Thursday, December 8, 2022
China Travel Guide - Travel S Helper

China

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China, formally known as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is an East Asian sovereign state. It is the world’s most populated state, with a population of about 1.381 billion. The state is ruled by the Communist Party of China, which is headquartered in Beijing. It has authority over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative areas (Hong Kong and Macau). Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Hong Kong are the country’s main urban centres. China is a large state and a significant regional force in Asia, and has been dubbed a possible superpower.

China, with a land size of about 9.6 million square kilometers, is the world’s second biggest state in terms of land area and either the third or fourth largest in terms of total area, depending on the measuring technique used. China’s terrain is wide and varied, ranging from forest steppes in the dry north to subtropical forests in the moist south. China is separated from most of South and Central Asia by the Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir, and Tian Shan mountain ranges. The Yangtze and Yellow rivers, respectively the world’s third and sixth longest, flow from the Tibetan Plateau to the heavily populated eastern coast. China’s Pacific Ocean coastline stretches for 14,500 kilometers (9,000 miles) and is bordered by the Bohai, Yellow, East China, and South China seas.

China is one of civilization’s cradles, with its known history starting with an ancient civilisation – one of the world’s oldest – that thrived in the rich Yellow River valley in the North China Plain. China’s political structure has been built on hereditary monarchs known as dynasties for millennia. Since 221 BC, when the Qin Dynasty defeated many kingdoms to establish the first Chinese empire, the state has grown, split, and rebuilt several times. The Republic of China (ROC) succeeded the last dynasty in 1912 and governed the Chinese mainland until 1949, when it was destroyed in the Chinese Civil War by the Communist Party of China. On 1 October 1949, the Communist Party formed the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, while the ROC government moved to Taiwan, with Taipei serving as its de facto interim capital. Both the ROC and the PRC continue to assert their legitimacy as the legal government of all of China, but the latter has more international recognition and governs more land.

China has grown to become one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies since 1978, when economic reforms were implemented. As of 2014, it was the world’s second-biggest economy in terms of nominal GDP and the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). China is also the world’s biggest exporter of commodities and the world’s second largest importer. China is a nuclear weapons state with the biggest standing army and second-highest military expenditure in the world. The PRC is a United Nations member, having succeeded the ROC as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 1971. China is also a member of a number of official and informal international organizations, including the World Trade Organization, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BCIM, and the G-20.

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China - Info Card

Population

1,412,600,000

Currency

Renminbi (元/¥)[h] (CNY)

Time zone

UTC+8 (CST)

Area

9,596,961 km2 (3,705,407 sq mi)

Calling code

+86 (Mainland)

Official language

Standard Chinese

China | Introduction

People and customs in China

China is a very diverse place with great differences in culture, language, customs and economic level. The economic landscape is particularly diverse. The big cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai are modern and comparatively prosperous. However, about 50% of the Chinese still live in rural areas, although only 10% of the Chinese land is arable land. Hundreds of millions of rural dwellers still cultivate manual labor or draught animals. Around 200 to 300 million former farmers have emigrated to townships and cities in search of work. According to government estimates for 2005, 90 million people were living on less than USD 924 per year and 26 million below the official poverty line of USD 668 per year. At the other end of the spectrum, the rich continue to indulge in luxury goods and real estate at an unprecedented rate. In general, the southern and eastern coastal regions are more affluent, while the interior, the far west and north, and the southwest are much less developed.

The cultural landscape is not surprisingly diverse given the size of the country and its population. China has 56 officially recognized ethnic groups; by far the largest is the Han, which makes up over 90 % of the population. The other 55 groups enjoy positive measures for university admission and exemption from the one-child policy. However, the Han are far from homogeneous and speak a variety of incomprehensible local “dialects”; most linguists actually classify them as different languages by using more or less the same set of Chinese characters. Most ethnic minorities naturally also have their very own languages. Contrary to popular belief, there is no unified Han Chinese culture, and although they share certain common elements such as Confucian and Taoist beliefs, the regional differences in culture within the Han ethnic group are actually very different.

There are many customs and deities that are specific to specific regions and in some cases even villages. The celebration of the new lunar year and other national festivals varies drastically from region to region. Specific customs related to the celebration of important occasions such as weddings, funerals and births also vary greatly. In general, contemporary urban Chinese society tends to be secular and traditional culture is more of a basic trend in daily life. Among the ethnic minorities, the Zhuang, Manchu, Hui and Miao are the largest. Some other notable ethnic minorities are: Koreans, Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Kyrgyz and even Russians. In China, the largest Korean population lives outside of Korea and there are also more ethnic Mongols than in the Republic of Mongolia. Many minorities have been assimilated to varying degrees with the loss of their language and customs or a fusion with Han traditions. An exception to this trend is the current situation of the Tibetans and Uighurs in China, who fiercely defend their cultures to the death.

On the whole, however, the Chinese love a good laugh, and because there are so many ethnic groups and outsiders from other regions, they are used to and agree with different approaches. In fact, the Chinese often talk to strangers by discussing differences in accent or dialect. They are very used to using sign language and are quick to see a non-verbal joke or pun wherever they can recognize one. (A laugh does not necessarily mean contempt, just pleasure, and the Chinese like a “collective good laugh”, often at times or circumstances that Westerners consider rude). The Chinese love and adore children, allowing them a lot of freedom and a lot of attention to them.

Weather & Climate in China

Considering the size of the country, its climate is extremely diverse, ranging from tropical regions in the south to the sub-arctic in the north. Hainan Island is located at roughly the identical latitude as Jamaica, at the same time Harbin, which is one of the largest cities in the north, is located at about the same latitude as Montreal, and its climate matches Montreal. Northern China has four different seasons with very hot summers and bitterly cold winters. South China tends to be milder and wetter. The farther you travel north and west, it tends to have a drier climate. When you leave East China and step onto the majestic Tibetan highlands or into the extensive steppes and deserts of Gansu and Xinjiang, the differences in distance are vast and the land is very harsh.

In the days of the planned economy, the rules stipulated that buildings in areas north of the Yangtze River received heat in winter but not in the south – this meant unheated buildings in places like Shanghai and Nanjing, where temperatures routinely drop below freezing in winter. The rule has long been relaxed, but the effects are still visible. Typically, Chinese people use less heat and less building isolation and also wear more warmer clothing compared to Westerners in similar climatic conditions. In schools, apartments and office buildings, the corridors are not heated, even if the rooms are heated. Double glazing is quite rare. During classes, both students and teachers usually wear winter jackets, in addition long underwear is common. Air conditioning is becoming more common, but is also not used in corridors and is often used with open windows and doors.

Geography of China

China has a large number of areas with many mountain ranges in the interior, plateaus and deserts in the center and far west. Plains, deltas and hills dominate the east. The Pearl River Delta region around Guangzhou and Hong Kong and the Yangtze Delta around Shanghai are important power plants of the world economy, as well as the North China Plain around Beijing and the Yellow River. At the border between Tibet (the Autonomous Region of Tibet) and the nation of Nepal, Mount Everest is the highest point on earth at 8,850 m. The Turpan Depression in Xinjiang in northwest China is the lowest point in China at 154 m below sea level. This is one of the lowest points in the world after the Dead Sea.

Units of Measure in China

China’s official measurement system is metric, but sometimes you hear the traditional Chinese measurement system used in colloquial speech. The one you are most likely to encounter in everyday use is Jin (斤), a unit of measurement for mass. Most Chinese give their weight in Jin on request, and food prices in the markets are often quoted per Jin. For practical reasons, one Jin corresponds to approximately 0.5 kg

Biodiversity in China

China is one of 17 megadiverse countries and is located in two of the most important environmental zones in the world: the Palearctic and Indomalaya. It has over 34,687 animal and vascular plants varieties, which makes China the 3rd most biodiverse country in the world after Brazil and Colombia. The country signed the Rio de Janeiro Convention on Biological Diversity on June 11, 1992 and became a party to the Convention on January 5, 1993. It later developed a national strategy and action plan for biological diversity, the revision of which was received by the Convention on September 21, 2010.

In China there are a least 551 species of mammals (the 3rd highest in the world), 1,221 bird species ( 8th), as well as 424 species of reptiles ( 7th) and up to 333 types of amphibians ( 7th). China is the country with the greatest biodiversity in every category outside the tropics. China’s wildlife shares habitat with the world’s largest population of Homo sapiens and is under acute pressure. More than 840 animal species are endangered, or threatened by local extinction in China, primarily due to various human activities like habitat destruction, contamination and poaching for food, fur and other ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine. Compromised wildlife is under the protection of law. As of 2005, the country has more than 2,349 nature reserves with a total area of 149.95 million hectares, representing 15 percent of China’s total land area.

China has more than 32,000 types of vascular plants and is host to a wide variety of forest types. In the north of the country, cold coniferous forests are predominant and are also home to animal species including moose and Asian black bear and over 120 bird species. The undergrowth of moist coniferous forests can contain bamboo thickets. In higher montane populations of juniper and yew, bamboo is replaced by rhododendrons. Subtropical forests, which predominate in central and southern China, are home to up to 146,000 plant species. Although tropical and seasonal rainforests are limited to Yunnan and Hainan Island, these areas contain a quarter of all plant and animal species found in China. Over 10,000 species of fungi are known in China, of which almost 6,000 are higher fungi.

Demographics of China

The population of the People’s Republic of China was reported as approximately 1,370,536,875 in the 2010 census. Nearly 16.60% of the population was 14 years or younger, while 70.14% were between 15 and 59 years old and 13.26% were above 60 years old. The population increase for 2013 is assumed to be 0.46%.

While China is a mid-income economy by Western standards, China’s rapid economic growth since 1978 raised a hundred million of its population from poverty. Nowadays approximately 10% of the Chinese population are living below the poverty level of just under $1 per day, in contrast to $64% from 1978. In the year 2014, China’s urban unemployment level was around 4.1%.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people and dwindling natural resources, the Chinese government is very concerned about population growth and since 1979 has tried, with mixed results, to apply a strict family planning policy commonly known as the “one child policy”. Before 2013, the government’s policy was to limit families, except for ethnic minorities, to only have one child at a time, with some flexibility in rural areas. In December 2013, a substantial relaxation of the policy was adopted, allowing families to have two children if one parent is an only child. Now the Government is abandoning the one-child policy in favor of a two-child policy. Data from the 2010 census suggest that the total fertility rate could now be around 1.4.

The policy, together with the traditional preference for boys, may contribute to an imbalance in the gender ratio at birth. According to the 2010 census, the gender ratio at birth was 118.06 boys per 100 girls, which is above the normal range of about 105 boys per 100 girls. The 2010 census found that men made up 51.27 percent of the total population. However, China’s gender ratio is more balanced than in 1953, when men made up 51.82 percent of the total population.

Ethnic groups in China

China officially recognizes 56 different ethnic groups, of which the largest are Han Chinese, who make up about 91.51% of the total population. Han Chinese, the largest ethnic group in the world, are more numerous than other ethnic groups in all provincial-level divisions except Tibet and Xinjiang. According to the 2010 census, ethnic minorities make up about 8.49% of the Chinese population. In comparison with the 2000 census, the Han population has increased by 66,537,177 people or 5.74%, while the combined population of the 55 national ethnic minorities has been increased by 7,362,627 people or 6.92%. In the 2010 census, a total of 593,832 foreigners living in China were counted. The largest groups of this type came from South Korea (120,750), the United States (71,493) and Japan (66,159).

Religion in China

For thousands of years, Chinese civilization has been influenced by various religious movements. The “three teachings”, including Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism (Chinese Buddhism), have historically played an important role in shaping Chinese culture, each of which plays a role in the common Chinese (or popular) religion. . ). Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Chinese constitution, although religious organizations that do not have official authorization may be subject to state persecution.

Demographically, the most widespread religious tradition is the “Chinese religion,” which includes Confucian and Taoist modalities and consists of loyalty to Shen (神), a character that means “energies of generation” that can be deities. by nature. . Environmental or ancestral principles of human groups, concepts of politeness, cultural heroes, many of which appear in Chinese mythology and history. Some of the most famous cults are those of Mazu ( Goddess of the sea ), Huangdi (one of the two divine patriarchs of Chinese race), Guandi ( God of War and Business ), Caishen ( God of Wealth and prosperity) ), Pangu and several others. China is home to several of the highest religious statues in the world, including the highest of all, the Buddha in the spring temple in Henan.

The government of the People’s Republic of China is officially an atheist. The religious affairs and affairs of the country are supervised by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. A 2015 Gallup International survey found that 61% of Chinese identified themselves as “convinced atheists”. However, this result may be due to the survey’s Western criteria for defining a “religion”. The researchers found that there is no clear boundary between religions in China, particularly between Buddhism, Taoism and local popular religious practice. Leading sinologist John Lagerwey clearly defines China as a “religious state”.

According to recent demographic analyses, an average of 80% of the Chinese population practices some form of Chinese popular religion, Taoism and Confucianism. About 10-16% are Buddhists, 2-4% are Christians and 1-2% are Muslims. In addition to the local Han religious practices, there are several ethnic minorities in China that retain their traditional indigenous religions. Various sects of indigenous origin make up between 2% and 3% of the population, while Confucianism is popular among intellectuals as a religious self-designation. Important religions that are specifically related to certain ethnic groups are Tibetan Buddhism and the Islamic religion of the Hui and Uighurs.

Economy of China

From 2014 onwards, China will have the world’s second largest economy in terms of nominal GDP and, according to the International Monetary Fund, will amount to around USD 10.380 trillion. In terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), China’s economy is the largest in the world with a PPP GDP of USD 17.617 billion in 2014. In 2013, GDP per capita in PPP was USD 12,880, while nominal GDP per capita was USD 7,589. In both cases, China was behind some 80 countries (out of 183 countries on the IMF list) in the global GDP per capita ranking.

Economic history and growth

Since its foundation in 1949 until the end of 1978, the People’s Republic of China was a centrally planned economy in the Soviet style. After Mao’s death in 1976 and the subsequent end of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping and the new Chinese leadership began to reform the economy and move toward a more market-oriented mixed economy under a one-party regime. Collectivization of agriculture was dismantled and arable land privatized, while foreign trade became an important new priority, leading to the creation of special economic zones. Inefficient public enterprises (SOEs) were restructured and unprofitable enterprises were closed, resulting in massive job losses. Modern China is characterized above all by a market economy based on private property and is one of the prime examples of state capitalism. The state still dominates in strategic “pillars” sectors such as power generation and heavy industry, but private enterprise has grown considerably, with some 30 million registered private companies in 2008.

Since economic liberalization began in 1978, China has been one of the world’s fastest growing economies, heavily dependent on growth driven by investment and exports. According to the IMF, China’s average annual GDP growth between 2001 and 2010 was 10.5%. Between 2007 and 2011, China’s economic growth was equal to the growth of all G7 countries combined. According to the Global Growth Drivers Index announced by Citigroup in February 2011, China has a very high 3G growth rate. Its high productivity, low labor costs and relatively good infrastructure have made it a world leader. However, the Chinese economy is energy intensive and inefficient. China became the world’s largest energy consumer in 2010, relying on coal to meet over 70% of its energy needs and overtaking the US to become the world’s largest oil importer in September 2013. Early September In the 2010s, China’s economic growth began to slow in the face of domestic credit problems, weakening international demand for Chinese exports and the fragility of the global economy.

In the online sector, China’s e-commerce industry grew more slowly than the EU and the US. A significant phase of development will begin in 2009. According to Credit Suisse, the total value of China’s online transactions increased from a negligible size in 2008 to around 4 trillion RMB (660 billion U.S. dollars) in 2012. China’s online payment market is dominated by large companies. such as Alipay, Tenpay and China. UnionPay.

China in the global economy

Being a member of the WTO, China is the world’s leading trading power with a total value of international trade of $3.87 trillion in 2012 and its foreign exchange reserves have reached $2.85 trillion. At the end of 2010, this represents an increase of 18.7% over the previous year. year, which makes its reserves among the largest in the world. In 2012, China was the world’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment with a turnover of $253 billion. In 2014, China’s foreign exchange remittances totaled 64 billion US dollars. This makes China the second largest recipient of remittances worldwide. China also invests abroad with a total volume of foreign direct investment of US$62.4 billion in 2012 and a number of significant acquisitions of foreign companies by Chinese companies. In 2009, China held U.S. securities valued at approximately $1.6 trillion and was also the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury Bonds, with more than $1.16 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills. China’s undervalued exchange rate has led to friction with other major economies, and it has also been widely criticized for producing large quantities of counterfeit goods. According to consulting firm McKinsey, China’s total debt rose from $7.4 trillion in 2007 to $28.2 trillion in 2014, equivalent to 228 percent of China’s GDP, a higher percentage than some other countries in the world. G20.

In 2009, China was ranked 29th in the Global Competitiveness Index, despite being ranked 136th out of 179 countries in the Index of Economic Freedom in 2011. 2014 the Fortune Global 500 list of the largest global companies It included 95 Chinese companies with total sales of $5.8 trillion. That same year, Forbes also reported that 5 of the top 10 state-owned enterprises in the world were Chinese, which included the world’s largest bank in terms of total assets, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Class and income equality

China’s bourgeois population (if defined as those with an annual income between $10,000 and $60,000) had reached over 300 million in 2012. According to the Hurun report, the number of billionaires in US dollars in China declined from 130 in 2009 to 251 in 2012. This makes China the second highest number of billionaires in the world. China’s domestic retail market was worth more than 20 trillion yuan ($3.2 trillion) in 2012 and will grow by more than 12% per year from 2013, while the country’s luxury goods market has grown significantly, accounting for 27.5% of the global market share. In recent years, however, China’s rapid economic growth has contributed to high consumer inflation, which has led to increased government regulation. China has a high level of economic inequality, which has increased in recent decades. In 2012 the Chinese Gini coefficient was 0.474.

Things To Know Before Traveling To China

The electricity is 220 volts/50 Hz. Two-pin European and North American, and three-pin Australian plugs are generally supported. However, be sure to read the voltage ratings on your appliances to make sure they accept 220 volts (double the 110 volts used in many countries) before plugging them in – you could cause a burnout and permanent damage to some appliances like hair dryers and shavers. Universal extension cords that can handle a variety of plug styles (including British) are widely available.

Names of long streets are often given with a middle word indicating the part of the street. For example, White Horse Street or Baima Lu (白马路) can be divided into Baima Beilu (白马北路) for the northern (北 běi) end, Baima Nanlu (白马南路) for the southern (南 nán) end and Baima Zhonglu (白马中路) for the central (中 zhōng) part. For another street, dōng (东 “east”) and (西 “west”) could be used.

In some cities, however, these names do not designate parts of a road. In Xiamen, Hubin Bei Lu and Hubin Nan Lu (Lakeside Road North and Lakeside Road South) run parallel and east-west on the north and south sides of the lake. In Nanjing, Zhongshan Lu, Zhongshan Bei Lu and Zhongshan Dong Lu are three separate main roads.

Laundry services can be expensive or hard to find. In upscale hotels, washing each garment costs ¥10-30. Cheap hotels in some areas have no laundry service, although in other areas, such as along the Yunnan tourist route, the service is common and often free. In most areas, with the exception of the city centres in the big cities, you will find small shops that do laundry. Look for the 洗衣 (xǐyī) sign on the front door or spot the laundry hanging from the ceiling. The cost is about ¥2-5/piece. Even in the smallest towns, dry cleaners (干洗 gānxǐoutlets are widely available and may be able to wash clothes. But in some areas, you have to wash clothes by hand, which is time-consuming and tedious. It can take days to dry a pair of jeans, which is especially difficult if you are staying in a dormitory with no hangers, so quick-drying fabrics like polyester or silk are a good idea. If you find a hotel that does laundry, they will usually put all your clothes in the wash together or even with other items from the hotel, so lighter colours are best washed by hand.

Smoking is banned in public buildings and public transport, with the exception of restaurants and bars (including KTVs) – many of which are outright smoking dens, although many multinational restaurant chains prohibit smoking. These bans are enforced throughout the country. In general, smoking laws are strictest in Shanghai and Beijing, and less strictly enforced in the other cities. Many places (especially train stations, hospitals, office buildings and airports) have smoking rooms, and some long-distance trains have smoking areas at the end of each carriage. Facilities for non-smokers are often poor; most restaurants, bars and hotels do not have non-smoking areas, apart from the top establishments, although many modern buildings have a smoke extraction system that draws cigarette smoke out of the room through a ceiling fan – meaning the smoke is not hanging in the air. The Chinese phrase for “May I smoke?” is “kěyǐ chōuyān ma?” and “No smoking!” is “bù kěyǐ chōuyān!”.

Potentially disruptive behaviors

Foreigners may observe some behaviour in mainland China that can be somewhat disconcerting.

  • Spitting: on the street, in shops, supermarkets, hotel lobbies, hallways, restaurants, on the bus and even in hospitals. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that it is unhealthy to swallow mucus. Although the government has made great efforts to reduce this habit in light of the SARS epidemic as well as the Olympics, it still exists to varying degrees.
  • Smoking: almost everywhere, even in areas with “no smoking” signs, including gyms, football fields, bathrooms and even hospitals. Some cities now ban smoking in most restaurants, but enforcement can vary. Western restaurants seem to be the only ones that consistently enforce the ban. Masks would be a good idea for long bus journeys. It is perfectly normal for someone to smoke in a lift or even in hospital, even if there is a no smoking sign in sight.
  • Reaction to strangers: Anyone who does not look Chinese will notice that “hello” or “laowai” calls are common: lǎowài (老外) literally means “old outsider”, a colloquial term for “foreigner”; the more formal term is wàiguórén (外国人). Shouts of “laowai” are ubiquitous outside the big cities (and even there occasionally); these shouts come from just about anyone, regardless of age, and even more likely from very young people, and can occur many times in a day. Discrimination against people with darker skin is relatively widespread in China.
  • Staring: This is common in most parts of China. Staring usually arises from pure curiosity, almost never from hostility. Don’t be surprised if someone comes right up to you and just looks as if they are watching TV, no harm done!
  • Drinking: There is often a toast at dinner and it is generally considered impolite to refuse the toast.
  • Loud conversations: These are very common. Many Chinese speak very loudly in public and it can be one of the first things you notice when you arrive. Talking loudly does not usually mean that the speaker is angry or involved in an argument (although of course it can be). Noise means life, and China is rooted in a community-based culture, so you might want to bring earplugs for long bus or train rides!
  • Queuing: The concept of waiting in line doesn’t really exist in China, and it’s hard to suggest how to deal with it other than pushing and shoving like the others do! This is a serious problem at airports, train or bus stations, shopping malls or museums. If you are trying to catch a taxi, expect other people to walk further down the street to catch one before you. You may have to learn to be more assertive to get what you want in China.
  • Personal space: Remember that the concept of personal space is more or less non-existent in China. It is perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour if someone comes into very close contact with you or bumps into you and says nothing. Don’t get angry because the person will be surprised and most likely won’t even understand why you are offended!
  • Ignoring rules: Ignoring municipal, provincial and/or national rules, regulations and laws. This includes (among many other things) dangerous and careless driving, i.e. speeding, not using headlights at night, not using turn signals and driving on the wrong side of the road, crossing the road and smoking in non-smoking areas or disobeying smoking bans.
  • Fear of flying: A relatively new phenomenon, specifically in China, is groups of passengers who show both verbal and physical aggression towards airline staff during delays (and flight delays are very common). This is usually done in order to get better compensation from the airline.
  • Sneezing: Many Chinese do not cover their mouths when they sneeze. Picking your nose in public is common and socially accepted.
  • Escalators: Be careful when standing behind people on an escalator, as many people glance at it as soon as they get off – even if the escalator behind them is full. Department stores hire special staff to prevent this behaviour as much as possible.
  • Lifts: People love to use lifts whenever possible, especially in large family groups. You should definitely plan for patience if you want to walk through a shopping centre with a pram or luggage.

Some foreign residents will say that this behaviour is getting worse and others will say that things are getting better. The cause is usually attributed to the influx of millions of migrants from the countryside who are unfamiliar with big city life. The most important advice is not to take noticeable behaviour personally, as Chinese are rarely deliberately offensive to foreigners.

Lucky numbers

In general, 3, 6, 9 and especially 8 are lucky numbers for most Chinese.

  • “Three” means harmony of heaven, earth and people. “Three” is mostly seen in Chinese ancestor worship and traditional weddings.
  • “Six” stands for gentleness or success.
  • “Eight” sounds so close to the word for wealth that many people believe that eight is a number associated with prosperity. So it is no surprise that the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games began at 8:08:08 on 08.08.2008.
  • “Nine” is also considered a lucky number with the meaning of “eternal”.
  • “Four” is taboo for most Chinese because the pronunciation in Mandarin and even more so in Cantonese is close to “death”.

Overall, the Chinese like homophones. Sometimes even “four” can be a good number. Many people went to the registry office on 4 January 2013, simply because 2013/1/4 sounds like “love you forever” in Chinese.

The Chinese believe that the spirit of the deceased returns on the seventh day after their death. After a fire in Shanghai in which many people died, about 10,000 people came to the place to mourn seven days after the fire.

Language & Phrasebook in China

Local languages in China

The official language of China is Standard Mandarin, which is largely based on the Beijing dialect known in Chinese as Putonghua (普通话, “common language”). Mandarin has been the main language of education on the mainland since the 1950s and the main language for government and media, so most people speak it with varying degrees of fluency. It is spoken as a mother tongue by only 70% of the population, which means that it is not widely understood in the more remote parts of the country, especially by older or less educated people. Unless otherwise stated, all terms, spellings and pronunciations in this guide are in standard Mandarin. Since Mandarin is tonal, the correct pronunciation of the four tones is necessary to be understood.

Many regions, especially in the southeast and south of the country, also have their own “dialect”, but this term has a different meaning for Chinese than for other languages. Chinese dialects are not mutually intelligible; the spoken forms are as different as French and Italian or English and Dutch, which are considered separate, though related, languages. However, all Chinese dialects are (mostly) written the same way, and calling them “dialects” rather than “languages” is politically correct among linguists as well as in China. Like standard Mandarin, the “dialects” are all tonal languages. Even within Mandarin (the large brown language area on the map), pronunciation varies greatly between regions and there is often a generous dose of local slang or terminology to lighten the mix.

After Mandarin, the two largest groups are Wu, spoken in the region around Shanghai, Zhejiang and southern Jiangsu, and Cantonese (Yue), spoken in most parts of Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau. The Min (Fujian) group includes Minnan (Hokkien), spoken in the region around Xiamen and in Taiwan, and Mindong (Fuzhou Hua, Hokchiu), spoken around Fuzhou. Related dialects are Teochew (Chiuchao), spoken around Shantou and Chaozhou in northern Guangdong, and Hainanese, spoken in the island province of Hainan. Hakka is spoken in several parts of southern China, but is more related to the northern dialects.

Most Chinese are bilingual in their local vernacular and Mandarin, and it is not uncommon to encounter people who are trilingual in a local, regional and national language, perhaps Hakka, Cantonese and Mandarin. Some who are older, less educated or from the countryside may only speak the local dialect, but this is unlikely for tourists. It is often helpful to have a guide who speaks the local language, as it identifies that person as an insider and you as the insider’s friend. While you can easily get by with standard Mandarin in most parts of China, the locals are always happy to hear any attempt to say a few words or phrases in the local dialect, so learning a few simple greetings will help you get to know the locals much more easily. In general, an understanding or appreciation of the local language can be useful when travelling to more remote areas. In these areas, a phrasebook that includes Chinese characters is still a great help, as written Chinese is more or less the same everywhere.

