China, the world's most populous country with over three millennia of rich history, is often considered one of the cradles of human civilisation. When Europeans were still largely living in nomadic, cave-dwelling tribes, China was home to cities the size of London and a highly sophisticated bureaucratic and educational system.
With so much fascinating history and breakneck change over the past century, there are some Chinese traditions that have stood the test of time and can still be witnessed and experienced by travellers anywhere in the country. Whether you're there on a whistle-stop tour or a lengthy backpacking trip, here are four Chinese traditions that you need to experience.
Practice the Art of Calligraphy
The art of calligraphy has roots all over the world, but it's China where the practice originated. It is essentially a beautified form of writing or the artistic expression of the Chinese language. The practice originated in the sprawling bureaucracies of the Song Dynasty, where the ability to have handwriting fit for royal proclamations and seals was a prerequisite for a well-paid government job. It is still practised for leisure across China, and tourists can find any number of calligraphy classes to take part in, in virtually every city.
Get Your Fortune Told
Chinese fortune telling, also known as suan ming, is one of the earliest forms of divination known to man, although it didn't become popular in China until around the 18th century period of British colonial rule. Those wishing to partake will be able to find fortune telling families set up in cosy little parlours around the hutong lane houses of Beijing and Shanghai, and will be in for the experience of a lifetime. Those who can't make it can still enjoy a traditional divination experience from anywhere in the world, with websites like the Circle offering live and phone tarot readings to any traveller wishing to know their fate. Especially useful if you can't locate those notoriously well-hidden parlours.
Play a Majiang Game
To many, Majiang is a game that is often associated with the elderly. In Chinese however, this couldn't be further from the truth. A stroll through any park or riverside boardwalk on a sunny day will greet you with locals of all ages energetically taking part in this ancient game of skill and cunning. The rules might seem a little hard to follow if you're a beginner, but mastering the art of majiang will win you some serious brownie points with the locals.
Spend the Afternoon Drinking Tea
There are few things more synonymous with China than tea. What you should know first of all is that tea in China tastes quite different to what you may be used to in your home country, and it is served and prepared completely differently too. The act of drinking tea comes accompanied with layers of etiquette that you won't be expected to know as a foreigner but should read up on. An afternoon in an elegant Chinese tea house is one of the most relaxing things you can do.
China's cultural treasures are far too immense to cram into a single blog post, but hopefully this will get the rookie traveller started on a journey of discovery they will remember for a lifetime.