In Beijing I visited the Temple of Heavens, the Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City. These imperial buildings are quite impressive. The Temple of Heavens and the Summer Palace are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I also visited an impressive Tibetan Buddhist Temple. A stop at Tiananmen Square was also included, as was a tour through the Hutongs, the old residential buildings. These small one-story buildings, usually arranged around an inner courtyard, are disappearing fast. One day I did the excursion to the Great Wall. The Great Wall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is quite impressive. What was unexpected there was the fact that the Great Wall is not just one single continuous wall. It branches in some places, and has double or triple rows of walls that were build on after the other as the Chinese empire expanded. Unfortunately it was quite hazy because of the weather and pollution, which made it difficult to see much of the Great Wall. Also the trees had no leaves yet, which made the whole area look rather drab.
A familiar urban legend has it that the Great Wall is the only man-made structure that can be seen from space. This is of course not true. The Great Wall is much too narrow (some 4-5 meters (13-16 feet)) to be seen from any large distance. You have a better chance of seeing the Great Pyramids in Egypt, or any large building for that matter.
One memorable part of the trip to the Great Wall (and of most of the places that I visited) are the street vendors. They sell with a vengeance, and they don't take no for an answer very easily. Around the Great Wall they were hawking T-shirts for $1, baseball caps for $1, and similar stuff. "Genuine" Rolex watches (yeah sure) were to be had for $5.
From Beijing I went to Hangzhou and to Suzhou. These two small cities (each around 1-2 million inhabitants, which is a small city in China) are famous for their gardens and parks. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou in Suzhou are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These gardens and parks are 700+ years old. They are very beautiful. When I was there it was drizzle and fog most of the time. This created atmosphere that is hard to describe. It was probably more intriguing and enchanting to see these parks and gardens through the mist and drizzle than in bright sunlight.
From Suzhou I went to Shanghai for one and a half days. This is a fascinating city. Again it is quite western in appearance and in the way people live and go about their daily business. The most memorable part of Shanghai is the Museum. It is one of the most impressive museum that I have ever visited. It is fairly new. It is very well laid out and contains everything from Stone Age artifacts to recent items. You rent a cell-phone-like contraption that lets you input a number and then tells you the information about that particular piece. All the important pieces in the museum have such numbers. This is much better than guides that go through the announcements sequentially and you have to try to follow the descriptions. With this system you can hop, skip, and jump through the museum and always get the right description. These announcers come in many languages. I had one in English and I can say that it was extremely good. It must have been recorded by a native English speaker. The information given is concise and extensive. I wish more museums had systems like this. Another item worthwhile seeing is the Buddha temple with the Jade Buddha. I also visited an afternoon school. In that school children spend the afternoon to learn different arts (singing, musical instruments, dancing). It was quite impressive what these children could do.
From Shanghai I flew to Wuhan to start the five day cruise on the Yangtze through the Three Gorges. This is quite captivating scenery. The cruise ended in Chongqing. Going upriver, the Three Gorges are the Xiling Gorge, with 76 km (47 miles) length the longest of the gorges, the 40 km (25 miles) long Wuxia Gorge, and the 7 km (4.3 miles) long Qutang Gorge, the narrowest of the three. Large ship traffic is one-way only through that gorge, so ships have to communicate with each other as to who can enter the gorge. I went on several excursions, the most memorable one was by hand-pulled boats into a narrow side gorge, famous for its hanging coffins.
From Chongqing I flew to Xi'an, the old Chinese capital. This is where they discovered the Terracotta Warriors in 1974. They date from the Qin dynasty (221 BCE - 206 BCE). If you visit anyplace in China, this one is a must. There are some 7000 of the statues. The statues were almost all broken shortly after they were put in place when the emperor that had built them fell out of favor. They have been excavated in three pits. In the first pit the statues have been reconstructed and set up as they were originally. In the second pit they were left more like they were found so you can see what they looked like when they were first excavated. The third pit is much smaller and has some reconstructed statues, including horses. Photography is not allowed in the excavation pits, but everybody takes pictures. It seems that they used to be quite strict about that and removed your film from your camera when they caught you. By now they don't take it very seriously anymore. Also near Xi'an is an excavated Stone Age village with several remnants of buildings and several graves with excavated skeletons.
