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“The Middle Kingdom”, China is one of the world’s oldest and most complex civilisations covering a history of more than 5,000 years. Each area in China gives rise to its own set of unique cultures and traditions.
The history of China reaches back over 5,000 years. In that time, China has created a culture rich in philosophy and the arts. China has seen the invention of amazing products and technologies such as silk, paper, gunpowder, and movable-type printing.
Chinese history starts around 5,000 years ago with rice farming in Southern China and growing millet in the north, with even the skill to make pottery with the invention of the wheel in China around 2,500 BCE.
Many settlements grew independently and with the introduction of bronze by 2,000 BCE wars became more common. There was a growing wealth gap between classes and people were also buried with their possessions. Human sacrifice was even practised burying victims under buildings.
The first dynasty to rule China were the Xia around 2,200 – 1,700 BCE founded by Emperor Yu. It was succeeded by the Shang Dynasty 1,600-1,046 BCE. The Shang were organised and their cultural influence quickly spread through China writing was invented in China around 1,500 BCE. They worshipped many gods the most important of who was Di and the Shang probably created the Chinese calendar. Cities were built and there was widespread slavery and human sacrifice.
From around 1,122 BCE the Zhou Dynasty overthrew the Shang and continuing their rule till 256 BCE. The Zhou period brought technological advances including the use of iron for tools and by 400 BCE Chinese farmers where using iron ploughs. Trade and commerce flourished and due to efficient agriculture the population of China grew rapidly. Parts of the Great Wall began to be built. Different states built their own walls to keep out barbarians and eventually they joined together. One section of the Grand Canal was built in 486 BCE and was later extended by the next dynasties. The Zhou Dynasty broke up into different independent states and eventually the more powerful states took over, finally the Qin State took over all its rivals leading to the Qin Dynasty
In 221 BCE the Qin Dynasty was founded lasting only 15 years the dynasty is famous for the tomb complex at Xian and the Terracotta Warriors.
The next Dynasty the Han last 400 years and China expanded as far as India opening trade routes that would become the Silk Road.
What followed was 4 centuries of anarchy and power struggles known as the “Three Kingdoms”. One of the kingdoms the Wei managed to defeat its rivals by the end of the 6th Century, creating the legal framework for the Tang Empire that followed.
The Tang Empire brought Chinese art and culture ruling till the 10th century the dynasty collapsed into many separate kingdoms. The Song Dynasty took power till the end of the 13th century and brought intricate bureaucracy and Confucian learning.
The Mongols under Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis) established the Yuan Dynasty but were soon overthrown under the Ming who ruled till the 17th century developing art and exploring.
The last dynasty the Qing ruled till 1911 before Civil War broke out this was interrupted by 10 years by the invading Japanese but soon after the end of the Second World War Mao Zedong and the Communist Peoples Liberation Army won the Chinese Civil War and China became the Peoples' Republic of China in 1949. In the early years China’s output expanded and there was great progress in agriculture, education, industry and even healthcare.
In 1958 the Great Leap Forward was decided and it proved to be too ambitious. It was not possible to change the country into and industrial one in just a few years. This was exasperated by the drought in China which caused large scale famine.
In recent years China has been growing at an incredible rate it has become an economic powerhouse this was shown in 2005 when Shanghai overtook Rotterdam as the largest port in the world and it is widely expect that China is predicted to become the world’s largest economy by 2040 and currently has a population of 1.34 billion.
In traditional Chinese culture the family is the basic unit of society and individuals are only one part of the family. The blood relationship between the father and son is the most important element of society. The extended families of old had "four generations living under one roof".
The culture of the Chinese is shown by the way they conduct their daily lives; they follow the precepts of Taoism (Tao means the way). Taoism is inclined to simplicity in all things being at one with nature and acting in harmony with everything on earth and going with the natural flow of things.
The idea of Yin and Yang was formulated during the Zhou period; the ancient Chinese believed that all matter is made of 2 opposite and complimentary principles. Yin is feminine, soft, gentle, dark, receptive, yielding and wet. Yang is masculine, bright, hard, hot, active, dry and aggressive. Everything is a mixture of these 2 opposites. The ancient Chinese also believed there were 5 elements, wood, fire, earth, metal and water. During the Zhou period the Chinese art of acupuncture was invented.
Under the communist system, religion has been officially discouraged in China. Actual suppression has varied from one religion to another and from year to year.
Many Chinese are nominally Buddhist and /or Taoist, but don't practice regularly. People who self-identify as Buddhist total about 50 per cent, overlapping with the 30 per cent who are Taoist. Fourteen percent are atheists, four percent Christians, 1.5 per cent Moslems, and tiny percentages are Hindu, Bon, or Falun Gong adherents.
