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China today is a land of contrasts. Traditional rural ways of life sit alongside the towers of modern cities, six-lane motorways and high-speed rail lines. Five thousand years of history collide with a country rapidly developing economically.
The capital of China is one of the most important cities in the world today as the political centre of the power of modern China. But it is also the inheritor of China's imperial past, displayed in the magnificent historical monuments of the city, such as the Forbidden City, Great Wall and Summer Palace. The city is more than its buildings, however, and its streets teem with lively markets, shops and restaurants.
Shanghai is the powerhouse of modern China's economy. Today skyscrapers surround the city where 30 years ago there were fields. The name alone conjures up its cosmopolitan past from its heyday in the 1920s and 30s promising exoticism and excess. With great food, shopping and lots to see, Shanghai provides a fascinating glimpse into China today.
Today Xi'an is world famous as the home of the Terracotta Army, the figures created by China's first emperor to guard his tomb for eternity. But there is much more to this city that was once China's capital and the end of the Silk Road, with a wealth of historical relics.
Built on a peninsula at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers, Chonqing is known as the 'mountain city' because of its densely packed housing crowing the steep hillsides. From its position on the Yangtze River it is the heart of inner China and a booming metropolis in its own right. Enjoy the spicy Sichuan cooking the region is famous for.
Suzhou gains its fame from its many elegant traditional Chinese gardens, created by wealthy merchants or retired officials. Expressions of balance and harmony they combine the natural and built worlds. Suzhou also retains some of its traditional canals, lined by whitewashed houses and crossed by elegant bridges.
Turpan is a fertile oasis lying in the midst of deserts., but is a place of extremes: one of the driest places in China, hot in summer and cold in winter. Today many places attest to its former importance on the Silk Road, including ruined mudbrick cities, and its special irrigation system, surrounded by the dramatic landscape of the desert and mountains.
The oasis of Dunhuang was an important staging post on the ancient Silk Road, where camel trains converged across the desert. A frontier town to China, it flourished on trade, and was a melting pot of influences, not least Buddhism which is reflected in the art and sculpture of the Mogao Caves, one of the treasures of Chinese art.