Beyond the Great Wall: Unveiling China’s Hidden Gems

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Exploring China’s lesser-known tourist regions – away from crowded and bustling cities – is still relatively easy to identify the must-see places. When you travel to more provincial areas, especially in a metropolis like Shanghai, you’re often looked at with amazement, if not suspicion, when you say you are not interested in the top 10 cities drawn up by the international travel magazine. These travel lists are often drawn up by the most interaction, i.e., Instagram locations. However, it is not difficult to break away from the masses in China, even without a guide or guide. In China, traveling to unknown places that do not yet have an official tourist label or network of infrastructure for the masses may seem risky, but you do have a certain amount of approachability.

In recent years, China’s economy has been performing impressively, with annual double-digit growth rates. However, only 200 million tourists travel to China annually, making it the 4th most visited country. The main tourist attractions are clearly the developed area around the metropolises Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an known as the “Golden Triangle”, or the southern provinces of Yunnan or Tibet. China is basically a country of tourists, with domestic tourists making up 80% of the market. What all these regions have in common is venturing far off the beaten track, braving a few inconveniences. However, these dark spots on the tourist map are mainly due to a lack of infrastructure. As there are not many tourists, accommodation and dining facilities are scarce, and public transport is rudimentary, if it exists at all.

Historical Sites

The legend said that Dong people established the village thousands of years ago. Tourists tend to be amazed by the colored wooden houses in Dong, which remain amongst the tallest and largest in the ancient village. Dong culture is a main feature in the village. In Chenzhou, you may gain a rare experience in a well-preserved old manor with nearly 700 years of history, called Zhaoyuezhuang. The ancient Chinese liner talks about the story of 28 people from the family Zheng. Zheng Shi, a highly qualified scholar in the Ming Dynasty, was designated as a political governor of a city. The wealth he built has been sufficient for the manor of the family.

On the opposite side of the country are several well-preserved ancient towns welcoming those who are not fascinated with the countryside, in the southern part of Yunnan Province. If you are curious about how a Chinese mountain village was built in the Qing Dynasty, Zhaoxing, an elegant rural village with over 800 years old, could provide you with a sought-after experience. You may see the residential buildings with green grass canopies, which are said to help protect the ancient black-tile traditional dwelling. There are five remarkable drum towers standing in the picturesque village, each with more or less alike, each with different legends and a refined, engraved dome on top.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City’s architectural style is Vilzung. Vilzung is an ancient architectural style in China, typically featuring a wooden roof with a heavy curve. This style was once considered sacred, and as a result, it was exclusively utilized in the various types of architecture favored by the imperial family, like the Hall of Supreme Harmony, in the film. In accordance with Chinese tradition, goddesses were believed to reside in the Iron Roof, so only the wooden roof was dubbed the ‘Iron Tile Temple’.

The Forbidden City contains 9,999 rooms and halls, which makes sense given that Chinese tradition believes that heaven is a three-digit number that represents infinity. The same could be said for the 9,999 rooms within the 26-foot high, 34-foot wide walls that encompass the heart of Beijing. However, if you look closely, you will notice the uneven interior architecture and notice that most of the building contains fewer than 9,999 rooms. In reality, there are 9,999 and a half rooms. It was only built to have 9,999 chambers because it was what Emperors like, saying that, “The words in the emperor’s dictionary are limited”.

The Forbidden City: Perhaps Beijing’s most visited site, the Forbidden City is more than just a destination – it is a journey through the centuries. The Forbidden City’s name is more than just a title; it was literally forbidden to the public. Throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the only people allowed into its chambers were the emperor, his private staff, and concubines, their eunuch guards, and government servants. By the time the Qing dynasty had collapsed and the Republic of China had begun, a feudal revolution and political persecution ended the era of imperialism. It was also during this time when the Forbidden City became the Palace Museum. In 1987, UNESCO deemed the Forbidden City an important cultural site.

The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is one of those must-see attractions in China, and with good reason. The story behind these soldiers is amazing. Emperor Qin, who wasn’t even 50 years old when he died, ordered the creation of the Terracotta Army when he was only 13 years old because in the afterlife he wanted to be surrounded by people and objects that he liked for use. During the construction of the terracotta army, archaeologists discovered a number of vaults so far; vault 1 holds the main force and stands in long lines in 11 corridors, with a height of 1.87 m and looks like a real-life design; vault 2 shows a spotlight, representing the commander of the army, standing with his soldiers; and vault 3, which is much smaller, is considered the command post. Digging further proved to be difficult currently, so new discoveries are pending.

Not far from Xi’an, the ancient capital where you’ll find the Terracotta Warriors, are some of what is widely considered to be China’s holiest mountains, Huashan. There are five peaks which represent the five elements: metal, wood, water, fire, and earth – linked by a sacred path. The mini Earth is on Route 7 and the main temple on this element. Panyu and Klang Yi of the central peaks are the patronesses of Taoism in China. Therefore, it is not surprising, considering the spiritual and symbolic significance, that here is filled with clarity, especially to the elements that keep the Earth spinning. There are six monasteries between the Western and Central Peaks, each with their temple, as well as two ancient paths to go against each other dotted with graffiti! Hiking tourists usually spend a day hiking to and from East to Western peaks and return to catching the bus to the train station or back to the hostel.

