The dreaded entrance ticket 门票. The expensive surprise you get when you visit a remote village in China
Shitou Zhai 石头寨(visited in 2007)
the Dreaded Entrance Ticket or Ménpiào 门票 at Shitou Zhai 石头寨.
‘Menpiao, Menpiao, yinggai mai menpiao门票，门票应该买门票’ (buy an entrance ticket, you need to buy an entrance ticket). When someone from a hidden booth or shack shouts those dreaded words just as you enter what you think is an undiscovered bucolic paradise, you roll yours and ask yourself. “How much is this going to cost?”. In the case of Shitou Zhai; quite a lot.
The stone Bouyi (ethnic group) village of Shitou Zhai 石头寨 , not far from China’s largest waterfall at Huangguoshu黄果树 and easily accessible by public transport, is said to have been around for some 500 years, and judging by the condition of some of the houses it could well be true.
The Bouyi build stone houses that resemble dwellings in European medieval villages. Anyone who has visited the remoter parts of the Spanish provinces of Castilla and Leon, or Galicia, will recognise the style immediately.
The Dreaded Entrance Ticket
These days, visitors are met at the entrance by friendly young women, dressed in traditional clothes, who act as guides – included in the steep 40 Yuan ticket (the dreaded Menpiao: That unexpected expense when you arrive in a village in rural China) – and give you a reasonably interesting demonstration on batik making techniques, provided you can speak Chinese.
They then take you for a walk around the village. Some of the old stone houses are still quite impressive, but many are just ruinous shells with nobody living in them.
Producing Batik In Shitou Zhai
You might catch a glimpse of a few local Bouyi dressed in their dark-blue, dyed and embroidered clothes, but not many.
However, you will find plenty of opportunities to purchase batik products (蜡染 /Làrǎn) , your guide will be more than happy to point them out. While you are browsing, you may bump into wholesalers from Anshun 安顺 , many of whom buy their stock in Shitou Zhai.
It’s a good idea to check out Anshun 安顺 prices first (especially the shops lining Nanhua Lu, near the bus station, specialised in Bouyi batiks (蜡染 / Làrǎn and Miao clothes) and then buy here. Prices are very reasonable, as long as you bargain.
Stunning Coutryside Surrounding Shitou Zhai
If Shitou Zhai is a bit of a let down, the surrounding countryside is stunningly idyllic. Slow rivers and water canals meander through rice fields, buffalo and village children swim in inviting pools, and enchanting paths lead off to other stone villages (without ticket) and towards the beautiful karst mountains.
If you continued for another 3 km after Shitou Zhai, through the rice fields, you’d reach the river ( Baishui River (白水河 ) only a few kilometres before it cascades over the rocks and turns into Huangguoshu falls.
Getting there and away:
You should get on a Huangguoshu– bound bus from Anshun 安顺 and ask the driver to drop you at the turn-off for Shitou Zhai, from where it is a pleasant 2- kilometre walk, following a slow winding river (Baishui River 白水河 ) and grazing buffalos to the village.
Returning, there are many buses that pass through Shitou Zhai going to the town of Zhenning, from where buses depart every 10 minutes to Anshun 安顺 .
Not Much! There are (were) no restaurants, but there is a small village shop where you can buy drinks, snacks and sweets.
Tuesday, September 10, 2002, Bus ‘Mafan’, or bloody hassle!
It wasn’t as easy as we had thought. Having paid 200 yuan for the Gansu Travel Insurance, a worthless piece of paper that does nothing for the hapless traveller, but protects the bus company in case you are injured or killed on one of their buses, a possibility that cannot be excluded, given some of the driving and conditions on the roads, we expected to be sold a ticket and board the bus to Pingliang. Our final destination being the Taoist mountain of Kongtong Shan.
Adam had seen on the departures board that a bus was leaving at 11.20, so he strolled over to the window, insurance paper in hand, to purchase two tickets. To our amazement, he was told by the rude attendant that there were meiyou (no) buses to Pinglian, ever, and that we had to take the train. Disbelieving, we went outside, to the departures area where we identified the actual bus and checked with the driver and conductor, who both confirmed that this was indeed the bus to Pingliang and that it was leaving at 11.20, but that we had to buy a ticket at the ticket office.
Round two: we returned to the office, choosing a different window, and asked for 2 tickets again. The second attendant just waved her hand at us in a dismissive manner and said meiyou baoxian (no insurance). So that was the problem? Triumphantly, Adam pulled out the insurance paper and placed it in front of her. Without even looking at it she just repeated meiyou and turned to the customers behind us.
Though Adam insisted that our insurance was in order, she just blanked us, as if we didn’t exist. And here began one of those episodes that occasionally can drive China travellers to despair: we refused to budge, she refused to look at us, or our insurance. After a stand-off of 2 or 3 minutes, she pulled down the shutter and moved away. We tried two more ticket sellers, but met with the same response.
Eventually, we decided to just board the bus. We took two seats and waited. The conductor wanted to take us and was willing to purchase two tickets on our behalf. Unfortunately, an inspector prevented her from doing so. By now it was 11.20 and the driver was anxious to leave. However, knowing that we were in the right, we refused to get off. It was an uncomfortable situation for all, but we held our ground, locked in a ridiculous battle of wills.
As a last resort, Adam decided to appeal to the PSB, the security police. Leaving me on the bus, he went to the PSB desk inside the bus station. A friendly officer told him that he needed insurance to travel in Gansu province. Patiently, he again produced our insurance papers. Again, without looking at the papers, the officer told Adam to follow him to a travel agent’s next to the bus station. The agent pulled out some forms for us to fill in and said the insurance would cost 200 Yuan.
