Shandong province, encompassing a fertile plain through which the Yellow River completes its journey, was once one of the poorest regions of China, overpopulated and at the mercy of the river, whose course has continually shifted, bringing chaos with every move. Times have changed, and it is now one of the most prosperous provinces in the land. Visitors may also remark upon the friendliness of the people, who are proud of their reputation for hospitality, a tradition that goes right back to Confucius, a Shandong native who declared in The Analects, “Is it not a great pleasure to have guests coming from afar?”
Despite Shandong’s new-found wealth, some of its most appealing attractions are as old as the hills. One actually is a hill, albeit a rather large one – Tai Shan, China’s holiest Taoist mountain, and a favourite with hikers and temple-hunters alike. Also popular is little Qufu, formerly home to Confucius, and where a magnificent temple complex stands in his honour. The coast is lined with colossal cities, of which Qingdao proves the most attractive to visitors, as much for its beer as its ferry connections to Korea.
As far as tourists are concerned, there’s little reason to stray from these areas, though other port cities offer ferries to South Korea and elsewhere in China, while highways are good and bus services frequent. The province is also home to new high-speed rail lines, which effortlessly zip from Beijing to Ji’nan, and thence south to Tai Shan and Qufu, or east to Qingdao.