30 April 2011

7. - 30 APR: Flight to Kunming, Shilin stone forest

A two-hour flight delay screws up our schedule a bit... Anyway we get to Kunming and head of to the Shilin stone forest. Shilin actually means "the stone forest". It’s a long drive, and we don’t get there before the early afternoon. Great weather and very pleasant walk in the karstic formations.

There are zillions of Chinese tourists, but when I ask our local guide whether there might be a less beaten track he says yes, of course, and off we go. In a second we are alone with the rocks and the water canals, taking pictures from the precisely designed walkways that snake around them.

All of a sudden it’s eerily silent! Great. After a while we meet some ladies who are returning from the fields, dressed in bright colors and all wearing a wide straw hat.

As we head back to the bus the sun is setting, and a few more ladies approach us. These are vendors of table cloths and little embroided wallets, five for a dollar. We all buy some, they are in heaven!

The ride back to Kunming is not easy. Lots of traffic. We don’t get to the city before 8pm or so, too late to attend a concert of local music I had planned to take the group to.

29 April 2011

6. - 29 APR: Shangri-la, lake Bitahai, Shudu and visit of town, shopping

Lake Bitahai
In the morning we make a trip to lake Bitahai, the highest in Yunnan at 3500msl. Nice walk along the river, abou three kilometers. We also take a short ride on a boat, a rip-off at 5 dollars to sail 10 minutes locked inside an ugly ferry. Would have been nicer to walk that distance as well. Then a drive to lake Shuduhai and another pleasant walk of a kilometer and a half. Tons of Chinese tourists all around. Not as many yaks as we had hoped to see, but still we see lots of the archetycal animal of this region in the meadows that paint this landscape.

28 April 2011

5. - 28 APR: Drive to Shangri-la, via leaping Tiger gorge, tibetan villages

We leave Lijiang for a drive north, toward the Himalaya. At the Yangtse we cross the “border” between Yunnan and the Shangri-la (formerly Zhongdian) districts. Right after the bridge over the river we turn right and drive to the “Tiger Leaping Gorge”, nothing much really... but the Chinese are pretty good at making this look like a never to be missed natural wonder!

Recensione: Benvenuti nel paese delle donne, di Francesca Rosati Freeman, ****

A sud delle nuvole

Un viaggio straordinario 'a sud delle nuvole', alla scoperta di Nu Guo, il paese delle donne. Qui abitano i Moso, un'etnia strutturata in grandi famiglie matriarcali. Un sistema unico, nel quale le donne 'portano sulle spalle' un'intera comunità e i valori su cui sono costruite tutte le nostre società sono rovesciati. I Moso, infatti, rifiutano il matrimonio e le coppie passano la notte insieme per separarsi all'alba.


L'Autrice Francesca Rosati Freeman  ripercorre il viaggio di Namu, la protagonista di "Il paese delle donne" (Sperlig & Kupfer) nello Yunnan, la provincia cinese dove abitano i Moso, una piccola minoranza etnica presso la quale le donne hanno un ruolo preminente e molto speciale.

Un'interessante approfondimento sociale e poltico di una piccola realtà della Cina del sud ovest. L'autrice visita ripetutamente la regione e riesce ad entrare nelle case e dar voce a tanti Moso che altrimenti non ascolterebbe nessuno. Il libro mette a nudo i successi ma anche le contraddizioni dell'amministrazione cinese in questa regiona, dagli estremismi del maoismo alla maggiore autonomia dei giorni nostri.

Consiglio di leggere entrambi i libri, sono complementari tra di loro.

Book Review/Recensione: Leaving Mother Lake, by Namu and Christine Mathieu, *****

Recensione italiana di seguito


The Tibetans refer to Moso country as "The Country of Daughters" because of their unique matrilineal society. In Moso culture, daughters are favoured children. There is no word for father, marriage is considered a backward practice and property is passed on from mother to daughter. This book is the haunting memoir of a girl growing up in a remarkable place. In her village, Namu was known as the girl whose mother tried to give her away three times because she would not stop crying...

27 April 2011

4. - 27 APR: Lijiang, Jade Dragon Mountain, Baisha, market

Up early and off to a bus ride to the mountains of Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Mountain), where we leave the bus and buy some tickets. To do so, one must go through a weird sort of hangar, with a whole series of stands selling anything from oxygen bottles (in case of mountain sickness) to T-shirts, to traditional Chinese medicine, to dried frogs... I end up buying some CDs of local music.

26 April 2011

3. - 26 APR: Fly from Chengdu to Lijiang, Yunnan. Naxi concert

Alalalei! (Hello!) is the first word in Naxi language I learn from our guide upon arrival in this small but pretty and efficient airport in Yunnan province. Zhubaysay (Thank you!) is the second. Swallow, (the name of our guide) welcomes us in this peculiar province, where most of all the minorities of China live.

25 April 2011

2. - 25 APR: Chengdu, Sichuan province, China

It is pleasantly warm, about 25 °C. Passport control is fast, and customs officers could not care less to check my bags. In fact the only person they seem to be interested in checking thoroughly is a pitch black man who was sitting next to me on the KLM plane. Maybe it's a coincidence, random checks. Maybe not, and it's racial profiling. I don't know. They scan his luggage repeatedly with the X-ray machine, then let him go.

The airport is brand new and very functional, like many in China today. By the time we reach the luggage carousel all our bags are already there, spinning slowly around and waiting to be picked up. It reminds of Rome where a half hour wait is good reason to consider oneself lucky!

