On 22 September, I started off on my journey to China, knowing that I’d be in the company of my long-time friend, Alwyn Lim from Singapore, who was meeting me in Beijing. It was great to have such a good friend as a guide for my eleven days in China, and here he is in front of the entrance to the Heavenly Palace.
Before beginning my first ever visit to China, I wanted to know a bit about it! China, I was told, had its beginnings even earlier than did India (the country where I was born) which I visited last year.
The name ‘China’ comes from the name of Emperor Qin (chin), the first Chinese Emperor. The first Emperor of Qin Dynasty was Qin Shi Huang, who built the Great Wall.
China’s history can be traced back through 5,000 years and thirteen dynasties, back in fact to 3,000 BC. I can’t begin to write about its complicated history (and you can google it anyway!) but I understand that the first united feudal dynasty in China’s history was the Qin Dynasty. Before this, there were seven warrior states and, although there were three Dynasties, Xia, Shang and Zhou, these were not as united as Qin and were not feudal kingdoms. Emperor Qin united the three kingdoms into one state and created the capital in Xi’an, considered to be the city in the centre of China. The middle, or centre, is very important to the Chinese.
The last of the thirteen dynasties, the Qing Dynasty ended in the 20th Century. (As an aside, three quarters of the Japanese language is Chinese).
Apart from the effect of the various Emperors who ruled China, the greatest impact on China was the rule of Chairman Mao Zedong 26 December 1893 – 9 September 1976. Chairman Mao eliminated the foreign powers who had ‘interfered’ in Chinese affairs for so long – including, but not exclusively, the British, French, Germans, Portuguese, Japanese, Americans and Russians. He then introduced ‘good governance’ and did away with all forms of corruption. In 1949, he defeated the nationalists under Ching Kaishek (chang kysheck) whose capital was in Nanjing. Ching Kaishek fled to Taiwan under the protection of the American 7th Fleet. Mao then declared the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and moved the capital to Beijing. Today, many years after his death, the Chinese people still hold steadfastly to the doctrines he espoused.
Beijing, once the capital of five feudal dynasties in history (Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing) and still the capital of the People’s Republic of China today, is an ancient city but modern in many ways and particularly so since staging the 2008 Olympics. It has become one of the most significant cities of the world, not only because of its splendid historical heritages such as the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, but also for its extravagant building projects of Olympic 2008, such as the ‘Birds Nest’ and ‘Water Cube’, both of which are instantly recognizable and have helped to make Beijing the world focus of the 21st Century.
Beijing itself is a reflection of China, steeped in history from the very ancient to more modern events. It’s an enormous city of nearly 15 million people, with one of the oldest cultures on earth. Beijing has been, and still is, an historic centre of power, culture and wealth.
With a large group of State-protected sites of ancient cultural relics, with more modern pedicabs touring, the national treasure of Peking Opera, the exquisite arts and handicrafts, and delicious Peking Duck, Beijing is a ‘must-see’ destination.
We’d arrived in the middle of the afternoon so there wasn’t much time to explore before we joined one of Alwyn’s friends for dinner but we did manage to walk down to Tian’anmen Square on our way to explore the Forbidden City (so called because outsiders were traditionally forbidden to enter – and the Emperors’ movements were restricted).
On no account is it wise to visit Tian’anmen Square on National Day – 1 October – as there can be upwards of 10 million people in the Square! Hard to comprehend when you see the size of the Square.
The Tian’anmen Gate was first built in the 1420s in the Ming Dynasty (although it was wholly or partially destroyed towards the end of the Dynasty). The Square itself was originally designed and built in Beijing in 1651. It was not officially made until the People’s Republic of China took power in 1949. It was enlarged to its present size (four times the original) and cemented over in 1958.
British and French troops who invaded Beijing in 1860 at the start of the second Opium War, pitched camp near the gate and briefly considered burning down the gate and the entire Forbidden City. Ultimately, they decided to preserve the Palace and instead, to burn the Emperor’s Summer Palace, Yuan Ming Yuan, which took 150 years to build and was one of the most beautiful gardens and greatest museums in Chinese history. The fire lasted for almost a month. This was the atrocity which eventually forced the Qing Emperor to agree to let the foreign powers establish headquarters in the area. Today, the site of the Yuan Ming Yuan Palace can still be seen and I’m sure that the Chinese people still recall the lost glory with great sadness.
