China built its first civilizations at about the same time as the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, and for many centuries it distinguished itself as a leading civilization with technologies that the West could not achieve until much later. Both paper and gunpowder can be considered examples of the ancient Chinese discoveries that are still widely used today. China has been the dominant power in the region for much of its history and has exported much of its culture to neighboring Vietnam, Korea and Japan. Chinese influences can still be observed in the cultures of these countries today.
Chinese civilization has survived thousands of years of turbulent upheavals and revolutions, golden ages and periods of lawlessness alike. Thanks to the recent economic upswing triggered by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, China is once again one of the world’s leading nations, supported by its large, hard-working population and abundant natural resources. Over the past centuries, the profundity and complexity of Chinese civilization and its rich heritage has been fascinating Westerners like Marco Polo and Gottfried Leibniz, and continues to fascinate and amaze travelers today.
In Chinese, China is Zhong Guo, literally “central country”, but it is often translated as “middle kingdom”. People everywhere are wai Wai Guo Ren, “people from outside the country,” colloquially laowai, “old strangers,” where “old” means venerable or respected. Of course, the Chinese are by no means the only ones who do this. They look at the Mediterranean (the center of the earth), but it is a part of the Chinese worldview that visitors should take into account.
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