Plunging from the Tibetan plateau, the Yangtze river or Chang Jiang “the Long River” in Chinese, is China’s longest river, and the third longest in the world, flowing 6,300 kilometres across the country to finally empty its waters in the East China Sea above Shanghai. The navigable section, however, only starts in Chongqing, the chief industrial city in south-western China with a population of 30 million. Constrained by a very hilly peninsula marking the meeting of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers, the city is unique in China in not having a single bicycle on its streets, and tends to be very foggy all year round. If it is sunny for three days in a row, it makes news. 🙂 Continue reading
It was my last morning in Xi’an. My flight had been delayed. After breakfast I, hence, strolled over to the Tang Dynasty Art Museum, an absolute treasure trove of Tang artistic and cultural accomplishments, to fill in the hours. From plans of the city to Tang silk robes, skilful paintings to make-up styles, the museum was both delightful and enlightening. It was like a crash course in Tang culture. Herewith some excerpts from lessons learnt. Continue reading
The north is the historic heartland of China. Chinese civilisation first blossomed along the lower reaches of the muddy Yellow river. The provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi in the north are stained with the yellow earth that die the Yellow river ochre. As China’s cradle, the north is unequivocally Han in custom and folklore, possessing a cultural continuity. All Chinese traditions flow from this northern fountainhead.
Xi’an and Chang’an
The revered and eternal city of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, is one of China’s most important monuments. The city grew considerably under the first emperor of the Qin. The affluent Silk Road began here during the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD). Later incoming foreign emissaries brought with them an Islamic flavour that still lingers today. It has been the national capital of 11 dynasties; its zenith was reached in Tang dynasty China (618-907 AD) when it was called Chang’an. The Tang city grid pattern still survives in Xi’an today, as does a considerable quantity of celebrated architecture. Continue reading
The Great Wall
One of the greatest building enterprises in the history of the world is the Great Wall of China. Not so much one wall as a collection of ramparts, the punctuated Great Wall straddles China from the Yellow Sea in the east to its crumbling finale in the Gobi Desert. In its entirety, it is 6,430 kilometres long. Continue reading
Fronting the Forbidden City, the sweeping square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace—Tiananmen Square—is the soul of China and the world’s largest square. The vast expanse of paving stones covering 100 acres is a colossal statement of state power. Chairman Mao is interred here and the monolithic Chinese parliament overlooks the square.
Tiananmen Gate with its huge portrait of Mao is the viewing stand for military parades. In the centre of the square stands the Monument to the People’s Heroes. South of this is the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, where the waxen-faced great helmsman lies in state. The hall was constructed the year after Mao’s death in 1976.
The square doubles as a huge park, with couples strolling languidly hand in hand, children playing, and enthusiastic kite flying.
The Forbidden City
Every heart that listens to the call of the distant shore wishes, fantasises of travelling through the mysteries of the Forbidden City, climbing the impregnable ramparts of the Great Wall, basking in the suaveness of Shanghai, and cruising through the mist-clad gorges of the Yangtze, but at least once in their lives. My month long solo journey through China was an answer to such a call.
Beijing, or Northern Capital has a powerful allure. The seat of power in China and proud capital of the Middle Kingdom was not at all what I expected it to be. I had arrived anticipating blue-attired homogeneous masses frantically cycling through a cluttered, crowded, chaotic city. Beijing instead was the complete antithesis. Wide tree-lined avenues, colossal squares, and huge palaces left me in awe. Blond-haired Chinese youths complete with earrings left me a wee bit amazed. Harmony and elegance were the order of the day. Continue reading