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Rich history, traditions beckon visitors from US

By MINGMEI LI in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-29 23:49
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Manos Angelakis displays a shadow puppet, an intangible cultural heritage of Shaanxi province, at a Shaanxi cultural and tourism promotion event on Tuesday in New York. JIANG LAI / CHINA DAILY

China is extending a warm invitation to travelers from the United States by increasing the frequency of flights between the two countries, easing the visa application process and relaxing entry restrictions.

China's provincial travel and tourism departments are highlighting destinations beyond the tourist magnets such as Beijing and Shanghai. They are introducing US travelers to less-explored cities with rich historical heritages and diverse cultural traditions.

The US also remains a favored destination for Chinese travelers. Both countries are actively working to take their respective travel markets to pre-pandemic levels, enticing international travelers with deeper tourism and cultural exchanges. In this regard, China is set to work with the US Commerce Department to resume the China-US Tourism Leadership Summit in May in Xi'an.

Xi'an, the capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, hosted a presentation in New York on Tuesday night to showcase the city, close on the heels of a recent visit by a Zhejiang province cultural delegation to New York in early February.

Xi'an, which served as the imperial capital for 14 ancient dynasties, marked the starting point of the Silk Road and is considered one of the origins of Chinese civilization.

There's a common joke in China about the problems of Xi'an — it's difficult to build a subway system, because wherever you dig, you run into an undiscovered terrace, so the construction team is also nicknamed the 'archaeology team', said Shang Jiyuan, the cultural counselor at the Chinese Consulate General of China in New York, joking as she introduced one of the most famous landmarks of the city, the Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin.

Xi'an not only has much history and culture to offer, but has also hosted state visits between China and the US and welcomed two former US presidents, Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1998, with elaborate welcoming ceremonies in the style of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

The city also has long taken part in people-to-people exchanges between China and the US.

"It's of personal interest to me, not just because the province has a rich cultural history, much of which we can explore and experience today, but also its desire and interest in cultural collaboration — probably the best example," said Bob Nederlander Jr, the founder, president and CEO of Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment.

He said his father once was a host of China's national table tennis team and helped facilitate Ping Pong Diplomacy in the 1970s.

His company has taken eight Broadway shows to more than 25 cities in China since 2005.

Collaborating with the Shaanxi Tourism Group, the company has created a show, The Sound of Silk Road, with artists from Broadway, Berlin and Beijing, telling the story through the eyes of a teenage boy, traveling back some 2,000 years in time while doing so.

The narrative of the Silk Road also signifies the economic and diplomatic interactions of Chang'an, the historic name for Xi'an, the onetime capital of two of China's greatest dynasties, the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

"I think it's important to know a place like Xi'an, to really understand it, to know its historical significance, and maybe also not just to think of it as sort of one quick stop on a tour, but to think of it as a place to learn about in depth," said Charles Riley, the director of the Nassau County Museum of Art.

Riley said that as a teacher who has spent time living and teaching in China, he believes that culture is a good way to form people-to-people relationships and help both countries understand each other better.

"When it really comes down to it, art, music, culture, food — the cultural side of it — is probably the strongest bridge between the two countries," he said.

"China is big, and you have to go to many places; you have that option. Unfortunately, the pandemic came, so we stopped (going)," said Alejandro Garrido, the director of Aviajar Tours and Travel USA. "But I hope that now (we're) going back again for travel." He said that he is looking forward to making travel plans for his clients going to China.

Cathy Barbash, an art consultant, who was manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1993, which made a historic trip to China in 1973, said she has been working on China-US cultural exchanges for decades and believes that travel between the two countries benefits both peoples.

"Xi'an is a combination of the amazing cultural heritage and the warmth and creativity of the people," she said. "That culture is the one thing we can all agree on — that we love to learn more about each other's culture, and the warmth of that relationship continues no matter what else is happening.

"More flights and non-stops from New York to Beijing and Shanghai. That's what we need," she said.

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