Most tourists to China try to get themselves to the Great Wall or the Forbidden City and with good reason. Since China opened up to the foreign travel market in the 1980s, people haven't limited themselves to the most well known spots and traveled to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and the more remote towns of Yunnan. But sometimes, it's nice to see something completely different, whether it's China's best museum on sex or even a downward hill that sends objects rolling upward. Read on intrepid China traveler to see some of the odder spots in the Middle Kingdom.
China Sex Museum, Tongli
Retired Shanghai University professor Liu Dalin, a pioneer in the study of sex in China, raised eyebrows and garnered the attention of travelers and locals alike with the China Sex Museum, a collection of ancient artifacts of a sexual nature, some as much as 3,000 years old. After the museum was deemed too sexy for Shanghai, Professor Liu moved his saucy collection to the wooded grounds of a former all-girls school in Tongli. The China Sex Museum in Tongli was close enough for a Shanghai weekend trip, but today is in the process of moving to Hainan Province.
Bizarre Tower, Zhouzhuang
The water town of Zhouzhuang prospered during the Ming and Qing dynasties and many of the buildings from those periods remain, even some from the Yuan Dynasty. Despite the waves of tourists washing over the town during holidays, its known for its serene canals as well as its historic architecture. Occupying a building that at least appears old, the Bizarre Tower offers up strange and sometimes slightly morbid photo ops that give you pictures of yourself doing a handstand in a classical Chinese office or your head placed in a basket on a table in the corner of a room.
Stone Skin Lane, Xitang
Another Jiangsu water town, Xitang's most unique feature is probably the long, canopied walkways formed by the joining of several extended roofs in areas where waterside merchants once sold their wares and goods from their boats. One of the town's most popular sites is a narrow lane—part of it just wide enough for a single person— that stretches 40 m (44 yd) between larger streets. The name Stone Skin Lane, etched on a stone at one end of the lane, comes from the thin stones that pave the tight walkway.
Strange Slope, Xiamen
Less a tourist attraction than, well, an incline, the Strange Slope was spotted by a taxi driver in 2003 who noticed the bizarre spot where things appear to move uphill. Peddlers in the area offer RMB 1 bicycle rides where you, too, can experience appear to go up what appears to be downhill. The slope is part of the Dongping Shan (Dōngpíng Shān, 东坪山) scenic area, about 15 minutes outside of Xiamen proper.
Thames Town, Shanghai
Completely copying neighborhoods from British towns and transplanting them in the suburbs surrounding Shanghai sounds like a good idea, right? Turns out for the developers, not so much. While the surreal British-facade ghost town got attention in the international media, that didn't translate to buyers for the development.
As the British pubs and restaurants around town are only that on the sign with nothing inside, Thames Town remains a curiosity on the outskirts of town where the locals are showing up to take wedding photos but not to buy property. The good news for foreign-country-theme-town enthusiasts is that Thames Town is just one of several including a Spanish Town and a Dutch Town.
Sometimes the weirdest thing is the story behind a place.
Orchid Pavilion, Shaoxing
The first odd thing about the Orchid Pavilion isn't terribly unusual. Chinese history is long and complicated and the original site of the Orchid Pavilion, somewhere around Shaoxing, is not actually known—this is just a tribute.
In the Jin Dynasty-era work "Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion," calligrapher Wang Xizhi (Wáng Xīzhī, 王羲之) describes what may be the oldest recorded drinking game wherein Wang and his fellow assembled literati floated cups of liquor down a man-made stream. The player standing nearest where a cup came to rest would have to drink.
Today, Chinese tourists and Jin Dynasty drinking game enthusiasts float plastic cups down a replica of the original waterway. The story of what happened to the text Wang's "Preface" itself is even more bizarre; see our Orchid Pavilion attraction guide for more.
Milu Park, Beijing
Generally the trafficking of animals into different countries doesn't go so well. However, it worked out pretty well for the Père David's deer (mílù, 麋鹿). French missionary and naturalist Jean Pierre Armand David spied the strange deer on the other side of the massive walls around the the Imperial Hunting Park in Beijing from atop a pile of sand in 1865. Father David (Père David in French) managed to bribe soldiers to get several skeletons and skins and he was eventually able to get live specimens to Europe.
His timing was lucky for the deer; 39 years later, floods damaged the wall and all but 20 escaped (most likely to be eaten) or drowned. Long dead in the wild (estimates range from 200 to 2,000 years), the population of milu in China was reduced again to two after the rest ended up killed during the Boxer Rebellion.
After those two died, the only remaining milu were scattered around Europe. Herbrand Arthur Russell, the 11th Duke of Bedford, succeeded in gathering up many of these animals and running a successful breeding that eventually resulted in the species being reintroduced to the Beijing Milu Park.
Plenty of China's attractions have been lost in the country's rapid development. While many of those attractions are now parking lots or high-rises, some can still be visited by travelers intrepid enough to head below the waves.
Lion City, Zhejiang
Named for the nearby Five Lion Mountain (Wǔshí Shān, 五十山), once prosperous Lion City (Shī Chéng, 狮城) is surprisingly well preserved. Founded over a thousand years ago during the Eastern Han Dynasty, the town is still surrounded by its 2.5-kilometer-long (1.5 mi), 2-meter-high (7 ft) city walls, only broken by the five gates. Despite the rapid development of much of Zhejiang, city's ancient memorial archways, ancestral temples and temples still stand... under some 30 m (98.4 ft) of water.
In 1959, the city's 5,371 residents (and even more from the surrounding areas) were relocated and the nearby Xin'an River (Xīn'ān Jiāng, 新安江) was dammed and the flooded area became Thousand Island Lake (Qiandao Hu). The city can still be explored along with diving companies like Shanghai's Big Blue SCUBA Diving.
The Underwater Great Wall
It turns out not even the Great Wall is safe from the effects of dam building. A few hours north of Beijing, the wall is submerged under the waters of the murky Panjiakou Reservoir. The Panjiakou Underwater Great Wall isn't a dive for just anyone. The waters get very cold and visibility is quite low. But for those ready to dive in, this difficult section of the wall hasn't seen the light of day since 1977.
Weird China Attractions No Longer With Us
Alas, some attractions are too weird for the world.
Space Flight Spectacle, Guangzhou
Part science, part science fiction and filled with good intentions, the fabulously named Space Flight Spectacle in Guangzhou was a campy educational theme park where you could learn about space flight out of China. If space didn't do it for you, you could cool off at the Spectacle's water park, stroll the manicured gardens where you could find a huge model of a NASA space shuttle or head to the Hall of Volcano and Earthquake where you could experience the the destruction of an ancient Roman city via amusement park ride. Why? Just because.