With coasts on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, it borders 14 nations (Afghanistan, Pakistan (through the disputed territory of Kashmir), India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the south; Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the west; Russia and Mongolia to the north and North Korea to the east). This number of neighbouring states is equalled only by China's vast neighbour to the north, Russia.
The roughly 5000-year-old Chinese civilization has endured through millennia of tumultuous upheaval and revolutions, periods of golden ages and anarchy alike. Through the recent economic boom initiated by the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, China is once again one of the leading nations in the world, buoyed by its large, industrious population and abundant natural resources. The depth and complexity of the Chinese civilization, with its rich heritage, has fascinated Westerners such as Marco Polo and Gottfried Leibniz through the Silk Road and more ways of culture exchange in centuries past, and will continue to excite - and bewilder - the traveler today.
The recorded history of Chinese civilization can be traced to the Yellow River valley, said to be the 'cradle of Chinese civilization'. The Xia Dynasty was the first dynasty to be described in ancient historical chronicles, though to date, no concrete proof of its existence has been found. Nevertheless, archaeological evidence has shown that at the very least, an early-bronze-age Chinese civilization had developed by the period described.
The Shang Dynasty, China's first historically confirmed dynasty, and the Zhou Dynasty ruled across the Yellow River basin. The Zhou adopted a decentralized system of government, in which the feudal lords ruled over their respective territories with a high degree of autonomy, even maintaining their own armies, while at the same time paying tribute to the king and recognizing him as the symbolic ruler of China. It was also the longest-ruling dynasty in Chinese history, lasting about 800 years. Despite this longevity, during the second half of the Zhou period, China descended into centuries of political turmoil, with the feudal lords of numerous small fiefdoms vying for power during the Spring and Autumn Period, and later stabilized into seven large states in the Warring States period. This tumultuous period gave birth to China's greatest thinkers including Confucius, Mencius and Laozi, who made substantial contributions to Chinese thought and culture.
China was eventually unified in 221 BC by Qin Shi Huang, the 'First Emperor', and the Qin Dynasty instituted a centralized system of government for all of China, and standardized weights and measures, Chinese characters and currency in order to create unity. Up to today, the ideal of a unified and strong centralized system is still strong in Chinese thought. However, due to despotic and harsh rule, the Qin dynasty lasted for only 15 years as the Han Dynasty took over in 206 BC after a period of revolt. With the invention of paper and extensive trade with the West along the Silk Road, along with relatively benevolent imperial rule, the Han was the first golden age of Chinese civilization. Ethnic Chinese consider themselves to be part of the 'Han' race till this day.
The collapse of the Han Dynasty in 220 CE led to a period of political turmoil and war known as the Three Kingdoms Period, which saw China split into the three separate states of Wei, Shu and Wu. Despite lasting for only about 60 years, it is a highly romanticised period of Chinese history. China was then briefly reunified under the Jin Dynasty, before descending into a period of division and anarchy once again. The era of division culminated with the Sui, which reunified China in 581. The Sui were famous for major public works projects, such as the engineering feat of the Grand Canal, which linked Beijing in the north to Hangzhou in the south. Sections of the canal are still navigable today.
Bankrupted by war and excessive government spending, the Sui were supplanted by the Tang Dynasty, ushering in the second golden age of Chinese civilization, marked by a flowering of Chinese poetry, Buddhism and statecraft, and also saw the development of the Imperial Examination system which attempted to select court officials by ability rather than family background. Chinatowns overseas are often known as "Street of the Tang People" (唐人街 Tángrén jiē) in Chinese. The collapse of the Tang Dynasty once again saw China divided, until it was reunified by the Song Dynasty. This collapse was preceded by the secession and independence of Vietnam in 938 CE. The Song ruled over most of China for over 150 years before being driven south of the Huai river by the Jurchens, where they continued to rule as the Southern Song, and although militarily weak, attained a level of commercial and economic development unmatched until the West's Industrial Revolution. The Yuan (Mongol) dynasty first defeated the Jurchens, then proceeded to conquer the Song in 1279, and ruled their vast Eurasian empire from modern-day Beijing.
After defeating the Mongols, the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) re-instituted rule by ethnic Han. The Ming period was noted for trade and exploration, with Zheng He's numerous voyages to Southeast Asia, India and the Arab world. Initial contact with European traders meant China gradually reaped the fruits of the Colombian exchange, with silver pouring in by the galleon through trade with the Portuguese and Spanish. Famous buildings in Beijing, such as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, were built in this period. The last dynasty, the Qing (Manchu) dynasty (1644-1911), saw the Chinese empire grow to it's current size, incorporating the western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet. The Qing Dynasty fell into decay in the final years to become the 'sick man of Asia', where it was divided by Western powers. The Westerners established their own treaty ports in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Tianjin. China lost several territories to foreign powers; Hong Kong and Weihai were ceded to the United Kingdom, Taiwan and Liaodong ceded to Japan, parts of the Northeast including Dalian and parts of Outer Manchuria to Russia, while Qingdao was ceded to Germany. Shanghai was divided between China and eight other countries. In addition, China lost control of its tributaries, with Korea and the Ryukyu Islands ceded to Japan.
