The Hotel Eclat Beijing:  A Chic Luxury Hotel With an Artsy Vibe

The Hotel Eclat Beijing: A Chic Luxury Hotel With an Artsy Vibe

Eccentric luxury sounds like a contradiction in terms and generally not something you want in a hotel. The Hotel Eclat Beijing is the exception though. It’s the brainchild of a Hong Kong tycoon who wants to bring contemporary art out of collector’s confines and put it in public spaces. Nice public spaces though. The Hotel Eclat Beijing is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels brand which has long been a favourite of ours for great luxury hotels that have style and panache. The Eclat Beijing delivers on all of those accounts and with a soupçon of irreverence.

The elegant furnishings of the hotel lobby signal early on that this hotel pays attention to design.

The elegant furnishings of the hotel lobby signal early on that this hotel pays attention to design.

First Impressions

I was a little bemused when we pulled up in front of a giant glass and steel encased mall with modern sculpture strewn across the front garden.  Was this a pit stop? We were supposed to be going to the Hotel Eclat Beijing. When the driver pulled out the bags, we realised we were at the hotel!

The giant glass and steel pyramid entrance to the Parkview Green Mall.

The giant glass and steel pyramid entrance to the Parkview Green Mall.

Once you enter the mall, the entrance to the Eclat Beijing is off to the side. There’s a reception desk and a long lobby filled with more contemporary art. A glass escalator whisks you up to your key-coded floor.

The glass elevator had a red traditional couch. We loved the juxtaposition of old and new.

Style

The Hotel Eclat Beijing is definitely meant for lovers of modern art AND luxury. There are nods to traditional Chinese imagery (such as the red lanterns above the room doors) mixed with modern elan.

Sculpture of a man breaking through a wall.

Sculpture of a man breaking through a wall. What can it mean??

For example, both of our rooms’ terraces had variations of a barfing Buddha as well as giant upholstered leather sofas that would not be out of place in an English  country house library.

What’s the story with the barfing Buddha?

What’s the story with the barfing Buddha? Maybe a bit avant-garde for us.

Ambience

The rooms are spacious, the ambience discreet and the staff attentive. In some views, I felt like I was in a gilded jewellery box.

I actually felt like I was in an episode of the Truman Show where I was living in an enclosed bubble. We were separated from the noise, pollution and OTT-ness of Beijing by the glass dome which covered the mall.

The view of Beijing from the Hotel Eclat.

The view of Beijing from the Hotel Eclat.

I’ve heard people have complained that the glass dome was filmy.. Hello??? This is Beijing. The crazy pollution of the city is just outside that dome and the glass is never going to be clear.

The mall was perfectly temperature controlled so we could sit out in our terraces and enjoy being outside without actually being outside. While inside our little dome, we did not have the itchy eyes and a rasping throat that plagued us when we were out and about in Beijing.

The Good

I never thought I’d enjoy staying at a mall but I did! It also felt totally Chinese – an homage to conspicuous consumption and an artificial reality constructed to make everything seem pleasant.

Parkview Green Mall

Parkview Green Mall in Beijing is one of the best high-end malls in Beijing. It also has modern art scattered throughout.  The stores are a blend of Chinese and Western brands. We saw Gap, Build-A-Bear, Van Cleef and Arpels and Stella McCartney which is a fairly odd combination in my opinion.

Being located in an upscale mall has its advantages in terms of foodie options. It’s got a Starbucks, and a branch of a couple of our favourite Chinese restaurants (Dadong for Crispy Duck and Din Tai Fung for dumplings. There’s a whole slew of options including pizzerias, cafes and Japanese restaurants. Something for everyone, then.

A multi-coloured Buddha is one of the modern art pieces on show.

A multi-coloured Buddha is one of the modern art pieces on show.

The Location

Hotel Eclat Beijing is located in an upscale area of Beijing near the Embassies. It is located bout 20 kilometres away from the Beijing international airport. The hotel is in between the central business district which has the tourist sightseeing places. and the trendy area of Sanlitun. There is a subway nearby should you chose to avail yourself of that mode of transportation.

Family-Friendly

We did see other children around but the hallways and common spaces were quiet. Maybe you wouldn’t want small children around all of the artwork, but my kids got a kick out of it. Besides, its clear that everything at this hotel has a price tag. I’m sure if your kid breaks something, they will be expected to pay for it.

The television had mostly Chinese channels with a few English-channels like HBO and Cinemax. The room though had an Blu Ray player with a disc full of children’s favourites.

A disc with English language movies to keep the kids happy.

A disc with English language movies to keep the kids happy.

There seems to be candy everywhere – from the lobby to the Afternoon tea. It may be a hipster thing but it made my kids very happy.

We had asked for connecting rooms so that our children could be next door. The initial rooms they gave us were not connecting. The hotel did rectify this situation as soon as they had a room free next door to the one in which we were staying.

The George Bar

You get a voucher for a free drink at the George Bar in the lobby when you check in. My husband took my son down to the bar to oversee the math homework he had been assigned from school. In return, he took my free drink voucher which  I thought was a fair trade.

The French colonial glamour of the Georg Bar.

The French colonial glamour of the Georg Bar.

Although the atmosphere was lively, the bar was not too noisy with attentive staff. I loved the vintage French decor – a nod to the glamour and decadence of French colonial rule further south in Asia.

The Great

We thought our rooms with the connecting terraces were fabulous. I could totally see myself having an apartment in New York with a similar set up. It gave us enough privacy but also gave the children assurance we were nearby. We had temperature and pollution-controlled outside space to enjoy as well.

The Rooms

We loved our rooms which had connecting terraces. The bathrooms were large with separate soaking tubs and power showers. My kids were super-impressed with the Japanese style deluxe toilets which was operated with remote controls. In fact, the lid opened and closed with a motion sensor. The beds were comfy and we slept like babies.

We had a comfortable queen bed in our room and twin beds in the children’s room.

This hotel is the first one which had a massage chair in each room. I am a huge fan of massage chairs and kept ours pretty busy sorting out the knots in my back from travelling and carrying bags.

Why don’t more hotels have massage chairs?

Why don’t more hotels have massage chairs? Travelling is the worst thing for my back

My kids absolutely loved the toy-gun activated bedside lamp.

My kids LOVED this lamp which turned on when you pointed the gun at it.

As with everything else in the room, the lamp was for sale. A price list handily appears on the television screen as does the room service menu.

The television handily lists all the things you can buy from the hotel

The television handily lists all the things you can buy from the hotel, including the bath mat. Who buys a bath mat?

The Terraces

The terraces were charming. Plenty of room to sit and relax in your own hideaway. They had couches, lights and giant tables perfectly set up for outdoor living. It reminded me of many New York City apartment terraces.

One of the terraces in our hotel room at the Hotel Eclat Beijing

One of the terraces in our hotel room at the Hotel Eclat Beijing.

If you pay more than we did, you can get one of the 20 rooms with terraces which have individual pools.

