Visiting Ancient China
A tour round some of the ancient sites
How do you visit ancient China? For us, the answer was Wendy Wu. In May/June 2014 we spent eighteen days making a tour of northern China, sleeping in eight different hotels and one night on the train. The result was for me a revelation, a discovery of an unknown civilisation. Here I show some of the places that we visited, with some ideas as to how they fit into the history of ancient China.
China was a civilisation based on palaces. Here the emperor lived, and from here he and his advisers directed the affairs of the empire. The most important is the fabulously preserved Forbidden City in Beijing. This is where the concubines lived, but it was surrounded by the Imperial city where the administrators and the workmen lived and where some of the hutongs are still preserved. But for much of the year the emperor lived in the Summer Palace, ten miles north of his official residence.
However in the early empire, in the Han and Tang dynasties, the capital was a thousand miles to the south west, in Xian. This is now best known for the fabulous Terracotta Army, but the town itself is also of major importance with its well preserved pagodas.
However the highlight of the visit for me was the visit to the miraculously well preserved town of Pingyao. This is where you can find out about where the people actually lived – and we slept in a modified version of a traditional Chinese house. We can also see where they worked – in a bank ! – and how they were governed, to say nothing of the walls around the town. Wendy Wu appeared to be the only company that includes Pingyao in their regular itinerary, and was for me the big reason for me to choose the Ancient China tour.
We also visited a number of Buddhist sites. There are the huge Buddhas carved into the sides of the cliff at Yungang and Longmen, and we also visited the Buddhist temple at Shaolin which following the success of the film Shaolin Temple is now the centre of the kung fu martial arts in China. Another marvellous visit was to the Hanging Monastery, clinging precariously to the side of a cliff, but the home to three separate religions. And then there was the visit to Wutaishan, one of the four sacred mountains of China.
Finally, abandoning Antiquity we went to wonderful Shanghai where we saw first the ancient part, the Bund, the trading centre of the 19th and 20th centuries. But then we went on to visit the amazing skyscrapers that decorate the skyline on the other side of the river and which make a fantastic panorama at night.
It was a fabulous visit and in our final page we say something about ourselves, about our visits, look at some of theatrical performances we attended, and some of the pretty girls we saw on our travels through China.
Comments, queries to Andrew Selkirk, firstname.lastname@example.org
17th January 2015