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Itinerary: China


There's a lot to ponder about China. Some 1.2 billion people. A country that covers 3.7 million square miles. And a history that stretches back to settlements along the Huang He (Yellow River) about 5000 BC.

China is in the news almost daily for reasons ranging from international trade issues to political rumblings with Taiwan or Tibet to Falun Gong. It would take years to get a grip on China's past and future. But this weekend, get a start.


A soft and cuddly way to start is a visit to the San Diego Zoo's Hua Mei, the baby panda born Aug. 21.

Pandas, native to the mountainous bamboo forests of central China, are endangered because of loss of habitat and poaching. Fewer than 1,000 survive in the wild.

Hua Mei's mother and father, Bai Yun and Shi Shi, have been at the zoo since 1996, on loan from China for 12 years for reproductive research. Breeding pandas in captivity is difficult; Hua Mei was the first born in the Western Hemisphere since 1990. The panda exhibit at the San Diego Zoo is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and included in admission ($18; $8, ages 3-11; under 2 free). Hotline: (888) MY PANDA.


The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art (2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, [877] 250-8999) offers visitors through Sept. 3 a glimpse into life in the Forbidden City. "Secret World of the Forbidden City: Splendors From China's Imperial Palace" focuses on the Qing (pronounced Ching) Dynasty, which ruled China from 1644 until 1911.

Much more elaborate than the Ming style, the 360 Qing objects range from ornate suits of armor to the emperor's toilet. Paintings, robes, ceramics and a complete throne room also are on tour from China.


The Los Angeles Central Library (630 W. 5th St., L.A., [213] 228-7000) is hosting an exhibit through June 25 on the evolution of the written word in China. "Visible Traces: Rare Books & Special Collections for the National Library of China," in the Getty Gallery, contains 68 objects that experts say even visitors to Beijing are unlikely to see.

There are examples of calligraphy, inscriptions on bones and shells, and rubbings from bronze vessels and stone sarcophagi, all thousands of years old. The Dunhuang Papers are remarkably preserved manuscripts, dating from the 7th to 9th centuries, which were discovered in caves along the Silk Road.

Saturday at 2 p.m., award-winning playwright Henry Ong will present his dramatization of "Dream of the Red Chamber," based on a classic Chinese novel. The play, which features a cast of 20, is a fable, a family history and a comedy of manners. It's performed in two parts in the Central Library's Mark Taper Auditorium; the second half is June 11 at 2 p.m. Reservations recommended. (213) 228-7507.


The free Chinese Cultural Festival on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the library is geared toward children and includes performances by the troupe Eth-Noh-Tec, plus Chinese Opera face-painting and Chinese crafts, such as lantern making and knotting.

For a more modern view, at 1 p.m. take in "Woman Soup," screening as part of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film & Video Festival. The Taiwanese film is about four 30-something women living in Taipei who commiserate while soaking in the hot springs. At the Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Theater B. $8.50. $6.50 students. (213) 680-4462, Ext. 69.

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