Unfortunately, Alwyn and I didn’t have time to explore the many wonders of the Square like the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, the Great Ming Gate, the Great Qing Gate and the Gate of China. Nor did we see the Monument to the People’s Heroes or the Great Hall of the people. They’ll have to wait for another visit! Suffice it to say, the Square reflects China’s more recent history, influenced by Chairman Mao and the rise of communism.
We did, however, have time to enter the Forbidden City, built during the Ming Dynasty and enlarged during subsequent dynasties.
The Forbidden City, which contains the Imperial Palace Museum, stands in over 80 acres and contains a collection of great halls, antiques, and treasures that represent all of China’s history. The history of every dynasty is represented here throughout four palatial halls. The City was originally commissioned by Emperor Yong Le in the Ming Dynasty. It has been the seat of power for centuries and has A 5seen countless battles and reconstructions and the architecture seen today dates from the 1700s. My photos of the Palace didn’t do it justice but we wandered through the beautiful Zhong San gardens which were wonderfully peaceful,
And stood alongside the Palace moat.
That evening we were taken out to dinner by old friends of Alwyn’s and treated to a most wonderful meal of famous Beijing Duck at the best restaurant in the city, the Da Dong.
We had a private room and hovering waiting staff and the food was not only exceptionally prepared and presented but also very delicious. Alwyn told me that Chinese hospitality is a matter of honour and our hosts for the evening were unbelievably generous and kind.
As we had such a short stay in Beijing we went for a tour on our only full day and visited the Great Wall, the Longdi Jade Factory and the Ming Tombs. Our first stop was the Ming Tombs and our guide, Liu, was a wealth of knowledge.
The Ming Tombs are the burial grounds to 13 out of 16 Ming Emperors. We explored the largest of the burial sites, the Changling tomb, tomb of the first Ming Emperor which is divided into three separate impressive courtyards. There were, of course, many beautiful relics from the past, among them the Emperor’s crown.
On the way to the Great Wall, we stopped off at the Longdi Jade Factory which was full of the most beautiful jade pieces at very reasonable prices! Jade is used as a talisman to protect the wearer and as a status symbol indicating the dignity, grace, and morality of the owner. As early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24AD) potentates and officials were buried with jade artifacts to protect them in the afterlife. Some were unfortunately too large to bring home!
But I couldn’t resist a Chinese white cabbage. The Chinese believe that placing the cabbage with the roots facing out of the door or window and the leaves facing inwards brings wealth into the home.
Or a Pi Xiu! In Chinese Feng Shui, a Pi Xiu is a mythical animal which is depicted with the head of a dragon and a dog or lion’s body, often with hoofs, little wings, and a tail. The Pi Xiu is a loyal guardian that is frequently seen guarding the tombs of emperors or on the roofs of important buildings. It’s believed that a Pi Xiu absorbs evil and, as it has no anus, the evil cannot escape and infect the place it protects. It also absorbs wealth from all directions and signifies money coming in without going out, which is why they are often depicted with a full belly standing on a bed of Chinese coins. A Pi Xiu is also believed to attract short-term wealth, as in a lottery win or a cash bonus, so it’s very auspicious in Feng Shui terms. Of course, you may be a cynic but I bought this little black jade Pi Xiu to bring home!
Many Chinese place their lottery tickets under their Pi Xiu hoping this will bring them good luck and a sudden windfall, but I have to confess that I haven’t won the lottery yet! Some very influential and successful people in Hong Kong swear that these are indispensable, while others claim they are just superstitious nonsense, so the choice is yours! Whatever the truth, they look pretty good and from time to time a little luck is something we all need!