Formal written Chinese is the same in every respect, regardless of the local dialect. Even Japanese and Korean use many of the same characters with the same or similar meaning. However, there is a complication here. Mainland Chinese uses “simplified characters” introduced in the mid-1950s to facilitate literacy. Traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and by many overseas Chinese, but also on the mainland in advertising and on commercial signs. For example, you see 银行 (yínháng) as often as 銀行 for “bank”. However, the simplification was quite systematic, which means that not all hope is lost for the traveller trying to learn some character-reading skills. On the other hand, native speakers usually have no trouble reading either script, so learning one of the two is usually sufficient.

In calligraphy, the number of scripts is much more varied, as different painters use different unique styles, but they have been grouped into five different styles. They are zhuanshu(篆书/篆書), lishu(隶书/隸書), kaishu (楷书/楷書), xingshu (行书/行書) and caoshu (草书/草書), of which kaishu is the script officially used in China today. When calligraphy is written in kaishu, traditional Chinese characters are usually used because of their higher aesthetic value. The casual traveller can easily get by without learning the other four styles, although learning them would certainly be helpful for those with a deep interest in traditional Chinese art.

In the far west of the country, Turkic languages such as Uighur, Kyrgyz and Kazakh, as well as other languages such as Tibetan, are spoken by some of the non-Han ethnic minorities. In the north and northeast, other minority languages such as Manchu, Mongolian and Korean are also spoken in the areas populated by the respective ethnic minorities. In Yunnan, Guizhou, Hainan and Guangxi in the south, there are also many other ethnic minorities such as the Miao, Dong, Zhuang, Bai and the Naxi who speak their own languages. However, with the possible exception of the elderly, Mandarin is also generally usable in these areas, and most younger people are bilingual in their minority language and Mandarin. Unfortunately, some of the minority languages such as Manchu are dying out.

English language in China

Over the past twenty years, Chinese students have learned English as a compulsory subject from late primary or middle school. Passing an English exam is a prerequisite for obtaining a four-year university degree, regardless of major. However, the focus of instruction at all levels is on formal grammar and, to a lesser extent, writing, not speaking or listening. While knowledge of very basic words and phrases such as “Hello”, “thank you”, “OK” and “Bye bye” seems almost universal, few are able to engage in English conversation.

Even in the big cities, outside the major tourist attractions and establishments that cater specifically to foreigners, it is rare to find locals who speak English. Airline and major hotel staff – especially those of international chains – usually speak some basic to conversational English, but in-depth knowledge is rarely seen. Language skills of university graduates, even those with degrees in English, range from non-existent to fluent.

While English signage or menus are increasingly common in China, especially at or near tourist attractions, they are often written in grammatically incorrect English, with incorrect sentence structure, unusual word choices or even complete mistranslations of several words. Such signage can be difficult to read, but since “Chinglish” follows certain rules, it can usually be deciphered. Often the translations are simply a word-for-word equivalent of a Chinese expression, which, like a word puzzle, can sometimes be put together with a little thought, but in other cases can be completely confusing.

When speaking, as everywhere where English language skills are limited, it is helpful to simplify your English. Speak slowly, avoid slang and idioms and use simple declarative sentence structures in the present tense. Don’t say “Would you mind if I came back tomorrow?” but stick to simpler, more abrupt phrases like “Tomorrow I will come back.” This brings the sentence closer to its Chinese equivalent and is therefore not necessarily condescending.

One way to meet people is to ask for “English Corner” – a time and place in the city where locals, often with a foreign host or speaker, meet to practice spoken English. Typically they take place on Friday evenings or Sundays in public parks, English schools, bookshops and university campuses. There may also be ‘Corners’ for French, German, Russian and perhaps other languages.

Other languages in China

Although not as widely spoken as English, there are some foreign languages in use in China. Korean is spoken as a mother tongue by the ethnic Korean minority in the north-east of the country. Japanese is spoken by some professionals in international companies. German is a popular language for professionals in engineering. People in border areas and some elderly people are sometimes able to speak Russian.

Learn Chinese

In the West, Chinese has a reputation for being difficult. The language is denser than European languages, which means that much more can be said in a text message with the same number of characters. Each character corresponds to one syllable, and each syllable can have several meanings, depending on the tone with which it is pronounced. Compared to Japanese or Korean, Chinese contains far fewer loan words from European languages such as English, which means that more effort is needed to acquire vocabulary. Grammar, on the other hand, may seem quite simple to a Westerner. Verbs are static, regardless of the subject and whether they refer to the past, present or future. Genders of nouns do not exist, and there is no separate form of nouns for plurals. The main difficulties are the presence of multiple consonants, which are not present in European languages, and the use of the four tones.

Mandarin, like Vietnamese and Thai, is a tonal language that uses pitch in sounds to assign different meanings. “Ma” could mean mother, horse, deaf, cannabis or guilt, depending on the pitch. Homophones are also common; the same sound at the same pitch usually has dozens of meanings. “Zhong1” (“Zhong” on the 1st note) can mean China, loyalty, clock, chime, end, a bowl, etc. They all have different Chinese characters, just the same sound at the same pitch. While homophones are hardly a problem in most everyday conversations, it is very common for Chinese to ask how to spell someone’s name by listing the characters one by one. “My name is Wang Fei (王菲). Wang is the “wang” with four strokes, Fei is the “fei” in “shifei” (clap), with a grass on top.”

Written Chinese looks like a mysterious secret code to some, but if you can recognise so many commercial logos – which are usually not logically related – you will be impressed by your ability to remember so many characters – most of them logically related and formed according to certain rules.

Theoretically, there are more than 50,000 Chinese characters. The good news is that more than 85% are obsolete or rarely used. Like native speakers of many languages, most Chinese could not tell you how many characters are needed to read a book and never bother to count how many characters they know. One could argue that junior students should learn at least 2000 characters and university graduates 5000 characters.

To bridge the gap between recognising and reading aloud, Pinyin was developed, using the Latin script as a tool for teaching Chinese. The pronunciation of Pinyin is not intuitive, as certain letters and consonant clusters are used to represent sounds that do not occur in European languages and are therefore not pronounced as a Westerner would expect. Nevertheless, learning Pinyin, even at a basic level, has enormous practical value for the traveller. Written pinyin is less useful, as most Chinese will not recognise place names or addresses in pinyin, and the same pinyin can be used by different Chinese characters; it is always better to use characters for written information.

Getting by

The majority of Chinese people cannot speak functional English, and you too may have trouble finding your way around a difficult new language. A common remedy used in commerce is to type the amount you want into a calculator and show the other side. Taxi drivers have been known to hold up a finger to represent 10RMB (as 1RMB would be an unreasonably low fare), or show you a few notes representing the amount they expect you to pay.

A useful workaround is to use the Google Translate app on your phone and download the English – Simplified Chinese dictionary beforehand for offline use (as Google sites are blocked in China). This allows you to write almost anything on your phone in English and translate it instantly into Chinese.

Interpreters in China

For foreign travellers in China, it can be an advantage to have an interpreter at your side. Taxi drivers and many other people do not speak English. Prices and quality vary considerably, but there are some Western-run organisations and marketplaces that specialise in translation and interpreting for English-speaking clients. 

Internet & Communications in China

Internet in China

China has more internet users than any other country in the world and internet cafes (网吧 wǎngbā) abound. Most are mainly designed for online gaming and are not comfortable places to work in the office. It is cheap (¥1-6 per hour) to use a computer, albeit one with Chinese software. Internet cafés actually require identification, but enforcement varies by region. Internet surfing may well be monitored by the Public Security Bureau (the police).

It is difficult to find an internet café that offers services beyond simple access. If you want to use a printer, scan a paper or burn a CD, you have to look for a long time. The exception is tourist areas like Yangshuo, where these services are readily available. Printing, photocopying, faxing and other business services can be provided by small shops in most towns. Look for the characters 复印 (fùyìn), which mean “photocopy”. Printing costs about ¥2 per page and photocopying costs ¥0.5 per page. These shops may or may not have internet access, so bring your materials on a flash drive.

In university areas, many students do not have access to printers and there are usually several print/photocopy shops scattered around the area or even in the university itself. Fees range from ¥0.3 per photocopy and ¥0.5 per printed black and white page to ¥3 for a high-quality colour copy. Most also offer a CD burning service and scan documents.

Some hotels offer internet access from the rooms, which may or may not be free; others offer wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.

Some cafés offer free wireless internet – e.g. Costa Coffee, Italy cafe, Feeling4Seasons cafe in Chengdu, Padan cafe in Shanghai, etc. Some cafes, especially in tourist areas like Yangshuo, even provide a vending machine for customers to use. The international chain MacDonalds does NOT offer free wifi in China. Starbucks offers access with registration.

To use free public Wi-Fi, you may need a password sent to your (Chinese) mobile phone. If you do not have a Chinese mobile phone, you will of course not be able to use many of the available Wi-Fi services.

Since public computers and the Internet are not secure, you should assume that everything you enter is not private. Do not send extremely sensitive data such as bank passwords from an internet café. It may be better to buy a mobile data card for use with your own computer instead (these typically cost ¥400 and data plans run ¥10-¥200 per month, depending on your usage).

If you connect to the Internet using your own computer, you should be aware that some websites in China (especially at universities) require you to use Microsoft Internet Explorer and install special software on your system and/or accept certificates in order to access their websites.

News in China

China has some local English-language news media. The CCTV news channel is a global English channel available 24/7 in most cities, with French and Spanish variants as well. CCTV 4 has a short news programme in English every day.

China Daily and Global Times are two English-language newspapers available in hotels, supermarkets and newsstands.

There are also a few English magazines like China Today and 21st Century.

Foreign magazines and newspapers are not usually available in bookshops or newsstands, except in top hotels.

  • Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail and other web-based email providers are easily accessible from any PC, with GMail blocked at times. Their news sites are also almost all available. News sources using YouTube, Twitter or Facebook are blocked and unavailable.
  • Some Western newspaper websites are blocked, although this can change frequently and without notice. Currently (February 2014), the “New York Times” website is an example of unavailable sources. Some sources such as the “BBC News” website are available, although specific articles about China are often blocked.
  • The better hotels often have satellite TV in the rooms.
  • Business hotels usually have wired internet service for your laptop in each room: 7 Days Inn and Home Inn are two nationwide chains that meet Western standards for comfort and cleanliness in the mid-price range, offer internet throughout and cost ¥150-200 per night. In-room WiFi is uncommon, perhaps for reasons of government control. Internet of varying reliability is offered by locally owned hotels in rooms from ¥70/night. Occasionally these hotels also have rooms with older computers in the room for a little more.

Mail in China

Chinese mail is generally reliable and sometimes fast. There are a few things you have to get used to:

  • Incoming mail will be both faster and more reliable if the address is in Chinese. If not, the Post has people who translate, but this takes time and is not 100% accurate.
  • It is very helpful if you provide the recipient’s telephone number for parcels or expedition shipments. Customs and the deliverers usually need it.
  • Do not seal outgoing parcels before taking them to the post office; they will not send them without checking the contents. In general, it is best to buy your packing materials from the post office, and almost all post offices will pack your materials for you, at a reasonable price.
  • Most post offices and courier services refuse to send CDs or DVDs. This can be circumvented by putting them in CD cases with many other things and eventually filling the space with clothes, which makes it appear that you are sending your things home, plus it is easier to send them by sea as they are less of a nuisance.

Fax in China

International fax services (传真 Chuánzhēn) are available at most major hotels for a fee of a dozen renminbi or more. Inexpensive faxes within China can be made at the ubiquitous photocopy shops that have the Chinese characters for fax on the front door.

Phone in China

Telephone service is more of a mixed bag. Calls outside China are often difficult and usually impossible without a phone card, which can often only be bought locally. The good news is that these cards are quite cheap and the connection is surprisingly clear, uninterrupted and lag-free. Look out for IP phone cards, which are usually worth ¥100 but can sometimes be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but English-language instructions are available after dialling the number on the card. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe with a ¥100 card takes about 22 minutes. Calls to the USA and Canada are advertised as being a further 20% cheaper.

If your line allows international direct dialling (IDD), the prefix for international calls in China is 00, so if you want to make an overseas call, dial 00-(country code)-(number). Note that calls from the mainland to Hong Kong and Macau require an international dialling code. IDDs can be very expensive. Check the tariff before making the call.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones (cellular) are very common in China and offer a very good service. They play an essential role in daily life for most Chinese and for almost all expatriates in China. The typical expat spends a few hundred to a few thousand yuan to buy a phone (depending on the features they want), then about ¥100 per month for the service; tourists may use it less.

If you already have a GSM 900/1800 or 3G (UMTS/W-CDMA 2100) mobile phone, you can roam to Chinese networks, subject to network agreements, but calls will be very expensive (¥12-35/min is typical). There are only a few exceptions; the first are Hong Kong-based providers, which usually charge no more than HK$6/minute (and are usually very close to local rates with a “dual-number” SIM card that includes both a Hong Kong and Mainland China mobile number), and the second is T-Mobile US, which charges US$0.20/minute with free text and data service. Check with your home provider before you leave to be sure. UMTS/HSDPA roaming is not available with every provider, but you can buy a local SIM card for 3G data access (see below). Chinese CDMA networks require R-UIM (SIM card equivalent) so American CDMA phones won’t work straight away, but it is possible to programme a new Chinese prepaid number at a shop for a fee of ¥100-400 – just remember to restore your old number before you leave. The exception is newer phones sold by Verizon (a US CDMA provider) – their iPhone 5 works with China Telecom R-UIMs without additional modification, while their other phones need a software modification to make data services work but can call and text with a China Telecom R-UIM.

For a short visit, consider renting a Chinese mobile phone from a company like Pandaphone. Prices are around ¥7 per day. The company is based in the US but has staff in China. The toll-free numbers are 866-574-2050 in the US or 400-820-0293 in China. The phone can be delivered to your hotel before you arrive in China and returned there at the end of your trip, or it can be sent to you in the US. If you rent the phone, you will be offered an access code to make calls to your country, which is cheaper than buying a SIM card from a local provider and dialing directly.

If you are staying for more than a few days, it is usually cheaper to buy a Chinese prepaid SIM card; this gives you a Chinese phone number preloaded with a certain amount of money. Chinese tend to avoid phone numbers with the unlucky digit ‘4’, and sellers are often happy to give these “unsellable” SIM cards to foreigners at a discount. If you also need a phone, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in some Western countries, are never ‘locked’ and will work with any SIM card you put in them.

The two major operators in China are China Mobile (Chinese only) and China Unicom. Most SIM cards sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom also allowing use in Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan. Roaming outside the province where you bought the SIM card usually incurs a surcharge of around ¥1/min, and there are some cards that only work in a single province. You may also need to manually activate national roaming, which may incur a small daily surcharge while it is active. PHS mobile phones no longer work because the associated network has been switched off. With China Mobile, you can check your balance by calling 1008611 and receiving an SMS with the balance.

International calls must be activated separately by applying for China Mobile’s “12593” or China Unicom’s “17911” service; neither provider requires a deposit, but both require applications. There will usually be an English-speaking staff member present, and let him/her know what you want. Ask for the “special” area code, and for ¥1/month extra, they will provide it. Enter the area code, the country code and then the local number and you will be making cheap calls in no time. Don’t be fooled by mobile phone shops with the China Mobile sign, make sure you go to a branch. The staff will wear a blue uniform and there will be counter services. At the time of writing, China Mobile is the cheaper of the two providers with calls to North America/Asia around ¥0.4/min. You can also use prepaid cards for international calls; just dial the number on the card as you would with a regular landline phone and the charges go to the prepaid card.

To top up your account, go to your local mobile phone provider’s office, give the staff your number and pay in cash to top up your account. Alternatively, many shops will sell you a top-up card that contains a number and password that you need to use to call the phone company to top up the money in your account. You will call a computer and the default language is Chinese, which you can change to English if you understand Chinese. Top-up cards are sold in denominations of ¥30, 50 and 100. (If you have a local bank account and understand Chinese, you can top up online by bank transfer with all providers; it’s cheaper and sometimes there are special offers for topping up this way).

For mobile data addicts, China Unicom’s “Wo” 3G USIM is available from ¥96/month for 240 nationwide minutes, 10 video call minutes, 300 MB of data and some free multimedia/text content (ringtones, mobile messages, wallpapers, music videos, etc.). Incoming transfers (video/voice call, text) are completely free from anywhere. There is no longer a basic charge for short-term use, with calls costing about ¥1/3 min, text messages ¥0.10 each and data ¥10/MB (overage for the ¥96 tariff is cheaper at ¥0.15/min, ¥0.10 per text ¥0.3/MB). The student tariff (¥66 for 50 minutes, 240 SMS, everything else like ¥96 tariff) is also an option. China Mobile offers its “Easy Own” prepaid card, the offer also includes the option of grps/edge packs: ¥100 or ¥200 for 1 or 2 GB of data per month. It is possible to de/activate this service with a short message to 10086. There is also a 5 G cap (maximum charge per month) of ¥500.

Area codes

The country code for mainland China is 86. Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan have their own country codes, which are 852 for Hong Kong, 853 for Macau and 886 for Taiwan.

  • Large cities with eight-digit numbers have a two-digit area code. For example, Beijing is (0)10 plus an eight-digit number. Other places use seven- or eight-digit city numbers and a three-digit area code that does not start with 0, 1 or 2. So for example: (0)756 plus 7 digits for Zhuhai. The north uses small numbers, the south has larger numbers.
  • Normal mobile phones do not need a prefix. Numbers consist of 130 to 132 (or 156/186) plus 8 digits (China Unicom, GSM/UMTS), 133/153/189 plus 8 digits (China Telecom, CDMA) or 134 to 139 (or 150/152/158/159/188) plus 8 digits (China Mobile, GSM/TD-SCDMA). Additional prefixes have been introduced; a good rule of thumb is that an 11-digit domestic phone number starting with 1 is a mobile number. Note that mobile numbers are geographically bound; if you try to dial a mobile number from a landline that has been assigned outside the province you are in, you will be prompted to redial the number preceded by a zero for long-distance calls.
  • The PHS (小灵通 xiǎo língtōng) networks in China have both been switched off, so any 8-digit number with an area code will actually be put through to a landline.
  • There are now two additional non-geographic area codes. A number starting with 400 can be dialled from any phone and is treated as a local call with corresponding charges, while a number starting with 800 is completely free but CANNOT be dialled from mobile phones.

Emergency numbers

The following emergency numbers work in all areas of China; calling from a mobile phone is free.

  • Police patrol: 110
  • Fire brigade: 119
  • (state) ambulance/EMS: 120
  • (some areas privately owned) Ambulance: 999
  • Traffic police: 122
  • Directory enquiries: 114
  • Consumer protection: 12315

Entry Requirements For China

Visa & Passport

Most travellers need a visa (签证 qiānzhèng) to visit mainland China. In most cases, a visa should be applied for at the Chinese Embassy or Consulate prior to departure. Citizens of most Western countries do not require a visa to visit Hong Kong and Macau and can stay for up to 90 days.Those who do need a visa for Hong Kong and Macau can obtain one from a Chinese embassy or consulate, but must apply for it separately from the visa for mainland China.

30-day single or double entry visas to the mainland can sometimes be obtained in Hong Kong or Macau. This means that you can usually fly from overseas to Hong Kong without a visa and then travel on to the mainland from there after spending a few days in Hong Kong to acquire a mainland visa. However, it is unwise to rely on this as the official rule is that only residents of Hong Kong or Macau can obtain a mainland visa there. There are often exceptions, but they change over time, apparently for political reasons. Nigerian citizens can no longer get visas in Hong Kong since Nigeria extended diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, US citizens were denied entry after the US started requiring fingerprints from Chinese travellers, and around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics visas became difficult for almost everyone. In general, it is safer to apply for the visa either before leaving for China, or from a third country such as Japan or South Korea.

Nationals of Brunei, Japan and Singapore do not require a visa to visit mainland China for a stay of up to 15 days, regardless of the reason for the visit. Nationals of the Bahamas, Fiji, Grenada, Mauritius and Seychelles do not require a visa to visit China for up to 30 days, regardless of the reason for the visit.

To visit mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau residents with Chinese citizenship must apply to the China Travel Service, the only authorised issuing agency, for a Home Return Permit (回乡证), a credit-card-sized ID card that allows multiple entries and unlimited stay for 10 years without restrictions, including on employment. Taiwanese citizens must apply for a Taiwan Compatriot Pass (台胞证 táibāozhèng), which is usually valid for 5 years, and can live in mainland China indefinitely for the duration of the permit’s validity without restrictions, including on employment. Travellers should check the latest information before travelling.

Overview of visa policy

China offers the following visas for citizens of most countries:

  • L visa – tourism, family visits
  • F visa – business trips, internships, short-term studies
  • Z-Visa – Working, 30 days during which you should receive a residence permit
  • X-Visa – Study more than 6 months
  • S1 visa – dependent family members of a Z visa (work visa)
  • Q1 / Q2 Visa – For foreign nationals married to Chinese citizens or green card holders.
  • G visa – transit

In addition, the following nationalities are exempt from the visa requirement for entry into China, provided that the stay is limited to the specified duration:

  • 15 days for Japanese, Singaporean and Bruneian citizens
  • 30 days for citizens of the Bahamas, Fiji, Grenada, Mauritius and Seychelles
  • 90 days for citizens of San Marino
  • Indefinite for Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan

Transit without visa

Although entry to China requires a visa for citizens of most countries, there is an exception whentransiting throughsomeairports; this can be used for short visits to many metropolitan areas of the country. These rules are subject to sudden change and you should check with your airline just before attempting this method of entry.

Since 1 January 2014, citizens of the above countries arriving at the airports in Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang can stay in the city of arrival for up to 72 hours, provided they depart from an airport in the same city. The onward ticket must be to a country other than the country from which their arrival flight came and they must have the required third country or third country entry documents.

Passengers without visas who want to leave the transit area are usually instructed by an immigration officer to wait in an office for about 20 minutes while other officers check the passengers’ onward flight documents.

A more generous policy for the city of Shanghai and the neighbouring provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang was introduced with effect from 30 January 2016. Visa-free entries via Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou airports and Shanghai seaport or railway station (direct train from Hong Kong) are allowed; once admitted, passengers can travel anywhere within the three provincial-level units and must depart within 144 hours (6 days). Translation: 144-hour Visa Free Transit PolicyforShanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang

Types of visas

Getting a tourist visa is quite easy for most passports, as you do not need an invitation, which is required for business or work visas. The usual single-entry tourist visa is valid for a 30-day visit and must be used within three months of the date of issue. Double-entry tourist visas have to be used up to 6 months following the date they were issued. It is possible to obtain a single or double entry tourist visa for up to 60 days or, less frequently, 90 days for some citizens who apply for it in their home country.

Consulates and travel agencies have been known to occasionally ask for proof of onward travel when applying for a visa.

Tourist visa extensions can be applied for at the local Entry & Exit Bureau or Public Security Bureau (公安局 Gōng’ānjúafter submitting the following documents: valid passport, visa extension application form including a passport photo, a copy of the temporary residence registration form you received from the local police station during registration. Tourist visas can only be extended once. Processing time is usually five working days and costs ¥160. See city article to find out the local office.

Some travellers need a visa for double or multiple entry. For example, if you enter China on a single entry visa and then go to Hong Kong or Macau, you will need a new visa to re-enter mainland China. In Hong Kong, multiple entry visas are officially only available to HKID holders, but the authorities are willing to bend the rules a bit and can approve three-month multiple entry visas for short-term qualified Hong Kong residents, including exchange students. It is recommended that you apply directly to the Chinese government in this case, as some agents may be unwilling to make such an application on your behalf.

Obtaining a visa on arrival is normally only possible for the Shenzhen or Zhuhai Special Economic Zones, and such visas are limited to these areas. When entering Shenzhen from Hong Kong at Lo Wu station, and especially not at Lok Ma Chau station, a five-day Shenzhen-only visa can be obtained locally during extended office hours for ¥160 (October 2007 price) for passport holders of many nationalities, such as Irish or New Zealanders or Canadians. Americans are not eligible, while British nationals must pay ¥450. The office now only accepts Chinese yuan as payment, so be sure to bring plenty of cash.

Some nationalities may have visa restrictions that change over time. For example:

  • The visa fee for American nationals has been increased to USD140 (or USD110 as part of a group tour) in return for increased fees for Chinese nationals visiting America.
  • Indian nationals are limited to 10- or 15-day tourist visas and must present USD100 in travellers’ cheques per day of visa validity. (USD1,000 and USD1,500 respectively)
  • Foreigners in South Korea who do not have an alien registration card must now apply to the Chinese Consulate in Busan, as the Chinese Embassy in Seoul does not issue visas to non-residents in Korea. In addition, applications must be made through an official travel agency.

The current Z visa only allows you to stay in the country for 30 days; once you are there, the employer will get you a residence permit. This is effectively a multiple entry visa and you can use it to leave and return to China. Some local visa offices refuse to issue a residence permit if you entered China on a tourist visa (L). In these cases, you must enter with a Z visa. These are only issued outside China, so you may need to travel outside China to obtain one, for example to Hong Kong or South Korea. You will also need a letter of invitation from your employer. In other cases, it is possible to convert an L visa into a residence permit; it depends on which office you are dealing with and perhaps your employer’s connections.

For family members of a Z visa holder, there is now a dependent S1 visa that can be applied for outside China with the original birth and/or marriage certificates.

Foreigners married to Chinese nationals have the option of obtaining a family visit visa for a period of 6 to 12 months.(探亲 tànqīn). A kinship visit visa is actually a tourist visa (L) that allows people to stay in China continuously for the duration of the visa without the visa holder having to leave China and re-enter to maintain the validity of the visa. Those who wish to apply for a relative visit visa should first enter the country on another visa and then apply for a relative visit visa at the local Public Security Bureau in the city where your marriage is registered, which is usually the hometown of your Chinese spouse. Be sure to bring your marriage certificate and your spouse’s identity card (身份证 shēnfènzhèng).

It is possible for most foreigners to obtain a visa at the ChineseEmbassyin Ulaanbaatar,Mongolia. During peak periods, entrance to the office can be refused after 11am.Also note that on major Chinese holidays, the consular section may be closed for several days.

Those wishing to apply for a visa in South Korea must usually either present an Alien Registration Card showing that they have a few more months of residence in South Korea, or prove that they have obtained a Chinese visa within the last two years. One cannot apply directly to a Chinese embassy or consulate, but must proceed through a travel agency. As a rule, only 30-day entry visas are available.

Registering the residence

Chinese law requires hotels, guesthouses and hostels to register their guests with the local police when they check in. Staff will scan your passport, including visa and entry stamps. Help the staff if they don’t know where the last stamp is – immigration officers are sometimes known to stamp in the wrong order.

Some of the lower-end hotels are not set up for this and will turn away foreign guests. This used to be a legal requirement; no hotel could accept foreigners without a licence from the local police. It is not clear if this law is still in force, but some hotels still refuse foreigners.

If you are staying in private accommodation, you are theoretically (and by law) obliged to register your stay with the local police within 24 (urban) to 72 (rural) hours of your arrival, although in practice the law is rarely if ever enforced as long as you don’t cause any trouble. The police will ask for a copy of the photo page of your passport, a copy of your visa, a copy of your entry stamp, a photograph and a copy of the tenancy agreement or other document relating to the flat where you are staying. This contract does not necessarily have to be in your name, but it will still be requested.

You should always carry this temporary residence permit with you, especially if you are staying in larger cities or where controls are strict.

You need to re-register if your visa or residence permit changes – extensions or changes in passport (again, it is ideal to re-register when you get a new passport, regardless of whether you have transferred the visa or residence permit to the new passport).

