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A Journey Across Continents: The London to Yiwu Train

News and Travel Editor

Today marks the end of a historic 7,500 mile freight train journey from London, UK, to Yiwu, China. Carrying everything from pharmaceuticals to milk powder and soft drinks, it’s the first ever journey on this route and marks a significant moment for trading relations between the UK, Europe and China. But its not been without difficulty – the train has ventured through 9 countries, from freezing Russian wilderness to the mild climate of China’s eastern coast. This blog visits some of the highlights along its route and looks at why this train journey is so important.

This is the first ever direct cargo train carrying British goods from the UK to China. This may seem like a modern innovation, but the train is actually reviving the 2,000 year-old Silk Road, an ancient link between the east and west. As well as contributing to the recent Chinese initiative of the New Silk Road, transporting goods to China from the UK via freight train is twice as fast as transporting them by sea and the costs are tiny compared to transporting by air. This is a time and cost effective solution, not to mention it passes through 7,500 miles of glorious scenery.

Cosmopolitan Western Europe

After leaving London Gateway, the train passes through the bright lights of Western Europe, from Paris and Brussels to Duisberg and Warsaw. This sounds like a great opportunity for a whirlwind tour of Europe, aboard one of the most important freight trains in the world today.

The Freezing Russian Winter

Just as you’ve got used to the mild climate of western Europe, the train was fully immersed in the gloriously tropical  -40°C winters of the Russian wilderness. Beautiful it may be, there’s no doubt the train driver need their winter woolies.

The Plains of Kazakhstan and Xinjiang

Here, the journey becomes even more beautiful. The train has journeyed through thousands of miles of beautiful plains of grassland, mountains and deserts. Where do we sign up to be the driver again?

Yiwu: The Final Destination

After 7,500 miles, the train has travelled through virtually every landscape and climate imaginable, and has finally arrived in Yiwu, one of China’s manufacturing and international trading centres. We can expect the train to make many more trips over the next few years, with other Silk Road trains making the trip up to 500 times each year! Judging from the photos of highlights along the route, one thing is for certain: whoever gets the job of driving the train halfway across the world is the luckiest person in the world.

 

 

The Lifeblood of the Chinese People: The Grand Canal

News and Travel Editor

The Grand Canal is quite possibly one of the most impressive man-made constructions on earth. It’s 1,400 years old and throughout that time, not only has it been one of China’s most popular tourist attractions, but it continues to be the lifeblood for many of the people transporting precious goods from north to south.

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As a workplace

The ‘Canal People‘, also known as the ‘Chuanmin’ call the canal their home, staying on their barge for as many as 350 days of the year. One lady is reported to have given birth to two twins on her barge – understandable given she only has 15 days on dry land!  For her, the job is more about making memories than money from working on the canal.

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If farmers rely on the weather for a good harvest, then the canal people rely on economics. Although the chuanmin rarely have to worry about a lack of rainfall, they often have to keep track of the price of their goods. They transport anything from oil and coal to rice and other foods.
It’s a challenging and unpredictable way of life, but one that the chuanmin of the Grand Canal seem to cherish and thrive on.

As a tourist attraction

Do you see yourself as something of an athlete or sportsperson? If so, cycling along the Grand Canal might just be for you. Although the journey will most likely take a hefty 20-25 days, some of the sites you will encounter along the way will be second to none. It’s described as one of the best cycle routes in China, and the 1,700km journey should definitely be on your cycling bucket list (if you have one!)

Since 2014, the Grand Canal has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Many canal people including Zhu Bingren, a co-writer of the proposal to UNESCO, wanted to determine the Canal’s place in history and to ensure future generations understood and looked after what has been one of China’s most important waterways. Today, the Grand Canal continues to be vital to the Chinese economy.

Join us at China Icons as we explore China’s waterways, including China’s Grand Canal, from a very special perspective. Our unique drone footage allows you to soar over some of the most impressive natural and man-made features in China. Experience the mighty roar of the Yangtze and the pure tranquillity of the Xun River at the Longsheng Rice Terraces.

 

Have you visited any of the other World Heritage Sites in China? Or do you plan on visiting the Grand Canal anytime soon? Let us know in the comments below!

Join us next week for celebrations as the first ever London-Yiwu train arrives at its destination after 18 day, 7,500 mile journey.

China’s Top 10 Adrenaline-Fuelled Atrractions

News and Travel Editor

It’s the travellers’ rite of passage – experiencing unforgettable, thrill seeking experiences on your gap year or travels abroad.

If you are after a nail biting, vertigo-inducing, unforgettable experience on your next trip to China, this top 10 list is of jaw dropping, adrenaline-rush activities is handpicked by China Icons for you.

