Category Archives: Travel In China

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 and quickly suggested that the leftover brick was placed by the wall by a supernatural being 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…

Harbin Ice Festival 2017: In Pictures

News and Travel Editor

The world famous Harbin Ice Festival is well underway in China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang. We have been treated to some spectacular sights in the past and this year is no exception. Check out some of the stunning shots captured at this year’s festival so far.

This is the 33rd Harbin Ice Festival since its inception in 1963. At the start of every festival, an ice sculpture competition is held, showcasing some brilliant creations. Although the Harbin Ice Sculpture Competition is over for this year, the festival itself won’t finish until February 25th, so there’s still plenty of time to take in the sights across the 200 acre park.

Here are our favourite images so far of this year’s festival.

Fireworks erupt at the opening ceremony on January 5th.

Did you know that many of the blocks used for the sculptures were taken from Harbin’s Songhua River?

Did you double take just then? That’s right, some of the sculptures are actually designed into slides for the public. Just make sure you’re wrapped up warm for this one…

Many of the sculptures are inspired by Chinese folk tales and global landmarks. with the Egyptian Sphynx making regular appearances.

The Harbin Snow Festival has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The festival attracted over 1 million visitors last year.

18 couples have so far braved the cold in Harbin to get married, but that’s not the most daring this to happen at the festival this year…

Swimming competitions take place in a pool cut out of the frozen Songhua River. Just looking at this makes me feel cold.

Next week, our very own Coco will be giving you some top tips on stocking up for your Chinese New Year celebrations as you get ready to welcome in the Year of the Rooster. We’ll also take a look at some of the myths and legends surrounding Chinese New Year, including what NOT to do if you’re given a red money envelope…

Living the Dream in China: A New Year’s Resolution

News and Travel Editor

Happy 2017!  As we fast approach the Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rooster, it’s the perfect time to reflect back on the past year, as well as think of a couple of those dreaded New Year Resolutions…

Fear not! Here at China Icons, we can think of one that’s a bit more exciting than heading to the gym everyday for a week before giving up until next year. If your resolutions include travelling or even relocating, there’s never been a better time to make China a part of your itinerary.

Whether you want to go to China to teach, be an entrepreneur, study at a Chinese university, or simply travel, China has it all. It’s a country where the ancient and the modern coalesce  The most popular destinations for many travellers include Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, where old traditions and fast-paced modern life intertwine perfectly. This is probably why it’s estimated that 600,000 foreigners currently live in China, as well as having 328,000 foreign students in 2012.

We have the perfect insight into travellers who have followed their dream in China, with many opting to permanently settle there. Many  of our China Icons videos explore the stories of these people, from Pol, a Turkish Games Designer, to Lee, a Television Presenter and Writer. We want to share the very best with you and to hopefully give you some inspiration on how you can follow your dream in China.

#5
A Games Designer in China

Turkish Games Designer, Pol, based himself in Guangzhou at the heart of the gaming development community. Go behind the scenes with Pol and find out more about what you can get up to in Guangzhou when the sun goes down.

#4 
Lee’s Life in Beijing

Lee is a British Television Presenter and Writer and moved to Beijing when he was 26 years old. Lee explains how he started his own TV series analysing film reviews.

#3
Marion’s Life in Tibet

Now we head away from the big cities with Marion, who moved to Tibet from France and trained herself to become a mountain climber and even had the chance to take on the awe-inspiring Mt. Everest. Marion explains what attracted her to Tibet’s fascinating landscape and culture.

#2
Stunning embroidery of China’s Miao People

Fiona is an Australian ER Doctor, but moved to China to become a food writer and photo blogger. Watch below to find out more about Fiona’s journey to visit the Miao People and their amazing traditions.

#1
War Horse Theatre Director Alex Sims

War Horse has become a worldwide phenomenon and British Theatre Director, Alex Sims, has taken it to China. Go behind the scenes of the National Theatre of China and one of the biggest theatre productions in the world.

 

Do you fancy your hand in any of these professions? Are you travelling to China this year and have these videos persuaded you to maybe stay a little longer? Let us know in the comments below!

Check in next week for an insight into this year’s, world famous, Harbin Ice Festival and take a look at some of the stunning sculptures making an appearance this year.

Hong Kong – the city of record breakers

News and Travel Editor

Hong Kong always takes our breath away and is a favourite winter destination.

But don’t just take our word for it! Here are some record breaking reasons why you need to plan a trip to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s skyline is staggering, with more skyscrapers than any other city on the planet. More people live and work above the 14th floor here than in any other city in the world!

To get around, you have the biggest double decker tram fleet at your disposal…. Plus more Rolls Royces per person than any other city. Although you might need to seek alternative transport to reach Hong Kong’s 200 plus islands…!

When you’ve recovered from all that island hopping, marvel at the biggest nightly show of light and sound in the ‘Symphony of Lights’ at Victoria Harbour.

Want more tips on things to do in Hong Kong?
Callum’s 72 hour selfie has you sorted

For more on China, SUBSCRIBE to China Icons.

China’s Oldest Resident: The Ginkgo Tree

News and Travel Editor

Fall is my favourite season of the year, with darker, cosier evenings and the changing colours in the trees. But have you heard of the Ginkgo Biloba Tree? It’s famous in China for being one of the oldest living tree species and shedding its brilliantly golden leaves at the start of Fall (also known as autumn in other parts of the world!).

There are both ‘male’ and ‘female’ trees, with the female producing a strange, whiffy, fruit which is often described as smelling like ‘rancid butter’. Remember to take your nose pegs if you’re planning on visiting your local Ginkgo tree anytime soon…

The fruit can actually pose a massive problem in cities with people regularly slipping on it after it has fallen from the tree, resulting in male only trees being used in urban areas.