How To Get in China

By plane

The main international ports of entry for mainland China are Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.Other major cities also have an international airport, although the choice is mostly limited to East Asian and sometimes Southeast Asian destinations.

Airline tickets are expensive or hard to get around Chinese New Year, Chinese “golden weeks” and university holidays.

If you live in a city with a large overseas Chinese community (e.g. Toronto, San Francisco, Sydney or London), check with someone in that community for cheap flights or visit Chinese-run travel agencies. Sometimes flights advertised only in Chinese newspapers or travel agencies cost much less than the fares advertised in English. However, if you go and ask, you can get the same low price.

Transit through Hong Kong and Macau

When you arrive in Hong Kong or Macau, there are ferries that take passengers directly to another destination such as Shenzhen’s Shekou or Bao’an Airport, Macau Airport, Zhuhai and other places without actually “entering” Hong Kong or Macau.

A shuttle bus will take transit passengers to the ferry terminal so that their official point of entry, where they will pass through immigration control, will be the ferry destination and not the airport. Please note that the ferries have different opening hours. So if you land late at night, it may be necessary to enter either area to catch a different bus or ferry to your final destination. For example, it would be necessary to pass through immigration when travelling from Hong Kong International Airport to Macau via the Macau Ferry Terminal. For the most up-to-date information on ferries to Hong Kong, visit the Hong Kong International Airport website.

Airlines

China’s airlines are growing fast. The 3 major national carriers are Air China (中国国际航空), China Eastern Airlines (中国东方航空) and China Southern Airlines (中国南方航空), located in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Other carriers include Xiamen Airlines (厦门航空), Hainan Airlines (海南航空) and Shenzhen Airlines (深圳航空).

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and its subsidiary Dragon Air can fly to all major mainland cities from many international destinations. Other Asian airlines with good connections to China are Singapore Airlines , Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Garuda Indonesia and Taiwan-based China Airlines.

Most major airlines based outside Asia fly to at least one of China’s main hubs – Beijing, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou and Hong Kong – and many fly to several of them. Some, such as KLM, also offer flights to other, less well-known Chinese cities. Check the individual city articles for details.

By train

China is accessible by train from many of its neighbouring countries and even from Europe.

  • Russia & Europe – two Trans-Siberian Railway lines (Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian) run between Moscow and Beijing, stopping in various other Russian cities, and for the Trans-Mongolian in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
  • Kazakhstan & Central Asia – From Almaty in Kazakhstan you can take the train to Urumqi in north-western Xinjiang. At the border crossing of Alashankou, there is a long period of waiting at customs and a wheelbase change for a truck from the next country. Another, shorter, cross-border route has no direct train connection; instead, take a Kazakh night train from Almaty to Altynkol, cross the border to Khorgos and then take a Chinese night train from Khorgos (or nearby Yining) to Urumqi.
  • Hong Kong – regular connections link mainland China with Hong Kong, and a high-speed rail link is also being built and will be operational in a few years.
  • Vietnam – from Nanning in Guangxi province to Vietnam via the Friendship Pass. The connections from Kunming have been discontinued since 2002.
  • North Korea – 4 flights a week between Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and Beijing.

By road

China has land borders with 14 different countries; a number surpassed only by its northern neighbour, Russia. Mainland China also has land borders with the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, which are treated as international borders in practice. Most border crossings in western China are at remote mountain passes that are difficult to reach and cross, but often reward travellers who make the effort with breathtaking scenic views.

India

The Nathu La Pass between Sikkim in India and southern Tibet is not open to tourists and special permits are required from both sides to visit. The pass was recently reopened for cross-border trade and therefore there is a possibility that the tourist restriction could change in the future.

Myanmar (Burma)

Entering China from Myanmar is possible at the Ruili (China)-Lashio (Myanmar) border crossing, but permits must be obtained in advance from the Burmese authorities. Usually you have to join a guided tour for this.

Vietnam

For most travellers, Hanoi is the starting point for any overland trip to China. There are currently three international crossings:

Dong Dang (V) – Pingxiang (C:凭祥: Take a local bus from the Hanoi Eastern Bus Station (Ben Xe Street, Gia Lam District ) for Lang Son, where you will need to change to a minibus or motorbike to reach the border at Dong Dang. Alternatively, there are many offers from open tour operators; for those in a hurry, they may be a good option if they offer a direct transfer from the hotel to the border crossing. Money can be exchanged at freelance money changers, but check the exchange rate carefully beforehand. Border formalities take about 30 minutes. On the Chinese side, go through the “Friendship Gate” and take a taxi (about ¥20, a bargain!) to Pingxiang, Guangxi. A seat in a minibus costs ¥5. Directly opposite the bus station is a Bank of China branch; the ATM accepts Maestro cards. You can take the bus or train to Nanning.

Lao Cai (V) – Hekou (C:河口: You can take a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai for about 420,000 VND (as of 11/2011) for a soft sleeper. The journey takes about 8 hours. From there it is a long walk (or a 5 minute drive) to the Lao Cai/Hekou border. Crossing the border is easy, you fill out a customs card and wait in line. They will search your belongings (especially your books/writings). There are plenty of shops outside the Hekou border crossing and the bus station is about 10 minutes from the border. A ticket to Kunming from Hekou costs about ¥140; the journey takes about 7 hours.

Mong Cai (V) – Dongxing (C:东兴: In Dongxing you can take a bus to Nanning, a sleeper bus to Guangzhou (approx. ¥180) or a sleeper bus to Shenzhen (approx. ¥230, 12 hrs) (March 2006).

Laos

From Luang Namtha you can take a bus that leaves at around 08:00 and goes to Boten (Chinese border) and Mengla. You must have a Chinese visa beforehand as there is no way to get one on arrival. The border is not far away (about 1 hour). Customs clearance will take another good hour. The trip costs about 45,000 kip.

There is also a direct Chinese sleeper bus service from Luang Prabang to Kunming (approx. 32 hrs). You can board this bus at the border when the minibus from Luang Namtha and the sleeper meet. However, do not pay more than ¥200.

Pakistan

The Karakoram Highway from northern Pakistan to western China is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. In winter, it is closed to tourists for a few months. Crossing the border is relatively quick as there are few overland travellers and relations between the two countries are friendly. A bus runs between Kashgar (China) and Sust (Pakistan) over the Kunerjab Pass.

Nepal

The road from Nepal to Tibet passes near Mount Everest and through impressive mountain scenery. Entering Tibet from Nepal is only possible for tourists on package tours, but it is possible to travel to Nepal from Tibet

Mongolia

Between Mongolia and China there are two borders. One is the Erlianhot (Inner Mongolia)/Zamyn-Uud border and the other is the Takshken (Xinjiang)/Burgan border.

From Zamyn-Uud take the local train from Ulaanbaatar to Zamyn-Uud. Then take a bus or jeep to China Erlian. There are local trains leaving in the evening and arriving in the morning most days. The border opens around 08:30. From Erlian there are buses and trains to other places in China.

Kazakhstan

The border crossing closest to Almaty is in Khorgos. There are buses operating almost daily from Almaty to Urumqi and Yining. There is no visa on entry, so make sure both your Chinese and Kazakh visas are in order before attempting this. Another important crossing is at Alashankou (Dostyk on the Kazakh side).

Kyrgyzstan

It is possible to cross the Torugart Pass to/from Kyrgyzstan, but the road is very rough and the pass is only open in the summer months (June-September) each year. It is possible to arrange crossings all the way from Kashgar, but make sure all your visas are in order.

Alternatively, though less scenic, is a gentler crossing at Irkeshtam south of Torugart.

Tajikistan

Between China and Tajikistan at Kurma there is a single border crossing, which is open from May to November on working days. A bus runs across the border between Kashgar in Xinjiang and Khorog in Tajikistan. Make sure both your Chinese and Tajik visas are in order before using this border crossing.

Russia

One of the most popular border points is in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia. There are bus services available from Manzhouli to Zabaikalsk in Russia. Additionally, there are also ferries which cross the Amur River from Pinghe to Blagoveshchensk as well as from Fuyuan to Khabarovsk. Further east, there are land border crossings at Suifenhe, Dongning and Hunchun. Make sure both your Russian and Chinese visas are in order before you start your journey.

North Korea

Crossing over to North Korea by land is possible at the Dandong/Sinuiju border crossing, but must be arranged in advance as part of a guided tour from Beijing and is usually only possible for Chinese citizens. In the opposite direction, the border crossing is quite easy if you have arranged it as part of your North Korea tour. There are other border crossings along the Yalu and Tumen rivers, but they are not necessarily open to tourists. Your tour operator will need to ensure that both your Chinese and North Korean visas are in order before you attempt this.

Hong Kong

There are four road border crossings from Hong Kong into China: Lok Ma Chau/HuanggangSha Tau Kok/ShatoujiaoMan Kam To/Wenjindu and the Shenzhen Bay Bridge. A visa on arrival is available for some nationalities at Huanggang, but visas must be arranged in advance for all other border crossings.

Macau

The two border crossings are at Portas do Cerco/Gongbei and Lotus Bridge. A visa on entry can be applied for by certain nationalities at Portas do Cerco. In Gongbei, the Zhuhai railway station is located right next to the border crossing, from where there are regular train connections to Guangzhou.

Other

Border crossing with Afghanistan and Bhutan is currently not possible for travellers.

By boat

Hong Kong and Macao

There are regular ferry and hovercraft services between Hong Kong and Macau and the rest of the Pearl River Delta, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. Ferry services from Hong Kong International Airport allow arriving passengers to travel on directly to China without having to clear immigration and customs in Hong Kong.

Japan

2-day ferry service between Shanghai and Tianjin to Osaka, Japan.The service is once or twice a week, depending on the season.

A twice-weekly ferry also connects Qingdao with Shimonoseki.

South Korea

From Shanghai and Tianjin there is a ferry service to Incheon, one of the port cities close to Seoul. Another line runs from Qingdao or Weihai to Incheon or from Dalian to Incheon.

Taiwan

Hourly ferries (18 departures per day) run between Kinmen and Xiamen, with a journey time of either 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the port. There is also a regular ferry that runs between Kinmen and Quanzhou, 3 times a day. The ferry between Matsu and Fuzhou runs twice a day and takes about two hours. From mainland Taiwan, passengers can take the Cosco Star from Taichung and Keelung to Xiamen once a week.

Thailand

Golden Peacock Shipping operates a speedboat three times a week on the Mekong between Jinghong in Yunnan and Chiang Saen (Thailand). Passengers do not need a visa for Laos or Myanmar, although most of the journey takes place on the river bordering these countries. the ticket costs ¥650

Cruise ship

In autumn, several cruise lines move their ships from Alaska to Asia and good connections can usually be found from Anchorage, Vancouver or Seattle. Star Cruises operates between Keelung in Taiwan and Xiamen in mainland China, stopping at one of the Japanese islands along the way.

How To Travel Around China

With plane

China is a huge country. So unless you plan to move outside the east coast, you should definitely consider domestic flights if you don’t want to spend a few days on the train or on the road to get from one area to another. There are many domestic flights in China connecting all major cities and tourist destinations. Airlines include the three international carriers: Air China, China Southern and China Eastern, as well as regional carriers such as Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines.

Flying between Hong Kong or Macau and cities in mainland China is considered an international flight and as such can be quite expensive. Therefore, if you arrive in or depart from Hong Kong or Macau, it is usually much cheaper to fly to or from Shenzhen or Zhuhai, which are just across the border, or from Guangzhou, which is a little further away but offers more destinations. For example, the distance from Fuzhou to Hong Kong, Shenzhen or Guangzhou is about the same, but in mid-2005 a flight to Hong Kong cost ¥1,400, while the list price for the other cities was ¥880 and discounts of up to ¥550 were available for Shenzhen. An overnight bus ride to one of these destinations cost about ¥250.

Domestic fares are standard, but discounts are common, especially on the busier routes. Most good hotels and many hostels have a ticket service and may be able to save you 15-70% on the ticket price. Travel agencies and booking offices are numerous in all Chinese cities and offer similar discounts. Even without considering discounts, travelling by plane in China is not expensive.

For travel within China, it is usually best to buy tickets in China or on Chinese websites (there are several in English – they deliver the tickets to hotels in major cities. Payment is in cash to the person delivering the ticket(s)). Abroad, especially online, suppliers often charge much higher prices. It is not advisable to book too far in advance on Chinese websites, as prices remain high until two months before the flight date. At this point, there are usually big discounts, unless a particular flight is already fully booked well in advance.

Note that matches and lighters are not allowed on flights in China, not even in hand luggage. Pocket knives must be stowed in your hand luggage.

Be prepared for unexplained flight delays, as these are common despite government and consumer pressure. Consider other, seemingly slower options for short distances. Flight cancellations are also not uncommon. If you bought your ticket from a Chinese carrier, they will likely try to contact you (if you left contact information) to inform you of the change in schedule. If you bought your ticket overseas, you should check the flight status a day or two before your scheduled flight.

With train

Travel by train is the primary method of long-distance trips for the Chinese, with an enormous network of lines which cover most parts of the country.. About a quarter of the world’s total rail traffic takes place in China.

China now has the world’s largest network of high-speed trains (similar to the French TGV or the Japanese Shinkansen) and the expansion is continuing rapidly. They are called CRH and the train numbers have a “G”, “C” or “D” prefix. If your itinerary and budget allow, these trains may be the best way to get around.

Train types

Chinese trains are divided into different categories, indicated by letters and numbers on the ticket. A guide to the hierarchy of Chinese trains from fastest to slowest are as follows:

  • G Series (高速 gāosù) – Long-distance high-speed express trains with speeds of up to 300 km/h – operate on many major high-speed routes, including Beijing – Zhengzhou – Wuhan – Guangzhou – Shenzhen, Zhengzhou – Xi’an, Beijing – Nanjing – Shanghai, Shanghai – Hangzhou and Nanjing – Hangzhou – Ningbo.
  • C-Series (城际 chéngjì) – 300 km/h fast short-distance high-speed trains – currently only on the Beijing-Wuqing-Tianjin-Tanggu and Shanghai South-Jinshanwei lines. The C-series numbering is also used for local trains on the Wuhan-Xianning lines.
  • D-series (动车 dòngchē) – 200 km/h fast trains.
  • Z-series (直达 zhídá) – 160 km/h non/less-stop services between major cities. Accommodation is mostly in soft-seat or soft-sleeper carriages, although they often have a few hard-sleeper carriages.
  • T series (特快 tèkuài) – 140 km/h fast intercity trains that only stop in larger cities. Similar to the Z trains, although they usually stop at more stations.
  • K-Series (快速 kuàisù) – 120 km/h fast trains, the most commonly seen series, stops at more stations than a T-train and has more hard berths and seats.
  • General express trains (普快 pǔkuài) – 120 km/h fast trains, without letter designation, four digits start with 1-5. These trains are the cheapest, albeit slowest long-distance trains.
  • General trains (普客 pǔkè) – 100 km/h fast local trains without letter designation, four digits start with 5, 6 or 7. Slowest trains, stop almost everywhere.
  • Commuter trains (通勤 tōngqín) / service trains (路用 lùyòng) – 4-digit number starting with 8 or 5-digit number starting with 57, extremely slow locally owned train, mostly used by staff of the railway.
  • L series (临时 línshí) – seasonal trains matching the K or four-digit series.
  • Y-series (旅游 lǚyóu) – trains that mainly serve tourist groups.
  • S-Series (市郊 shìjiāo) – Currently the only one on the Beijing Suburban Railway between Beijing North and Yanqing County via Badaling (Great Wall).

Classes

There are five classes of travel on the regular non-CRH trains:

  • Soft sleeper cars (软卧 ruǎnwò) are the most comfortable mode of transport and are still relatively cheap by Western standards. The soft sleeper compartments contain four bunks stacked two to a column (although some newer trains have two-bunk compartments), a locking door for privacy and are quite spacious.
  • Hard sleepers (硬卧 yìngwò), on the other hand, have 3 beds per column, open to the aisle. The highest bunk is very high and leaves little room for headroom. For taller travellers (1.80 m or more), this is the best bunk, as your feet protrude into the aisle when sleeping and you don’t bump into each other. The top bunk is also useful for people who have things to hide (e.g. cameras). If you place them at head height, they are harder for would-be thieves to reach. It is worth noting that this is not a ‘hard’ bed, the beds have mattresses and are generally quite comfortable. All beds are provided with pillows and blankets.
  • Soft seats (软座 ruǎnzuò) are fabric-covered, usually reclining seats and are a special category that you will rarely find. These are only available on day trains between destinations with a journey time of around 4-8 hours and on all high-speed trains (class D and above).
  • Hard seats (硬座 yìngzuò), which is practically well padded, is not to everyone’s taste, particularly for overnight, as it consists of an arrangement of 3 seats and 2 seats and is 5 seats wide. However, this is the class in which most of the backpacker crowd travels. Despite the “No smoking” signs, there are almost always smokers in the car. There is always a crowd of smokers at the ends of the carriages and the smoke drifts endlessly into the cabin. On most trains, especially in inland China, the space between carriages is a designated smoking area, although the signs for “designated smoking area” are only in Chinese, so this fact may not be clear to many travellers. Sleeping in the hard seats can certainly be considered uncomfortable and will cause a lot of inconvenience for just about all travellers, including many restless, endless hours without sleep.
  • Standing (无座 wúzuò) allow access to the hard-seat carriage, but do not give seat reservation. Consider carrying a tripod chair in your backpack to make such trips more comfortable.

The soft seat and soft sleeper carriages and some hard seat and hard sleeper carriages are air-conditioned.

The CRH trains usually have five classes:

  • Second class (二等座 erdengzuo) (3+2 seating arrangement). The seats are a bit narrow, but there is plenty of legroom.
  • First class (一等座 yidengzuo) (2+2 arrangement)
  • Three VIP classes (2+1 arrangement directly behind the driver’s cabin). There are three different VIP classes, called “商务座” (business class), “观光座” (sightseeing class) and “特等座” (luxury class). Unlike on planes, “商务座” (business class) is indeed better than “一等座” (first class) on CRH trains. 商务座 (Business Class) and 观光座 (Sightseeing Class) are the same price, while 特等座 is usually more expensive than “一等座” (First Class) but cheaper than 商务座 and 观光座.

Train tickets

Since 2014, the sale of train tickets usually starts 20 days in advance, either online via the China Rail booking site or at the ticket counters of the major stations.

  • China Rail website. It is possible to book tickets through this website and there is no charge for this service. However, the site is only in Chinese and only accepts UnionPay, so you will need a Chinese bank account to use it.

Tickets can be bought two days later at private agencies. They are little window shops which are scattered around the cities and are marked with the words “售火车票” (shou huo che piao).They charge a small commission (e.g. 5 yuan), but can save you a trip to the station. If you go to a ticket office to buy tickets, you will generally save yourself a lot of trouble if you write down the train number, the date and time of departure, the seat class and number of tickets, and the origin and destination in Chinese or at least in pinyin. Staff usually do not speak English and do not have much patience at the stations as there are usually long queues.

Travel agencies take money and bookings for tickets in advance, but no one can guarantee your ticket until the station releases it to the market, whereupon your agency goes and buys the ticket they previously “guaranteed” you. This is true everywhere in China.

Both residents and non-residents must present identification to purchase a ticket (e.g. ID card or passport). The name of the buyer will be printed on the ticket and each person must be present with an ID when collecting the ticket. Tickets sell out very quickly, especially at festivals, so it is advisable to book tickets as far in advance as possible. One way to get around the ID requirement if one of your fellow travellers is not present is to ask a Chinese person to buy the ticket online. You then only need to enter the passport number and present the passport when collecting the ticket.

Note that many cities have different stations for normal trains and high-speed trains.

Stations

Unlike what you may be used to, Chinese train stations operate much like an airport. The main implication of this is that you shouldn’t expect to catch a train at the last minute – the gates close a few minutes before departure! To be safe, you should be there at least 20 minutes early, or 30 minutes if you are entering a large station.

You will need to pass through an initial ticket and security check to enter the station. In the departure hall, follow the digital display boards to find the correct gate (they should be in both English and Chinese, at least at CRH stations; if only Chinese is available, you can still find the train number printed at the top of your ticket). Wait in the waiting area near your gate until boarding is announced about 10-20 minutes before departure. You will then pass through a ticket check (have your passport ready as they may want to see it) and follow the crowd to the platform. Note that there are two types of tickets: red paper tickets, which are issued at ticket machines, and blue magnetic tickets, which you can get at the station ticket office. Blue tickets go into one of the automatic ticket counters, while red tickets are checked manually; make sure you go through the counter in the right place.

On the platform, the train may already be waiting; otherwise, look for your carriage number written on the edge of the platform and make sure you are waiting in the right place, as often the train only stops for a few minutes. If there are no such signs, show the staff your ticket and they will show you where to wait. Some newer stations have higher platforms that are level with the door, but at smaller stations the platforms are very low and you have to climb several steep steps to get on the train, so be prepared if you have a large suitcase. Generally, passengers are friendly and will offer to help you with bulky luggage.

At your destination, exit the platform through one of the clearly marked exits, which will take you outside the station rather than into the waiting area. Your ticket may be checked again and may or may not be retained.

Travel tips

The CRH trains are also top international in terms of equipment and cleanliness. This includes the toilets, where toilet paper and soap are reliably available – a rarity in China. Toilets on non-high-speed trains also tend to be a bit more “usable” than those on buses or in most public areas, as they are simple devices that empty the contents directly onto the tracks and therefore do not smell as strongly. Soft sleepers usually have a European style toilet at one end and a Chinese style squatting toilet at the other. Note that on non-CRH trains, if the train stops at a station, the conductor usually locks the toilets before arrival to prevent people from leaving debris on the station floor.

Long distance trains have a buffet or dining car that serves not very tasty hot food for about ¥25. The menu will be entirely in Chinese, but if you are willing to take the risk, you can eat very well (try to interpret some of the Chinese characters, or ask for common dishes with names). Wait until the train stops at a station if you are on a tight budget.There are usually vendors on the platform there selling noodles, snacks, and fruit at cheaper prices.

Each train car usually has a dispenser for hot boiled water, so you should bring tea, soups and instant noodles to prepare your own food. Passengers usually bring a thermos or some type of sealable glass mug to make tea.

Be careful with your valuables on the train; thefts on public transportation have increased in recent years.

On most higher-ranking trains (T, K, Z, and CRH trains), announcements are recorded in Chinese, English, and occasionally Cantonese (if the train serves Guangdong or Hong Kong province), Mongolian (in Inner Mongolia), Tibetan (in Tibet), or Uighur (in Xinjiang). Local trains do not have announcements in English, so it can be more difficult to know when to get off.

Motion sickness pills are recommended if you are prone to this type of discomfort. Earplugs are recommended to allow for undisturbed sleep. Tickets are exchanged for cards on long-distance trains in sleeping cars. Train conductors return the original tickets as the train approaches the destination station. This ensures that everyone gets off where they are supposed to, even if they can’t wake themselves up.

If you have a few things to share on the train, you will have fun. The Chinese families and businessmen traveling on the line are just as bored as the next person and will be happy to try to have a conversation or watch a movie being shown on a laptop. All in all, the opportunity to see the passing scenery is a nice experience.

Smoking is not allowed in the seating or sleeping areas, but is allowed in the vestibules at the end of each car. Smoking is completely prohibited on the new CRH trains, the Guangzhou-Kowloon shuttle train, and the Beijing Suburban Railway. Inside station buildings, smoking is prohibited except in designated smoking rooms, although these places are often unpleasant and poorly ventilated.

Useful websites

Official booking site

The Rail Customer Service Centre is the official and only authoritative online source for train timetables, ticket availability and online bookings. It is only available in Chinese, but not difficult to use if you can read some Chinese characters. To check train timetables or ticket availability, click on “余票查询” (yu piao cha xun, remaining ticket request) on the front page. Enter the starting point, destination and date (the interface accepts pinyin and shows you the corresponding Chinese characters to choose from), then click “查询” (cha xun, query).

You will then receive a matrix with the trains running that day and the tickets still available.

  • 车次: This column displays the train number.
  • 出发站/到达站: Origin and destination of the train. Note that each city may have a suffix attached to it indicating the station. Which is generally one of 北 (bei, north), 南 (nan, south), 东 (dong, east), 西 (xi, west). E.g. 北京西 is Beijing West Railway Station. These suffixes are especially common for CRH trains, as they often stop separately from regular trains.
  • 出发时间/到达时间: Departure and arrival time.
  • 历时: The duration of the journey, represented as “XX小时YY分”, where XX is the number of hours and YY is the number of minutes. Following the number of days 当日到达 (same-day arrival), 次日到达 (next-day arrival), 第三日到达 (arrival two days later).
  • The remaining columns correspond to the different classes and show the number of remaining tickets. “No tickets available” is displayed as “无” (wu), otherwise the number of remaining tickets is displayed. When clicked, the price of the ticket is displayed. Check the above information to get an overview of the different train types and classes available. If you search far in advance, a time of day may be displayed, which then indicates at what time tickets become available for purchase.

It is possible to book tickets via the website; however, you will need a Chinese bank account to pay for them. You can then collect the tickets at any station or ticket office at any time by showing your passport. While you probably won’t be able to book tickets yourself, one of the most convenient ways to get tickets in advance is to ask a Chinese friend to do it for you: Tickets first become available online before they are sold at agencies, and you don’t have to present each traveller’s passport when booking (just have all passport numbers ready). In doing so, you only pay the ticket price and no additional fees.

The site has a certain reputation among the Chinese population for being slow and unreliable. However, this mostly refers to times like Chinese New Year, when tickets sell out in seconds and loads are generated that would bring almost any website to its knees.

Third party websites

  • CTrains.com is the first online booking website for China train tickets for English users. Travellers can book China train tickets online in real time for 24/7. There are also no booking fees.
  • The Man in Seat 61 website has a good section on Chinese trains.
  • Absolute China Tours or China Highlights have English time and fare information (note that the lists on these websites are very useful but not 100% complete).
  • OK Travel has more timetables. This page is mostly in Chinese, but contains romanised place names and you can use it without knowing Chinese. On the search page, simply select from the lists provided: the left side is the departure city, the right side is the destination. Note that you have to select the province(ies) or region(s) in the dropdown box before the corresponding list of cities appears. You select the desired cities and then press the left button at the bottom (marked 确认, “Confirm”) to execute the search. If you can enter place names in Chinese characters, the search function can even help you plan multi-day trips.
  • CNVOL has an extensive (quite exhaustive) and frequently updated list of all trains running in China. Simply enter the names of the places where you want to start and end your journey, and you will get a list of all the trains that run the route (including all the trains that are currently passing the stations you selected), listed with their starting and ending locations and times. Click on a train number you like and you can find out the prices for all available seat or berth classes by clicking on Check price below. The most important thing is that you spell the place names correctly in “pinyin”, the characters are never separated by a space, so: Lijiang, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Kunming, etc.

With bus

Travelling by public city bus (公共汽车 gōnggòngqìchē) or long-distance bus (长途汽车 chángtúqìchē) is inexpensive and ideal for inner-city transport and short distances.

Buses varies from town to town – generally with plastic seats, many people, lack of English signs as well as unreliable drivers. However, if you can understand the bus routes, they are cheap and go almost everywhere. The buses usually have an announcement telling you the next stop – for example, “xia yi zhan – zhong shan lu” (next stop Zhongshan Road) or “Shanghai nan huo che zhan dao le” (Shanghai South railway station – Coming soon). In some larger cities like Beijing or Hangzhou, there are English announcements on some main lines. Fares are usually around ¥1-2 (the former for older buses without air-conditioning, the latter for air-conditioned modern buses) or more if going to the suburbs. Most buses simply have a metal box next to the entrance where you can put your fare (no change – save the 1-yuan coins), or on longer routes, a conductor who collects the fare and gives out tickets and change. Be aware that drivers usually prioritise speed over comfort, so hold on tight.

