China: history lends perspective

From the Great Wall to the Bund in China and from Victoria Peak to the Space Museum in Hong Kong, these destinations offer visitors a peek at the ancient and colonial past and a view toward the future.

China

Five thousand years of continuous civilization have endowed China with a wealth of historical, artistic and cultural riches. The following is a sampling of major attractions.

Beijing

The Great Wall. China's most photographed sight stretches for approximately 3,750 miles. Construction of individual sections of the wall began in the fifth century B.C., and were linked in the third century B.C. during the reign of Emperor Qinshihuangdi, the king whose tomb at Xian has become a famous tourist site. There are several viewing points in the Beijing area, including Mutianyu, which is now accessible by cable car.

The Forbidden City. Also known as the Imperial Palace, this 250-acre complex was the home to 24 royal families, from the Ming to the Qing dynasties, from 1402 to 1911. It is now a museum containing priceless national treasures, including art works, jewelry and furniture.

The Summer Palace. A favorite retreat for generations of China's royal families, the original palace was built in the 12th century, destroyed in 1860 and rebuilt in 1888 under the notorious Empress Dowager Ci Xi. Still a place of matchless beauty, the compound's highlights include the empress' magnificent marble barge and the Painted Gallery, a wooden arcade lavishly painted with scenes of nature.

Ming Tombs. The avenue known as the "Sacred Way" is flanked by stone statues of humans and animals, both mythical and real, who guard the tombs of 13 Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) emperors.

Temple of Heaven. Constructed in 1420, the temple, surmounted by an intricately carved tile roof, was often

frequented by the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties who came here to pray for a good harvest.

Tianamen Square. The largest public square in the world is anchored by such

famous landmarks as the Great Hall of the People, where the National People's Congress and diplomatic functions are held, and the main entrance to the Forbidden City.

Shangai

Shanghai Arts & Crafts Institute. The first museum of its kind in China, the institute contains an expansive collection of traditional Chinese arts and crafts, including lacquer inlay, silk embroidery and ivory carvings.

Shanghai Museum. One of China's most prestigious museums houses more than 110,000 historical and cultural artifacts, including ancient bronzeware, books and paintings, some dating back to the 3rd century B.C.

Yu-Yuan Garden. Built in the 16th century, this charming spot in the old part of Shanghai has pavilions, statues, tiny bridges and an old teahouse.

Jade Buddha Temple. The temple was constructed to house two magnificent jade Buddhas, which were brought to China from Myanmar by a monk. Each of the Buddhas is carved from a single piece of white jade.

The Bund. This famous waterfront park has served as an informal spot to socialize since China's colonial days. The Bund is especially favored by young Chinese interested in practicing their English with visiting American tourists.

Guangzhuo

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. Built in 1931 with donations from overseas, the hall honors the man often referred to as "the father of modern China." The edifice includes

a theater where cultural

presentations are often held.

Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Constructed in 537 A.D., the temple derives its name from the six trees that once graced the temple grounds. Highlights include a 180-foot-high pagoda affording beautiful views of the city and environs.

Guang Xiao Si Temple. One of the city's oldest temples also served as the residence of the descendants of one of China's royal families, before it became a Buddhist temple.

Qingping Market. The city's largest farmer's market features approximately 2,000 stalls where visitors can shop and bargain for a variety of wares.

Temple of the Chen Family Ancestors. Admired for its glorious Guangdong-style architecture, this late-19th century temple encompasses six courtyards occupying approximately 30,000 square feet.

Xian

Museum of the Terracotta Warriors. This archaeological site, discovered by chance in 1974, contains thousands of statues representing the soldiers of Emperor Qinshihuangdi, guarding their leader's third century B.C. tomb.

Banpo Museum. The museum encompasses a beautifully restored 6,000-year-old neolithic village, with various buildings and burial mounds, that offers groundbreaking insights into the everyday life of China's ancient peoples.

The Great Mosque. Xian, home to approximately 60,000 Muslims, boasts China's largest mosque, which was built in 742 A.D.

Bell Tower. This graceful tower, which dates from the 14th century and is adorned with glazed tiles, offers fine views of all four of Xian's ancient city gates.

Shaanxi Provincial Museum. As the capital of Shaanxi Province, Xian boasts a museum containing more than 2,000 ancient artifacts that illustrate the development of Chinese civilization. Items include centuries-old stone tablets and selected writings of Confucius.

Huaqing Hot Springs. About an hour's drive from Xian, this resort in the Lishan Mountains served as a vacation retreat for China's royalty as far back as 2,800 years ago.

Dayan Pagoda. Also known as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the structure was built in the 7th century to house precious Buddhist scriptures brought back to China from India by a famous monk of the period. Visitors who scale the pagoda's seven stories will be rewarded with a view of the city and surroundings.

Guilin

Reed Flute Cave. Amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations, cleverly illuminated to produce a dramatic effect, can be seen in these winding caves that were discovered 1,000 years ago. The highlight is the Crystal Palace Grotto, which is large enough to accommodate 1,000 people.

Li River. Boat tours on the Li River offer vistas of mountains, lush greenery, bamboo groves and fishermen in flat-bottomed boats, wending their way to nearby market towns.