Incidentally, you may also see a Pi Xiu (earth form) referred to as Pi Yao, which is its heavenly form, or Pi Kan, its sea form. All forms are believed to be fiercely loyal to their owner and will protect your home, generate luck and wealth while driving away evil spirits from your house. The best place to keep your Pi Xiu is in the east sector of your living room at a position lower than eye level, but not on the floor (as this is seen as disrespectful).
Fortunately, the bus had to leave for the Great Wall before I could buy any more! We aimed for the Badaling section of the Great Wall, one of the best-preserved sections of this 2.000 year old architectural wonder.
Alwyn and I decided to take the left route which is much steeper but was likely to be less crowded because of that!
It was incredibly steep, and some of the steps are very deep, but we had plenty of time so we set off and enjoyed magnificent views.
There are many places to visit a section of the Great Wall, but Badaling is the site of the most visited section of the Great Wall and is approximately 80 km north-west of Beijing city. The portion of the wall running through the site was built during the Ming Dynasty, along with a military outpost reflecting the location’s strategic importance.
The portion of the wall at Badaling has undergone heavy restoration and in 1957 it was the first section of the wall to open to tourists. Millions of people visit it every year. Significant development has taken place in the immediate area including the building of hotels, restaurants and a cable car. The Badaling Expressway, which connects this section of the Great Wall with Beijing city is excellent.
And so it was back to the city for an early night before we set off for Xi’an the next morning.
We spent two days in Xi'an on 24-26 September. Our flight was short and the hotel proved excellent, and very central, for our purposes. It’s called the Bell Tower Hotel and is inside the city walls and overlooks the Bell Tower, right in the centre of the city.
And it’s right beside a very large shopping mall!
As you can see from the photos, the atmosphere was very polluted, visibility was limited and unfortunately it rained a lot while we were there. It was hard to see much from the windows of our car and we spent a lot of time under our umbrellas! However, there was nothing to dim our welcome from a friend of Alwyn’s, who put his driver and his good friend, Elfini, at our disposal, which made the visit even more memorable.
We did lots of exploring while we were in Xi’an, but we also stopped frequently for fabulous meals and I was introduced to squirrelfish which was nothing short of divine, and lotus root dessert both of which I’ll obviously want to find again!
Xi’an is clearly a more historic city than is Beijing. It has a population of 9 million. We spent our first afternoon looking round and relaxing before meeting Alwyn’s friends. Then Elfini took us to an extravaganza at Tang Paradise in the City. We wandered around the spectacular sights in the darkness and then sat and watched a beautiful display which I couldn’t capture on film. I’m sure it told a fascinating story but unfortunately, it was all in mandarin with no translation so I just enjoyed the visual effects which were done with lasers shooting lights into the night sky.
The next day, Elfini, Alwyn and I set off with our fabulous driver. No-one in China gives was to anyone on the roads but it seems to work quite well and we only saw a couple of accidents! People seem to turn out of side streets without looking and if you’re on the main road, you just swerve to avoid them! I’m very glad our driver knew what he was doing.
Our destination was the Xiangyang Museum in Lintong County (Emperor Qin’s Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses Museum) 28 kms from Xi’an to see the Tarracotta Army, the Terracotta Warriors and Horses. Emperor Qin Shi Huang was the first Emperor of China.
It is said as a legend that the Terracotta Warriors were real soldiers, buried with Emperor Qin so that they can guard him in the next life. The museum covers an area 230x62metres.
The figures date from 210 BC and were discovered in 1974 by several local farmers while drilling a well, 1.5 km east of the Emperor’s Mausoleum. The figures vary in height (813-195cm) according to their role in the army, the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. It’s estimated that the three pits contain over 8,000 solders, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, and 10,000 bronze weapons, the majority of which are still buried.
The Terracotta Warriors were once exquisitely painted. Today only a handful of statues contain small amounts of paint.
The terracotta figures were manufactured by government labourers and local craftsmen. Their heads, arms, legs, and torsos were made separately and then assembled. Studies show that there were probably eight face moulds and then clay was added to provide individual facial features. It’s fascinating to see all the different faces and expressions. When the figures were complete, they were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to their rank. Unfortunately, the original weapons were stolen shortly after the army was created and the colouring has faded almost completely. However, their existence shows the amount of labour and skill involved in their construction and also reveals the power of the first Emperor, enabling him to command such a monumental undertaking as this.
