Walking round Yangshou we are struck by something that we haven’t seen since entering China, a large number of western tourists. There are noticeably more of them than anywhere else we have visited so far, particularly as a percentage of the total population as this is a tiny 50,000 population town.
Also the level of construction here is markedly reduced, and even where it is taking place it is not the high rise tower blocks that have given rise to the joke that the national bird of China is the crane (over 2/3 of the worlds tall cranes are currently residing in China).
The main reason that people visit this area is for the spectacular scenery which shares many characteristics with that we have seen in Northern Vietnam is places such as Tam Coc and Halong Bay. If you climb one of the large limestone Karsts in the town, you see a very similar scene, but with ocean and agriculture replaced by suburban development as the town has grown around a number of the towering rock structures.
In order to see some of the more beautiful surroundings we hire bikes and head out in to the more rural areas and are struck by the agrarian nature of the people. With 1.6 billion mouths to feed China needs a lot of food and over 40% of the population work in agriculture, but it is the labour intensive nature that surprises us.
The UN development status of China is ‘developing’, and when you see hundreds of tiny family sized plots being farmed by hand or at best with the addition of a water buffalo you can see why. In stark contrast to the massive cities, huge civil engineering projects and thousands of cars, a day cycling through quiet farmland gives a totally different China experience.
Concerns about the environmental impact of China are loud enough as it is, but when they manage a full agricultural revolution and the workforce move from rural to urban environments to live and work the scale of the problem starts to become truly scary.
During our G-Adventures Essential China tour we have taken the optional ‘Cultural Pack’ consisting of 3 evening shows that help to show some of the cultural history of the country. We have already seen the impressive Kung-Fu show in Beijing and the Shanghai Circus (complete with 7 bikes at once in a wall of death ball!), and tonight we see the conclusion with the Yangshuo Light Show.
Directed by Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) it created mixed opinions from our group. We liked it, particularly the huge stage setting of a lake surrounded by illuminated Karst stacks, and whilst the story didn’t make much sense (similar to most Olympic opening ceremonies – the director also did the one for Beijing) simply seeing over 600 actors portray a choreographed routine is something spectacular.