Room Service

We were feeling so pampered, we opted to have room service on our terrace at the Hotel Eclat Beijing. It’s all done through the iPad in the room, but ironically the hotel staff had to call you to confirm a few things. For exam, my daughter wanted pasta but they called to confirm the type.

The food was excellent, the service prompt and we had a lovely relaxing time hanging out as a family in the terrace.

The room service dinner menu had a good variety of food options. We were all able to have a variety of items. I was craving something spicy which I got in the form of  Laksa soup. My daughter ordered pasta which is her go-to anywhere. My husband and son got comfort food for themselves, too – steak and ribs. The burgers and steak was Wagyu beef so it was a prime cut with matching prices.

Could Be Better

I felt I was nitpicking when i tried to find things I disliked about the Eclat Beijing. It’s a bit too trendy – so there may be trends you dislike such as for example, the lack of privacy in bathrooms.  The afternoon tea and the gym were a bit lame. And, if you find good WiFi in Beijing that’s considered a bonus. Definitely don’t expect it.

Trends I Dislike

I honestly really dislike bathrooms that allow you to see into them. On the plus side, there are window dimmers so you can have privacy. No matter how much you love someone you don’t want to watch them brush and floss their teeth.

You can dim the window from the bathroom into the bedroom.

You can dim the window from the bathroom into the bedroom.

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is served to hotel guests. We were a little surprised to find that this meant a huge assortment of candy and some cakes. Needless to say the kids were thrilled. My husband and I were feeling peckish and expecting an English-style afternoon tea though with those little finger sandwiches.

There was free candy on tap to the delight of my children.

There was free candy on tap to the delight of my children.

Gym

The gym is a small room overlooking the mall which has just enough equipment to be adequate.

The small hotel gym overlooks the mall.

The small hotel gym overlooks the mall.

Wifi

The Wifi was honestly as terrible as in the rest of Beijing. Being in a luxury hotel is no guarantee of having good WiFi. Your best bet is to find the nearest Apple store and hang out fo awhile if you want to catchup on the outside world.

Our Opinion

You can stay in Hotel Eclat Beijing and be in your own little world. Is that a good thing? It depends on your opinion of Beijing.

For the latest rates for Hotel Eclat Beijing, here are a selection of travel booking sites:

Hotels.com Expedia Booking.com

You can read other reviews of the Hotel Eclat on TripAdvisor which seem to like this boutique hotel in Beijing as much as I do. 

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Where To Stay in Beijing If You Are Seeking Design-Led Hotel Luxury (Including Family-Friendly Options)

Where To Stay in Beijing If You Are Seeking Design-Led Hotel Luxury (Including Family-Friendly Options)

Beijing is an enormous sprawling city and deciding where to stay in Beijing can be a daunting task. Since the former Palace Hotel (now Peninsula Beijing) opened in 1989, numerous 5 star hotels have opened in the city. There are outposts of Western brands, Chinese own brands and Beijing boutique hotels. The Chinese have embraced luxury like the French to pate. For example, like Dubai’s Burj Al Arab, the Pangu Hotel has given itself a seven-star rating even though there’s technically nothing above 5 stars. In a world where Beijing is trying to out-nouveau riche the Middle East, what’s left for hotel luxury other than great design?

A captivating dessert - white chocolate and milk chocolate ducks set on dry ice.

A captivating dessert shows of culinary artistry – white chocolate and milk chocolate ducks set on dry ice.

We’ve stayed a total of 10 days in Beijing to date. So where IS the best place to stay in Beijing and the best neighbourhood to stay in Beijing? We had a specific set of criteria in mind when we chose our hotels.   The design and interiors geek in me likes cool design hotels. As for my family, my husband wanted convenience and the kids just wanted simple hotel luxury.

The Best Neighbourhood To Stay in Beijing

After conversations with expat friends who live in Beijing and the expertise advice of Abercrombie and Kent, who organised our trips to China, we would suggest two neighbourhoods, Wangfujing and Sanlitun, as the best place to stay in Beijing for tourists seeking contemporary style as well as hotel luxury.

Where to stay in Beijing for family-friendly Beijing boutique hotels

Where to stay in Beijing for family-friendly luxury hotels

Sprawling Beijing

To give you an idea of the city’s size, Beijing has 7 ring roads circling it. This last 7th ring road is under construction. The Beijing International Airport is on the northeast side of the 6th Ring Road approximately 20 miles from the city center.

As you can see, the airport is miles away (a distance made even longer with traffic) from central Beijing.

As you can see, the airport is miles away (a distance made even longer with traffic) from central Beijing.

Both these areas have good transport links, including subway stations. We, however, stuck to taxis. And, walking extended periods in the brutal smog and humidity wasn’t an option either.

Do you want to spend your vacation time stuck in a taxi in Beijing? Sure, you can find cool hotels like the Beijing NUO Hotel (a Beijing boutique hotel loaded with art and style near the 728 Art District). This 728 Art District area though is not very central. There is a Beijing NUO Wangfujing which has a more traditional French-Colonial feel because it’s in the former Beijing Raffles hotel. The 7 star Pangu Hotel which was mentioned above is on the fourth ring road near the Olympic stadiums – a total non-starter for us.

If you would like to stay outside of Central Beijing, I would suggest the Aman Summer Palace which is near one of the bucket list items that is on everyone’s itinerary for Beijing anyway. The amazing Aman service will also ensure that you get your sightseeing in central Beijing done smoothly as well as enjoying your hotel luxury in beautiful surroundings.

Staying in Wangfujing

We personally considered Wangfujing as the best place to stay in Beijing because we loved the area. Admittedly, the neighbourhood doesn’t have much of a nightlife scene but we were travelling with kids. There are great hotels located relatively closely to the Forbidden City which is about a 20 minute walk.

All the big names are in the area of Wangfujing shopping street

We consider Wangfujing shopping street one of the best neighbourhoods to stay in Beijing

There are large malls with upscale stores and food courts in addition to Wangfujing shopping street. Wangfujing night market sells some of the strange street food you have heard about. We got our fix just by looking at the Wangfujing street food – Fried scorpions anyone? And, there’s a ginormous Apple Store in with excellent WiFi which made my kids happy.

Fun Fact!   Wangfujing shopping street is the busiest street in Beijing. Every day Wangfujing shopping street is traversed by 600,000 people (and double that number on holidays).

It’s totally a microcosm of modern China – traditional culture, luxury goods and a population obsessed with conspicuous consumption.

Staying in Sanlitun

If you are travelling with teenagers, you may consider Sanlitun to be the best place to stay in Beijing. Sanlitun is an up and coming trendy area with lots of young and artsy hipster types. Think Shoreditch in London or Brooklyn in New York. Unlike these other areas though, there are many embassies located nearby.

Din Tai Fung, a one Michelin-starred dumpling restaurant, has a location in one of Beijing’s upscale malls.

Din Tai Fung, a one Michelin-starred dumpling restaurant, has a location in one of Beijing’s upscale malls.

Sanlitun definitely attracts a well-heeled and well-dressed crowd. There’s a large Sanlitun Village entertainment complex in Sanlitun which has shops, cafes and restaurants so there’s plenty to do in the neighbourhood as well. Sanlitun Village has a great website in English if you want to browse for what’s available (and positioned prominently is Opposite House Beijing).

