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Vanishing China

Ancient Traditions and Scenic Wonders

November 27-December 12, 2012

Over the past three decades, rapid development in China has greatly raised the living standards of hundreds of millions of people. At the same time, that very growth has steadily chipped away at the very existence of some facets of China which have existed for over two thousand years. As in many industrializing countries, traditional handicrafts are becoming lost arts. The distinctive regional characteristics of different parts of the country are increasingly blurred by mass media and ease of travel, while young people prefer pop and rock to traditional music. In an effort to preserve the best examples of this fading culture, some places have been designated as heritage sites and some art forms as intangible cultural heritage. Ironically, local governments are now eager to win such designations, not so much for preservation as for boosting tourism. As a result, formerly overlooked (and hence well preserved) areas are now overrun by crowds of visitors, and authenticity has sometimes given way to obviously recent replications – in an effort to enhance its “old” look, one city is even building an entire city wall!

This Bryn Mawr Alumnae Association trip will bring us to places where many aspects of traditional life can still be experienced including Pingyao, Wenchuan, Huizhou Villages and Suzhou to name a few.

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Preliminary Itinerary
(please click on location to reveal details)


Day 1-2: November 27-28 U.S. – Beijing

Depart U.S. for Beijing. Cross the international dateline and arrive on November 28th. Upon arrival, we are met by our guide at the airport and transferred to our hotel in the heart of Beijing. (Meals aloft)

Accommodations at Grand Hotel (5-star)

Day 3: November 29 Beijing

In the morning, we tour the newly renovated National Museum on Tiananmen Square, the largest museum in the world with 190,000 sq. m. of floor space and 65,000 sq. m. of exhibition area. Modern technology enhances 48 exhibition halls ranging from 800 sq. m. to 2000 sq. m. The 6 story Soviet revolutionary style building houses a selection of the finest antiquities of China.

Lunch is at the Ken De Rouge Restaurant, an elegant restaurant with excellent menu, overlooking the lake of Shichahai in the heart of old downtown Beijing.

In the afternoon, we visit Liulichang Cultural Street, the famous art and antique market renowned for calligraphy, painting, craftwork, and antiques. There, the master craftsmen of the Rongbaozhai Studios demonstrate the centuries-old art of reproducing scroll paintings through woodblock printing. This has been designated an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by the Chinese government. ( b,l,d)

Day 4: November 30 Beijing – Pingyao

In the morning, we take a 4-hour train ride to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province. Upon arrival, have lunch in Taiyuan, then drive to the Qiao Family Mansion, a large compound of multiple courtyards that used to house the extended family of a wealthy merchant. Here, 313 rooms grace 19 courtyards, creating a world within worlds. The elegant wood detail, stone carvings and grand architectural scale provided the setting for the Oscar nominated movie Raise High the Red Lantern, by China’s top director Zhang Yimou.

Next, we drive to Pingyao (1 hour), an ancient city with its Ming Dynasty city wall still intact. It offers a rare glimpse into the northern architectural styles and town planning of imperial China. Once a thriving merchant town with a concentration of bankers, it rose to prominence in the late Qing Dynasty. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains several hundred traditional homes deemed worthy of cultural preservation.

Enjoy dinner at hotel. (b,l, d)

Accommodations at the deluxe Jing’s Residence, renovated from the courtyard residence of a silk merchant

Day 5: December 1 Pingyao

We spend the whole day in the Pingyao Old Town. A visit to the Bell Tower offers a commanding view of the city. We can walk along the city wall or ride in a pedicab.

Then, we go to Rishengchang Museum, which introduces Pingyao’s glorious banking past. Later, we explore the Residence of Lei Lutai, a wealthy financier.

Wandering through the streets and crooked lanes, we’ll encounter small museums, Daoist temples with intricate designs, well preserved traditional courtyards still lived in by multiple generations, and even a Catholic church. Vendors hawk their wares and local people busy themselves with the characteristic rhythms of Chinese life.

Evening is free and dinner is on your own. (b, l)

Days 6: December 2 Taiyuan – Chengdu

After breakfast we fly to Chengdu. A light lunch is served on board. In the afternoon we visit Dufu’s Thatched Cottage, the former home of Du Fu (712-770 ADE), one of the greatest poets of the Tang Dynasty. Located in the western suburbs of Chengdu, the site is marked by a stream, architecture in the ancient style, pavilions, pagodas and lush tree parks.

A stroll around Baihuatan Park allows us to see how locals spend their leisure time. Later, we visit the Qingyang Temple by the Jin River, one of the most famous Daoist temples in China.

