Despite opening up its boundaries a great deal in recent years and welcoming increasing numbers of tourists ever deeper into its territory, for many people China remains one of the few remaining mystery destinations on the planet.

The country is one of breathtaking diversity. The flat grasslands of the central northern plain, which stretches into Mongolia, contrast with the dusty expanse of the desert away to the west. In the south, dizzyingly steep peaks contain some of China's holiest sites, thousands of metres above sea level. Meanwhile the east coast is home to the country's great cities - modern metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Each one of these areas has its attractions, charms and delights, some thousands of years old, others monuments to the new millennium. Everyone is familiar with the great sights of the country - the Great Wall of China, the Terracotta Army and the fabulous Forbidden City of old Beijing. All three count among the world's premier sites of historic importance. But the modern centre of Shanghai is an equally impressive symbol of the emerging modern China, now taking its place among the global community.

The country is a fascinating anachronism, as venerated temples sit side by side with huge modern developments, the peak of which is the massive Three Gorges project, a controversial plan to create the world's largest manmade lake by damming the Yangtze. Leaving aside the arguments for and against the project, it undoubtedly fits in with the Chinese ideals, and will take its place among the country's other great achievements.

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