Coaches, or long distance buses, vary drastically and can be a reasonably comfortable or very uncomfortable experience. Buses coming from larger cities on the east coast are usually air-conditioned and have soft seats or sleeper chairs. The roads are very good and the ride is quiet so you can enjoy the view or take a nap. Coaches are often a better, albeit more expensive, option than trains. Bus staff usually try to be helpful, but they are much less familiar with foreigners than airline staff and English skills are very rare. Some buses have toilets, but they are often dirty and can be difficult to use when the bus turns a corner and water splashes around in the sink.

A coach in rural China is a very different experience. Signs at the station identifying the buses are only in Chinese or another local language, routes may also be posted or taped to the bus windows and drivers or touts call out their destinations as you pass, the number plate of the bus should actually be printed on the ticket but this is all too often inaccurate. Due to different customs, foreigners may find bus staff rude and other passengers rude as they spit on the floor and out of the window and smoke. The vehicle can be overcrowded if the driver decides to take as many passengers as he can squeeze into the bus. The roads in rural China are often just a string of potholes, making for a bumpy and painful ride; if you have a seat in the back of the bus, you will spend much of the journey flying through the air.

Scheduled departure and arrival times are only rough estimates, as many buses don’t leave until all seats are sold, which can add hours to the journey, and breakdowns and other mishaps can extend the journey considerably. Breakdowns and other mishaps can add considerably to your journey. The misery of your journey is only compounded if you have to drive for 10-20 hours at a stretch. As unpleasant as it may sound, unless you have the money to spend on your own vehicle, rural buses are the only means of transport in many areas of China. The good thing is that these buses are usually willing to stop anywhere along the route if you want to visit remote areas without direct transport. The buses can also stop at most points along their route. The fare for the rest of the route is negotiable.

All over China, drivers often disregard traffic rules, if there are any, and accidents are common. Sudden swerving and stopping can cause injury, so hold on as tightly as possible. Honking is common among Chinese drivers, so a set of earplugs is a good idea if you plan to sleep while driving.

Getting a ticket can be quite difficult. Large bus stations have ticket offices that sell printed tickets showing the departure time, the boarding gate and the registration number of your bus (not always correct), and have fixed prices. Smaller bus stations have touts that announce the destination and guide you to your bus, where you pay on board. Large stations also have touts – usually they call the driver of a departing bus waiting by the road, while the tout takes you to the waiting bus on the back of a motorbike – you can then negotiate the fare with the driver. This is sometimes a complete scam and sometimes you can save about 30% on the fare – depending on your negotiation and Chinese skills.

Sleeping car

In China, sleeper buses are very common; instead of seats, they have bunk beds.These are a good way to travel longer distances – overnight distances are 1000 km or more at motorway speeds – but they are not quite as comfortable for tall or large travellers.

Generally, these are smooth and comfortable quickly in the affluent coastal provinces, less so in less developed areas. Try to avoid getting the bunk at the very back of the bus; if the bus hits a major bump, passengers there will be thrown into the air.

In some places you have to take off your shoes when boarding the bus; a plastic bag is provided to keep them. Follow the locals. If there are food or toilet stops, put your shoes back on. If you normally travel in boots, it is worth getting a pair of kung fu shoes to make this easier.

With subway

Most major cities in China now have metro (地铁 dìtiě) systems. They are usually modern, clean, efficient, popular with locals and continue to expand rapidly. Beijing and Shanghai already have some of the busiest underground systems in the world. Subways are usually the best way to get between two points. They will be extremely crowded during rush hour, but roads will also be heavily congested at the same time.

Both on the platforms and on the trains, there is usually signage in Chinese and English listing all the stations on the respective line. Due to the rapid changes in recent years, many maps (especially the English versions) may be out of date. It is worth getting a bilingual metro network map in advance and carrying it with you when travelling by metro.

Underground stations in Chinese cities usually have a security checkpoint before the turnstiles where you have to run your bags through an X-ray scanner. Metal detectors for people are not usually used.

Stations usually have numerous exits, labelled with names such as Exit A, B, C1 or C2. On maps you will find each exit clearly labelled around the station. Signs in the station itself make it easy to find your exit.

With taxi

Taxis (出租车 chūzūchē or 的士 dishì, pronounced “deg-see” in Cantonese-speaking areas) are generally common and inexpensive. Prices range from ¥5 in some cities to ¥14 in others, with about ¥2-3 charged per kilometre. In most cases, you can expect between ¥10-50 for a normal ride within the city. There is no extra charge for luggage, but in many cities fares are slightly higher at night. (In Shanghai, for example, falling the flag costs ¥14 06:00-22:59, and ¥18 23:00-05:59) Tipping is not expected.

While it is not uncommon for drivers to cheat visitors by deliberately choosing a longer route, it is not that common and should not usually be a nuisance. If it does happen, the fare difference is usually minimal. However, if you feel seriously cheated on the way to your hotel and you are staying in a mid-range or upscale hotel that has a porter, you can ask him and/or the front desk staff for help: a single sharp sentence pointing out the cheating can clear up the matter. In cities, it is quite effective to photograph the driver’s ID (hanging on the dashboard) and threaten to report him to the authorities.

The advanced smartphones in China mean that it is becoming very common for people to order taxi rides via a phone app and even offer higher fares. These services make it harder to randomly hail a taxi on the street, so it might be a good idea to learn the (Chinese language only) app if you spend a lot of time here.

Also beware of taxi salesmen who stalk naïve travellers inside or just outside airport terminals and train stations. They will try to negotiate a fixed price to get you to your destination and usually charge double or triple the regular fare. If you are not familiar with the area, stick to the designated taxi ranks located outside most major airport terminals and insist that the driver uses the meter. The fare should be clearly displayed outside the taxi.

Finding a taxi at rush hour can be a bit difficult. But it gets really difficult when it rains. Outside peak hours, especially at night, it is sometimes possible to get a 10-20% discount, especially if you negotiate it in advance, even if the meter is on and you ask for a receipt. Tipping is not required, although they certainly won’t complain if you round up after a long ride.

The taxi fee is usually rounded up to whole numbers (half). For example, you should pay ¥14 if the value on the taximeter ranges from 13.5 to 14.4.

Sitting in the passenger seat of taxis is acceptable and even useful if you have difficulty communicating in Chinese. Some taxis mount the meter at the bottom of the gearbox, where you can only see it from the passenger seat. Be warned that drivers may start smoking without asking, simply by opening the window and lighting up. In some cities it is also common for drivers to try to pick up more than one passenger if their destinations are in the same direction. Each passenger pays the full fare, but it saves the time of waiting for an empty taxi at rush hour.

It is difficult to find an English-speaking taxi driver, even in large cities like Shanghai and Beijing. If you are not able to pronounce Mandarin well, you can easily be misunderstood. Therefore, it is advisable to write down the name of the place you want to go to or take a map with you. Using the romanised spelling (pinyin) is not very helpful as most Chinese cannot understand it and the same pinyin can correspond to many different characters, so it is always better to ask someone to write it down for you in Chinese characters. Business cards for your hotel and for restaurants are useful to show to taxi drivers. It will be a good idea to equip yourself with a sound guide to conversing in Chinese. Such tools can easily be found on the internet in different languages.

In some cities, taxi companies use a star rating system for drivers, ranging from 0 to 5, which is displayed on the driver’s nameplate on the dashboard in front of the passenger seat. While no stars or only a few stars do not necessarily indicate a bad driver, many stars tend to indicate a good knowledge of the city and a willingness to take you where you want to go by the shortest route. Another indicator of the driver’s skills can be found on the same nameplate – the driver’s ID number. A small number tells you that he has been on the road for a long time and probably knows the city very well. A quick tip to get a taxi driver’s attention if you feel you are being ripped off or scammed: Get out of the car and start noting his number plate, and if you speak some Chinese (or have a good phrase book), threaten to report the driver to the city or taxi company. Most drivers are honest and fares are not very high, but there are also the bad ones who will try to use your lack of Chinese skills to their advantage.

Sometimes when searching for a taxi, many Chinese people can be very assertive. The person flagging down a particular car is not necessarily entitled to that ride. It is common for locals to get further ahead in traffic to intercept cars, or to be pushed out of the way if they try to get into a taxi. If others in the area are competing for rides, be ready to reach your car and get in as soon as possible after you have flagged it down.

Always wear your seat belt (if you can find it), no matter how much the taxi driver insists you don’t need it. Some taxi drivers, especially those who speak some English, can be quite nosy and talkative, especially during rush hour (高峰 gāofēng). Depending on the character and English skills of the driver or your knowledge of Chinese, you may find conversation very amusing or quite annoying.

With tram (trolley)

Above ground, some cities such as Dalian or Changchun offer transport by tram. They stop more frequently than light rail and are a convenient way to get around if the city has one. Single-track trolleys may also be in use. Both modes of transport are prone to congestion.

With bicycle

Bicycles (zìxíngchē, 自行车) were once the most common form of transport in China. But in recent years they have dramatically lost popularity as people have switched to electric bikes and motorbikes. Many bicycles are traditional heavy one-speed road bikes, but simple mountain bikes with multiple gears are also common. For travellers, bicycles can be a cheap, convenient means of transport that is better than squeezing into a public bus for hours.

There are two main dangers for cyclists in China:

  • Car traffic; cars and motorbikes often drive off without warning, and in most areas red lights are apparently optional.
  • Theft of bicycles is common in China’s cities. Watch how other people park their bikes. In some places you may still see locals simply parking their bikes, but in many cities people lock them in restaurants and internet cafes. It is advisable to park in designated areas with a guard, which costs about ¥1-2. Some locals also deliberately buy a used, old, ugly bike so that it won’t tempt a thief.

In most tourist areas – whether big cities like Beijing or heavily touristy villages like Yangshuo – bicycles are easy to rent and there is a repair shop on every corner. Guided bicycle tours are also readily available.

Buying a bike is easy. The most popular quality brands are Dahong, Meridianda and Giant, with dealers in every city. Prices range from $150 to more than $10,000. You should budget around $3,000 to $4,500 to ride a well-equipped mountain bike in areas such as Tibet. Big cities like Shanghai and Beijing tend to stock more upmarket bikes, but if you have very specific requirements, Hong Kong is still the last hope to buy them.

Bicycle repair shops are seemingly everywhere in the cities and countryside; for non-Chinese speaking tourists it might be a bit difficult, but you can just look for bikes and tyres. For a quick fix to a sudden flat tyre, there are also many people standing by the side of the road with a bowl of water and a repair kit. For special parts, such as disc brakes, you might want to bring a spare wheel if you don’t use them in big cities.

China is a vast country and offers serious cyclists the challenge of cycling through mountains and desert. However, since November 2011, it has been a legal requirement that foreign tourists cycling through the Tibet Autonomous Region must obtain a permit and hire a guide (although other Tibetan regions in China may also be visited).

Travelling with a bicycle on a train, bus or ferry

You can transport your bicycle as checked luggage (by train) if you wish to take it to other locations in the country. The charge for shipping a bicycle-sized item is usually much less than the cost of a passenger ticket for the same distance. This is possible at most major stations; the luggage department is usually located somewhere near the main station building. Checked luggage does not travel on the same train with you (in fact, you don’t even have to travel by train); it may take a few days to arrive at your destination.

A foldable bike can be taken as hand luggage on most trains; however, you may be asked to put it in a bag, so make sure you have a bag big enough to fit a folded bike in! With a typical hard or soft bunk ticket, you can easily fit a folded bike in the luggage compartment of the compartment (this is located between the roof of the carriage and the ceiling of the carriage aisle and is accessible from the compartment itself). On a high-speed line, some carriages have a convenient luggage compartment near the door into which a folded bicycle can easily fit; others do not, so accommodating the bicycle without inconveniencing oneself and fellow passengers can be somewhat problematic.

Regional and long-distance buses have a luggage compartment under their floor. You can sometimes see people carrying items as big as a motorbike. If the bus is not very full and does not already carry too much passenger luggage, it may sometimes be possible to fit even a normal (non-folding) bicycle in there; you may have to negotiate with the driver.

It is of course no problem to take a bicycle on a ferry that is designed for both passengers and vehicles; but even a passenger-only ferry would often allow bicycles. Ask at the terminal, or observe what other passengers are doing.

With car

The PRC generally does not recognise international driving licences and does not allow foreigners to drive in China without a Chinese driving licence. Note that Hong Kong and Macau driving licences are also considered foreign and possession of one does not allow you to drive on the mainland. This reportedly changed in 2007 and short-term driving without a Chinese licence became legal. However, as with many laws in China, official changes and changes in practice do not necessarily coincide; as of December 2008, it is still illegal for foreigners to drive without a Chinese driving licence. Importing foreign vehicles is very difficult.

Rental cars usually come with a driver and this is probably the best way to travel by car in China. Driving in China is not recommended unless you are used to chaotic driving conditions. Driving in China’s cities is not for the faint-hearted, and parking spaces are often very hard to find. However, driving habits have improved over time and are no longer as aggressive as in Indonesia or Vietnam, for example. In mainland China, traffic flows on the right. In many neighbouring countries, such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan as well as Hong Kong and Macau, traffic flows on the left.

In the areas that are likely to be visited by most tourists, the street signs are bilingual in Chinese and English.

Foreigners should really avoid driving outside of major cities.” “One-way” signs usually mean “mostly one-way, but not necessarily one-way”. If you miss an exit on the motorway, expect to slow down before the next ramp and then turn 270 degrees to get back on the motorway. Expect drivers to take creative shortcuts in most cases.

With motorbike

Motorbike taxis are common, especially in smaller towns and rural areas. They are usually cheap and effective, but a bit scary. Fares are negotiable.

The regulations for riding a motorbike vary from city to city. 50cc mopeds may be driven without a license in some cases, although many cities have now banned them or reclassified them due to numerous accidents. Riding a “real” motorbike is much more difficult – partly because you need a Chinese driving licence, partly because they are banned in many cities, and partly because production and imports have declined with the focus on cars and electric scooters. The typical Chinese motorbike is 125cc, does about 100 km/h and is a traditional cruiser style. They tend to be slow, mundane to ride and have little sporting potential. Government restrictions on engine size mean that sport bikes are rare, but can still be found. Another popular choice is a 125cc automatic ‘maxi’ scooter, loosely based on the Honda CN250 – it’s a bit faster than a moped and more comfortable on long journeys, but has the advantage of an automatic transmission, which makes getting through stop-and-go traffic in town much easier.

Most towns have some kind of motorbike market where you can often buy a cheap motorbike with fake or illegal number plates – although a foreigner on a motorbike is a rare sight and will attract the attention of the police. Helmets are compulsory on ‘proper’ motorbikes, but optional on scooters. Technically you need a number plate – they are yellow or blue on a motorbike or green on a scooter and can cost several thousand yuan to register the motorbike yourself, although fake number plates are easily available at a lower price – do so at your own risk.

With the pedicab (rickshaw)

In some medium-sized cities, tricycles are a more convenient way to travel short distances. Tricycles are a general term for motorized and rickshaw vehicles and are found everywhere in rural China and in less developed areas of large cities (i.e. less touristy areas). It is essential to negotiate the fare in advance.

Reports that “drivers will often try to rob you” may refer to con artists working at tourist attractions such as the Silk Road, Wangfujing, and especially the Lao She Teahouse in Beijing. Presumably a good business lesson is “beware of almost anyone who sells anything around tourist traps”.

For example, if you see a normal Chinese family using a “tricycle” on the street between the Beijing Zoo and the next subway station, it’s safe. Don’t sponsor a tricycle in an old-fashioned suit just to attract tourists. He will try to charge you ten times the usual price.

In Shanghai, electrified three-wheeled tricycles developed or converted from pedicabs seem to dominate.

Destinations in China

China has many large and famous cities. Below is a list of the nine most important for travellers in mainland China.

  • Beijing (北京) – the capital, cultural centre and host of the 2008 Olympic Games
  • Guangzhou (广州) – one of the wealthiest and most liberal cities in the south, near Hong Kong
  • Guilin (桂林) – popular destination for Chinese and foreign tourists with sensational mountain and river landscapes
  • Hangzhou (杭州) – famous beautiful city and important centre of the silk industry
  • Kunming (昆明) – Yunnan capital and gateway into a rainbow of ethnic minority areas
  • Nanjing (南京) – a well-known historical and cultural city with many historical sights
  • Shanghai (上海) – famous for its riverside cityscape, an important commercial centre with many shopping opportunities
  • Suzhou (苏州) – “Venice of the East”, an ancient city west of Shanghai famous for canals and gardens.
  • Xi’an (西安) – the oldest city and ancient capital of China, capital of 13 dynasties including the Han and Tang, endpoint of the ancient Silk Road and home of the Terracotta Warriors

You can travel to many of these cities on the new express trains. Especially the Hangzhou – Shanghai – Suzhou – Nanjing route is a very convenient way of seeing those famous historical areas.

Other destinations in China

Among the most famous tourist attractions in China are:

  • Great Wall of China (万里长城) – more than 8,000 km long, this ancient wall is the landmark of China.
  • Hainan (海南) – a tropical, paradise island that is being developed with a strong focus on tourism
  • Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve(九寨沟) – known for its many multi-level waterfalls, colourful lakes and as home to the giant pandas
  • Leshan – most famous for its giant Buddha cliff statue on the riverbank and nearby Mount Emei
  • Mount Everest – the highest mountain in the world lies on the border between Nepal and Tibet.
  • Mount Tai (泰山 Tài Shān) – one of the five sacred Daoist mountains in China and, due to its history, the most climbed mountain in China
  • Tibet (西藏) – with a majority of Tibetan Buddhists and traditional Tibetan culture, it feels like a completely different world
  • Turpan (吐鲁番)- in the Islamic region of Xinjiang, this area is known for its grapes, harsh climate and Uyghur culture.
  • Yungang Grottoes (云冈石窟) – these hillside caves and alcoves number more than 50 in total and are filled with 51,000 Buddhist statues.

In China, there are over 40 sites listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Accommodation & Hotels in China

The availability of accommodation for tourists is generally good and ranges from shared rooms to 5-star luxury hotels. In the past, only a few hotels were allowed to accept foreign guests and the police monitored them, but restrictions now vary from city to city. Even in cities with restrictions, family-run establishments in particular can check you in if they feel they can get enough information from you to register you in the system, or if they think they can get away without doing so. Every hotel will still ask for a photocopy of your passport, some will check if your visa has expired, and they will probably share information with the authorities at least sometimes.

Looking for a hotel can be a daunting task when you first arrive in a Chinese city. Crowded passengers trying to get off the train or bus, touts grabbing your arm and shouting at you to follow them in front of your face, all in Chinese you don’t understand and you just want a place to put your bag. It doesn’t get better once you get into a taxi, because the driver doesn’t speak English and every hotel in your guidebook is full or closed! This is the experience of many travellers in China, but the agony of finding a hotel room can be avoided if you know where to look and what to look for. Also, star ratings, especially for two- and three-star hotels, generally cannot be trusted in China. Pricing is a much better guide.

If you are willing to pay ¥180 or more for a room, you will probably have little trouble finding one. For example, you could search Google Maps with the name of a hotel chain listed below under “mid-range”, find out what the address would be in Chinese, and then write that down on a piece of paper to give to a taxi driverIn case you are searching for something less expensive or more options, you may consider hostels, dormitories as well as extra rooms called zhusu. Sleeper trains and sleeper buses can also be a decent option if you’re planning your long-distance trip overnight. If you’re in a city and can’t find a hotel, try looking near the bus or train station, where there’s usually a wider selection of cheap hotels. Hotels without a licence can be heavily fined if caught hosting foreigners, but enforcement of this law seems to be sporadic, and many unlicensed hotels will still give you a room. In rare cases, someone from your hotel will accompany you to the local police station to comply with the house registration requirement.

Many ultra-cheap options are used as temporary accommodation by migrant workers and would not be attractive to most travellers from developed countries for safety and cleanliness reasons. In the cheapest hotels, it is important to ask if hot water is available 24 hours a day (有没有二十四个小时的热水 yǒuméiyǒu èrshisì ge xiǎoshí de rèshuǐ), and to check that the shower, sink and toilet actually work. Furthermore, it is recommended to avoid staying in rooms along busy streets, since the traffic may cause you to stay up late and wake up early. If you plan to just turn up in the city and look for a place to sleep, it is best to arrive before 6pm, otherwise the most popular places will be booked for the night.

Note that you should contact the local police (警察) or the public security office (公安局) if you are absolutely at a loss when looking for accommodation. They can help you find a place to sleep – at least for one night.

Prices are often negotiable, and a significant discount from the price posted on the wall can often be obtained even in nicer hotels by simply asking, “What’s the lowest price?” (最低多少 zuìdī duōshǎo). For stays of more than a few days, it is usually also possible to negotiate a lower daily rate. However, this negotiating tactic will not work during the busy Chinese holiday season, when prices skyrocket and rooms are hard to come by. Many hotels, both chains and individual properties, have membership cards that offer discounts to regular guests.

In mid-range hotels and above, it used to be quite common for guests to receive phone calls offering ‘massage services’ (which in reality offered additional physical services), but this has become rarer, so male guests may only find business cards stuffed under the door.

Booking a room over the internet with a credit card can be a convenient and quick way to ensure you have a room when you arrive at your destination, and there are many websites that offer this. Credit cards are not widely used in China, especially in smaller and cheaper hotels. Such hotels usually require an advance payment in cash and a deposit. A number of new online services will allow you to book without a credit card and to pay in cash at the hotel. During Chinese holidays, when it is difficult to get a room anywhere, this can be an acceptable option, but in the low season rooms are plentiful almost everywhere and it can be as easy to find a room on arrival as it is to book one over the internet.

Across China, check-out is usually at noon, and there is often the option to pay for half a day to get a 6pm check-out.

For those staying permanently in China, renting is possible, but with the obvious caveat that all contracts are in Chinese. Property prices are very high in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, even exceeding those in many major Western cities.

Cost-effective housing

There are several ways to sleep very cheaply in China: hostels, dormitories, zhusu, massage shops, saunas and spas.

  • Hostels (青年旅社are by far the most convenient and affordable options. They are usually aimed at foreigners, have English-speaking staff and offer cheap, convenient transport around the city. Some of them are even cleaner and better equipped than more expensive accommodation. Hostels also have a cosy, international atmosphere and are a good place to meet other travellers and get some half-decent western food, which can be a godsend after living on rice and noodles for days or weeks. Most cities of any size have at least one hostel, and travel hotspots such as Beijing, Yangshuo, Dali and Chengdu have a variety of hostels, although they can book up quickly due to their popularity with backpackers. Hostels can often be booked in advance online, but be sure to bring a printout of the confirmation, as not all hostels know that you can book their rooms (and pay part of the price) online in advance. In Beijing, many hostels are located in hutongs – traditional courtyard houses in the middle of a maze of traditional streets and architecture. While many of Beijing’s hutongs have been demolished, a movement to save the remaining hutongs has led to a boom in hostels for backpackers and boutique hotels for middle-class travellers.
  • Dormitories (宿舍are found on university campuses, near rural tourist attractions and as part of some hotels. Most travellers have little luck with dormitories. It is not uncommon to have rowdy or drunken roommates, and shared bathrooms take some getting used to, especially if you are not used to traditional squat toilets or cold showers. However, in some areas, especially on China’s sacred mountains, dormitories can be the only cheap option in a sea of luxury resorts.
  • Zhùsù (住宿), which translates simply as “accommodation”, can refer to any kind of sleeping accommodation, but the places that have the Chinese characters for zhusu written on the outside of the wall are the cheapest. A zhusu is not an actual hotel, but simply rooms rented out in flats, restaurants and near train stations and bus stops. Zhusu rooms are consistently spartan and bathrooms are almost always shared. The price can be quite low, costing only a few dozen renminbi. Officially, a zhusu is not allowed to rent rooms to foreigners, but often the caretaker is eager to get a customer and is willing to rent to anyone. There are never English signs advertising a zhusu, so if you can’t read Chinese, you may have to print out the characters to find them. Security in zhusu’s is sketchy, so this option is not recommended if you have valuables with you.
  • Massage shops, saunas and spas: The cost of spas varies but can be up to ¥25. If you enter a spa very late at night (after 01:00) and leave before noon, you may get a 50% discount. In addition to showers, saunas, etc., the spa also has beds or loungers. Spa admission is usually for 24 hours and there is a small locker for bags and personal belongings. This is ideal if you are travelling light. In addition, spas often offer free food and chargeable services such as massages and body scrubs. There is no privacy as everyone usually sleeps in one room. However, there is more security than in a dormitory as there are attendants monitoring the area and your belongings (even your clothes!) are kept in the lockers. Don’t be fooled if receptionists try to invent reasons why you have to pay more than the quoted price. They may try to convince you that the prices quoted are for members only, locals, women or men, or only include part of the spa (e.g. shower but no bed/lounger). To verify any claims, start a conversation with a local some distance from the spa and ask about the prices. Do not let them know that you are checking the spa’s claims. Just pretend that you are thinking about going there if the price is good. If they know the spa is trying to overcharge you, they will usually support the spa’s claim.

Budget Hotels

The next hotels up, aimed at Chinese customers, are usually officially off-limits to foreigners, but you might be able to convince them to accept you, especially if you can speak a little Chinese. The cheapest Chinese budget hotels (one step above zhusu) are called zhāodàisuǒ (招待所). In contrast to zhusu, these are licensed accommodations, but they are similarly spartan and functionally furnished, often with shared bathrooms. Slightly more luxurious budget hotels and Chinese business hotels may or may not have English signs and usually have the words lǚguǎn (旅馆, meaning “travel hotel”), bīnguǎn or jiǔdiàn (宾馆 and 酒店 respectively, meaning “hotel”) in their name.

There are single and double rooms with private bathrooms and dormitories with shared bathrooms. Some budget hotels offer free toiletries and internet. In small, rural towns, a night can be had for as little as ¥25; in larger towns, you can usually get a room for ¥80-120. One problem with such hotels is that they can be quite noisy, as guests and staff can shout at each other until the early hours of the morning. Another possible inconvenience is taking a room with a shared bathroom, as you may have to wait to use a shower or squat toilet, which is also not in an appealing condition. In smaller budget hotels, the family running the hotel may simply lock up late at night when no more guests arrive. If you plan to be late, try to explain in advance, otherwise you may have to call reception, knock on the door or climb over the gate to get in.

Middle class hotels

These are usually larger hotels, clean and comfortable but not too expensive, with rooms ranging from ¥150 at the lower end to over ¥300. Often the same hotels have more expensive and luxurious rooms. Double rooms are usually quite nice and up to Western standards, with a clean private bathroom with towels and free toiletries. A buffet breakfast may be included, or you can buy a breakfast ticket for about ¥10.

There are a number of Western-quality budget hotels throughout China.

Splurge

At the top end of the hotel food chain are international hotel chains and resorts such as Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton and Shangri-La and their Chinese competitors. These charge hundreds or thousands of yuan per night for luxurious accommodation with 24-hour room service, satellite TV, spas and Western breakfast buffets. In Shanghai, for example, suites can be found for over ¥10,000 per night. Many of these accommodations cater to business travellers with expense accounts and charge accordingly for food and amenities (e.g. ¥20 for a bottle of water, which costs ¥2 in the supermarket). Internet (wired or wireless), which is usually free in mid-range accommodation, is often chargeable in upmarket hotels.

