When browsing through travel brochures for Beijing, Shanhai and other popular holiday destinations in China, I was somewhat surprised to see that not only did several of the brochures offer an extensive list of generic holiday activities like ‘Golf’ and ‘Skuba Diving’, but they didn’t seem to offer much in the way of exploring the culture. But why, I asked myself, would you want to play game of golf, which you can do at home, when you’re in a beautiful country full of colour, exotic foods, new people, and interesting places? What strikes me as strange is China’s apparent want to westernise and commercialise itself.
Ironically, having never been to China myself, I have very set views of Chinese culture and ways of life. When I think of China, I immediately picture two vastly contrasting images: One being an idyllic countryside, a few solemn, architecturally stunning Chinese houses set against a backdrop of snowy mountains, cherry blossoms and rice fields; The other being a busy, polluted city with constantly rising skyscrapers, traffic jams, and markets bursting full of colour, exciting food and interesting people. All in all, it comes across as an extremely fascinating culture.
What I can’t understand, however, is China’s apparent need to sway towards commercialism. As a country it seems desperate to abolish its past, its beauty and its nature, in order to make room for westen culture, money and modern success. In Duncan Hewitt’s ‘Getting Rich First: Life In A Changing China’, he tells us of Mr Zhao, the owner of one of the last remaining houses in ‘The Forbidden City’, Beijing. ‘We came home one day, and saw the Chinese word ‘Chai’, which means ‘demolish’ painted on the wall of the house…’
The Chinese do not appear to have any desire for frivolities or riches. They seem to strive for power, and high achievements rather than beauty and wealth, unlike many other countries. Hense, the Chinese are gradually ruling out everything that is great about their country. Their cities and roads are constantly expanding to make room for more factories and skyscrapers. And therefore, their countryside and nature suffers. Essentially, they are ruling out their past to make room for their future: Power.
What I noticed while flicking through travel brochures and ‘Places to Visit in China’ websites, was that the British guides focussed on Chinese culture, where to find the best views, where to experience Chinese ways of life first hand, while the Chinese guides were very much focussed on the best hotels and resorts, and the generic, mostly western, activities available. I found it ironic that the British flaunt China’s great qualities more than the Chinese do, but then again, adapting to western culture is ultimately what has made China become so successful.
‘I have worked for this company for 15 years’, he said, in his lilting English, ‘and I have never seen anything like it.’ He seemed a little pale at the recollection. ‘The Saturday before last, we had 35,000 people in the store,’ he continued, ‘It looked like a tornado had gone through the place!’….’It was…woah!’ He sighed…Mr Gustavsson was, it perhaps goes without saying, the newly appointed manager of the Chinese capital’s first branch of IKEA.’
Quote from ‘Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China’
By connecting and cooperating with Europe and America, this thriving consumerist culture can constantly grow and become more and more powerful as a nation.
China’s ancient and rural regions, however, are still making a great impact on the country. China boasts a vast countryside of mountains, rivers and some of the best views in the world. Not only are these fantastic travel destinations, the countryside is also essentially what feeds the nation. ‘In a sense, it is rather ironic.The countryside, after all, is where China’s economic reforms really got under way in the years after the Cultural Revolution…’
Despite China’s growing cities, populations and power, their truly great advantages are their history, their culture and their countryside. As these, ultimately, are why people travel to China.