Students on the Great Wall of China The iconic Forbidden City, Beijing |  <i>Peter Walton</i> Blue skies over the Temple of Heaven |  <i>Alana Johnstone</i> Travellers on our Silk Road trip will meet the welcoming people of Kashgar |  <i>Campbell Bridge</i> Curious little Panda enjoying a snack |  <i>Alana Johnstone</i> A tower along the Great wall of China |  <i>Pam Drummond</i> Shanghai city comes alive as night falls |  <i>Alana Johnstone</i> Local man at Mingsha Dunes in western China |  <i>Peter Walton</i> Tent setup on the Great Wall trek |  <i>Kate Do</i>
  • Travelling from Beijing to Moscow on our Trans Siberian Adventure provides us an opportunity to come face to face with many different cultures.&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Kate Baker</i>

    The safety of our young travellers is our number one priority.

    Our commitment to provide a proper duty of care guides everything we do.

    World Youth Adventures has an unblemished record in the operation of school & youth adventures.

    We will only operate tours in accordance with strict operational standards that have built our reputation as leaders in the student travel industry.

    Every tour is underpinned by an industry leading risk assessment plan that exceeds the benchmark standard in Australia, New Zealand, the UK as well as the USA and Canada.

    Three decades of tailoring successful student expeditions adds another dimension to the overall student experience.

    Our Price & Value Guarantee

    Thanks to careful management and thorough consultation with local partners our track record is exemplary.

    Our industry leading risk management procedures have become a skill that we continue to refine.

    All of our school group experts are highly trained and experienced consultants who have safety as their number one priority.

    Expert leaders, risk assessments, quality inclusions and your financial security all come standard when travelling with World Youth Adventures.

    Learn more about our safety practices on our Safety page.

    Resting and camping at the head of the valley, Hebei province China&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Su Zhi Wei</i>

    World Youth Adventures is committed to responsible travel and true sustainability.

    We collect all rubbish accumulated along our Great Wall treks and we are careful to bring the right amount of food for our groups so to avoid waste.

    Our guides perform the important role of imparting knowledge about the Chinese culture to our travellers as well as understanding the cultural differences of our travellers from around the globe. With this in mind we provide our guides with cultural training each year.

    Well-defined environmental plans exist on every trip within this country.

    Learn more about our commitment, and view our free Responsible Travel Guidebook, on our Responsible Travel Page

  • A Terracotta Warrior on display at Shaanxi Provincial Museum, Xi'an&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Peter Walton</i>

    Trekking the Great Wall of China: China's Great Wall needs little introduction. What you need to know about is is the best way to experience it. World Youth Adventures can take you away from the restored sections and the large crowds to trek along a remote section of the Great Wall outside Beijing in Hebei Province. The scenery is vast and diverse as we trek our way through swaying corn cropped fields to distant green river valleys with one of the great wonders of the world as our backdrop. Camping near to villages provides us with true rural hospitality in the 'real China' and allow a rare interaction with the local people. The opportunity to visit a number of sections of the Wall will make your school adventure even more special.

    Beijing: China’s capital is an extraordinary city with a wealth of iconic attractions. Local knowledge is essential if you want to get the most out of a limited time here. Highlights include Tiananmen Square, the Summer Palace and a walking tour in places like the ancient Hutong District. Few places compare with the beautiful Forbidden City. A masterpiece of 5000 years of Chinese civilisation it still vividly displays the power and prestige of the former dynasties. Sprawling over acres, the City is a magnificent group of palaces, pavilions, courtyards and deep terracotta walls. Ornately furnished palace rooms, priceless artworks and treasures are all now open to the public after 500 years of seclusion.

    Xian: The traditional starting point of the Silk Road, this old walled city, the capital of Shaanxi Province, is a vivid example of old and new China as the modernised new city bustles around the quaint, winding lanes of the Old Quarter. Highlights includes the Wild Goose Pagoda, a classic example of Chinese temple architecture. Built in 652 AD it houses Buddhist Scriptures brought back from India along the Silk Road. The Shaanxi History Museum, built in huge classical-Chinese style, houses a collection of chronologically arranged items and includes material previously housed in the Provincial Museum, with many objects that have never been on permanent display before. The Muslim quarter of Xian provides a different feel to the city with its elaborate markets and the Great Mosque.

    Terracotta Warriors: It is worth the drive out to the site where in 1974 local farmers discovered the tomb of Qin Shihuang with its army of warriors. Excavation of the Terracotta Warrior area continues and you can see this amazing sight in the many stages of pain staking reconstruction work of archaeologists. Each warrior stands over 6 feet tall and has different features and characteristics. They are accompanied by dozens of horse-drawn carriages and enormous terracotta horses.

