China’s recent economic revolution tends to dominate media coverage these days, but it is to experiences the country’s rich cultural legacy that most people still visit.
From the Great Wall and Forbidden City to the water towns of Shanghai, this heritage is most manifest in the wealth of monuments surviving from China’s illustrious past. Recent decades have also seen the appearance of some fabulous museums, many of them built to house treasures unearthed in the building boom of the early 21st century. You only have to see the ornate chariot burials of the Yellow River settlements, or the amazing ritual objects created 32 centuries ago by bronze casters in Sichuan to appreciate the extraordinary sophistication and technological prowess of ancient Chinese culture.
Religious life is thriving once again, too, and some of our favourite places to experience traditional China are the sacred mountains of Song Shan, Emei Shan and Huang Shan – all of them encrusted in ornate Taoist and Buddhist shrines whose incense-filled interiors writhe with polychrome deities and dragons amid landscapes of great beauty.
In the cities, we recommend clients try to experience local performing arts whenever possible – traditional circus, acrobatics, Chinese opera and shadow puppetry are still very popular. While in the southwest, the villages, architecture, costumes, music and dance of China’s ethnic minorities provide a compelling reason to venture off the beaten track.