Posts Tagged ‘china’

The Sun Always Shines On The Great Wall of China

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Virginia BowerVirginia Bower is an expert on Chinese art and archaeology. Virginia did her graduate study at Princeton University, and is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; she also teaches regularly at Rutgers University. 

Recently, Virginia led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a journey though Classic China and Tibet. This is her second of two posts from the trip. (See her previous post on Giant Pandas here.)


Mutianyu Section of The Great Wall

Mutianyu Section of the Great Wall. Photo by author

Originally we were supposed to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall on Saturday, May 19, but drizzle and the forecast of a heavier rain caused us to postpone the trip to Sunday, our last full day in Beijing. As we made our way out of the city and headed northeast toward the predominantly 16th-century section of this famed structure, I glanced at the overcast sky and consoled myself with the knowledge gained after 14 visits to various sections of the Great Wall since 1980 that the Great Wall never fails to impress, even when enveloped in clouds or obscured by rain. However, our Tour Director, Mike Zhao, had predicted a bit of sun and perhaps even some blue sky for this visit to the Great Wall… and indeed, a few sunbeams appeared! Soon we were all admiring and walking on the Great Wall. And no, thank you for asking, I never get tired of visiting it!

The Great Wall

The Great Wall through the trees. Photo by author


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Classic China and Tibet tour here.

Black and White and Red, Too

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Virginia BowerVirginia Bower is an expert on Chinese art and archaeology. Virginia did her graduate study at Princeton University and is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; she also teaches regularly at Rutgers University. 

This spring, Virginia led a group of Smithsonian travelers on a journey though Classic China and Tibet. See her post from the trip below:


As we drove toward the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding after arriving in Chengdu from Xi’an and having a quick lunch, we were informed by our Chengdu guide that because it was not too hot the pandas would most likely be outside and possibly even somewhat active, although not necessarily all that easy to photograph.

That proved to be true. Still, we all caught many glimpses of black and white Giant Pandas, not to mention the red raccoon-like Lesser Pandas, and managed to capture a few good snapshots to take home with us.

It was great to hear that the important research work done by experts at this site was now completely resumed after the major earthquake of May 2008, which had damaged so much of this region of China.


Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Photo by the author


Panda at play. Photo by author

Panda in tree

Panda resting in tree. Photo by author

red panda

Red Lesser Panda. Photo by author


Read more about Smithsonian Journeys’ Classic China and Tibet tour here.

First Stop: Beijing – The Imperial Palace

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Victoria Cass, Professor of Chinese StudiesVictoria Cass is a professor and author with special expertise in traditional Chinese culture. She has taught Mandarin and Classical Chinese language, as well as Chinese literature, at Johns Hopkins University, the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Minnesota; and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

She is currently in the field, leading our Classic China and Tibet tour. Read her post below detailing the group’s first stop: The Imperial Palace in Beijing.

The afternoon was brilliant—the gusting winds from the day before had cleared the air, making the immense spaces of the courtyards feel, if possible, more vast than what I remembered. I could easily imagine how exposed and how diminished some ambassador would have felt making that long center walk down the length of the vast reception grounds, tracking dead center to the red beamed halls that wait at the end of each of space. But we moved along the side pavilions, following the red bannisters that line the side buildings, looking down into the gigantic courtyards. We wanted to make sure we had leisure to enjoy what the Qian Long Emperor had enjoyed—the scholar’s garden in the very back of the royal compound. We were working our way back to his living quarters, through the chain of side passageways. We were essentially by ourselves, as we hugged the tall sides of the buildings, and I felt less like a tourist, and more—in the privacy of these side spaces—like a messenger. We entered the garden in the living quarters of the fourth Qing Emperor, and the sense of vastness and formality of the front grounds and grand halls vanished, as had the crowds. We entered through a simple small open gate, coming face to face with the pock-marked strange stones (guai shi) and weathered tree-trunks. Small pavilions were laid out as if in monastic retreat, and the small benches and low smooth stones made it easy to sit for a bit and sense the intimacy of the garden. The late afternoon sun felt lovely on our backs, and the trees caught the sounds of the remaining Beijing winds.

Dragon symbol at the Imperial Palace in Beijing

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mal B.

Learn more about future trips to China and Tibet.

An Unexpected Afternoon in Yichang, China

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Study Leader Diane Perushek has traveled to China more than sixty times over the past few decades and is current Director of Global Relations at the University of Hawai‘i. Here, she shares a surprise adventure in Yichang, China, a happy occurence on our Classic China and Tibet tour.

Temple to Buddha in Yichang, China

Photo: Diane Perushek

The day our Classic China and Tibet group left the Victoria Liana, the riverboat that took us down the Yangtze River from Chongqing to Yichang, the flight we were scheduled to take to Shanghai was changed, leaving us with an unexpected four hours in Yichang. This city of 4 million+ individuals boasts some very important historical sites in its environs, but our group did not have quite enough time to see any of them. So we turned to Yichang itself for entertainment, something American tour groups are rarely able to do.

The highlight of the afternoon for most of us was a stop at the “Old Buddha Temple” after a visit to the local history museum and before whiling away some time in a coffee shop. Even our local guide, Ginger Jiang, was surprised to find the entrance to the temple totally transformed by a new building site where the temple approach had once been. But once inside we found a very lively scene as numbers of Yichang women, dressed in gauze Buddhist robes, busied themselves with preparations for a special ceremony for the Medicine Buddha.

We saw a wall of incense, some in brilliantly-colors pink coils that, when suspended, hung down some three feet; and we were treated to many photos with the priest, who was dressed in his finest red-patterned robe. Upon departing from the temple, the priest wished us well and encouraged us to visit the local Christian churches, which some of us did on that Maundy Thursday. Before we left the temple compound, one of our group bought “spirit” money from a vendor that could be burned to send up to ancestors in the other world who might be in need of some cash. This unexpected afternoon turned into a unique and most memorable experience for us all.

Travel is all about rolling with the unexpected. What’s your favorite serendipitous travel moment?

If you’re interested in travel to China, please click here for upcoming tours.

Book of the Week – The Way of the Panda

Friday, July 8th, 2011

The Way of the Panda - cover imageOur book partner, Longitude books is always searching for new books to inspire and inform your travels.

This week, they’ve recommended you curl up with The Way of The Panda by Henry Nicholls.

People have been fascinated by giant pandas since they were formally discovered 140 years ago. Author Henry Nicholls provides an absorbing narrative history of the panda, part of his larger story of the animal conservation movement, China’s ascendancy, and what recent scientific work is finally showing us about this most mysterious of creatures.

If you’re ready for your own exploration of China, click here to learn more about discovering China with Smithsonian Journeys.