Natural Wonders

Have you seen the movie “Avatar” and fascinated by the floating mountain? Now, there is no need to travel all the way to Hollywood to experience the same ambiance. Just take a 2-hour flight or a 5-hour train to Sanya and flag down a taxi or travel on public transport to Tianmen Gansu. This national park is China’s largest cave visited travel destination. The ruggedness of the landscape not only represents the contrast between the softness and nature but also the tranquility of heaven and earth and the infinite silence of nature. The beauty of each of the mountains contrast with soft clouds makes the place one of the most beautiful scenic spots in the world. The 430-meter glass-bottomed skywalk can hold a maximum of 800 people at any one time but if you do not have the guts to walk on the skywalk, don’t worry, walking around the mountains, waiting for the skywalk to arrive and seeing the countless small mountains rising between the clouds is just as rewarding, making the RMB258 entrance fee worth it.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Cloudy Peak, Looming Precipice, and Xiang Dakong are known as the “Three Pioneers”. A network of more than 300 dangerously steep paths in distressing narrowness interconnects all scenic mountains. These natural alternating cycles of heaven with man remind one of Sakura Rainy Mountain and Niubei River flowing into the world of mortals and the limited space of all accidental creations. Zhangjiajie is a 400-kilometer blooming wetland. Among rare plants and exotic flowers, 594 species which have been recognized include dozens of species of rare plants under state protection. In 2003 and 2008, Zhangjiajie received the honor of being one of the “forest parks on earth”. Zhangjiajie, the traveler with favorable weather and geographical conditions, offers picturesque sceneries that are so impressive, succinct, and gratuitous.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is situated in the western part of Hunan Province. Within an area of 90% forests, Zhangjiajie is one of the four striking scenic areas of the world. What makes this park truly honored and remarkable is the inspiration it has brought to the production of natural science and art. With perpetual streams, bird’s twitter, and fragrance of the flowers, Zhangjiajie is nature itself and what the world was like before its development. Deriving its name from the Zhang Jiajie Village and its higher Xiang Dakong Mountains, Zhangjiajie is often held as a Pearl of Little Xiang.

Jiuzhaigou Valley

The Jiuzhaigou Valley represents one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It is filled with nearly 300 clear blue, green, and azure colored glistening lakes. These mesmerizing and shimmering lakes stretching up to 1.5 kilometers display a network that fluctuates across the mountain range, garnering the nickname “High Mountain and Clear Lake”. The valley is surrounded by alpine forests of extremely rich and diverse eco-system ranging in altitude from 2,000 to 4,500 meters. According to local folklore, the valley’s name was originated from the words “Nine Tibetan Villages”. The “Zaru Ravine” and the “Plank Ravine” are the most valued representative scenes in the area and offer an insight into the landscape beauty of this national treasure.

The Jiuzhaigou Valley, located at the northern foot of the Sichuan Province’s outskirts, is a natural reserve area and lies at the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and within a national earthquake engineering protected area. This scenic spot is world-famous for its beautiful, pure, and primitive landscape and for its preservation of the ecological system. This region supports unique and abundant plant life and is the main habitat for many plants and wild animals. Furthermore, this area is also a representative area for a typical limestone erosion landform. The main tourist resources here are natural, open, and original ecosystem masterpieces.

Huangshan Mountain

Nonetheless, this trek is not meant to be a spiritual experience but a physical and sensory one too. The trek to the top is a harsh one, yet delightful at the same time. There are many places where you can take a leisurely stroll, marvel at the rock formations, enjoy the gentle streams and cascading waterfalls, and rest in some of the many teahouses and souvenir shops. Since 2015, the site has been exploring ecological alternative transportation such as the “clean-energy bus” and the “environmentally friendly car”. True, the environmental peril is real, but what is far more alarming is the thought that China will not have managed to find a meaningful solution to its “lines” by the time it will host the majority of the next snow-seeking Olympics.

Huangshan Mountain is a mountain range in southern Anhui province and is known for its iconic granite peaks, which create a beautiful sea of clouds. There are over 50,000 steps across the range, and with the steep gradient, the walk up can be quite challenging. In fact, many younger and adventurous people try to do the whole walk to the top without using the cable car at all. But is it really worth the effort? Indeed, sightings can be magical, but these days, with the site now accessible to millions of tourists every year and when visibility is much reduced, you’re just up there sharing the feeling with thousands of people, in the same large cloud of mist.