    Chengdu: It's worth a visit to the Panda research center for the chance to see 40 or so of these gentle giants wandering around the grounds.

    Zhongdian: In 2002 the Chinese government changed the name of this city in the Yunnan Province to Shangri La, as it declared it was the location described in James Hilton’s fictional novel “The Lost Horizon”. Zhongdian is also known as Gyalthang in Tibetan and translates to Royal Ground referring to the rich and fertile pastures surrounding the city. This area is rated in the top 5 places in the world for high plant biodiversity and is famous as a favourite research area for famous Botanist Joseph Rock. Perched on a hill overlooking the town of Zhongdian is the imposing Ganden Sumtsanling Monastery. The Monastery is 5 stories high and houses over 700 practicing Buddhist monks. It is like stepping back into a peaceful age when entering the Monastery with its huge red pillars rising from the main assembly hall. Built in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama, the monastery with its numerous chapels, woodcarving and paintings is like a living museum of Tibetan culture and many believe to be the most significant Tibetan Monastery outside of Lhasa.

    The entrance to Mogao Caves&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Maria Visconti</i>

    A huge and complex landmass encompassing an enormous variety of natural environments, and a wealth of regional differences in terms of food and culture, China is a land of contrasts: urban and rural, rich and poor, ancient and modern. China is one of the world’s great cradles of humanity, with thousands of years of continuous development producing one of the world’s most advanced civilisations.

    There is a significant amount of archaeological evidence of early human ancestors in China, with considerable homo erectus fossils from the Lower Paleolithic period, and many homo sapiens fossils and thousands of stone artefacts from the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods. Evidence uncovered from the Zhoukoudian archaeological site, in particular the ‘Peking Man’ fossil, places early human ancestors in the Beijing area 770,000 years ago, and the many other sites in northern and southern China suggest their wide distribution throughout China.

    Significant developments unfolded in China during the Neolithic period to do with the design and use of stone tools, the preparation and storage of food and overall social organisation, often together referred to as the ‘Neolithic Revolution’. It was during this period that a wide-scale transition began from hunting-gathering and nomadism, to agriculture and sedentary civilisation. Plants and animals were domesticated, more advanced stone and pottery tools were used, and pottery vessels were used to cook and store food. Over the following millennia, a succession of prehistoric human cultures continued to develop technologies of agriculture, building construction and food production; social organisation and administration; religious and cultural systems; artistic expression; and warfare tactics.

    The Shang Dynasty, which developed by around 1600 BC, had a complex social order and advanced industrial infrastructure, used lunar and solar calendars to plant crops, built wheeled chariots, and created paintings, pottery and bronze-cast items. The Shang produced a wide variety of everyday, decorative and ceremonial objects, and it was during this time that the Chinese writing system began to develop. Although the Xia Dynasty (2070 – 1600 BC) is mentioned in various Chinese historical annals, the Shang is the earliest Chinese dynasty to have been confirmed by both written documentation and archaeological evidence.

    The Shang were succeeded by the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BC), whose eight-century reign was China’s single longest historical period. The Zhou were responsible for developing many of the political, social and cultural systems that would be considered identifiably “Chinese” for the next two millennia.

    The Zhou Dynasty was a period of dramatic change for China. The primitive writing system that had begun in the Shang Dynasty was developed into a standardised Chinese writing system; agricultural and urban infrastructure evolved; trade, transportation and communication expanded; towns grew; satellite cities and feudal states were established; the philosophical systems of Taoism and Confucianism blossomed; and significant introductions included iron, horse riding, ox-drawn plows, crossbows, chopsticks and coin currency.

    The latter centuries of the Zhou Dynasty are known as the Warring States period, a period of bloody wars and shifting political and social changes. The Zhou Dynasty was succeeded by the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC), one of the Zhou’s small feudal states, whose short-lived reign established the first great Chinese empire to unify the country, shifting the previous feudal system to one of a centralised state sitting under a monarchy.

    Following the Qin was China’s second imperial dynasty, the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). The full spectrum of life under the Han Dynasty was extremely well documented thanks to the highly literate population and the dynasty’s obsessive record keeping. The 400 year-old Han Dynasty produced an enormous number of significant texts, artistic works and technological advancements, including the invention of paper. The Han Dynasty was so thorough in establishing itself, and so influential to future empires, that ‘Han’ is now synonymous with ‘Chinese’, with Han customs and culture comprising mainstream Chinese culture, and ethnic Han Chinese accounting for the bulk of China’s immense population.

    Following the collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220 AD, three separate regional political powers emerged, known collectively as the Three Kingdoms. The turbulent 60 years that followed were marked by bloody warfare as the warring states sought to reunify the country, with the Three Kingdoms being briefly reunified under the Xi/Western Jin (265–316 AD) before the arrival of barbarian invaders.

