Tourist resources in China can be divided into three main groups: natural sites, historical and cultural sites and folk customs.
Natural Sites -- China's mountains, lakes, valleys, caves and waterfalls
Mount Taishan in the east, Mount Hengshan in the south, Mount Huashan in the west, Mount Hengshan in the north, and Mount Songshan in the center of China have been called the Five Sacred Mountains since antiquity. Mount Taishan, which snakes through central Shandong Province, is admired by Chinese as paramount among them. Another mountain celebrated for its beauty is Mount Huangshan in southern Anhui Province, known for its graceful pines, unusual rocks, cloud seas and hot springs.
Jiuzhaigou, Huangguoshu Waterfalls, and Guilin are all located in southwestern China. Jiuzhaigou in northern Sichuan Province is a beautiful "fairyland valley" running over 40 km through snow-covered mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and forest. The Huangguoshu Waterfalls in Guizhou Province are a group of waterfalls, 18 above-ground and four below, which can be heard from five km away. The Lijiang River in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region winds its way through karst peaks for 82 km between Guilin and Yangshuo.
On the plateau in northern China are many spectacular lakes. The Tianchi (Heavenly Pool) in the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang Autonomous Region is 1,980 meters above sea level. This 105-m-deep lake is crystal clear, the high mountains surrounding it carpeted with green grass and colorful flowers.
Along the renowned Three Gorges of the Yangtze River are many scenic spots and historical sites; the Qutang Gorge is rugged and majestic, the Wuxia Gorge elegant, deep and secluded, the Xiling Gorge full of shoals and reefs and rolling water. The Lesser Three Gorges are lush with greenery, flanking water so clear you can see to the bottom. The Three Gorges Dam built here is China's biggest key hydro-power project.
Historical and Cultural Sites
China's long history has left many cultural relics and the title of "China Top Tourist City" has gone to the first group of 54 cities. The Great Wall, a symbol of the Chinese nation, is also a prime example of historical sites that have become major tourist attractions. As the greatest defense-structure project in the history of human civilization, it dates back more than 2,000 years ago to the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods - huge in its scale and grandeur, it rates as a world wonder. There are 10 sections of the Great Wall open to tourists, including the passes, blockhouses and beacon towers at Badaling in Beijing, Laolongtou in Hebei and Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu Province.
Grottoes filled with precious murals and sculptures are concentrated along the ancient Silk Road in Gansu Province. The best known are the Mogao Caves, a "treasure house of oriental art," with 492 caves with murals and statues on the cliff faces. There are 45,000 sq m of murals and over 2,100 colorful statues, all of high artistry and imagination. In the south, grotto art is represented in Sichuan Province by the Leshan Giant Buddha, carved into a cliff face. Seventy-one meters high and 28 meters wide, it is the largest sitting Buddha in stone, showing the superb carving skill of ancient craftsmen.
The Shaolin Temple in Henan Province, the birthplace of Chinese Zen Buddhism and famous for its Shaolin kungfu martial arts, dates back to 495 A. D. Here can be seen the Ming period Five-Hundred-Arhats Mural and Qing period Shaolin kungfu paintings. In central China's Hubei Province, beautiful Wudang Mountain, with 72 grotesque peaks in 30 sq km, is a sacred site of Taoism, which preserves China's most complete, largest-scale and best ancient Taoist architecture. In western Sichuan Province, Mount Emei, dotted with ancient Buddhist temples and structures, is one of China's four holy Buddhist mountains.
Most of China's 101 cities classified as famous historical and cultural cities are over 1,000 years old. South of the Yangtze River, Suzhou and Hangzhou, long known as "paradise on earth," are crisscrossed with rivers, lakes, bridges, fields and villages, as beautiful as paintings. Today's well-preserved ancient city of Pingyao in central Shanxi Province was built in the Ming Dynasty but was also the site of the Neolithic era Yangshao and Longshan cultures, 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Ancient Lijiang in Yunnan Province is not only the center of Dongba culture of the Naxi ethnic group but also a meeting place for the cultures of Han, Tibetan and Bai ethnicities. Built in the Song Dynasty, this city has many stone bridges, stone memorial arches and dwelling houses, which provide precious materials for architectural history and can be called a "living museum of ancient dwelling houses."
The diverse cultures and life-styles of China's 56 ethnic groups are reflected in their festivals. The biggest Tibetan festival -- Shoton (Yogurt) Festival -- is also the setting for the Tibetan Theatrical Festival, when for five days every summer Tibetan theatrical groups perform and compete in the summer palace of the Dalai Lamas. Another summer festival is the Nadam Fair in the Mongolian grasslands, where attractions include wrestling, horse racing and archery competitions.
"March Street" celebrated by the Bai people in Dali, Yunnan Province, is associated with the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy suppressing a devil to help the Bai people. It became traditional to burn incense and offer sacrifices to commemorate her virtues every year and the festival has become a major annual gathering for Bai commercial, cultural and sports activities.
The Water-Sprinkling Festival of the Dai ethnic group in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province, is a lively occasion taking place in the spring. People chase and pour water (a symbol of good luck and happiness) over each other, among other activities such as dragon boat racing and peacock dance.
Lugu Lake between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces has become a tourist destination following the building of a new highway giving access to this area. The matriarchal society of the 30,000 local Mosuo people is noted for its "no marriage" traditions and is called the last women's kingdom on the earth. Mosuo women, local dugout canoes and undulating singing style are considered unique to Lugu Lake.