Cultural Experiences

Cultural tours are perhaps the main type of rest that is offered in China. Here are some of the many thematic excursions available to interested visitors. For thousands of years, the ancient art of Feng Shui has been a part of China’s culture. This unique method of discovering an ideal location for houses, using laws of harmony and balance, is being preserved in modern society. Throughout centuries of research and practical application, there have appeared, and subsequently developed, certain parts of Feng Shui that are still held in the highest regard today. This excursion usually brings travelers from the ancient temple Tanjong Bakto. According to a legend, many people managed to communicate with fairies residing in the temple and to ask them for housing construction advice. The path to the temple lies through the tea plantations of Paghera – a sight you wouldn’t want to miss.

One of the countries with the most ancient history and one of the richest cultures, conserved thanks to its relative isolation for many centuries, China is now a magnificent destination with unique cultural entertainment. The country’s delightful traditions are carefully maintained and can easily compete with the world’s other wonders. A trip to China will ultimately end up with your everlasting delight and a confident thought that China is definitely a place that you will always want to return.

Traditional Chinese Opera

Listening to the high-pitched tunes of Kunqu opera backstage, one could hear accompanying cries of the role players, stories of the past Chinese people during the Han and Tang dynasties that were depicted in vivid colors through the delicate libretto, changes of music, multi-levels of props, and a slowly unwinding dance, a kind of dance-theatre, which came from the blend of the linear narrative technique and the round dance technique. If this heritage from the ancient Chinese theatre has been built, transferred, and inherited similar to the eastern westward Silk Road, and finally linked to the Italian Renaissance culture, why not from a now globally shared human heritage go back to China in order to restart its journey? In 2011, this concept was indeed put into practice as a part of the Chinese Ministry of Culture’s Initiation of the Cultural Exchange Among Governments of the Peoples.

Traditional Chinese Opera. Traditional Chinese Opera (TCO) as a performing art form integrates music, singing, dialogue, acting, acrobatics, and martial arts with stylized costuming, face makeup, and props like musical instruments and banners in order to deeply express theater artists’ artistic conceptions and integrate the theatre artists with the space landscape with the purpose of expressing the integrity and beauty of ancient legends. China has over 30,000 fixed, traditional theatre venues and teams of opera companies ranging from powerful professional groups to small amateur troupes that perform on an irregular basis at public squares, in streets, at village temples, and fairs. Under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese government goes to great lengths to utilize Chinese opera to further cultural exchange.

Tea Ceremonies

The warm scent of green leaves came from the teapot, getting only an island of peace among anticipation, anger, anxiety, and disappointment discussed over the improvised round wooden table. The table was covered with five cups and a teapot. All the rest stacks of paper with Chinese characters ahead were no longer attractive and necessary. Who could explain why Chinese characters written on paper were admissions and those written in the mobile application were no longer than a ticket by luck and new opportunities? With one exception, the peace of the tea ceremony for the “School of CHIGAO” group on June 24 included not only joy and comfort for the students with the results of the exams but also sadness for those who failed to enter the selected high educational institutions.

It is said that there are three urgent things in life: the appearance of true love, a person with the head and ambition to care for money, and urgent situations demanding our attention and action. Nowadays, the scope of money is getting more capacious, especially after June 24, when people with the right ambition changed their preference and the iPhone was no longer the basic criterion of high living standards. Accumulated wealth, thoughtful money management, and the development of HR resources were always in fashion. It was just a matter of time when the Chinese zodiac of students went into the mission.

Calligraphy Classes

Over time, however, it has become quite clear that traditional calligraphy, those big black inked characters that adorn walls and convey feelings and epitomes of philosophies, are not just a method to practice writing: behind the curves and straight lines that turn into cherry blossoms and willow leaves and that take the appearance of animals and houses, one first must understand which elements of the continuous movement, the stroke (笔画, bǐhuà) order, and the pressure can allow even a complete beginner to have a decent result and to truly take on the written word. Truly, writing Chinese is an art in itself and speaks of a larger culture, as has been recently highlighted by The World of Chinese. My husband, who chose to sign up for community classes not by the discuss size of the creature, but by his proximity to our house at the time, jointly decided to attend in a classroom with local grannies that enrolled with the same intent of becoming more knowledgeable and thus useful people.

In any given day in China, you are bound to see people practicing this script of ancient style, whether it is on the ground with a wet mop in the park, on an easel with a giant paintbrush near major monuments, on paper with a traditional brush pen (毛笔, máobǐ) in calligraphy classes carried out in a multitude of community centers or in actual exhibitions sponsored by universities and corporations after a three-month rehearsal with renowned calligraphers. Every year, thousands of people crowd the city park to witness a large calligraphy competition that grows bigger every year in jubilant competitiveness as contenders vie for the top spot in the written word. When my husband decided a couple of years ago to take classes, unsatisfied with his own writing skills, he soon found out how popular they were. There is a long waiting list for the classes everywhere due to high demand, and apart from free communal practice spaces in each neighborhood, large parks and generally anywhere in the street where there is water on the ground available for use, local businesses often sponsor practices and competitions, with their business calligrapher teacher involved in large, expressive red-lettered words as a gift for the community.