From Xi'an I flew to Guilin. This area is famous for its scenic limestone karst formations. It is quite impressive. I was on a one-day cruise on the Li River through the karst area. Part of the visit in Guilin was a visit to an old village (with 200 year old wood buildings) that is being kept in its original state. It is like a museum village. People there work in their old trades and farm the fields as they did years ago. One thing that was unusual was the exclusive use of natural fertilizer from the village in the surrounding fields.
From Guilin I flew to Hong Kong, the last part of the tour. China itself was very western in appearance. This of course goes even more so for Hong Kong. It is like any other big city in the world. Hong Kong Island is quite scenic, and Aberdeen harbor with the Sampans and the house boats is interesting, but for the most part it is just a regular big city.
In June 2004 I visited China again. This time I went to Chengdu to the Wolong Panda Reserve, to Tibet, and to Beijing. China had changed quite a bit. In particular Beijing, there were no more bicycles on the roads, they are not allowed anymore.
The people around Wolong are one of the many minorities in China. I walked around a bit in the area. It is not a very developed area, mostly small farmers. Chengdu on the other hand is one of the larger cities in the area with several million people living there. The pollution in the area is pretty severe in some places.
Tiananmen Square. This is a huge square in the center of Beijing, the largest square in China. It was full of people of all ages flying kites. (699k) Here is an old man flying his kite. There were all kinds of people flying kites. Some of the kites where quite elaborate constructions. (768k) This old man is walking his bird. I saw this several times where older men were walking around with their bird cages. Or they were sitting in the park, with their bird cages hanging on a nearby tree. (708k) He was on the road leading to the Temple of Heavens. He wrote calligraphy with a big brush and water, just for fun. He was not collecting money, he did it just for himself. (792k) A multi-storied pagoda like building in Beijing. (908k) I visited one of the main universities in Beijing. This is one of the university buildings. (949k) One of the many nicely arranged parks in Beijing. (1201k) A nicely decorated Buddhist temple. (1162k) A Buddha statue on a Lotus throne in one of the temples. (858k) A prayer drum. (851k) A stone carved lion statue. (931k) Bicycle traffic in Beijing. This was completely gone when I visited Bejing the second time, no more bicycles. (914k) Bicycle parking. There were long rows of parked bicycles everywhere during my first visit. (978k) They were using motorcycles as taxis extensively at the time of my first visit. (779k) The red taxicabs where everywhere. (829k) In 2004 there were no more bicycles on the roads in Beijing, but even more red taxis. (791k) A very nicely landscaped park near the Forbidden City. (1248k) Beautiful marble bridges in the park. (951k) Colorfully painted covered walkway. (1257k) Painted roof of the walkway. (977k) Detail of one of the paintings. (804k) A small temple on a hill near the Forbidden City. (730k) In addition to the interesting historical monuments, there were also these unsightly monstrosities. (728k) A local bar. I had a great time there, playing dice with the locals, etc. They were very friendly. (1.9M) My friendly bartender. He really was a character. (1.8M)
Acrobat show. It was quite impressive what they did. (751k) An acrobat balancing a lot of stuff. (742k) Music performance. They were playing traditional Chinese instruments. (788k) Music performance. (839k) Musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments. (714k) A musician playing a string instrument. (765k) Afternoon school. Children learn to play a string instrument. (951k) An antique bronze bell in the Shanghai museum. (547k) An antique bronze vessel. (483k) Traditional Chinese painting. (741k) Traditional Chinese painting. (977k) Traditional Chinese painting. (834k) This antique teapot doesn't have a lid. The whole top is solid. To put tea into the pot, the teapot is turned upside-down. The bottom has hole through which the tea is poured into the teapot. The teapot is then turned right-side-up. It is not difficult to figure out how it works. I saw this type of teapot several times. This example is a Ming Dynasty pot in one of the museums, about 1000 years old. (712k)
Temple of Heavens
