

Shanghai has many outdoor bars, museums, abstract sculptures and fascinating buildings to see. At night, performance artists fill the streets and the lingering sounds from street musicians enhance evening strolls. It’s a sight to behold.

There is a great sight-seeing train that travels the streets at night amid the flashing neon signs illuminating the magnificent skyline of this lively Chinese city.

Unbeatable Beijing
Beijing, in many ways, sums up modern-day China. The buttoned-down tunics of hard-core Maoist ideologues has long since gone, although you can still find some exponents of Tai Chi performing their early-morning exercises in Tiananmen Square and beyond.

Today’s inhabitants of Beijing, particularly its youth are into MTV – not Mao.

The Cultural Revolution looks towards the West for its inspiration and the city is positively buzzing with young entrepreneurs, foreign ex-pats and creative energy.

Visit the Lama Temple
Beijing’s most imposing temple is an uplifting sight, with its magnificent statues, spell-binding frescoes, great tapestries, intricate carpentry and fierce pair of Chinese lions. But most impressive of all is The Lama Temple’s 18m high (60ft) wooden statue of the Maitreya Buddha in the Wanfu Pavilion – amazingly, it’s carved from a single tree. You really should also also check out the gorgeous landscaped gardens.
Note that the temple is a working lamasery so it’s closed early in the mornings for prayer.

See The Forbidden City
Beijing’s Forbidden City was the Chinese Imperial Palace during the mid-Ming and the Qing Dynasties. The Forbidden City is located in the middle of Beijing and is now known as the Palace Museum. Its extensive grounds cover 720,000 square metres (approximately 124 acres). The Forbidden City has 800 buildings with 8,886 rooms and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.

The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City should not be confused with the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Both museums derive from the same institution, but they were split after the Chinese Civil War.

Main attractions

The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall snakes across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus – stretching approximately 6,700km from the east to the west of China. With a history of more than 2,000 years, some sections are now in ruins or have entirely disappeared. However, it is still one of the most appealing tourist attractions in China as its architectural grandeur is unparalleled and its historical significance cannot be over-stated. From Shanhaiguan Pass to Jiayuguan Pass, the Wall winds across ridges and deserts via Liaoning, Hebei, Tianjin, Beijing, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Ningxia and finally ends in Gansu. The mighty presence of the Great Wall stands as a witness to the country’s enthralling and ancient history.

The Terracotta Warriors at Xi’an
The Terracotta Warriors and Horses to be found at Xi’an represent perhaps the most significant archaeological excavation of the 20th century. Work is ongoing at this massive site – about 1.5km east of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum, Lintong County, Shaanxi province. It is a must-see attraction for any visitor to China.

In 1974, a group of peasants uncovered some pottery while digging for a well near to the royal tomb. It caught the attention of archaeologists immediately and they arrived at Xi’an in their droves to unearth what would become one of the most astounding and important finds – ever. They established beyond doubt that these magnificent creations were indeed associated with the Qin Dynasty (211-206 BC). It seems that, upon ascending the throne at the age of 13 in 246BC, Qin Shi Huang, later the first Emperor of all China, had begun work on what would be his mausoleum. It took 11 years to finish and the terracotta figures would bear witness to the boy Emperor’s life on earth and after his death.

The State Council gave permission to build a museum on the site in 1975. When completed, people from far and near came to visit. Xi’an and the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses have become landmarks on every travellers’ itinerary to China.

The terracotta figures of warriors and horses are arranged in battle formations and are faithful replicas of what the Imperial Guard would have looked like in its actual pomp and glory.

For further reading and information, visit: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terracotta_Army

China fact file

Where is it?
Eastern Asia, bordering the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, between North Korea and Vietnam

Total Area
9,596,960km

Bordering countries
Afghanistan (76km), Bhutan (470km), Burma (2,185km), India (3,380km), Kazakhstan (1,533km), North Korea (1,416km), Kyrgyzstan (858km), Laos (423km), Mongolia (4,677 km), Nepal (1,236km), Pakistan (523km), Russia (northeast – 3,605km), Russia (northwest – 40km), Tajikistan (414km), Vietnam (1,281km)

Regional borders
Hong Kong 30km, Macau 0.34km Coastline 14,500km

Terrain
Mostly mountains, high plateaus, deserts in west; plains, deltas, and hills in the east

Elevation
extremes Lowest point – Turpan Pendi, (154m). Highest point – Mount Everest, (8,850m)

Natural hazards
Frequent typhoons (about five per year along southern and eastern coasts); damaging floods; tsunamis; earthquakes; droughts; land subsidence

Georgraphy
China is the world’s fourth largest country after Russia, Canada, and the US

Population: 1,313,973,713 (July 2006)

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