Totally exasperated Adam showed our papers again and, at long last, someone actually bothered to look at them! ‘But you already have travel insurance!’ the surprised travel agent exclaimed, comparing the two forms. Back to the station Adam went, victoriously, accompanied by the PSB officer. He marched up to the same ticket seller, who had previously spurned his insurance papers. This time she merely smiled sheepishly and quickly sold him two tickets. Then we were off!
Update: You can no longer stay actually on the lake as we did in 2002. You have to stay at a tourist camp a few kilometers away or in a nearby village. Lake Hanas has in recent years become a huge domestic tourist destination especially in summer.
Getting to Lake Kanas
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖. A slightly more ambitious expedition will take you from Ürümqi to Hanasi Hu, or Lake Hanas, in the Altai region, close to the borders with Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. In fact, the majority of the population in the region is Kazakh.
First, you need to take an overnight sleeper bus from Ürümqi’s main bus station to Bu’erjin, the capital of the region. Most probably, taxi drivers will be waiting for you at the bus station, to arrange further transport up to the lake, as there was no public transport at that time (2002).
We got together with two other travellers and hired a jeep for about Y400. Before setting off, our helpful driver first took us to the Public Security Bureau (PSB), as foreigners still need a special permit to visit the area. In spite of what the CITS (China International Travel Service) in Ürümqi had been trying to tell us, this was an extremely painless operation lasting no more than 10 minutes.
Lake Kanas: Need a permit
After this, the actual ride to Lake Hanas took another 3 to 4 hours, due to bad road conditions and large scale construction works, meant to improve them.
Arrival at Lake Hanas is at the tourist camp, or settlement, that has developed at the lake front. Accommodation here is quite basic and your best bet is probably a Kazak yurt.
In the evenings around the yurts there is singing, dancing, drinking and plenty of barbecued meat on sticks.
Anyway, apart from the lack of creature comforts, the lake – which is of an incredible turquoise blue – and its surroundings are stunning.
Lake Kanas / Ha na si hu 哈纳斯湖: Hiking
From the village, you can climb a peak near the lake, up to Guanyu Pavillion 观鱼亭 (2030m), from where there are spectacular views over the lake, the mountains, dark pine forests and grasslands。(There now appears to be a rather hastily built and untasteful new structure acting as a look out post). Pity! Sometimes beauty is in simplicity.
From the view point you can see the snow capped friendship Peak (Youyi Feng 友谊峰) in the distance. The part that rises up from Mongolian territory makes Friendship peak Mongolia’s hightest mountain. Just two and a half kilometers beyond Friendship Peak is another peak, Mount Kuitun ( 奎屯山; Kuítún shān), which marks the international boundary between China, Russia and Mongolia.
There are plenty of other easy day hikes that you can take through the grasslands, stopping off at some of the yurts that sell refreshments. Or, if you prefer, you can hire a horse for a day or half-day. The common sight of nomads herding flocks of sheep and Bactrian camels provides a genuine pastoral charm that’s difficult to replicate in the rest of China.
It is also possible to make excursions to other valleys and villages further afield, but you will have to hire a car and driver.
Additionally, you may need a permit for some of these places, so take this into account when applying in Bu’erjin. The scenery in the neighbouring valley of Hemu Hanas 和木, and around the stone village of Bai Kaba is said to be particularly stunning.
Back in 2002 the entrance ticket (men piao 门票) cost a steep 100 yuan and that was when one euro got you 10 yuan. Be assured that the entrance ticket costs a lot more now.
Eating and Sleeping
The settlement that has sprung up in the lake area is quite chaotic: it’s a mixture of yurts, tourist hotels, guest houses and cabins, spread around a couple of meadows and muddy lanes. (See above for more recent info).
In spite of the increasing influx of tourists, especially since the construction of a nearby landing strip for small planes, facilities for tourists have not really kept up.
The yurts and many of the guesthouses don’t have any toilet or washing facilities, and the whole village has one large block of (unlit) public toilets, extremely hard to find your way around in after dark, especially since there are no street lights either. (This has now changed)
When we got there, we were told that foreigners were not allowed to stay in yurts (officially) and that we had to find a place with permission to take foreign guests. However, all the decent-looking places were full and we had no other option, but to stay at the actual PSB- run guesthouse! (Nothing unusual about that; in China it is quite normal for members of the armed forces to be involved in business and other lucrative schemes).
There we paid around Y180 – after protracted haggling with a young soldier – for a bare room, no washing facilities except for a cold tap outside, and an outdoor latrine. We were however, right on the lake.
If you prefer a bit more comfort, your best bet is probably to visit either the CITS or a private travel agency in Ürümqi and book a hotel through them, though they will probably want to sell you a complete tour.
Transport: to get back to Ürümqi, you have to make arrangements with one of the jeeps or taxis (most of them have business cards and mobile phones these days) to pick you up in the morning and take you down to Bu’erjin in time for the sleeper bus. There are several, but most of them leave in the late afternoon.
Circuito：Jiangsu – Un viaje por la gastronomía y el buen gusto
4 Dias Tour: Suzhou – Nanjing – Yangzhou
Jiangsu, con su interesante historia de miles de años, una próspera economía y una cultura siempre pujante es una de las provincias más visitadas de China. En su terreno se encuentran tesoros como el Gran Canal, que atraviesa la provincia, bañando sus ciudades. Pero no todo es historia, la cultura y la gastronomía también son reseñables en esta gran provincia.
Día 1 Llegada a Suzhou
Llegada en tren de alta velocidad desde Shanghai, un recorrido de una hora.
Suzhou es la segunda ciudad más grande de Jiangsu y es conocida como la “Venecia del Este”.
En esta nueva ruta recomendamos la visita a uno de sus más hermosos jardines: el del Maestro de las Redes
Los jardines de Suzhou son conocidos en todo el mundo por su cuidado diseño que se basa en principios de jardinería establecidos hace más de 2000 años. El precioso jardín Maestro de Redes es uno de los ejemplos más destacados, tan peculiar el Museo Metropolitano de Nueva York lo tomó como ejemplo para reconstruir un patio tradicional chino en una de las salas de este Museo.
