Ancient Fortresses, Bicycles, and “Green China”

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西安,Xi’an, is one of the four ancient capitals of China, with over 3,000 years of history. Launch off point to the Terra-cotta Warriors and the tomb of Ji Shi Huang, it has become one of the country’s premier tourist sites, and the recently completed high speed bullet train can zip you in from Beijing in about six hours.

As China’s many emperors seemed to like doing, the rulers based in Xi’an built a massive wall around the city, and today the 7.4 miles of stone is restored and is the most impressive and complete such structures I have ever seen (granted I haven’t visited the Great Wall yet…). You can rent a bicycle and ride the entire circumference, seeing the Old City’s tiled roofs and shiny new shopping centers below.

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Somewhere midway around the top of the wall, on the South side, I think, was a little display that seemed to be an “ode to the bicycle” of sorts. The billboards paid homage to the pure ingenuity of the two wheel bike and its importance to the “low-carbon China” of today.

It is often difficult in China to know exactly whether something like this is simply another gimmick for tourists or whether it is a reflection of a civilization that is thoughtfully and deeply aware of the weight of its own history – the former is all too common, but the latter is a very real part of the china experience, though it can often be hidden to foreigners by bad translations and cheesy pictures.

Personally, I choose to believe that this reflects a true reverence for the mighty bicycle, and shows something of the rediscovery of the machine in a somewhat new way by a society that is still in danger of forgetting it in a car and “modernity” obsessed age.

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