The two-thousand-year-old imperial system collapsed in 1911, when Sun Yat-Sen (孙中山, Sūn Zhōngshān) founded the Republic of China (中华民国 Zhōnghuá Mínguó). Central rule collapsed in 1916 after Yuan Shih-kai, the second president of the Republic and self-declared emperor, passed away; China descended into anarchy, with various self-serving warlords ruling over different regions of China. In 1919, student protests in Beijing gave birth to the "May Fourth Movement" (五四运动 Wǔ Sì Yùndòng), which espoused various reforms to Chinese society, such as the use of the vernacular in writing, as well as the development of science and democracy. The intellectual ferment of the May Fourth Movement gave birth to the reorganized Kuomintang (KMT) in 1919 and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the French Concession in Shanghai, 1921.
After uniting much of eastern China under KMT rule in 1928, the CCP and the KMT turned on each other, with the CCP fleeing to Yan'an in Shaanxi in the epic Long March. From 1922-37, the eastern provinces of China grew economically under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek and his KMT government, with marked economic expansion, industrialisation and urbanisation. Shanghai became a truly cosmopolitan city, as one of the world's busiest ports, and the most prosperous city in East Asia, home to millions of Chinese and 60,000 foreigners from all corners of the globe. However, civil unrest, famines and warlord conflict afflicted the countryside.
Japan established a puppet state under the name Manchukuo in Manchuria in 1931, and invaded mainland China in 1937. After fleeing west to Chongqing, the KMT realized the urgency of the situation signed a tenuous agreement with the CCP to form a second united front against the Japanese. With the defeat of Japan in 1945, the KMT and CCP armies maneouvered for positions in north China, setting the stage for the civil war in the years to come. The civil war lasted from 1946-49 and ended with the Kuomintang defeated and fleeing to Taiwan where they hoped to re-establish themselves and recapture the mainland some day.
Mao Zedong officially declared the establishment of the People's Republic of China on 1 Oct 1949. The new Communist government implemented strong measures to restore law and order and revive industrial, agricultural and commercial institutions reeling from more than a decade of war. By 1955, China's economy had returned to pre-war levels of output as factories, farms, trade unions, civil society and governance were brought under CCP control. After initially hewing to the Soviet model of heavy industrialisation and comprehensive central economic planning, China experimented with adapting Marxism-Leninism to a largely agrarian society.
Massive social experiments such as the Hundred Flowers Campaign (百花运动 bǎihuā yùndòng), the Great Leap Forward (大跃进 dàyuèjìn), intended to collectivize and industrialize China quickly, and the Cultural Revolution (无产阶级文化大革命 wúchǎn jiējí wénhuà dà gémìng), aimed at changing everything by discipline, destruction of the "Four Olds," and total dedication to Mao Zedong Thought, rocked China from 1957-76. The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are generally considered to be massive failures in China. During the Cultural Revolution in particular, China's cultural heritage, including monuments, temples, historical artifacts, and works of literature sustained catastrophic damage at the hands of Red Guard factions. It was only due to the intervention of Zhou Enlai and the PLA that major sites, such as the Potala Palace, the Mogao Caves, and the Forbidden City escaped destruction during the Cultural Revolution.
Chairman Mao died in 1976, and in 1978, Deng Xiaoping became China's paramount leader. Deng and his lieutenants introduced neoliberal-oriented economic reforms and decentralised economic decision-making. Economic output quadrupled by 2000 and continues to grow by 8-10% per year, but bouts of inflation, regional income inequality, human rights abuses, ethnic unrest, massive pollution, rural poverty and corruption remain. While the larger cities near the coast like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have become affluent and modernised, much of the inland and and rural areas remain poor and underdeveloped. The former General Secretary of the Communist Party, Hu Jintao, has proclaimed a policy for a "Harmonious Society" (和谐社会 héxié shèhuì) which promises to restore balanced economic growth and channel investment and prosperity into China's central and western provinces, which have been largely left behind in the post-1978 economic boom. The current General Secretary of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, have pursued an ambitious policy of social reform, particularly income redistribution, poverty relief, and environmental improvements. Furthermore, an ambitious crackdown on corruption started by the previous administration has been expanded. Growth in China has finally slowed in recent years and seems to be leveling off.
China is a single-party socialist state ruled by the Communist Party of China. China has only experienced one open nation-wide election, in 1912. The government consists of an executive branch known as the State Council (国务院 Guó Wù Yuàn), as well as a unicameral legislature known as the National People's Congress (全国人民代表大会 Quánguó Rénmín Dàibiǎo Dàhuì). The nominal Head of State is the President (主席 zhǔxí, lit chairman), a largely ceremonial office with limited powers and the Head of Government is the Premier (总理 zǒnglǐ). In practice, while neither holds absolute power, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China holds the most power, while the Premier of the State Council is the second-most-powerful person in the country.