Tras la visita a este jardín, podremos conocer mejor la cultura china tras una visita al Museo Suzhou, donde lo primero que nos sorprenderá es el edificio que lo alberga, diseñado por el famoso arquitecto Bellevue, inspirado en la arquitectura tradicional china, con una ingeniosa estructura de vidrio y acero, que permite la entrada de luz natural.
En este Museo se encuentran obras de caligrafía tradicional, pintura, artesanía y reliquias budistas.
El Museo Suzhou fue diseñado por el mundialmente famoso Bellevue (diseñó la famosa pirámide de cristal a la entrada del Louvre en Francia).
No podemos visitar Suzhou sin hacer una visita al Museo de la Seda de Suzhou. Desde hace más de 2000 años, se vienen haciendo bordados inspirados en la rica naturaleza de la provincia, con hermosos matices de color gracias a la refinada técnica de tratamiento de la seda. En este Museo podemos disfrutar de gran cantidad de obras, se conservan bordados de la dinastía Qing, época cuando este arte tuvo su apogeo
Día 2 Suzhou – Nanjing
Suzhou – Nanjing en el tren con alta velocidad (se tarda 1,5 horas)
Nanjing es una encrucijada de historia y cultura. En esta ciudad que fue la capital de las Seis Dinastías, encontramos restos de la Dinastía Ming (1368-1644) y de la época de la República de China (1911-1949).
En Nanjing recomendamos una visita a las antiguas murallas de la Dinastía Ming, cuyas ruinas son de las mejor conservadas en todo el mundo, con una extensión de casi 25 kilómetros. Además de su estado de conservación, esta muralla es interesante por el innovador método de construcción, que a diferencia de otras, se adapta al cambiante paisaje de la zona.
Otro importante Museo al que merece la pena dedicar una visita es el Museo Yunjin que alberga importantes restos del patrimonio cultural china.
El Palacio Presidencial fue construido como residencia real en la dinastía Ming (de 1368 a 1644) y hoy en día es el Museo de la Historia de China. La ciudad de Nanjing ha sido el epicentro histórico de China en muchas épocas y en este Museo se pueden conocer muchos de los hitos de la historia del país.
A lo largo de los años este Palacio ha sido la sede de numerosos gobernantes, hasta los años 90 del pasado siglo cuando se transformó en el Museo de Historia Moderna de China.
Nanjing también puede presumir de ser la cuna de otra técnica artística, el conocido como Yunjin, un tipo de tejido de brocado, hecho en seda, con un estampado de nubes que es uno de los símbolos de China. Este tipo de tejidos fue desarrollado por los tejedores de la ciudad, durante la Dinastía Ming, con una técnica que permitía realizar complicados diseños en tejidos delicadísimos. Encontramos en Nanjing el único Museo del mundo dedicado al brocado, el Nanjing Yunjin Museo.
Y además de sus museos y palacios, paseando por sus calles el viajero descubre la belleza de sus paisajes, disfrutando en infinidad de establecimientos de la variedad de su gastronomía que tiene fama en toda China.
Día 3 Nanjing – Yangzhou
Por la mañana, Visitamos la montaña Niushoushan, un recinto de templos budistas, que se ha diseñado para que la llegada de visitantes altere mínimamente la vida de la Montaña.
Tendremos ocasión de recorrer diferentes monumentos que albergan reliquias budistas y contemplar de primera mano las principales costumbres de esta religión
Traslado a Yangzhou en bus. (duración del viaje: 1,5 horas).
Desde que Marco Polo pasó por Yangzhou en el siglo XIII, la ciudad ha sido relacionada en los libros de viaje y guías turísticas como el paraíso de los comerciantes. La ciudad presume de tener el mejor Lago del Oeste y los jardines de las villas privadas rivalizan con los de la vecina Suzhou.
Ha sido siempre una ciudad próspera, pero entre los siglos XVI y XVIII vivió el máximo esplendor cultural y artístico.
¿qué haremos el primer día?
Llegada a Yangzhou, visita al Jardín He, al Jardín Ge y el Bulevar.
Por la noche, disfrutaremos de la gastronomía de Yangzhou.
Lo primero que vemos al entrar en el jardín Geyuan es el protagonismo del bambú, con una gran variedad de plantas que recrean los diferentes paisajes y estaciones en un único lugar. La belleza de sus edificaciones y la constante presencia del agua hacen que este jardín sea reconocido como uno de los más bellos del mundo.
El jardín He yuan era el jardín privado de un ministro consejero de la dinastía Qing que vivió en Francia, hecho que se refleja en algunas de las características del jardín que mezcla estilos occidentales y orientales.
El Gran Canal confirió una gran prosperidad a esta ciudad, en la que en algún tiempo vivieron algunas de las personas más ricas de China. Podemos ver su influencia en el Bulevar Dongguan que fue el epicentro de la artesanía y el comercio y todavía mantiene la pujanza de su actividad comercial
La gastronomía de Yangzhou:
Esta ciudad fue reconocida como uno de los puntos de mayor interés gastronómico. El viajero que busca conocer la gastronomía puede encontrar aquí restaurantes de todo tipo: desde tabernas o restaurantes callejeros a establecimientos de 5 tenedores. La característica principal de esta cocina es el respeto por el producto, y gracias a la variedad y abundancia de ingredientes, los chefs de Yangzhou pueden elaborar una gran cantidad de platos diferentes.
Día 4 Yangzhou – Fin
Auténtico desayuno local en un restaurante
Visita en barco al templo del oeste y visita el templo Damin y al Museo de la Imprenta sobre bloques de madera de Yangzhou.
Por la tarde, vuelta a Shanghai o a Beijing en tren de alta velocidad.
