Cultural Highlights: China

Beijing, China

Included Cultural Excursions:
  • Tian’anmen Square is the political heart of modern China. At 100 acres, it is the largest public square in the world. Known as the site of massive student protests, it is the entry point to the Forbidden City. The square features famous monuments including the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the mausoleum of former Chinese ruler Mao Zedong.

  • China’s former imperial palace, the Forbidden City, has been home to a long line of emperors, from Yongle in 1420 through Puyi in 1924. The political center of Chinese government for five centuries, it now houses the Palace Museum, which contains the largest collection of imperial artwork and artifacts in the country.

  • The Great Wall of China is the world's longest human-made structure, stretching across approximately 4,500 miles. It is a series of stone and earthen fortifications constructed and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century AD. Originally built to keep nomads out of China, it is today considered a symbol of Chinese unity and is one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks. The Great Wall was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

  • Each week, Chinese students congregate at the English Corner on the campus of Renmin University to practice their English-speaking skills. A unique opportunity to meet and interact with Chinese citizens, English Corner welcomes native English speakers to converse with the students on a variety of topics, from politics to pop culture.
Suggestions for Independent Cultural Excursions:
  • The Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 for emperors to worship Heaven and is China’s largest complex of ancient sacrificial buildings. The main buildings include the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Mound of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar. The temple was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

  • The Summer Palace for Chinese royalty was built 800 years ago and is said to be the largest imperial garden in the world. It first opened to the public in 1911, so that visitors could enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape mingled with the stunning architecture at this ancient royal retreat.

  • Beijing Zoo is the largest zoo in China. Called Wanshengyuan (Ten Thousand Animal Garden) during the Qing Dynasty, it was officially renamed in 1955. Beijing Zoo currently houses over 7,000 different animals, comprising more than 600 species. Highlights for visitors are the animals native to China, including the Golden Monkey and, of course, the Giant Panda, known the world over as a Chinese national symbol.

Hangzhou, China

Included Cultural Excursions: 
  • Hangzhou is well-known for its striking natural scenery, including the famous West Lake, and is widely regarded as one of China’s most beautiful cities. A city rich in historical and cultural heritage, Hangzhou features an architectural array of ancient temples and pagodas.

  • West Lake is over two square miles of peaceful, shimmering water facing Hangzhou to the north and east. Surrounded by mountains, the fresh water lake is divided by three causeways and features three man-made islands. The natural beauty of the lake and its breathtaking views has inspired many Chinese poets, including Su Dongpo, who is honored with a memorial hall on the lake.

  • Guo’s Villa was first built between 1851 and 1861 and is named after a Guo Shilin. Opened to the public in October 1991 after a complete renovation, it is a private garden villa known among West Lake's gardens for being most characteristic of classic gardens in east China.

  • Ling Yin Temple is one of the ten most renowned Buddhist temples in China, which in English translates to “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat.” The entrance is lined by rock grottos featuring hundreds of carvings, including the famous “Laughing Buddha.” The temple’s halls, courtyards and pavilions are a bounty of ornate Buddhist architecture and statuary. Founded in 326 A.D. as a Buddhist monastery, the temple remains today a place of calming serenity.

Shanghai, China

Included Cultural Excursions:
  • Shanghai is China’s largest city and the financial, commercial and industrial hub of the country. Located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Shanghai is well-known for its modern Pudong skyline, featuring such noted landmarks as the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center.

  • In Shanghai, scholars will take in the thrilling spectacle of the Acrobatics Show. Marvel at amazing acrobatic feats performed to original music in a show that amazes and entertains.

  • The Bund is a famous waterfront, regarded as a symbol of the city of Shanghai. At less than one mile in length, the Bund is the perfect place for a short stroll along the Hunagpu River and is packed with notable buildings, including the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Jin Mao Tower. The highlight of the Bund is the west side, featuring 52 buildings of varying architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Renaissance and Classicism.

  • Frenchtown (also known as the French Concession) is a district of Shanghai once designated as a settlement for French traders and businesspeople, and formerly overseen by the French government. Today it is a blend of east and west, an enclave of trendy cafés, shops, and European-style architecture frequented by tourists and urbanites alike.

