China Travel Guide: China Overview
What to Expect:
The first thing that strikes visitors to China is its vastness in terms of both geography and population. It is a country with an incredible history of dynastic rule, which was eventually replaced by communist domination and closed to the outside world for many years. However, modern day China has advanced far from the image of uniformly clothed peasant workers on bicycles. The country now has a growing middle class determined to practice their capitalist principles in what is still a communist political system. In larger cities you may experience the shove of railway station crowds, the noise of construction work and the sight of young entrepreneurs holding mobile phones and eating “fast food”. But venture away from the large cities and you will be rewarded with an experience that stays with you for years after you leave. From the deserts of Xinjiang, to the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, from the beauty of the Li River near Guilin to the mystery of the “Silk Road”, from the relaxing getaway towns of Yangshuo, Lijiang and Dali to Tibet’s magnificent mountains and monasteries - China’s diversity is more evident than perhaps in any other country in the world.
The travel industry in China has for quite some time now been growing at a rapid pace. However, there are still a number of areas in China where the freshness and novelty of tourism is still evident. Major cities now offer facilities and services at western standards; however traveling in the more remote areas of China may involve road travel on bumpy roads, noisy trains, and the use of clean but basic accommodation. You may also find that attitudes towards customer service may not always be at the standard you would expect in a western country.
Whilst traveling through China please also be prepared for possible changes to tour travel plans. Flight, train and boat schedule changes throughout China are common and are a reality of traveling through this part of the world. Travel Indochina and your tour leader or local guide will keep you fully informed of any changes and amendments to the order of sight-seeing. Be aware that if you plan to travel around Chinese national holidays (listed in this guide), you may experience more disruptions than usual to your normal itinerary.
Visa Requirements & Departure Taxes:
To enter China you will require a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of entry with at least 2 blank pages. A visa will need to be organized prior to your arrival. For this you will require a completed application form with one passport photo (two for US citizens) and your passport. Allow 5-10 working days for processing. It is your responsibility to ensure all visa and entry requirements are met prior to arrival in China.
Tibet is a part of China and as such the normal China tourist visa applies for Tibet. In addition to the China tourist visa, permits are required for visits to each region of Tibet. Note that permits are arranged by Travel Indochina for client travel to Tibet and thus do not need to be arranged by the client or the agent.
Visitors from most countries, including citizens of the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada and Japan, can enter Hong Kong (a Special Administrative Region of China) without a visa for periods of 90 days to six months, depending on nationality. Check with any Chinese embassy or consulate for the latest status.
Arrival (and departure) transfers are included for all Small Group Journeys. If you have pre-arranged an airport arrival transfer in China you will find a representative from Travel Indochina waiting to meet you. Please look for a sign with your name on it (not a hotel sign). The airport arrival area tends to get crowded with lots of people holding signs, so we have designated particular meeting points in some airports.
Beijing: Exit from the luggage claim area into the arrivals hall. Many people will be waiting there, but please proceed past them and make your way to Exit 5. It is directly facing international arrivals and two minutes walk left out of domestic arrivals. At Exit 5 you will see Starbucks Café. Look for your Travel Indochina representative holding a sign with your name on it, outside the café.
Hong Kong: Exit customs and proceed directly to desk B1 in the arrivals hall. There you will find a Travel Indochina representative holding a sign with your name on it. The representative will lead you to a shuttle bus for your transfer to your hotel.
All other airports:
Immediately on exiting the customs hall you will see a Travel Indochina representative holding a sign with your name on it.
Please look carefully for your transfer. If you cannot find a sign with your name please call the relevant emergency contact number which is also listed on your itinerary.
If you have no airport arrival transfer pre-arranged in China, metered taxis are available at the airport. To catch a metered taxi, make your way out to the “Taxi Stand” (labeled in English) directly outside the airport terminal building. Taxis will be queued at the taxi stand. Board the taxi as directed by staff and make sure that the taxi meter is turned on once your journey begins. You should not pay more than RMB120 (USD$15) to reach your hotel in Beijing, Shanghai or Chengdu, and even less in Kunming. Any road tolls are to be paid by the passenger (usually at the end of the journey).
If you are making your own way to the hotel in Hong Kong, it is advisable to take the Airport Express train service to Central or Kowloon Stations (HK$100/HK$90). Free shuttle bus services connect these stations with major hotels. Alternatively a taxi direct from the airport should cost approximately HK$260 to Kowloon or HK$310 to Hong Kong Island (USD33/40).
There are also usually a number of taxi touts outside the customs hall more than willing to take you to your hotel, but be aware that they will usually charge an inflated price and their meter may tick over at a faster rate.
You must be comprehensively insured as a condition of traveling with Travel Indochina. Insurance should include unlimited coverage for personal accident and medical expenses, full provision for evacuation and a minimum of $25,000USD cover for repatriation expenses, baggage loss, and cancellation or curtailment of your holiday.
We will ask you to confirm your insurance details as part of our travel registration process at the start of your journey. If you do not have appropriate insurance we will insist you obtain insurance. We reserve the right not to provide the services booked with us until insurance is purchased.
Note that travel insurance may be ‘attached’ to your credit card, although usually such cover is effective only if your travel arrangements have been purchased with the card. Insurance cover from credit cards often does not include payment of medical expenses or emergency repatriation. Please check your policy carefully.