The construction of the mausoleum itself began in 246BC and involved 700,000 workers. The tomb remains unopened in the hope that it’ll remain intact.
I was saddened that this outstanding treasure may continue to deteriorate without proper care. It was opened to the public in 1979 and even the breath of the visitors is contributing to its deterioration. Everywhere there were signs forbidding flash photography but although there were heaps of police everywhere, many tourists ignored this request. Elfini told me that America had offered China the latest technology to restore the figures and increase their life in return for a single warrior but, given the relationship between the two nations, China has declined the offer.
Apart from viewing these wondrous sights, we had time for a bit of fun on the way out of the complex. We watched a man beating peanuts with a mallet to make crisp peanut honey (which was delicious),
I had my photo taken as a warrior (although it was hard to look like one!), and Elfini posed beside one of the beautiful statues outside the museum.
From Xiangyang City, we drove to Huaqing Hot Springs, about 20 km east of Xi’an.
During the Qin Dynasty, a stone pool was built and named Lishan Hot Springs. The site was enlarged into a bigger palace during the Han Dynasty and renamed the Li Palace. During the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Xuan Zong ordered the construction of the Hot Springs Palace a later Emperor built a walled palace around the Lishan Mountain in the year 747AD. It became known as the Huaqing Palace and Hot Springs because of its location over the hot springs. The Lishan Mountain stands 1,256m A 16high and is covered with pines and cypresses. From a distance it looks like a dark green galloping horse.
Emperor Xuan Zong used to spend his winters here with his favourite concubine, Yang. She was recognized as one of the most enchanting ladies in ancient China and was spoiled by the Emperor. Such was his love for her that he spent all day and night with her and neglected the affairs of State. He built the luxurious palaces for their personal pleasure. His behaviour ultimately resulted in a rebellion and some of the palaces on the site were destroyed. His beautiful concubine, Yang, was forced to hang herself to appease the solders’ anger.
Everywhere there were beautiful pools and buildings, with ornate carvings like these lions by the hot springs, and dragons by the pool house.
The present-day site is only a small part of the original Palace but still covers an area of 85,560 m². The source of the hot springs that flow into the Huaqing Hot Spring are all situated to the east. At this spa there are four hot springs which have a flow of 112 tons an hour and a constant temperature of 43º. This is the bathroom where the Emperor and his concubine would have bathed.
The water comes up from about 1750-2500m underground through faults and cracks in the stratum. The spring water contains lime, sodium carbonate, sodium sulfate and other minerals which make it suitable for bathing and the treatment of such things as rheumatism, arthritis and muscular pain.
The local government entered into a joint venture with a Singaporean company to build a cable car on the side of the mountain with materials imported from Austria. It is apparently comfortable and safe and can carry 1,200 people an hour. Travelling in the cable car provides a panoramic view of the Lishan Mountain and the nearby towns. Unfortunately, the weather made such an expedition out of the question!
The Museum of the Imperial Palace was opened to the public in October 1990.
And so back to the hotel at the end of our second day and another lovely dinner.
Our final full day in Xi’an was something of a disappointment as we travelled to the Famen Temple situated 120km west of the city. The weather closed in totally so we couldn’t really see anything of the countryside, the journey took about three hours each way and it was really rather cold, and it was raining so hard when we got there that it wasn’t much fun to wander around and take in the sights.
The temple is famous for housing the Buddhist relics of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. The original temple was built in the East Han Dynasty, some 1,700 years ago. In 1987, a treasure was discovered in the temple when renovations were being undertaken. The treasure contains four Buddhist relics, 121 gold and silver artifacts for worshipping Buddha in the temple, 400 pieces of pearls and jade and lots of refined silk fabrics.
On our return to Xi’an, the three of us spent a lovely evening chatting and relaxing. Elfini had been a great companion and we’d miss her.
