Last time we began our four-part series on how to have a comprehensive China experience by introducing the big three for how to truly get to know Chinese culture; culture, cuisine, and evening activities. Today we dive further into the culture; the first and arguably most important component to explore and to guide you through China. An introduction to the significance of Chinese culture should serve to navigate the ancient past and help to understand the present and emerging future of one of the most ancient and consistently dominating countries in the world.

Our experience of Chinese culture stretches from the easily identifiable icons of world renowned international stature; the great wall, through to the noticeable detail and differences of day to day life. It’s this posts argument that it’s, in fact, the latter which makes our trip.

Let’s take a walk through how some examples of the diversity of the ways in which Chinese culture can express itself, how to make the most out of it, and some of the reasons for it being so unique. We will begin with the old, move through the new, and end emerging into future China and what this means for us admirers.

Ancient China

Not only is Chinese culture one of the oldest civilisations in the world, but the Han, the majority racial population of the Chinese, is one of the most populous ethnic groups in existence. This makes cultural lineage very strong and endeared, by both Chinese and foreigners. China remained a centralised empire until 1912, making it the world’s longest surviving empire; and the feeling of millennia of the clash of great powers and the resultant persisting styles is still strong. It is not necessary to go only to the Great Wall to find evidence of China’s ancient might, but simply to look closer at any town or city across China and notice the historical detail of the past and the consistency of a style crafted over thousands of years.

Modern China

One thing that has continued throughout the years in China is a need and a call for unity. Since the Qin dynasty’s victory over the surrounding forces and the consequent unifying of what we now know as China; Unity is what the Chinese have fought for and earned over the centuries. This is still held today, in the country with the most population of any in the world, and the unique challenge of managing over 1.3 billion people. This, of course, has its problems and difficulties, but apart from offering unique modern solutions, such as trains arching over the top of motor highways; this is most visible today in the strength and celebration by the Chinese of their own culture. The collective square dancing blossoming all across China, and the historic cultural shows, most of which attended only by Chinese nationals themselves, show an almost unrivalled need to remember the contingency of the past and celebrate the togetherness of the present.

Square dancing

Emerging China

Since the Open Door Policy in 1989, in under 30 years China has risen from only having just emerged from the disaster of a nation-wide famine to one of the world global superpowers. Beyond the obvious economic, social, and political changes that this kind of shift requires and can bring to a populous, this offers a buzz in China that is unique to the world. There seems to be an underlying sense of excitement and hope, a feeling that it is a matter of time before the ancient giant reawakens, something that can only come with being splashed on the forefront of the world media daily and on every countries’ ‘one to watch’ list. Just to get to have a conversation with a local about how things have changed and where things seem to be going makes more just the locals feel alive.

So be sure to look out for the themes in Chinese culture; the China that once stood, the China that never left, and the emerging China that is not going away. These details are revealed in every inch of China’s makeup and help to deepen our experience of the trip and our understanding of the culture.

Next week we will look into our next cornerstone of the China experience; Cuisine. Be sure to tune in.