Please note that government regulations in Asia do not always require or enforce the possession of hotel, transport supplier and other supplier public liability insurance. Even when this insurance is in place, it can be for very limited cover only. Travel Indochina does its best to work with suppliers who possess public liability insurance, however this is not always possible. Regardless of length of stay and type of service, you must have adequate insurance to cover you in the event you suffer a medical problem while traveling.
The currency in China and Tibet is known as the Renminbi (RMB) or “people’s money”. This basic unit of currency is formally known as the Yuan (Y). Hong Kong has its own currency, the Hong Kong Dollar (HK$). Approximate exchange rates as follows but you are advised to check current rates prior to your travel:
Y14.9 equals GBPÂ¡Ãª1 Y 7.5 equals US$1 Y 5.9 equals AUD$1 Y5.2 equals NZ$1 Y7.0 CAD$1
You are advised to carry a mix of cash and travelers cheques (US$, AUD$, CAD$ & GBPÂ¡Ãª are accepted throughout China). Traveler cheques can be exchanged at most major hotels. It is a good idea to keep the exchange receipts as you may need these if you want to change the Chinese currency back to your local currency at the end of your trip. Credit cards can be used in many of the hotels and in some shops and restaurants in major cities; however they are not widely accepted in more rural areas. Visa and Mastercard are the most commonly accepted in cards. Cash advances can be obtained using these cards at most Bank of China branches. ATM access is available through-out the country at Bank of China particularly in the bigger cities. When the ATM is not working, you can get cash out over the counter. This is usually only during business hours and you may need to have your passport with you to do this.
Baggage & Clothing:
Standard sized bags (preferably soft bags), backpacks or soft cases only are permitted on our journeys. Your baggage should be clearly labeled and kept to a reasonable minimum. Luggage limits on airlines are strictly enforced and space on vehicles and trains is limited. Any flights booked through Travel Indochina (domestic and international) have a luggage limit of 20 kilograms per person. You may be required to carry your own luggage at times where porters are not available – you should be capable of carrying your own bags on and off trains, and up and down stairs. If you are doing lots of shopping during your travels, it may be necessary for you to forward any excess to the city where your tour concludes, or ship purchases directly home. Keeping the amount of luggage you carry in check will ensure your safety and comfort, and the safety and comfort of your fellow travelers. Porterage is not included in the cost of your journey. Please ensure you pay porters around $1USD per person for carrying your luggage. Should you wish to avoid such payments, please carry and take responsibility for your luggage.
The time of year you travel to China will affect the clothes that you pack for your trip. Extreme temperatures are common in the winter and summer months, as well as in areas of higher altitude so warm jackets or comfortable casual cotton clothes should be packed accordingly. Packing at least one set of smart casual clothes is advisable. Laundry services are available throughout the country, although hotel laundry costs can be expensive. We suggest you include:
Flat walking shoes and sandals; hat & sunglasses ;Jumper/coat/thermals - if visiting in winter or mountainous high altitude areas ;Bathers ;Money belt;Raincoat or umbrella ; Basic first aid kit (see below) ;Insect repellent ; Alarm clock ; Small torch ; Swiss Army pocketknife ; Power adapter ; Women’s sanitary products ; Ear plugs and eye patches for the train ; Day pack – for carrying items on touring days and to be used as an overnight bag
Please note that airlines insist all sharp items (knives, scissors, nail clippers etc.) are packed in your ‘check-in’ luggage.
Alcohol is no longer permitted onboard domestic flights and must also be stored in your check-in luggage. You may be asked to open bottled water at security check-points to take a sip so they can verify the contents.
The electric current in China operates on 220 volts. Electric plug types come in at least four sizes and vary throughout the country, however the two narrow-pin type is usable in most parts of the country. You may want to bring a small hair dryer or portable iron. Many but not all of our hotels will have these.
Health & Fitness:
Travelers to China should take precautions as they would elsewhere in Asia. Western medical facilities are available in the major cities. In remote areas of China, medical facilities are basic. Some of the diseases known to exist in China include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, rabies and HIV/AIDS. We recommend you take adequate preventative measures to minimize your risk of exposure to these health risks. We are a travel company and we are not qualified to provide detailed medical information appropriate to your individual needs. We recommend you consult with your local doctor or a specialist travel medical centre for up to date health information on vaccinations and medicine for your trip at least one month prior to departure.
We suggest you bring a simple medical kit. Your doctor should advise you what to include, but as a minimum we suggest you bring:
Aspirin or paracetamol (for pain or fever) ; Antihistamines (for allergies and itches) ; Cold and flu tablets
Something to stop diarrhoea ; Something appropriate for nausea and vomiting ; Rehydration mixture (to prevent dehydration) ; Insect repellant ; Antiseptic and bandages ; Sunscreen and lip balm ; Antibiotics (discuss with your doctor)
As part of our travel registration process at the start of any journey with China Travel Depot, you will be asked to declare any serious pre-existing medical conditions or allergies.