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In at No 10: Lehe Ledu Wildlife Zoo, Chongqing

This unique zoo has created waves in the animal rights kingdom and has masses of international press coverage. Taking inspiration from cage diving with sharks, they switch the traditional idea of a zoo on its head, with humans being the ones put in cages. Entering the land of the lions and tigers, visitors are able to feed the animals through gaps in the fence. Personally, I would prefer there to be NO GAPS, when it comes between me and a hungry predator.  Not for the faint hearted.

No 9: Cliff swing at Wansheng Ordovician Theme Park, Chongqing

It’s a swing with a difference – a 300m/1000ft cliff top drop under your favourite childhood playground ride.    You’d be forgiven for forgetting to enjoy the stunning backdrop of southern Chongqing during this ride.

No 8: Glass Bridge, Mount Langya, Hebei

China’s latest glass bridge 450 metres high above a rocky gorge provides tourists with an insane 360 degree view of Mount Langya and the surrounding forest conservation area.. A glass path hovering above the rocky valley leads you up on to the circular deck, where you can enjoy the panorama views (if you are brave enough!).

No 7: Mount Hua Shan, Shaanxi

This cliff climbing adventure will have you gripping the mountain face as you tiptoe across wooden planks seemingly held together with giant staples. It’s been called world’s most dangerous hike, but the views and cup of tea at the top of the mountain’s southern peak are worth the ‘hike’.

No 6: Jinmao Tower Skywalk, Shanghai

Ever dreamed about walking in the sky? This Shanghai attraction has got you covered. At the top of this 88-story tower (the third tallest building in China), you can take a casual wander in the open air and enjoy the views of the lively city below. And of course it has a glass-bottom to complete the illusions that you are airborne.

No 5: Dinoconda, Jiangsu

For all you roller coaster veterans, it will come as no surprise to include the world’s fastest 4th dimensional roller coaster at this infamous dinosaur-themed park.  Get ready to ROAR as you travel at a mighty 80mph, thrown and rotated in the air by a dino-monster.

No 4: Bungee Jumping at the AJ Hackett Macau Tower, Macau

This bungee jump is the world’s highest, jumping from 233m high and has revolutionised safety equipment for bungee jumping.  Prepare to feel like a giant bird swooping down to earth as you freefall until just 30 metres from earth.

No 3: Cable Car Tianmen Shan (Heaven’s Gate Mountain), Hunan

Connecting China’s scenic town of Zhangjiajie and Tianmen, the world’s longest cable car takes a total of 28 minutes from start to end. What could be an immensely enjoyable journey, could also be someone’s introduction to acrophobia as it gets as steep as 38 degrees and ascends and descends a total of 1,279 meters.

No 2: Coiling Dragon Cliff Walkway, Hunan 

Complementing the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge at No 1, this 1.6 metre wide glass path coils around the Tianmen Mountain and hangs over a sheer drop . It’s not for the faint hearted, but would you really want to miss out

No 1: Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, Hunan

At 430 metres long and 300 metres above ground, this is the world’s longest and highest glass bridge. Don’t even consider it if you are scared of heights, but if you can hold yourself together till you get to the other side, you are promised some spectacular views

Go on, what have we missed?  China and its attractions are ever changing so help us keep up to date by adding your opinions in the comments.

What’s so ‘Great’ about the Great Wall? A History of the Great Wall of China

News and Travel Editor

What’s so great about the Great Wall of China and why does it deserve its name?

Its size? The average height of the wall is 7.8 metres and the highest point is 14 metres.

Its length?  The total length of all sections of wall built throughout the dynasties reaches 13,170 miles. If stretched out in a straight line, the Great Wall could travel almost half way around the equator.

Its weight? Some people estimate an incredible 58,095,000 tons! That’s 9 times heavier than the collective weight of the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Or was it known by a different name when it was built and simply became the ‘Great Wall’ as time passed? We hope to answer all these questions and more by separating the facts from the legends and myths.

The Great Wall was, and remains, the longest man-made construction in the world. This might explain why today we’ve refer to it  as ‘Great’, but when it was built, it was simply known as the ‘Long Wall’ or ‘Long City’, as it was simply seen as a stretched out, giant, city wall.

Unsurprisingly, it is one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, can we hyperlink this alongside Machu Picchu in Peru, the Colosseum in Italy and Petra in Jordan. But it was not built over one time period. Instead, the Great Wall has been built, modified or extended for around 2,000 years since the 7th and 8th centuries after regular invasions from the Mongols in the north.

We’ve all heard stories of workers being buried under the wall, but there are many other entertaining legends and myths surrounding the structure. The stories are incredibly wide-ranging and perhaps the most entertaining has been featured in a recent Hollywood-Chinese movie starring Matt Damon. The Great Wall film plays with the myth that the wall was not intended for keeping out the Mongol invaders from the north, but was in fact needed to protect China from supernatural forces.