    From 300 AD, the foreign religion of Buddhism began rapidly expanding throughout China, spurred on in part by the absence of a central Confucian administrative power. The early 4th century was also the first instance of non-Chinese forces filling the power vacuum left by a dissolved state. Two northern capitals were destroyed, and it would be centuries before Chinese dynastic rule would again control the north. The whole of northern China became a fragmented cast of barbarian states, known in Chinese historical annals as the Sixteen Kingdoms (303–439 AD). At the same time, the south of the country was controlled by a succession of politically and militarily weak Chinese dynasties known as the Six Dynasties (317–589 AD).

    The short-lived Sui Dynasty (581–618) was successful in reunifying the politically fragmented northern and southern states for the first time in 400 years, and established many institutional reforms and centralised administrative structures that were maintained by their successors, the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD).

    The Tang Dynasty expanded the successful systems of administration and governance established by the Sui, but the Tang empire is most famous for encouraging artistic expression to such a degree that the Tang period is considered a Golden Age of Chinese arts and culture. After gradually declining, the Tang Dynasty collapsed in 907, and the scattered kingdoms that were left withstood unification for another 50 years, until the emergence of the Song Dynasty (960–1279).

    The Song period is renowned for its significant developments in commerce, arts and culture, technology and social welfare. The Song Dynasty encouraged and subsidised the prolific creation of literary works, paintings, sculpture and grand religious architecture. The Song dynasty finally fell in 1279 to the Mongol Empire, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan.

    Kublai established the imperial Yuan Dynasty, becoming the first non-Chinese to conquer China in its entirety. During the dynasty’s short reign, the Yuan established a Chinese-style administration, funnelled resources into infrastructure and public works and encouraged foreign trade, being the first unified empire to make Dadu (now Beijing) its administrative capital. The Kublai Khan became a well-known figure in Europe thanks to the Italian merchant traveller Marco Polo, who visited Beijing while on his epic 24-year excursion through Asia and, thanks to his expertise in foreign languages, shipping logistics, international currencies and other crucial mercantile subjects, was employed in a high administrative post in Kublai’s government for many years. Upon returning to Europe, Marco Polo’s detailed accounts of the Mongols and his travels in the East would provide significant knowledge to Europeans about the East, its politics, administration, geography and culture. The Yuan capital fell to Chinese rebel forces in 1368, with the emperor fleeing and his overthrown empire dissolving. A tumultuous wrangling for power now occurred between different rebel states, and out of this emerged a new native Han Chinese empire, the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).

    The Ming Dynasty, which was led by a succession of 16 emperors, was a significant time in Chinese history during which the country exerted enormous influence upon the culture and politics of the rest of Asia. Some of the major legacies of the Ming Dynasty were the building of Beijing’s imperial palace complex, the Forbidden City; construction of the most extensive sections of the Great Wall; and significant works in literature and scholarship, painting, ceramics and performing arts.

    When the Ming Dynasty fell into economic depression, the embattled Ming empire sought assistance from the Manchu in fighting off bandits, and the Manchu were successful in conquering Beijing in 1644, declaring a Manchu Dynasty. By 1680, the Manchu had gained control of China in its entirety, under the name of the Qing Dynasty. The Manchu maintained a powerful and well-ordered government, tripling the population compared to the Ming Dynasty, until around 1800, after which the empire’s power waned until the dynasty was overthrown by the democratic revolt known as the Chinese Revolution of 1911–12. With the new republic established and the capital moved to Beijing, things had transitioned with remarkable ease. However, national unity and government stability would progressively disintegrate over the coming decades.

    By 1927, the Beijing government had lost control of the fringe provinces, and the country had spun into a fragmented group of independent states headed by military warlords. Living conditions were squalid, people were dying from starvation and society was rife with major problems. The communists promised solutions to the Chinese people’s woes, with the first step being to remove the country’s main political power, the Kuomintang. China’s capitalist political leaders became increasingly obsessed with stamping out communism, ordering the execution of thousands of suspected communist sympathisers. Communist uprisings became more frequent as the country’s scrappy communist army continue to amass followers. In October 1934, the communists decided to march northward to join their allies in Shaanxi, some 8,000 km (4,971 mi) distance across extremely difficult terrain. Less than a quarter of the 90,000 who set out on the mission—dubbed The Long March—made it to Shaanxi alive, but the mission was successful in bringing together many of the people who would go on to hold important positions in Mao’s communist administration post-1949.