Fun Fact! Sanlitun Village actually was the location for China’s first Apple store.

Beijing Where To Stay Centrally

These hotels are in our preferred areas where there is plenty to do in the evenings in terms of shopping, restaurants and people-watching generally.

The Peninsula Beijing

After the Peninsula Beijing got its recent £100 million facelift, this Grande Dame is looking good again! Located in Wangfujing area, the all-suites hotel is probably the definition of hotel luxury. It’s got everything you would expect from The Peninsula including excellent service,rooms and amenities.

The moon over the Peninsula Hotel Beijing

The moon over the Peninsula Hotel Beijing

Way back when the hotel opened in 1989, it was China’s first Western luxury hotel! Much though has changed in Beijing (and China in the intervening nearly 30 years). It was time for The Peninsula Beijing to be refreshed as well!

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Gone are the dowdy interiors and the hotel is now light and airy. Post-renovation, the Peninsula Beijing no longer has check-in desks. It’s filled with contemporary art chosen by the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Beijing. And, acres of luxury materials such as jade, marble and mahogany.

Families can get connecting rooms with the second room at a discount. Kids will love the large (black!) swimming pool. Adults will love the spa and gym facilities. There are two restaurants (Cantonese Chinese and farm-to-table international cuisine) and a pastry cafe. It’s also got the distinction of having a luxury shopping arcade on site with names even my kids recognised – Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Bottega Veneta and Tiffany to name a few.

Check out what how The Peninsula ranks among TripAdvisor Beijing hotels!

For the latest rates for The Peninsula Beijing, here are a selection of travel booking sites.

Booking.com Hotels.com Expedia

Vue Hotel Houhai Beijing

Have kids in tow but do you still want to be part of the action? The Vue Hotel Hou Hai Beijing is a good option if you want to hang out with the cool kids but you have kids of your own.

 

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The Vue Hotel is young, hip and trendy and an easy place to join the action around the venues of Houhai Lake. Then you can go back to the hotel which is secluded from the main action and put the kids to bed!

The Vue Hotel Houhai Beijing is close to where we took a rickshaw tour of a traditional hutong (a neighbourhood of alleys with courtyard homes leading of the alley). Houhai is one of the lakes in Beijing which is a popular place to hang out.

The rickshaw tours of the hutongs start near Houhai Lake

The rickshaw tours of the hutongs start near Houhai Lake

The Vue Hotel Beiing is is decorated in assorted shades of grey trendiness with pops of color. It’s design credentials are impeccable having been designed by Ministry of Design, a Singapore firm and featured in Wallpaper (naturally).

There are lots of contemporary flourishes including open-plan bathrooms like the Muscat Chedi. There is a high-end restaurant, a French pastry cafe and a slick bar.

Check out what how the Vue Houhai ranks among TripAdvisor Beijing hotels!

For the latest rates for Vue Hou Hai , here are a selection of travel booking sites.

Hotels.com Expedia

Rosewood Beijing Hotel

The Rosewood Beijing hotel is a slick sophisticated hotel set in a skyscraper. The decor is non-risk taking, high end contemporary with a calm muted palette. Think Kelly Hoppen. What’s extraordinary though is the gallery’s worth of contemporary artwork on display.

There’s a hotel spa, gym and yoga studio to add to the hotel luxury. Unfortunately,  the large emerald green pool is adults only but there is a smaller kids’ pool. There are interconnecting rooms available which would be suitable for families.

The Rosewood Beijing hotel offers several dining options (Northern Chinese, Szechuan Hot Pot and French) and a trendy bar scene. If you pay extra for the members lounge, you get free breakfast, afternoon tea and evening cocktails which is remarkably good value (for adults).

Check out what how the Rosewood Beijing ranks among TripAdvisor Beijing hotels!

For the latest rates for Rosewood Beijing, here are a selection of travel booking sites.

Booking.com Hotels.com Expedia

Opposite House

A slick, minimal and hipster-friendly boutique hotel, Opposite House Beijing is located smack dab in nightlife-central, Sanlitun. There’s nothing so bourgeois as a check-in desk for example at this Beijing boutique hotel.

Opposite House Beijing is light, airy and spacious which is hotel luxury in itself. I felt this accomplishment particularly keenly in Beijing where the city’s concrete smoggy drabness seems to weigh down on you.

There are two restaurants (Chinese and Spanish/Italian fusion cuisines), a cafe and a bar on site. There’s also a small stainless steel pool and a gym also at this Beijing boutique hotel.

In terms of family friendly, one kid can stay for free in your room at Opposite House Beijing. On the other hand, this hotel is better for teens who will appreciate the hipster quality of its hotel luxury so do you really want a teenager bunking down with you?

Check out what how Opposite House Beijing ranks among TripAdvisor Beijing hotels!

For the latest rates for Opposite House Beijing, here are a selection of travel booking sites.

Booking.com Hotels.com Expedia

 

Hotel Eclat Beijing

Hotel Eclat Beijing is located in the Parkview Green mall in fantastic location between the central business district and the nightlife area of Sanlitun. The Parkview Green is one of Beijing’s best malls. For a suburban American kid like me, a luxury hotel in a great mall is a dream come true!

Where to stay in Beijing if you are seeking luxury and good design hotels.

Where to stay in Beijing if you are seeking luxury and good design hotels.

Staying at this Beijing boutique hotel is like staying in an art gallery and also being in something like the Truman Show. You are covered by the glass dome that covers the Parkview Green – so it’s all temperature controlled and the Beijing smog is kept outside.

We didn’t have a pool but we did have interconnecting terraces in our rooms. These large terraces reminded me of Manhattan apartment living. It’s like being outside without actually the terrible heat, humidity and smog of being outside. It’s very artificial – but we loved it! I consider not having to deal with Beijing smog hotel luxury in itself.

The pools at this hotel are individual  to the particular rooms. The decor is cool and quirky. Although not an open-plan bathroom, the bathroom did have dimmable glass if you wanted the world to see you bathe (or not). My kids LOVED the lamp that you can turn on and off with a gun.

There’s no spa and the little gym is a bit lame. Obviously you can choose from Parkview Green’s mall restaurants or the hotel restaurants (Spanish or British cuisines). There’s a bar at which hotel guests get a free drink.

Check out what how Hotel Eclat Beijing ranks among TripAdvisor Beijing hotels!

For the latest rates for Hotel Eclat Beijing, here are a selection of travel booking sites.

Booking.com Hotels.com Expedia

Beijing Where To Stay Further Afield

Aman Summer Palace

If you don’t mind being away from the tourist spots in Beijing, the Aman Summer Palace is a great option. A plus side? The air is a lot cleaner when you are 1 hour+ from Beijing. You are near the Summer Palace (a UNESCO world heritage site) and pretty much nothing else.

The hotel is set up as a traditional Chinese complex (courtyards, walkways, and gardens). It’s got a gorgeous pool and spa all of which are in an underground complex oozing hotel luxury.