But our all time favourite story is one that we think might just have a little bit of truth in it;

The Legend of Yi Kaizhan tells the story of the Yi, a mathematician who explained that it would take exactly 99,999 bricks to build the section of wall at Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu Province. His supervisor argued that if he was wrong, the entire workforce would be forced to do 3 years hard labour as punishment. Guess what? It took 99,998. Thankfully, good old Yi had a trick up his sleeve.  Even though the left over brick hadn’t been used in the construction, Yi quickly suggested that a supernatural being had placed it close by and that moving it would force the wall to collapse. Suspicious, the supervisor never moved the brick and, legend has it, the brick can still be found in the same spot today…

Whilst we can’t vouch for this story, one thing we can say is that, unfortunately and contrary to popular belief, the wall cannot be seen from space. This is probably because the original statement was made before anyone actually went into space… Even NASA admit that the Great Wall becomes somewhat less great when photographed from a low earth orbit.

Finally, did you also know that the wall is not really an ‘it’ but more of a ‘them’? The wall was very much built in sections, with many overlapping and some more ancient and wild sections crumbling away. That might also be because many sections of the wall are not built from bricks and mortar, but are sometimes moulded from the earth to create humps in the ground which are often reshaped by the weather.

Have you visited the Great Wall recently? Can you vouch for any of these stories? Please let us know if you go to Jiayuguan and find that famous supernatural brick still sitting there…

Panda Triplets & Koala Twins: The Incredible Breeding Team Behind China’s Miracle Animal Births

Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou has become famous for its incredible breeding successes – most famously the world’s only surviving panda triplets and koala twins. Pandas have notoriously short windows of time in which to breed (around 3 days a year) and it was the job of the breeders at Chimelong to interpret when this window was, get the pandas to breed in this time and also check the pandas were actually pregnant!  So it was nothing short of a miracle when giant panda mum Juxiao gave birth to 3 baby pandas in 2014.  Watch their incredible journey to date:

If you thought that they were cute, check out today’s upload about China’s koala bears. We look at the team behind the successful breeding of koala bears. In fact, the programme has become so successful that Chimelong is now seen as the second home of the koala behind their native habitat in Australia.  Chen Shu Qing is part of the breeding team behind the many successes at Chimelong Safari Park.

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She was the first koala breeder in China and after helping the first koalas settle in in 2006, her care and attentiveness prepare her for helping Giant Panda, Juxiao, raise her 3 panda triplets.

It doesn’t stop there. Chimelong is home to the largest elephant population in Asia, managing to deliver 5 calves in one season and hosts 150 White Tigers with only 200 left in the world.  By breeding more endangered species, the team at Chimelong Safari Park hope that it reduces the chances of them becoming extinct, both in the wild and in captivity.

It’s clear that the breeding team at Chimelong have done so much for the preservation of endangered species so that the rest of us will hopefully be able to enjoy them for many years to come.

Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei: The Electronic Megamarket.

News and Travel Editor

Welcome to Huaqiangbei: The world’s biggest electronics market. Booths are crammed in over 10 floors and each one represents a factory close by. From smartphones and drones to circuit boards and security systems, if it’s electronic, I can guarantee you’ll be able to find it here. If you can’t find the finished product, don’t worry, there are so many components on sale, you’ll be able to make it from scratch.

It’s not the usual scenic attraction we might talk about on China Icons so why visit? Huaqiangbei is renowned for its vast range of products as well its speed and efficiency in producing them. Plus we were in town with a shopping list – a drone and some circuit boards. This is both geek heaven and the place to stock up on all the gadgets you wish you had.

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Its location in Shenzhen, rather than Beijing or Shanghai, reveals something fascinating about the modern history of China. Until 1979, Shenzhen was nothing more than a sleepy fishing port with a population of around 30,000. That year, Shenzhen became a ‘Special Economic Zone’, becoming China’s first experiment in capitalism. ‘SEZs’ were the brainchild of Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader at the time, who wanted to cement China’s place as a global economic powerhouse. They were designed to encourage foreign investment and this meant that zones such as Shenzhen would have different trade and business laws compared to the rest of the country.

Fast forward to today and the population has leaped to 10-15 million (the exact figure is unknown because of the shifting patterns of migrant workers), a larger population than London, Rio de Janeiro, Paris, New York and Washington D.C.. Economically, Shenzhen has undeniably flourished, with its GDP growing from 1.96 million RMB in 1979 to 1.95 trillion RMB today.

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This immense growth and rapid expansion turned Shenzhen into a haven for hardware and electronic startups. Huaqiangbei is simply one of Shenzhen’s most prominent examples of this.