The next morning, on 27 September, we had to get up fairly early to catch our plane to Shanghai. Here we were going to meet up with another good friend, Anna, who lives there, and stay at her apartment. They say that every picture tells a story and Alwyn snapped this one of me waiting in the departure lounge for our plane. Being a tourist is a very tiring business, obviously! You can also tell how cold it was.
Again our journey was easy and short. The taxi ride to the centre of the city, however, was long. There is another way to the airport which I took on the return journey – and I’ll tell you about that later!
We arrived at Anna’s lovely apartment to a warm welcome and a beautifully prepared, and very western, lunch. It was great to be back in a home again. Her apartment overlooks school grounds and every morning at 7.30 a.m., the school children perform massed gym for half an hour. The loudspeaker music and calls to action are a great way to wake up, and watching the performance is riveting. So many children, in perfect formation to music, every morning, is discipline that has to be seen to be believed.
We took a taxi into the city and meandered through the Temple area which is a maze of lovely little shops, beautiful buildings, bridges over water and hanging lights everywhere. By this time darkness was falling so it had a very romantic feel about it.
From here we walked to the Bund area, one of the most famous tourist destinations in Shanghai. I loved it! The area centres on a section of Zhongshan Road within the former Shanghai International Settlement which runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River, facing Pudong in the eastern part of the Huangpu District. Shanghai was divided into zones to be occupied by each of the conquering powers with people from different countries. These people were very privileged and some of the restaurants at the time bore signs which said ‘No Chinese or dogs allowed’ – hard to comprehend the arrogance that existed at that time, looking back from another age and another country.
This zoning explains why so many different styles of architecture are visible within the different sections of Shanghai, and are particularly apparent when viewed from the Bund area. In fact, the Bund comprises 52 buildings of various architectural styles such as romanesque, gothic, renaissance, baroque, neo-classical, beaux-arts and art deco. Shanghai has one of the richest collections of art deco architecture in the world. These buildings once housed numerous banks and trading houses from Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Belgium, the US and the Netherlands.
The Bund was initially a British settlement and later combined with American settlements to become the International Settlement. A building boom in the 19th/20th centuries led to the Bund becoming a major financial hub of East Asia.
The Customs House, No. 13 The Bund, was built in 1927 on the site of an earlier, traditional Chinese-style customs house. This is what it looked like in the 1920s.
The clock and bell were built in England to imitate Big Ben.
The HSBC Building, No. 12 The Bund, is now used by the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. It was completed in 1923 and was once the Shanghai headquarters of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation but the Bank failed to reach a deal with the Shanghai Government to buy the building again in the 1990s when the Shanghai Government moved out of the building that they’d used since the 1950s. In the 1920s, it was called ‘the most luxurious building between the Suez Canal and the Bering Strait’. Inside the entrance hall, you can see its famous ceiling mosaics, which have been fully restored.
By the 1940s the Bund housed the headquarters of many of the major financial institutions operating in China. However, with the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war, many of the financial institutions were moved out gradually in the 1950s and the hotels and clubs were closed or converted to other uses. But by the late 1970’s, with the thawing of economic policy in the People’s Republic of China, buildings on the Bund were gradually returned to their former uses. During this period, a series of floods caused by typhoons, motivated the municipal government to construct a tall levee along the riverfront and the embankment now stands about 10m higher than street level. This makes for a wonderful stroll along the banks of the river. A number of pleasure cruises still operate from here to the Pudong area.
A great deal of construction is taking place along the Bund to reconfigure traffic flow and is expected to be completed early next year. (In fact, there’s hardly anywhere in Shanghai that isn’t currently under construction – more of that later!.
The Bund area is a ‘happening’ place to walk in the evening. There’s activity on every side and everything’s lit up and very beautiful. Here’s a view of the Pearl Tower in the Pudong area with a pleasure boat operating on the river. The part of Shanghai on the other side of the river – Shanghai Pudong – was a paddy field 15 years ago and is now the fastest-growing area in China – in fact, its financial centre.
It’s equally impressive during the daytime too and here’s the view of the HSBC Bank (left) and the Customs Building (right), looking down from the top of the Pearl Tower.