Chinese New Year: The first day of the lunar new year late January / early February
Of all the traditional Chinese festivals, the New Year is perhaps the most elaborate, colourful, and important. The Chinese New Year is a time for to congratulate each other on having passed through another year; a time to finish out the old and to welcome in the New Year. Common expressions heard at this time are: GUONIAN to have made it through the old year, and BAINIAN to congratulate the New Year. There are lots of celebrations including fireworks display, visiting and greeting, Yangke dancing, lion and dragon dancing, holding temple fairs and many other great folklore events.
Lantern Festival: 15th of the first Lunar Month end of February
The New Year celebrations ended on the 15th of the First Moon with the Lantern Festival. In the legend, the Jade Emperor in Heaven was so angered at a town for killing his favourite goose; he decided to destroy it with a storm of fire. However, a good-hearted fairy heard of this act of vengeance, and warned the people of the town to light lanterns throughout the town on the appointed day. The townsfolk did as they were told, and from the Heavens, it looked as if the village was ablaze. Satisfied that his goose had already been avenged, the Jade Emperor decided not to destroy the town. From that day on, people celebrated the anniversary of their deliverance by carried lanterns of different shapes and colours through the streets on the first full moon of the year, providing a spectacular backdrop for lion dances, dragon dances, and fireworks.
Qingming: 12th of the 3rd Lunar month around the beginning of April
This is a time when ice and snow has gone and plants are beginning to grow again, and is a time for respect to ancestors. The graves of deceased relatives are swept and tended; the memory of the dead cherished and offering of food may be made. To assist ancestors in the afterlife 'Bank of Hell' money is burned, thereby transferring money to the ancestors to spend as they will. Qing Ming is often marked by an indulgence of the Chinese passion for kite flying.
Dragon Boat Festival: 5th Day of the 5th Lunar Month around June
Originally a religious practice, the Dragon Boat Racing is purely recreational now and celebrates the death of the poet Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the 3rd Century BC as a protest against a corrupt government. The legends is that the town’s people attempted to rescue him by beating drums to scare fish away from eating his body and threw rice dumplings into the river to tempt the fish away from their hero. A delicacy of eating Zong Zi (pyramid shaped sweet rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves) is also a tradition at this festival.
Mid-Autumn Festival: 15th of the 8th lunar month late September / early October
Probably the second most important festival in the Chinese calendar, Zhong qiu has ancient origins. The Mid-autumn festival celebrates the moon. Traditionally a time for poets and lovers, in Chinese symbolism the moon symbolizes unity and wholeness and is a time for reunion of families. Abundant meals are eaten during the festival and moon cakes, round pastries filled with nuts, dried fruits, preserved flowers, sesame and/or marinated beef or bacon are eaten as well as Dragon Boat races being held.
Chongyang: 9th Day of the 9th Lunar Month around October
A tradition of eating double and hoping to reach greater heights! Early in the Western Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago, people used to climb a high platform outside the capital city of Chang'an on the occasion of the Chongyang Festival. For many, it was the last outing of the year before the onset of winter. The custom evolved into its present form, when people go climbing to get some exercise as well as enjoy the autumn scenery. The height people will reach is usually a mountain or a tower.
UK Citizens wishing to visit China need to obtain a Visa before travelling this can be applied for via the Chinese embassy or via an agent. Unfortunately due to new restrictions coming into effect in June 2012 UK citizens are now not allowed to visa Tibet.
Health care across China is extremely varied as the vast country itself. Beijing is at the opposite end to healthcare in the west of the country and although there are a few western hospitals geared to western standards in the main cities outside these urban areas there is limited healthcare so it there is an emergency you would be advised to head for the nearest major city for medical attention.
The Renminbi is the official currency of the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is the legal tender in mainland China, but not in Hong Kong and Macau. ATMs are available in all major towns and cities and money is easily withdrawn and exchanged in Banks. Do keep some spare Yuan if you are heading to a remote location though.
Electricity in China is 220 volts; this means for those arriving from the UK you will not need a Voltage adapter. You will probably need an adapter as most plugs in China have 2 prongs.
Tipping is generally not expected in China. In some upper class restaurants or accommodations they will directly charge you with a 10% service charge, you should clearly see that on the bill. Feel free to leave a tip for good service of between 5-10 %, it is of course up to you and dependant on the service received.
Guides are usually tipped $10-15 USD/day, and drivers about $5-10 again all dependant on the level of service received.
It is essential that you call your credit card company and let them know you will be travelling overseas as any unusual payments tend to put a temporary block on your credit card which could leave you in a little bit of trouble whilst abroad.
Keep a copy of your passport separate to where you keep your passport just in case this situation does arise.
Health Insurance: Make sure you have your insurance details with you and know what your policy covers.
If you don’t want to use roaming take a spare old phone sim cards are cheap in Indonesia and you can use them instead of being charged international roaming rates!
Keep our contact handy and that of our local operators as we will be there to assist you in any emergency.
Avoiding getting bitten by mosquitoes is often the best defence take plenty of DEET mosquito repellent and wear long sleeves and trousers at night!