Some hotels in the ¥400-700 range, like Ramada or Days Inn, are willing to lower their rates if business is slow. Chinese three- and four-star hotels often give block rates or better deals if you negotiate or book a room for more than 5 days. If you come to China with a tour, the tour company may be able to get you a room in a real luxury hotel for a fraction of the list price.

Things To See in China

China’s attractions are endless and you will never run out of things to see. Especially near the coastal regions, if you run out of things to see in one city, the next one is usually only a short train ride away.

Whether you are a history buff, a nature lover or someone who just wants to relax on a beautiful beach, China has it all, from the majestic Forbidden City in Beijing to the stunning scenery of Jiuzhaigou. Even if you have lived in China for many years, you will find that there is always something new to discover in a different part of the country. Perhaps because of its sheer size and long history, it is not surprising that China has the third largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites after Italy and Spain.

Karst landscape

The rubbery mountains and steeply sloping forested hills with bizarre rock formations favoured by traditional Chinese artists are not a creative fantasy. In fact, much of southern and southwestern China is covered by strangely eroded rock formations known as karst. Karst is a type of limestone formation named after an area in Slovenia. As the limestone layers erode, the denser rock layers or pockets of different rock resist erosion and form peaks. Caves form under the mountains, which can collapse to form sinkholes and channels that lead to underground rivers. In its most unusual form, karst erodes to form labyrinths of pinnacles, arches and passages. The most famous example is found in the Stone Forest (石林 Shílín) near Kunming in Yunnan. Some of China’s most famous tourist areas have spectacular karst landscapes – Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi, and large parts of central and western Guizhou province.

Sacred mountains

Mountains are an important part of Chinese geomancy, and there are many mountains that have religious significance in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism. These mountains often serve as popular backdrops in Chinese historical dramas and have traditionally been associated with various Chinese martial arts sects. Today, these mountains continue to house many Taoist and Buddhist temples and continue to serve as a scenic backdrop that attracts many local tourists.

Five big mountains

The Five Great Mountains (五岳) are associated with the five cardinal directions in Chinese geomancy and are said to have originated from the body of Pangu (盘古), the creator of the world in Chinese mythology.

  • Mount Heng (恒山), the northern mountain (北岳), is located in Shanxi province. Literally the “eternal mountain”.
  • Mount Heng (衡山), the southern mountain (南岳), is located in Hunan province. Literally the “balancing mountain”.
  • Mount Tai (泰山), the eastern mountain (东岳), located in Shandong province. Literally the “peaceful mountain”.
  • Mount Hua (华山), the Western Mountain (西岳), is located in Shaanxi province. Literally the “magnificent mountain”.
  • Mount Song (嵩山), the central mountain (中岳), is located in Henan province. It is also home to the famous Shaolin Monastery (少林寺), historically known for its warrior monks. Literally the “sublime mountain”.

Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism

The four sacred mountains of Buddhism (四大佛教名山) are traditionally associated with four different bodhisattvas who are very highly revered in Chinese Buddhism. Even today, these mountains are scenic spots with important Buddhist temples.

  • Mount Wutai (五台山), traditionally associated with the Bodhisattva Manjusri (文殊菩萨), is located in Shanxi province.
  • Mount Emei (峨眉山), traditionally associated with the bodhisattva Samantabhadra (普贤菩萨), is located in Sichuan province.
  • Mount Putuo (普陀山), traditionally associated with the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (观音菩萨), probably the most popular bodhisattva in Chinese Buddhism, is located in Zhejiang province. Technically not a mountain, but rather an island off the Chinese coast.
  • Mount Jiuhua (九华山), traditionally associated with the bodhisattva Ksitigarbha (地藏菩萨), is located in Anhui province.

Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism

Although there are many sacred mountains in Chinese folk religion, the Four Sacred Mountains of Taoism (四大道教名山), along with the Five Great Mountains, are widely considered the holiest among them. They continue to be scenic spots with important Taoist temples.

  • Mount Wudang (武当山), considered by most Chinese to be the holiest of all sacred mountains for Taoists, is located in Hubei province.
  • Mount Longhu (龙虎山), located in Jiangxi province.
  • Mount Qiyun (齐云山), located in Anhui province.
  • Mount Qingcheng (青城山), located in Sichuan province.

Things To Do in China

Massage

Massages are offered all over China, often both high quality and reasonably priced. Professional work costs ¥20-80 per hour.

  • Almost every hairdresser offers a hair wash and head massage for ¥10. This often includes earwax cleaning and a massage of the neck and arms. For a haircut and/or shave, prices range from ¥25 to ¥100, with higher prices in big cities and higher-class or tourist-oriented establishments.
  • Foot massage (足疗 zúliáo) is widely available and is often indicated by a picture of a bare footprint on the sign. Prices range from ¥15 to around ¥60.
  • Full-body massages are also common, at prices from ¥15 per hour upwards. There are two variants: ànmó (按摩) is a general massage; tuīná (推拿) focuses on the meridians used in acupuncture.

These three types of massage are often mixed; many places offer all three.

  • Massage is a traditional trade for the blind, and it is often cheapest in small, remote places that have some blind workers (盲人按摩 mángrén ànmó).
  • The most expert massages are available at massage clinics or general Chinese medicine clinics, usually for around ¥50 per hour.

Some massage places are actually brothels. Prostitution is illegal in China, but quite common and often disguised as massage. Most hot-spring or sauna facilities offer all the services a businessman could want to relax. Many hotels offer in-room massages, and additional services are almost always available once in the room. As for the smaller establishments, if you see pink lighting or lots of girls in short skirts, they probably offer a lot more than just massage (and quite often they can’t do a good massage either). The same is true in many hair salons that are also massage parlours/brothels.

The non-pink-lit places usually give good massages and do not usually offer sex. If the establishment advertises blind massage, it is almost certainly legitimate.

In many massage places it is possible to take a nap for a few hours and in some even spend the night. Hairdressers usually do not have facilities for this, but you can sleep on the table in a body massage place or (much better) on the couch used for foot massage. The fees are moderate; this is probably the cheapest way to sleep in China. Note, however, that except in high-end saunas with private rooms, you will have to share the staff toilet and there may be no way to lock up luggage.

Language for massage:

  • tòng (痛) and bú tòng (不痛) are “pain” and “no pain” respectively
  • hǎo (好) and bù hǎo (不好) are “good” and “not good”; hěn hǎo (很好) is “very good” or “great”.
  • yào (要) is “to want”, bú yào (不要) “not to want”.
  • yǎng (痒) is “that tickles”.

There are several ways a masseur or masseuse can ask a question. For example, the question “Does this hurt?” can be asked as tòng bú tòng? or tòng ma? For both, answer tòng or bú tòng.

Traditional Arts

If you are planning an extended stay in China, you may want to consider learning some of the traditional arts. After all, a trip to China is a unique chance to learn the basics or hone skills already acquired, directly from masters in the home country of the arts. Many cities have academies that accept beginners, and if you don’t know Chinese, it’s usually not a problem as you can learn by example and imitation. Calligraphy (书法 shūfǎ), a term that encompasses both writing characters and painting scrolls (i.e. classical landscapes and the like), remains a popular national hobby.

Many calligraphers practice by writing with water on walkways in city parks. Other traditional arts for which courses are available include learning to play traditional Chinese instruments (check with shops that sell these, as many offer courses), cooking Chinese cuisine or even singing Peking Opera (京剧 jīngjù). The fees are usually very modest, and the materials you need won’t exactly break the bank. The only requirement is to be in the same place long enough and show enough respect; it’s better not to take these courses as a tourist attraction.

Martial arts

As with traditional cultural arts, those who have the time and inclination may be interested in studying China’s famous martial arts. Some, such as Tai Chi (太极拳 tàijíquán) can be studied at a basic level simply by visiting any city park in the early morning and joining in. You are likely to find many eager teachers. However, learning martial arts at a level that allows one to use them competently in an actual fight requires years of study and training under a master, often starting in childhood.

In English, Chinese martial arts are often referred to as “Kung Fu” and we follow this usage below. However, in Chinese the general term for martial arts is “Wu Shu”, while “Kung Fu” is the term for the skill or power that practitioners acquire.

A traditional classification divides the Chinese martial arts into two groups named after two mountainous regions with monasteries that are centres of Kung Fu – the Shaolin Temple on Mount Song and the Wudang Temple in the Wudang Mountains. Shaolin are the hard or external styles that emphasise speed and power, while Wudang are the soft or internal styles that emphasise breath control and gentle movements. Other well-known kung fu centres are Southern Shaolin in Fujian and the Wu Wei Temple near Dali.

In Shanghai, there is a martial arts museum at a university of physical education.

Square Dance

In public parks, squares or plazas, or indeed anywhere in the city that is not fenced off and large enough (e.g. a car park), it is increasingly common in the early morning and late evening to find groups of (mostly) older women doing what looks like light aerobics to music with a dance beat coming from a nearby portable speaker. This activity is called guangchangwu (广场舞), roughly translated into English as “square dancing” because of the place where it takes place (not to be confused with the traditional American folk dance of the same name).

It originated in the mid-1990s among women (known as dama (大妈), or “dancing grannies” in English) who had just been forced into retirement to keep fit, socialise and reminisce about their own youth during the Cultural Revolution (indeed, many of the songs used are propaganda from that period or current Chinese pop hits). In 2015, noise and space problems had led to violent clashes in some cities, prompting the government to introduce and then hastily withdraw standard dance routines. It is interesting to observe, at least as a modern folk phenomenon, and indeed some groups don costumes and props for their performances. Some tourists, especially Russians visiting Manchurian towns, have joined in. If you are tempted, go to the back row, where beginners follow the leader and learn the moves (but be wary of several groups dancing in a space that is barely big enough for all of them – brawls have been known to break out).

In some parks there are also groups that do ballroom dancing.

Traditional pastimes

In China, there are several traditional games that are often played in tea gardens, public parks or even on the street. The players often attract crowds of onlookers. Two famous strategy board games that originated in China are Go (围棋 wéiqí) and Chinese Chess (象棋 xiàngqí). Mahjong (麻将 májiàng), a game played with tiles, is very popular and is often (almost always) played for money, although its large regional variations mean you have to learn new rules everywhere. The best-known variants of this game include the Cantonese, Taiwanese and Japanese versions. Chinese checkers (跳棋 tiàoqí ), despite its name, did not originate in China but can be found there. Many Chinese are skilled card players (扑克牌 pūkèpái); Deng Xiaoping’s love of bridge (桥牌 qiáopái) was particularly well known.

Food & Drinks in China

Food in China

Food in China varies greatly from region to region, so the term “Chinese food” is a pretty blanket term, just like “Western food”. When you visit, drop your inhibitions and try a little bit of everything.

Remember that insufficiently cooked food or poor hygiene can lead to bacterial or parasitic infections, especially in warm or hot weather. Therefore, it is advisable to be very careful (and perhaps refrain from eating) seafood and meat on the street in summer. In addition, raw meat and seafood should be avoided. Apart from this, the hygienic conditions in restaurants are usually satisfactory, so that diarrhoeal disease is not a risk for most people.

Chinese foodies value freshness, so your meal will most likely be cooked as soon as you order it. Frying in hot woks over coal or gas fires means that even street food is usually safe to eat. In fact, as many travel writers note, freshly prepared street food is often safer than food on the buffet lines of 5-star hotels. China is no exception.

The two-menu system, where different menus are presented depending on the colour of a guest’s skin, is still largely unknown in China. Most restaurants have only one menu – the Chinese one. Learning a few Chinese characters such as beef (牛), pork (猪), chicken (鸡), fish (鱼), fried (炒), deep-fried (炸), stewed (烧), baked or grilled (烤), soup (汤), rice (饭) or noodles (面) will take you far. Since pork is the most common meat in Chinese cuisine, if a dish simply contains “meat” (肉), you should assume it is pork.

Certain Chinese dishes contain ingredients that some people would prefer to avoid, such as dog, snake or endangered species. However, it is very unlikely that you will order these dishes by mistake. Dog and snake are usually served in speciality restaurants that do not hide their ingredients. Obviously, products made from endangered ingredients have astronomical prices and would not be on the regular menu anyway.

In general, rice is the main food in the south, while wheat, mostly in the form of noodles, is the main food in the north.

Regional cuisines in China

  • Beijing (京菜 Jīng Cài): Homemade noodles and baozi (包子 buns), Peking duck (北京烤鸭 Běijīng Kǎoyā), cabbage dishes, great pickles. Not fancy, but can be great and satisfying.
  • Imperial (宫廷菜 Gōngtíng Cài): The food of the late Qing court, made famous by Empress Dowager Cixi, can be sampled at specialised high-end restaurants in Beijing. The cuisine combines elements of Manchurian frontier cuisine such as game meat with unique exotica such as camel’s paw, shark’s fin and bird’s nest.
  • Cantonese / Guangzhou / Hong Kong (广东菜 Guǎngdōng Cài, 粤菜 Yuè Cài): the style with which most Western visitors are already reasonably familiar. Not too spicy, the emphasis is on freshly cooked ingredients and seafood. A highlight is the dim sum (点心 Diǎnxīn), small snacks usually eaten for breakfast or lunch. Apart from that, authentic Cantonese cuisine is also one of the most adventurous in China in terms of the variety of ingredients, as the Cantonese are famous even among Chinese for their extremely broad definition of what is considered edible.
  • Shanghai (沪菜 Hù Cài): Due to its geographical location, Shanghai cuisine is considered a good mix of northern and southern Chinese cooking styles. The most famous dishes are xiaolongbao (小笼包 Xiǎolóngbāo) and chive dumplings (韭菜饺子 Jiǔcài Jiǎozi ). Another speciality is “pulled noodles” (拉面 lāmiàn), from which Japanese ramen and Korean ramyeon are said to be derived. Sugar is often added to fried dishes, giving Shanghainese food a sweet taste.
  • Sichuan (川菜 Chuān Cài): Famous-hot and spicy. A popular saying is that it is so hot it makes your mouth numb. However, not all dishes are prepared with live chillies. The numbing sensation actually comes from Sichuan peppercorns (花椒). It is widely available outside Sichuan and is also native to Chongqing. If you want really authentic Sichuan food outside Sichuan or Chongqing, look for small places with the signs of Sichuan cuisine in neighbourhoods with lots of migrant workers. These tend to be much cheaper and often better than the ubiquitous upscale Sichuan restaurants.
  • Hunan (湖南菜 Húnán Cài, 湘菜 Xiāng Cài): the cuisine of the Xiangjiang region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan province. It is similar to Sichuan cuisine in some respects, but can be “spicier” in the Western sense.
  • Teochew / Chaozhou (潮州菜 Cháozhōu Cài): originates from the Shantou region of northern Guangdong, a unique style that may nevertheless be familiar to most Southeast Asian and Hong Kong Chinese. Famous dishes include braised duck (卤鸭 Lǔyā), sweet potato paste for dessert (芋泥 Yùní) and fish balls (鱼丸 Yúwán).
  • Fujian (福建菜 Fújiàn Cài, 闽菜 Mǐn Cài): uses ingredients mostly from coastal and estuarine waters. “Buddha jumps over a wall” (佛跳墙 Fó Tiào Qiáng) is particularly famous. Legend has it that the smell was so good that a monk forgot his vegetarian vow and jumped over the wall to eat some. Fujian cuisine can be divided into at least two different cuisines: Minnan cuisine from the Xiamen area and Mindong cuisine from the Fuzhou area.
  • Guizhou (贵州菜 Guìzhōu Cài, 黔菜 Qián Cài): combines elements of Sichuan and Xiang cuisine and makes generous use of spicy, peppery and sour flavours. The special zhergen (折耳根 Zhē’ěrgēn), a regional root vegetable, gives many dishes a distinctive sour-peppery flavour. Minority dishes such as Sour Fish Hot Pot (酸汤鱼 Suān Tāng Yú) are very popular.
  • Zhejiang (浙菜 Zhè Cài): includes the dishes of Hangzhou, Ningbo and Shaoxing. A finely spiced, light-tasting mixture of seafood and vegetables, often served in a soup. Sometimes lightly sweetened or sometimes sweet and sour, Zhejiang dishes often include cooked meat and vegetables in combination.
  • Hainan (琼菜 Qióng Cài): famous among the Chinese, but still relatively unknown to foreigners, characterised by the relatively heavy use of coconuts. The most famous specialities are the “Four Famous Dishes of Hainan” (海南四大名菜 Hǎi Nán Sì Dà Míng Cài): Wenchang chicken (文昌鸡 Wénchāng jī), Dongshan goat (东山羊 Dōngshān yáng), Jiaji duck (加积鸭 Jiājī yā) and Hele crab (和乐蟹 Hélè xiè).

Fast food in China

Different types of Chinese food offer quick, cheap, tasty, light meals. Street food and snacks sold by portable vendors can be found all over China’s cities. Snack Street in Beijing’s Wangfujing district is a notable, if touristy, area for street food. In Cantonese-speaking areas, street food vendors are called gai bin dong; such ventures can grow into considerable business, though the stalls are hardly “mobile” in the sense of traditional street food. The various fast food outlets available nationwide include:

  • Various, mostly sweet items from the ubiquitous bakeries (面包房, 面包店). A wide variety of sweets and sweet foods found in China are often sold as snacks, rather than as an after-dinner dessert course in restaurants as in the West.
  • Grilled meat skewers from street vendors. Yang rou chuan (羊肉串), the fiery Xinjiang-style lamb skewers, are particularly famous.
  • Jiaozi (饺子), which translates to “dumplings” in Chinese, are boiled, steamed or deep-fried ravioli-like items with a variety of fillings. These are found all over Asia; momos, mandu, gyoza and jiaozi are all basically variations of the same thing.
  • Baozi (包子), steamed buns filled with savoury, sweet or vegetable fillings.
  • Mantou (馒头), steamed bread available by the roadside – great for a very cheap and filling snack.
  • Lamian (拉面), fresh Lanzhou-style hand-pulled noodles. This industry is heavily dominated by members of the Hui (回族) ethnic group – look out for a tiny restaurant with staff in Muslim dress, white fez-like hats on the men and headscarves on the women.
  • In Guangdong and sometimes elsewhere, dim sum (点心). At any major tourist destination in China, you may well find someone serving dim sum to customers from Hong Kong.
  • Jianbing (煎饼), an egg pancake wrapped around a cracker with sauce and optional chilli sauce.

The western idea of fast food is probably just as popular as the domestic version. KFC (肯德基), McDonald’s (麦当劳), Subway (赛百味) and Pizza Hut (必胜客) are ubiquitous, at least in medium-sized cities and above. There are also a few Burger Kings (汉堡王), Domino’s and Papa John’s (棒约翰), but only in larger cities. Chinese chains are also widespread. These include Dicos (德克士) – chicken burgers, fries etc., cheaper than KFC and some say better – and Kung Fu (真功夫) – which has a more Chinese menu.

Etiquette

China is the birthplace of chopsticks and it is not surprising that many important etiquettes relate to the use of chopsticks. While the Chinese are generally tolerant when it comes to table manners, you will most likely be considered rude, annoying or offensive if you use chopsticks in an inappropriate way. Adhere to the following rules:

  • Never use your chopsticks to examine a dish piece by piece so that everyone tastes your saliva. Implicitly use your eye to target what you want and then choose it.
  • Once you have selected a piece, you are obliged to take it. Do not put it back. Confucius says: “Never leave someone with what you don’t want.
  • If someone is picking from a bowl, do not try to cross arms or reach under arms to pick from a bowl further away. Wait until the person has finished picking.
  • In most cases, a dish should not be chosen by several people at the same time. Do not try to compete with someone to choose a piece from the same dish.
  • Do not put your chopsticks vertically into your rice bowl, as this is reminiscent of incense burning in the temple and has the connotation of wishing death on those around you. Instead, place them across your bowl or on the chopstick tray if available.
  • Do not drum your bowl with chopsticks. Only beggars do that. People don’t find it funny even if you satirically call yourself a beggar.

Other, less important eating rules are:

  • Many travel books suggest that clearing your plate indicates that your host has not fed you well and will feel pressured to order more food. In general, finishing a meal is a delicate balance. Clearing your plate usually invites you to serve more, while leaving too much can be a sign that you didn’t like it. When you are full, please your host by giving a thumbs up, telling them how much you enjoyed it and rubbing your stomach theatrically to show you are full.
  • Especially for a family meal, you should only start eating when the oldest person at the table has started.
  • Shared chopsticks (公筷) are not always provided. Guests usually use their own chopsticks to put food in their bowl. While many foreigners think this is unhygienic, it is usually safe. It is acceptable to ask for shared chopsticks at the restaurant, although you may offend your host if you are invited.
  • Making slurping noises while eating is common, but might be seen as inappropriate, especially in well-behaved families. However, slurping, like “cupping” when tasting tea, is seen by some foodies as a way to enhance the taste.
  • Spoons are used when drinking soups or eating thin or watery foods like porridge. In China, the dish should be ladled towards you and not away from you, as is common in the West, as the Chinese believe this brings wealth.
  • If a piece is too slippery to pick, do it with the help of a spoon; do not impale it with the sharp end of the chopstick(s).
  • All dishes are shared, similar to the “family style” meals in North America. When you order something, it is not just for you, but for everyone. You are expected to consult others before ordering a dish. You are usually asked if there is something you are not eating, although it is considered a nuisance to be too picky.
  • It is normal for your host or hostess to put food on your plate. It is a gesture of kindness and hospitality. If you want to refuse, do it in a way that does not offend you. For example, you should insist that they eat and you serve yourself.
  • Fish heads are considered a delicacy and may be offered to you as a guest of honour. In truth, the cheek meat is particularly tasty in some fish species.

Who pays the bill

In China, restaurants and pubs are very common places of entertainment and treatment plays an important role in socialising.

While sharing the bill is gradually being accepted by young people, treating is still the norm, especially when the parties are in obviously different social classes. Men are expected to treat women, older to younger, rich to poor, hosts to guests, working class to non-income class (students). Friends of the same class usually prefer to share the opportunity to pay rather than split the bill, i.e. “It’s my turn now and you treat next time.”

It is common to see Chinese people fiercely competing to pay the bill. You are expected to fight back and say, “My turn, next time treat me.” The smiling loser will accuse the winner of being too polite. All these dramas, while still common among all generations and usually played out wholeheartedly, are less and less practised among younger, urban Chinese. Whenever you go out to eat with Chinese people, you have a fair chance of being treated. For budget travellers, the good news is that Chinese tend to treat foreigners eagerly, although you shouldn’t expect much from students and the ordinary working class.

Apart from that, Chinese tend to be very tolerant of foreigners. If you feel like going Dutch, try it. They tend to think that “all foreigners prefer to go Dutch”. If they try to argue, it usually means that they insist on paying your bill too, not the opposite.

Eating at a restaurant in China

Chinese restaurants often offer an overwhelming variety of dishes. Fortunately, all but the cheapest restaurants have picture menus with photos of each dish, saving you from despair in the face of a sea of characters. Mid-priced restaurants and above are also likely to have a more or less helpful English menu. Even with the pictures, the sheer volume of dishes can be overwhelming and their nature difficult to discern, so it is often useful to ask the waiter to recommend something (推荐 tuijian). He will often do this on his own if he sees you looking for a few minutes. The waiter will usually stop next to your table while you look through the menu, so don’t let that discourage you.

Dishes ordered at a restaurant are meant to be shared among the whole group. When one person indulges the rest, they usually take the initiative and order for everyone. In other cases, everyone in the group may recommend a dish. If you are with Chinese, it is fine to let them choose, but it is also fine to let them know your preferences.

When you are picking out the dishes, the first question you should ask is if you want rice. Usually you do this because it helps keep your bill manageable. However, the real luxury is in leaving out the rice, and it can also be nice if you want to try a lot of dishes. Rice usually has to be ordered separately and will not be served if you don’t order it. It is not free, but it is very cheap, only a few yuan per bowl.

For dishes, the rule of thumb is to order at least as many dishes as there are people when you eat rice. Portion sizes vary from restaurant to restaurant. You can never go wrong with an extra plate of green vegetables; after that, use your judgment, see what other people are getting, or ask the waiter how big the portions are. If you don’t eat rice, add dishes accordingly. If you are unsure, you can ask the waiter if he thinks you ordered enough (你觉得够吗? ni juede gou ma?).

You order dishes simply by pointing to them on the menu and saying “this” (这个 zhe ge). To order rice, you say how many bowls of rice you want (usually one per person): X碗米饭 (X wan mifan), where X stands for yi, liang, san, si, etc. The waiter will repeat your order to confirm.

When you want to leave, call the waiter by shouting 服务员 (fuwuyuan) and ask for the bill (买单 maidan).

Eating alone in China

Traditional Chinese food is made for groups, with lots of shared dishes on the table. This can become a lonely experience and some restaurants may not know how to serve a single customer. However, finding other people (locals or fellow travelers) to eat with could be the right motivation! However, if you are hungry and on your own, here are some tips:

Chinese fast food chains are a great way for the solo traveler to get full and still eat Chinese food instead of Western burgers. They usually have picture menus or picture displays above the counter and offer set deals (套餐 taocan) meant for eating alone. You will usually be given a number to call out (in Chinese) when your dish is ready. Just wait at the place where the food is served – there will be a receipt or something similar on your tray with your number on it. The price you pay for this convenience is that the ingredients are not particularly fresh. It’s impossible to list all the chains, and there are some regional differences, but you can usually identify a store by a colorful, branded sign. If you can’t find one, look near major train stations or in shopping centers. Department stores and shopping malls usually have chain restaurants.

A tastier and cheaper way to eat on your own is street food, but be careful about hygiene and be aware that the quality of ingredients (especially meat) can be suspect. Ask around and check the local wiki page to find out where to get street food in your city; there are often snack streets or night markets full of stalls. Another dish that can be eaten on its own is noodle soups such as beef noodles (牛肉面 niuroumian), a dish that is ubiquitous in China and can also be found in many chain stores.

Keep in mind that although it may be unusual to eat alone in a restaurant, you will not be thrown out and the staff will certainly try to suggest something.

Drinks In China

The Chinese love a drink and the all-purpose word jiǔ (酒) covers a whole range of alcoholic beverages.

Toasting

Chinese toast with the word gānbēi (干杯, literally “dry glass”). Traditionally, one is expected to empty the glass in one gulp. During a meal, one is usually expected to drink at least one glass with everyone present; sometimes there can be considerable pressure to do so. To be polite, you should also toast with many of those present. It may be considered rude, at least at the beginning of the meal, if you do not make a toast with each sip.

Be careful. Fortunately, the glasses are usually small – even beer is often drunk from an oversized shot glass. The Chinese liquor, baijiu, is definitely strong (up to 65% alcohol). Baijiu is often drunk in small shot glasses for good reason. US President Nixon practised drinking it before his first trip to China, to be ready for the toast with Mao Zedong. If you are not used to drinking a lot, you should be very careful when drinking with Chinese people.

If you want to take it easy and still be sociable, say suíbiàn (随便) before you make the toast and then drink only part of the glass. It may also be possible to make three toasts (traditionally as a sign of friendship) with the whole company, rather than a separate toast for each individual present.

Alcohol in China

Beer (啤酒 píjiǔ) is very common in China and is served in almost every restaurant and sold in many grocery shops. The typical price is about ¥2.5-4 in a grocery shop, ¥4-18 in a restaurant, about ¥10 in a regular bar and ¥20-40 in an upscale bar. In most places outside the big cities, beer is served at room temperature regardless of the season; in places aimed at tourists or expatriates, it is cold.

