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(CNN) — Ask people for a list of things China is famous for and you might expect a healthy dose of sarcasm. But cast aside cynicism and you'll find a number of incredible things China does best.
We've got 10 of them right here:
As the first place to domesticate pigs, we can be sure China knows a thing or two about making pork delicious.
According to the U.S. National Pork Board, the earliest evidence of domestication of the wild boar can be dated to 4900 BC in China. Historically, the animal has been so integral to Chinese society that the Chinese character for "home" is a pictogram of a pig with a roof over its head. Today, China is the world's top producer and consumer of hogs -- and, wow, how it's consumed.
There are arguably two pinnacles of pork cooking in China: dongbo rou, a glistening block of braised pork belly prized for the melt-in-mouth fat and char siu, a sweet-salty cut of meat barbecued til tender and smoky.
Both dishes are tricky and time-consuming to create, but so worth it.
We love and respect the traditions of the entire world of barbecue out there, but China's unparalleled experience and variety of dishes places it atop the pork pile.
2. Indoor sports
So China isn't all that great at football -- so what?
Its state system of athletic training has perfected a foolproof method for producing top gymnasts, ping pong champs, badminton aces and diving divas.
Since it first participated in the modern Olympics in 1984, it's steadily risen toward the top of the medals table.
Chinese-style athleticism reached a climax at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing when the country garnered 51 gold medals and ranked number one overall.
Although a top contender in diving and gymnastics, Chinese competitors are practically unbeatable at badminton and table tennis, winning more gold medals in these events than any other country at the Olympics.
In comparison, the United States is undeniably the long-standing king of the Olympics, but it's had an 18-Olympic head start on China.
Idea for a thoughtful gift? Cash.
China's achievements today, including several of the items on this list, can be credited to a deep sense of pragmatism, which assesses most situations by looking at the practical consequences of actions.
On a policy level, China will engage with any country, regardless of moral standing.
As Deng Xiaoping, architect of modern China, famously said: "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice." Deng pretty much captured the political and entrepreneurial zeitgeist for the past few decades.
On a grassroots level, Chinese people embrace pragmatism on a daily basis.
The philosophy explains most of China's customs and cultural norms, including the gifting of hongbao (red envelopes filled with cash), the importance of maintaining guanxi (interpersonal relationships) and filial piety.
Calligraphy in China is an art form, a meditative practice, a scholarly pursuit and, nowadays, an investment.
With a rich tradition of calligraphy tracing back thousands of years, China reveres the works on paper by great masters, as well as the experimental new media calligraphic works of contemporary artists.
At auction, these calligraphic artworks routinely fetch millions of dollars, collected by connoisseurs around the world, such as the paper scroll "Gong Fu Tie," which sold for $8.2 million at Sotheby's New York in September 2013. The ancient work was written by the famous poet Su Shi and consists of just nine characters.
Historic Wuzhen is one of six ancient Yangtze River towns. Best of all, it's just a short drive from Shanghai. Video by Black Buddha
Why reinvent the wheel? China is great at copying other people's version of the wheel and making it more affordable. There's a cheap Chinese version of almost everything and anything, from luxury fashions to electronic gadgets.
6. Building fast
Not just cheap -- China builds thing fast as well.
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
A fast-growing middle class and an explosion in domestic travel means China needs hotels.
It's meeting the demand with the fastest, quirkiest and most impressive construction boom the world has ever seen. Budget chain Hanting Inns boasts two hotel openings per day across China. The company expects to be the world's largest chain by 2020.
It's not just the cheap and cheerful the country excels in.
The first in the world to appreciate the simple drink made from steeping leaves in water, China has since developed a profound appreciation for tea.
Evaluated much in the way that wine is in the West, different teas have distinct characteristics depending on terroir, treatment and storage.
Was it picked before or after the rainy season? Were the leaves air dried, wok dried, fermented or aged? Has the tea been steeped and served in earthenware and, if so, where did the clay for the teapot originate?
The culture of tea has become so integral to China and held in such esteem that prestigious varietals regularly sell for thousands of dollars per kilo -- it's practically currency.
8. Getting to high places
While the world's highest point, Mount Everest (8,848 meters), exists on the border between Nepal and China, and is claimed by both countries, this in itself isn't an achievement, just a geographical fact.
The triumph is in bringing the masses quickly and efficiently to the world's peaks.
China claims the world's highest railway. The Tanggula Pass at more than 5,000 meters in the Tanggula Mountains can be traversed via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.
Meanwhile, the new Daocheng Yading Airport in Sichuan Province lies at 4,411 meters and is the highest civilian airport. It will be usurped by the proposed Nagqu Dagring Airport in Tibet planned at 4,436 meters, when it gets built in 2015.
China has countless styles of delicious dumplings.
The humble dumpling has been elevated to art form in China.
Nowhere can you find a diversity and sophistication that matches China's exhaustive list of dumpling variations.
Sure, many cuisines boast a savory or sweet dumpling, maybe even a fried dumpling, but China's got dumplings with transparent wrappers (the classic dim sum, har gow), dumplings in a mouth-numbing sauce (Sichuan's signature longchaoshou), dumplings that burst with soup at first bite (xiaolongbao), dumplings made with fish meat dough (Chiu Chow-style) ... let's just stop there or we'll be here all day.
The dumpling is also a marker of auspicious things in China: families gather during New Year celebrations to wrap and eat dumplings together in the hope of prosperous times ahead.
10. Olympic opening ceremonies
The world is still shaking in its boots from the raucous display of totalitarian jazz hands that opened the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Whether you saw it as a spectacle of precision showmanship or the result of a lockstep society trying to freak out the entire planet, there's no denying it was the opening ceremony that made all others tremble in shock and awe.
The hour-long cinematic showcase, directed by celebrated filmmaker Zhang Yimou, incorporated every Chinese art form, from ink painting to acrobatics to tai chi and opera.
It succeeded in stirring patriotism at home and inspiring new fans abroad during an Olympics fraught with political tension and human rights issues.