And so it was that the next day we went to the top of the Pearl Tower. You saw how tall it was from across the river. This is just the base, close up.
We travelled to the Pearl Tower by tube which is an experience in itself. Avoid the rush hour at all costs if you value your life! It’s even worse than the London underground!
There’s an Expo at the bottom of the Pearl Tower and it’s huge. It gives pictorial evidence of the development of Shanghai and I photographed many of the models and pictures which show how it once was.
I learned so much of Chinese history at the Expo and it’ll be hard to be concise and include the photos, but here goes!
Shanghai is one of the Treaty ports, forced open after the first Opium War in 1840. The war started when the British Government sent officials to China during the reign of the Qian Long Emperor. Britain wanted to do business with China, and was offended when the Emperor replied that China was self-sufficient and didn’t need to do business with other powers. The British started to smuggle Opium into China. Thousands of opium smoking houses were scattered along the streets and lanes in Shanghai and quite a few of them tried to solicit customers with girls (they were called ‘Flowery Smoking Houses’). The numerous opium dens were part of the gloomy side of Old Shanghai. Emperor Dao Guang (one of the strong Qing Dynasty Emperors) forbade its importation.
A Chinese official called Lin Ze Xu became a national hero when he followed the orders of Emperor Dao Guang and confiscated and burned the opium at Humen, the port of Guang Zhoun. The British used this as a pretext to declare war.
Although the first 100 years of the Qing Dynasty had been very strong, this was a period when there was weak governmental control of the country. While they’d been strong, China had been able to keep its doors to the outside world firmly closed. However, at the same time, the Industrial Revolution was taking place in Britain and the country was becoming a very strong foreign power. As Britain became more powerful, China became weaker and Britain declared war. In the early 19th century, British forces temporarily held Shanghai. The war ended with the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 and Britain forced China to open four coastal ports to do business with them and their colonies. One was Shanghai. Opium was the biggest import from the UK and the cotton production in the United States essentially destroyed the cotton industry of Shanghai. It was from this time that Shanghai developed an unique culture – half colonial, half feudal – where the east meets the west. It seemed to me that a nation that never sought war with other nations was very gracious about its invaders. I read a couple of signs at the Expo:
“… this was when China was ‘plunged into the abyss’ of semi-colonialism. When the foreign settlements and concessions were established with the Nanjing Settlement in 1845, China’s sovereignty was further eroded. Nonetheless, the forced opening had a far-reaching effect on the development of the city’s municipal works, economy, and culture”.
“Modern Shanghai was taking shape amid conflicts and merging between Chinese and western cultures, interwoven with Chinese traditional cultural spirit and western modern civilization, which enabled Shanghai to be radiant with metropolitan charm. The past prosperity of Shanghai has both dazzling brilliance worth parading and bitterness difficult to tell. The reason for our looking for the past traces of Shanghai now, is to know the yesterday, think today and focus on tomorrow rather than to have a nostalgia for the past prosperity”.
After Shanghai became a Treaty Port the foreign powers seized part of the city’s administrative and judicial powers in the concessions. Before the Opium Wars there were no courts, as such, in China. The Mixed Court, a judicial establishment set up by the Chinese Government, consisted of both Chinese and foreign judges. The loss of judicial sovereignty in the settlement was an important symbol of Shanghai’s semi-colonial status.
In 1860 both the British and the French declared war on China and the Second Opium War took place. It was during this war that they burned down the Yuan Ming Yuan – the Emperor’s Summer Palace.
In 1900, more foreign countries joined in with the English and forced China to agree to the conditions they imposed. Eight countries, including Germany, America, Japan, Austria, Italy, and Russia united to declare war on China.
The Emperor fled to Xi’an during this war. At the end of it, China was forced to sign more unequal treaties with the eight countries, to give them money and land. Huge damages were inflicted during a war that was not of their making. More coastal cities were forced to open to do business with England and France.