The Aman Summer Palace has several restaurants (steaks, Japanese and Cantonese) as well as assorted cultural craft activities on offer to make up for the fact that there’s very little to do in terms of entertainment nearby.

Tip – Even if you do not stay at the Aman Summer Palace, you should consider stopping by for tea in the library room after a visit to the Summer Palace before your long trek in traffic back to Beijing. Speaking of treks, the Summer Palace is famous for having a very long corridor of approximately 1/2 a mile. Afternoon tea will be a welcome break after experiencing this walkway and dodging hordes of domestic Chinese tourists.

The tinkling sound of Chinese music is prevalent. One of my kids’ complaints about China was this tinkly version of Chinese Muzak that you hear everywhere. I told them to get over it! The Chinese are probably as used to hearing the tinkly music and tuning it out as we are to Muzak.

Another big bonus is that you get direct access to the Summer Palace before the tourist hordes arrive. Like the rest of China’s attractions, the Summer Palace gets very crowded and so it’s nice to have this one UNESCO world heritage site almost to yourself in China.

Children under 12 can stay free with parents but only in suites and older children pay a reduced rate. There are two types of suites that have double en-suite bedrooms that sleep up to four people.

Check out what how the Aman Summer Palace ranks among TripAdvisor Beijing hotels!

For the latest rates for Aman Summer Palace, you can look it up on Expedia.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

 

 

25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China For The First Time (Especially with Kids)

25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China For The First Time (Especially with Kids)

We thought travelling to China with kids for two weeks would be a great family experience because it was one country that none of us had ever visited. In fact, we loved our China family tours so much last year, we were supposed to do it again this year. Our plans went slightly astray because Abercrombie & Kent told us that there were no foreign visas issued for Tibet in April because that is a Tibetan holy month. In fact, April is so holy that Tibetan monks ritually self-immolate in religious protest of the Chinese government. Of course, the Chinese government doesn’t want foreigners seeing any suicidal monks so it’s a no-go area.

A Two Week Highlights of China Itinerary for a Luxury China Tour

The view from the terrace of our room at the Yangshuo Mountain Retreat.

In lieu of Tibet, we toured around China for a week and then went to Japan at the pleading of the children. It’s actually a very short flight from Shanghai to Osaka airport.

My kids absolutely love Japan but they think China is merely OK. I think if we had prepared our children better for what to expect when travelling to China with kids, they would have appreciated the country more. Live and learn (from our mistakes).

Lessons From The Night Train to Shanghai

When we asked them why they wanted to skip out on seeing more of China to go to Japan, they opened up and told us how China was just so very different no matter how great the family friendly trip to China was.

This conversation did not happen easily.  We were stuck on a night train from Beijing to Shanghai which was a fairly hellish experience. First of all, they didn’t put us together.

Note – You can only buy the overnight train tickets 2 at a time. They are allocated by computer so you can’t guarantee you will sit next to each other if you are more than two people.  

Our Abercrombie & Kent guide had to beg some other passengers to move so that we could share one cabin together. Secondly, our suitcases were way too large for the space allocated (a problem we also found on Japanese trains).

So there we are in this tiny compartment with 4 suitcases, 4 carry ons and 4 people all jammed in uncomfortably for 8 or so hours. We had plenty of time for conversation. My son even came up with a song:

On the night train to Shanghai

I hit my head and cried

My sister said, shut up and die

Why Daddy why?

Could we not have gone to Dubai?

In the morning we had just nodded off into an exhausted sleep when we woke up to find a stranger in our cabin. Some man (one of the kind passengers who had moved to accommodate us the night before) was rooting through our suitcases. He had forgotten his shoes on the floor but it hadn’t occurred to him to knock on the door first.

25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China with kids #China #travel #traveltips #travelChina #Chinaguide #Chinatraveladvice #familytravel #bucketlist #travelgoals #familyvacation #visitChina #asiatravel #Chinatravel #Beijing #Shanghai

25 Things You Should Know BEFORE Visiting China For The First Time (Especially with Kids)

My husband and I have travelled extensively through developing countries whereas our children have less experience with non-Westernised countries. Some of these tips they told us for people visiting China for the first time were surprising. For example, I have no idea why squatty potties are a big deal.

25 tips for first time and family visitors to China

25 tips for first time and family visitors to China

What To Know About Travelling to China

We have learned so much from our family holidays to China that we asked our kids what people should know about travelling to china with kids. This list of 25 things to be aware of for a family friendly trip to China was compiled by our children for those people visiting China for the first time.

An Island in a Throng of People

Unless you speak Chinese, it’s a strange feeling to be surrounded by hordes of people with whom you are unable to communicate.

  • Everything is in Chinese so unlike other countries, you can’t even read basic information. There’s no sounding out words and/or guesswork in what the Chinese characters could mean. It’s completely and utterly different.
Lost in translation? But beer and coffee are always a good idea but not necessarily together.

Lost in translation? But beer and coffee are always winners but not necessarily together.

  • In the vast majority of the country, most people don’t speak English, or French, or Spanish or anything remotely related to a language you may have learned at school. The younger Chinese have learned English at school but they do not have enough practice speaking it.

Prepare for Paparazzi style attention

When you are travelling to China with kids, prepare for some major curiosity from the Chinese about you and your family. The Chinese love children and they are naturally curious. Needless to say they are curious about foreign children.

  • You get lots of attention from the Chinese such as them wanting to talk to you and/or wanting photos of you.
We have no idea who these people are but they wanted a photo with our kids.

We have no idea who these people are but they wanted a photo with our kids.

Not only were we travelling to China with kids, we caused much excitement because we had boy/girl twins. Any number of people told us how lucky we were to have one of each gender. The one child policy has been relaxed but many people feel they can’t afford to have more than one child.

  • China is a crowded country and personal space doesn’t seem to exist as a cultural concept either.

For example, on an internal flight, my daughter was doing a puzzle on her iPad. The Chinese lady next to her decided to help her. She didn’t speak any English but she reached over the tray table and started doing the puzzle with my daughter. The stranger was smart and seemed perfectly nice but my daughter was a bit bewildered.

  • The Chinese vendors seem to consider the word No as an opening gambit regardless of whether you really mean it. Maybe that is the way haggling works, but the pushy attitude confused our kids who just didn’t know what to make of it.

Different Manners

Visiting China for the first time is eye opening in terms of cultural differences of people’s behaviour.

  • My eco-friendly children were a bit shocked when they saw people casually littering. The river in Shanghai was full of litter. My kids were also aghast that older Chinese people (especially men) would cough and spit everywhere. As far as they are concerned, random spitting is littering.
  • Of course you have heard of the famous Beijing pollution, but it’s also everywhere else, just in slightly less ghastly quantities.  It’s not just air pollution, there’s also noise pollution. Except for the countryside in Guilin, Chinese cities are noisy!
Just another hazy morning in Beijing.

Just another hazy morning in Beijing. You really have to see the smog to appreciate it.

