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China's World Heritage Sites

Emei Shan

Mist-shrouded Emei Shan is located in lush southern Sichuan Province. Emei Shan is one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains. Emei's seemingly endless stone paths are usually hiked over one or two days. Hikers on Emei go there for the luxuriant and diverse foliage, the charming, run-down monasteries, the occasional waterfall, and the gangs of Tibetan macaques roaming its slopes. Emei's peak is best seen at dawn, when the sun rises from a sea of clouds.

Mogao Caves

The northwestern city of Dunhuang in Gansu Province was once an important stopover on the Silk Road that connected China with Europe via Central Asia. Along with bringing traders and goods in from the West, the Silk Road also brought Buddhism. The Mogao Caves near Dunhuang were first established more than 2,300 years ago as places for Buddhists to practice their faith. Over time, the caves grew into a complex of nearly 500 temples featuring astonishingly well-preserved Buddhist painting and architecture collected during a 1,000-year period.

Terracotta Warriors

The Terracotta Army at the mausoleum of the first Qin Emperor is one of the biggest archeological discoveries in the last half century. In 1974 farmers discovered pits with thousands of life-size statues of soldiers, horses, chariots, musicians and acrobats—their find instantly captured China's—and the world's—imagination. The army was commissioned by Qin Shihuang, China's first emperor, and buried with him in the early 3rd century with the hope that the warriors would protect him in the afterlife. Each 6-foot-tall statue is believed to have been modeled after a living human from the emperor's time.

Potala Palace

The Potala Palace is one of the world's most impressive buildings. Looking out over the valley below, its 13 stories house more than 1,000 rooms with countless shrines and statues throughout. Prior to serving as the residence of Dalai Lamas, the Potala was originally used by the historic Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo as a retreat for meditation. Its first palace was begun in the 7th century, with construction finishing in 1645. The Potala suffered during the 1959 uprising that led to the current Dalai Lama's fleeing Tibet, and also was at risk during the Cultural Revolution, but this great building still stands tall today, a monument to the greatness of Tibet's past.

Summer Palace

In Beijing's northern suburbs, the Summer Palace is where many an emperor went to escape his virtual imprisonment within the city center's Forbidden City. A peaceful retreat with a tranquil lake, a hill with scenic views of the city below, and a fantastic collection of gardens, statues, and pagodas, the Summer Palace is a great place to take a break from Beijing without actually leaving the city.

Chengde Mountain Resort

Beijing summers can be unbearably hot, even if you're the emperor. The Qing emperors, who were accustomed to the cooler climes of Manchuria, decided it was better to relocate their courts during the sweltering summer heat to higher, cooler ground, choosing a mountain in Chengde, Hebei Province, to serve as their summer capital. Legendary emperors, including Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong, escaped the heat while continuing to perform their imperial duties. The compound is loosely modeled on the Forbidden City, but its gardens, pagoda, and outlying temples give it a character all its own.

Updated: 2014-01-21

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