Desayuno típico de Yangzhou
El desayuno de Yangzhou incluye una gran variedad de platos, muchos de los cuales son bollitos o dimsum rellenos de sabores
El Lago Esbelto de Oeste, representante de los jardines chinos en el lago, tiene el puente más hermoso de China: Puente Wuting.
No es posible una visita a China sin ver el famoso Lago Esbelto del Oeste, que rodeado de hermosa vegetación es la joya de la ciudad.
Yangzhou es el lugar de nacimiento de la impresión en grabado chino, que se produjo al menos 400 años antes que en Europa
Fue a finales del siglo XIV cuando la tecnología china de grabado e impresión se extendió a Europa a través de la Ruta de la Seda, y las primeras impresiones en madera nacieron en Europa.
Un viaje a China debe incluir una recorrido por la provincia de Jiangsu, visitando sus ciudades principales y grandes enclaves. Aquí te ofrecemos una.
Día 1 Suzhou
La antigua ciudad de Suzhou, situada a menos de una hora de Shanghai es conocida popularmente “la Venecia de Oriente” debido a que está salpicada de lagos, y canales que recorren la ciudad, constituyendo un entramado de callejuelas que pueden recorrerse a pie, en bicicleta o en barco. También existe una eficaz red de bicitaxis.
Recorriendo esta ciudad que tiene una historia de más de 2000 años, puedes tener una visión de la evolución del tiempo paseando por sus viejas calles, visitando algunos de los 65 jardines de las grandes villas que se encuentran en su casco antiguo, pasear por Ping Jiang Road, donde se conservan las antiguas casas de ricos comerciantes, para terminar con la visión de los grandes edificios modernos, ya que Suzhou ha experimentado una modernización acelerada y frente a los viejos canales se divisan los enormes rascacielos.
Te recomendamos visitar el conocido “Jardín del humilde administrador”, el mayor jardín de la ciudad, que se puede recorrer también en barco. Déjate impresionar por las intrincadas tallas en raíces de árboles y la amplia colección de bonsáis. Este junto con otros jardines se integran en los Jardines Clásicos de Suzhou, declarados Patrimonio de la Humanidad por la UNESCO. La ciudad también está salpicada de templos de tipo pagoda, como el templo Montaña Fría, la torre Huqiu y el templo del Misterio, envuelto en una niebla de humo de incienso.
Para completar tu viaje, visita el Museo de Suzhou. Situado en un innovador edificio del conocido I. M. Pei y con una pequeña pero impresionante colección de arte. El famoso arquitecto se inspiró en un patio y jardín tradicionales, para crear este Museo que alberga una interesante colección de arte y artesanía chinas. El museo consta de tres pisos y cuatro salas de exposiciones, y los edificios principales están rodeados de magníficos patios. Encontrarás cerámica prehistórica, vasijas de jade y bronce, reliquias de la pagoda Wu, la exposición Siete obras pictóricas en tinta sobre. Habitualmente también hay exposiciones temporales.
Disfrutar de grandes paisajes en Wuxi
Tras un tranquilo día en Suzhou nos desplazamos a la cercana ciudad de Wuxi para disfrutar de sus bellos paisajes y entornos naturales. Esta ciudad que se fundó en torno al Lago Taihu que la divide en dos, nos ofrece el contraste con el entorno urbano de la vecina Suzhou. Durante el día de visita podremos dedicar la jornada a visitar el Lago Taihu, cuyas tranquilas aguas ofrecen múltiples lugares de interés para los visitantes, como la isla de la cabeza de tortuga (Yuantou Zhu), la isla de las divinidades (Taihu Xiandao) y la noria gigante que con un altura de 115 metros y tarda 18 minutos en completar una vuelta entera. Subir a la noria nos permite tener una perspectiva única del paisaje que nos rodea.
En la ciudad, desplazándonos fácilmente en metro, podremos visitar la zona antigua, donde en callejuelas con edificios antiguos, canales, templos budistas y pagodas. También podemos visitar el modernísimo Centro de Alta Tecnología de Wuxi,
Además en Wuxi tendremos ocasión de visitar el Gran Buda de Ling Shan, una zona monumental que se encuentra a una hora y media por carretera de la ciudad. En el parque se encuentra la estatua de Buda, además de otros monumentos; el Buda data de 1996 y es la novena estatua más grande del mundo. Acercarnos a este enclave tendremos ocasión de contemplar los preciosos paisajes que rodean la zona.
Día 3 – día 4
Los tesoros imperiales y modernos de Nanjing
En esta antigua ciudad imperial que se encuentra a las orillas del legendario río Yangtze nos esperan impresionantes tesoros culturales, tanto históricos como contemporáneos. Fue la capital imperial de la dinastía Ming, hace 5 siglos, una época asociada con gran estabilidad y bonanza cultural. Hoy en día la Universidad de la ciudad atrae a numerosos estudiantes. La capital de Jiangsu es una ciudad bulliciosa, próspera con una fabulosa oferta para los visitantes.
La historia de Nanjing, que fue la sede del gobierno imperial te cautivará, pero la vida bulliciosa, el auge del comercio y la educación la convierten en una de los principales destinos turísticos de China. Los desplazamientos por la ciudad son fáciles: metro, taxi, autobuses recorren sus calles y nos llevan fácilmente a todos los destinos.
Una de las visitas más interesantes es el parque de Wuchaomen donde se encuentra el antiguo Palacio Ming y los restos de la muralla, en cuya construcción, que se prolongó 21 años, trabajaron 200 000 obreros. También es visita obligada el mausoleo de Ming Xiaoling, un sorprendente conjunto monumental en la montaña de Zhongshan, donde también puedes visitar el mausoleo de Sun Yat-sen. Para completar las visitas culturales, te proponemos el Museo de Nanjing.