Beijing really was an eye-opener in terms of pollution. Locals wear masks to filter the air but even then, we experienced teary eyes and a burning throat.

  • People don’t really seem to think that fakes and copies of big names are a big deal. We see it as an infringement of intellectual property rights but the Chinese just shrug their shoulders.

You can find fakes everywhere – even wide out in the open in malls. Most of the women you see are carrying fake designer handbags. It’s a bit disconcerting to realise that fakes are the norm and not the exception!

If you think these are real Hermes Kelly bags, I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.

If you think these are real Hermes Kelly bags, I’ve got a bridge I want to sell you.

Your guide or hotel will know where the good quality merchandise is sold. For example, we were taken to a high end pearl shop because we wanted to get little pearl stud earrings for our daughter. We didn’t even dare venture into buying anything like antiques. The fakes are really just that good in China.

Tip – If you want to buy fake stuff, your guide probably knows where to go for the better quality stuff. They can even bring designer items to your hotel.

Food and Drink

  • You need to be able to use chopsticks to eat easily.
Tip – If your children aren’t handy with chopsticks, get kiddy chopsticks which are attached at the top and easier to use. Alternatively carry a spoon and fork set with you like the ones you see in school lunchboxes.
  • Don’t look at some of the food photos if you are squeamish. My wannabe vegetarian daughter had conniptions when she saw some of the meat being advertised.
Fried scorpions on a stick are a street snack

Fried scorpions on a stick puts that Southern American axiom that anything fried is good to the test.

  • You can’t read most menus. Get used to pointing at something and hope you get what you want
  • My kids greeted Family Mart and Lawson (convenience store chains from Japan that are also in China) like a long lost friend. Although some of the items were the same in both countries, many were not. Convenience stores are not as good as Japan generally but pretty good. You can get dumplings, sushi etc.
  • You should always get bottled water with the seal on the cap. We paid extra for well-known brands because the last thing you want on a China family tour is one or more people having tummy issues. No… not the squatty potties again.
  • The Chinese drink tea like there’s no tomorrow. You don’t get offered water at a restaurant, you get tea.
A beautiful teapot and cup of Chinese tea

A beautiful teapot and cup of Chinese tea

Where the Sun Don’t Shine

  • You should bring your own tissue pack for public toilets.
  • Squatty potties are everywhere. We found our kids had difficult adjusting to squatty to become accustomed to using squatty potties .My daughter seemed to have an irrational fear of falling in them. And, yes, for the squeamish they do smell a fair bit.
Tip – Check out the disabled toilets which are more likely to have Western style toilets.
  • Don’t expect there to be toilets in restaurants, even in a Starbucks. They will just refer you to the nearest public toilet.

Connecting to the World

  • For free WiFi in a restaurant you need to put in a Chinese mobile numbers so it’s not actually that helpful.
  • The WiFi is painfully slow even in a major city in a five star hotel.

As luck would have it, my son was reading the book Radio Boy by Christian O’Connell  in the back seat of our car while we were stuck in Beijing traffic. He started giggling over the following passage. Our Chinese guide wanted to see what was so funny but then she got defensive over China having Wifi.

An excerpt from the book Radio Boy which our Chinese guide did not think was amusing.

Our guide was insulted when she heard my son laughing and wanted to see what he was reading.

  • It’s really beneficial to have a VPN to access the outside world. You can get one before you visit China.
  • There’s no Instagram, YouTube, FaceBook etc. It takes forever to access the internet anyway, so just get used to a social media detox.

Transportation

  • There are lots of regional airplanes in China. You should expect delays because the airports are super busy.
  • The food on regional airplanes and trains may be too different for kids.
Tip – It’s a good idea to stock up on familiar snacks at a convenience store before boarding the plane or train.
  • Trains have hot water for the making of tea, not a water fountain. And the water isn’t marked as hot so be careful. Our son almost scalded himself sticking his mouth under one of those taps.
  • Crossing the road is an adventure as a pedestrian because you have cars, motorbikes and bicycles to contend with.
A Shanghai street with pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes and cars all sharing the same space. #China #travel #traveltips #travelChina #Chinaguide #Chinatraveladvice #familytravel #bucketlist #travelgoals #familyvacation #visitChina #asiatravel #Chinatravel #Beijing #Shanghai

A Shanghai street with pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes and cars all sharing the same space.

When you travel the world, you will come across so many different ways of living. That’s the whole point of travelling right? If you wanted to experience the same thing again and again, you should just stay at home. On the other hand, as a seasoned traveller you may easily overlook things. We are grateful to our kids for providing us with a fresh pair of eyes and perspective.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

When you visit Beijing, you really have to visit the Great Wall of China, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with 50 million other people who visit annually, you will need to make this pilgrimage to one of the greatest man-made structures ever built. If you are lucky, you won’t feel like the other 50 million people are right there with you on the Great Wall. Here are some fun facts about the Great Wall of China as well as some tips if you are visiting the Great Wall of China with kids.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The Great Wall stretches across the Chinese countryside.

Facts about the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China has been subject to many stories including the cherished urban myth that you can see it from space. You can’t. The following information is accurate though.

Why was the Great Wall of China built?

The Great Wall of China was built to protect the Chinese empire from invading nomads. It started off as a series of earthen ramparts probably as early as 771 BC.

China’s first emperor, Qin, Shi Huang (of Terracotta Army fame) took the idea of a defensive wall and ran with it. He had finally united the country and was tired of invasions. Over the course of 20+ centuries, these early efforts were then turned to stone and then joined together to form the Great Wall.

The wall was built with battlements and turrets and housing for soldiers.  These soldiers had enough supplies to defend the Wall in case of a siege.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The Great Wall with its garrison buildings.

All these defence mechanisms don’t work though if you have a traitor in your midst. In 1644, one of the defending generals opened a gate and let the Manchus inside. They formed the Qing Dynasty which lasted until the early 20th century.

How long is the Great Wall of China?

Most people agree that the Great Wall of China is approximately 13,000 miles long. The wall runs from the Bohai Gulf north of Beijing abutting the Yellow Sea until the Jinguyguan Pass in the West. It goes through 15 regions of China.

Most of the Great Wall that is extant today dates from the 15th century. This remaining portion is about 5500 miles.

Parts of the Great Wall was subject to erosion and some of it was destroyed by people who used the wall for building materials for themselves. During the Cultural Revolution, things that were old were not respected. For example, the city wall around Beijing was destroyed to make room for traffic. A similar lack of interest in preserving the Great Wall meant large parts of it were destroyed.

The Chinese government only focused on the conservation of the Great Wall of China in 2006.

Miscellaneous Fun Facts

  • In 2000 for the Chinese New Year celebrations, Jackie Chan led 10,000 people on a Dragon Dance on the wall.
  • The first European to mention the Great Wall was the Portuguese explore, Joao de Barros in the 16th century.
  • The Great Wall is held together with a strong rice flour mixture. Yes, rice.
  • The Great Wall of China is only called that by Westerners. The Chinese have several names for it, such as Long Wall.
  • The Great Wall was built with forced labour. Possibly, a million people at a time were used in the construction.
  • Many of the labourers died but no human remains have ever been found in the Great Wall.