Afterwards, we tour Jinli Cultural Street, a busy market street with a history stretching back to ancient times. Today, a new Jinli Street has been re-built on the site of the ancient alley. It is filled with boutique shops of local arts and crafts built in traditional architectural style. We may enjoy a cup of tea at the local teahouse or watch people playing Mahjong and card games, favorite local pastimes.

Also stop by a Tibetan neighborhood near Wuhousi Temple.

For dinner, we sample Chengdu delicacies representative of Sichuan’s renowned cuisine. Then we attend a performance of Sichuan Opera, with its astonishing “face-changing” technique and other intriguing routines. (b, l, d)

Accommodation at Shangri-la Chengdu Hotel

Day 7: December 3 Chengdu

After breakfast, we drive to Yingxiu and visit the Earthquake Reconstruction Zone (approximately 1.5 hours’ drive). The new city has been rebuilt over the rubble of the big earthquake in 2008.

After lunch, we return to Chengdu and visit the Chengdu Panda Breeding Center in its beautiful park-like grounds. We meet 20+ pandas and their caregivers. The Atlanta Zoo’s 4-year old female panda was returned to China in Feb. 2010 and has lived here since. Also visit the Small Red Panda Center with 40 small red pandas in residence.

Dinner at Huangchenglaoma Restaurant featuring the famous Sichuan Hot Pot. (b, l, d)

Day 8: December 4 Chengdu – Hangzhou – Tunxi

Fly to Hangzhou and drive to Tunxi through beautiful countryside (3 hours ride).

After dinner, we enjoy a melodious traditional Anhui Opera – Huangmeixi黄梅戏 (b, l, d)

Accommodations at the International Hotel near Laojie, the ancient town center

Day 9: December 5 Huizhou Villages

In Anhui, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located in close proximity to each other. Hong Village and Xidi Village are listed as Heritage Sites for their extraordinary Ming and Qing dynasty architecture and well-preserved village layout. These two villages sit amidst tranquil rice fields and are formed by narrow lanes of family compounds whose walls rise twenty feet or more.

Originally built by rich merchants and imperial officials, Huizhou architecture is famous for its elaborate woodcarvings that embellish small, open courtyards. After five hundred years, many of the original families still occupy their ancestral estates and are pleased to welcome foreign guests into their homes.

We visit Chengkan Village with majestic buildings authentically restored by the Hong Kong-based China Heritage Arts Foundation. The woodcarving is of the highest artistry. We enjoy a private tour with the local expert leading the preservation effort, and stop by a workshop specializing in wood-carving and traditional furniture making.

We then wander the lanes of Hong Village and Xidi Village, authentic Ming and Qing dynasty settlements that preserve some of China’s best rural architecture. We visit a silversmith near Hongcun, and drop by a local tofu shop to observe how tofu is made traditionally. In the many shops and homes in these villages, life goes on as it has for hundreds of years.

At the Leigang Restaurant, the proprietors will prepare us a traditional lunch of Anhui specialties. ( b,l,d )

Day 10: December 6 Huang Mountains (Huangshan)

Today we drive to Anhui’s crown jewels, the incomparable Huang Mountains (one hour drive). On the way, we take a side trip to Feicuigu Canyon, a 6-kilometer long canyon filled with hundreds of colored ponds, bamboo forests, and wild flowers. Parts of the Oscar-winning movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed here.

The Huang Mountains offer one of the world’s most stunning visual experiences, which explains its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its sister park relationship with Yosemite National Park in California. Rising thousands of feet, numerous peaks balance granite escarpments in the air and are crowned by solitary pines half-hidden in mists.

The cable car ride to the summit reveals the astonishing beauty of granite precipices emerging from fog banks. From the cable car terminus, we walk twenty minutes to our hotel and check into modest, yet comfortable rooms. A short walk from the hotel allows views of stunning scenery in every direction.

Although the highest peak is only 6,200 ft. above sea level, the 70 sheer rock cliffs are spectacular to look at. For centuries, these mountains have inspired poets and artists alike, and watching the sun rise from atop their peaks is still a “must” for innumerable Chinese tourists. From the summit, we can understand why Chinese landscape painters had no need to imagine or exaggerate to create their wondrous effects -- they were only trying to portray the granite peaks of the Huang Mountains!