En Nanjing también podrías visitar Templo de Confucio, que se construyó para honrar al filósofo pero también era la sede donde los estudiantes imperiales permanecían encerrados en celdas individuales para realizar los difíciles exámenes funcionariales. El templo original se construyó en el siglo XI, durante la dinastía Song y a lo largo de la historia se ha reconstruido varias veces, la última de ellas, en 1984.
El Templo de Confucio es especialmente bello por la noche, gracias a la iluminación y la mejor vista es la que se obtiene desde el agua. Después de explorar los edificios del templo, da un paseo en barca por el río Qinhuai. Desde allí podrás ver la larga muralla protectora de 110 metros, la mayor de su estilo en China, cubierta con inmensos dragones dorados.
En Nanjing, como en toda la provincia de Jiangsu no podían faltar las atracciones acuáticas: El parque Histórico del lago Xuan Wu con sus bellas y cuidadas islas, los templos, el museo de bonsáis, zonas arboladas salpicadas de recogidos pabellones y pagodas, merece una visita calmada, paseando para recorrer los puentes y visitar las 5 islas. Si te apetece integrarte aún más, alquila uno de los botes para recorrerlo desde el agua.
Como todas las ciudades chinas, Nanjing te ofrece el intenso contraste entre sus zonas históricas con siglos de antigüedad y los modernos barrios industriales donde se agrupan los rascacielos, grandes puentes y modernas zonas comerciales.
Friday, September 7th 2001 / Nanjing- via Suzhou to ZhouZhuang (Zhejiang Province)
As planned, we take a taxi straight to the Bank of China- with our luggage. The driver is a bit worried as he can’t seem to understand where we’re going. In the end, it turns out to be a matter of a different tone …… The Bank is air-con, modern and efficient, the clerk speaks English – it’s straight in and out! Another taxi to the train station with a nice chatty driver, who spent a mere 16 years (!) in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution and thinks some of the changes in China these days are too fast.
However, as we pass a small park where people are practising ballroom dancing in the open air, it is clear that some things haven’t changed at all... Across from the train station there is an enormous lake where you can take out different kinds of boats, including mini-mushroom lookalikes and fake submarines. There is a terrific view of the modern Nanjing skyline. On the traditional side again, breakfast of lots of cold veggies and rice in a Chinese style self-service by the station. There, our luggage is X-rayed as usual, we’re lined up between the gates and marched row after row to the train. Our seats are padded with blue cushions, there are small tables in between and it’s air-con and strictly non-smoking.
Adam immediately strikes up a conversation with two nice ladies from Wuhan ( and their travelling companion). One of them turns out to be a party cadre in a department related to Chinese commerce. They ask him a lot of questions about life in Europe, including the inevitable ‘how much do you earn?’ and a lot about our non-existing haizi’ (or children).
Two and a half hours take us to Suzhou, we only walk from the train station to the bus station, where we are immediately whisked off on the 14.15 bus. There are computers, waiting rooms and gates here too, but the bus is a piece of shit, with those foldable plastic seats in the middle of the aisle. Fortunately only one puking lady who already had her bag prepared.
It takes another hour and a half to cover the 40 kms to Zhouzhuang. Getting out of Suzhou takes ages; what we can see is all modernised, no charm left (NOTE: we actually revisited Suzhou again in 2005 and managed to find a few nice areas still holding out). Once we’re out in the country there’s more life on the lakes and canals and everything is very green. According to Adam, it looks like Holland, but without the cows.
The bus station in Zhouzhuang is not where it is supposed to be and we are assaulted by a barrage of hotel women and cycle rickshaws. One obnoxious one keeps following us until I turn on him and send him packing. I’m quite proud of that, Adam, using his Chinese, is obviously too polite.
In the old town, a woman who wants us to stay at her family house leeches on to us, but I’m still determined to find ‘my hotel’. She keeps tagging along, confusing us and making us lose our way. We seem trapped in a maze of tourist shops and can only vaguely appreciate that the place must be pretty.
Adam Mayo China and International Politics 15/12/1999
Was an alliance between the PRC and The Soviet Union inevitable?
This paper will argue that the Sino-Soviet alliance was inevitable. Following the overthrow of the nationalist regime in 1949 Mao Tze-tung (Mao) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wanted and sought an alliance with the Soviet Union. There were ideological, strategic, economic and personal reasons why Mao leaned towards the Soviet Union.
Recent evidence points to the fact that there was never a possibility that Mao would lean in any other direction and especially not to the American camp. However, an overview of the historical relationship between the Soviet Union and the CCP reveals that there were a number of underlying tensions between the two sides that might have suggested an alliance was far from inevitable and may have been a surprise. It may also be argued, that the alliance was achieved by papering over the cracks in Sino-Soviet relations. Therefore this paper will be divided into two parts. The first part starts with an historical analysis of the tumultuous relationship between the future allies up until the end of the war with Japan. Two important theories will be debated. Firstly, was Mao trying to keep the CCP from Moscow’s dominance? Secondly, how antagonistic were relations between the Mao and Stalin? The second part will analyse how Marxist ideology was always going to drive the CCP into the Soviet Camp and why it was inevitable that relations between the CCP and America would become estranged in a new world order where neutrality was impossible.
PRC and The Soviet Union: The First United Front and the Jianxi Soviet
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the Soviet Union attempted to subordinate the CCP to the control of the Communist International, the Comintern. In turn, the Comintern became a tool with which Stalin enforced the internationalist line laid down by Moscow. A major element of the internationalist policy was to follow Lenin’s theory that fledgling Communist movements in colonial or semi-colonial countries had to form a united front with national liberation movements despite their bourgeois character. The aim was that the communists would then seize control of the nationalist movements from within. In the case of China this meant the Comintern bringing the CCP into an alliance with the Kuomingdung (KMT).