The best-known brand is Tsingtao (青島) from Qingdao, which was once a German concession. Other brands abound and are usually light pilsner or lager style beers with 3-4 % alcohol. This is comparable to many American beers, but weaker than the 5-6% beers found almost everywhere else. In addition to the national brands, most cities have one or more cheap local beers. Some companies (Tsingtao, Yanjing) also produce a dark beer (黑啤酒 hēipíjiǔ). In some regions, beers from other parts of Asia are quite common and popular with travellers – Filipino San Miguel in Guangdong, Singaporean Tiger in Hainan and Lao Beer Lao in Yunnan.

Locally made grape wine (葡萄酒 pútaojiǔ) is widely available and much of it is cheap, from ¥15 in a grocery shop to ¥100-150 in a fancy bar. However, most of the stuff bears only the slightest resemblance to Western wines. The Chinese like their wines red and very, very sweet, and they are typically served on ice or mixed with Sprite.

Great Wall and Dynasty are big brands with a range of wines at different prices; their cheaper offerings (under ¥40) generally do not impress Western wine drinkers. Chang Yu is another big brand; some of their low-end wines are slightly better. If you are looking for a Western-style wine made in China, try to find these brands:

  • Suntime, with a passable Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Yizhu, which is located in Yili and specialises in ice wine
  • Les Champs D’or, French owned and probably the overall best winery in China.
  • Imperial Horse and Xixia, from Ningxia
  • Mogao Ice Wine, Gansu
  • Castle settlements, Shandong
  • Shangrila Estates, from Zhongdian, Yunnan

There are also several brands and types of rice wine. Most of them resemble a watery rice pudding, they are usually very sweet and have only a very small amount of alcohol for taste. Travellers’ reactions to them are very different. They do not bear much resemblance to Japanese sake, the only rice wine known in the West.

Báijiǔ (白酒) is a distilled liquor, usually 80 to 120 proof, made from sorghum and sometimes other grains depending on the region. Since the word “jiǔ” is often loosely translated as “wine” by Chinese beverage makers and English speakers, baijiu is often referred to as “white wine” in conversation, but “white lightning” would be a better translation. Most foreigners think baijiu tastes like diesel fuel, while a spirits connoisseur may find high-quality, expensive baijiu quite good.

Baijiu is typically served in small shot glasses at banquets and celebrations. Toasts are ubiquitous at banquets or special occasion dinners. It is definitely an acquired taste, but once the taste is acquired, it is quite fun to “ganbei” a glass or two at a banquet.

The cheapest baijiu is èrguōtóu (二锅头) brewed in Beijing (¥4.5 per 100-mL bottle). It comes in two variants: 53% and 56% alcohol by volume. Ordering “xiǎo èr” (Erguotou’s little nickname) is likely to raise a few eyebrows and make working-class Chinese laugh.

Máotái (茅台), made in Guizhou province, is China’s most famous baijiu brand and China’s national liqueur. Made from sorghum millet, Maotai and its expensive cousins (such as Kaoliang from Kinmen in Taiwan) are known for their strong fragrance and are actually sweeter than Western clear liqueurs as the sorghum millet flavour is retained – in a way.

Chinese brandy (白兰地) is very cheap; like grape wines or baijiu, prices start below ¥20 for 750 ml, but many Westerners find the brandies much tastier. A ¥18-30 local brandy is not a ¥200+ imported brand cognac, but it is close enough that you should only buy the cognac if money is no object. Expatriates discuss the relative merits of brandies from the French brand LouisWann, the Chinese brand Changyu and a few others. All are drinkable.

The Chinese are also big fans of various supposedly medicinal liquors, mostly containing exotic herbs and/or animal parts. Some of these have prices in the normal range and contain ingredients such as ginseng. These can be quite tasty, though they tend to be sweet. Others, with unusual ingredients (snakes, turtles, bees, etc.) and steep price tags, are probably best left to those who enjoy them.

Bars, discos and karaoke in China

Western-style pubs are becoming increasingly popular across the country. Especially in the more affluent urban centres like Shenzhen, Shanghai and Hangzhou, you can find meticulously recreated replicas of traditional Irish or English pubs. Like their Western counterparts, most have a selection of foreign beers on tap, offer pub food (of varying quality) and often have live cover bands. Most of these pubs are frequented by expatriates, so you should not expect to find many Chinese in these establishments. Be aware that imported beer can be very expensive compared to local beer.

If you just want to go out for a drink with friends, choose a local restaurant and have beer for about ¥5 for a 600 ml bottle. It will be Chinese lager with about 3% alcohol, with a limited selection of brands and can be served warm. Most mid- to high-end restaurants have small private rooms for gatherings (usually offered free of charge if there are more than 5 people), and staff will not usually try to push you out, even if you decide to stay until closing time. Many residents visit outdoor restaurants or roadside stalls and barbecues (shāokǎo – 烧烤) for a nice and inexpensive evening.

In discos and fancy bars with entertainment, you usually buy beer ¥100 at a time; for that you get somewhere between 4 import brand beers (Heineken, Bud, Corona, Sol, … ) and 10 local beers. A few places offer cocktails; even fewer have good cocktails.

Other drinks are only sold by the bottle, not by the glass. Red wine is in the ¥80-200 range (served with ice and Sprite) and medium-bodied imported whiskeys (Chivas, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels; extremely rare single malts) and cognacs, ¥300-800. Both are often mixed with sweet green or red tea from the bottle. Vodka, tequila and rum are less common but sometimes available. Fake “brand name” products are quite common and can ruin your next day.

At these places there are often bar girls, young women who drink a lot and want to play drinking games to get you to consume more. They get a commission for everything you buy. Generally, these girls will not leave the bar with you; they are professional flirts, not prostitutes.

Karaoke (卡拉OK) is huge in China and can be roughly divided into two categories. More common is the no-frills karaoke box or KTV, where you rent a room, bring your friends and the house gives you a microphone and sells alcohol. They are popular with students as they are cheap and fun with the right crowd, although you need at least a couple of people for a memorable night. Bringing your own alcohol can keep the price down, but it has to be done secretly – many places have windows in the door so the staff can make sure you are only drinking alcohol they have sold you.

Quite different are the distinctly dodgier specialty KTV lounges, which cater more to businessmen who want to entertain clients or let off steam, and where the house offers all sorts of things for a price. In these often opulent establishments – over-the-top Roman and Egyptian themes are standard – you will be accompanied by professional karaoke girls in short skirts who charge by the hour for the pleasure of their company and whose services are not limited to singing badly and pouring your drinks. It is highly advisable not to venture into these venues unless you are absolutely sure that someone else is footing the bill, which can easily run into the hundreds of dollars even if you keep your trousers on.

As elsewhere, never accept an invitation to a restaurant or bar from an available-looking woman who has just picked you up on the street sometime after sunset. At best, suggest another place. If she refuses, drop her on the spot. Most likely she will direct you to a quiet little place with too many bouncers and you will have to settle for a modest meal and a beer that will cost you ¥1,000 or more. And the bouncers won’t let you leave until you’ve paid. It’s quite rare. But it does happen.

Tea in China

China is the birthplace of tea, and at the risk of stating the obvious, there is a lot of tea (茶 chá) in China. Green tea (绿茶 lǜchá) is served in some restaurants (depending on the region) for free or for a small fee. The most common types served are:

  • Gunpowder tea (珠茶 zhūchá): a green tea named not for the taste but for the appearance of the bundled leaves used for brewing (the Chinese name “pearl tea” is somewhat more poetic).
  • Jasmine tea (茉莉花茶 mòlihuachá): green tea scented with jasmine flowers.
  • Oolong (烏龍 wūlóng): a semi-fermented mountain tea.

However, specialised tea houses serve a wide variety of infusions, ranging from light, delicate white tea (白茶 báichá) to strong fermented and aged pu’er tea (普洱茶 pǔ’ěrchá).

Tea in China is priced like wine in Western culture; a product that has one of the well-known, high-quality or rare characteristics can be quite expensive, and one that has two or three of those characteristics can be surprisingly expensive. As with wines, you should generally avoid the cheapest stuff and leave the high-priced products to buyers who are either experts themselves or have expert advice, but there are many good choices in the mid-price ranges.

Tea shops typically sell per jing (500g, a little over a pound); prices start at around ¥50 per jing and there are many very nice teas in the ¥100-300 range. Most shops also stock more expensive teas; prices up to ¥2,000 per jing are quite common. The record price for premium tea sold at auction was ¥9,000 per gram; this was for a rare da hong bao from Mount Wuyi, which comes from a few bushes on a cliff, is difficult to harvest and was once reserved for the emperor.

Different areas of China have famous teas, but the same type of tea comes in many different varieties, just as there are many different Burgundies at different prices. Hangzhou, near Shanghai, is famous for its “Dragon Well” (龙井 lóngjǐng) green tea. Fujian has the most famous oolong teas, “Dark Red Robe” (大红袍 dàhóngpáo) from Wuyi Mountain and “Iron Goddess of Mercy” (铁观音 tiěguānyīn) from Anxi. Pu’er in Yunnan has the most famous fully fermented tea, pǔ’ěrchá (普洱茶). This is pressed into hard cakes, originally a packaging method for transport by horse caravans to Burma and Tibet. The cakes are embossed with patterns; some people hang them as wall decorations.

In most tea shops you are welcome to sit down and try different kinds of tea. “Ten Fu Tea” is a national chain and in Beijing “Wu Yu Tai” is the one some locals say they prefer.

Black tea, the most common type of tea in the West, is known as “red tea” (紅茶 hóngchá) in China. While almost all Western teas are black teas, the opposite is not true. Many Chinese teas, including the famous Pǔ’ěr, also fall into the “black tea” category.

Normal Chinese teas are always drunk pure, and the use of sugar or milk is unknown. However, in some areas you will find Hong Kong-style “milk tea” (奶茶 nǎichá) or Tibetan “butter tea”. Taiwanese “bubble tea” (珍珠奶茶 Zhēnzhū Nǎichá) is also popular and widespread; the “bubbles” are balls of tapioca and often milk or fruit are added.

Coffee in China

Coffee (咖啡 kāfēi) is becoming increasingly popular in urban China, although it can be quite difficult to find in smaller towns.

Several chains of coffee shops have branches in many cities, including Starbucks (星巴克), UBC Coffee (上岛咖啡), Ming Tien Coffee Language and SPR, which most Westerners consider the best of the bunch. All offer coffee, tea and both Chinese and Western food, usually with good air conditioning, wireless internet and nice decor. In most places, prices are ¥15-40 per cup, but beware of the places at the airport, where they sometimes charge around ¥70.

There are also many smaller independent coffee shops or local chains. These can also be high-priced, but are often slightly cheaper than the big chains. The quality varies from excellent to miserable.

For cheap coffee, just to combat the withdrawal symptoms, there are several options. Go to a western fast food chain (KFC, McD, etc.) for a ¥8 coffee. Also, almost any supermarket or convenience store has both canned cold coffee and instant nescafe (usually pre-mixed with whitener and sugar) – just add hot water. It is common for travellers to carry a few packets to use in hotel rooms or on trains, for example, where there may be no coffee but hot water is almost always available.

Cold drinks in China

Many drinks that are usually served chilled or with ice in the West are served at room temperature in China. If you ask for beer or soda in a restaurant, it may be served at room temperature, although beer tends to be served cold, at least in summer. Water is usually served hot. This is actually good, because only boiled (or bottled) water is safe to drink, but non-Chinese people generally do not find it pleasant to drink hot water in summer.

You can get cold drinks in small grocery shops and restaurants, just look for the cooler (even though it may not be really cool). You can try bringing a cold drink to a restaurant. Most small restaurants won’t mind – if they even notice – and there is no such thing as a “corkage” fee in China. Remember that most people will drink tea, which is free anyway, so the restaurant probably won’t expect to profit from your drink consumption.

Asking for ice is best avoided. Many, maybe even most, places simply don’t have it. The ice they do have may well be made from unfiltered tap water and is probably not safe for travellers sweating due to diarrhoea.

Money & Shopping in China

Money in China

The official currency of the People’s Republic of China is the Chinese yuan, known in Mandarin as renminbi (人民币 “people’s money”), international currency code CNY. All prices in China are quoted in yuan; the Chinese character is 元. For example, a price can be quoted as 20 元, 20 rmb, RMB 20, 20 yuan or ¥20; we use the latter form here. In informal spoken Chinese and sometimes spoken English, kuai may be used instead; similar to “buck” in the US or “quid” in the UK.

The Chinese yuan is not legal tender in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, which both issue their own currencies. However, many companies also accept the Chinese currency, albeit at an unfavorable exchange rate.

In June 2014, the yuan was just above 6 to the US dollar.

The official subdivisions of the yuan are the jiao (角), with 10 jiao to the yuan, and the fen (分), with 10 fen to the jiao. The fen is almost extinct nowadays, but can still be seen in less developed areas. A coin worth ¥0.10, therefore, reads 壹角 (“1 jiao”), not “10 fen”. In colloquial Mandarin, however, people often say kuai (块) instead of yuan, and the jiao is also called mao (毛). A price like ¥3.7 would therefore be read as “3 kuai 7” (the trailing unit is usually omitted).

When dealing with numbers, note that, for example, wu bai san, literally “five hundred three”, means 530 or “five hundred three tens”, with the trailing unit omitted. The number 503 would be read as wu bai ling san, literally “five hundred zero three”. Similarly, yi qian ba, literally “one thousand eight”, means 1800. When using larger numbers, remember that Chinese has a word for ten thousand, wàn (万), and so 50,000, for example, becomes wu wan, not wu shi qian.

Much of China’s currency will be in the form of notes – even small change. Notes are more common in some areas, coins in others, but both are accepted everywhere. Even the jiao, with only one-tenth of a yuan, exists both as a note (the smallest) and as two different coins. Conversely, a yuan exists both as a coin and as two different notes. You should be prepared to recognize and handle both versions.

Traveler’s cheques

Most major banks and upmarket hotels will exchange travelers’ cheques. You will need to show identification and your signature on the cheques, your ID and your signature in front of the counter clerk will be checked very carefully. In second-tier cities, you must go to the main branch of the Bank of China or Merchants’ Bank. The exchange of travelers’ cheques is usually slower than the exchange of cash.

Foreign currency

Foreign currencies, including the Hong Kong dollar or the US dollar, are rarely seen as substitutes for the RMB, except in some 5-star hotels, some shops on the Hong Kong/Shenzhen border, and on the stock exchanges. You are unlikely to use other currencies for most transactions (after all, the average visitor comes to China to sightsee and shop, not to play day trader, but for the curious: The minimum balance for trading USD is $1,000 with an account opening fee of $19, while the minimum for trading Hong Kong dollars is HKD5,000). If you run out of money and only have dollars in your pocket, it usually means you have no money to pay the bill without going to a bank. Many shops will not accept it because they have no idea of the exchange rate or how to check if the notes are fake.

Counterfeits

Counterfeit notes and coins are a serious problem in China and anyone who spends a few months in China is likely to have encountered them. Banknotes of ¥10, ¥20, ¥50 and ¥100 and even ¥1 coins pose a counterfeiting risk. It is very important to learn how to scrutinize notes and coins. The main focus is on the texture of the different parts, the metal line, the change of colors under different lights. Everyone has their own method, so just ask.

It is very common for cashiers to check banknotes closely and the more expensive supermarkets even have machines that can detect counterfeits. This is common practice in China and should not be taken as an insult. Similarly, you should carefully check notes that are returned to you, as sometimes sales staff will try to give you counterfeit money as change.

Counterfeiting at ATMs is not common, but many people are still concerned. If you are worried, withdraw your money at the bank counter and say “I am worried about jiabi (counterfeit money)”. You will find that the bank staff are very understanding about this.

It is not uncommon for unscrupulous money changers to pass counterfeit money to travelers in the Chinese border areas. It is strongly recommended that you visit a bank if you are not experienced in checking banknotes.

When you pay with a ¥50 or ¥100 banknote in a shop or taxi, it is socially accepted that you write down the last digits of the banknote you hand over. This is in case they claim your banknote is counterfeit, then these remembered digits will ensure they give you back exactly the same note.

Currency exchange in China

Although still restricted, the yuan is easily convertible in many countries, especially in Asia. The Hong Kong dollar, the US dollar, the Canadian dollar, the euro, the pound sterling, the Australian dollar, the Japanese yen and the South Korean won can be easily exchanged in China. Southeast Asian currencies are generally not accepted, the exception being the Singapore dollar. Money should only be changed at major banks (especially the Bank of China) or at the licensed money changers usually found at airports or upscale hotels, although they offer very poor rates.

There is a black market for exchanging money, but you should avoid it at all costs, as counterfeiting is a big problem when exchanging money in China. Beware of the private money changers found in markets and near large banks. Their exchange rates may look attractive, but unless you have a local friend to help you, you should not exchange money with them. It is not uncommon to exchange a large amount of cash only to find that most of what you got is fake. Stick to the official exchange counter at the Bank of China or one of the other big banks, because although you will get slightly worse rates there, the risk of getting counterfeit notes is almost nil.

Foreign exchange trading is strictly controlled in China. Private money changers, as found in many tourist resorts or shopping centers around the globe, are still uncommon in China. In a bank, it usually takes 5 to 60 minutes to process the change, in a hotel sometimes a little faster, depending on the experience of the staff. Generally, bank branches in big cities know the procedure and are relatively quick, while even main branches in third and fourth-tier cities can take much longer.

Regardless of location, you will need to fill out a form and present your passport. Your passport will be photocopied and scanned. Keep the exchange receipt if you plan to leave the country with a large sum of money. Note that not all banks with the “Exchange” logo exchange money for non-customers or for all currencies in cash. Standard Chartered, for example, only exchanges cash for their clients and only does USD and HKD in cash (but opening an account is quick and doable, even with a tourist visa, and they offer a better cash exchange rate than most local banks).

Exchanging US currency for RMB can be easy, but expect the notes to be heavily scrutinised before the exchange is processed. Opportunities to buy RMB before entering China, for example when entering by land from Hong Kong or Vietnam, should be taken as the rates are better. The same applies in the opposite direction – if you sell directly across the border, you often get a better rate. You are only allowed to import or export a maximum of RMB 20,000 in local currency in cash, and amounts over USD 5,000 in cash should be declared.

Most international banks allow you to get a cash advance via a debit or credit card at a Chinese ATM. However, the prices for such promotions are often unfavorable and may include high service fees. It is useful to carry an international currency such as pounds sterling, US dollars or Japanese yen to fall back on in case you do not have access to an ATM.

Banking in China

Setting up a Chinese bank account is a very good idea for long-term travel or stays. For Chinese-owned banks, you only need your passport with a valid visa, and even tourist visas are sometimes acceptable. Some banks, such as the Bank of East Asia, require proof of residency and some also require an initial deposit of approx. Bank staff usually cannot speak English, although some branches of the larger banks in major city centres may have English-speaking staff.

You may be given a passbook to record all transactions and balances, although most major banks offer card-only accounts. Depending on the bank, a PIN and/or ID card may be required for over-the-counter withdrawals.

China currently imposes certain restrictions on the international transfer of Chinese yuan out of the country. The rules change frequently, although for the most part they set a limit on the amount you can transfer each day.

Banks usually charge a fee (about 1%) for deposits and withdrawals in a city other than the one where you opened your account. ATMs are now available in almost all towns, except in the most remote areas. Many ATMs accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Maestro and Plus debit and credit cards, although some only accept UnionPay and Pulse, Interac or Link ATM cards.

In Shanghai, most smaller local banks have relationships with each other that allow for fee-free interbank deposits for any amount and withdrawals over ¥3,000. In addition, any Bank of Shanghai ATM with deposit capability can make deposits for any bank with an account issued in Shanghai.

Attention! If you open an account with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, be aware that they now issue their bank cards without magnetic stripes. Most ATMs outside mainland China do NOT accept these cards. So if you plan to travel outside the mainland, it would be a good idea to have a second account at another bank for this purpose.

China Construction Bank offers Bank of America customers the use of ATMs without fees to withdraw RMB. However, Bank of America now charges 3%.

Standard Chartered is very foreigner-friendly, although there are only a few branches outside the major cities. They offer unlimited ATM withdrawals within the city where the card was issued, as long as the amount withdrawn is over ¥2,000 each time, and they also offer several foreign currency investment products.

DBS requires a minimum deposit of ¥2,000 and also offers free withdrawals from DBS ATMs in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Woori Bank has even fewer branches than Standard Chartered but offers the Shanghai Tourist Card as a debit card that offers discounts at various restaurants and half-price tickets to various attractions. This is usually only available at local banks. They also offer unlimited free ATM withdrawals throughout China. As a South Korean bank, they also offer links to Korean bank accounts.

HSBC is another good international choice for expatriates, although branches are mostly located in the business centres of major cities. Customers who spend a lot of time in Hong Kong will find this a pretty good option.

Note that if you are employed in China, you may not have a choice: Many companies and schools only pay into one bank, and therefore you must have an account with that bank to get paid.

ATM cards

ATMs are available throughout the country, but most ATMs outside the major cities that accept the Cirrus, PLUS, VISA and MasterCard network are owned by the Bank of China or the Industrial and Commercial Bank. In big cities like Shanghai, most ATMs take Visa/Plus/MC/Maestro/Cirrus. However, cash withdrawals with Diner’s Club, American Express or JCB cards are more difficult. For visitors from Hong Kong or Macau, the only ATMs that accept JETCO cards are Bank of East Asia ATMs. Most ATMs charge a small and flat fee.

Note: The ATMs of Minsheng Bank, Shenzhen Development Bank and Bank of Shanghai all display PLUS/Cirrus/Maestro logos. In reality, only selected ATMs from these banks are connected to these networks and there is usually no indication until you try. This is also true for the ATMs of many other banks, even the Agricultural Bank of China (one of the big four).

Before traveling, find out if your house bank charges a conversion fee (often between 0-3%) for such transactions. It is worth opening an account without exchange fees beforehand, if possible. Otherwise, it would be better to open a local account on arrival where you keep money for a sufficiently long stay.

If you have problems because the ATM requires a 6-digit PIN and your PIN is only 4-digits, try putting 2 zeros in front of it. If you are in a city where there is a Bank of China branch but no ATM with an international network, it is usually possible to get a cash advance on a credit card at the bank. Just ask.

UnionPay, the local ATM card network, has agreements with various ATM card networks around the world. If your card is covered, any ATM in China will accept withdrawals and balance enquiries from your card. Currently covered are NYCE and Pulse in America (also applies to cash withdrawals from Discover cards), Interac in Canada, and LINK in the UK.

If your bank is part of the Global ATM Alliance, you should also note that China Construction Bank is the local partner for fee-free withdrawals.

Electronic bank transfers

Electronic money transfers to another country are no longer as difficult as they used to be. Just about every bank in the big cities offers this service nowadays. On the downside, service fees are variable (depending on the sending and receiving banks), staff are sometimes poorly trained, and the process can take up to a week. Alternatively, you can find a Chinese branch of a foreign or Hong Kong-based bank to make transfers. However, this is easier in the big cities.

It will be much easier to make transfers if you have a dual currency account with the Bank of China – opened at the branch from which you want to collect your money. There are no or very low fees for electronic transfers to dual currency accounts, but it usually takes about a week. Transfers to Chinese accounts from abroad also take between three and ten working days. All you need to open an account is your passport, a visa, and a small initial deposit (can be RMB) plus the new account fee (¥10-20). If you are opening a foreign currency account or a dual currency account, be sure to check if you can access it in another province or abroad. Alternatively, Wells Fargo offers a service for visitors from the US called ExpressSend, which allows money to be sent from the US and arrive in a China Agricultural Bank account the same day.

Western Union works with China Agricultural Bank and China Post, so there are a lot of Western Union signs. This is what overseas Chinese sending money to relatives or expats sending money out of China generally use; it is generally easier and cheaper than the banks. You can find a list of locations on the Western Union website. However, there can be problems. It may be that the system is down or the staff member you are dealing with asks for silly things – the recipient’s passport and visa number for a transfer abroad, or cash in US dollars for a transfer within China. Just try another branch if you have difficulties.

Credit cards in China

Outside of star or chain hotels, large supermarkets, and high-class restaurants, credit cards are generally not accepted and most transactions require cash. Many department stores and large grocery shops have point-of-sale terminals for Chinese bank cards, but these do not work for most foreign cards.

Most Chinese banks and many merchants use the UnionPay system, so a foreign card that supports UnionPay – Discover or JCB (Japan Credit Bureau) – is widely accepted. Visa, MasterCard, or American Express are less common. Most supermarkets take UnionPay, as do most restaurant chains, shops selling high-value items, grocery chains, and most ATMs.

If you spend a lot of time in China and use larger amounts of money, you should get a Chinese bank account or apply for an international card that can interact with UnionPay. If you are in a large city and later travel to smaller towns, try opening an account with smaller banks such as Woori Bank or Ping An Bank; they offer free ATM withdrawals throughout China (Ping An Bank also offers free withdrawals abroad, an advantage if you are traveling to nearby countries). Alternatively, Travelex offers UnionPay cash passes in certain countries.

If you have a bank account in Hong Kong, you may be able to open an additional Renminbi account with a UnionPay card, which is very convenient for mainland travel.

As with debit cards, Chinese sales staff will usually present the cardholder with the POS credit card terminal to enter a PIN for chip-and-pin cards. Visitors from signature or chip-and-signature countries, such as the USA, should try to explain this to the clerk or simply press the green button or Enter for no PIN. Chinese terminals have old-fashioned miniature dot-matrix printers that print receipts on carbonless paper. If no PIN is entered, the clerk presents the receipt to the cardholder for signature, then separates the layers and gives the carbon copy to the cardholder.

Costs in China

While China is no longer the bargain travel destination it was in the 1990s, it is still quite affordable for Western visitors, even if it is significantly more expensive than large parts of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Unless you are travelling to Hong Kong or Macau, China is generally much cheaper – from a traveler’s point of view – than developed countries. If you eat local food, use public transport and stay in very cheap budget hotels or hostels, then ¥200-300 is a workable daily budget for backpackers. However, if you want to live an extravagant lifestyle and only eat western food and stay in star hotels, then even ¥3,000 per day would not be enough.

Prices vary greatly depending on where you travel. Big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou tend to be more expensive than second-tier cities and rural parts of the interior. The boom cities of Shenzhen and Zhuhai are also known to be quite expensive by Chinese standards. Nevertheless, many Hong Kong or Macau residents (who live just across the border from Shenzhen and Zhuhai respectively), who are generally wealthier than mainlanders, often travel to these cities to shop, play golf and enjoy services such as massages, as prices are much lower.

Tipping in China

As a rule, tipping is not done anywhere in China. While tipping is rarely seen as an insult, in some cases it could be taken as an indication that a relationship is based on money rather than friendship. If you leave a tip on your table, it is common for a waiter to chase after you to return the money you “forgot”.

In China, compliments about service are usually expressed in an implicit way. If you are a smoker, you are expected to pass a cigarette to the service staff or manager. If you do not do this, you will be seen as selfish and self-centered. It is customary to buy a bartender or pub owner a drink.

In a hotel, it is generally customary not to tip for room service, airport service, taxis or other items, although hotels that routinely serve foreign tourists may allow tipping for tour guides and associated drivers. Masseurs in some areas such as Shenzhen are known to ask for a tip. However, if they become pushy about tipping, most Chinese see this as blackmail and an immoral practice, so just be firm if you don’t want to tip.

Taxi drivers are happy to receive a few rounded-up RMB if they have made a special effort for your ride; however, it is by no means necessary.

Shopping in China

As China’s emerging middle class has more and more disposable income, shopping has become the national pastime. There is a wide range of goods to suit every budget.