In 1912 the last Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, was overthrown by Dr Sun Yat-sen from Canton Province. He founded a nationalist party and set up a national government. This didn’t work for very long because lots of warlords, who sprung up all over China, were fighting against each other. In 1919, after the First World War, the Chinese Government was forced to sign another treaty to allow the Japanese to take over German interests in Shantong province. It stirred things up throughout China and the Chinese people started to demonstrate as this seemed like a betrayal of their country.
In 1921, a group of students and educated people founded another party, the Communist party, when the whole of China was in disorder. In 1927, the communists tried to end foreign rule and a man named Chiang Kai’shek (chang kysheck) began to exert power as the leader of the nationalist party. He started an autocratic rule that lasted from 1927-1937. However, because the two parties had different philosophies, civil war broke out. The Japanese army invaded China in 1931 and since Chiang Kai’shek was occupied fighting with the communists, he ignored the invasion. The Chinese people couldn’t allow this to happen as they didn’t want to be a Japanese colony so in 1936, Generals Zhang Xue Liang and Yang Hu Cheng devised a plan to kidnap Chiang Kai’shek. This operation is known as the Xi’an incident which took place at the Huaqing Palace Hot Springs which we visited, where bullet holes can be seen in the walls and windows. The communists forced Chiang into making a ‘Second United Front’ with them against Japan. The rising tide of Chinese nationalism and the cessation of warfare against the communists propelled Chiang Kai-shek to the pinnacle of his political career. He was considered the only leader with both the A 14popular support and international recognition to be capable of leading the nation into a war against Japan.
Whilst all this turmoil was going on, Shanghai continued to prosper.
In 1936, it was one of the largest cities in the world with 3 million inhabitants, of whom only 35,000 were foreigners although they were in charge of half the city. New inventions like electricity and trams were quickly introduced and westerners helped transform Shanghai into a metropolis. Shanghai accounted for half of the imports and exports in China. The western part of Shanghai was four times larger than the Chinese part in the early 20th century. In fact, Shanghai was then the biggest financial city in East Asia.
The European and American inhabitants of Shanghai called themselves the Shanghailanders. The extensive public gardens along the waterfront of the International Settlement, the Bund, were reserved for the foreign communities and, although it seems unbelievable, were forbidden to Chinese natives.
This beautiful painting represents what life must have looked like in the International Settlement and this painting shows the Bund in 1893 at the Jubilee of the Founding of the Settlement.
During this period, Shanghai was known as ‘the Paris of the east and the New York of the west’. The city’s industrial and financial power increased because the merchants were in control of it, while the rest of China was divided among warlords.
But the interference from Japan could not be tolerated and on 7 July 1937, China officially declared war with Japan. Chiang Kai’shek had sent 600,000 of his best-trained and equipped soldiers to defend Shanghai. Although he lost the battle, he dispelled Japanese claims that it could conquer China in three months and showed the Western powers, who occupied parts of the city and had invested heavily in it, that the Chinese wouldn’t surrender. Chiang knew the city would eventually fall but he wanted to make a strong gesture in order to secure Western military aid for China. His strategy was to ‘use space to trade for time’ to prolong the war as long as possible and stretch the Japanese supply lines and bog down Japanese soldiers in the vast Chinese interior. When the capital city of Nanjing fell, he moved the Government first to Wuhan and later to Chongqing.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and started the war in the Pacific, China became one of the allied powers. China had the unwavering support of the United States China Lobby who saw the possibility of a Christian and democratic China. Chiang was even named the Supreme Commander of allied forces of Chine Warzone, which included India and Southeast Asia.
The war lasted for eight years until the Japanese surrendered in 1945 – after the bombing of Hiroshima by the United States. At this point, civil war broke out again and lasted for four years until the nationalists were defeated and Chiang Kai’shek fled to Taiwan under the protection of the American 7th Fleet, where he continued to fight against the communist régime on the mainland. But the communists prevailed, and on 1 October 1949 the People’s Republic of China was founded and Mao Zedong became the Chairman.
But enough of the history! The sights were incredible when we were whisked 350m into the air to the Space Module at the top of the Tower. From here the views of Shanghai were spectacular (not unlike being at the top of the Empire State Building in New York). From here we could actually look down on the World Financial Centre and Jin Mao Tower which had actually looked impressively tall from the ground!