During our time at the summit, we can choose between short strolls on nearby paths or longer hikes along the summit ridge. There will be ample time for individual exploration. (b, l, d) Accommodations at the Beihai Hotel on the summit

Day 11: December 7 Huang Mountains – Shanghai

This morning is free for exploring the mountains on our own. At several vista points, we may find a few Chinese artists painting the scenery. At other times, dozens of Chinese students from faraway provinces might be seen converging on a particular place for a homework assignment in sketching. Here, foreigners and Chinese alike may be found meditating or performing spiritual rituals to commune with nature.

After lunch we descend the mountain by cable car and visit the Maofeng Tea Plantation whose famous tea has been cultivated and prepared for centuries.

We will also visit Tangmo Village, where the traditional arts of making calligraphy brushes, root sculptures and ink stones are still carried on.

Upon returning to Tunxi, we wander the streets of Laojie, a traditional shopping district begun in the Song Dynasty, though most of the extant buildings “only” date back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. We visit Wancuilou Museum with its collections of Huizhou local art and antiques, and meet with the owner for a tour of his private collection, assembled over the last several decades. After dinner, we fly to Shanghai in the late evening. (b, l, d). Accommodations at Ritz Carlton Hotel

Day 12: December 8 Shanghai

In the morning, we visit the Shanghai Conservatory for a private tour and meetings with the musicians.

This is followed by lunch at Lv Bo Lang Restaurant, famous for its Shanghai dim sum.

In the afternoon, a city tour through the former German, Japanese and Russian concessions as well as the old French Concession reveals the colorful diversity of Shanghai’s 1920’s and 30’s Western architecture. Later, we explore Xintiandi. Designed by MIT architect Ben Wood, Xintiandi is a $200 million two-block “entertainment environment” with modern restaurants, clubs, cafes and boutiques housed in a cluster of repurposed old buildings. It is so successful a model for urban redevelopment that it has spawned at least a dozen imitators across the country. The evening is free. Dinner is on your own. (b,l)

Days 13: December 9 Suzhou

After breakfast, we drive to Suzhou (about 1.5 hours). Suzhou is called the “Venice of the Orient” for its myriad canals and delightful ambience. It is also the heart of southern China’s traditional garden culture. The elegance and sophistication associated with Chinese residential design finds its realization in the many garden estates here.

We visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden, an immense example of gardening ingenuity, with countless pavilions offering views onto tranquil lakes and greenery. Woodcarving and architectural forms compete with trees and shrubbery in exuberant detail.

Lunch is at the traditional Songhelou Restaurant, featuring Suzhou cuisine.

We then tour Lion’s Grove Garden, once owned by the family of world-famous architect I. M. Pei. The fantastic rockeries and grottos here display an aesthetic seldom seen anywhere else.

Not to be missed is one of I. M. Pei’s latest creations, the Suzhou Museum. In this building the architect blends classical Suzhou architecture with contemporary style to create something totally new.

After dinner, we enjoy a performance of Pingtan 评弹 – Suzhou’s traditional performance art of storytelling with musical accompaniment. (b,l) Accommodations at the Sofitel Hotel in the old town

Day 14: December 10 Suzhou – Tongli -- Shanghai

After breakfast, we visit the Suzhou Embroidery Institute. It documents the history of silk production from around 2000 BCE on and demonstrates the incredible workmanship of Suzhou embroidery.

Later we tour the Lingering Garden, Suzhou’s most famous garden estate, with its eccentric architecture and winding paths leading to unexpected views.

We then drive to nearby Tongli Water Town, yet another UNESCO heritage site, and take a boat ride along its canals to observe life in this picturesque old water town. We return to Shanghai in the afternoon. Evening is free and dinner is on your own. (b, l) Accommodations at the Ritz Carlton

Day 15: December 11 Shanghai

We spend the morning at the Shanghai Museum, viewing its wonderful collections of Chinese bronzes, jade, pottery and ceramics, paintings and calligraphy, old coins, and furniture.

After lunch, we may explore Shanghai on our own or take an optional tour to the Pudong Economic Zone and ride the elevator to the top of the new World Financial Center, the highest building in Asia, for a bird’s-eye view of Shanghai, both the new Pudong and the old Puxi districts.

Another option is a ride on the famous Maglev (magnetic levitation) Train, whose German technology speeds along at 260 miles per hour. The trip to the Pudong Airport takes only eight minutes, normally an hour’s drive by car!