Don’t expect everything to be cheap. Prices for imported branded items such as camping equipment, mountain bikes, mobile phones and electronics, cosmetics, personal care products, sportswear, cheese, chocolate, coffee, and milk powder are often higher than overseas. Many Chinese buy such items in Hong Kong or overseas, where they are cheaper than in mainland China.

In most brand shops, upmarket shopping centers, and supermarkets, the prices already include value-added tax (VAT) and any sales tax. Therefore, anything with a marked price will usually be sold at that price or perhaps slightly below, especially if you pay cash and do not need a receipt for your purchase. With unmarked goods, there is a lot of room for haggling.

In terms of discounts, the Chinese make sales with the character: 折 (zhé), which represents the fraction of the original price you pay. For example, 8折 refers to a 20% discount, and 6.5折 is a 35% discount.

China excels in handmade products, partly because of the long traditions of exquisite craftsmanship and partly because labor is still comparatively cheap. Take your time, look closely at the quality and ask questions, but don’t take all the answers at face value! Many visitors come in search of antiques, and the hunt at the flea markets can be a lot of fun. The overwhelming majority of “antique” items you are shown are fakes, no matter how convincing they look and no matter what the seller says. Don’t spend a lot of money if you don’t know what you’re doing, because beginners almost always get ripped off.

  • Porcelain With a long history of porcelain making, China continues to produce great porcelain today. Most visitors are familiar with the blue and white of the Ming style, but the variety of glazes is much greater, including many beautiful monochrome glazes that are worth seeking out. Specialty shops near hotels and on the upper floors of department stores are a good, if not the cheapest, place to start. “Antique” markets are also a good place to find reproductions, although it can be hard to escape the attempts of sellers to convince you that their items are genuine antiques (with prices to match). Two of the most famous centers for porcelain are Jingdezhen and Dehua.
  • In the 1990s and 2000s, China became an important source of antique furniture, most of which came from far away. As the supply of old pieces has dwindled, many restorers are now turning to make new pieces using the old styles. The quality of the new pieces is often excellent, and great bargains can still be had on new and old pieces. Furniture can usually be found in large warehouses on the outskirts of cities; Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu have many of these and the hotels can tell you how to find them. Larger sellers can also arrange international shipping in most cases. Zhongshan has a huge furniture market; the city makes many replicas, mostly for the Hong Kong and Macau markets.
  • Art and visual arts The art scene in China is divided into three non-interacting parts. First, there are the traditional painting academies that specialise in “classical” painting (bird and flower painting, landscapes with rocks and water, calligraphy), with conservative attitudes and painting that conforms to the traditional image of Chinese art. On the other hand, there is a burgeoning modern art scene that includes oil painting, photography and sculpture and has little to do with the former. Both “scenes” are worth seeing and run the gamut from glorious to awful. The center of the modern scene is undoubtedly Beijing, where the warehouse district of Da Shan Zi (sometimes called 798) is emerging as a new frontier for galleries reminiscent of New York’s Soho in the mid-1980s. The third art scene is closely related to China’s mass production capabilities. China has become famous for producing hand-painted reproductions of great works. The Shenzhen suburb of Dafen is particularly famous for its reproductions.
  • Jade There are two types of jade in China today: one type is pale and almost colourless and is made from a variety of stones mined in China. The other kind has a green color and is imported from Myanmar (Burma) – if it is real! The first thing to look for when buying jade is that you get what you pay for (at best). Genuine Burmese jade with a good green color is exceptionally expensive and the ‘cheap’ green jade you will see in the markets is either made from synthetic stone or natural stone colored with a green dye. When buying jade, pay close attention to the quality of the carving: how well is it finished? Is it refined or rough with visible tool marks? The quality of the stone often goes hand in hand with the quality of the carving. Take your time and compare prices before buying. If you want to spend a decent amount of money, do it in specialist shops, not flea markets. Khotan in Xinjiang is a famous area for jade production. Ruili on the Sino-Burmese border has an extensive trade in Burmese jade.
  • Carpets China is home to a remarkable variety of carpet weaving traditions. These include Mongolian, Ningxia, Tibetan and modern styles. Many tourists come in search of silk carpets, although these are actually quite a recent tradition, as most designs have been adopted from Middle Eastern traditions rather than reflecting Chinese designs. Although the workmanship of these carpets is very good, they often skimp on the materials, especially the dyes. These are prone to fading and color change, especially if the rug is displayed in a brightly lit place. Some excellent wool carpets are also made in China. Tibetan rugs are among the best in terms of quality and construction, but be aware that most rugs described as Tibetan are not actually made in Tibet, with a few notable exceptions. As with jade, it is best to buy from shops that have a good reputation.

In western China, especially in Kashgar, rugs from Pakistan or nearby Central Asian countries are also readily available. The best of them, especially some of the Turkmen pieces, are very high quality indeed and their prices reflect that. However, there are also some interesting carpets at moderate prices.

  • Pearls & Pearl Jewellery Cultured Akoya and freshwater pearls are mass-produced and sold in markets across China. The use of large-scale aquaculture makes pearl jewelry affordable and widely available. Large, lustrous, almost round and circular freshwater pearls come in a variety of colours and overtones. Besides jewelry, pearl-based cosmetics are also widely available. Southern areas such as Beihai and Sanya are virtually overrun with pearl sellers; prices and quality are generally reasonable, but caution and haggling are necessary as not all sellers are honest.
  • Silver coins A variety of silver coins are sold in China’s markets – and for good reason: in the 19th century, the emperor decreed that foreigners had to pay for all trade goods in silver. The United States even minted a special silver “trade dollar” to meet this requirement. Collectors can find Mexican, US, French Indo-Chinese, Chinese and other silver dollars for sale, mostly dated from 1850-1920. Unfortunately, almost all coins now for sale are counterfeit. If you want to collect coins, take a small portable scale with you to check their weight. In a tourist area, you should expect at least 90% to fail this simple test.
  • Other crafts Other items to look out for are cloisonne (coloured enamels on a metal base), lacquer work, opera masks, dragons, shadow puppets, socialist-realist propaganda posters, wood carvings, scholar’s stones (decorative rocks, some natural, others not so much), silhouettes and so on.

Luxury goods such as jade, expensive ceramics and other works of art, antiques or carpets are risky. Most of the antique furniture available today is replica. Much of the jade is either glass or low-quality stone colored a beautiful green; some is even plastic. Various stone carvings are actually moulded glass. The samurai swords are mostly either inferior weapons mass-produced for the Japanese military and Manchurian soldiers during World War II, or modern Chinese copies. For the right price, any of these can be a very good buy. However, none of them are worth anywhere near the price of genuine top-quality goods. If you are not an expert in the field you want to buy, it is very likely that you will be sold inferior goods at high prices.

There are two solutions. Either stick to the cheaper products, some of which are quite nice as souvenirs, or if you decide to spend a considerable amount, deal with a large and reputable supplier; you may not get the bargains that an expert might find elsewhere, but you are unlikely to be cheated either.

Export ban on antiques

China’s government passed a law in May 2007 banning the export of pre-1911 antiquities. It is therefore illegal to take antiques out of China. Even pre-1911 antiques bought at proper auctions cannot be taken out of the country. As violating this law can lead to heavy fines and possible imprisonment, it is advisable to follow it.

If you let the sellers know that you are aware of this law, they may lower their prices, knowing that you know that their “antiques” are really not Ming Dynasty originals.

Clothes in China

China is one of the world’s leading producers of clothing, shoes and accessories. Branded goods, whether Chinese or foreign, tend to be expensive compared to the unbranded clothing sold in markets across the country. See next section for more information. Chinese brands that are similar in look, feel and style to their foreign counterparts are often an excellent deal. Cheap unbranded clothing is also often cheaply made; check the stitching and seams before making a purchase.

Travellers should try on all the clothes they want to buy, as sizes can vary greatly. Garments that are a size XL in the US may be from L to XXXL in China. Most nicer shops have a tailor on call who will adjust the length and hem of trousers in 15-30 minutes for free.

There are very cheap tailors all over China. In the big cities, some of them can make Western clothes very well. Shirts, trousers and suits can in many cases be measured, fitted, assembled and delivered within three days. Some tailors have their own fabric selection, while others require their customers to buy the fabric in advance from fabric markets. The quality of tailors varies widely, as is the case everywhere. More reputable tailors often come to the hotels to do measurements, fittings and final sales.

Brand-name goods in China

Items with major global brand labels sold in China may be fake, especially expensive and exclusive popular brands. By no means all are fake; most of the big brands are marketed in China, but some will be unauthorised or downright fake. If you buy genuine foreign branded goods, especially haute couture brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada, or popular brands like Nike or Adidas, don’t expect them to be cheaper than in Western countries. Wealthy Chinese who can afford to travel often buy luxury brand goods in Hong Kong or overseas, as this is significantly cheaper than buying in mainland China.

There are a number of sources of potential counterfeits or fake branded goods.

  • The most common variation comes from a Chinese company that gets a contract to supply, say, 100,000 shirts to BigBrand. They actually have to make a few more because some fail quality control. Maybe 105,000? What the hell, make 125,000. Any excess shirts will be easy to sell; after all, they have the BigBrand label. So 25,000 shirts – a few “factory two-pieces” and many perfectly good shirts – arrive in the Chinese market without BigBrand’s approval. A traveller might be happy to buy these – just check carefully to avoid the secondhand shirts and you get exactly the shirt BigBrand sells at a much better price.
  • But that’s not the end of it. If the factory owner is greedy, he produces a bunch more. Only now he doesn’t have to worry about BigBrand’s strict quality control. He can cut a few corners, stick on the BigBrand label and make a big profit. These may or may not be a good buy, but in any case they are not what you would expect from BigBrand.
  • Finally, it is of course possible that another factory is producing completely fake “BigBrand” shirts. In these fakes, the brand name is often misspelled, which is a clear indication.

Fake brand curiosities include items such as a reversible jacket with “Adidas” on one side and “Nike” on the other, or shirts with more than one brand. While these may be interesting curiosities, they are obviously not genuine copies of either brand.

There are two basic rules for dealing with expensive branded goods in China.

  • Firstly, you can’t just trust the brand, but carefully inspect the goods for defects. Check the spelling on labels.
  • Secondly, if the offer seems too good to be true, be very suspicious. China makes a lot of good, cheap products, but an amazingly cheap product with a big international label is almost certainly fake.

Counterfeit goods can cause legal problems. Selling “pirated” DVDs or counterfeit branded goods is illegal in China, but enforcement is lax. In travellers’ home countries, customs enforcement is usually far less lax. Customs officials confiscate pirated DVDs or counterfeit branded goods when they find them. Some Western travellers have even reported having to pay hefty fines after being caught with counterfeit products on their return.

The fake and swing production markets in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing are nevertheless fantastically fun and a great place to get a completely new “designer” wardrobe for a fraction of the price in a western country. When buying such items, it’s a good idea to remove the labels before taking them home as this reduces the chance of being hassled by customs.

Software, music and films in China

Most CDs (music or software) and DVDs in China are unauthorized copies. Those that sell for ¥6-10 and come in cheap flat paper envelopes are almost certainly counterfeit. Some of the higher-priced copies with better packaging might be legal copies, but it’s hard to tell. Probably the best way to avoid counterfeit discs is to buy in one of the larger bookstores or department stores; most of them have a CD/DVD section. Prices are ¥15-40.

Some good checks or surefire indicators of a fake are:

  • Credits on the back of the case that do not match the film.
  • Covers obviously derived from cinema poster images (“Coming Soon”, the release date, etc. is noted on them).
  • Front pages with unkind reviews (“Strongly spiced and little meat”, “No more than an episode of CSI”, etc.)

In shops, it is usually acceptable to ask the owner to test the DVD to make sure it works and has the correct language dubbing.

If you buy DVDs or CDs and want to take them home, be sure to get a receipt to prove your goodwill to Western customs officials.

Endangered species in China

There are products that are quite common in China that you should not buy – coral, ivory and parts of endangered species. China’s economic miracle has been a disaster for the world’s wildlife and has resulted in species such as the elephant, tiger, rhino, Tibetan antelope and snow lotus being decimated or on the brink of extinction. The city of Pingyao and several markets in the outskirts of Beijing are notorious for selling rare animal skins, furs, claws, horns, skulls, bones and other parts of endangered (even extinct) species. Anyone who buys such items supports the further destruction of the species in question.

Trade in such products is illegal in almost all countries, including China, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Enforcement in China is somewhat lax, but anyone buying such products risks serious trouble if they try to leave China with them or import them into another country. This can result in significant fines and/or imprisonment. So if a vendor tries to sell you a leopard skin or a piece of ivory jewellery, use your common sense and move on.

Ivory is a strange special case. Trade in modern ivory is illegal worldwide, but some antique ivory items are legal. If you want to take home items made of ivory, there is paperwork – as an absolute minimum, you need a letter from a reputable dealer stating the date of origin. Check with your country’s customs office for other requirements. Also remember that China restricts the export of anything older than 1911 (see infobox), and that many of the “ivory” items in China are fakes made from various plastics or ground bone.

Bargaining in China

Haggling is a national pastime in China. You can haggle over almost anything, and sometimes it is even possible to ask for a discount at the last minute in a restaurant before paying the bill. Many restaurants or bars are happy to offer one or two free dishes (e.g. a fruit plate in a KTV) if you have placed a particularly large order. People are less willing to negotiate in shopping centres, but why not ask: “Can I have a gift?”

Unlike in many Southeast Asian countries, the tourism industry in China is predominantly dominated by Chinese businesses, not Western businessmen running their own shops, as seen in places like Bangkok’s Khao San Road or Saigon’s Pham Ngu Lao. Traders in tourist areas, especially street and roadside stall vendors, are masters at preying on foreigners’ wallets. They can also be very pushy and sometimes even grab your hands. Prices are almost always posted, but they are all considerably inflated, usually by 2-3 times. Some items such as silk fans (largest size: 1’2″) are listed at ¥60-75, but the lowest price is actually only ¥10, so it is often better to buy souvenirs just a few blocks away from the tourist spots. Local Chinese tourists have no problem with advertised prices because they are all well trained in the art of haggling. Foreigners always pay more for anything negotiable in China, but remember that Chinese whose accent identifies them as coming from other provinces also pay higher prices than locals. However, if you have enough evidence that the shopkeeper is charging different prices to different people, you can dial 12315 to uphold your own right. It is not legal to quote different prices for an item in a shop, although it is perfectly legal to quote a high price and expect some customers to negotiate it down.

The spending power of the nouveau riche in China no longer makes the country cheap all the time. If you go to tourist places, you can see a ¥1,000 skirt tailored by a designer, ¥2,000 for a bag of tea or tens of thousands for silverware.

It is difficult to say what price to offer at the beginning of negotiations. Depending on the city, product or market, 5% to 50% of the advertised price or the seller’s first offer is common. Note that if someone offers you too big a discount, this could be a sign that the goods are not of good quality. As a rule of thumb, walk around and compare. In touristy areas, it is common to ask for a 30-50% discount, but in a place that caters to locals, a 50% discount will only make you look ridiculous.

In tourist places, don’t take seriously what the traders say. If you ask for a 50% discount, they may be horrified and show scorn; this is a popular drama. Souvenirs, including “antiques”, are almost all standard factory products. Compare more. Be aware that in tourist markets, there is not as much room for negotiation as there used to be. With so many tourists all buying the same products, sellers know they can make high profit margins and may not be as willing to negotiate. If your starting price is too low, they may turn you away because trying to get the margin they want is not worth their time.

The souvenirs in some places have no relation to the history of the place and change frequently. Often they seem to be cheap knick-knacks that the stallholders’ association has acquired cheaply and in large quantities at a sale. An example is CiQiKou Ancient Porcelain Village in Shapingba district in Chongqing. On one visit, the souvenir stalls had large displays of green Irish shamrock medallions in stock; on a revisit a few months later, they had all disappeared and been replaced by Mexican trinkets.

In this former communist country, most locals still expect a standard price for groceries and consider it “black-hearted” (黑心 hēixīn) to charge too much, even if the shops are in a big business district. However, in a touristy place where rents are skyrocketing, you might have a chance to haggle a little if someone sells you a bottle of Coca Cola for ¥5 (usually ¥3 in most places). This sometimes works, but not always.

Gift shops for jewellery, herbs and tea recommended by hotel staff can also be tricky. While it is common for staff to take tourists to places that will earn them a commission, it is also common for them to take you to certain places because the establishment actually offers decent products and prices. If you are overly cautious, your hosts are likely to be offended because you are suggesting that a ‘good guy’ is actually a fraud.

In various places, such as the ancient city of Lijiang, when ethnic horse-drawn carriage drivers stop at a souvenir shop, you should assume that you are paying a commission. These carriage drivers are notorious for extorting money from shops or causing trouble if the shops refuse to pay. The local government usually avoids intervening in these cases when ethnic minorities are involved.

Many group tours include compulsory visits to Chinese medicine hospitals such as the National Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, silk, tea or jade factories or similar businesses. The goods are often expensive and include a commission for the tour guide or group. Use your judgement if you want to buy something. However, the shops visited on the tours can offer competitive prices and safe, reliable, international shipping for goods such as silk and jade.

Basics

Unless you are lucky enough to have a large supermarket or expat-focused grocery shop within walking distance of your hotel (see next section), the most convenient option for basic supplies and food will almost always be a grocery shop. Major chains in China include Kedi, Alldays, FamilyMart and 7-Eleven. China has belatedly caught up with the East Asian preference for convenience stores, leaving first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai oversaturated with them.

Many convenience stores sell individual toilet paper rolls, which are a necessity for travelling around China as many public toilets do not have toilet paper. Although supermarkets also sell toilet paper, they tend to sell it in packs of 6 or 10, which are too much for tourists.

Some discount and medium-sized department stores in China also have food departments.

Western goods

In areas with large expatriate communities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, there are special grocery shops for these communities. These are often no bigger than a 7-Eleven. They usually stock imported snacks, alcohol and special foods such as meat and cheese, and are often very expensive. See individual articles for details.

Several Western-owned supermarket chains are widespread in China – the American Wal-mart (沃尔玛 Wòěrmǎ), the German Metro (麦德龙 Màidélóng) and the French Carrefour (家乐福 Jiālèfú). All have some Western food products – often at high prices. However, the availability of foreign products in their shops decreases in second- or third-tier cities. Metro is probably the best of them; in particular, it usually has a good selection of alcohol. Asian-owned chains include Japan’s Jusco (佳世客 Jiāshìkè), Taiwan’s RT-Mart (大潤發 Dàrùnfā), South Korea’s LOTTE Mart (乐天玛特 Letianmate) and the Philippines’ SM; these also carry imported goods. Some larger Chinese chains such as Beijing Hualian (北京华联 Běijīng Huálián) also carry a limited selection of foreign products.

Tobacco products

Although smoking is on the decline in China, it is still quite common and cigarettes (香烟 xiāngyān) are generally cheap. Cigarettes can be bought in small neighbourhood shops, convenience stores, at counters in supermarkets and in department stores.

Most mainstream Chinese brands sell for around ¥5-20 for a 20-pack. Popular national brands include Zhongnanhai (中南海 zhōngnánhǎi), Honghe (红河 hónghé), Baisha, Nanjing, Liqun, and Double Happiness (双喜 shuāngxǐ). Some local brands sold in certain regions can be much cheaper, while others are more expensive. Chinese cigarettes are stronger than many foreign cigarettes (13 mg of tar is the norm), although Zhongnanhai is popular with foreign visitors as they have a similar taste to Marlboro Light but are half the price. Western brands are available, including Marlboro (万宝路 wànbǎolù), 555 (三五 sān wǔ), Davidoff (大卫杜夫 dàwèidùfú), Kent, Salem and Parliament. Western cigarettes are slightly more expensive – stick to large convenience store chains like C-Store or Kedi, as many smaller shops sell fake or illegally imported cigarettes.

Premium brand cigarettes are often ridiculously overpriced and rarely smoked personally – they are usually offered as gifts or bribes as an expression of wealth. The two best-known “premium brands” are Zhonghua (中华 zhōnghuá) (¥60-100) and Panda (¥100). If you decide to buy them, stick to large department stores – those sold in neighbourhood cigarette shops are likely to be fake. Rolling tobacco and papers are rare in urban China. Lighters (打火机 dǎhuǒjī) are usually cheap (about ¥1) but cheaply made. Zippos are widely available but expensive.

Cigars can be bought in some specialist tobacco shops and Chinese-made cigars are surprisingly good – expect to pay around ¥20-30 for 10 locally produced cigars. Beware of fake Western brand cigars sold in bars; they are usually terrible and ridiculously overpriced. Genuine Cuban cigars are available in cigar bars and upscale establishments in big cities, but are often very expensive.

Duty-free shops in international airports, international train stations (e.g. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou East) and at land borders sell a wider range of imported brands – expect to pay between ¥80-150 for a carton of 200 cigarettes.

Festivals & Events in China

Holidays in China

During the holidays, especially Chinese New Year and National Day, hundreds of millions of migrant workers return home, and millions of other Chinese travel within the country (though many in the service sector stay behind and enjoy the extra pay). Travellers should seriously consider avoiding being on the road, on the rails or in the air during the big holidays. At the very least, travel should be planned well in advance. Every mode of transport is extremely crowded; tickets of any kind are hard to come by and will cost you much more, so it may be necessary to book well in advance (especially for those travelling from remote western China to the east coast or in the opposite direction). Train and bus tickets are usually quite easy to buy in China (during non-holiday periods), but the difficulties caused by overcrowding at these times cannot be overstated. Travellers who are stuck at these times and cannot buy tickets can sometimes get airline tickets, which are slower to sell out because of the higher but still affordable (by Western standards) prices. For the most convenient way to get around, the plane is the obvious choice. There is an up-and-coming, state-of-the-art bullet train network that is also very nice, but you may have to deal with many insanely crowded, smoky, cold, noisy and disorganised train depots to board. The Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is the largest annual migration of people on earth.

China has six major annual holidays:

  • Chinese New Year or Spring Festival (春节 chūnjié) – Falls between late January and mid-February.
  • Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day – Usually 4 to 6 April. The cemeteries are crowded with people sweeping the graves of their ancestors and making offerings. Traffic on the way to the cemeteries can be very heavy.
  • Labour Day or May Day (劳动节 láodòngjié) – 1 May
  • Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duānwǔjié) – 5th day of the 5th lunar month, usually in the period from May to June (12 June 2013). Boat races and eating zongzi (粽子, steamed bags of sticky rice) are a traditional part of the festival.
  • Mid-Autumn Day (中秋节 zhōngqiūjié)- 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually October (30 September 2012). It is also called the Moon Cake Festival after the typical treat, moon cakes (月饼 yuèbǐng). People gather outside, put food on the tables and look up to the full harvest moon.
  • National Day (国庆节 guóqìngjié) – 1 October

Chinese New Year and National Day are not one-day holidays; almost all workers get at least one week for Chinese New Year and some of them get two or three. Students get four to six weeks off. One week off is typical for the National Day holiday.

Chinese New Year is particularly busy. Not only is it the longest holiday, it is also a traditional time to visit family, and the whole country pretty much shuts down during this time. Most migrant workers in the cities return to their farms and villages, which is often the only option they have. Around Chinese New Year, many shops and other businesses will be closed for a few days to a week or even longer. For this reason, it is not ideal to travel during this time unless you have close friends or relatives in China.

Around twenty million students return home at the beginning of July and then school starts again at the end of August, so there is a lot of activity on the roads, trains and planes at these times.

A complete list of Chinese festivals would be very long, as many areas or ethnic groups have their own local festivals. See listings for individual cities for details. Here is a list of some of the nationally important festivals not mentioned above:

  • Lantern Festival (元宵节 yuánxiāojié or 上元节 shàngyuánjié) – 15th day of the 1st lunar month, just after Chinese New Year, usually in February or March. In some cities, such as Quanzhou, this is a big festival with elaborate lanterns all over the city.
  • Double Seventh Festival (七夕 qīxī) – 7th day of the 7th lunar month, usually August, is a festival of romance, a kind of Chinese Valentine’s Day.
  • Double Ninth Festival or Chongyang Festival (重阳节 chóngyángjié) – 9th day of the 9th lunar month, usually in October.
  • Winter Solstice Festival (冬至 dōngzhì) – 22 or 23 December.

In addition to these, some Western festivities are noticeable, at least in the larger cities. Around Christmas you hear carols – mostly in English, a few in Latin, plus Chinese versions of “Jingle Bells”, “Amazing Grace” and for some reason “Oh Susana”. Some shops are decorated and you see many shop assistants with red and white elf caps. For Valentine’s Day, many restaurants offer special dishes. Chinese Christians also celebrate services and masses in officially recognised Protestant and Catholic churches.

Traditions & Customs in China

A few basic guidelines and tips can help you avoid faux pas in China.

  • Tipping: is not necessary and not recommended. Tipping is not required for taxi drivers and most restaurants. If you leave a few coins in most restaurants, you are likely to be hounded by the staff to give you back the money you “forgot” to take. In some cases, a fee that is considered a tip in America is actually a fixed fee, such as a fee for a doorman to let you into a building at a late hour.
  • Business cards: When handing over or receiving a business card or handing over an important paper, always use both hands and do it with a slight bow of the head, and never put it in your trouser pockets.
  • Visits: A small gift brought to the host’s home is always welcome. Wine, fruit or a little something from your home country are common. If the hosts wear slippers at home, and especially if the floor is carpeted, take off your street shoes and ask for a pair of slippers before entering your host’s home, even if the host asks you not to do so.
  • Hosting meals: Hosts tend to order more food than you can eat because it is considered shameful if they cannot fill their guests. If you try to eat it all, it means you are still hungry and may cause your hosts to order more food (i.e. you never quite finish your plate).
  • Eating: Table manners vary from place to place among different people in different scenarios. Sometimes you may see Chinese people spitting on the floor of a restaurant, picking their teeth in front of you and shouting while eating, but this is not always welcome. Pay attention to what other people are doing. It depends a lot on what kind of company you are in. If you are eating in a family, don’t pick up your chopsticks until the oldest person at the table has started eating. If you are eating in a business environment, do not pick up your chopsticks until the oldest person at the table has started eating.
  • Drinking: If you are offered a drink, you will be expected to accept it or your friends will push you further. Excuses like “I am allergic to alcohol” are usually better than “I don’t feel like drinking”. Sometimes you can also pretend to be drunk. Don’t panic, because usually foreigners are very tolerated in these customs.
  • Tobacco: If you smoke, it is always considered polite to offer a cigarette to those you meet as long as they are of age. This rule applies almost exclusively to men, but in certain circumstances, such as in a club, it is okay to apply the rule to women as well. If someone offers you a cigarette and you do not smoke, you can refuse by waving your hand politely and gently.
  • Saving face: The Chinese are very concerned about “saving face” and this concept extends not only to the individual but also to one’s family (including extended family) and even to the country. Pointing out faults directly can lead to embarrassment. If you have to, call the person aside and tell them in private, and try to do it in a polished way.
  • Religion: The swastika has been widely used in Buddhist temples since the 5th century and represents dharma, universal harmony and the balance of opposites. Similar to India, it does not represent National Socialism.
  • Politics: Many Chinese are ashamed that their country was forced into unequal treaties with Japan and the Western powers over the past two centuries, and proud of the recent progress their government has made in restoring China’s international standing. Many Chinese are also aware of alternative Western views, but you should exercise restraint if you wish to discuss them. Also avoid discussing the independence movements in Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan or Hong Kong, or the territorial disputes in which China is involved, as many Chinese have very strong feelings about these issues. If you are drawn into such discussions by Chinese friends, it is best to remain neutral and simply listen.

