Traveling in China

A report on what MOTHER EARTH NEWS encountered after traveling in China in 1980.

| January/February 1981

There's no question that fortune smiled when MOTHER EARTH NEWS was traveling in China last year. We were able to visit such locations as Kunming, Chengdu, and Nanning, as yet "unwesternized" by the influences of tourism and only recently opened to visitors, and that made us feel especially privileged when we talked, later, to other travelers stuck in such already beaten paths as the Beijing/Guilin/Shanghai/Guangzhou route.

Tourist "Musts"

Of course, we did make certain—during our short stay in Beijing—that we climbed the Great Wall (it's steep!), explored the gorgeous symmetry of the Forbidden City, visited the Ming Tombs, and took a leisurely tour of the stunningly beautiful Summer Palace.

We even had opportunities to join the capital city's citizens (at least those of us who got up early enough did!) in their morning exercises; to observe with awe the thousands of rush hour bicyclists pedaling safely in wide, clearly marked lanes; and to visit the famous Red Star Commune, where (among other things) we cheered a cow on as she gave birth to a healthy calf, and looked on unhappily while Peking ducks were force fed to make fat future dinners.

The "Real" China

But when we headed for more distant provinces, we came face to face with an even more interesting China. The experience began on the evening that we walked out of our Chengdu hotel and found a number of people waiting for us to "practice their English."

It's remarkable how fluently such men and women can converse after only two or three years of lessons. That first night, for example, we were accosted by two attractive high school girls who were extraordinarily concerned about the outcome of the American presidential election, and disappointed that we couldn't predict the outcome.

Surprisingly, we found that no subjects—even military matters—were taboo to the often well-informed people we encountered, and answers to our questions were obviously candid. At first, when they said, "Let's walk while we talk," we thought we were encountering signs of some form of national paranoia, but it soon became evident that stopping on the streets (or anywhere else) would immediately attract scores of unabashedly curious onlookers.

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