The Silk Route!

People’s Republic of China – A country with an ancient civilization and a unique culture that goes back several thousands of years! Largest Population, Largest Exporter, Largest producer of silk, tea, minerals, ores and many agricultural products, Great Wall, Panda Bears, Dumplings, Pagodas and Buildings with curved eaves, Peking duck, China Price, Communism, a host of dynasties, Terracotta Army, Yellow River… the list of things that ‘China’ invokes in our mind is endless.

China has freezing winters and very hot summers. The best times to visit China would be Spring or Autumn. Spring is said to less crowded than Autumn. Beijing is one of the most polluted cities in the world with industrial pollution and frequent dust storms from the Gobi and Takla Makan deserts. On our visit to China, we were part of an guided tour with China Focus. This was our first organized international trip. We loved not having to plan anything at all. All that was required of us was to get a Chinese visa and turn up at the SFO airport. This made a China trip possible for us in less than a month from decision to travel. Our accommodations were in 5-star hotels that had wonderful breakfast spreads with continental and Chinese foods.

I am fascinated by different civilizations that developed around the world in isolation, at a time when technology wasn’t advanced enough to share ideas and theories instantly. Yet channels did exist for exchange of ideas, culture, goods and lots more. One example is the Silk Road – Trade routes that gets its name from the lucrative Chinese Silk trade.

Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world. The Yellow River is considered to be the cradle of Chinese civilization. After the prehistoric period, there was the ancient era which a few dynasties like the Xia, Shang and Zhou. The imperial era began with the Qin dynasty. Other notable dynasties in the Imperial period – Tang dynasty, Yuan (Mongol) dynasty, Ming dynasty, Qing dynasty. The Imperial era ended with the Qing dynasty. The ‘Last Emperor’ is based on the life of the last Qing emperor Pu Yi as imperialism in China came to an end. The Qing dynasty was largely xenophobic and couldn’t effectively prevent encroachment of its territories by Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Russia. During World War I, China was busy fighting the Japanese empire, all the while disgruntled with its imperial ruler.

Soon after World War I, revolutionary ideas led to the birth of communism in China. But soon rival factions fought for power within China. This left China so weak that it was unable to resist Japanese invasion. During WWII, China appealed to the League of Nations for help and the communist parties united to defeat Japan. To date, People’s Republic of China remains a socialist country.

Today, the Chinese ‘Red Curtain’ censors the internet. I found it annoying that I could access sites like YouTube, Picasa, Facebook and some Google Apps! But the Chinese government’s censorship of the internet and other media did not seem to be an issue with some of the Chinese we interacted with. “How long would it take to build a highrise building in India?”, they ask. It is true that in a large democracy like India, progress and development often get hampered by various opinions, lawsuits and hidden agendas. “The iron hand of the Chinese government can mow down any area and construct something new in a couple of months”, they smile. China today is a fast growing country with an immense manpower and natural resources. It wont be long before China rises to be one of the strongest economies of the world.

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