The First United Front ended in a total disaster, and almost led to the annihilation of the CCP. A mixture of Chiang Kai Shek’s refusal to play by the Comintern rules, and the Comintern tactics based on Stalin’s misinterpretations of events played a major part in the debacle. However, Stalin managed to make the CCP leader Chen Tu-hsiu a scapegoat for the failure of his own Policies. Interestingly, Chen had been sceptical of the alliance.
Having been forced to retreat into China’s remote hinterland, Mao began his experiment with rural soviets. By 1931 a large part of the CCP, including the Red Army was outside of Moscow’s control, and Mao was only paying lip service to orders from the underground and ineffectual Moscow backed Party Central Committee in Shanghai. During the Jianxi Soviet period, Mao was able to put into practice both his ideas on peasant mobilization, land reform, and guerrilla tactics. However, when the situation in Shanghai became untenable, the entire leadership of the CCP moved on mass to the Jianxi Soviet.
Moscow sent twenty-eight trained Chinese cadres under the leadership of Wang Ming to regain control of the party apparatus and contest Mao’s position (Dittmer, 1992, p. 4). With the arrival of the Twenty-eight Bolsheviks, Mao’s ranking in the party hierarchy appears to have been seriously undermined, especially during the later Jianxi period. While at the same time his rural experiment became the subject of leftist excesses. In addition, the Comitern military advisors also reversed Mao’s previously successful guerrilla tactics for more conventional military tactics. The result was the destruction of the Jiangxi Soviet and the start of the Long March.
The Impact upon Mao and the CCP of the continued failure of Moscow inspired internationalist interventions between 1927 and 1935 cannot be underestimated. At the same time Mao had radically turned Marxist-Leninism on its head. The peasants and not the industrial proletariat had become the vanguard of the revolution. Mao had Sinicized Marxism and made it “…specific to Chinese characteristics :”( Dittmer, 1992, p.4). Furthermore, among Mao and his followers in the CCP, a determination sprung up not to allow the party to become subjected to complete Soviet domination (Ibid).
PRC and The Soviet Union: Mao’s leadership and the Second United Front
The following period covers the Second United Front and the war against Japan. The key issues during this phase were over Mao’s leadership that he won during the Long March, Mao’s continuing battle with the internationalists in the CCP, the policy of the Second United Front, and whether Mao was strictly obeying Stalin’s orders or trying to loosen Moscow’s hold on the CCP. Two different interpretations of events will be analysed. The events surrounding Mao’s rise to power in the CCP during the Long March and the subsequent Moscow instigated Second United Front with the KMT have become subject to much debate in recent years as new information has come to light. Much of this information has direct bearing on how Soviet Union and CCP developed between 1935 and 1949.
Micheal Sheng has argued that Mao not only received full support from the Comintern during the leftist deviation period at Jiangxi but also during the period when Wang Ming and the internationalists were launching full speed into the Moscow backed United Front with the KMT. Sheng also tries to dispel the myth that Mao rose to power without Soviet endorsement by arguing that Mao didn’t take advantage of the break in radio contact with Moscow at the Lunyi Conference in order to assume control of the Party by Stealth. Sheng suggests that as soon as it was possible, Mao endeavoured to restore radio links to convey to Stalin the new situation (Sheng, 1992, p.151-153).
John Garver does not support the above view of events. First of all, Garver argues, that Mao won the leadership of the CCP if not in the face of Comintern opposition, he at least won it without Comintern support (Garver,1988, p.10-13). Garver suggests that Mao did indeed take advantage of the break in radio contact with Moscow to take control of the party. After all, Mao had been removed from his position as a top-level leader of the party in 1934 just prior to the Long March (Garver,1988, p.13) and could have expected Soviet opposition to his rise.
There is further disagreement between Sheng and Garver over the degree of discrepancies between the CCP and Moscow on the issue of the Second United Front. According to Garver, Mao was far more opposed to an alliance with Chiang Kai Shek than the Comintern and wanted to continue the armed struggle against the KMT (Garver, 1988, p.171). In addition, Garver argues, that the Soviet Union feared that the CCP might provoke Japan as well as undermining Soviet–KMT diplomacy. Sheng’s point is that Mao’s central concern was the armed struggle but he tried to combine it with the United Front, Sheng claims that some of the internationalists in the CCP harboured even deeper anti-Chiang sentiments than Mao. It was Mao after all who carried out Stalin’s instructions (Sheng, 1992, p.150/159/165). What does become clear is that the Soviet Union had to reign in the CCP in order to cement the anti-Japanese alliance; the Xian incident is a prime example. Stalin’s reasons for forming an anti-Japanese alliance with the KMT did make strategic sense, given the military weakness and geographical isolation of the CCP in 1935/36. It would also not be the last time that the Soviet Union would put its own interests ahead of those of the CCP.
During the anti-Japanese struggle Mao again had to battle with the internationalists in the CCP, According to Garver, Mao feared that the internationalists wished to once again subordinate the CCP to complete Moscow control (Garver, 1988, p.276). Garver argues that the German invasion of the Soviet Union gave Mao the room he needed to loosen the shackles of Soviet domination over the CCP. Just as he had done at Zunyi, Mao took advantage of the changed situation and Moscow’s distractions. The fact that the Rectification Campaign of 1942 (Zheng Feng) was launched during this period lends credence to Garver’s argument. Mao purged many of his opponents during this campaign and gained a free reign again in the CCP while weakening the position of the internationalists (Garver, 1988, p. 274).