Chinese food incorporates a number of styles and each region specializes in its own cuisine. Breakfast is included each day on our tours and is usually a mix of buffet and continental style. In the major cities lunch should cost around RMB50 and dinner RMB50-100 - depending on the restaurant. Meals are generally cheaper in small rural towns or more remote regions such as along the Silk Road in Northwest China. Vegetarian meals are available but can be harder to find outside of the bigger cities. Please ensure your tour leader or local guide are aware of special dietary requirements in advance so they can assist you with ordering suitable food. Drinking local tap water is not recommended. Bottled water is cheap and readily available throughout China.
If you are happy with the services provided by your local guides, drivers and your tour leader, a tip is appropriate. While it may not be customary to you, tipping inspires great service, and is an entrenched feature of the tourism industry across Travel Indochina destinations. As a general guide on Small Group or Special Group Journeys, please allow 2USD to 3USD per day per traveler for each of your local guide, driver and tour leader. If your tour is private, please allow 3USD to 5USD per day per traveler for each of your local guide and driver. Of course you are free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality and the length of your trip. Should you be dissatisfied with the services provided by your local guide, driver or tour leader, please let us know.
Post & Communication:
International mail generally takes 10 to 14 days to reach its destination and prices are a little less than western postal charges. Parcels must be inspected by a customs official at the post office before being sealed and boxes are usually available at the post office. Reverse charge (collect) calls are available in many cities. International phone and fax facilities are widely available however they are expensive (RMB20-30 per min). International direct dial is available from most hotels for additional charges but the service is not always reliable. Email services are inexpensive and available in some tourist areas. Hotels often have internet and email services which are convenient but more costly.
Print film, such as Kodak, Konika or Fuji is widely available and costs approximately RMB30 per roll. China has good and fast processing facilities. A roll of 24 exposures can be developed for approximately RMB40. Slide films, APS and Hi8/V8 video cassettes are not widely available outside major cities. The x-ray machines at all airports are film safe. Digital photography is easily catered for in key cities in China and most film developers are able to place digital photos onto a disc for approximately RMB40 (256mb). Take care to ensure that the memory stick is not wiped after the download.
All of our tour guides have an in-depth knowledge of China and an enthusiasm for the country that is contagious. Your tour guide is your link with China and is there to ensure the smooth running of the trip. They impart local information about history, customs and culture that can only come from living in the area. Generally, we have a different local guide for each city or region we visit. Thus, local guides are usually only with the group for a few days.
China is set to Beijing time:
8hrs ahead of GMT
2hrs behind Australian Eastern Standard Time
4hrs behind New Zealand
13hrs ahead of Canada Eastern Time
16hrs ahead of Canada Pacific Time
13hrs ahead of US Eastern Time.
16hrs ahead of US Pacific Time.
Clothing, paintings, jade, pearls, scrolls, silk, ceramics, antiques and a huge selection of souvenirs are favorite buys for visitors. A few guidelines to follow when shopping:
Except in department stores, bargaining is the norm. To get the best price you will have to haggle hard.
Export of certain antiques is not permitted. Make sure you are aware of relevant regulations before purchasing.
Fake reproductions are common. Make sure you know what you are buying - especially in the case of antiques, jade and gems.
Important Dates Affecting Touring
06 Feb – 22 Feb 2008 - Chinese New Year / Spring Festival::
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses. Potential cancellations and schedule changes to touring, flights, trains and hotel bookings. More crowds at popular sites due to increase in numbers of domestic tourists traveling.
30 Apr - 8 May 2007 - International Labor Day:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses. Potential cancellations and schedule changes to touring, flights, trains and hotel bookings. More crowds at popular sites due to increase in numbers of domestic tourists traveling.
07 Sep – 13 Oct 2008 - Formula 1 / Grand Prix in Shanghai:
Increased number of visitors to Shanghai for the Grand Prix event. More crowds at tourist sites, and limited hotel availability. Surcharges applied to hotel bookings. Potential cancellations and schedule changes to touring, flights, trains and hotel bookings.
30 Sep - 8 Oct 2008 - Chinese National Day:
Public holiday. Banks and public offices will be closed, as will some businesses. Potential cancellations and schedule changes to touring, flights, trains and hotel bookings. More crowds at popular sites due to increase in numbers of domestic tourists travelling.
Many cities in China are deservedly renowned for their massage techniques and the quality and value for money of these services. We advise you to check carefully before using massage services in China, when some illegal massage parlors or hotlines are trying to provide over charged sex massage. It is your responsibility if you encounter any problems if you book this kind of service.
Books worth reading include those outlined below. Please refer to our website for a wider list of suggested reading.
Lonely Planet Guide to China
The Rough Guide to China
Odyssey Guide to The Silk Road: Xi’an to Kashgar
Lonely Planet Guide to Tibet
Climate in China:
Because of its size, China has great climatic diversity.
In the north around Beijing, summer is from May to August. During these months it can get very hot and humid with temperatures rising to 30 or 35 degrees Celsius but the average temperature is generally cooler. Winter in the north is from December to March can be extremely harsh and cold with chilly temperatures often below zero degrees celsius. Some snowfall and frost during mid winter is not uncommon. Spring and autumn have warm days and cold nights with average temperatures 20 to 30 degrees celsius.
In the south, summer is from April to September and is generally wet, hot and humid except in mountainous areas in Yunnan. Winter in the south from January to March is short and chilly and can get down to 0 to 5 degrees celsius at night but is generally milder than the north. Spring and autumn has pleasant temperatures around 20 to 25 degrees, but can be wet.
