The Travel Culture Revolution Spreading From China

Whit Monday is a public holiday in many European countries, including my home country of Germany, a day to celebrate the biblical event when the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues. It is, of course, a coincidence that in 2016 this day, May 16th, is also the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China. The “May 16 Directive” of 1966, or officially the “Circular of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” fired the starting pistol for years of destruction of the “Four Olds” – old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas.

In Imperial China, traveling for pleasure was confined, as in many other places, to the rich and powerful, to traders and administrators. Common folk traveled primarily when pushed around by war, famine, floods or other catastrophes. In the early years of the People’s Republic, the fight for survival certainly forbid any idea of long distance travel for all but a few leaders. The Cultural Revolution was indeed the first time that a sizable number of Chinese living in the new China had the opportunity to travel. In the second half of 1966, eight mass rallies were held in Beijing, attended by at least 12 million people. The government bore the expenses of “Red Guards” traveling to the rallies and around the country to exchange “revolutionary experiences.” They traveled mostly by train, with the underdeveloped transportation system almost collapsing under their onslaught.

Just 50 years later, within the living memory of more than a quarter of China’s current population, traveling in and out of China has really experienced a revolution, albeit in a very different way than Chairman Mao had envisaged and certainly beyond the wildest dreams of anybody at that time. Today, 80{3132c872e6c78dc13c400a594a399f7f701f7fca090fe22c84668d12b33a9deb} of all Chinese are living within 100 km (62 miles) of an airport, and the country’s high-speed rail system is longer than all other high-speed rails in the world combined, and four of the ten longest metro systems are based in Chinese cities. All of this infrastructure, however, still can not prevent the highways in China from being in an almost permanent state of traffic gridlock. Outside of China, Mainland tourists are starting to discover the joy of the RV or fang che (literally: house car) lifestyle, driving through Laos to Thailand or even scaring New Zealanders, when they have to share the street with Chinese tourists driving on the “wrong side” of the road.

Outbound tourism from Mainland China may well reach the 150 million border-crossings mark in 2016, comprising a growing number of experienced travelers, many of whom can speak in other tongues. Almost 40,000 Chinese traveled last year to Jerusalem, the location of the original Pentecost, which originally means “fifty” (another coincidence) in Greek. The number of visitors to Israel will certainly increase further, as Chinese nationals have since March been able to apply for a 10-year, multiple-entry tourist visa. In April, 

Hainan Airlines
started its first direct flights between the two countries which now connects Beijing and Tel Aviv three times a week.