Great Wall of China Images

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

One of the towers at The Great Wall of China

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

You can see how wide those steps were.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The view of the surrounding countryside from The Great Wall of China

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

A view from one of the Wall arches

Visiting The Great Wall of China

There are three main spots near Beijing to visit the Great Wall of China – Mutianyu, Badaling and Jinshanling.

  • The closest section of the Great Wall to Beijing is Badaling. Easily accessible by public transportation, it is also the most popular and crowded. At Badaling,you can take a cable car to the top.  This section of the Great Wall was rebuilt in its entirety in 1958 for tourists.
  • The Mutianyu section of the Greta Wall was opened in 1988. Approximately 2.5 hours by car from Beijing, it is less crowded than Badaling. You can walk, take a cable car or a gondola to the top. From one of the sections you can take a toboggan ride down to the bottom.
  • The Jinshanling section is another 1 hour past Mutianyu. It also has cable car facilities. Our guide told us that there wasn’t much between the Mutianyu and the Jinshanling sections in terms of crowds.  Apparently the Jinshangling section is better for photographs but it wasn’t worth it for us to make the kids sit in the car for an extra hour each way.

The Great Wall has had many famous visitors from ex-Presidents (Clinton, Obama) to the Queen of England.  When Justin Bieber visited in 2013, he made his body guards carry him up the steep bits.

Walking the Great Wall of China

I can tell you that walking the Great Wall of China is tough going. Unlike Justin Bieber I did not have anyone to carry me. The steps are high in parts and you will feel it in your thighs.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

The steps are steep!

The Great Wall is a series of up and down fortifications. I didn’t realise there really is no flat bit!

The Great Wall of China For Kids

My kids found the Great Wall fascinating. They were clambering over rocks like goats. We were told to take the children to the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall because they would enjoy the toboggan ride down. There are single person toboggans or double rider ones. With young kids, we took the double rider toboggans.

Fun Facts About The Great Wall of China For Kids Of All Ages

Probably one of the best things about the Great Wall for kids to enjoy

When To Visit

Spring and autumn is a good time to visit the Great Wall.  In winter, temperatures drop and there can be snow in places. We went in March and there was still evidence of snow.

The best time to visit is either or late in order to avoid the crowds. Now that the Chinese have rediscovered their love for the Great Wall, it is a very popular for domestic tourism. As such, try and avoid Chinese holidays such as Labour Day in May, Chinese New Year and National Day in October.

Where To Stay

We stayed in Beijing at the Hotel Eclat Beiing, a luxury boutique hotel full of artwork and set in its own biosphere in Beijing. Pretty much an only in Beijing thing which we actually loved.

Our friends who are expats in China actually went camping at the Great Wall of China at Jinshanling.

Tours of the Great Wall of China

Context Tours has a tour of the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China which takes a full day.

You can also pick from a selection of guided private and group tours of any of Badaling, Mutianyu and Jinshanling either to the Great Wall by itself or together with other sites. There really is a lot of choice!

Further Reading

Matt Damon’s 2017 movie The Great Wall was a flop even though it was directed by the same Chinese celebrity who created the Beijing Olympics opening program. Even the Chinese people we talked to thought it was terrible.

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

How can you get street art in an authoritarian country like China? Pretty easily. Just limit it to certain areas so it’s technically sanctioned. Win/Win for the people who are given the illusion of freedom and for the government who is still in ultimate charge. In our time in the capitol of China, we found several places to visit in Beijing which could easily have been a young urbanite hangout in any number of cities around the world.  For example, the street art and the contemporary art galleries in Beijing congregating around the 798 Art District and the craft beer and boutiques in the hutongs.  Is this really Beijing? Yes, it is.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Places where the young and hip hang out in Beijing

798 Art District

You get lots of contemporary art galleries and street art at the 798 Art District in Beijing.

The history of 798 Art District

The buildings in the 798 Art District are part of a former industrial unit that built machinery for the military.  The Chinese government gave numbers (like 798) to its factory buildings so that no one knew what was being made inside. Of course, if it started with the number 7 you knew it was stuff for the Chinese military!

The buildings were created in a Bauhaus style by the East Germans who were brought in to joint venture the works. The buildings were huge with lots of light through large windows. The factory opened in 1957 to much fanfare in both China and East Germany.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

The Bauhaus inspired warehouse spaces ooze Industrial-chic.

In its heyday, the 798 Art District had more than 40,000 workers living and working in the area.  The factory had a reputation for being one of the best in China. The workers were encouraged to have after-work activities such as music and book clubs as well as a healthy dose of Maoist indoctrination to wash it all down. During the Cultural Revolution, you got Chairman Mao’s words of wisdom painted on the walls.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Original Mao slogans which are now more ironic-chic for the trendy Beijing crowd

In the 1980’s the factory was abandoned under Deng Xioping’s reforms known as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” That’s what you have today – this weird hybrid system of rampant capitalism by the few, a growing middle class that like to shop until they drop and an authoritarian government that lets little things slide when it suits them.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

The 728 Art District is full of contemporary art galleries in Beijing

Beijing or Brooklyn?

The Bauhaus-inspired huge warehouse spaces and cheap rent were perfect for contemporary artists to take over. With a bit of industrial chic, ironic (but original) Maoist slogans and wide streets, the area became dotted with street art, art galleries, boutiques and cafes. We went on a weekend and the whole place was alive with trendy young things.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

My daughter getting the paparazzi treatment even in the trendy 728 Art District in Beijing

We ate At Cafe which was the first cafe in the 798 Arts District. In keeping with the Chinese theme that it’s who you know that counts in modern China, the owner of the At Cafe is the sister of one of the original co-founders of the 798 Arts District.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

An artfully distressed wall at the At Cafe

There are other cafes and restaurants as well. And, coffee shops. It’s cool to drink coffee so there are a lot of coffee shops many with Western names (i.e., Cafe Flatwhite,  Voyage Coffee)

The cool crowd sit at outdoor cafes in their sunglasses people-watching and playing on their smartphones. It honestly could be anywhere young, urban and hip – London, Brooklyn or  even downtown Los Angeles.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Looking out over the 728 Art District

My kids loved one cafe which we thought was a cat cafe. Unfortunately, the cats were only in the window and we were not allowed to touch them. For those of you worried about the cat’s welfare, there was a store person in the restaurant window playing with the cats. Once again though, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting – a cat cafe that wasn’t a cat cafe.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

The 728 Art District has lots of art which is free and open to the public.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Head To the Hutongs

If you think about it in terms of London, the street art and art galleries of Shoreditch would be the equivalent of 798 Arts District. Although Shoreditch is very cool with lots of street art and art galleries and tourists, the area has become somewhat unaffordable for actual up-and-coming artists. Just like in London where the street artists have started moving into Hackney, the Beijing scene is diversifying into some of the hutongs.

