China offers seemingly endless historical attractions, fast moving cities and natural attractions to explore. But while excellent shopping opportunities in Beijing and scenic tours in the mountains are popular with visitors these days China's main lure for Western tourists remains its fascinating ancient culture, ruins and antiquities. Prehistoric and dynastic treasures include some of the great wonders of the world: The Forbidden Palace, Great Wall and the much loved Terracotta Army. China is a bewildering and exciting country, a rapidly developing industrial powerhouse where ancient beliefs and customs combine with both communism and capitalism. The world's most populated country, with more than 1.3 billion citizens is also the third largest country by geographical area covering almost ten million square km.
The climate varies widely from freezing to red hot sunshine. Winters in the north plummet as low as -8 Centigrade but reach 90C in the summer. In the south the summer is both hot and humid and lasts from April to September. This season includes the wettest weather in southern and northern China. Typhoons hit the south east coast July and September. The north west summers are hot and dry reaching a staggering 47Centigrade. Winters here are also sub freezing.
China was the world's most advanced civilization for centuries and the cultural focus of East Asia. The impact of its ancient culture continues worldwide today. China is the source of many of the great technical inventions of the world, including: paper, the compass, gunpowder and printing. Military innovations include the crossbow while other inventions include matches, the blast furnace for use in steel production, the umbrella, the wheelbarrow and the toothbrush!
Most visitors to China travel via Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai. Main international airports are Beijing Capital International Airport, Shanghai's Hong Quiao International Airport and Pudong International Airport and Hong Kong International Airport. Several other cities have international airports.
Approximate flight times to Hong Kong are 13 hours from London and 17 hours from New York. Flight times to Beijing are around 10 hours from London, 22 hours from New York. You can travel to China and back from Europe or Asia via spectacular rail routes such as the Trans Siberian railway and Tibet-Nepal. There are over 115 ports of entry and exit. Long distance buses are one of the best means of getting around once there. They are frequent and cheap. The comprehensive rail network is more comfortable though. Boat trips offer other possibilities along with car hire, taxis and bicycle hire.
The remains of the Great Wall or the '10,000 Li Wall', as it is known, stretches from Liaoning province to Jiayuguan in the Gobi Desert. Construction started over 2000 years ago during the Qin dynasty. Separate pieces of walls made by independent kingdoms were linked together. As well as a defensive structure the Great Wall was also useful as a motorway for transportation and as a communication system due to its series of beacons which transmitted smoke signals.
This 2,000 year old Army of Terracotta Warriors is incredibly well preserved. A symbolic force which guarded their ancient imperial site, amazingly they were discovered by peasants digging a well in 1974. An underground vault was opened up which revealed thousands of these actual life size terracotta soldiers and their horses. To years later two other smaller vaults were discovered. The 6000 strong army of intricate terracotta figures includes warriors and horses facing east in a rectangular army formation. Each one has its own posture and facial features.
The largest and best preserved grouping of ancient Chinese buildings. A vast private, opulent residence for 500 years to the Ming and the Qing dynasties. Attractions include the Supreme Harmony Gate, overlooking a massive courtyard where up to 100,000 people could gather. The three Great Halls on their marble terraces are an incredible sight while the 15th century Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest building in the Forbidden City. This ornate structure was used for ceremonial occasions like the birthday of the emperor.
Mostly plateaus and mountains in the west and lower plains on the east. Rivers flow westerly to easterly including the Yangtze (central). Most of China's arable lands lie along vast rivers like this one. In the west, the north has a great plain and the south hills as well as the Himalaya Mountains, including Mount Everest. The north west includes flat plateaus and deserts such as the Gobi Desert. The southwestern border of China is high and mountainous, dividing China with Burma, Vietnam and Laos.
Severe weather in eastern China has led to the problem of widespread flooding. The provinces of Jiangsu/Anhui have been hit hardest. Travellers should expect delays in these areas.
Chinese is the most commonly spoken language - after English - in the world. About one-fifth of the world's population speak some form of Chinese as their native language. While about 70 per cent of the population speak the form of Mandarin China's linguistic variants are extremely complex with a wide variety of dialects. Many variants of spoken Chinese are so different from each other that they are mutually incomprehensible.