According to the words of Mao’s Little Red Book, true manhood can only be attained by taking a trip to the Great Wall of China. Yet these words do not faze unusual tourists who choose to bypass this great sight. Some avoid key sites like the Great Wall, The Terracotta Warriors and walking along the Bund in favor of more determined travel. Stepping outside the norm, people are visiting China for a range of experiences. Here are eight alternative reasons people visit China
The Silk Road is a criss-crossing trade route that has connected China with the rest of the world for 100s of years. But it isn’t the only the one, you also had the Horse and Tea Road that connected China and India.
Today, the Chinese are proud of their country’s reputation as the world’s factory and small-time traders the world over are drawn to this fact too, and while trade routes don’t really involve horse and caravan anymore, sourcing goods in still a big draw for China. Electronics goods are the obvious choice. It has been estimated that twenty percent of mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa pass through Chungking Mansions, made famous by Wong Kar Wai’s iconic film, Chungking Express. Anything mass produced attracts sourcing – I once met an artist who journeyed to Fujian to procure green pottery only to smash them for mosaic material.
2) Modern-day Leifengs
Unlike traders, non-Chinese Leifeng, in all capacities of community work, are not here for profit. China has been reaching out to other less-developed nations with aid and investment. Yet masses are inadvertently left on the fringes in the world’s most populous nation, leaving gaps only humanitarian work can fill. Experts in education, animal husbandry or medicine have no lack of opportunities for serving the rural and urban poor. Besides, China has not been spared from any natural disaster known to humankind. Authorities may feel compelled to get emergency response efforts up to scratch but little impetus is left after the dust has settled. Rehabilitative specialists, like counselors and occupational therapists, who help victims cope with the aftermath are therefore crucial.
3) Devout Devotees
It may seem unlikely but another alternative reason people visit China is religion. Taoism, native to China, and Buddhism are inextricably linked to China, but other religions have firmly entrenched themselves in the country too. Temples on the mainland survived efforts to obliterate religion, along with everything else posing a threat to the rule of the day. Emptied of their original significance, the devout remain undeterred by their entrance fees and exorbitantly-retailed incense in a post-Mao society.
With China’s large Muslim population, areas like Xining, aided by the availability of halal food, encourage more and more overseas Muslims to visit. China is also witnessing pilgrimages from Christians among the Chinese diaspora. While many left China due to religious persecution, many are returning to visit churches their ancestors established.
And of course missionary activity has long been chronicled in China even during the Nestorian period and though many don’t call it that anymore faith focused humanitarian work still goes on in China today.
4) Culture Vultures
The Middle Kingdom does happen to have a history longer than most cultures and 5,000 years offers a fair bit of leeway for exploring. The sheer numbers of mainland museums, whether general or specialty, do not disappoint, even though the ravages of war pillaged a significant portion of artifacts, which shows just how much there were to start with!
China does provide substantial cultural material worthy of appreciation, from pottery to calligraphy, to pagodas and temples. Returning to the source is something cultural aficionados spare no effort in on their quest for authenticity. When wandering around markets in China, you’ll often see people digging deep into the piles of dusty artifacts to hunt out the genuine piece in amongst all the replicas.
5) Pre-Nuptial Lovebirds
To many ethnic Chinese people, an album full of perfectly-posed wedding photos against impeccable scenery is a pre-nuptial must-do. And where better to get it done than China? The middle kingdom is replete with gorgeous backdrops, inspiring poets and writers throughout the dynasties, while costs have yet to catch up. The entourage on mainland wedding photography tours takes care of tedious logistical details, so the only thing left to do is smile. Those who didn’t have time to get everything done before the wedding can also take an album of honeymoon or anniversary memories.
6) The Main Course
Exotic destinations make great kitchens, as culinary program producers have discovered. And the middle kingdom, with its ethnically and culturally diverse culinary heritage, does yield varied cooking methods and unique ingredients. Farm-to-table is the new fad, and cooking onsite takes freshness a notch higher. Going a step further than Jamie Oliver, Asian programs feature chefs having to chase down their own livestock and dig up their own vegetables. And for those that are gastronomically inclined you can now choose tours that are almost entirely organized around sampling or cooking local cuisines.
7) Sports Buffs
Forget the WWF – China is home to a myriad of martial arts handed down through the dynasties. Fight club members sojourn to seek out kungfu masters to fine-tune their skills and beginners are always welcome at Shaolin temples to learn the basics of qi manipulation in Taichi classes.
For those who choose the non-combative way of getting those adrenaline levels up, China has plenty of sites for outdoor sports. Skiing and scaling mountains are traditional choices and extreme sports junkies can now head to Beijing or Hebei for snowboarding.
8) Hidden Agendas
Most vices are outlawed on the mainland, in line with traditional Chinese virtue, yet dicey customers are still drawn. China’s proximity to the Golden Triangle facilitates her role in the contraband trade, even as trafficking attracts the death penalty. Gambling is confined to casinos and horse-racing in China’s newly-added territories, but is a big pull for those with cash in their pockets. Once you’ve figured out the intricacies of mahjong you can start playing long into the night anywhere on the mainland. Occasionally, authorities make a big show of exposing prostitution rings and closing brothels, it is an open secret, and most know that there will be a ‘hairdresser’ to cater to their needs nearby. In line with the Chinese principle of “face”, anything goes, as long as you are discreet about it.
So next time you think about going traveling around China, maybe embrace one of these activities and see if it changes your perspective. Though we say avoid number nine. Nobody wants to be ‘that person’.
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Keywords: traveling in China: Silk road: Leifangs; the middle kingdom Alternative Reasons People Visit China
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