Hutongs are the alleys in Beijing formed by the sides of the courtyard houses that line them. These courtyard houses and streets originated from the Yuan Dynasty (the late 13th century) and later dynasties.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

You can have a nice new high rise with plumbing or a hutong with communal bathrooms – I know what I’d pick!

In China’s rush to modernisation, hutongs were not considered optimum housing. Even though they were centrally located, courtyard houses were small, crowded and lacked plumbing. It’s not uncommon to see neighbourhood toilets in a hutong. In the mid-20th century, there may have been over 3000 hutongs in Beijing. Now, there are only about 1000 hutongs surviving.

Some hutongs though have become trendy places to visit in Beijing. For example, Doujiao Hutong in the Dongcheng District, is home to Beijing’s first microbrewery, Great Leap Brewing (opened by American expats). Fangjia Hutong has an up and coming hipster scene and an active night life. The area around Gulou (near the Drum and Bell Towers) is another popular area – Houhai Bar Street (the name says it all) and Baochao Hutong is more diverse with a boutique hotel, restaurants and retail therapy on offer.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

This is an American craft beer we had in the Fangjia Hutong

Fang Jia Hu Tong

We decided to visit the Fang Jia Hu Tong in the Dongcheng district. Known as for its up and coming hipster scene, looking around you can definitely see this hutong is a neighbourhood in transition.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

When did innovation become rock & roll in China??

There are pockets of gentrification in Fang Jia Hu Tong but you still see some of the old timers hanging around their homes. In the evening, Fang Jia is a popular place for Beijing hipsters and expats to hang out.

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

One of the cafes in Fangjia Hutong

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Music and dancing in Fangjia Hutong

We ate at local hipster joint Ramo with its huge windows and Tolix seats.  It has a great view of the action outside and good food and beer. What more could you want?

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Older residents hanging out in Fangjia Hutong

Practical Information

The 798 Arts District is definitely more of a daytime venture than Fan Jia Hu Tong at least as it currently stands. On the other hand, things in China seem to move at the speed of light so who knows where the trendy places to visit in Beijing will be in a year’s time?

Places To Visit in Beijing Which Reminded Us of Brooklyn

Where to find street art in Beijing China

We took a driver and guide to the 798 Arts District and to the Fan Jia Hu Tong.

If you want to stay in the 798 Arts District, the Gracie Art Hotel offers boutique hotel accommodation.

We stayed at what is considered the best of the renovated courtyard hotels in a hutong in Beijing – the Red Wall Garden Hotel in the Wangfujing area. We loved it so much that we stayed there on both our visits to Beijing.

Context Tours do a Hip Hutongs tour if you would like a walking tour and deeper understanding of how hutongs are changing with the times. You can also do a rickshaw ride tour around a hutong or take a walking tour of the shopping area in Nanluoguxiang hutong (part of Gulou mentioned above).

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

I love meeting people and hearing their stories. People’s lives are endlessly fascinating to me.  In China, this nosiness presented a problem because we couldn’t speak the language. Luckily, we got on well with Joe, our Abercrombie & Kent tour guide from Guilin who was a professor at a local university. He was curious about people too and ready to engage with them readily. Many of the people we spoke to lived in the countryside in and around Guilin in Guangxi province. They were more willing to speak to us than the sophisticated city dwellers.  Through their stories, we pieced together glimpses into modern China that provided a fascinating look at a country and a culture in transition.

Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent.

– Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

That Small Matter of Communication

English in Schools

Chinese children take English classes in school from the beginning. To graduate from university, you need to pass an exam in English. Without the opportunity to speak in English, many graduates are better at written English than spoken English.

Education in China is free for 9 years for elementary school and middle school. Parents need to pay for their child to attend nursery school, high school and university. It’s not a surprise then that many of the wait staff at restaurants can not speak English. You both muddle along as best you can.

My children were in stitches of laughter at one restaurant. The waitress put her face inches from mine and spoke to me in Chinese very slowly, clearly and loudly. I felt it was divine retribution for the bad habit Americans have of doing the same thing in English when they travel abroad.

Yet, no matter even if she used language for a toddler, I still wouldn’t understand her Chinese. In the end, with the use of hand gestures we were able to order a tasty meal. And where was my husband during this conversation? Hiding in the corner hoping the waitress wouldn’t turn her attention to him!

English Corner in Guilin

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Jake, the English name of a 12 year old boy, learning English in Guilin, Guangxi Province.

We met Jake (pictured above) at English Corner, a meeting place for locals who want to practice their English, at Guilin’s Seven Star Park. Needless to say, having native English speakers in their midst set off a flurry of excitement and photo taking.

Jake was speaking to my son who is only a little younger than him. They discovered they both used to play the video game Minecraft but have now moved onto Terraria. He was shy at first but his mother insisted he speak to my son. She was not letting this opportunity go!

My daughter was surrounded by a group of excited girls and my husband spoke to a recent university graduate who was an English teacher. Everywhere we met, people wanted to speak to us even if they only said a few words.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for Guilin’s Seven Star Park

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A photo with a stranger isn’t complete unless you touch them.

My children found the conversation easy but the endless photo-taking harder. Living in a country with a 1.3 billion, the Chinese have a different concept of personal space. They really will get in your face to talk to you or to take your photo.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

My daughter getting the paparazzi treatment at the 728 Arts District in Beijing.

The Voluntary Return of the One Child Policy

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Cosseted Chinese children and their attentive parents and grandparents.

China’s one child policy which started in 1979 was ended in 2015. In its 36 years, however, the law affected an entire generation’s numbers as well as attitudes.

The one child policy may be officially gone but we sensed a reluctance among people to have more than one child. As someone explained to us, life in China is expensive and another child means a bigger car, more school fees, maybe a bigger home etc.

We saw a lot of families with two children where the oldest child was a girl. Joe confirmed our suspicions that people were willing to have a second child on the chance that they would have a boy child. If a family already had a boy, then the chances are that they would not expand the family. It reminded me of blackjack – do you hold or do you take a hit? You could get another girl and then go bust.

 

via GIPHY

The Effect on Family Life of Having Only One Child

We saw so many grandparents out and about with their one child. I can see how  the Little Emperor Syndrome is a real factor because you had 4 grandparents and 2 parents doting one one child. Both my in-laws and my parents have four grandchildren each – even with all these extra kids our kids are spoiled by both sets of grandparents. I can’t imagine the situation if all four of the grandparents only had one of my twins to coddle.

Examples of Child-Rearing Differences

For example, with six adults on hand, children were carried around if they couldn’t walk. We hardly saw any strollers. Babies and toddlers were hand-carried instead. Traditionally, chubby babies are believed to be successful and powerful when they grow up. Needless to say, we saw a lot of fat, spoiled babies.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

This little girl was dancing for our entertainment that I didn’t even notice her brother’s split trousers until I looked at the photo.

On the plus side, grandparents are really involved in their children’s lives. Many of them prefer the old ways of child-rearing, such as, for example, a disdain for diapers.

We saw children running around with what is called “split-pants”  – their trousers are split in the front and back so that the kid can easily go to the toilet. Apparently, it’s more prevalent in the countryside, but we did see it in Beijing, too.