Folded Brocade Hill. Guilin's highest peak offers views from various observation points with such picturesque names as Seeing Around the Hill, Bright Moon Mountain and Crane Peak.

Other Destinations

Visitors will want to take in the sights of Suzhou, famous for its gardens; the lakeside city of Wuxi; Hangzhou, whose beauty was immortalized by Marco Polo; Nanjing, one of China's ancient capitals; the Yangtze River, with its scenic Three Gorges; the Silk Road, which connected Xian with Europe and the Middle East; the Dunhuang Grottoes, China's oldest Buddhist caverns; the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the far northwest; snow-capped Mount Emei, in southwestern China; Kunming, the "City of Eternal Spring," and Tibet, the "Roof of the World."

hong kong

A wealth of attractions contained within a compact area of 404 square miles makes Hong Kong a sightseer's dream destination. Visitors can easily divide up the city into several areas and explore the major sights on foot. Following are recommended sights.

Hong Kong Island

Victoria Peak. The "Peak," as locals refer to it, reached by the Peak Tram, offers views of one of the world's most breathtaking cities. Attractions here include the seven-story Peak Tower, completed in spring 1997, and the three-story Peak Galleria, both with an assortment of shops and restaurants.

Hollywood Road. A marvelous spot for antique and collectibles enthusiasts, the shops here offer fine porcelain, wall scrolls, embroidered fans, antiques and curios. Prices vary from sky-high to rock-bottom.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. Located near the former Governor's residence, the gardens date to 1864 and are a popular gathering place for tai chi practitioners.

Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. Located on the Wanchai waterfront, the center, which was expanded to approximately twice its previous size last year, was the site of the ceremony marking the July 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

Happy Valley Racecourse. Situated between Wanchai and the Causeway Bay district is the recently renovated racecourse, which can seat 54,000 fans and is featured in the Hong Kong Tourist Association's Come Horseracing Tour, offered during the racing season (September to June). The Hong Kong Racing Museum, located at the track, offers presentations on the history of racing in its eight galleries and theater.

Tin Hau Temple. This venerable temple to the patron goddess of those who earn their livelihood from the sea stands on a granite platform, close to Victoria Park, a recreational enclave in Causeway Bay with swimming pools, jogging paths and tennis courts.

Aberdeen. This colorful fishing village in the southern part of Hong Kong Island is filled with fishing trawlers and junks. Visitors can rent a sampan, or take a tour of the area that includes a meal aboard a "floating restaurant."

Ocean Park & Water World. The largest playland in Southeast Asia features crowd-pleasing dolphin and whale shows; demonstrations by high divers; a Dinosaur Discovery Trail, featuring 17 model dinosaurs; the Middle Kingdom Museum, depicting 5,000 years of Chinese heritage; the Atoll Reef, the world's largest reef aquarium; a Shark Aquarium with an underwater viewing tank; the Wave Cove, filled with penguins and seals; butterfly and bird exhibits; Kids' World, with activities for youngsters, and Water World, with water slides and pools, open from April to October.

Repulse Bay. Hong Kong's recently expanded sunbathing retreat offers a sandy beach, as well as shops, accommodations, restaurants and other facilities for sun-worshippers.

Stanley Market. At the southern tip of Hong Kong Island is the fishing village of Stanley and the Stanley Market, a favorite destination of shoppers, thanks to its multitude of factory outlets and bargain-priced emporia selling clothing and other items.

Kowloon

Hong Kong Space Museum. A striking domed building overlooking the waterfront, the museum features a planetarium with two alternating shows -- a Sky Show and an Omnimax documentary, as well as the Hall of Space Science and the Hall of Astronomy.

Hong Kong Science Museum. The museum contains about 500 exhibits, most of which are of the hands-on

variety that afford visitors an interactive experience with computer technology, robotics, virtual reality and the wonders of modern science.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre. This state-of-the-art cultural complex features acclaimed performance spaces where prestigious international arts events are held. (The venues are also available for meetings, social events and exhibitions.)

Hong Kong Museum of Art. The museum's seven galleries contain outstanding collections of ancient artifacts as well as fine examples of contemporary art.

Nathan Road. Dubbed the "Golden Mile," because of its variety of hotels, restaurants and after-dark spots, Nathan Road is best known as a shopper's mecca.

New Territories

Shatin Racecourse. During racing season, horse races are held alternately at the 85,000-seat Shatin course and the Hong Kong Jockey Club's Happy Valley course. Like the Happy Valley course, Shatin is

featured in the HKTA's "Come Horseracing Tour."

The Hong Kong Golf Club. One of Asia's oldest golf courses -- and one of several courses in Hong Kong -- the club is open to visitors on weekdays, and is least crowded during the morning hours. The club is one of several golf courses included in the HKTA's Sports and Recreation Tour.

Outlying Islands

Although double the size of Hong Kong Island, Lantau's population totals only 25,000 people. Its chief attraction is the Po Lin Monastery, where visitors can enjoy vegetarian meals and simple accommodations. The monastery's outdoor 202-ton Giant Buddha, the world's largest, can be seen by sea and air from miles around.

The adjacent Chek Lap Kok Island is the site of the new Hong Kong airport, which opened in July, and is connected to downtown via new

highways and bridges. n

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