This evening, we celebrate the end of our trip with a farewell banquet at the Dingxiang Garden Restaurant. (b,l,d)

Day 16: December 12 Shanghai – U.S.A

After breakfast, we leave for our return flights home and arrive in the USA the same day. (b)

Beijing Pre Tour

Pre Tour Day 1-2 (Nov 24-25 Sat-Sun) US-Beijing

Depart U.S. for Beijing. Cross the international dateline and arrive on November 28th. Upon arrival, met by our guide at the airport and transferred to the hotel in the heart of Beijing. (meals aloft)

Accommodations at Grand Hotel

Pre Tour Day 3 November 26 Beijing

Then we explore Beijing’s picturesque Houhai district where many old courtyard homes are preserved amid narrow hutong alleys bordering tree-lined lakes. Tour the district by “pedicab” for a more lively experience of traditional Chinese life. Later, divide into smaller groups and enjoy lunch at a local family’s private home.

In the afternoon, tour the Temple of Heaven, one of the finest expressions of the Ming Dynasty. Built in the 15th century the stunning architecture of the Temple of Heaven represents the most advanced principles of mechanics and geometry available at the time.

This evening we enjoy a welcome Peking Duck banquet at the popular Dadong Restaurant. (b, l, d)

Pre Tour Day 4 November 27 Beijing

In the morning visit the Forbidden City, the abiding symbol of imperial China. Truly one of the great achievements of civilization, its construction employed hundreds of thousands of workers between 1406 and 1420. We’ll marvel at its expansive architecture, the magnificent imperial gardens, and the many museums of Chinese antiquities and treasures within the complex.

Lunch is the famous Sichuan Restaurant. In the afternoon, visit the beautiful grounds of the Summer Palace. The Palace was built in 1888 for the Empress Dowager Ci Xi, using funds originally intended for the Qing Imperial Navy. Saunter through the exquisite royal gardens and cruise on lovely Kunming Lake. Also walk the Painted Gallery, the longest garden walkway in China, famous for its lake views.

On the way back stop by the Olympic Village and see the new Olympic stadiums with innovative design. Herzog & de Meuron designed the National Stadium, frequently referred to as the firm PTW designed the “Bird Nest,” while the National Aquatics Center, better known as the “Water Cube”.

Evening is free. Dinner is on your own. (B, L)

Pre Tour Day 5 November 28 Beijing

Today, we drive to the Great Wall of China Mutianyu, a rugged section of the Wall that offers a less crowded access (with cable car availability) and a more striking perspective as the Wall climbs and winds over the surrounding hills. Here as elsewhere, the Great Wall of China presents a visual experience that consistently exceeds visitors’ expectations. Scholars estimate that the Wall, averaging 25 feet in height and nearly as thick, once stretched for 3,700 miles, passing through sixteen provinces.

On our return, visit the 798 Dashanzi Art and Culture district. This renovated factory area is known as the “Soho” of Beijing. More than 80 gallery spaces as well as artist studios, fashion boutiques, and design ateliers make the Chinese contemporary art scene one of the most exciting in the world. Exhibitions feature an international range of established and emerging artists, providing a concentrated glimpse of the “new art” of China.

Evening is free. Dinner is on own. (B, L)

Post Guilin-Yangshuo-Longsheng Tour

Post Tour Day 1 (Dec 12) Shanghai - Longsheng

Morning flight from Shanghai to Guilin (1:40 min). Upon arrival, take an hour bus ride to Longsheng. Longsheng is famous for rice terraces cut into precipitous hills that farmers have cultivated since the Yuan dynasty (13th ADE). Spring is a particularly beautiful season as the paddies fill with water and reflect the changing panorama of the sky. A little later, skeins of luscious green rice plants create remarkable views throughout the valley. Longsheng is the home of Yao and Zhuang minorities who both continue to don colorful dress and carry on their traditions. We will explore the village market and delightful craft shops. (B,L,D)

Accommodations at Li An Lodge. Li An Lodge is a wonderful boutique inn with 16 rooms created by an American-Chinese artist. (It took eight years to build and has just opened for business.) The lodge is a work of art itself, using Vietnamese hardwoods and the owner’s art and crafts collection in every room. Situated above the rice terraces with a commanding view of the valley, Li An Lodge will provide a memorable experience of bucolic China. All three meals will be prepared by the chef of the lodge with the freshest produce he personally picked from the farmer’s market that morning.

