The vast mystery that is China demands attention. A journey to this land opens to visitors a geographical, historical and cultural encyclopedia that offers a breathtaking exploration of various worlds within one world.
China is the world’s third largest country, after Russia and Canada. Its most mountainous terrain rises in the west with Tibet and the mighty Himalayas. At 8,847 meters, Mount Everest is the world’s highest peak. China’s lowest point, the Turpan Depression, 154 meters below sea level, is scooped out in its vast north-west. The great mountainous highlands of west China, together with the forbidding deserts of Gobi and Taklimakan in the north acted as a huge barrier to China’s expansion. The land increasingly flattens out the farther east you travel. The vast majority [90 percent] of the population lives along China’s coast or in the fertile lands that line the Yangtze river, Yellow river, Pearl river and the Mekong river. Most of the cultivable land is irrigated by these river systems. Two-thirds of the land is too mountainous, arid or otherwise unsuitable for agriculture. China’s coastline is an affluent bundle of Special Economic Zones [SEZs] and thriving ports. Continue reading →
Sichuan [Four Rivers] province’s most abiding impression could well be its spicy cuisine, famous for its diversity and comprising over 5,000 dishes such as twice-cooked pork, spicy chicken with peanuts [which I loved!], fish-fragranced sliced pork, and long dumplings. Noodles are eaten as a snack. A legendary dish in Chengdu is pock-marked Grandma’s beancurd. It was invented 90 years ago by a Grandma with spots on her face. Not many knew about the dish or ate it. An important poet once visited her and the meal, thereafter, became the most popular one in the city. 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 →
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.