China FlagIn the years since the Communist Revolution, the public face of China has been very difficult to read. Politically and economically, it has appeared at once uniform and homogenous, standing by a staunch Maoist line and keeping all non-oldguard ideas at bay, as well as open and curious about western capitalist opportunities, modernism, diversity, and cooperation. In the west, China has been viewed as somewhat of an enigma: suppressing freedom of expression and communication (the Chinese government is infamous for extreme censorship of any and all media), openly violating globally accepted standards of human rights while claiming ignorance or slander, and military posturing that is meant to discourage nations such as the United States from looking too closely at what goes on behind their closed doors; all the while urban Chinese are quickly embracing modern technoloy and communication methods such as the Internet, cities have turned into boomtowns where everything is for sale, and the Chinese government has made efforts to draw in western industry and capitalize on business and growth that would send them in a direction opposite the Communist ideals of Chairman Mao and his Cultural Revolution.

For many thousands of years, the Chinese culture has been one of walls. Finished in the earliest days of unified China–during the Qin dynasty–the Great Wall literally surrounds much of the nation. This is more symbolic than functional, but the years since its completion have seen many more political and cultural barriers built, intended as much to keep Chinese pride and culture in as they are to keep the western world out.

The age of colonialism came early for China, as armies swept across much of Southeast Asia conquering lands for their emperors. But as of the sixteenth century, westerners began knocking on China’s doors in droves–beginning with the Portuguese, in 1516, and soon followed by the British, French, Americans, Germans, Russians, and more. So many outside China Mapnations wanted a part of China that they literally divided up the country among themselves into “spheres of influence.” This was the beginning of the economic pillaging and a cultural oppression that eventually led to such calamities as the Opium Wars, America’s “Open Door” policy, the Boxer Rebellion and China’s civil war, and finally to the Chinese Communist Revolution itself.

A smaller nation than before (although, at roughly 1 million square miles, still huge by any account), with a much larger population, weaker economy, and rash of environmental and other problems to face, China is now making some efforts to align itself with western policies, without totally abandoning the Communist foundations upon which modern Chinese culture is based.

As China tip-toes into new-world economics, and as the voices of dissent begin to grow too loud to ignore, it will be very interesting to see if this ancient and great culture evolves from being defined by walls, to being identified with its openness and eagerness to join the modern world.

Traveling in China
Visas are required by all foreigners to enter mainland China, with the exception of a 24-hour reprieve for anyone with a ticket for a connecting flight out of the country. Visas can be gotten from Chinese consulates and embassies in most countries. Currently, a visa is not required for western nationals to enter either Hong Kong or Macau.

The environment in China is varied–from the soaring and snowy Himalayas to the flat plains of the Yangzi River valley and the Inner Mongolia Plateau. The most dramatic region of China, from a geologic point of view, is arguably the Yunnan-Guizhbou Plateau in the southwest. Here, the limestone bedrock has been carved away by the elements, creating jaw-dropping waterfalls, underground caverns, and gorge rapids to make the most expert river runner nervous. Unfortunately, because of over-population, pollution, and the effects of stripping the land for agriculture, many of China’s indigenous species are either endangered or extinct. The few that remain, however, include some of the world’s most appreciated–including the panda, snow leopard, yak, and elephant. Plant life has suffered as well, though not quite as much as fauna; the northern subarctic region is home to China’s largest forest, and the steamier south has more diverse plant life in its rainforests. The bottom line is, this is a country of more than a billion people; under the pressure of such a huge population, and without the govenmental or economic support needed to encourage conservation, much of China’s potential for ecological wealth has been destroyed.

Health risks include rabies, bilharzia, dengue fever, malaria and cholera. Immunization against cholera, hepatitis A and B, Japanese encephalitis, polio, rabies, and typhoid is necessary before going to China.

Weather in China
Weather is China varies greatly, as expected in a country of its size. Most people visit in the spring (March through April) and fall (September through October), when average daytime temperatures range from the mid-60s to the mid-80s (in degrees Fahrenheit). This is, however, the hottest time of year in the south, and coincides with typhoon season along the southern coast. It’s best to do your research according to where you’ll be and when. Otherwise, it is very difficult to try to predict weather for the entire country.

People’s Republic of China Informaton
Population: 1.25 billion
Government: Communist republic
Square Miles: 9,596,960 sq km (mainland)
Capitol: Beijing (pop 13.8 million)
Official Language: Putonghua (Beijing Mandarin dialect), Cantonese
People: Han Chinese (93%), plus 55 ethnic minorities
Religion: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism (no stats available); Muslim (14 million), Christian (7 million)
Major products/industries: Iron, steel, coal, machinery, textiles