China's open door

Tourism is big business in China.

With a 25 percent yearly increase in foreign visitors, newly built hotels in the major cities are sometimes fully booked before the massive bamboo scaffolding can be removed.

This year 675,000 overseas tourists are expected to have their visas to China approved. Some 130,000 of them will be American.

For many it will be their second or third visit. One old-timer was heard to say: ''China is so immense and they keep opening up new provinces . . I've got to come back again.''

The city of Guilin in southeastern China, with its enchanting, oddly shaped mountains and winding waterways, is still a visitor's favorite. The three-hour boat trip down the Li River remains breathtaking, although the river has lost some of its charm now that most of the old junks have been replaced by trucks that follow a recently completed highway that parallels the river.

As for the sights that spell China to every armchair traveler - the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Yangtze River - they stand as unchanging and fascinating as ever. And the Chinese people themselves - perpetually curious - are always a delight.

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