Some foreign guests feel they are isolated in capsules and are given little or on chance to meet or acquaint themselves with the Chinese people. These sealed capsules, which are identical with barriers, should be removed.
Letter and the China Daily
Most foreigners visiting China still travel in ‘capsules’. Until the early 1980s, there was no other choice: if you wanted to travel to China, you had to join a group tour, and often one masquerading as a delegation of medical workers or sociologists. An elaborate framework was constructed in the 1960 and early 1970s in which foreigners could travel though China rarely, if ever, meeting or talking to ordinary people, or seeing Chinese society as it really is. Foreign tourists were, and largely still are, carefully shepherded from one place to anther in groups, staying in segregated hotels, eating in segregated restaurants, and rarely given the chance to stray off the beaten track.
This book is aimed at those who want to break out of the ‘capsule’ and see China on their own. Tourists are allowed to visit a growing list of cities and town around the country, and budget travellers who have gone round without any help from officialdom say it can be done with little trouble, even if you don’t speak a word of Chinese.
The first crack in the group-tour-or-nothing facade appeared in Hong Kong in 1981 when advertisements appeared on the notice-boards of a number of hostels frequented by young budget travelers, offering individual visas for China for bout UK20 each. Apparently, the owners of the hostels were arranging their own ‘group’ tours, with member of the ‘group’ travelling independently. Whether it was all above-board or not was uncertain, but no one was asking too many questions for fear of the visas disappearing. The intrepid tourist who obtained the visas took the train up to Canton and then struck out their own, blazing trails as they went.
The individual visas offered in Hong Kong at that time now appear to have been a test by China’s tourist authorities to see what problems would crop up.
Their caution was understandable. When Chairman Mao Testing died in 1976, China effectively had no tourist industry at all, unless the ‘study groups’ of trendy Western Maoists are counted. Even in 1978, China received less than 50000 foreign visitors. The figure in 1982 was probably ten times that.
China is a lot more open than it used to be, and the authorities are losing their fear of foreigners wandering about unaccompanied. More and more individual tourist visas are being issued, and the various organizations around China that deal with tourists are gradually gaining experience in how to handle people who suddenly turn up out of nowhere. China’s tourism authorities estimate that individual tourists will account for 20 to 30 per cent of foreign visitors by 1990, and up to 40 per cent by the end of the century.
Barring another political upheaval, tourist travel around China is likely to get easier and easier. At present, well over 90 per cent of the country’s total area is still closed to foreigners, but the list of places that are open is growing all the time. Restrictions on travel are also being gradually eased. The pragmatic government of Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader, has realised that the less restrictions there are, “the more tourists will come, and the more foreign exchange the country can amass.
This book will show you how to travel through China without any help from the China International Travel Service (CITS), the organization charged with handling foreign visitors. In fact, the Travel Service can be very useful indeed for the individual who wants to save time and effort, or who feels like travelling in comfort. At any stage in your travels, you can ignore the various pieces of travel information in this book and just have the Travel Service arrange everything for you. Or you can do it by yourself. The choice is yours.
This book also gives you information and tells you stories about China that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. The emphasis is on events in the past few decades, an era of great change in China that most guidebooks almost ignore.
I have used the Pinyin romanisation system for Chinese words throughout the guide, except for a few names which have well-known, or relatively wellknown, equivalents in English or in the old Wade-Giles romanisation system, such as Peking, Canton, Tibet, Chiang Kaishek and the Yangtse River. The Pinyin system, with its unpronounceable Zs, Xs and Cs, is far from perfect, but it has already been virtually accepted as the standard. Most of the names of roads are rendered completely in pinyin to make it easier for travellers to ask for directions. For a short intriduction toPinyin, and to the Language section, page 25.
The China tourism scene is changing so fast there days that some of the information in this book may prove to be outdated. Any criticisms or additional information will be gratefully received.
I would like to thank the people who helped me put this book together, particularly my wife Lam Fung-yee, Richard Pascoe, Tony Walker, Beverly Lum-des Jardins, Fred Bourke and Tim Grindell.