A China cruise offers its travelers the opportunity to explore one of the world’s oldest civilizations as well as one of the world’s greatest travel destinations. The sheer enormity of China’s populous (over one billion inhabitants) invite the culturally curious visitor. But the country also boasts a rich diversity of long-preserved traditions, and the recent embrace of an erupting technological economy. A country of contrasts, China is quickly becoming a popular tour destination for many inquisitive travelers.
Known for its complex history including dynasty uprisings and constant civil wars, a growing economy and stable political atmosphere are still in conceptual infancy. As such flexibility and patience are requirements for those traveling within this nation’s borders. Given its dramatic economic growth in recent years due to loosened restrictions previously imposed on trade and enterprises, many predict that this great culture will rise to become a world superpower in the near future.
China’s most widely recognized places of interest include the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. While the country claims some of the world’s most popular tour attractions, China has only recently begun to build an infrastructure to support foreign tourism, inviting others to come revel in the artistry of their rich history. A China expedition cruise is innovative, allowing accessibility to some of the country’s 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Even Chinese food ranks at the top of the world’s great cuisines. This distinct culture, identified so readily by certain unique hobbies such as acrobatics, martial arts, and calligraphy, is sure to awe and inspire any traveler in search of new experiences.
The country’s ancient history is still very much alive in the everyday activities of today’s China. While sometimes shadowed by the growing technological society, historical traditions such as Confucianism and the complex dynasty system still have an obvious influence on modern-day China. Before you begin your China tour, enhance your experience with some background information on the origins of Chinese civilization.
Supposed to have co-existed in areas around the Yellow River as independent principalities from 2200-221 BC, it is believed that the Xia were conquered by the Shang, who were than later conquered by the Zhou. Little is known about the Xia Dynasty (2200 – 1750 BC). In fact, the Xia were once debated by historians to be a myth. While no writing examples have survived, it is almost certain that their writing systems were a precursor to the Shang dynasty’s “oracle bones” system. Shang Dynasty (1750 –1040) has produced the earliest records of an absolute Chinese writing system. These people were very advanced in working with bronze. Human sacrifice was also a large part of their culture. Later dynasties, upon uncovering the mass graves, replaced the Shang sacrifices with terra cotta figures – the clay statues resembling an underground army.
The Shang were conquered in 1040 by the Zhou Dynasty. The Zhou practiced a system of a father-son king succession pattern, and unlike the Shang, rejected human sacrifice. The Zhou were able to maintain peace and stability for a few hundred years, until 771 BC, when the capital was stormed by “barbarians” from the west. After this the Zhou moved east causing a decline in their power.
On a tour of China you will learn the origins of concepts, and ideas birthed during this period that continue to be studied and practiced today. Some of the most important of such concepts are Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism (which profoundly influenced the later development of Zen Buddhism). Confucius (500BC) believed that moral men make good rulers and that virtue was attainable by following the proper behaviors. Confucius is also responsible for creating the thought that the Emperor had the mandate of heaven to rule, or was the “Son of Heaven”. Legalism called for the suppression of dissenters, and sought to unify a then divided China through control and imposition of fear. The concept of “loyal opposition” did not exist, since the Emperor had the mandate of heaven to rule. Small battles between divisions soon gave birth to a period characterized by massive armies and long battles.
Early Empire (221BC-589AD)
The warring years ended in 221 BC with the conquering Qin Shihuangdi, a devout legalist. Qin was responsible for linking together old defensive walls to create the beginnings of a China wall (which would later be built by the Ming Dynasty into the Great Wall it is today). Qin died in 210 BC, and not long after the dynasty fell to the Han. The Han perfected the bureaucratic process that all successive dynasties would follow. By developing a system based on the proper behavior from the Confucian Classics and loyalty to the Emperor, the Han made managing a country of roughly 60 million people possible for many years. Due to tribal raiders from the north and a huge population shift from the center of the empire, the Han dynasty lost control in 220 AD, plunging China into 350 years of chaos and disunity. During this period of “three kingdoms”, the ‘barbarians’ maintained control in the north, while the Han resided predominantly in the south. The other notable change was the introduction of Buddhism from India, which then merged with Daoism to form a popular religion and helped shape the emerging culture.
