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HISTORY LIVES ON IN AN EVER-CHANGING CHINA

21-06-2013 | Mike Smith

Change has been swift in China. Thirteen years into the 21st Century, and the People’s Republic has opened it arms to modernisation, to such a degree that it’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago locals in Beijing and Shanghai swamped the streets on pushbikes.

Change has been swift in China.

Thirteen years into the 21st Century, and the People’s Republic has opened it arms to modernisation, to such a degree that it’s hard to imagine that only a few years ago locals in Beijing and Shanghai swamped the streets on pushbikes.

As one Shanghai guide joked, “If you stand still long enough someone will build an office or hotel around you.”

Commercialism has arrived in a bigger fashion than at first expected from a communist country once cloaked in mystery, and pedal power has been swiftly replaced by gleaming BMWs and Mercedes on flyovers which took little time to construct.

However, while contemporary change has been prominent, elements of the old China remain intact for us to marvel. In capital Beijing you can still walk through the Forbidden City, stroll along the open corridors of the lake-dominated Summer Palace, take a late afternoon walk around the Temple of Heaven or join a day trip to a restored section of the Great Wall.

And if you want to see how life has been for centuries, the small back alley neighbourhoods – known as hutongs – can be visited on a cyclo tour. China’s magnetism on group tours - as organised by leading China specialist Helen Wong’s Tours – is the country’s rich history, traditions and culture.

Beijing is the gateway to a journey which promises memorable eye-catching moments. Book a Helen Wong’s Tours 12-day China Discovery itinerary – Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, priced from $3990 per person, twin share from Australia – and you will sample an itinerary which offers such appealing “Helen’s Choice” inclusions as a home-cooked meal with a Chinese family and a Tang Dynasty Theatre dinner show in Xian.

The highlight of a Xian visit is the archaeological find of the 20th Century – the Terracotta Army of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, thousands of the life-sized figures of warriors and horses unearthed from underground vaults.

Like Beijing, Shanghai has undergone swift change without neglecting its historic past. The gracious architectural waterfront known as The Bund showcases the city’s trading importance from bygone days. In contrast on the opposite side of the Huangpu River are the modern sky-scraping buildings of Pudong.

Old Chinatown and the Yu Garden share the same city as the modern Jin Mao Tower (great for a bird’s eye view of the city) and the Maglev, the world’s fastest train linking Shanghai with the international airport at Pudong.

And a day’s outing from Shanghai can be spent walking the cobblestone streets past well- preserved Ming and Qing buildings in an historic water town such as Zhujiajiao – a far cry from the bustling Chinese cities. MIKE SMITH

Details: Helen Wong’s Tours, phone 1300 788328, www.helenwongstours.com