Food and Drink
Yangtze River cruises offer excellent opportunities for sampling a variety of Chinese cuisines. Due to China's vast size, gastronomy differs from region to region with factors such as geography, climate and local products often defining the fare.
There are eight main types of regional cuisines in China, including Shandong, Sichuan, Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hunan and Anhui. Generally speaking, Northern dishes rely on heavy seasoning and spices, while flavors in the South are sometimes sweet, with an emphasis on the ingredients' original flavors. Dumplings, noodles and wheat-based foods are staples in the North, but rice and related products such as rice noodles and rice cakes are common in the South. Boiling, stewing, steaming, glazing, roasting, deep-frying and stir-frying are all popular Chinese cooking techniques. More adventurous travelers will want to try exotic Chinese specialties such as chicken feet, worms, scorpions and monkey brains.
Tea originated in China over 4,000 years ago with the introduction of tea planting and processing techniques, drinking methods and tea ceremonies. Once used as an herbal medicine and religious offering, tea has now become the national drink of China and is an important part of its culture and traditions.
The Chinese strongly believe that drinking tea improves the human body, nourishes the spirit and increases one's life span. It has also been said to enhance people's social accomplishments and promote friendship among one and another.
The main types of Chinese tea are classified as green tea, red (black) tea, Wulong tea, white tea, yellow tea and reprocessed tea. Vast tea planting areas growing a variety of tea trees can be found throughout China.
Alcohol is one of China's cultural symbols, with a history going back to prehistoric times. It is endowed with spiritual and cultural value and is reflected in social and political interactions, literature, the arts and every day Chinese life. Chinese alcohol can be divided into a wide range of selections: yellow rice wine, white wine, medicinal liquor, fruit liquor and beer.
China is the birthplace of Eastern martial arts. Wushu, also known as kung fu, began centuries ago in China and was often shaped by training methods inspired by Chinese philosophies, religions and legends. The Shaolin style of wushu is regarded as the first institutionalized Chinese martial art. The wushu fighting styles practiced today have been developed over the centuries and incorporate modern forms. Some of these styles include Bagua, Drunken Boxing, Eagle Claw, Five Animals, Lau Gar, Monkey, Bak Mei Pai, Praying Mantis, Fujian White Crane and Tai Chi Chuan.
Acrobatics has existed in China for over two thousand years, and it continues to be an important component of traditional Chinese performing arts. There are a variety of acrobatic acts including Lion Dancing, Hoop Diving, Meteor Juggling and Tight-Wire Feats.
Chinese calligraphy is an irreplaceable symbol of Chinese culture. Created using only the "Four Treasures of the Study" (paper, brush, ink, and inkstone), calligraphy requires speed, strength and agility to produce an effective artwork. It is similar to painting in its ability to articulate a message through a variety of forms and designs, and the Chinese use it as a means of communicating a person's inner world in an aesthetic way. Calligraphy art is found everywhere in China, from shop and building signs to ancient monuments and stone inscriptions.
The Chinese are friendly and treat tourists with a good amount of courtesy. Many speak some English in tourist and larger metropolitan areas, while English is scarcer in smaller villages and the countryside. Using a few Chinese phrases will win you added favor and smiles.
Although the Chinese language has over 400 distinctive dialects that differ greatly from one region to the next, the official language of China is Mandarin, spoken by more than 90% of the country's population. Cantonese is widely spoken in Hong Kong and Macau, as well as in Guangzhou and Guangxi on the mainland.