The Second Empire (589-1644)
The Sui Dynasty, while their rule was not exceptionally long, managed to re-unify China under one Emperor. Even though Sui, and the Tang to follow, were based in the north and considered part ‘barbarian’, these dynasties are accepted as being Chinese. The Tang are considered one of the greatest dynasties and extended China’s borders significantly during their rule. The only woman Empress took power during this dynasty, and a devastating eight-year civil war shattered Tang control and the country disintegrated during the following 150 years. The Song Dynasty was the next to step up to re-unify China; this dynasty ushered in a period of tremendous technological, economic and cultural growth. The Song developed agricultural and farming techniques that allowed for sufficient food distribution. These techniques can still be found in use today in remote areas of China, as you may see firsthand on a China tour. The Mongol invasion from the north slowly pushed this dynasty out of power. The time of Mongol rule, while a dynasty in essence, is considered only an occupation. During this period, reactionary Neo-Confucianism was developed, which led to the Ming Dynasty’s rise to power. The Ming were responsible for moving the capital to Beijing, building the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. The Qing (or Manchu) Dynasty was the last to rule starting in 1644. Under the Qing the arts flourished, and China cut itself off from contact with the developing western nations. Rampant corruption, territoriality of western nations over China and decentralization led to many rebellions. One such rebellion was the Taiping, which lead to the final the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. On your tour of China you will find it interesting to observe the transformation the country has experienced and how present day China has come into existence.
Over a hundred ethnic groups have inhabited the country of China, many assimilating into neighboring ethnicities, disappearing altogether, or merging into the more prominent Han comprised of many smaller groups. On your China cruise it is quite possible that you will hear variety in the language being spoken, as the Han speak several different dialects and languages that share a common written standard. This standard is called Vernacular Chinese and is based on Standard Mandarin, the most prominent spoken language. The People’s Republic of China now officially recognizes a total of 56 ethnic groups wrapped into this one country that is comprised of 1/5 of the world’s population.
Though China’s government has officially been classified as an athiest nation, supervised religions are allowed. Historically, Taoism and Buddhism are the dominant religions, with Christianity and Islam comprising less than 6% of the population combined.
Chinese literature has been an ingrained art since the development of printmaking during the Song Dynasty. Although, many manuscripts of Classics and religious texts comprised of Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist were manually written by ink brush. Tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts are still extant and many are being discovered each day. The Chinese developed a meritocratic method for creating opportunity for social advancement. Anyone who could perform well on the imperial examinations, which required students to write essays and demonstrate mastery of the Confucian classics, became elite scholar-officials known as jinshi. While in practice this method largely excluded females or those too poor to prepare for the test. This theory was largely different from the European system of blood nobility. Chinese philosophers, writers, and poets in past and present have been highly respected and continue to play key roles in promoting the culture of the Chinese empire.
Even before you begin your China cruise, it is likely you will have had previous exposure to one of China’s highest ranking art forms—Calligraphy. Calligraphy ranks even higher in China than painting or music. It holds an association with elite scholars, and after becoming commercialized, the work of a famous artist becomes very valuable. The amazing variation in Chinese landscapes has inspired great works of art and Chinese paintings; during your travels you’ll have plenty of opprotunities to visit the regions of China that have long motivated the masters. Sushi and Bonzai, also native Chinese art forms, spread later to Japan and Korea due to their popularity. The Chinese have also contributed many musical instruments, including the zheng, xiao and erhu.
The fourth largest country in the world, filled with vast resources and various ecosystems, China has only just begun to scratch the surface of maintaining and respecting the land they inhabit. Travel in the region has helped to promote maintenance, while recognition has increased the environment’s appeal to foreign visitors, and the general support of sustainable travel. For China tours to continue their success, conservation efforts need to improve as well. In a country with one of the largest populations and recent fast economic growth, the environmental movement is working to alter mindsets and reverse practices that have contributed to China’s pollution problems. China ranks lower than almost all developing countries when compared based on the Environmental Performance Index and the Environmental Sustainability Index, which has spurred many to action. China’s environmental movement, now boasting over 2,000 officially registered Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), has grown rapidly in recent years and is beginning to learn to navigate China’s political scene. Environmentalists have begun to move from focusing on politically neutral issues of environmental education and species protection, to influencing government policy more aggressively and holding polluting industries accountable.