Entrance to the Temple of Heavens. Blue is the color of the Heaven. All the buildings in the Temple of Heavens have blue roofs. (881k) The main building in the Temple of Heavens. (775k) Blue roof on one of the buildings in the Temple of Heavens. (684k) Blue roof decorations. (767k)
The Long Corridor in the Summer Palace. This corridor is about 700 meters long. Every beam and straight surface is decorated with paintings. (947k) Detail of a painting in the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace. (847k) Detail of a painting in the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace. (968k) A mythical beast in bronze. It is a combination of lion, deer, and dragon. This figure is in the Summer Palace. (764k) A bronze dragon. (901k) A stone building in the shape of a ship, built in one of the lakes. (925k)
View of the Forbidden City. (819k) Entrance gate to the Forbidden City. (784k) One of the palace buildings in the Forbidden City in Beijing, the residence of the Emperors. Yellow is the color of Earth and the Emperor. All the roofs in the Forbidden City are yellow. The stone relief in the middle of the staircase leading up to the palace is carved out of one single piece of marble. (782k) The marble relief. (996k) Detail of the marble relief. (904k) A temple in the Forbidden City. (955k) Man-made stone hill in the Forbidden City with small palace building on top. Using natural stones in designing gardens was very common in different palace and temple areas. (1107k) Wooden buildings in the back and carved marble structures. (724k) Closeup of carved marble. (535k) Entrance to one of the palaces in the Forbidden City, flanked by two lion statues. (926k) Male lion statue, holding a golden orb, symbolizing the male element, the Yang, and the reign of the Emperor of the world. (833k) Female lion statute, holding a lion cub, symbolizing the female element, the Yin, and fertility. (887k) Stone carved figures of a lion and dragon-headed turtles. (859k) Bronze figure of a turtle with a dragon head. There were many bronze figures in the Forbidden City. (741k) Bronze figure of a crane, a frequent symbol. (621k) A small gilded statue of an elephant. (1016k) A marble sundial. It has a shadow casting gnomon on both sides. The lower side is for times when the sun is below the plane of the sun dial. (429k) Bronze vessel. This vessel has a very simple but very appealing form. (771k) Bronze incense burner. This is an example of one of the elaborately decorated bronze vessels, in stark contrast to very simple vessels also shown. (1045k) Wood carved decorations in one of the palaces. (865k) One of the thrones in the palaces of the Forbidden City. (870k) View over the roofs in the Forbidden City. (721k) Roof decoration in the Forbidden City. All the roofs in the Forbidden City and in many other palaces are decorated with different figures. (815k) Most roofs in the Forbidden City are decorated with a row of figures (gargoyles) on the corners. The number of figures signifies the importance of the building: The more figures, the more important the building. The maximum number of figures is 9. Only the Emperor could have 9 figures on the roof. If anybody else would put 9 figures on their roof, it would cost him and his family their lives. (831k) View of a few of the roofs with decorative figures. (771k) A close-up of one of the rows of roof decorating figures. They are all different and sculpted with great details. (849k) This one had seven figures. (500k) This one had the maximum number of figures, indication that it was one of the emperor's palaces. (545k) A close-up of some of the figures. (699k) A close-up of some of the figures. (541k) Another close-up, showing the fine details of the figures. (469k)
The Great Wall of China is the collective name of a series of fortification systems generally built across the historical northern borders of China to protect and consolidate territories of Chinese states and empires against various nomadic groups of the steppe and their polities. Several walls were being built from as early as the 7th century BCE by ancient Chinese states; selective stretches were later joined together by Qin Shi Huang (220–206 BCE), the first Emperor of China. Little of the Qin wall remains. Later on, many successive dynasties have built and maintained multiple stretches of border walls. The most currently well-known of the walls were built by the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
Apart from defense, other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.