24 April 2011

1. - 24 APR: Depart Italy via Amsterdam to Chengdu, Sichuan, start of the trip

I am again leading a group of Italian tourists to Asia. I am quite excited, have not been to China for some time, and it's my first visit to the western part of the country. The focus of the trip will be Yunnan, but we'll also spend some time in Chengdu and along the Yangtse river.

Uneventful flight with KLM via Amsterdam nonstop to Chengdu, a "medium size" city of 12 million people in Western China, capital of the Sichuan province. "Provinces" in China are in fact huge regions, this one is about one and one half times the size of Italy and weighs in at 80 million people, as many as live in all of Germany.

Chengdu is a lively city, if not a most charming one. Much of the older treasures have been destroyed in wars and revolution. It will be up to this generation to make up by creating a new Chengdu that won't replace the old one, for that is impossible, but will allow the world to miss it less.

Keeping Chengdu windows clean

23 April 2011

Itinerary of a trip to South West China, 24 April - 7 May 2011


Click here to see a slideshow of my pictures from this trip. I advise you to view the show at full screen.

 Trip to South West China, Yunnan, Sichuan and Yangtse

24 April – 7 May 2011

click on an itinerary to go to its post

in flight




01 April 2011

Bibliography: Books on China


This is a small but lengthening selection of many books on China I would like to recommend. See my separate lists on Hong Kong and Singapore. Click on each title to read my reviews and buy these books on Amazon.

Click here to see a slideshow of my pictures from a trip to Yunnan I took in 2011. I advise you to view the show at full screen.

Guides and Maps

Goodman, Jim: Yunnan: China South of the Clouds (Hong Kong: Odyssey Books, 2009).

Mansfield, Stephen: Yunnan (Bucks, England: Bradt Guides, 2007).


Pisu, Renata: La Via della Cina (Milano: Sperling & Kupfer, 1999). Racconto di un'italiana in Cina negli anni cinquanta, con considerazioni a distanza di anni.

History and Culture

Donda, Massimo: Pillole di Cina (2013). Una macedonia di informazioni, disordinate ma divertenti.

Chang, Iris: The Rape of Nanking (London: Penguin, 2007). A controversial account of a horrifying episode of the Japanese occupation of China.

Fairbank, John K. and Edwing Reischauer: China: Tradition and Transformation (Boston, Houghton Mufflin, 2nd ed., 1989).

Gernet, Jacques: Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276 (Palo Alto: Stanford U. Press, 1962).

Mo Yan: Red Sorghum (London: Penguin, 1994). A historical novel of China in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation. In italiano: Sorgo rosso (Einaudi tascabili).

Rampini, Federico: L'Ombra di Mao (Milano: Mondadori, 2008). Una facile introduzione ad un personaggio chiave del XX secolo

Redaelli, Margherita: Il mappamondo con la Cina al centro (Pisa: ETS, 2007) Fonti antiche e mediazione culturale nell'opera el gesuita Matteo Ricci.

Rosati Freeman, Francesca: Benvenuti nel Paese delle Donne (Roma: XL Edizioni, 2010). Ritorno nello Yunnan sulla scia di Namu (vedi il libro Leaving Mother Lake).

From Within the Country

Hessler, Peter: River Town (London: John Murray, 2001). A Peace Corps volunteer spends two years in China in the mid-1990s.

Namu and Christine Mathieu: Leaving Mother Lake (London: Abacus, 2003). The story of Namu, a gifted singer from the Moso minority in Yunnan. Pubblicato in italiano come Il Paese delle Donne (Sperling e Kupfer).

Xinran: What the Chinese Don't Eat (London: VIntage Books, 2006).

Films on China

Films on China

This is a small selection of movies which I have reviewed. In the US and internationally, you can buy movies on China here. In the UK you can click here to buy films on China.

Confucius (2010) by Hu Mei. Historical fictionon the life of the great sage.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) by Ang Lee.  Wuxia film in XIX century China.

The Curse of the Golden Flower (2006) by Zhang Yimou. Fiction on palace intrigues at the Tang imperial court.

Farewell my Concubine (1993) by Chen Kaige. How Peking Opera spanned the history of China in the XX century through the lives of two actors and a woman who got between the two of them.

La Guerra dei Fiori Rossi (2006) by Zhang Yuan. Children in China compete against each other at school.

Happy Times (2000) by Zhang Yimou. A older man and a blind girl meet by chance, but can they be happy?

Ju Dou (1990) by Zhang Yimou. Tragic story of love and power during feudal China's last spasm in the 1920s.

The Lover (1992) by Jean-Jacques Annaud. A rich Chinese man meets a pretty French lady in French-ruled Vietnam in the 1930s.

Lust, Caution (2008), by Ang Lee. Passion and war in Japanese-occupied Taiwan.

Not one less (1999) by Zhang Yimou. A young teacher must learn quickly in a rural school.

Pushing Hands (1992) by Ang Lee. A Chinese tai-chi master moves to New York

Red Obsession (2013) by David Roach and Warwick Ross. China enters the world market for premium wine.

Red Sorghum (1987) by Zhang Yimou. A woman struggles for her life while China moves toward modernity.

The Road Home (1999) by Zhang Yimou. A son who made it in the city finds his roots in his family's village.

Sand Pebbles (1966) by Robert Wise. An American naval boat sails up a river in China in the 1930s.

The Story of Qiu Ju (1992) by Zhang Yimoou. A peasant lady seeks justice in China's huge bureaucracy.

Tuya's marriage (2007) by Wang Quan'an. The story of a woman who wants to marry another man to save her husband.

You and me (2013) by Zhang Yimou. A film on Chinese opera, not the best by this great director.

Youth (2017) by Feng Xiaogang. Young kids survive the traumas of the cultural revolution and the war with Vietnam to see the transformations of market reforms.