Garver has again challenged Sheng on a number of points over the CCP-Moscow relationship during the Second United Front. Garver admits that Mao never sought to openly reject the Comintern, neither was he antagonistic or confrontational towards it. Mao was too aware of the need not to alienate the Soviet Union. First of all because he needed their aid, no matter how little it was. Secondly, Garver claims Mao saw a time when the Soviet Union would be an ally helping to liberate China. However, Graver also adds that Mao interpreted Moscow’s directives as he saw fit, believing that Moscow was out of touch with Chinese realities (Garver, 1992, p.177). Mao’s aim was the expansion of revolutionary power and past experience had taught him that Moscow’s lack of understanding of the situation on the ground in China could result in disaster. On this evidence it would appear that Mao was a “master of deception” (Garver,1988, p.274) by giving a public image of loyalty to Moscow on the one hand, and defying comintern directives on the other hand. Garver’s overriding point is that Mao was both a revolutionary and an ardent Chinese nationalist. Stalin believed Mao could become a loyal internationalist and what Stalin didn’t know was that Mao would “…ultimately emancipate the CCP from Moscow’s Control”(Garver, 1992, p.173).
Sheng argues, that Garver is wrong to put Mao in the Category of a dissident Communist, who defied Stalin and defeated the Internationalists led by Wang Ming, while conducting the diplomacy of Chinese nationalism with Moscow. Firstly, Sheng claims that Mao was sensitive to rather than confrontational with Moscow. Their differences were of “emphasis rather than substance” (Sheng, 1992, p.150). He also suggests that the relations between Stalin and Mao were harmonious and that Mao was responsive and amiable towards Stalin’s advice (Sheng, 1992, p.181). Sheng’s point here is that Stalin’s role in the development of the CCP wartime strategy was important and constructive and Mao was generally obedient to Moscow’s directives.
PRC and The Soviet Union: Conclusion Part 1
Two major issues arose from the first period of contact between the CCP and the Soviet Union. Firstly, there was the attempt by Mao and his supporters in the CCP to maintain a degree of independence from Moscow. Secondly, there was the need to adhere to the discipline of the international socialist line. The early disasters of the CCP under the guidance of the Comintern made Mao and other members of the CCP suspicious of Moscow’s ability to understand Chinese realities. Garver is right to point out that Mao wanted to keep the CCP free from Moscow’s domination. A large part of that struggle appears to have been waged against those, who, like Wang Ming and the internationalists were contending for power in the CCP. However, Garver over emphasises the animosity between Mao and Stalin, in fact Mao derived a lot of his legitimacy from Stalin, and Sheng is right to suggest that many of their differences were of emphasis rather than substance. Part two will analyse how these two contending Strands developed as result of the changed international environment in the aftermath of the Second World War.
PRC and The Soviet Union: The New World Order
The end of the war in Europe and with Japan in Asia ushered in a new era in world politics. The two wartime allies, the United States and the Soviet Union, had become the dominant contending powers in a bipolar conflict that saw them bitterly divided by ideology and strategic concerns. It was world in which other nations had to choose between one side and the other. Zhdanov’s speech at Wiliza Gora in 1947 set the tone for international relations in the Cold War era by dividing the world into two camps. There was the “imperialist and antidemocratic” camp, headed by the United States and the capitalist world, and there was the “democratic and anti-imperialist” camp which was led by the Soviet Union, and included the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, and colonies well on there way to independence (McLane, 1966, p.353).
Stalin’s oriental specialist Zhukov applied Zhdanov’s thesis to the East. Firstly, he emphasised that the Soviet Union was in the same camp as the national liberation movements. Secondly, and crucially, on the issue of neutrality, Zhukov claimed it was only possible to be in support of the Soviet Union’s position, or to be against it (McLane, 1966, p.353-355). The following part of the Paper will argue that the CCP never doubted which side it would take and neutrality or even leaning towards the American camp was never an option.
There was speculation that in the aftermath of the Sino-Soviet alliance that events could have turned out different. In some quarters in the United States it was argued that there had been a ‘lost Chance’ with China. The argument ran that in 1945 there was a ‘window of opportunity’ for dialogue with Mao and if US policy had been more flexible and neutral it was possible that Mao could have been won over. In addition, the Americans also appear to have held out hope that Mao was more of a nationalist than a full blooded communist and that even if the CCP did come to power, China would be like an Asian Yugoslavia and keep out of Moscow’s umbrella ( Gaddis,19997, p.61/62). However, recent evidence doesn’t appear to support either of those theories.
Arguing that the “lost chance” theory was in fact a delusion, Sheng points out, that the direction in which the CCP would lean was clear even before 1945. Mao saw himself as a Marxist, and ideological ties between the CCP and Moscow predetermined the CCP’s decision to move towards the Soviet Union (Sheng,1993, p.136). In addition, Gaddis claims that the relationship between Mao and Stalin was of a fan to a superstar, with Mao being eager to receive Stalin’s recognition (Gaddis, 1997, p.66). This was in spite of all the past problems that had resulted from Stalin’s bad advise and meddling in CCP affairs. Drawing from such conclusions it becomes clear that the American experts on the ground in China appear to have been sold a false impression of the ideological disposition of the CCP.
The CCP and the United States 1945-1950
An important part of the US-CCP relationship revolved around how the CCP interpreted the war time alliance in the Anti-Japanese Struggle and what would happen when the Japanese were defeated. Mao always knew that when push came to shove the US, despite what ever differences it may have had with Chiang Kai Shek, would always come down on his Chiang’s and oppose the CCP (Sheng, (1993, p137). Events seem to have proved Mao right. The US broke assurances that they had given Mao over US neutrality in the civil war by air lifting thousands of nationalist troops to the north to head off the communist attempt to seize Manchuria. This experience left Mao feeling betrayed, and according to Gaddis, Mao swore he would not be cheated again.