The frontier walls built by different dynasties have multiple courses. Collectively, they stretch from Liaodong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, from present-day Sino–Russian border in the north to Taohe River in the south; along an arc that roughly delineates the edge of Mongolian steppe. A comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has concluded that the walls built by the Ming dynasty measure 8,850 km (5,499 miles). This is made up of 6,259 km (3,889 miles) sections of actual wall, 359 km (223 miles) of trenches and 2,232 km (1,387 miles) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers. Another archaeological survey found that the entire wall with all of its branches measures out to be 21,196 km (13,171 miles). Today, the defensive system of Great Wall is generally recognized as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history.
A section of the Great Wall, about 100 km (60 miles) from Beijing. Unfortunately it was not yet spring, so the trees had no leaves. This made it all look fairly colorless. Only the blooming trees gave a little accent of color. I think the best time of year to see the Great Wall is in the Fall with the leaves turning color. (1012k) Closeup of the Great Wall. I took a cable car up to the Great Wall and then walked on top of the wall for a bit. (981k) Another section of the Great wall, this time in Spring. It was much more colorful at that time of year. The air pollution however was still there. (617k) View of a section of the Great Wall with one of the watch towers. (667k) The wall runs mostly along the crest of mountain ridges. (679k) When the topography is impassable like at this vertical cliff, the wall breaks and resumes after the cliff. (563k) Some sections are VERY steep. You had to walk backwards while holding on to the handrail to get down this section. (991k) There are even emergency phones on the wall, in case you have a heart attack on one of the steeper parts. (793k)
Hangzhou and Suzhou
Park in Hangzhou. You can see a small temple peeking through the mist and drizzle. It was a very captivating atmosphere. (819k) Another view through the drizzle of a park in Hangzhou. (994k) View of a garden through one of the decorative windows. (851k) Cherry blossoms in the Hangzhou garden. (1112k) A gazebo in one of the gardens in Hangzhou. (860k) Garden in Hangzhou. It shows one of the covered walks through the garden. These walk ways are not straight but zig-zag. This is done to keep bad spirits from following you. Bad spirits can only go in a straight line, they can't follow the zig-zagging walks. (927k) A Bonsai tree in the rain in a garden in Hangzhou. (865k) Interior view of one of the gardens in Suzhou. These gardens are some 700 years old. (1186k) Another view of a garden in Suzhou. I was lucky here that the trees were just in bloom. (1106k) These are windows, not paintings. They are designed to look like paintings together with the bamboo and rocks behind the windows. This was a very beautiful design. (855k)
Approach into Shanghai. This city is the most western of the mainland Chinese cities (except Hong Kong perhaps). (988k) The modern Shanghai. It looks just like any big western city. (597k) Apartment building in Shanghai. Every apartment had a long pole sticking out with a clothesline that can be reeled in to hang up clothes. (702k) The new Shanghai looming over the old. Will the old China survive? (894k) Old gardens in Shanghai. (720k) Wood carved panel in one of the gardens. (975k) Decorations in one of the gardens. (729k) A decorative door in the garden. (899k) Stone mosaic on one of the walkways in the garden. (1057k) Roof decorations in an old temple in Shanghai. (605k) A large Bonsai tree in the same temple area. (1009k)
Yangtze River/Three Gorges
Cruise ship in the Three Gorges. There were quite a few of these cruise ships on the Yangtze. (710k) A car ferry on the Yangtze. (867k) Speedboat on the Yangtze. Some people were in more of a hurry. These hydrofoil boats were very fast. They probably seated 100 people. Some of them also seemed to carry cargo. (1023k) Others were fishing in these small boats. It looked like they lived on these boats, at least temporarily. (995k) Others took more time. I saw quite a few of these man-powered boats crossing the Yangtze or going up and down the river. (987k) Still others did their fishing from shore. (936k) Farming terraces along the Yangtze. They were even in some of the steeper areas of the Three Gorges. (916k) Blooming trees in the Three Gorges. In some areas there were little villages with blooming fruit trees. (1147k) Scenic view of a pagoda on the shore of the Yangtze River. (1012k) On the steepest cliffs along the Yangtze the trails were carved out of the rock cliffs. These trails were build hundreds of years ago. (1242k) A footpath on a cliff in one of the gorges. (1199k) Some of these trails are still being used, and used with century old transportation methods today. (948k) This was a road along the cliff. Wooden posts were put in the holes in the rock, and planks put over these poles to form a road. (1307k) This was an excursion into one of the side canyons. Each boat had four men that hooked up to a line, towing the boat. (977k) When the water was deep enough and the current not too strong, the boat was propelled by pushing it along with long wooden poles. (916k) In this gorge, people buried some of their dead by putting the coffins in small caves high up on the side of the gorge. (960k)
The Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric gravity dam that spans the Yangtze River by the town of Sandouping, in Yiling District, Yichang, Hubei province, China. The Three Gorges Dam has been the world's largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW) since 2012. In 2014, the dam generated 98.8 terawatt-hours (TWh) and had the world record, but was surpassed by the Itaipú Dam, which set the new world record in 2016, producing 103.1 TWh.