  • Yuyuan Garden (also known as Yu Gardens) is a classical Chinese garden first established in 1559. The focal point is the Five-Dragon Wall, a monument to the magical creature so prevalent in Chinese legend. The wall divides the garden into six sections: the Grand Rockery, Ten-Thousand-Flower Pavilion, Hall of Heralding Spring, Hall of Jade Magnificence, Inner Garden, and Lotus Pool. The gardens are the place to go for a stroll, or just take a break from the bustling pace of the city.

Suggestions for Independent Cultural Excursions:
  • Shanghai Museum is a grand collection of ancient art, containing eleven galleries and three special temporary exhibition halls. The museum, located in the People’s Square since 1996, houses approximately 120,000 works of art.

  • Nanjing Lu, China’s premier shopping street, stretches from the Bund to the People’s Park in downtown Shanghai. The city’s first commercial road, it is now known as the “Oriental Paris.” Whether you’re into high-end fashion or just looking for the best bargain, you’ll find it here!

  • The Jade Buddha Temple is a Buddhist temple that was founded in 1882 with two jade Buddha statues imported to Shanghai from Burma by sea. These were a sitting Buddha and a smaller reclining Buddha representing Buddha's death. The temple now also contains a much larger reclining Buddha made of marble, donated from Singapore, and visitors may mistake this larger sculpture for the original, smaller piece.

Hong Kong, Hong Kong - Optional Extension

Included Cultural Extensions:
  • Take a peek at Victoria Peak, one of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions. Travel over 1200 feet to the summit on the Peak Tram, which pulls visitors via a steel cable up an incline of nearly 45 degrees. Once at the top of The Peak, enjoy amazing panoramic views of Hong Kong Harbour, Kowloon and the towering city skyline.

  • Aberdeen Fishing Village is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and widely-visited sites. Share the experience of “the boat people” who live on the hundreds of fishing junks docked in Aberdeen Harbour. Visitors can tour the fishing village via sampan, a flat-bottomed, Chinese wooden boat. The contrast of the lives of the boat people against the backdrop of Aberdeen’s modern skyline provides a striking contrast of traditional and modern life in Hong Kong.

  • Repulse Bay’s unique moniker comes from a 19th century battle during which the British army “repulsed” a pirate attack. In the early 20th century, the area was developed into a crescent-shaped beach. Today, it is a scenic residential area, featuring some of the most expensive real estate in Hong Kong.

  • Situated between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, Hong Kong Harbour (also known as Victoria Harbour) hosts thousands of sailing vessels every year. It is a popular gathering site for tourists and locals due to its central urban location.

  • Nathan Road is the oldest road in Kowloon, the first section of which was completed in 1861. Lined with shops and restaurants, it is one of the busiest commercial thoroughfares in Hong Kong. Each evening, Nathan Road comes alive in a colorful array of glowing neon lights.

Suggestions for Independent Cultural Extensions
  • Kowloon Peninsula is attached to mainland China across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. Kowloon is the site of many cultural gems, including Nathan Road and myriad exotic markets.

  • The Hong Kong Flower Market features stalls selling a plethora of fragrant blooms. Located on Flower Market Road in Kowloon, it features flowers of all varieties in every color of the rainbow—a truly beautiful sight!

  • If exotic birds are more your fancy, Kowloon Bird Market is the place to be! Stroll amongst hundreds of cages displaying songbirds of all varieties. Take in the sights and sounds of this aviary wonderland, where locals will often bring their own pet birds to sing with one another.

  • In China, jade has often been associated with long life and good health. The Jade Market is a gathering of hundreds of stalls selling jade ornaments, pendants, bracelets, rings and other treasures.

  • The Ngong Ping 360 is a gondola connecting Ting Ghung, on the north coast of Lantau with the Ngong Ping area in the hills above. The peak is home to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Giant Buddha. The 25 minute ride gives panoramic views over the North Lantau Country Park, the South China Sea and Hong Kong International Airport.