Central China around Shanghai, Nanjing & sections of the Yangtze, experience brief cold winters where temperatures can slip below zero. Summer between April and October is long, hot and humid.
The northwest part of China around Turpan along the Silk Road is characterised by bitter cold winters (November to March) and intense dry hot summers (July to August).
The high altitude areas of Zhongdian (North West Yunnan), Xiahe and Langmusi (Gansu province), and Jiuzhaigou (Sichuan province) have much cooler climates and are more likely to experience sudden changes in weather. It is possible for these mountainous areas to have freezing temperatures even during the spring and summer periods.
As Tibet is at an average altitude of 4000m, year-round temperatures are quite cool. The weather is very changeable and it is not uncommon to experience four seasons in one day. Highs in the summer (June to August) reach 20 or 21 degrees celsius and the winter months can see the temperatures plummeting below -10c with fierce winds.
In general the best time to visit China is during spring and autumn, when temperatures are less extreme. Tibet and the mountainous areas of western China are most comfortable in summer and late spring/early autumn. Note however that pleasant climates will usually also be accompanied by more crowds of tourists.
Safety & Security in China:
China is generally a safe country, however petty street crime is on the rise as tourist numbers increase. In larger cities we recommend you wear as little jewellery as possible and make sure your spending money is kept in a secure place close to your body. We also recommended you take taxis rather than walk at night. Taxis are mostly metered and inexpensive, but make sure the driver activates the meter and is clear on your destination - carry a hotel card so your taxi driver knows where to take you as many drivers cannot read or speak English. Only take essentials out with you on the streets. Leave valuables (passport, credit cards, excess cash, jewellery) in hotel (or boat) safety deposit boxes where available. It would also be advisable to make photocopies of your passport, credit card numbers, and airline tickets, and keep a record of your travelers cheques. These documents should be kept in a safe place separate from the originals. When traveling on trains, clients may wish to take extra precautions with their finances by using money belts.
Hotels in China:
In the cities, all hotels we use have private western style bathrooms, hot water, air-conditioning, television, IDD telephones, laundry and other facilities. Where possible we will endeavor at passenger’s request to accommodate couples in double rooms. Please note however that on occasions during your journey, this may not be possible and in such instances a twin room will be supplied. Extra beds in most Chinese hotels will be foldaway or rollaway beds. All cabins on the Yangtze cruises will be twin rooms. Some group tour itineraries involve overnight stops at basic towns, where the accommodation is clean but basic.
Check in and check out times can vary by hotel but most hotels in China require guests to check out by 12 noon and do not allow check in until 2pm. Many hotels may allow an earlier check in or later check out subject to availability on the day. However, if you are arriving early in the morning to a destination or leaving late in the evening you should consider pre-booking a guaranteed early check in/late check out. The additional cost varies from hotel to hotel but is usually between 50-100% of the nightly rate.
On the road we generally use late model air-conditioned buses with either 26 or 30 seats - depending on the size of the group. Modern sedan cars and minibuses are used for transporting smaller numbers. Seat belts are not common, particularly in back seats of vehicles. Vehicles in the more remote poorer areas of Sichuan Province and Tibet may not be of the same standard as those in the bigger cities. Vehicles in Tibet generally do not have air-conditioning. Most tours include domestic flights. China has a number of regional airlines which operate relatively modern fleets, however schedules frequently change, flights can be cancelled and this can sometimes result in alterations to your tour program. Some tours also involve overnight rail journeys. Accommodation (1st class) is in mixed gender, four berth, shared soft sleeper cabins which are usually air-conditioned. These have 2 lower bunks and 2 upper bunks with limited storage space underneath the lower bunks and above the door to the cabin. Sheets and blankets are provided and are generally of good standard. A western and Asian toilet will be available. Note that many Asian train stations will have crowded areas and lots of stairs. Keep this in mind when packing luggage as it not only needs to fit into the areas designated for storage on overnight or day trains, but you will also need to carry it on and off trains and through train stations.
Chinese language-the language of future !
The Han people have their own spoken and written languages, namely Chinese. It is the most commonly used language in China, and one of the most commonly used languages in the world. All China's 55 minority peoples have their own languages except the Hui and Manchu who use Chinese; 22 of them have their own scripts, in which 28 languages are written. Nowadays, school classes in predominantly ethnic minority areas are taught in the local language, using local-language textbooks. Meanwhile courses are also set up to popularize Putonghua Chinese - the official national language - which is commonly used throughout the country.