Except for the locks, the dam project was completed and fully functional as of July 4, 2012, when the last of the main water turbines in the underground plant began production. The ship lift was complete in December 2015. Each main water turbine has a capacity of 700 MW. The dam body was completed in 2006. Coupling the dam's 32 main turbines with two smaller generators (50 MW each) to power the plant itself, the total electric generating capacity of the dam is 22,500 MW.
As well as producing electricity, the dam is intended to increase the Yangtze River's shipping capacity and reduce the potential for floods downstream by providing flood storage space. China regards the project as monumental as well as a success socially and economically, with the design of state-of-the-art large turbines, and a move toward limiting greenhouse gas emissions. However, the dam flooded archaeological and cultural sites, displaced some 1.3 million people, and had caused significant ecological changes including an increased risk of landslides. The dam has been controversial both domestically and abroad.
A model of the Three Gorges Dam project. (790k) Construction site of the Three Gorges Dam. It shows the overhead crane that is some 150 meters above the construction site. The site is dammed off by coffer dams on both sides to allow construction of the main dam. (787k) Three gorges dam construction. (695k) Site of the 5-stage lock next to the main dam. This is a HUGE earth moving project, digging through solid rock. (849k) Downstream view of huge lock construction site. (831k) Old and new bridges across a tributary of the Yangtze River. The old bridge will be covered by the reservoir when it fills up. (840k)
The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE with the purpose of protecting the emperor in his afterlife.
The figures, dating from approximately the late third century BCE, were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong County, outside Xi'an, Shaanxi, China. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.
The construction of the tomb was described by historian Sima Qian (145–90 BCE) in his most noted work Shiji, written a century after the mausoleum's completion. Work on the mausoleum began in 246 BCE soon after Emperor Qin (then aged 13) ascended the throne, and the project eventually involved 700,000 workers. Geographer Li Daoyuan, writing six centuries after the first emperor's death, recorded in Shui Jing Zhu that Mount Li was a favoured location due to its auspicious geology, "famed for its jade mines, its northern side was rich in gold, and its southern side rich in beautiful jade; the first emperor, covetous of its fine reputation, therefore chose to be buried there". Sima Qian wrote that the first emperor was buried with palaces, towers, officials, valuable artifacts and wondrous objects. According to this account, 100 flowing rivers were simulated using mercury, and above them the ceiling was decorated with heavenly bodies below which were the features of the land. Some translations of this passage refer to "models" or "imitations"; however, those words were not used in the original text, which makes no mention of the terracotta army. High levels of mercury were found in the soil of the tomb mound, giving credence to Sima Qian's account. Later historical accounts suggested that the complex and tomb itself had been looted by Xiang Yu, a contender for the throne after the death of the first emperor. However, there are indications that the tomb itself may not have been plundered.
