Updated: Apr 30
Let the iconic images on the backs of Chinese banknotes
be your guide to the top tourist attractions in China
by Chelsea La Near
China is a massive country with a rich and ancient history, which can make planning a trip there an overwhelming endeavor.
If you’re wondering how to start planning your Chinese adventure, take advice from their paper currency. The back of each note features one of China’s most significant sites.
But Where's the Great Wall?
Interestingly, China didn’t choose their most visited attractions to feature on their 5th edition of currency, issued in 1999, but ones that are an important part of the cultural and historical fabric of the country.
You will notice the absence of The Great Wall of China, one of the most iconic sites not just in China, but in the world. The Great Wall can be found on the 1 yuan note of the 4th edition of yuan banknotes, which was just taken out of circulation last year.
The sites featured on the 4th edition are also worth a look, but we’ll focus on six great places to visit in China according to the most recent notes.
West Lake, Hangzhou (1 Yuan Note)
The image of “Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon” (Santan Yinyue) can be seen at West Lake in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province. West Lake has been inspiring artists throughout Chinese history with its serene beauty and wealth of historic relics. Revered temples, pagodas, and gardens can be found along its calm banks and man made islands. Hangzhou is easily accessible from Shanghai - only one hour on the bullet train, or a two-hour drive - and busses and subways can get you to West Lake from there.
Mount Tai, Shandong Province (5 Yuan Note)
Going up in value and elevation is the 5 yuan note with an image of Mount Tai (Taishan) at sunrise. While little known outside of China, Mount Tai is the easternmost, and therefore the first, of “The Five Great Mountains” - sacred mountains that have served as important religious sites for imperial China. In addition to the mountain’s historical and cultural significance, it also boasts impressive views and landscapes. Being the first sacred mountain to see the sunrise, Mount Tai is associated with birth and renewal. Tai’an, the city nearest to the mountain, can be reached in 2 hours via Beijing’s South Railway Station.
Kui Gate, Yangtze Three River Gorges (10 Yuan Note)
China celebrated the revered Yangtze River (Changjiang), the longest river in Asia, by including this image on the 10 yuan note. Flowing from the Tibetan plateaus into the Pacific around Shanghai, the waterway has been essential to the expansion and evolution of China. Kuimen Gate is the entrance to Qutang Gorge, considered the most beautiful of the three gorges situated along the middle reaches of the Yangtze. The best way to view Kui Gate is on a Yangtze River cruise through the Three Gorges. The cruises can travel downriver from Chongqing to Yichang in 3-4 days or upriver between the cities in 4-5 days.
The Li River, Guilin (20 Yuan Note)
This area is one of the most well-known destinations for China’s thriving tourist industry, and for good reason. Guilin is one of the best places to view the unique karst mountains that shoot up on both sides of the Li River. Many travelers prefer to take in the majestic scenery from a traditional bamboo raft ride, which offers not only views such as that found on the 20 yuan note, but also traditional fishing performances and photo stops. The cruise ends in Yangshuo where you can rent a bicycle to explore the quaint county. There’s also a burgeoning climbing scene in the area. There are multiple flights to Guilin’s Liangjiang International Airport from most major cities in China.
The Potala Palace, Lhasa Tibet (50 Yuan Note)
Situated along the Lhasa River valley at an altitude of 3,700 meters, The Potala Palace strikes an imposing scene among the Himalayan mountains of Tibet. The breathtaking masterpiece of Tibetan architecture served as the winter palace for the Dalai Lama from the 7th century until they were forced out in 1959. The fortress remains a significant relic of Tibetan culture and government. Trips to the area must be planned months in advance as China limits the number of visitors and imposes restrictions on travel to the contested region.
The Great Hall of the People, Tiananmen Square, Beijing (100 Yuan Note)
It’s no surprise the the most valuable banknote in circulation is symbolic of the ruling Communist Party of China. Opened in 1959 on the 10th anniversary of the PRC, the structure remains an important location for ceremonies and government activity, such as the annual meeting of congress in March. The Great Hall is open to the public as a tourist attraction when not in use. In Beijing, Subway Line 1 goes to Tiananmen West Station where you can see the Great Hall of the People to the west of Tiananmen Square.
With more megacities than anywhere in the world, the largest population, and the fourth largest land mass, China offers a wealth of natural beauty and historic treasures to explore. Let the images represented via Chinese currency provide some truly fantastic ideas to fuel your dreams of a magnificent journey to China.
Chelsea La Near, M. Ed., is a writer, wanderluster, and language education professional from Missouri who spent the past 9 years teaching abroad in East Asia and is currently based in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @chelsealanear and Instagram @thenearsea for more.
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