High Divorce Rate

The collapse of the usual large family structure has been cited as a reason for the increasing divorce rate in China. For example, the Beijing the divorce rate of 39% is actually higher than you would expect if you consider that it is only the younger generation getting divorced.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

The whole process of getting married is a big business. Our tour guide told us he only goes to his friend’s first marriages.

Traditionally, Chinese families lived together. If your parents and in-laws are nearby, then they would expect to live with you. One big (un)happy family. If the average flat was about 80-100 square meters (approximately 1000 s.f.) with three bedrooms, then you can only imagine how difficult life can get with 8-10 people living together. Don’t forget that spoiled child either!

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A grandchild is taken to the park to play Uno with his grandparents friends. I love this mix of old tradition and new game.

In fact, the spoiled child may be a reason for the high divorce rate. The Little Emperor syndrome doesn’t go away when the child grows up. Both partners in a marriage have spent their entire life thinking the world revolves around them. Such an attitude is not really conducive to the compromises that long-term marriage requires.

Urbanisation in the Name of Progress

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

The last of the fan makers in Fuli village near Guilin

This lady has a fan making store in Fuli village in Guangxi which was known for its makers of fans and coffins.  Yes, interesting combo.  The traditional coffin making businesses of the village died during Chairman Mao’s time when he dictated that the dead be cremated instead of buried.

She makes the fans and her grandparents do the painting. Now the fan-making business is under threat because the government is confiscating the old village houses in order to modernise the town to attract tourism.  It’s being done in the name of progress but is it really a land-grab to give real estate opportunities to developer cronies?

She told us her family are still negotiating the price of their house which she showed us around.  The large house (easily 2000 square feet) has been in their family for five generations since the Qing Dynasty. The premises doubles as the family home and fan store/workshop. They will be relocated into the usual Chinese small modern flat. Without a store front and fan making premises, she’s not sure that her family can continue in the business.

Forced Relocations

Outside of Guilin, we saw a large apartment complex that was lying empty.  The buildings had been constructed to house 300,000 people from a village relocated due to the Yangtze River Dam but then they had been taken elsewhere.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

The Yangshuo Light Show complete with traditional sanpan wooden boats rowed by fisherman on a lake.

We saw a show in light show at night in an open-air theatre in Yangshuo celebrating traditional Chinese agricultural life. The irony? They relocated a traditional village that had stood at the location to create this open air theatre.

Check the TripAdvisor reviews for Sanjie Liu Yangshuo Evening Show

The relocated farmers were compensated for their land and moved into the town of Yangshuo itself.  The government provided a lump sum payment but no training for an alternative form of livelihood. So, people who have been poor farmers all their lives  are suddenly given a chunk of change. Of course, they blow through the money quickly and then are left scrambling around trying to earn a living.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A Chinese tourist dressing up in a rural Chinese minority outfit.

Around the Yangtze, the government wanted to build a dam to provide energy to the population. The motivation for the forced relocations around Yangshuo are to create a centre for domestic tourism. In fact, 90% of Guilin tourism is domestic. The landscape is renowned in China and even features on the 20 Yuan bill.

You can see developments for resorts aimed at Chinese domestic tourism sprouting up everywhere. The area around Yangshuo used to be rice farms and sugar plantations. Now, China imports 60% of its rice from Thailand because so much of the land has been converted for other uses. The former farmers are all catering to the tourist trade now which is the biggest game in town.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Showing off the traditional weaving methods to Chinese tourists.

The Elderly in Modern China

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

A 100 year old woman in Fuli village near Yangshuo in Guangxi province.

This lady told us she was almost a 100 years old.  She didn’t know exactly because she was never educated. She is also one of the more than 50 million illiterate people in China many of whom are over 70 years old.

She also claimed to have never been sick because she would treat her symptoms with Chinese medicine herself.  She told us she was our children’s age when the Japanese started filtering through her province before the full-scale invasion.

We saw signs of traditional Chinese medicine everywhere. Chinese medicine seems to be an accessory to help modern medicine cope with the sick population. For example, we were in Xingping, a small city of 620,000 near Guilin with a high-speed train connection to Guangzhou and ultimately, Beijing. Yet, there is not one Western doctor in the entire city. The nearest hospital is in Yangshuo which we were told wasn’t that good. You needed to head to Guilin itself to get to a good modern hospital.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Snake wine is used to treat rheumatism. A live snake is dropped into the jar with bees along with rice wine to make snake wine.

Subtle and Not-So-Subtle Propaganda

Many people in Guangxi are still bitter about the Japanese invasion in their province from World War II. The cit of Guilin was flattened to a pancake by the bombing. On touristy West Street in Yangshuo, we saw a sign saying “No Japanese Welcome Here”. It’s safe to say feelings about the Japanese still run high.

Some of these sentiments are fanned by the hours of Chinese soap operas throughout the week. On pretty much every television station, there are soap operas about the Japanese invasion during World War II. We are talking 64 state owned Chinese television channels!  There is a joke that there have been more Japanese killed on television soap operas than in the battles in China. It suits the government though to give the people a common enemy that isn’t them.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

When my daughter refused to use the public squatty potty, this kind woman let us use the bathroom in her house. She interrupted her watching a Chinese soap opera about the Japanese invasion.

Joe told us about his grandmother who had died a few years ago in her late 90’s. She had been married 5 times before the age of 20! She was married at the age of 4 as the fourth wife of a local warlord, then again at age 10, age 12, age 16 and age 20. Her husbands kept dying off because they were all warlords. Her family would just marry her to another one. The 5th husband that she married at the age of 20 was a farmer and she went on to have four children by him. Her feet had been bound in the traditional custom of wealthy families as well.  During the days of the Cultural Revolution, the local authorities would troop her out in front the crowds so that she could recount her tearful tale and denounce the old ways.

Currently the age of retirement is age 55 for women and 60 for men. Older people seem to have an active lifestyle. They help with the care of their grandchild. They meet up in parks to play traditional Chinese games or to exercise.  For example, older people congregate in the park around the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  Entrance to the park is subsidised for local residents.

Anecdotes and Observations From Our Travels Through Modern China

Senior citizens meet to socialise at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Frank, our Beijing travel guide, told us he offered to pay for his parents to join a local health club. They refused his offer. Not only did his parents like the social element of exercising at the park, they also remembered the grinding poverty during the Cultural Revolution and did not want to spend the money.

What Did We Think?

We thought the Chinese we met were incredibly resilient. The government is subtle in its authoritarianism. The Chinese have survived emperors, the Japanese, the Cultural Revolution and now are coping with the new ’socialism’. They have learned to bend with the wind so as not to break. I really wish I could have spoken Chinese to speak to people directly. As always, things get lost in translation but we learned enough to appreciate the Chinese people and their culture.

We were told by Frank to read [easyazon_link identifier=”0143121316″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]On China[/easyazon_link] by Henry Kissinger to understand modern China better. Interestingly, he has read both the Chinese version and the English version. The Chinese version just eliminates the whole section related to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Reality is, after all, what we  make it through our own filters.

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