Pit 1 of the excavation of the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an. In this pit the statues have been reconstructed and set up as they were originally. (721k) Part of the Terracotta Army in Pit 1. (900k) Closeup of some Terracotta Warriors. (953k) Details of some of the Terracotta Warriors. (847k) Pit 2 of the excavation at Xi'an. In this pit the statues have been left as they were found. Most of them were destroyed shortly after they were built. (709k) Closer view of the statues in Pit 2. (872k) Reconstructed statues of warriors and horses in Pit 2. (849k) In Pit 3 efforts have been made to preserve the colors of the statues. In the earlier excavations, the statues had colors also, but once the statues were exposed to the air and pollution, the colors quickly disappeared. This picture is an example of a statue with the colors preserved. (749k) Stone Age grave with excavated skeleton. (879k) Dual burial in this Stone Age village. (739k)
Limestone karst formation along the Li River near Guilin. (772k) Limestone formation near Guilin. (490k) Limestone hill in Guilin with temple on top. (561k) Rice fields near Guilin. (791k)
Wolong Panda Reserve, Chengdu
The highlight there are the Giant Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca, german: Großer Panda, french: Panda géant). (871k) This one was growling at me. (846k) The baby pandas were very playful. (623k) They did a lot of climbing and chasing each other. (804k) He finally got all the way up there. (510k) Back down upside-down. (743k)
A picturesque Chinese village. (639k) Antique carved wood panels in one of the houses in this little village. (600k) Fishing cormorants. These birds are trained to fish from very early on. They have a noose around their neck that doesn't bother them normally, but prevents them from swallowing fish that they catch. These birds are treated very well, because they are very valuable ($100 - $200 per bird, which is a lot of money in China). But it is not only their value that gets them good treatment. Older birds that can't fish anymore are still kept and provided for. (768k) Once a cormorant has caught a fish, it returns to the boat of the fisherman. The fisherman takes the fish from the cormorant. The cormorants catch a lot of fish. We were watching that boat for about 20 minutes, and the four cormorants of the fisherman caught about 20 fish, each about 30 cm (12") long. The fishing is done at night with a lantern on the prow of the boat to attract the fish. The river moves quite rapidly, and the boat is not anchored, so the fisherman has to work constantly to stay in place. (863k) Much work is done by hand in the rice paddies. (764k) Plowing is done with water buffaloes drawing the plow. (687k) Watering the local vegetable garden. All the fertilizing is done with natural fertilizer from the village. (729k) Farm machine. (644k) Preparing food. (670k) Preparing tobacco leaves. (692k) They were brewing something in these large jars. (550k) A silk factory. (900k) View of the machinery in a silk factory. (887k) A mechanical loom. On the left is the punch card like control strip that controls the weave patter. (883k) The personnel in the hotel in the Wolong Panda reserve standing at attention. It seems they do that every morning. (1017k) Local family on their way to work in the Panda Reserve area. The children were always having fun seeing me take pictures. (883k) A bunch of the local youth having fun. I remember building similar carts from boards and ball bearings when I was young just after WWII. (947k) A local farm woman tending a field with here child on her back. The local people in the Wolong reserve look distinctly different from the mainstream Han Chinese. (790k) Fishing traps on the local brook in the Wolong reserve. (1139k) There were several of these bridges of the river in the Wolong reserve. (1052k) I didn't go over this bridge. (1.9M) But even in these little local villages they have satellite TV. (2.5M) On the way from Chengdu to the Wolong reserve. In the back is a bridge under construction. They were building another large reservoir on this river, which would flood most of this area. In the foreground is the local version of a car wash with the attendant waiting for customers. (1479k) Local air pollution in the Chengdu area is severe in some areas. (942k)
A view of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from Victoria Peak. (910k) A huge floating restaurant in Aberdeen harbor on Hong Kong Island. (929k) Houseboats in Aberdeen Harbor. There used to be many more of these. About 12 years ago the whole lot burned down. Many of the former houseboat residents now live in nearby high rises. (1062k) Houseboats. (797k) A fireplace on a houseboat. You have to be careful how you handle fire on a wooden boat. (789k) Sampan. These small boats are the vehicle of choice in Aberdeen harbor. (950k)