The official Chinese language is Mandarin (or Putonghua). There are also numerous dialects spoken throughout different parts of China, including Cantonese. The Lonely Planet phrasebook is recommended for those wanting to learn more about Chinese languages. To help you get the most out of your contact with the Chinese, try learning how to say these key phrases:
Fifty-six Ethnic Groups in China
China is a united multi-ethnic nation of 56 ethnic groups. As the majority (91.6 percent) of the population is of the Han ethnic group, China's other 55 ethnic groups are customarily referred to as the ethnic minorities. According to the fifth national census in 2000, 18 ethnic minorities have a population of over one million, namely the Zhuang, Manchu, Hui, Miao, Uygur, Yi, Tujia, Mongolian, Tibetan, Bouyei, Dong, Yao, Korean, Bai, Hani, Li, Kazak and Dai. Of these the Zhuang ethnic group has the biggest population, numbering 16.179 million. There are 17 ethnic groups with a population of between 100,000 and one million, namely the She, Lisu, Gelo, Lahu, Dongxiang, Va, Shui, Naxi, Qiang, Tu, Xibe, Mulam, Kirgiz, Daur, Jingpo, Salar and Maonan. There are 20 ethnic groups with a population of between 10,000 and 100,000, namely Blang, Tajik, Pumi, Achang, Nu, Ewenki, Jing, Jino, Deang, Ozbek, Russian, Yugur, Bonan, Moinba, Oroqen, Drung, Tatar, Hezhen, Gaoshan (excluding the Gaoshan ethnic group in Taiwan) and Lhoba. The Lhoba ethnic group, at 2,965, has the smallest population.
The Han people can be found throughout the country, mainly on the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River, the Yangtze River and the Pearl River valleys, and the Northeast Plain. The 55 ethnic minorities, though fewer in number, are also scattered over vast areas and can be found in approximately 64.3 percent of China, mainly distributed in the border areas of northeast, north, northwest and southwest China. Yunnan Province, home to more than 20 ethnic groups, has the greatest diversity of ethnic groups in China. Over China's long history, repeated instances of ethnic group migrations, opening up new land for cultivation, emigration, relocation of the ruling dynasty, and a host of other reasons, gave rise to the situation of "living together over vast areas while some living in compact communities in small areas." This continues to provide the practical basis for political, economic and cultural intercourse between the Han and the various minority peoples, and for the functioning of the regional ethnic autonomy system.
Festivals in China
Legal holidays in China are New Year (January 1st), a national one-day holiday; Spring Festival (New Year by the lunar calendar), a national three-day holiday; International Working Women's Day (March 8th); Tree Planting Day (March 12th); International Labor Day (May 1st), a national three-day holiday; Chinese Youth Festival (May 4th); International Children's Day (June 1st); Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) (August 1st); Teacher's Day (September 10th); and National Day (October 1st), a national three-day holiday.
China's major traditional festivals include the Spring Festival, the Lantern Festival, Pure Brightness Day, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival. Ethnic minorities have also retained their own traditional festivals, including the Water Sprinkling Festival of the Dai people, the Nadam Fair of the Mongolian people, the Torch Festival of the Yi people, the Danu (Never Forget the Past) Festival of the Yao people, the Third Month Fair of the Bai people, the Antiphonal Singing Day of the Zhuang people, the Tibetan New Year and Onghor (Expecting a Good Harvest) Festival of the Tibetan people, and the Jumping Flower Festival of the Miao people.
Spring Festival is the first traditional holiday of the year for Chinese people. In the past, when the Chinese people used the lunar calendar, the Spring Festival was known as the "New Year." It falls on the first day of the first lunar month, the beginning of a new year. After the Revolution of 1911, China adopted the Gregorian calendar. In order to distinguish the lunar New Year from the New Year by the Gregorian calendar, the lunar New Year was called the Spring Festival (which generally falls between the last 10 days of January and mid-February). The Eve of Spring Festival, or the lunar New Year's Eve), is an important time for family reunions. The whole family gets together for a sumptuous dinner. Some families stay up all night, "seeing the old year out." The next morning, people pay New Year calls on relatives and friends, wishing each other good luck. During Spring Festival, various traditional activities are enjoyed in many parts of China, notably lion dances, dragon lantern dances, land-boat rowing and stilt-walking.
The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the night of the first full moon following Spring Festival. Traditionally, people eat sweet dumplings and admire lanterns during this festival. Sweet dumplings, round balls of glutinous rice flour with a sweet filling, symbolize reunion. The tradition of admiring the lanterns emerged in the 1st century and is still popular across the country.
Pure Brightness Day
Pure Brightness Day falls around April 5th every year. Traditionally, this is an occasion for people to offer sacrifices to their ancestors. In recent years, many people have also been going to the tombs of revolutionary martyrs to pay their respects. At this time of year the weather has begun to turn warm, vegetation is bursting into new life and people love to go to the outskirts of cities to walk on the grass, fly kites and appreciate the beauty of spring. That is why Pure Brightness Day is sometimes also called "Walking amid Greenery Day."
Dragon Boat Festival
The fifth day of the fifth lunar month is the Dragon Boat Festival. It is generally believed that this festival originated to honor the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (c. 340-278 BC), who lived in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period. In despair at not being able to halt the decline of the state and realize his political ideals, he drowned himself in the Miluo River in modern Hunan Province on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month after the Chu capital fell to the State of Qin. Legend has it that after Qu Yuan's death people living on the banks of the river went out in their boats to try to find the corpse. Every year thereafter, on this day people would row their boats out onto local rivers, throwing sections of bamboo filled with rice into the water as an offering to him. Today, the memory of Qu Yuan lives on, zongzi (pyramid-shaped dumplings made by wrapping glutinous rice in bamboo or reed leaves) remains the traditional food and dragon-boat races are held.