    The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 forced the Kuomintang into retreat, creating a power vacuum that would later be filled by the Communist Party of China (CCP). On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong declared the new People’s Republic of China (PRC), with backing from the Soviet Union. With the country left financially and socially crippled by the outgoing Kuomintang, the communists made quick work of enacting economic, land and labour reforms; boosting industrial production; halting inflation and attempting to restore China’s economy. It was in 1950 that Tibet—until this point largely isolated from the rest of the world, steeped in its own Tibetan language, religion and ancient culture—began to be incorporated as a region of China. Behind China’s rapidly improving economic situation, however, lurked serious social problems.

    Literature and the arts were subject to strict censorship, and in 1957, Mao came up with a plan to lessen the grave threat he saw from China’s large class of artists and intellectuals. Mao proposed to invite open criticism from the country’s thinkers and artists, who jumped at the chance to voice their frustrations at the country’s uncompromising ideological controls. Feedback flooded in, but instead of listening and making changes, Mao used the campaign to trap ‘rightist’ thinkers, and within six months 300,000 people had been rounded up and imprisoned or sent to forced labour camps, where many stayed for the next 20 years.

    With a rapidly exploding population and insufficient agricultural production, China faced the serious issue of how to feed the nation. The plan that Mao came up with, The Great Leap Forward, was to be one of the greatest economic and social failures in history. The plan attempted to transform China’s agrarian society into an industrialised communist machine. Rural populations were grouped into large agricultural communes, homemade steel furnaces were built in each village and peasants with no training were put in charge of producing mass amounts of steel. With the country’s farmers now engaged in the production of mostly worthless steel, tens of millions of people died from starvation, and the country’s economy declined further than ever before. In 1960, the government was forced to abandon its ill-planned and calamitous program after two years.

    The immense failure of the campaign forced Mao to retire as head of state, but he stayed on as Chairman of the Communist Party. Facing isolation within his party, Mao sought to re-establish his supremacy by staging a personal propaganda campaign and publishing a selection of his political ideologies as a manifesto known as the “little red book”. In 1966, spurred on by the performance of a play in which he was criticised, Mao went on a rampage of propaganda. Communist posters were plastered around cities and universities, students were given red armbands and sent to the streets to protest, and by mid-1996, mass parades could be seen in Tiananmen Square, with Mao’s new “Red Guards” chanting war cries and waving copies of his iconic red book.

    Mao’s communist propaganda argued that the traditional values and structures of the ‘bourgeoisie’ were the enemy of the people and must be crushed. As the propaganda posters clearly demonstrated, the “Four Olds” were to be destroyed: old customs, old habits, old culture and old thinking. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution that followed—commonly known as the Cultural Revolution (1966–1970)—saw the closing of schools; the seizure of all private property; the banning of religion; the suppression of all non-communist artistic expression or intellectual thought; the harassment, imprisonment, torture and execution of religious clergy, artists, intellectuals and any accused detractors; and the frenzied destruction of religious, artistic, scientific and cultural buildings, temples, monuments, texts and treasures. The four years of Mao’s Cultural Revolution saw the destruction of much of China’s cultural heritage and the death of millions of people, either by execution, torture, starvation, suicide or a lack of health care.

    After being effectively cut off from the rest of the world during the years of Cultural Revolution, China sought to restore some measure of political stability and to re-establish trade and diplomatic ties with the outside world during the 1970s. Mao was still observing political happenings but was very sick with a rare chronic disease, dying in September 1976. Deng Xiaoping, who had been vilified as China’s #2 capitalist threat during the Cultural Revolution, returned to political power in 1973 and again in 1977, focusing on significant economic and agricultural reforms, a transition to an open market economy and increased trade and diplomatic contact with the West.

    The death blow to socialism’s grip on China came on 4 June 1989, when international news media picked up the story of a peaceful memorial gathering of hundreds of thousands of Chinese students and workers in Tiananmen Square being violently broken up by army tanks sent by Deng Xiaoping, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians.

    Since then, the 1990s and 2000s have seen a focus on nationalism rather than socialism; a relaxation of government censorship; and a high rate of economic growth, modernisation and urbanisation. As a member of the World Trade Organisation since 2001 and a permanent member of UN Security Council, China today plays an increasingly powerful international role in global economy, international trade, international affairs, and contribution to science, technology and culture.

    Although China’s culture, politics and economy suffered greatly during the 20th century, things have steadily improved, with the government making progress in strengthening China’s economy and protecting political, religious and cultural freedoms. As a global mega power with the largest population, and one of the largest land areas on earth, China’s social, political and environmental problems are still plentiful. The autonomous region of Tibet remains a highly controversial topic, with China seeing itself as having rescued Tibetans from oppressive serfdom, and Tibet seeing itself as the victim of foreign occupation and cultural suppression. Accusations of human rights abuses still loom over China. Environmental issues, especially urban pollution, are critical concerns. The gap between rich and poor is one of the world’s widest, and is worsening. But despite the dark and complex drama of the past, and the valid concerns for now and for the future, the rich culture and determined spirit of China’s people rises above.