When you consider that only 15 years ago, the Pudong area of Shanghai was a paddy field, the development is nothing short of miraculous. Construction is happening 24/7 as Shanghai prepares itself for the 2010 World Expo. And the population has swelled to over 20 million.
With the Huangpu River so conveniently situated, much of the construction materials are transported on barges, as can be seen from the Space Module at the top of the Pearl Tower.
But there are, of course, other parts of Shanghai (or places close by) which present a very different picture of life away from the hustle and bustle – as these beautiful paintings depict.
And also parts of Pudong that haven’t A 22yet come under the construction ‘hammer’ and are waiting for development.
And so, footsore and weary after a huge injection of Chinese culture, we wended our way back to Anna’s apartment, stopping for a coffee (of course!) a very strenuous foot massage and a lovely dinner and walk home.
After a day like that one, we were fairly lazy (thank goodness) for our remaining time together. We talked about China, went shopping, bought heaps of cheap DVD’s, talked more about China and relaxed, enjoying each other’s company.
One of our favourite snacks, as we shopped and wandered, became custard tarts – yum!
One last thing that amused me greatly was when we went to visit the recently opened H&M store. Having shopped at H&M in London and Peterborough and seen that nearly every garment said ‘Made in China’ it caused me a giggle when I tried on my first T-shirt and saw that this one (and most of the others!) was made in Bangladesh! So capitalism and exploitation is just as alive and well in China as it is in the western world!
And so the time came to leave China after an amazing introduction, not only to its magnificent culture and amazing sights and sounds and smells, but also to my wonderful historian, Anna.
They had one last treat for me – the journey back to the airport on the fastest train in the world. The journey itself is magnificent. The journey to get to it takes almost as long as going by taxi in the first place! But that’s not the point, is it?
We walked to the tube station and travelled by underground to Maglev Longyang Station
Only one part of the line has been developed so far – from this station to the airport. Anna told me that it’s currently a bit of a white elephant because it’s so hard to access the station in the first place. However, it was certainly worth it.
The train runs on air above what appears to be a concrete pad. It looks very futuristic in style and was very comfortable.
It’s hard to imagine travelling at 630 kph but that’s the speed that our train achieved. It’s relatively smooth but the landscape passes the window at an amazing speed and we certainly tilted slightly on one very small bend! I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world!
And so it was time to say goodbye to Anna and Alwyn at the airport. They’d been wonderful friends, guardians, tour guides, and teachers and their hospitality knew no bounds.
As I travelled on the plane back home to New Zealand, I contemplated some of the things I’d learned about China today and the traditions and customs I’d heard about.
I learned that it’s vital for all Chinese people to have a full larder on New Year’s Eve with the rice jar completely full. Yu (yeuw) means fish and it also means ‘to leave something’. On New Year’s Eve all Chinese people eat fish and leave something on their plates for the year ahead.
On New Year’s Eve, the house must be very clean because no manual labour takes place on New Year’s Day. In particular no sweeping may take place in case good luck is swept away. Most people eat out on New Year’s Day as no cooking can be done. New Year’s Day is not just a one-day public holiday – the holiday continues for 15 days!
Chinese wear all new clothes on New Year’s Day and preferably something red, because red is auspicious.
Both white and black indicate mourning. The colour yellow belongs to the royal family – Emperors always wore yellow. No other colours are specifically important to the Chinese.
Critical to the beliefs and values of the Chinese was Laozi (literally ‘Old Master’) a philosopher of ancient China and a central figure in Taoism. Laozi is revered as a god in religious forms of Taoism. According to Chinese tradition, Laozi lived in the 6th century BC and his work was embraced by various anti-authoritarian movements.
Also critical is Confucius (551-479 BC), a Chinese thinker and social philosopher, whose teachings and philosophy have deeply influenced Chinese thought and life. His philosophy emphasized personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice and sincerity. These values gained prominence in China over other doctrines.
Such a vast country, so much to take in. It’s been an amazing experience with two very wonderful friends to show me round.