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, which comes right in the middle of autumn. In ancient times, people would offer elaborate cakes as sacrifices to the Moon Goddess on this day. After the ceremony, the family would enjoy sitting together to eat the pastries known as "moon cakes." The festival came to symbolize family reunion, as did the "moon cakes," and the custom has been passed down to today.
Religions in China
China is a country with great diversity of religions, with over 100 million followers of the various faiths. The main religions are Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, China’s indigenous Taoism, along with Shamanism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and the Naxi people’s Dongba religion. The Hui, Uygur, Kazak, Kirgiz, Tatar, Ozbek, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan peoples adhere to Islam; the Tibetan, Mongolian, Lhoba, Moinba, Tu and Yugur, to Tibetan Buddhism, and the Dai, Blang and Deang to Theravada Buddhism. Quite a few Miao, Yao and Yi are Christians. Religious Han Chinese tend to practice Buddhism, Christianity or Taoism.
Buddhism was introduced to China from India approximately in the first century A.D., becoming increasingly popular after the fourth century. Tibetan Buddhism, or Lamaism as it is sometimes called, is found primarily in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Now China has more than 13,000 Buddhist temples, with about 200,000 monks and nuns.
Islam probably first reached China in the mid-seventh century. During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, Arab and Persian merchants of the Islamic faith came overland through Central Asia to northwest China and by sea to the coastal cities in southeastern China, bringing with them the Islamic faith. The Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) witnessed the zenith of prosperity of Islam. Now China has more than 30,000 mosques and more than 40,000 imams and ahungs.
Christianity reached China several times after the seventh century, and was introduced to the country on a large scale after the Opium War of 1840. Now there are about four million Catholic believers, 4,000 clergy and more than 4,600 churches and meeting places in China.
Protestantism was introduced to China in the early 19th century, and spread widely after the Opium War. Now China has about 10 million Protestant believers, 18,000 clergy, and more than 12,000 churches and 25,000 other centers of worship.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Chinese medicine and pharmacology are important component parts of China’s splendid national culture. Chinese medicine and pharmacology have made tremendous contributions to China’s prosperity throughout the country’s history of several thousand years. They are noted worldwide for their outstanding curative effects, strong national character, unique method of diagnosis and treatment, systemic theories and vast accumulation of historical records and materials, making it common wealth of the medical treasure-house of mankind. Chinese medicine and pharmacology have shown great vitality for several thousand years. They are also a valuable complement to the modern techniques of medicine and pharmacology.
The origin of traditional Chinese medicine and pharmacology can be traced back to primitive society. Medicine was originally created in the struggle against Nature by the ancient Chinese. In the course of food gathering, they found that some food items could alleviate the symptoms of or cure diseases. That was the origin of TCM. When the ancient Chinese lit fires to warm themselves, they also found that heated stones and sand wrapped in animal skin or bark could reduce pain. Through repeated practice and improvement, moxibustion methods were gradually developed. In the process of using stone instruments they found that when a part of the body was hit by something, pain in some other part of the body might be relieved, and so stone or bone acupuncture needles were invented. After a long period of development, the theory of collateral channels took shape, and the technique of acupuncture treatment was perfected.
The basic theory of TCM shows its unique understanding of the zang-fu organs, meridians and collateral channels, qi, blood and body fluids, and pathogeny. The diagnostic method of TCM consists of the “four examination methods” and the differentiation of symptoms. The former refers to visual inspection of the complexion, auscultation, reading the pulse and directly asking about the patient’s conditions. The differentiation of symptoms means after the actual circumstances are gathered through these examinations and analyses, the proper method of treatment is induced. TCM pharmaceutical treatment is often accompanied by acupuncture, massage therapy and qigong (breathing exercises).
Education in China
Shortly after the founding of the PRC, the Chinese government took education as a matter of primary importance, and made enhancing the cultural quality of the people the basis of the construction of the nation. Before 1949, China had a population of nearly 500 million, of whom 80 percent were illiterate. Proceeding from reforming the educational system, the Chinese government made an overall plan and adjusted its educational policies, with the result that the number of students increased rapidly. Currently, 91 percent of the country has instituted compulsory primary education, nearly 99 percent of school-age children are enrolled in schools, the dropout rate has decreased and the illiteracy rate of young and middle-aged people has declined to less than seven percent. Since the initiation of the reform and opening policies in 1978, marked by the restoration of the higher-education examination system, China’s education got on the road to accelerated development. As one of the priorities of China’s economic and social development, education is a matter of great concern to the government. The decisive guiding principle that “Education should be geared to the needs of modernization, of the world and of the future” (Message written for Jingshan School by Deng Xiaoping on October 1, 1983) has promoted the speedy development of China’s educational undertakings.
China has attained considerable achievements attracting worldwide attention in education. According to the latest statistics, by the end of 1998 there were 1,022 universities and colleges in China, with 3.41 million students, of which 1.08 million were the year’s new recruits; 736 graduate training units with 199,000 students, of which 73,000 were the year’s new recruits; 962 adult higher-learning institutions with 2.82 million students, of which one million were the year’s new recruits; 13,948 ordinary high schools, with a total of 9.38 million students; 17,106 secondary special and technical schools and vocational high schools, with 11.26 million students (of which, 1.73 million were technical school students), accounting for 55 percent of the total students in high schools. And there were 54.5 million junior middle school students nationwide, with an enrollment rate of 87.3 percent; 139.54 million primary school pupils, with 98.9 percent of the school-age children enrolled. The dropout rates of the students of ordinary junior middle schools and primary schools were 3.23 percent and 0.93 percent, respectively. There were 2.51 million people studying in vocational secondary schools for adults; 86.82 million persons trained in adult technical training schools; and 3.21 million illiterate people became literate.