  • Preparations at Ta'er Monastery&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Peter Walton</i>

    There are 56 officially recognised ethnic groups in China, but with the Han Chinese comprising the bulk of the population, it can appear that China is fairly homogenous ethnically. China’s official language and mainstream culture is that of the Han Chinese, with all other ethnic groups being considered minorities by comparison.

    The autonomous region of Tibet has been incorporated as a part of China since the 1950s. It’s a highly controversial topic, with China seeing itself playing the part of having rescued Tibet from serfdom and economic obscurity, and Tibet seeing China as a foreign occupier and cultural suppressor. Many within Tibet and abroad worry that the Tibetan language, culture and simple way of life is being adversely affected by the unstoppable infiltration of Chinese language, culture and commerce. Tibetans are forbidden from protesting, and claims of human rights abuses and religious and cultural oppression abound. Tibet’s Dalai Lama, one of the world’s most prominent spiritual leaders, is currently living in exile along with up to 150,000 other Tibetans.

    Official statistics on Chinese religion vary wildly, partly due to alleged underreporting by the atheist government, and partly due to people underreporting themselves, as a result of decades of anti-religious government sentiment. Many religious buildings, treasures and sacred texts were destroyed—and priests and clergy imprisoned—under the Cultural Revolution. Although China’s communist government is still officially atheist, constitutional reforms were enacted in 1982 allowing for freedom of religion.

    Chinese religious beliefs have been influenced by three major teachings: the religions of Taoism (Daoism) and Buddhism, and the philosophy of Confucianism. Mainstream Chinese spirituality contains elements of each, along with the ancient animist beliefs of Chinese folk religion. The majority of Han Chinese worship their ancestors plus various gods, deities and spirits. Most of China’s widespread social values derive from Taoism and Confucianism.

    Tibet is the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the most prominent and widespread branches of Buddhism, and China is also home to small but significant Christian and Muslim communities.

    A Chinese spiritual movement known as Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa) emerged in the 1990s, combining elements of Chinese folk religion, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and the Western New Age movement. Falun Gong has been the subject of controversy and suspicion due to its sudden emergence and its promotion of esoteric narratives involving aliens. The Chinese government considers the faith to be a cult, and the movement’s headquarters are now in New York.

    Family is absolutely central to Chinese cultural life, with the extended family playing a much bigger role than in the Western family unit. Grandparents often live with the family and care for young children, in turn being cared for and financially supported by their families in their old age.

    China’s enormous and rapidly increasing population has been a major issue for the government for many decades. During the 1950s and 60s, efforts were directed towards large-scale promotion of birth control, and in 1979 a drastic “one child policy” was introduced. The controversial policy has been relaxed in recent years, with many instances in which families are eligible to have more than one child, however many feel that the policy is still an abuse of human rights.

    As the most populated nation in the world, standards of privacy and personal space in China are understandably very different to the West. People sit and stand much closer to each other, and friends and colleagues (both sexes) will show affection and touch each other much more than in the West.

    Modern China is in many ways a land of contradictions: rich vs poor; ancient vs modern; spirituality vs government atheism; communism vs capitalism; traditional culture and values vs rapid modernisation. Traditional culture, customs and religion were crushed under the Cultural Revolution, but the government has a renewed focus on preserving and celebrating traditional Chinese culture.

    Although higher living standards, educational and job opportunities and access to all of the trappings of modernisation are available to city dwellers, the majority of China’s huge population live in the countryside, many in poverty and receiving little benefit from China’s progress. The gulf between China’s rich and poor is one of the largest in the world, and is widening.

    Discover the various minority groups in southern China&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Scott Pinnegar</i>

    Be careful not to lose your temper, raise your voice in anger or embarrass someone. To do so will mean a loss of ‘face’ for all involved, something to be avoided at all costs.

    Ask permission if you wish to photograph people.

    Ask permission before entering a temple.

    Remove shoes before entering someone’s home. Remove shoes and hats before entering a temple.

    Always walk around temples, shrines, chortens (stupas), burial sites or any other religious buildings or objects in a clockwise direction (likewise, always spin prayer wheels in a clockwise direction).

    When meeting a Chinese family, show respect for the eldest member of the group by greeting him or her first.

    Please be modest about your clothing. While shorts are fairly acceptable, there are few dress restrictions on religious or cultural grounds, but one should avoid wearing high-cut shorts, skimpy tops or otherwise revealing clothing.