While environmentalists have studied and taken tips from western approaches to environmental activism, they have largely sought to find an approach based in a more holistic Chinese context. These educators try to take principles embedded in Chinese culture and philosophy and show how these ideas, such as humanity living in harmony with nature, are out of balance. Advocates working from a holistic context seek not only to protect the environment and educate citizens regarding things like pollution and watershed quality, but also to encourage improvements in gender roles and community responsibility. China’s central government has generally maintained a supportive attitude recognizing the need to protect the environment, leaving environmentalists optimistic about future policies and fulfilling their global obligation to protecting the environment within China’s borders.
The Chinese love food! On your China tour learn how cooking is regarded as an art. Chefs combining sight, smell, touch, and taste in their presentation are highly respected. Confucius encouraged the use of chopsticks instead of potentially lethal knives, which has led to a cuisine dominated by manageably cut pieces that are boiled or steamed to be delicate and easy to break apart. The Chinese take pride in using everything possible in an effort to avoid wasting any part of an animal and have readily adopted vegetable crops from foreign countries that were not indigenously found in China. Food preparation and presentation in China is known as the ninth art. Eight schools of cuisines exist and have led to development of unique dishes in varying regions across China. Cruise the country to experience the three principal cuisines found in different regions: hot and spicy chili dishes from Sichuan; the northern style cuisine using steamed bread and pancakes instead of rice; also pickled and preserved vegetables used during freezing winters; and finally southern style cooking involving light stir-fry including ingredients such as pork, seafood, and chicken.
Another native Chinese culinary art, dim sum, initially started out as a snack to accompany teatime, or “yum cha”. Most dim sum foods are pastries, steamed or fried stuffed dumplings or noodles. Also sweet pastries, vegetables and meats may be included. All portions are bite-sized and are served in small quantities so that diners may try a variety of selections. If you are looking for a romantic dining atmosphere during your China tour, then a dim sum dining experience is probably not the best choice. These establishments are often filled with bustling guests requesting different varieties, and an eager wait staff will constantly offer you new choices.
A scientific approach to this cuisine artistry initiated a basic rule for cooking during the Han dynasty. This rule stated that the five flavors (sweetness, saltiness, sourness, bitterness and hotness) must all be combined in a meal in order to create harmony. Chinese meals today still aim to balance a variety of tastes, colors, and textures to create a more enjoyable experience. For this purpose, common Chinese meals consist of multiple dishes, and all travelers are encouraged to test and try the amazing variety Chinese cuisine has to offer on your tour of China.
China is the fourth largest country in the world (next to Canada, Russia, and the USA) and constitutes a total land area of 9.6 million square kilometers, which is slightly smaller than the United States. China borders twelve countries, a coastline extending for 14,500 km, and also holds claim to a large area of territorial seas. The vast country’s climate is extremely diverse, tending to be tropical in the southern regions and subarctic in the north. Two-thirds of the terrain is mountainous; the remaining terrain is comprised of highland plateaus, deserts in the west and plains, deltas and hills in the east. Mt. Everest, along the China Nepal border, is the nation’s highest peak at 29,035 ft. China’s landscapes offers beautiful mountain views and picturesque scenes of the Yangtze River (the longest in Asia) and Yellow River, both rivers flow into the Pacific Ocean. Its spectacular geography has been encouraging travel in the country, offering its visitors a variety of terrain to explore. Numerous lakes dot the land. There are salt-water lakes in the northwest and fresh-water lakes in the southeast. Some of the main attractions during a China tour are the cities Shanghai, Beijing, and Llasa (Tibet). Travelers will be amazed by the magnificent landscapes China will reveal.
China has gone through startling changes in the past hundred years. Traveling China today provides the opportunity to learn more about the historical events that helped shape modern China. A republican China began in 1911, and due to continuing internal strife – including the development of nationalist and communist parties – China found itself vulnerable to a Japanese invasion in 1937. By 1945, 20 million Chinese had died. With the start of WWII, Japan redirected its attention toward the United States. China’s communist party then began to build up their ranks in the north in order to resume civil war after the Japanese were defeated. After the end of WWII, the nationalist party struggled with debt and disorganization, and was defeated by the CCP. Thereafter, Mao Zedong announced the creation of the People’s Republic of China.