The cross-century period is an important phase in China’s economic and social development. Giving priority to the development of education is the basis of the two major national strategies of improving the quality of the people and rejuvenating the nation by relying on science and education and realizing sustained development. As human society enters the knowledge and information age, education is expected to play an increasingly important role.
In the Chinese zodiac, twelve animals are used to denote the year of a person's birth: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. This is called a person's shengxiao (sheng means the year of birth, xiao means resemblance) or shuxiang.
Since ancient times, Chinese have denominated years using combinations of 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches to form sixty-year cycles. The 10 Heavenly Stems are: Jia, Yi, Bing, Ding, Wu, Ji, Geng, Xin, Ren and Gui. The 12 Earthly Branches are: Zi, Chou, Yin, Mao, Chen, Si, Wu, Wei, Shen, You, Xu and Hai. This year, February 9 is the first day of Yiyou, which is the twenty-second year of the sixty-year cycle.
As well as being associated with each year, the same twelve animals and Earthly Branches are assigned to each month and to a two-hour period of the day. Their origin is variously explained by a number of stories and theories.
One legend is that the order of animals is the result of squabbles that followed Emperor Xuanyuan's summoning them to be his imperial bodyguards. The rat tricked the cat out of going, and ever since they have been enemies. The rat also managed to drive the elephant away by climbing into his trunk. Of the other animals, the ox took the lead, but the rat jumped onto its back, hitching a ride into first place. The pig, busy complaining about this, came last. Since the tiger and dragon refused to accept the result, the Emperor compensated them with the titles "King of the Mountain" and "King of the Ocean," and placed them immediately after the rat and ox. But the rabbit would not accept this either, so raced and won against the dragon for fourth place. The dissatisfied dog bit the rabbit, and was punished with penultimate place. The other animals filled the other positions in the order in which they arrived.
The use of 12 animal symbols is not unique to the Hans in China. Many minority ethnic groups have their own series with minor differences. For example, Mongolians use tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat and ox; the Dai people use rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and elephant; and the Li people use rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep and monkey. Some believe that the Han inherited their twelve from northern tribes in ancient times. Another possibility is that exchange between different cultures cultivated the various sequences of twelve.
Shengxiao are held to be of great significance by many Chinese, and people tell numerous stories and follow rich and colorful customs associated with the Earthly Branches:
Rat (1924 – 1936 – 1948 – 1960 – 1972 – 1984 – 1996 – 2008 – 2020 – 2032)
Zi means seed, fruit, root and inheritance. It represents due north, the eleventh Chinese lunar month, when many animals begin to hibernate, and 11 PM to 1 AM, when the rat is most active.
Ox (1925 – 1937 – 1949 – 1961 – 1973 – 1985 – 1997 – 2009 – 2021 – 2033)
Chou corresponds to the ox. The shape of its Chinese character is like threads coming together to form a strong rope, so represents things being connected. It denotes the twelfth lunar month, known in some places as Muyue or "month of harmony." In northern China, it is freezing winter, when people gather round the fire and wait for spring. It also stands for 1 PM to 3 PM, when the ox is chewing the cud, and even the grass and trees are thought to be asleep.
Tiger (1926 – 1938 – 1950 – 1962 – 1974 – 1986 – 1998 – 2010 – 2022 – 2034)
Yin is associated with northeast by east and 3 AM to 5 AM, when the tiger is most ferocious. In the Chinese lunar calendar it represents month one, the time trees begin to sprout.
Rabbit (1927 – 1939 – 1951 – 1963 – 1975 – 1987 – 1999 – 2011 – 2023 – 2035)
Mao represents due east and 5 AM to 7 AM, when the moon, the home of the legendary jade rabbit, still hangs in the sky. It also denotes the second lunar month, a time of reawakening and new life. The rabbit's relatively meek temperament makes it an appropriate symbol for the sun just coming up over the horizon.
Dragon (1928 – 1940 – 1952 – 1964 – 1976 – 1988 – 2000 – 2012 – 2024 – 2036)
Chen symbolizes southeast by south and 7 AM to 9 AM, believed to be the best time for the magic dragon to generate rain and when the sun strengthens and everything is about to wake up. The dragon is the only mythological animal in the system, and was considered one of the "four sacred animals" along with the phoenix, kylin and tortoise. It was imagined to have a horse's head, snake's body and chicken's claws, with 81 scales on its back. It could fly and swim, and appear and disappear mysteriously. In the Chinese lunar calendar, it represents month three.
Snake (1929 – 1941 – 1953 – 1965 – 1977 – 1989 – 2001 – 2013 – 2025 – 2037)
Si represents south by east and 9 AM to 11 AM, when the snake is most lively. It is associated with the fourth lunar month, when green abounds and seedlings begin to grow.
