With 1.3 billion people, the People’s Republic of China is the world’s most populous country and the second largest by land area. Evidence points to early predecessors of modern man inhabiting China between 250,000 and 2.24 million years ago, and much of the population of other continents seems to have migrated from Asia. Fossils of Peking Man show that this specimen of homo erectus was using fire between 300,000 and 780,000 BC.
China was ruled by dynasties for the vast majority of its history, with the first recorded dynasty being the Shang Dynasty, between the 17th and 11thcenturies BC. Invasion by the Zhou from the west led to a new rule which lasted until the 5th century BC, when a breakdown in the kingdom resulted in feudal lords scattered across the vast expanses of China.
Wars between the feudal factions shaped and reshaped the region for centuries, with some dynasties yielding great advances in culture, agriculture and technology. But even when ostensibly ruled by an Emperor, China continued to face ongoing feudal conflicts.
In 1912, the two thousand year imperial era of China ended, when the Qing Dynasty abdicated (under duress) after a coup d’tat by Yuan Shikai. The Republic of China was born.
Yuan Shikai soon acceded to the Presidency, and attempted to proclaim himself Emperor of China, but widespread disdain for such a betrayal forced him to reestablish the republic. After Shikai’s death, China lost much of its national sense of unity, and seemed destined to fall once again into political mayhem. But Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) was able to restore control.
Chiang Kai-shek managed to restore unity and hold the growing communist party at bay, until his attention to Japanese aggression was required. The Sino-Japanese War left China financially decimated, but victorious, but the communists took advantage of the opportunity to establish a foothold, and by the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the communists were in control of the Chinese mainland.
Mao Zedong ruled China from 1949 until his death in 1976, promoting population growth from 550 million to more than 900 million during his control. Unfortunately, this rampant growth severely taxed an already strained agricultural industry and nearly 45 million Chinese died between 1958 and 1961, mostly from starvation.
Tight government control continues, even though there has been some loosening of economic limitations on the general populace. This new flexibility is partly symbolic, in an effort to quell unrest and partly geared toward strengthening China’s position in the international marketplace. Periodic demonstrations and localized uprisings pop up and are quickly and harshly dealt with. With over a billion people, any widespread rebellion would be disastrous for the communist party, so they keep a tight rein on dissenters.
Corruption in the government is rampant and the Chinese know that an arrest nearly assures an automatic conviction, so unrest is growing. With the added factor of more awareness via the Internet, China’s stability from within is questionable, and with her history, changes could be forced by revolt or coup d’tat, either aimed at more freedom or tighter controls.
China is the oldest surviving civilization, dating from well before the 17th century BC, when ancient historians first began chronicling history as it was being made.
The Chinese culture is one of personal tolerance, rather than the imposed tolerance that is so common in the West. Cutting in line, shouting over the phone and crowding people’s personal space appears to go unnoticed, although such behavior can cause great irritation and even violence elsewhere in the world.
In the Chinese culture, people tend to be more collectivist by nature, as opposed to individualistic.
For the traditional Chinese, accepting a favor from another implies an obligation which must be repaid, regardless how long it may take.
One archeological survey estimates that the Great Wall of China measures over 5,500 mi in length, and its construction was begun in 221 BC.
Hundreds of thousands of workers died during the construction of the initial phase of the wall during the Qin Dynasty.
Ketchup originated in China as a pickled fish sauce called ke-tsiap.
Silk was originally developed in China were it was kept a secret for more than two thousand years.
The Chinese invented ice cream around 2000BC, by packing a soft milk and rice mixture in the snow.
Paper was also first invented in China, in 105 AD. Like silk, it was a closely guarded secret. So closely, in fact, that it was over 700 years before it made its way to Europe.
- Forbidden City – the imperial seat of the Ming and Qing dynasties from 1420 to 1912. This is a must-see for any visitor to Beijing.
- The Terracotta Warriors – Thousands of life-sized terracotta soldiers, buried with Emperor Qin upon his death in 210 BC. Each has unique facial features and uniform carved upon them, according to their rank. Located in Xi’an.
- Shanxi History Museum – While in Xi’an, don’t fail to visit this museum. You’ll be treated to some breathtaking, centuries-old artifacts.
- Píngyáo – The most preserved walled city in China. Cobbled streets, ancient temples and a movie-set charm make this an enchanting place to visit.
- Shanghai – The largest city in China and the financial heart of the country, Shanghai is a supremely modern city, graced by amazing architecture, luxurious hotels and beautiful boulevards. No trip to China is complete without a stop here.
- The Silk Road – With over 2,000 years of history behind it, the Silk Road stretched nearly 2,500 miles, from Shanxi to Rome, with nearly half its distance inside China.
- Jiuzhaigou Sichuan – This 50 km long valley is home to nine Tibetan villages, as well as the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base and the Giant Buddha of Leshan.
- Lhasa Tibet – Home to many monasteries and temples, as well as the Potala Palace, Lhasa is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the world. Well worth the trip!
- Yangtze River – Book a cruise on the 3rd longest river in the world, and you’re sure to take some special memories home with you.
- Guilin – Breathtaking scenery justifies Guilin’s fame as the most beautiful place on earth. Don’t believe us – see it for yourself! You’ll never forget it.
How to Get Cash
- You can find ATMs in international hotels and major shopping centers in large cities such as Beijing or Shanghai that accept foreign bank cards. They’ll be plainly marked as foreign cards only. All ATMs issue Chinese currency only, so be sure to save your receipt. Without it, you’ll be unable to exchange Chinese currency upon leaving the country.
- Travelers’ Checks are a safe way to carry money, but changing them into cash can be challenging. The Bank of China is the only bank authorized to exchange them for cash, and the process can be lengthy. Allow a few hours to find a bank that will do it and then to complete the transaction. Don’t be caught in any part of China with only travelers’ checks or you could have problems.
- Credit cards are becoming more widely accepted, but primarily at upscale restaurants, international hotels and travel agencies. Always be sure to ask before purchasing whether a commission will be attached to the purchase.
- Western Union and Moneygram both have agents throughout China, but the fees are expensive.
- As a last resort, in case of emergency, you can have someone wire transfer funds to you at a CITIC (China International Trust and Investment Bank) but the process is lengthy and quite expensive.
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