Nonetheless, the Gingko Biloba tree is often planted near temples, shrines and castles and can be seen as an object of holy worship as well as being able to ward off evil spirits.

The species is thought to be around 350 million years old, making the tree a symbol of longevity and vitality. Reports of the oldest individual tree are wildly varied, ranging from 1,400 years to 10,000 years!

tree-3
Image by CS76.

The leaves of Ginkgo trees are used for herbal medicine and are said to have a range of medicinal qualities including being able to improve blood circulation and relieve Alzheimer’s. It’s also a hugely popular drug in France and Germany, accounting for 1.5% of their total prescription sales!

The Ginkgo tree is known also to be exceptionally hardy and able to withstand disastrous events. Some trees in China show signs of lightning damage but continue to grow and blossom out of disfigured trunks.

tree-2
Image by travel oriented. CC Attribution 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode).

So there you have it, the Ginkgo tree is more than just a pretty sight. Choosing to ignore its pungent fruit, the tree is also an allegedly effective healer and keep away unwanted spirits (perfect, just in time for Halloween!).

Fancy a spot of ‘leaf peeping’ yourself? Here are our favourite places to go!

Dajue Temple, Beijing.
The Ginkgo tree here is reportedly 1,000 years old and is easily accessible in the suburbs of Beijing. There are 3 other Ginkgo trees at the temple, the tallest being 30 metres, with a diameter of 7 to 8 metres.

Stone Buddha Temple, Beijing.
This Ginkgo was planted in the Tang Dynasty, 1,200 years ago! This tree is female and produces fruit every autumn. You have been warned…

Gu Guanyin Buddhist Temple, Xi’an, Shanxi Province.
This tree was also planted during the Tang dynasty and is on the national protection list of trees. Monks at the temple often meditate amongst the fallen leaves.

Why are there so many glass bridges in China?

News and Travel Editor

Every few weeks on my Twitter feed, announcements pop up regarding a glass bridge in China. The widest, the longest, the highest, the scariest, one with a restaurant, one you can hit with a sledgehammer… the openings keep coming! As someone with a slight fear of heights, I’m yet to give any of them a go, but I can’t help but wonder WHY do they keep getting built? Am I missing out on something amazing? Aren’t they all….kind of the same?

I did a little digging to find out more.

Tourism

Time for a spot of science. Architect Keith Brownlie, who was involved in a glass bridge for The London Science Museum, said that the appeal of these walkways is”thrill”. Speaking to the BBC, he said “It is the relationship between emotionally driven fear and the logical understanding of safety,” he said. “These structures tread the boundary between those two contrasting senses and people like to challenge their rational mind in relation to their irrational fear.”

Dr. Margee Kerr, a Pittsburgh (US)-based sociologist expands on this by explaining to The Huffington Post  why triggering a ‘fight or flight’ response can feel good  “Our arousal system is activated and triggers a cascade of ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters and hormones like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline that influence our brains and our bodies” She also suggests that pride from overcoming these fears and bonding with friends and family in the process also makes scaring yourself silly so appealing.

Sky-high yoga

Okay, I’m kidding, I just wanted an excuse to include these gloriously unusual photos.

In conclusion, a continually growing tourist market combined with a love of thrill seeking may go part of the way to explain the glass bridge craze that’s sweeping China. One thing is for sure, all of the bridges show off incredible landscapes – something China is definitely not short of.

Are you brave enough to give one of China’s glass bridges a try? Have you been already? If so, I’d love to know what you think makes the experience so exciting!

In The News This Month | September

News and Travel Editor

Time feels like it has flown by since my last news round up, and with good reason – it’s been a very busy month! From gold medals to grapes in space, there’s been a lot of big stories this September. Here’s my pick of the best stories to come out of China in the last month:

Jackie_Chan_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpgIt was announced this month that Chinese acting legend Jackie Chan is getting an honorary for his extraordinary achievements in film.

I have decided to reconsider my career choices after hearing that Chinese Team ‘Wings Gaming’ won millions of dollars playing a game called DOTA 2 at an e-sports tournament.  Who wants to join me for next year’s competition?

The G20 took place in Hangzhou. For everything you need to know about the city and the conference, have a look here!

 

Chinese taxi-hailing giant Didi announced a move towards bicycle sharing . (Psst did you know that the world’s biggest bike share scheme is in Hangzhou, China?!)

The world’s longest desert highway is now open in China’s Inner Mongolia

The world’s largest radio telescope entered its testing phase in Guizhoufast-thumbs-8

How far will you go for the perfect glass of red? China has begun sending vines into space on a quest for perfect wine

China dominated the Paralympic Games winning a total of 107 Golds and a staggering total of 783 medals!

September 15th marked the commencement of the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally celebrated with Mooncakes, family reunions and lanterns.

moon-cake-master

Curious to try first-class food in an airplane, without leaving the ground? You’ve got to visit Wuhan’s brand new airplane restaurant.

Yao Ming was inducted into the NBA Hall Of Fame with a little help from the only man tall enough, Shaq

In perhaps my favourite bit of news so far this year, it was announced this month that Pandas are no longer endangered in China.  I love Pandas, as you can probably tell from my previous posts, and fingers crossed they’ll be more furry friends for me to ‘aww’ at on the China Icons YouTube channel soon!

more gruel plz

This concludes another round up of in the news this month. Did you spot a great story I missed? Is there something you can’t wait for coming up in China in October? Let me know in the comments below!