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Ignore the mass of preconceptions about China. Beijing and Shanghai are cities haunted by stories of pea soup pollution, appalling traffic and omnipresent thought police on every corner. But you will soon discover these cities have so much to love.

For example, Chinese food here is not like Chinese food at home. The food is fascinating. Everything will make you look younger (allegedly), from the delicacies of the sea cucumber to sea urchin to fish lung soup. Try them all and see what happens. Plus, China isn’t all urban. The rice terraces of the Guangxi Province, the Ming dynasty villages and bamboo forests of the Sichuan Province shine a different light on the diamond that is China: beautiful, eternal and fiercely resilient.

Beijing:

1.34 million billion live in China today, 20 million of whom live in Beijing, a population that 35 years ago was only four million.

This of course means it is rather busy, but the Chinese are working to calm the effects, for example each day licence plate numbers are picked, and if you have a plate with that number, you are banned from driving on that day. 

Things to do:

First stop Tian’an Men Square. Put yourself in the picture: Chinese tourists visit the square from all over China to have photos taken with foreigners (us). Join two-hour queues to see the Tomb of Chairman Mao, and slightly shorter ones (20 minutes) to get into the Forbidden City. The gardens in the nearby Temple of Heaven date from 1406, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and they are filled with magnolia, jasmine and mimosa. Watch old men playing mah-jong and singing folk songs while old women crochet mini pagodas and pandas.  Hutongs make up old Beijing; a series of narrow lanes and communities with houses where three generations of families live around a courtyard, surrounded by high rises. It is a dusty haven of peace, apart from when the drums play in the Drum Tower. Visiting Beijing means visiting The Great Wall. Choose the Mutianyu entrance, which is a little further away to drive from the city centre but you avoid the crowds.

Going Out:

The young hangout in 798 District. Edgy and eclectic, it’s hyped as the spiritual promised land for Chinese contemporary art. In reality it’s what Covent Garden would like to be and never will be.

Where to stay:

Stay at the China World Summit Wing - which sounds like a conference hall, but is an extremely contemporary edgy hotel.  It’s boutique on a grand scale. 


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