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Three Decades Of Chinese Expeditions In The Antarctic

Chinese Flag

The Chinese may not be the first group of people that come to mind when you think about polar exploration, but since 1985 they have been one of the many countries to have a presence on Antarctica. Although nobody can officially lay claim to any part of the continent, various countries are named as consultative parties under the Antarctic Treaty and so they have are allowed a say in affairs and can build research stations.

The first of, what is soon to be, five Chinese stations was established just over thirty years ago now and so the nation has recently been looking back at three decades of expeditions. This first station was aptly christened ‘The Great Wall’ and has played a large part in China expanding its knowledge of, and increasing its desire to visit, this wild landscape.

Whilst some may say China’s very first landing on Antarctica being so late makes them novices in the field of polar exploration, others will point to evidence that suggests a Chinese fleet may well have journeyed to the Peninsula in the 1420s. That’s 250 years before the likes of Shackleton and Scott were even born.

Current Polar Projects

The Great Wall Research Station

The team have not shied away in the past thirty years though, as they built three more stations following ‘The Great Wall’ and are putting plans in motion to start construction of a fifth in total. Their current polar projects also include creating a runway for fixed-wing planes, installing a new astronomical telescope and completing work on the BeiDou satellite navigation system, which will incorporate 35 satellites to be used globally when it is finished in 2020.

They have also been consistently adding to the number of places on Antarctica that have been given names in Chinese; a number which reached 359 in 2011. However, they still have a long way to go before they get anywhere near the 13,000 geological points that have been identified in English by the Americans.

A Growing Demand

MS Fram

Along with their research skills, the Chinese have also brought a certain amount of colour and culture to the white landscape. During the building of their third base, in 2009, they beckoned good luck by bringing a Buddha statue and a traditional bronze cooking vessel over from their homeland.

The everyday interest in travelling to this part of the world has also grown in China over the time the country has held a presence here. More and more adventurers from this part of Asia are deciding to explore the wild terrains of Antarctica, with statistics collected by South American travel agents suggesting that around 2,000 of them visit every year.

The surge in demand has led to a number of western operators opening up branches in China in order to capitalise on the growing numbers. Hurtigruten, one of the cruise lines we work with at Fred.\ Expeditions, have recently established an office in Beijing and often charter ships to take affluent explorers from this part of the world to Antarctica.

China is one of 51 parties who are involved in the Antarctic Treaty. 29 of these also have consultative status, including Canada, the UK, the US, and Australia.

If you would like to explore this spectacular wilderness for yourself, we have a wide range of Antarctic cruises available. Please call us for more details or fill in an enquiry form through the website.