Chinese history is long and complex, with records dating back to around 1600 BC. Contemporary China is clearly still linked to its past, with the written language, architecture, beliefs, and customs still serving as a valued pool of philosophical, material, and spiritual traditions. Chinese history is characterised by dynastic rise and fall, intermittent aggression from northern neighbours, varying degrees of openness to outside cultural influences, and the dynamics of stability and social harmony. All of these themes still come to bear on China’s stance and position in the world today. Many of China's most popular tourist attractions are strongly historical, from the magnificent terracotta warriors of the Qin dynasty, to the Great Wall, built to keep out the invading Mongols, to Tiananmen Square, symbol of the modern People's Republic of China.
China's population is around 1.35 billion, with the population actually set to begin to decline over the coming decades due to the "one child policy". There are 56 distinct recognized ethnic groups in China, with the Han Chinese by far the largest group. Even today, most social values are derived from Confucianism and Taoism. Confucianism was the official philosophy throughout most of Imperial China's history, and mastery of Confucian texts was the primary criterion for entry into the imperial bureaucracy. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today. In Chinese business culture, the concept of "guanxi", relationships over rules, still exists. A large part of Chinese culture is based on the notion that a spiritual world exists, and reincarnation, divination and folklore all connect real-life with the after-life. Chinese language, literature, sciences, architecture, fashion and martial arts are all distinctive and remain so today.
Banquets and Tea
There is an overwhelmingly large variety of Chinese food, with each region having it's own distinct cuisine. For example, Cantonese cuisine favours small dishes, always served with tea (giving rise to the Western name, "yum cha") while Szechuan cuisine employs lots of garlic, chilli and the unique Szechuan peppercorn. Many traditional regional cuisines rely on preservation methods such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation. Rice and noodles form the basis of most meals, and are eaten in a variety of different forms. Chinese society has always greatly valued gastronomy and has developed an extensive study of the subject based on traditional medical beliefs. The first act of many emperors was to appoint a head chef to his court, and hosting banquets with 100 dishes per meal was not uncommon. Tea is very important to Chinese culture, and elaborate ceremonies have evolved around the serving and drinking of tea.
China has a land area of about 9.6 million sq km, making it the third-largest country in the world, next only to Russia and Canada. Its vast size encompasses a wide range of landscapes, from the towering Himalayas to the Gobi desert, the steep gorges of the Yantze River to the vast grasslands of Sichuan. The climate varies from tropical Hainan to the frozen steppes of Inner Mongolia. Many of the landscapes are unique and strikingly beautiful and today China has 44 national geological parks, thanks to a pilot program begun in 1999 by the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources in cooperation with UNESCO to find a way to protect geological sites of importance while encouraging both tourism and scientific research.
Plants and Animals
Among those countries with the greatest diversity of wildlife, China has more than 6,266 species of vertebrates, 10 percent of the world's total. More than 100 species of animals can be found only in China, including such rare animals as the giant panda, the snub-nosed monkey, the golden-haired monkey, South China tiger, brown-eared pheasant, red-crowned crane, red ibis, white-flag dolphin and Chinese alligator. The giant panda, which makes its home in the forests of the Upper Yangtze River in southwest China, has become the symbol of the world's protected wild animals. China's abundance of plant life ranks it among the top in the world. For example, with an area almost exactly that of the continental United States, China has nearly twice as many plant species. China is home to more than 2,000 species of edible plants and over 3,000 species of medicinal plants. Ginseng from the Changbai Mountains, safflowers from Tibet, Chinese wolfberry from Ningxia and notoginseng from Yunnan and Guizhou are particularly well-known Chinese herbal medicines. China has a wide variety of flowering plants, including the world-renowned peony that is indigenous to China and considered one of the country's national flowers.
Scheduled tours 2015
China is home to one of the world’s oldest cultures, and boasts a huge range of sights, from ancient to ultra-modern. Your tour begins in the capital, Beijing. Highlights include the Forbidden City, Imperial Palace, Tian’anmen Square and the Great Wall as well as a rickshaw ride through the hutongs, the city’s ancient alleys. Next, fly to Xi’an to see the famous terracotta warriors. See pandas at the Panda Sanctuary in Chengdu, then embark on a 3-night Yangtze river cruise, marvelling at the Three Gorges Dam site and the dramatic scenery drifting past. Onto Shanghai next, China’s most populous city and center of trade and industry. Visit the Yu Yuan Gardens, the Old Quarter and the famous Bund. Finally, visit Gulin and cruise the beautiful Li River, explore the Reed Flute Caves and marvel at trained cormorants fishing. Your tour finishes in vibrant, colorful Hong Kong.
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