    The Chinese are a friendly and extremely curious people, and you will find yourself fielding a barrage of (often quite personal) questions from strangers. It will seem forward compared to Western standards, but in China it’s a respectful and very ordinary way of making conversation with new friends. Similarly, Chinese people will often offer up unsolicited (and sometimes unflattering) comments or advice regarding your personal life or appearance. This is only ever intended to show an interest in you and your wellbeing, rather than to be insulting or nosy.

    As the most populated nation in the world, standards of privacy and personal space in China are understandably very different to the West. People sit and stand much closer to each other than in the West, and friends and colleagues (both sexes) will show affection and touch each other (and you) much more than you may be used to. You’ll find yourself squished into public transport with very little space, and it’s common to bump or nudge someone without stopping to apologise.

    The idea of Western ‘organised lines’ in traffic, or at a bank or ticket office or supermarket, in which people wait in line patiently and do not ‘push in’ ahead of other people in the line, does not exist here. This is not rudeness or disrespect, but simply not part of Chinese culture, so try to go with the flow and not let it frustrate you!

    People usually like to see pictures of your home country, family and friends, so take along a few photos or postcards from home. It’s a great way to break the language barrier and start conversations with people you meet.

    South west china is famed for its diverse minority groups and spectacular scenery.&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Scott Pinnegar</i>

    The most important holiday in China is without a doubt the lunar New Year, or Spring Festival: a time of feasting, visiting loved ones, and exchanging gifts. In the week or two leading up to Chinese New Year families scrub their homes clean, shop for supplies, decorate their homes with flowers and paper decorations, and gather in the kitchen to prepare elaborate traditional dishes. Once New Year arrives, families and friends watch fireworks, visit each other’s homes, exchange gifts and share elaborate feasts. Children are given new clothes to wear and red envelopes containing money from their elders. Many rituals of the New Year centre on securing good luck (and avoiding bad luck!) for the year ahead. Chinese New Year is a busy and joyful time of year in which friends and family gather together and many people return to their hometowns to celebrate.

    As to be expected, flights to and around China will need to be booked well in advance if you plan to visit during New Year. Prices will be higher, some hotels and restaurants will close as staff travel home to celebrate with loved ones, and transport and sightseeing can be tricky, but if you’re organised (and flexible!) then traveling to China during New Year can offer a colourful glimpse into China’s rich culture. Dates change each year in line with the lunisolar calendar, but fall within January-February. Celebrations begin with the last day of the lunar year (Chinese New Year’s Eve) and close with the Lantern Festival on the 15th of the first month of the new lunar year.

    The Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Festival), in which families pay their respects to passed relatives, falls on either 4 or 5 April each year.

    The Mid-Autumn Festival (or Moon Festival) falls on the full moon between early September and early October each year. Locals gather with loved ones, give thanks and prayers, admire the full moon, light scores of coloured lanterns, and eat special sweets called “moon cakes”.

    The fifth day of the fifth lunar month (June) sees the Dragon Boat Festival. Locals watch or participate in Dragon Boat races, wear special clothes and accessories, drink special Chinese wine and eat zongzi (triangular parcels of sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves).

    Secular public holidays include New Years Day (1 January); Anniversary of the Founding of the Vietnamese Communist Party (3 February); May Day (1 May); Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese Communist Party (1 July); Confucius’ Birthday (28 September) and National Day (1 October).

    Local festivals and regional celebrations are also held throughout the country at different times.

    Total population is 1,339,724,852 (2010), making China the most populous country in the world, growing at an annual rate of 0.44%.

    The median age is 36.7 years, with 17.1% aged 0-14 and 9.4% aged 65+.

    Sex ratio is 1.11 males to 1 female.

    50.6% of the total population live in urban areas (2011), with an average annual rate of urbanisation at 2.85%.

    South west china is famed for its diverse minority groups and spectacular scenery.&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Scott Pinnegar</i>

    Han Chinese 91.6%, Zhuang 1.3%, Other 7.1% (including Hui, Manchu, Uighur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan, Mongol, Dong, Buyei, Yao, Bai, Korean, Hani, Li, Kazakh, Dai and other nationalities).

  • Cycling through rural villages Yangshao, China&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Scott Pinnegar</i>

    China experiences a rather broad temperature range throughout the year. In late summer, early autumn trips (August to September) expect warm to hot days with temperatures up to 25-30°C (78-87F) and a slight chance of rain.

    During October the days are mild and dry, from 15-20°C (60-69F), and nights are cooler. In late October there is increasingly a cooler (but not cold) westerly wind, which lowers temperatures, particularly at night. The days, however, remain mild.

    Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces, where we cycle, is China's most southerly province and experiences a rather broad temperature range throughout the year. On summer trips (Jun to Sep) expect hot, humid days with temperatures up to 33°C (91F) and a small chance of some rain - although daytime temperatures in the hills further north in Guangdong Province should be milder. During October, the days are mild, from 15-26°C (60-79F) and nights are cooler. Some rain is also possible at this time.

    On winter trips (Nov-Feb) there will be quite cool days of 12-15°C (54-60F) and cold nights - upon occasion night temperatures can fall to below freezing in the north of Guangdong.

    In Beijing the winter (Nov-Feb) temperatures can drop below -10°C (2-3 F) and you will need thermal underwear, a heavy coat, hat, gloves, etc. There may be snow in the capital during December and January - don't be put off as it can be a plus, there are many less tourists and the city looks spectacular clothed in white!

    In summer the days may be hot, up to 30°C (86 F) but it is more likely to be quite pleasant. Rain can occur at any time but is more likely in spring, March-May. We suggest you pack a waterproof jacket with hood for all departures.

    Mongolia and Russia to the north; North Korea to the northeast; Korea Bay, Yellow Sea and East China Sea to the east; South China Sea, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) to the south, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan to the southwest; Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to the west; Kazakhstan to the northwest.

    9,596,960 sq km / 3,705,407 sq mi (3rd largest country in the world, after Russia and Canada)

    Desert landscapes of Turpan, China&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Peter Walton</i>

    China is ranked 118th out of 178 countries (with a slight improving trend) on the Environmental Performance Index (2014)—which quantifies and benchmarks performance of government environmental policies and outcomes.

    Environmental issues include air pollution; acid rain; water shortages, water pollution; desertification; deforestation; loss of arable lands to soil erosion and economic development; trade in endangered species; and China is the world's largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

    Natural hazards include earthquakes; damaging floods; frequent typhoons; tsunamis; droughts.

    China is a signatory to various international environmental and conservation agreements.

    Beautiful views off the side of the Great Wall&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Victoria Earl</i>

    China’s wide variations in topography and climate give rise to a huge variety of vegetation, which in turn supports a huge diversity of wildlife.

    The country’s vegetation can be discussed within the context of two broad zones, as if one had drawn a diagonal line from the southwest corner up to the northeast corner, halving the country. In the dry northwest where barren desert conditions prevail, the land is sparsely covered in hardy, drought- and salt-tolerant plant species, grassy steppes and savannahs, with a wide grassy belt fringing the southern edge of the Gobi.

    In contrast, the humid southeast is very similar in vegetation to tropical Southeast Asia. Southern Yunnan province and Hainan Island are home to tropical rainforest, the shores of the South China Sea are home to mangrove swamps, and tropical and temperate forests cover many other regions.

    Much of China is covered in heavily forested mountain slopes, with more than 2,500 species of broad-leaved forest trees currently identified, many of which are commercially important to China’s economy. Along China’s northern border, and at its highest mountain elevations, are sections of dense subarctic taiga (aka boreal forest).

    Wildlife in the northwest in similar to that of the steppes on Central Asia; in the northeast, similar to that of the Siberian taiga forests; and in the southernmost provinces, similar to that of tropical Southeast Asia.

    The mountains and valleys of Tibet, along with the Sichuan region, are home to China’s broadest diversity of fauna. Considered one of the world’s ‘megadiverse’ nations, China is home to hundreds of different mammal, reptile and amphibian species, thousands of fish and bird species, including many endemic, endangered and protected species.

    Among China’s diverse wildlife are elephants and rhinoceroses; tigers, leopards and lynxes; wolves, foxes and bears; various deer and antelope species; whales, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs, seals and sea lions; dozens of primate species including gibbons, monkeys, macaques and lorises; mountain goats, sheep, cattle, camels and pigs; small mammals and rodents; reptile and amphibian species, and thousands of fish and bird species. China’s most iconic endemic animal is the giant panda, found mainly in the Sichuan province.

    Meili Mountain Range in Yunnan&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Scott Pinnegar</i>

    China is a huge and complex landmass encompassing an enormous variety of natural environments including extensive mountain chains, deserts, vast plateaux, basins, plains, hills, valleys, rivers and lakes, wetlands, glaciers, karst outcrops, coastal plains and islands.

    China is extremely mountainous, with around a third of its total land area comprised of mountain chains. At 8,850 m (29,035 ft), Mount Everest is not only China’s highest peak, but also the highest point on earth. Everest straddles the Nepal-China border in the Himalayas, with the mountain’s Kangshung Face (or East Face) being on the Chinese side (in Tibet Autonomous Region). The world’s second highest peak, K2, sits on the Pakistan-China border in the Karakoram Mountains, at an elevation of 8,611 m (28,251 ft).

