China is still the land of superlatives. This vast area of East Asia is the most populated on the planet, with more than 1.3 billion inhabitants, covers 109 million square kilometres, and is home to 56 ethnic groups and 130 languages. Ultra-modern but also ancient, China is unhesitatingly urban but intrinsically rural. The cradle of one of the world’s oldest civilizations is experiencing very rapid development, revealing itself as one of the greatest economic powers on the planet. And it is not troubled by contradictions.
From Canton to Shanghai, from Hong Kong (formerly British) to Macau (formerly Portuguese), Chinese cities inevitably provoke a visual shock with their futuristic settings, bristling with buildings, crossed by vast motorways, overhung by gigantic screens. In this kind of ultra-populated megalopolis, architectural excess rubs shoulders with a dense crowd which passes in the blink of an eye from one world to the next, from skyscrapers to hutongs. The capital, Beijing, former imperial city that is home to architectural gems such as the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven, is also evidence of a country that’s moving forward. But the China of dreams is also found in Shanghai where the Bund, the Art Deco district, brims with luxury shops in which an uninhibited younger generation spends lavishly. Crossed by the monumental Great Wall, the only human edifice visible from space, the expanse of China has huge mountain ranges, but also a series of deserts, estuaries, lakes, and plains of breathtaking greenery. The Zhangjiajie National Park dotted with hundreds of karst peaks, the dizzying scenery of Avatar, and terraced paddy fields – the diversity of Chinese landscapes makes one’s head swim. From Szechuan to Xinjiang, they serve as settings for villages where time seems to have stood still and where Chinese minorities, Miao, Naxi or Tuvans, reveal their uniqueness. Complex and mysterious, grey and colourful, traditional and shameless, zen and feverish all at the same time, China never leaves one indifferent.
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