Gay and lesbian travellers in China

Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997 and removed from the state list of mental disorders in 2001. The Chinese tend to have mixed opinions when it comes to sexuality. Although there are no laws against homosexuality in China, films, websites and TV shows that focus on homosexuality are often censored or banned. Gay scenes and communities exist in major cities in China, but generally not everywhere else. Most Chinese are reluctant to talk about their sexuality in public, as it is generally considered a personal matter. Moreover, homosexual marriages and cohabitation are not recognised anywhere in the country. Nevertheless, gay and lesbian visitors are unlikely to encounter major problems if they openly display their sexual orientation in public, and unprovoked violence against homosexual couples is almost unheard of.

Culture Of China

Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been strongly influenced by Confucianism and conservative philosophies. For much of the country’s dynastic era, opportunities for social advancement were afforded by high performance in the prestigious imperial examinations that originated in the Han dynasty. The literary focus of the examinations affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy, poetry and painting were higher art forms than dance or drama. Chinese culture has long emphasised a sense of deep history and a largely inward-looking national perspective. Examinations and a culture of merit are still highly valued in China today.

The first leaders of the People’s Republic of China were born into the traditional imperial order, but were influenced by the May Fourth Movement and reformist ideals. They sought to change some traditional aspects of Chinese culture, such as rural land ownership, sexism and the Confucian education system, while preserving others, such as the family structure and the culture of obedience to the state. Some observers see the period after the founding of the PRC in 1949 as a continuation of traditional Chinese dynastic history, while others argue that Communist Party rule damaged the foundations of Chinese culture, especially through political movements such as the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, in which many aspects of traditional culture were destroyed as they were denounced as “regressive and harmful” or “remnants of feudalism”. Many important aspects of traditional Chinese morality and culture, such as Confucianism, art, literature and performing arts such as Beijing opera, were changed to suit government policies and propaganda of the time. Access to foreign media remains severely restricted.

Today, the Chinese government has accepted many elements of traditional Chinese culture as an integral part of Chinese society. With the rise of Chinese nationalism and the end of the Cultural Revolution, various forms of traditional Chinese art, literature, music, film, fashion and architecture have experienced a vigorous revival, and folk and variety arts in particular have attracted national and even global interest. With 55.7 million inbound international visitors in 2010, China is now the third most visited country in the world. Domestic tourism is also huge; in October 2012 alone, an estimated 740 million Chinese holidaymakers travelled within the country.

Literature in China

Chinese literature is based on the literature of the Zhou dynasty. The concepts covered in the classical Chinese texts include a wide range of thoughts and topics such as calendars, military, astrology, herbalism, geography and many others. Some of the most important early texts are the I Ching and the Shujing within the Four Books and Five Classics, which served as the Confucian authoritative books for the state curriculum in the dynastic era. Starting with the classics of poetry, classical Chinese poetry developed to its heyday during the Tang dynasty. Li Bai and Du Fu opened up forking paths for poetic circles through romanticism and realism respectively.

Chinese historiography began with the Shiji, the total volume of the historiographical tradition in China is referred to as the twenty-four Histories, which together with Chinese mythology and folklore provided a large stage for Chinese fictions. Spurred on by an emerging middle class in the Ming dynasty, classical Chinese fiction experienced a boom in the histories, city novels, and novels of gods and demons represented by the Four Great Classical Novels, which include Water MarginRomance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber. Together with the wuxia fictions of Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng, it remains an enduring source of popular culture in the East Asian cultural sphere.

In the course of the New Culture Movement after the end of the Qing Dynasty, a new era began for Chinese literature with written vernacular Chinese for ordinary citizens. Hu Shih and Lu Xun were pioneers of modern literature. After the Cultural Revolution, various literary genres emerged such as fog poetry, scar literature, young adult fiction and Xungen literature influenced by magical realism. Mo Yan, an author of Xungen literature, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012.

Cuisine in China

Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history and geographical variety, with the most influential known as the “Eight Great Cuisines”, including the cuisines of Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui and Zhejiang. They all feature precise skills in shaping, heating, colouring and flavouring. Chinese cuisine is also known for its breadth of cooking methods and ingredients, as well as the nutritional therapy emphasised by traditional Chinese medicine.In general, China’s staple food is rice in the south, and wheat-based bread and noodles in the north.

The diet of the common people in pre-modern times consisted largely of grains and simple vegetables, with meat reserved for special occasions. And bean products, such as tofu and soya milk, remain as a popular source of protein. Pork is now the most popular meat in China, accounting for about three-quarters of the country’s total meat consumption. However, there is also a Buddhist cuisine and an Islamic cuisine. Southern cuisine has a wide variety of seafood and vegetables due to its proximity to the sea and milder climate; it differs in many ways from the wheat-based diet in arid northern China. In the countries that host the Chinese diaspora, many offshoots of Chinese cuisine have emerged, such as Hong Kong cuisine and American Chinese cuisine.

Sport in China

China has become a world-class sports destination. The country has been awarded hosting rights for several major global sports tournaments, including the 2008 Summer Olympics, the 2015 World Athletics Championships and the upcoming 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

China has one of the oldest sporting cultures in the world. There is evidence that archery (shèjiàn) was practised during the Western Zhou dynasty. Sword fighting (jiànshù) and cuju, a sport loosely related to club football, also date back to China’s early dynasties.

Physical fitness is strongly emphasised in Chinese culture, with morning exercises such as Qigong and T’ai Chi Ch’uan widely practised and commercial gyms and fitness clubs gaining popularity in the country. Basketball is currently the most popular spectator sport in China. The Chinese Basketball Association and the American National Basketball Association have a large following among the population, with local or ethnic Chinese players such as Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian being highly regarded. China’s professional football league, now known as the Chinese Super League, was established in 1994 and is the largest football market in Asia. Other popular sports in the country include martial arts, table tennis, badminton, swimming and snooker. Board games such as Go (known as wéiqí in Chinese), Xiangqi, Mahjong and more recently Chess are also played at a professional level. In addition, there are a large number of cyclists in China, with an estimated 470 million bicycles (as of 2012). Many other traditional sports, such as dragon boat racing, Mongolian-style wrestling and horse racing are also popular.

China has been participating in the Olympic Games since 1932, although it has only been participating as the PRC since 1952. China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where its athletes won 51 gold medals – the highest number of gold medals of any participating nation that year. China also won the most medals of any nation at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, 231 in total, including 95 gold medals. In 2011, Shenzhen in Guangdong, China hosted the 2011 Summer Universiade. In 2013, China hosted the East Asian Games in Tianjin and the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.

Stay Safe & Healthy in China

Stay safe in China

Crime in China

China is a vast country with wide regional variations in crime rates, but in general it poses no greater risk than most Western countries. Although you may hear locals complain about rising crime rates, violent crime remains rare. Many Western tourists are likely to feel safer in China than in their home country.

Generally, the crime rate is higher in the bigger cities than in the countryside. Nevertheless, they are no more dangerous than Sydney, London or New York in the western world, so if you avoid dodgy areas and use common sense, you will be fine.

Bike theft can be a problem. In big cities you may hear stories of locals losing three bikes in a month, but in some other places locals still park their bikes casually. Follow what the locals do. If you see bikes parked somewhere, just park yours or, better yet, tie it to a post. In a place where everyone takes their bikes to restaurants or internet cafes, this is a warning sign. Assume that your expensive lock is of no use at all. Professional thieves can pick practically any lock. In China, parking bicycles outside supermarkets or shopping malls is common and usually costs ¥1-2 per day (usually until 20:00-22:00). If you have an electric bike or scooter, you should be especially careful as the batteries can be targeted by thieves.

On buses on long journeys, there have been a handful of reports of groups of muggers robbing all passengers on board, especially on buses departing from Shenzhen. Today, all passengers are required to take a mugshot before boarding. You are expected to comply with the norm rather than deal with privacy issues this might raise. Since this measure was introduced, reports of muggings have drastically decreased.

Foreigners are not usually targeted by the police. Most offences are related to drug use or working on a tourist visa, with the consequence usually being a short sentence, a fine and deportation. If you happen to be accused of a more serious crime, you should note that the first 72 hours of the investigation are crucial. During this time, the police, the prosecution and your lawyers will investigate, negotiate and decide whether you are guilty. This is the reason why people have to endure harsh interrogation (or torture) immediately after arrest, as the police know that eliciting a confession is the fastest way to get a conviction. Note that Chinese law prohibits your lawyer from being present during the interrogation. If your case goes to court, your conviction is only a formality and the judge’s only job is to decide on your sentence. Signing a document during interrogation would be an extremely bad idea, especially if you do not understand what you are signing, and you should politely insist that you be given access to consular services and a translator. According to Chinese statistics, 99.9% of criminal trials in 2009 ended in conviction (most of which lasted less than 2 hours).

Traffic in China

While it is true that China has more fatalities in car accidents than any other country in the world, this is mainly due to its extremely high population. The death rate per capita is lower than in many Western countries. But apart from that, driving in China ranges from nerve-wracking to absolutely reckless.

Traffic rules are mostly practised half-heartedly and rarely if ever enforced. Cars are allowed to turn right at a red light and do not stop for pedestrians, regardless of the pedestrian signal. Cyclists and electric bikes tend to do what they want. Don’t be fooled by any signs and pedestrian paths; it is very common for a motorbike to ride on a pedestrian path. Occasionally, cars even ride on cycle paths and motorbikes on the pavement. Similarly, pedestrians often walk on the carriageway, especially at night as it is better lit. Look in all directions when crossing! Expect something coming at you or behind you from all directions at all times.

There have been cases of drivers deliberately running victims over again after an accident, as death results in a fine and (perhaps) a short sentence, while injury results in a potentially lifelong financial responsibility of the driver for the victim. Victims in these incidents tend to be very young, older and almost always from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. It is unlikely that a foreigner will be convicted.

It is advisable not to drive as a foreigner, as you will be ill-prepared for the type of Chinese compensation you will receive in the event of an accident. Accidents have been known to be “staged” in order to receive compensation, although this is not so common.

Terrorism in China

There has been an increasing number of terrorist attacks in China in recent years, with some high-profile attacks on people in Guangzhou, Kunming and Beijing railway stations. You should be careful when visiting train stations, although attacks can potentially take place in any public space.

Begging in China

Chinese traditionally have a strong negative attitude towards begging, so it is not surprising that begging is not a big issue in most places. However, it is never far from the scene and is particularly common just outside the main tourist attractions and at major transport hubs.

Be aware of begging children who may be victims of child trafficking. Although this is becoming less common, do not give them money. There have been several reports in the local media about begging scammers who kidnap children and pretend to be their mother to beg for money.

In China, locals usually only give money to those who have obviously lost the ability to earn money. Professional beggars have very obvious disfigurements. If you want to give them something, keep in mind that many Chinese only earn 30-70 dollars a day from hard labour jobs.

Buddhism in China

Buddhism was brought to China from India via the Silk Road and has formed an integral part of traditional Chinese culture since the Tang Dynasty. No trip to China is complete without visiting at least one of the many Buddhist temples. Unfortunately, the presence of foreign tourists unaware of local Buddhist customs has also led to many scams, with many fake monks and temples preying on unsuspecting visitors.

Note that Buddhism in China generally follows the Mahayana school, as opposed to the Theravada school, which is predominant in Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. Mahayana Buddhist monks are required to live vegetarian and usually grow their own food in the temples or buy their food with temple donations. As such, they generally do not beg for food.

Monks also do not sell religious items (these are sold by lay people, not monks), nor do they offer “Buddha’s blessings” in exchange for money or threaten you with misfortune if you do not donate. In most temples, there is a donation box in the main hall for devotees to donate to if they wish, and the monks never go out in public to ask for donations. According to traditional Buddhist philosophy, it is up to each person whether and how much he/she wants to donate, and genuine Buddhist temples will never pressure for donations or ask for any amount of money in return for services. Monks also follow a very strict daily routine and are not allowed to indulge in material luxuries, consume alcohol or engage in any form of sexual activity.

Pollution in China

Pollution is a serious problem in the world’s factory. Beijing is the most polluted city in the world, according to some figures. 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China. Talking about air pollution has become a part of life for both locals and expatriates. Even the country is not immune, depending on the province.

Places in higher elevations or plains such as parts of Yunnan and Sichuan, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and remote islands like Hainan usually have good air quality. Visitors should be prepared to see smog in almost all major cities, including on the coast, which can be quite heavy.

You will also hear a lot of noise. Construction and renovation are full-time activities. The ears of the Chinese and long-time residents are trained to filter and tolerate it.

Natural disasters in China

Being a large country, China is affected by a number of different natural disasters. Pacific typhoons hit the coast during the summer and autumn months, bringing physical destruction and torrential rain. Flooding also occurs, especially along the major rivers. In the northern parts of the country, risks include winter storms and smog. Much of the country is prone to earthquakes.

Frauds in China

Tourist areas in Beijing and Shanghai have become notorious for various scams. The most notorious is the “teahouse scam”. Variants can also be found in bars and cafés. While some fraudulent teahouses have been stormed by the police in recent years, there are still a significant number of scam reports from travellers and even local Chinese.

Around Tiananmen Square and Wangfujing in Beijing and the Bund, People’s Square and Nanjing Road in Shanghai, you may see one or more scammers starting a conversation in relatively fluent English. Sometimes they help you haggle and show you around. All is well until they invite you to a teahouse, café or pub, place the orders before you get a chance to speak (or the tea and drinks are ready) and leave you with an inflated bill. Sometimes the scammers work in teams to increase the amount to be ordered. Never start sampling tea or other items without first getting, checking and keeping the written menu. Make sure you place the order or agree with your hosts on everything you want to buy.

Although it’s not exactly a scam, the tea house staff bring snacks to your table and ask if you want anything. The prices are not listed and are not mentioned when you take something. Note that the peanuts, sunflower seeds, sultanas, etc. that you take are not free. You have to pay for them. In Shanghai, a foreigner was reportedly taken to a teahouse by a group of women, given a bill for ¥7,000 and threatened by the owner. The tourist called the police, which resulted in a quick raid on the teahouse.

Another scam, especially in the Wangfujing area, is claiming to be “art students” with an exhibition. They are taken to small shabby art shops and pressured to buy overpriced reproductions. The same scam has been observed around the Forbidden City in Beijing.

If you find that you are being or have been scammed, call 110 and report it immediately. The police are sensitive to foreigners being targeted in this way and giving the country a bad name. In China, you have the right to ask for a “fa piao”. (发票), which is an official sales invoice issued by the tax authorities. It is against the law if the owner refuses to give it to you. In the case of scams, they will usually refuse as it is legal proof of their usurious price. If you have already been victimised, you may consider returning to the shop with a few friends to ask for a refund and threaten to call the police. If you paid with a credit card, you may be able to get the charge reversed.

Please note that while it is important to avoid scams, it is still common for English-speaking Chinese to genuinely want to start a conversation with you – even in touristy areas, show you around the city and invite you for a drink and a meal. Being paranoid about all invitations and interactions with Chinese will ruin your travel experience.

If a stranger on the street invites you for tea or a drink, you should choose a place yourself, stating that you feel like eating or giving some other reason for your choice. If they are strangely insistent on going to their “place” and make endless excuses to reject your proposals, use your common sense to see if it is a scam.

Finally, high prices do not necessarily indicate fraud. In a tea house or bar, ¥50-200 per cup or pot of tea (including hot water refills) and ¥15-60 per bottle of beer are not uncommon. Tea tasters can also be charged high prices for each sample. Again, to avoid being ripped off, just ask for the menu and keep it. Although it is quite possible to pay ¥1,000 or more for a single pot of tea in an upmarket tea house, ordinary teas should not be nearly as expensive. Such delicate tea would only be offered to tea gourmets, not a casual tea taster. Besides, it is considered socially offensive to take a new friend to such an expensive place and expect them to foot the bill. If someone takes you to an expensive place and expects you to pay, it is most likely a scam.

Broken Vase Fraud in China

Despite its name, the broken vase scam (碰瓷儿) has nothing to do with pottery. Rather, it is an allusion to a story in which Qing Dynasty swindlers, carrying cheap imitations of fine pottery, deliberately bumped into passers-by and dropped the items, later accusing the victim of bumping into them and demanding compensation. It is well known that Chinese passers-by often ignore accident victims and leave them to die in the street, often for fear of becoming victims of this scam. In one variation, pedestrians or cyclists would deliberately crash into or suddenly run in front of a car, pretending to have been hit and injured, and then demand compensation from the victim of the scam. Even “good Samaritans” who help people in genuine distress have subsequently been accused and successfully sued for damages by the people they were trying to help.

By and large, these incidents are not attempted too often with foreigners, as the scammers do not want to draw too much police attention to their actions. Nevertheless, be careful when using a vehicle of any kind and always record your journey with a dashboard or bicycle camera.

Illegal drugs in China

Acts related to illegal drugs are severely punished in China. Although mere drug use and possession of small amounts of drugs (e.g. less than 200 grams of opium and less than 10 grams of heroin or methamphetamine) are not criminalised and can only be punished by up to 15 days of administrative detention and/or a fine, smuggling, trafficking, transporting and manufacturing illegal drugs are crimes punishable by death. A British citizen was executed in China in 2009 for drug trafficking. In addition, possession of large quantities of drugs (exceeding the quantity mentioned above) is a crime punishable by up to more than 7 years imprisonment, and assisting others to use drugs is a crime punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment. With few exceptions, fines are attached to every conviction for a drug offence. Be especially careful in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces, as these provinces border Southeast Asia, which is a major drug-producing region. Police in Beijing and possibly other cities conduct drug tests in bars and nightclubs frequented by foreigners, and a positive drug test can lead to arrest and deportation.

Prohibited items in China

Due to the fast pace of change in China, some items (especially media) may still be banned by customs, even though they are easy to acquire in the country itself. A search of your belongings for prohibited items such as those listed below could happen when entering China through an airport, although in practice this rarely happens these days.

  • So-called anti-Chinese materials are generally confiscated: these include the Tibetan Lion Mountain flag and materials about Falun Gong or the Tiananmen Square incident.
  • Books: Any books with photos of the Dalai Lama or the Tiananmen Square events will be confiscated. Expect to be questioned if you bring a book with a portrait of Chairman Mao. George Orwell’s books were apparently confiscated at Chinese airports.
  • Pornography: A severe penalty is imposed on all pornography and penalties are counted based on the number of pieces you bring into the country.

Stay healthy in China

Personal hygiene in China

Outside big cities, public washrooms vary from slightly unpleasant to absolutely repulsive. In cities, it varies from place to place. High-quality toilets can be found in major tourist attractions (e.g. the Forbidden City), international hotels, office buildings and high-end department stores. Washrooms in McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut or any of the coffee chains listed in the drinks section are usually more or less clean. While those in ordinary restaurants and hotels are barely acceptable, those in hotel rooms are generally very clean. Some public facilities are free, others cost from a few mao to one or two kuai (¥1-2). Separate facilities for men (男 nán) and women (女 nǚ) are always available, but sometimes there are no doors at the front of the cubicles.

The sit-down toilet, familiar to Westerners, is rare in China in public areas. Hotels usually have them in the rooms, but squat toilets are more likely to be found in places where Westerners are scarce. Many private homes in urban areas now have sit-down toilets, and a big advantage of having a local host is that they have clean bathrooms. As a rule of thumb, a western establishment like McDonald’s will have a western toilet.

Take your own paper handkerchief (卫生纸 wèishēngzhǐ, or 面纸 miànzhǐ) as it is rarely provided. You can sometimes buy it from the ATM at a public toilet; you can also buy it in bars, restaurants and internet cafés for ¥2. Put used paper in the bucket next to the toilet; do not flush it away as it can clog the often poor sanitation systems.

The Chinese tend to distrust the cleanliness of bathtubs. In hotels with fixed bathtubs, disposable plastic bath liners can be provided.

Wash your hands frequently with soap, or better still carry some disposable disinfectant wipes (which you can find in almost any department stores’ or cosmetics shop), especially after using public computers; the main cause of a cold or flu is touching your face, especially your nose, with infected hands.

Food & Drink safety in China

Although there are few widely enforced health regulations for restaurants, every major city has an inspection system that requires each establishment to clearly display the result (good, average or poor). It is hard to say how effective this is, but it is a start. Restaurants usually prepare hot food when you order it. Even in the smallest restaurants, hot food is usually prepared fresh instead of being reheated and rarely causes health problems.

Western fast food chains may use good hygiene measures, but note that the food itself comes from the usual Chinese supply chain. Recent investigations (July 2014) have revealed significant health and safety problems with meat supplied to Western chains by a Shanghai meat supplier, prompting these companies to withdraw many products from sale.

You should be extremely careful when buying food from street vendors. This is especially true for meat or seafood products; they can be very unsafe, especially in warm weather, as many vendors do not have refrigeration. Also, meat is sometimes substituted with a cheaper version, and pork may actually be used for a lamb kebab. In the worst cases, these street vendors have used rat, fox and cat meat. A rule of thumb regarding street food is to make sure it is thoroughly cooked while you watch; also, visit stalls frequented by locals and watch out for disposable chopsticks wrapped in plastic.

Mild stomach discomfort can occur with both street and restaurant food, but will pass once you get used to the local food. Ginger can be effective against nausea.

Chinese don’t drink water straight from the tap, even in cities, and neither should you. All hotels provide a thermos of boiled water in your room (refillable by your floor manager), a kettle for you to do it yourself, or a sealed plastic bottle of standard mineral water.

Some homes and businesses have fairly large water filters installed (which need to be changed twice a year) to improve the quality of the water for cooking and washing. This still does not make the water from the tap drinkable, but it does improve the water quality considerably. Be aware of this when looking for accommodation.

Tap water is safe to drink after boiling, but you should still avoid drinking too much of it as heavy metals and chemicals may still be present. Note that most of the food you eat in restaurants in China is prepared with such water, so it is more about limiting your exposure.

Bottled purified drinking water is available everywhere and is usually quite cheap. ¥1 is normal for a small bottle, but in some places it will be more. Make sure the seal on the cap is not broken. Beer, wine and soft drinks are also cheap and safe.

Smog in China

Most smog or haze outbreaks consist of fine particles that are 2.5 micrometres or smaller (PM2.5). N95 masks provide good protection against smog because they are at least 95% effective against fine particles about 0.1 to 0.3 microns in size. They are 99.5% effective against larger particles of 0.75 microns or more. As with most things in China, be sure to choose a reputable brand like 3M.

Due to rapid industrialisation in China, pollution and heavy smog are unfortunately part of everyday life in most major cities. Beijing is often in the news for this, but Shanghai and smaller cities like Harbin have also experienced it frequently. A white surgical face mask can help with the occasional dust storm, but a simple cloth or paper mask will not protect you from smaller airborne particles, so consider buying an industrial-strength N95 mask, especially if you suffer from respiratory problems.

On the website http://aqicn.org you can find detailed hourly air pollution readings for most major cities. Remember that it is the main reading (PM2.5) that should concern you the most.

Health care in China

Health care for foreigners Most major Chinese cities have clinics and hospitals that are more suitable for foreigners, with English-speaking and Western-qualified staff. Although they are expensive, it is worth seeking them out if you plan to stay in an area for a long time. For non-urgent medical treatment, consider travelling to Hong Kong, Taiwan or South Korea for a higher standard of treatment that is not necessarily more expensive.

The quality of Chinese hospitals for the Chinese population is quite uneven. While some of the newer hospitals in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing are equipped with state-of-the-art medical technology, overcrowding is a problem in many other hospitals, and the quality of care in these hospitals leaves much to be desired. The quality of care in these hospitals leaves much to be desired. Local doctors are known to prescribe more expensive treatments than necessary; infusions are routine in China, even for minor ailments like flu and colds, and doctors tend to prescribe antibiotics liberally. Most locals go to the hospital for even the smallest ailment. You should keep a larger amount of cash on hand for emergencies, as treatment may be delayed if you are unable to pay in advance.

Ambulance transport is expensive, has to be paid for in advance, has little priority in road traffic and is therefore not very fast. Taking a taxi to the hospital in an emergency is often much faster.

Common therapeutic drugs – things like penicillin or insulin – are usually available with a prescription from a pharmacist and are much cheaper than in Western countries. You can usually ask to see the instructions that came with the box. Western medicine is called xīyào (西药). Less common medicines are often imported and therefore expensive.

In larger cities, there are strong controls on medicines, and even “standard” cold medicines like paracetamol or dextromethorphan may require a prescription or a foreign passport. Opiates always require a prescription, but Viagra never does.

In smaller towns and rural areas, many medicines, including most antibiotics, are often available without a prescription.

Common symptoms in China

  • Colds: 感冒 gǎnmào
  • Fever: 发烧 fāshāo
  • Headache: 头痛 tóutòng
  • Stomach pain: 肚子痛 dùzǐtòng
  • Sore throat: 喉咙痛 hóulóngtòng
  • Cough: 咳嗽 késòu

Most Chinese doctors and nurses, even in larger cities, speak little or no English. However, medical staff are plentiful and hospital waiting times are generally short – usually less than 10 minutes in general clinics (门诊室 ménzhěnshì) and virtually no waiting time in emergency rooms (急诊室 jízhěnshì).

In most major Chinese cities, there are private clinics and Western-style hospitals that offer a higher standard of care at a much higher price. The doctors and nurses speak English (and sometimes other foreign languages) and are often employed or have acquired their medical qualifications in Western countries. They offer a very easy and convenient way to get familiar Western treatment from Western-qualified doctors, although you will pay a premium for these services, starting at a staggering ¥1,000 just for the consultation. Find out in advance whether your insurance will cover all or part of this cost.

For major surgery, it is worth considering a trip to Hong Kong, Taiwan or South Korea, as the standard of treatment and care is more in line with Western standards.

Make sure that needles used for injections or other procedures that require piercing the skin are new and unused – insist that the package is broken open. In some parts of China it is acceptable to reuse needles, albeit after sterilisation.

For acupuncture, although disposable needles are quite common in mainland China, you can bring your own needles if you wish. The disposable type, called Wujun zhenjiu zhen (无菌針灸針, sterilised acupuncture needles), usually costs ¥10-20 per 100 needles and is available at many pharmacies. Note that there should be minimal to no bleeding when inserting and removing the needle if the acupuncturist is sufficiently skilled.

Although Traditional Chinese Medicine is widely practised in China, regulation is rather lax and it is not uncommon for Chinese doctors to prescribe herbs that are actually harmful to one’s health. Do your research and make sure you have some trusted local friends who can help you if you want to see a Chinese doctor. Alternatively, you can go to Hong Kong or Taiwan as the practice is better regulated there.

If you are making more than a short trip to China, it is a good idea to get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid, as they can be transmitted through contaminated food.

In parts of southern China there are mosquitoes that transmit malaria, dengue fever, etc.

China has only officially recognised the threat of an AIDS/HIV epidemic since 2001. According to the United Nations, “China is currently experiencing one of the fastest expanding HIV epidemics in the world. Since 1998, the number of reported cases has increased by about 30% annually. By 2010, there could be up to 10 million infections and 260,000 orphans in China if no action is taken”; Chinese President Hu Jintao recently pledged to fight the spread of AIDS/HIV within China. Sex workers, clients of sex workers and injecting drug users are the most commonly infected groups.

New diseases sometimes pose a threat in China, especially in the more densely populated parts of the country. In 2003, there was a severe SARS outbreak in China; this is no longer considered a major threat. There have been recent cases of bird flu; avoid undercooked poultry or eggs. Partly as a result of the SARS experience, China’s government has taken the global threat of swine flu very seriously. If you have a fever or are otherwise obviously ill, it is possible that you will have to spend several days in quarantine when entering China from summer 2009.

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