Some of the famous ‘startups’ that call Shenzhen home include world-renowned drone-makers, DJI; BYD, famous for electric cars and having the world’s largest electric bus fleet; telecom giants, Huawei; and the owners of WeChat, Tencent, now worth over $200 billion. Many of these companies were founded in the 1990s during Shenzhen’s economic boom. DJI’s story is more impressive still. Founded in 2006, DJI have snapped up around 70% of the drone market, way ahead of the nearest rival, French firm Parrot.

The next big company to come out of China and dominate the international market may well come out of one of the tiny stalls in the vast Huaqiangbei electronic markets.

So what can you expect to see? Each floor has its own dedicated speciality, from motors, batteries and circits on one floor, to smart phones, drones, TVs, security systems and laptops on the others.

But you’ll still find a bit of everything on each floor. The challenge is giving yourself enough time to look round to make sure you get the best deal.

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So how did I get on? Sadly I didn’t follow my own advice and purchased a mini-drone far too early for 350 RMB ($50). I found a similar one later for just over half the price at 180 RMB ($25). A great reminder that there’s always room for a bit of bargaining and negotiation. If you play your cards right, buying here will almost certainly be worth your while. The custom-made circuit boards we were after were delivered the next day for half the price we would have expected to pay outside of China.

Make no mistake, Shenzhen continues to grow. The city is covered in building sites and there are plans to make Shenzhen one of the greenest cities on earth.

Fancy knowing more about Shenzhen’s history and how it is competing with the likes of Silicon Valley? The documentary visits some of the city’s startups and takes you through the electronics market, showcasing exactly what you can buy there.

 

International Women’s Day: China’s Most Inspiring Women

News and Travel Editor

This Wednesday, women across the world will be marking the 22nd official International Women’s Day, as recognised by the UN, and it’s set to be the biggest yet. Whether out marching (as women on both sides of the Atlantic have planned), enjoying free access to museum (like the ladies of Italy), or being getting pampered by your spouse (its a bigger day in Russia than Valentine’s Day), today is the day to celebrate the sisterhood’s achievements.

Here at China Icons, we’ve been lucky enough to film with a whole host of inspiring women from every walk of Chinese life. To celebrate this year’s theme of ‘women in the changing world of work’, we’ve handpicked our favourites from our channel – from exceptional engineers on the world’s largest telescope to architects and actresses on some of China’s most high profile projects.

1) Zhang Ziyi Meets China Icons

Look familiar?  That’s probably because Zhang Ziyi has starred in one of the most successful Chinese films of all time, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Zhang Ziyi speaks to China Icons about her experiences as an actress, including how she prepares for a martial arts scene and working with John Woo’s The Crossing.

2) FAST: The World’s Largest Telescope

Probably one of the most inspiring stories on our list features Yao Rui, the chief engineer of the focus cabin on FAST. The telescope was built to better understand the origins of the universe and the Big Bang and could be described as one of the most exciting projects going on in science right now.

Yao Rui’s role is centred on the focus cabin, one of the most important pieces of kit on the telescope. The focus cabin receives the radio signals after they are reflected off the dish. Watch our video below to discover some of the challenges that arise for Yao Rui and how she deals with them.

3)  Hangzhou’s Beautiful Bookstore and ‘one of China’s most promising designers’

Described by Forbes as one of China’s most promising designers, Hangzhou’s popular bookstore was designed by innovative architect Li Xiang.  A massive 20,000 people visited the bookstore on opening day. Watch the video below to follow her journey from initial design.

4) Flamenco Pearl: The Life of a Chinese Flamenco Dancer

This short film documents the life of Zhao Zhen, a Chinese flamenco dancer who travelled the world to follow her biggest passion in life before re-settling in Beijing to start her own dance school.

5) China’s Green Roof Revolution

Ma Liya has designed a green roof in Beijing inspiring children to cultivate the garden and get closer to nature. From hand picking the perfect vegetation for the site to her research into different soil types, she is part of a movement leading China, and the world, to a greener future.

6) Fiona Reilly meets…

This was one of our favourite and first videos – Australian Fiona and the Miao ladies may be from different continents but they had a surprising amount in common.  Fiona’s photo assignment introduced us to the stunning embroidery created by Miao women to the dishes in the region.

7) Coco’s Kitchen: Chinese Dumplings

How can we talk about the wonderful women of China without talking about our very own Coco?  Coco brings some of the most authentic and delicious Chinese recipes straight to our kitchens. It was very difficult to pick, but we’ve chosen her recipe for Chinese dumplings as our favourite. Let us know which you’ll be trying out next!

For us, these women personified China’s innovation, creativity and passion. For more stories such as these, be sure to visit and subscribe to our YouTube Channel.