People’s Republic of China 1949-
In 1958, after becoming increasingly estranged from the original financial backers in Moscow, Mao launched the Great Leap Forward. This program focused on collectivizing farms to increase crop production. The greatest man-made famine resulted, and millions of Chinese starved to death. In its recovery, China tried to position itself as a superpower. But in 1966, Mao’s promotion of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, led to the anti-authoritarian anarchy. Students were encouraged to join Red Guard units andfought government troops, and eventually fought each other for power. The revolution “officially” ending in 1969 with cessation of abuses, but in reality, it did not come to rest until the death of Mao in 1976, having accomplished little of importance.
Deng Xiaoping emerged with an economic reform program in 1978 and instilled the value of function. Propelled by events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, unarmed demonstrators gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989 to question political reformation and were put down with force by the CCP. This is a popular sight for China travel – it is an emotional visit for many travelers. Tiananmen Square evokes a variety of passions from visitors and local people as well. In 1993 Deng publicly approved of economic growth efforts, and afterwards the economy exploded with rapid growth. Deng, perhaps in an effort to change the course of Chinese politics, passed power to Jiang Zemin several years before dying, which may help to establish a pattern for stable transitions between leaders in the future.
A better understanding of the country's political policies will help enhance your travel experience and relations in China. Following the Cultural Revolution, Chinese leaders set their eye on developing a legal system to restrain abuses of official authority. In 1982 a new state constitution was adopted which included rules of law that even party leaders are subject to. Instead of party leaders, groups of informed citizens in urban and rural communities have been formed into committees that resolve most of China's civil disputes and minor criminal cases. The government has made legal reform a priority and legislation was passed to modernize the nation's judicial systems.
Many improvements have been made in an effort to establish human rights, including allowing citizens to sue officials for abuse of authority, as well as the establishment of trial procedures including rights due process. China acknowledges in principle the necessity to protect human rights and is beginning to undergo a process to bring its practices up to standards with international norms. While in its beginning stages, the initial groundwork is being laid to protect citizens from a repeat of the totalitarian rule of China's history. China politics are as fascinating as its traditional cultures, diverse landscape and rare wildlife. Taking the time to learn a little bit about the country's politics will only add to the intimacy of your China travel experiences.
Temperatures in China vary tremendously, influenced mostly by latitude and monsoon activities. From north to south China consists of five separate temperature zones: cold-temperate, mid-temperate, warm-temperate, subtropical, and tropical. Generally, in winter the country is divided. Travelers who tour China during these months may want to avoid the northern areas, as temperatures drop below zero degrees. Some areas in Heilongjiang Province report averages of -85°F whereas the Hainan Province maintains averages above 65°F. During the summer months, most regions – excluding the high plateaus and mountains – remain above 65°F.
Precipitation patterns are fairly regular, showing larger distribution in the southeastern section (31.5 in. annually) and decreasing across the country to the northwest (7.9 in. annually). The rainy season occurs predominantly from May to September and rich rainfall may cause flooding during these months, whereas droughts contribute to dry air in winter. During summer (April-May) the southeast and southwest monsoons reach the Chinese mainland and are the main cause of rainfall.
Based on the weather, the best time to take a China tour is May-June and September-October, but you could run into crowds and delays. You may want to avoid travel in July because it brings high heat, humidity, and a large amount of rainfall. A visit to Beijing in May or September is ideal, with April and October are close runners-up. Shanghai visits are most recommended in October and May.
A China tour, one consisting primarily of historic and cultural exploration, is now including opportunities to discover the country's incredible wildlife as well. China's vast regions, diverse terrain and climate variations allow for an expansive variation of flora and fauna. More than 100 species of wildlife make their home only in China, including the well-known giant panda, golden haired monkey, South China tiger, and red-crowned crane. China holds nearly 500 animal species, 1,189 bird species, and more than 500 reptile and amphibian species. Of the fifteen known crane species in the world, nine are found in China as well as 18 species of primates not found in other countries of the same latitude. When traveling China on an adventure cruise, expect to be impressed by a wildlife rivaling some of the world’s most diverse regions.
In order to preserve these peculiar and rare species, wildlife conservation efforts in China have begun to win international support and organizations are beginning to raise people's awareness and promote studies and research. Following the founding of the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) in 1983, the Chinese government passed the Wildlife Protection Law paving the way to establish conservation policies. By the end of 1995, more than 574 forest or wildlife reserves were established and a total area of 78,450 thousand hectares (8.7% of national territory) declared to be national forest area. Success from these efforts is already becoming visible in the gradual recovery of some endangered species population growths including the golden monkey, takin, eld's deer and Chinese alligator.