Horse (1930 – 1942 – 1954 – 1966 – 1978 – 1990 – 2002 – 2014 – 2026 – 2038)
Wu stands for due south and the time around noon, when the sun is most severe. It is believed that 11 AM to 1 PM is when horses travel best. It also signifies the fifth lunar month, when farmers till the land and everything is full of vigor.
Sheep (1931 – 1943 – 1955 – 1967 – 1979 – 1991 – 2003 – 2015 – 2027 – 2039)
Wei represents the sixth lunar month and the height of summer. It also stands for 1 PM to 3 PM, when it is said that if a sheep eats a patch of grass it will grow more luxuriously, and for the direction of southwest by south. The sheep represents love, happiness and perseverance of spirit.
Monkey (1932 – 1944 – 1956 – 1968 – 1980 – 1992 – 2004 – 2016 – 2028 – 2040)
Shen's character in Chinese looks like two hands grasping a stick and, with one addition, becomes another shen meaning to stretch, with the implication of using one's mind to the full and with flexibility. 3 PM to 5 PM is believed to be when monkeys play.
Rooster (1933 – 1945 – 1957 – 1969 – 1981 – 1993 – 2005 – 2017 – 2029 – 2041)
You represents the eighth lunar month in early autumn and 5 PM to 7 PM, when the sun sets and the rooster returns home - an animal considered by many to be associated with prophecy. You also symbolizes due west.
Dog (1934 – 1946 – 1958– 1970 – 1982 – 1994 – 2006 – 2018 – 2030 – 2042)
Xu, associated with the dog, represents northwest by west, 7 PM to 9 PM, when the dog is said to watch the night, and the ninth lunar month, when grass and trees start to wither but the weather is pleasant.
Pig (1935 – 1947 – 1959 – 1971 – 1983 – 1995 – 2007 – 2019 – 2031 – 2043)
Hai represents month ten in the Chinese lunar calendar, when everything begins to stagnate. It also represents 9 PM to 11 PM, when all is silent apart from the pig's snores.
There is no sincerer love than the love of food. Chinese culinary arts are famous all over the world. Chinese dishes appeal to the senses through color, shape, aroma and taste. Chinese cuisine's entree normally strives for three to five colors, made up of the main ingredient, with more secondary ingredients of contrasting colors and textures; these are prepared and cooked to enhance their own qualities, with the use of appropriate condiments and garnishing, enabling to chef to present a delicious platter of fragrant delicious art.
Consisting of Jinan cuisine and Jiaodong cuisine, Shandong cuisine, clean, pure and not greasy, is characterized by its emphasis on aroma, freshness, crispness and tenderness. Shallots and garlic are frequently used as seasonings so Shandong dishes taste pungent. Soups are given much emphasis in Shandong cuisine. Thin soups are clear and fresh while creamy soups are thick and taste strong. Jinan chefs are adept at deep-frying, grilling, pan-frying and stir-frying while Jiaodong chefs are famous for cooking seafood with a fresh and light taste.Typical menu items: Bird's Nest Soup; Yellow River Carp in Sweet and Sour sauce
Sichuan Cuisine, known more commonly in the West as Szechuan Cuisine, is one of the most famous Chinese cuisines in the world. Characterized by its spicy and pungent flavors, Sichuan cuisine, with a myriad of tastes, emphasizes the use of chili. Pepper and prickly ash are always in accompaniment, producing the typical exciting tastes. Garlic, ginger and fermented soybean are also used in the cooking process. Wild vegetables and meats such as are often chosen as ingredients, while frying, frying without oil, pickling and braising are used as basic cooking techniques.It can be said that one who doesn't experience Sichuan food has never reached China. Typical menu items: Hot Pot; Smoked Duck; Kung Pao Chicken; Twice Cooked Pork; Mapo Dofu
Guangdong Cuisine (Cantonese Cuisine)
Tasting clean, light, crisp and fresh, Guangdong cuisine, familiar to Westerners, usually has fowl and other meats that produce its unique dishes. The basic cooking techniques include roasting, stir-frying, sauteing, deep-frying, braising, stewing and steaming. Steaming and stir-frying are most frequently used to preserve the ingredients' natural flavors. Guangdong chefs also pay much attention to the artistic presentation of their dishes.Typical menu items: Shark Fin Soup; Steamed Sea Bass; Roasted Piglet
Chinese medicinal cuisine
Chinese medicinal cuisine is unique in China and has a long history. Sun Simiao, a leading Tang Dynasty doctor, once said, "Food has the function of eliminating evil influences and soothing the vital organs, cultivating one's mind and building up one's strength." In China, people contend that food tonic is much better than medicine tonic in fortifying one's health. Based on traditional Chinese herbal medicine practice, it combines strictly processed traditional Chinese medicine with traditional culinary materials to produce delicious food with health restoring qualities. To cook medicinal food, one has a large variety of fine materials to choose from and each material has its own unique flavor. Generally, processed herbal materials are more commonly used in order to avoid strong odors. However, individuals of different physical status need to select different herbs. The selection of herbs will depend on each individual's condition of health. Due to its herbal nature, it is better to take medicinal food according to the doctor's prescription.In the cooking of medicinal food, slow cooking methods such as stewing, braising and simmering are usually used in order to extract more of the herbs' healing properties.