However, Deception was not always one way traffic. The CCP’s wartime policy was one of extreme expediency. The false impression the US derived from the communists largely comes from the success of CCP expediency. It was a policy in which diplomacy with the US mirrored the formation of a United Front with the KMT. Both were tactical short-term objectives that subordinated the revolutionary struggle until it was time to renew it again (Sheng, 1993, p.136). As Sheng points out, for Mao “…anti-imperialism was an extension of the class struggle paradigm” (Ibid). The principal objective of the CCP was to win over the American officials and citizens at Yenan by trying to convince them that the CCP was not a Communist party in the same mould as the Russian equivalent. New Democracy, not Communism was emphasised, and formal ties between Moscow and Yenan were denied. It was hoped that the US would become convinced that the CCP wanted good relations and that they were a party of moderates and not communists at all. The goal of this policy was for liberal opinion in the US to put pressure on the US government in order to persuade the KMT to stop its attacks on the CCP (Shum, 1988, p.226-227). There were too many hawks in the Truman administration to buy the whole CCP yarn. However, confusion in American assessments of the CCP in the ensuing years, certainly seems to have been influenced by the image that the CCP was able portray. US policy does not seem to have predicted that the CCP would lean towards Moscow.
Once ties between the US and the CCP had begun to deteriorate Mao became convinced from 1946 onwards that the US would openly intervene in China’s civil war on the side of the KTM. Mao mistakenly thought China was the centre of the US theatre of operations. According to Gaddis nothing could have been further from the truth, but Mao could never have understood that China was on the periphery of US foreign policy priorities. Mao continued to perceive that the US would intervene in China, directly or through its ally Japan, even after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This mistaken assumption hastened the strategic reasons for concluding an alliance with the Soviet Union.
The CCP and the Soviet Union 1945-1950
During the civil war the CCP’s relations with Moscow were somewhat strained by continued Soviet recognition of Chiang Kai shek’s regime. Stalin had believed that following the defeat of Japan, the KMT would re-instate its authority over China. Elleman suggests that Stalin’s policy was even more cynical than first thought and that the Soviet Union resorted to playing off the KMT and the CCP against each other in order to gain territorial concessions. Stalin wanted to separate Outer Mongolia from China, and in order to do so he promised Chiang Kai Shek that if he signed away Chinese Suzerainty over Outer Mongolia, the Soviet Union wouldn’t help the communists. As soon as the nationalist regime acquiesced in January 1946, the Soviet Union turned its support to Mao (Elleman, 1997, p.245-247). Elleman has argued, that the Soviet Union, through secret protocol, conducted an imperialist policy in China on a scale almost equal to that of the Japanese and the Tsarist regime before it (Elleman, 1997, p.247/285). The USSR took control of 600,000 square miles of Chinese territory and Elleman points out, that only after coming to power did Mao realise the extent of Soviet imperialism (Ibid, p.247).
Certainly some of Stalin’s actions during this period must have sent mixed signals to the CCP. First of all, after Soviet forces liberated Manchuria from the Japanese, they handed over surrendered Japanese weapons to the communists, and then proceeded to strip Manchuria of its entire industrial base and cart it back to the Soviet Union.
Secondly, Stalin was surprised by the swiftness of the communist successes on the battlefield in 1949 and feared that the Chinese civil war would “…overturn the spheres of influence arrangement set up at Yalta and lead to a United States intervention in China” (Garver, 1990, p.303). The spectre of a conflict with the US in China for which the Soviet Union was not prepared, led Stalin to warn Mao against driving south of the Yangtse (Gaddis, 1997, p.65). Stalin tried to manipulate Mao’s fears of US intervention. Advise that Mao ignored. Again the Soviet Union’s national interests took priority over those of the Chinese communists. Zhou En-lai even feared that China might be partitioned into North and South like Korea (Garver,1990, p.303).
Despite so much Soviet duplicity and CCP misgivings over Soviet strategy, the CCP continued to adhere to the “…discipline of international democratic centralism,” (Dittmer, 1991, p.210). Neutrality was never really an option for the PRC. The perceived threat from the US and the need for China to rebuild its economy meant it had to lean towards the Soviet Union. Mao saw in the Soviet economic model, the opportunity to use the same techniques to transform China. Undoubtedly this would involve a transfer of technology and expertise. The fact that contemporary economic growth was superior in the Communist counties in Eastern Europe than in their Western counterparts may also have been influential in convincing Mao that socialist economic development was the right route to take.
The speed with which the PRC and the Soviet Union entered into negotiations in the aftermath of the communists’ victory is evidence that an alliance was being sought. The attitude of the Chinese Communists is clear from the statements made in 1949 when Mao announced that he was going to join the Soviet camp. This position was re-enforced by Deng Xiao Peng’s comments, explaining that it was better to join an alliance voluntarily, and on their own initiative rather than be forced into one in the future (Gaddis, 1997, p.65/66). The Soviet Union was initially cautious to the PRC overtures; after all they did not control the Chinese Communists as they did the communist parties in Eastern Europe, but then welcomed the PRC into their camp. As Gaddis points out world communism would be stronger with the inclusion of the PRC and it would seem that that the inherent dangers in such a treaty would outweigh the alternatives (Ibid, p.69).
The Sino-Soviet alliance was inevitable. On the one hand Marxist ideology ensured that Mao wanted to be in the Soviet camp, and on the other, the Cold war balance of power realities meant both countries realised the advantages of facing the perceived if not real US threat together. However, it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that this was unnatural alliance. So many underlying tensions had been covered up under the discipline of Marxist rhetoric and socialist solidarity, the issue of Outer Mongolia was never mentioned in the 1950 friendship treaty (Elleman,1997, p.245). After Stalin’s death, relations between the two communist giants fell apart.
The bitter experiences and double standards that the CCP and China as a whole had had to suffer at the hands of the Soviet Union during the inter-war years, and the revolutionary struggle exploded into a diatribe of bitter recriminations. As Adam Ulam pointed out, “The Chinese pitilessly dissect the selfish and nationalist motivations hidden beneath the Soviets language of international solidarity and devotion to the Soviet camp” (Ulam, 1976, p.681). The Sino-Soviet alliance was inevitable; its break up may have been equally inevitable.
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