Post Tour Day 2 Longsheng - Guilin

We continue to explore the paths and life of Longsheng until early afternoon. Then, motorcoach to Guilin. Guilin is world famous for its spectacular karst limestone formations, vertical mountains thrust up from the seabed some 300 million years ago. Eroded over the millennia by water and winds, these picturesque mountains, immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with Chinese painting, have provided inspiration for countless Chinese artists. Dinner is at the Green Tea Restaurant. (B,L,D)

Accommodations at Shangri-la Hotel

Post Tour Day 3 Li River - Yangshuo

This morning, we cruise down the Li River, winding past Mural Hill, Folded Brocade Hill, Crescent Moon Hill, and many more. The four-hour cruise navigates some of the region’s most stunning karst formations. After disembarking, we check in our hotel. Then take a ride to Liugong & Mushang villages, a gorgeous agricultural valley and surrounded by distant karst scenery. Walk into the fields to enjoy another experience of rural China, this time in the middle of a visual paradise.

In the evening explore lively Xijie (West Street) filled with restaurants, shops, and local inns. Xijie is the home away from home for numerous Westerners and so exudes a cosmopolitan air as well as an invitation for a rollicking good time.

After dinner, enjoy Zhang Yi-mo’s show “Impressions of Sister Liu”. Zhang is a world famous movie director with Oscar nominated movies like “Raise the Red Lantern”, “Hero” and “House Full of Daggers”. He produced and directed the beautiful opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing (B, L)

Accommodations at the Green Lotus Hotel

Post Tour Day 4 Yangshuo - Shanghai

This day, continue our exploration of the natural beauty of Yangshuo, including a walk by the beautiful Yulong River, a tributary of Li River. Saunter along the riverbank of scenic villages, water buffalo, farmland, and playing children. In the evening, fly to Shanghai and transfer to our hotel. Dinner is on one’s own. (B,L)

Post Tour Day 5 Shanghai – US

After breakfast depart for the airport for return flight. Arrive in US the same day. (B, meals aloft)

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Cost and Program Inclusions
(Tour quotation, per passenger, based upon double occupancy:)

Full tour without international air $6,595
Tour Single Supplement $1,890
Pre Beijing Tour $ 1,290
Extension Single Supplement $ 490
Post Guilin Extension $ 1,990
Extension Single Supplement $ 790
**US Domestic and International Air tickets may be purchased via Airtreks ticket consolidator.
**(All prices are quoted based on exchange rate of October 2011 at $1=6.3RMB)
This quotation includes the following features:
  • All domestic land and air transportation in China
  • All sight-seeing, cultural activities, and meals listed on tour
  • Double occupancy accommodations in first class or best available hotels
  • China Advocates’ tour director and local guides
  • Chinese airport taxes and gratuities to guides and drivers
This quotation does not include:
  • Trip cancellation
  • lost baggage
  • medical insurance
  • meals not listed
  • Visa processing fee
  • gratuities for the national tour director

We require a deposit of $700 per person upon enrollment. The balance is due 90 days before departure.

Cancellation Policy of China Advocate

Cancellation of the program and tour by an individual or the group will incur the following penalty per person:

  • 91 days before departure, $400 90-46 days before departure, $1500
  • 45-31 days before departure, $2500 30 days before departure, No refund
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Faculty Study Leader

June Mei

Leading our trip to China will be June Mei, Bryn Mawr Class of 1966. A native of New York, June Mei attended elementary and secondary schools in New York City and Hong Kong. She completed her undergraduate work at Bryn Mawr College, and received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University in History and East Asian Languages. June has been the leader on Bryn Mawr’s three prior journey’s to China.

After teaching History and Asian American Studies at U.C.L.A. and working in the field of U.S.-China exchanges, she became an independent consultant and high-level interpreter. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, U.S. government agencies, major museums, foundations, universities and other non-profit organizations.

June has worked with several Presidents, Vice Presidents and Secretaries of State, as well as many other cabinet members, governors and mayors on diplomatic, policy and economic exchanges; in the area of business, she has arranged visits to China for CEO's of major corporations, is an instructor in executive education programs, and regularly briefs key executives on current developments; in arts and culture, she has dealt extensively with special exhibitions and archeological site visits, and was responsible for taking care of the Chinese team during its first post-1949 appearance at the Olympic Games (1984, Los Angeles). She is special consultant to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for projects in China, and also China consultant to the American Museum of Natural History.

June has interpreted for senior American and Chinese officials both at formal meetings and for interviews broadcast on all the national TV networks. In 1999, she was invited by Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji to be his principal interpreter for American TV interviews and for his visits to New York and Boston -- the first time that any senior Chinese leader has asked someone other than an official Chinese government interpreter to do so. She has also been asked to serve as principal interpreter for the annual meeting of the International Business Leaders’ Advisory Council to the Mayor of Shanghai since the founding of the Council in 1990. To date, she has traveled to China over 100 times, and published a number of essays on various aspects of Chinese history and U.S.-China policy issues.

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