Tour Brings China Capitalism Into Perspective

by Jeff Hankins  on Monday, Oct. 11, 2010 12:00 am  

Long known as an isolated nation, China is beginning to embrace the Western world with Arkansas companies ready and happy to help.

Xi'an: The Historic City
With a mere 8.6 million people, Xi'an was the smallest city we visited. With a 3,000-year history, it is the gateway to western China, and agriculture is a major business sector. Xi'an is famous for dumplings — we tried 12 varieties at one locale — and is the home of noodles.

Our primary destination was Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Terracotta Army Museum to see what's been described as the most significant archeological excavation of the 20th century. Seeing more than 1,000 soldiers and pieces of another 2,000 that were created around 221 B.C. was stunning. Hangar-like buildings cover three pits of artifacts, which were discovered by peasant farmers in 1974.

Beijing: The Power City
Beijing has about the same population as Shanghai but is much larger geographically, and it indeed seemed less concentrated and even less modern.

It was harder to focus on business in Beijing because symbols of communist power (think Tiananmen Square) and emperor rule (think the Forbidden City) stood out. The biggest examples of modernism were the 2008 Summer Olympics facilities, including the famed "Bird's Nest" coliseum, and the world's second-largest terminal at Beijing International Airport.

Between dirt-cheap auto licenses that cost $20 and wide streets, Beijing's traffic was considerably more congested. About 4.5 million cars are owned in that city alone.

The 4,500-mile Great Wall of China is one of those spectacular sights that photos and video can't adequately illustrate, especially when imagining how much labor it took to get materials up the mountains. By contrast, the 98-story China Tower just opened to give Beijing its tallest skyscraper.

Tiananmen Square covers 110 acres, and 500,000 soldiers can stand there at once. From there, the Forbidden City is full of historic architecture alongside capitalistic concession stands, many run by women in areas where women were once forbidden. A "four-star" rated toilet facility, with notorious "squatter" toilets that are flush to the ground, had no toilet paper or soap.

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