    Aside from the Himalayas and the Karakoram Mountains, China is home to many mountain chains and a large number of sacred peaks that are worshipped by pilgrims, including the Five Great Mountains, the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism and the Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism.

    China’s relief is generally high in the west and low in the east, with major rivers flowing eastward, and the country’s elevation grouped into three major terraced steps. The vast Plateau of Tibet—the world’s highest tableland—dominates western China, with average elevations well over 4,000 m (13,000 ft). From here, elevations descend sharply to averages of between 900 - 1,800 m (3,000 – 6,000 ft), with mountain chains interspersed with a series of basins and plateaux including the Mongolian Plateau, Loess Plateau, Tarim Basin and Sichuan Basin. From here the relief descends eastward again, towards the China Sea in a series of hills and plains below 450 m (1,500 ft).

    Bordered by the Plateau of Tibet to the south, and the Gobi Desert to the north, is a long narrow passage known as the Hexi (aka Gansu) Corridor, along which human settlement has long been focused. With the melting snow and ice from the Qilian Mountains feeding a series of fertile oases along the Hexi Corridor, this region of China has long supported life, agriculture and trade for China’s population, with the 1,000 km (620 mi) -long corridor forming part of the famous Silk Road trading route for millennia.

    Northwest and northern China is dominated by the undulating sand dunes and cold, arid conditions of the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts.

    China is home to thousands of rivers, with the two major systems being the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. With a length of 6,300 km (3,915 mi), the Yangtze is the longest river in Asia and third longest in the world. Rising in the Plateau of Tibet and flowing eastward through mountain chains to the East China Sea, the fertile Yangtze River Basin is the lifeblood and food bowl of the country, supporting nearly a third of China’s population. At 5,464 km (3,395 mi), northern China’s Yellow River is the country’s second longest river, with its basin also supporting huge populations.

    The towering Sumtseling Gompa near Zhongdian, Yunnan Provence, China&#160;-&#160;<i>Photo:&#160;Scott Pinnegar</i>

    The Great Wall (1987)

    Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang (1987)

    Mogao Caves (1987)

    Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (1987)

    Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian (1987)

    Ancient Building Complex in the Wudang Mountains (1994)

    Historic Ensemble of the Potala Palace, Lhasa (1994)

    Mountain Resort and its Outlying Temples, Chengde (1994)

    Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu (1994)

    Lushan National Park (1996)

    Ancient City of Ping Yao (1997)

    Classical Gardens of Suzhou (1997)

    Old Town of Lijiang (1997)

    Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing (1998)

    Temple of Heaven: an Imperial Sacrificial Altar in Beijing (1998)

    Dazu Rock Carvings (1999)

    Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui – Xidi and Hongcun (2000)

    Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (2000)

    Longmen Grottoes (2000)

    Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System (2000)

    Yungang Grottoes (2001)

    Capital Cities and Tombs of the Ancient Koguryo Kingdom (2004)

    Historic Centre of Macao (2005)

    Yin Xu (2006)

    Kaiping Diaolou and Villages (2007)

    Fujian Tulou (2008)

    Mount Wutai (2009)

    Historic Monuments of Dengfeng in “The Centre of Heaven and Earth” (2010)

    West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou (2011)

    Site of Xanadu (2012)

    Cultural Landscape of Honghe Hani Rice Terraces (2013)

    Huanglong Scenic and Historic Interest Area (1992)

    Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area (1992)

    Wulingyuan Scenic and Historic Interest Area (1992)

    Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas (2003)

    Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries - Wolong, Mt Siguniang and Jiajin Mountains (2006)

    South China Karst (2007)

    Mount Sanqingshan National Park (2008)

    China Danxia (2010)

    Chengjiang Fossil Site (2012)

    Xinjiang Tianshan (2013)

    Mount Taishan (1987)

    Mount Huangshan (1990)

    Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area (1996)

    Mount Wuyi (1999)

  • World Youth Adventures can tailor make a school expedition to China to your school’s budget and curriculum requirements.

    Talk to us about your next school expedition, or if you need some ideas check out the trips below.

  • Capital City:  Beijing
    Time zone:  Beijing is +8 hours ahead of UTC/GMT
    Language:  Mandarin (official)
    Currency:  Renminbi (aka Yuan)
    Highest Mountain:  Mount Everest
    Highest Mountain Elevation:  8,850 m / 29,035 ft
    Large yellow five-pointed star flanked by a crescent of four smaller stars, in the upper left-hand corner of the otherwise red flag. Red colour symbolises revolution and communism, and the small stars represent the four different social classes brought together under the Communist Party of China.