The most normal thing about the normalization of United States-China relations is the outpouring of articles and books on travel to China. There were already a couple of good travel books on the market. The additional ones, with their own specialties, also make a contribution.
Travel books on China offer a certain comfort in a country where the language and the symbolic writing is a mystery to most American visitors. Guidebooks hardly answer all questions, but the good ones sometimes fill in with information one may not have learned otherwise. Certainly they provide a springboard for what to ask to see and do (and a checklist of what not to miss) in each of the cities visited. Most provide good city maps, not only to permit you to study where you have been but to assits when you decide to venture out alone.
The potential problem with the current crop (and the small hazard facing almost all travel books) is that conditions are constantly changing in China.
If the major hotel in Guilin was as uncomfortable and the restaurant as unsatisfactory as it was when Fodor's writers stayed there, both situations hav improved considerably. And the China Guidebook is far more on target. Two months ago students waited outside hotels in some cities to greet visitors and encourage conversation to learn about the United States and practice English. Current reports are that such liaisons are in disfavor.
Three months ago American Express travelers checks were not acceptable. Now, for whatever reason, they are. It is really only through the tour organizer and a constant reading of the dailly newspaper that the travelers can keep abreast.
Many of the guides offer generous doses of generally useless information - for example, there are rare occasions when you will be dining out at a restaurant, other than at a banquet or in the company of Chinese at a restaurant geared to tourists, or at least in a special section for foreigners. Thus, great space devoted to menus is rarely put to practical use. And in a country where you are lugging your own suitcases, excess weight is a good thing to avoid.
Here are some of the best choices:
Briefing Packet on the People's Republic of China, prepared by the National Committe on U.S. China Relations, Inc.
This committe, which is a private, non-profit educational organization encouraging public interest in China and understanding of U.S.-China relations, provides comprehensive briefing on China, tailored to the needs of the traveler as gleaned from information given by the traveler in a questionnaire.
The loose-leaf book is divided in three parts: The general travel coverage includes transportation, hotels, meals, climate, medical care, and also handy, accurate insights into China.
The second section of background materials includes annotated bibliographies both of guidebooks and general books, plus comprehensive charts and a chronology on China and China-U.S. relations, followed by texts of statements and treaties involving the two countries. Biographies of leaders, population, economy and trade profiles, a helpful glossary of commonly used terms and phrases (including Gang of Four, cadres, hegemonism and five guarantees) and useful Chinese expressions plus good city profiles all enhance this volume.
Finally, there is a selection of 20-plus articles on China from various sources, tailored to special visitor interests.The packet is heavy to carry and little unwieldy because, with use, pages do come out of the binder, but it's worth every bit of trouble.
For a copy, send $10 to National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, 777 U.N. Plaza 9B, New York, N.Y. 10017. You will receive first a form asking for your special interests and cities to be visited, and then the book will be tailored as close as possible to your needs.
JAL Guide to the People's Republic of China, by Arne J. de Keijzer with Frederic M. Kaplan (Eurasia Press, Fair Lawn, N.J.).
This is one of the handiest, most compact (pocket-sized) reasonably-priced guides to China, worth looking at even if you are not absolutely sure when you are going but want a pretty accurate, broad view. The softcover book was commissioned by Japan Air Lines in spring, 1978. Since then they have sold or given away more than 5,000 copies (passengers booked on a JAL Friendship Tour to China get theirs free).
JAL guide is available for $4 from Japan Air Lines Literature Distribution Center, P.O. Box 618. Old Chelsea Station, New York, N.Y. 10011.
China Guidebook ($12.95) is an updated (1979 instead of 1978), far more complete, hardcover travel guide by the authors of the JAL Guide. They touch on many more cities (35) than most guidebooks, offering walking tours of several, and the information on cities is more accurate than what is found in some other books. They have wisely tapped experts for chapters on art and archeology (Anne Julian) and health care (Ruth and Victor Seidell). The phrasebook at the back is helpful. It's unlikely one can get far speaking the phrases because prounciation changes the meaning of words, but just being able to point them out should make conversation a bit easier.
If you were taking just one guidebook and were interested in concise, compact, current information obviously well researched, the China Guidebook would serve you very well.
The Pan An Tour Guide to China is strictly for that airline's tour participants to China. Pan Am has had tours to China for a year and a half, and sex months ago it started offering this guide. We couldn't get one to look at due to the demand; but those who have used it find it particularly intriguing because of the variety of cities covered, including many that few if any American tourists have visited. (Pan Am asked us not to mention it because they cannot meet current requests.)
Doing Business With China, (Supt. of Documents, GPO, Washington D.C. 20402, $1.80), available by mail. A basic handbook of information for people interested in doing business in China, prepared by the People's Republic of China Affairs Division of the Department of Commerce, current edition revised last March.
China Diary: After Mao. (Walker and Co., N.Y., $9.95). From her second trip to China with her husband Harrison Salisbury, retired editor of the New York Times, Charlotte Salisbury has written her second book on China. This one is a chatty, honest view of her observations and sentiments with constant reminders of the change from her trip four years earlier. But the book is perhaps enjoyable for those who have been to China and can compare their trip to hers, perhaps even more than for a person going for the first time, since Salisbury traveled on special private tours rather than via the usual group arrangement.
Fodor's People's Republic of China (David MacKay Company, Inc. $10.95). Experience shows in this very thorough book. His chapter on doing business in China seems to be very complete, but so are his paragraphs dealing with just getting along on a day-to-day basis. He points out the fanfare of the banquet, how one is seated, the toasts, the drinks, and what the host expects in return. There are outlines on 12 cities, with expecially good ones on Canton and Peking, and helpful city maps.
More complete tham in most other books are his menu translations, and you will never know until you are in a restaurant without a Chinese interpreter how helpful such information can be. Such occasions are rare, of course, but just being able to point out suggestions from the guidebook has got to be a big help. Some hotel informaion is flip and not totally accurate, which makes this book best as an addition to others being carried.
China Travel Guide, by China International Travel Service and Cartographic Publishing House, is available (as far as we know) only in China. We found it on sale in the Friendship Hotel in Peking. It has many maps and pictures in color and serves best as a souvenir and enticement to visit cities not always described in other books.
Hyde, fashion editor of The Washington Post, recently returned from a tour of China.