For administration, China is divided into 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions and 4 directly-controlled municipalities. Each of the provincial governments is given power over the internal, often economic, affairs of their provinces. Autonomous regions are given more freedom than regular provinces, one example of which is the right to declare additional official languages in the region besides Mandarin. In addition, there are the Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of Hong Kong and Macau. Both Hong Kong and Macau have separate legal systems and immigration departments from the mainland, and are given the freedom to enact laws separately from the mainland. Their political systems are more open and directly electoral in nature. Taiwan is also claimed by the PRC as a province, though no part of Taiwan is currently under the control of the PRC. Both governments support re-unification in principle and recently signed a trade pact to more closely link their economies, essentially removing the danger of war.
People and Habits
China has wide variations in culture, language, customs and economic levels. The economic landscape is particularly diverse. The major cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai are modern and comparatively wealthy. However, about 40% of Chinese people still live in rural areas as of 2018 ; despite the fact that only 10% of China's land is arable. Some 200-300,000,000 former peasants have migrated to townships and cities in search of better employment opportunities and a better life altogether. World Bank estimates for 2015 reported that around 0.7% of the population or 10,000,000 people lived on less than US$2 a day. Generally, the coastal regions are more wealthy, while inland areas are less developed.
China has 56 officially recognized ethnic groups; the largest by far is Han Chinese, which comprise over 90% of the population. The other 55 groups enjoy affirmative action for university admission and exemption from the one-child policy. The Han, however, exhibit diverse regional cultures (although there are common Confucian and Taoist influences) and speak a wide variety of mutually unintelligible local "dialects", which most linguists classify as different languages using more or less the same set of Chinese characters. Many of the minority ethnic groups have their own languages as well. Many customs and deities are specific to individual regions and even villages. Celebrations for the lunar new year and other national festivals as well as customs related to the celebration of important occasions such as weddings, funerals and births vary from region to region. In general, contemporary urban Chinese society is rather secular and traditional culture is more of an underlying current in everyday life. Among ethnic minorities, the Zhuang, Manchu, Hui and Miao are the most numerous. Other notable ethnic minorities include: Koreans, Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Kirghiz and even Russians. In fact, China is home to the largest Korean population outside of Korea and is also home to more ethnic Mongols than Mongolia itself. Many minorities have been assimilated to various degrees with the loss of language and customs or a fusing with Han traditions. However, the Tibetans and Uighurs fiercely defend their cultures.
Some behaviours that are quite normal in China may be somewhat jarring and vulgar for foreigners:
Some long-time foreign residents say such behaviours are getting worse; others say the opposite. The cause is usually attributed to the influx of millions of migrants from the countryside who are unfamiliar with urban life. Some department stores place attendants at the foot of each escalator to keep folks from stopping to have a look-see as soon as they get off even though the escalator behind them is packed. The above-mentioned situations have nonetheless been improving in recent years, especially in the cities.
The Chinese love a good laugh and because there are so many ethnic groups and outsiders from other regions, they are used to different ways of doing things and are quite okay with that (in big cities at least). Indeed the Chinese often make conversation with strangers by discussing differences in accent or dialect. They are accustomed to sign language and quick to see a non-verbal joke or pun wherever they can spot one. Laughter usually shows amusement, not scorn. The Chinese like a "collective good laugh" in circumstances that westerners might consider rude. Finally, the Chinese love and adore children, allow them a great deal of freedom, and heap attention upon them. If you have children, bring them!
In general, 3, 6, 8, and 9 are lucky numbers for most of the Chinese. “Three” means “high above shine the three stars”, the three stars being the gods of fortune, prosperity and longevity. “Six” represents smoothness or success. Therefore many young people choose the 6th, 16th and 26th dates of the month as wedding dates. The word “Eight” sounds similar to the word for wealth, so many believe it to be linked to prosperity. In fact, the opening ceremony for the Olympics started at 8:08:08 on 08/08/2008. “Nine” is also regarded as lucky and meaning "everlasting".
“Four” is a taboo for most Chinese because the pronunciation in Mandarin is close to “death”. Some hotels' "fifth" floors are immediately above their third floors, much as some American hotels' floor numbers skip from twelve to fourteen, omitting the "unlucky" number 13.
Climate and Terrain
China's climate varies from tropical in the south to subarctic in the north. Hainan Island is roughly at the same latitude as Jamaica, while Harbin, a large northern city, is at roughly the latitude of Montréal and has the climate to match. Northern China has four distinct seasons with intensely hot summers and bitterly cold winters. Southern China tends to be milder and wetter. The climate is more arid in the north and west. In the Tibetan highlands and the vast steppes and deserts of Gansu and Xinjiang, distances are great and the land is often barren.
Back in the days of the planned economy, the rules stated that buildings in areas north of the Yangtze River received heat in the winter, but anything south of it did not — this meant unheated buildings in places like Shanghai and Nanjing, which routinely see temperatures below freezing in winter. The rule has long since been relaxed, but the effects linger. In general, Chinese use less heating, less building insulation, and wear warmer clothing than Westerners in comparable climates. In schools, apartment buildings and office buildings, even if the rooms are heated, the corridors are not. Double-glazing is rare. Students and teachers wear winter jackets in class and long underwear is common. Air conditioning is increasingly common but is similarly not used in corridors and is often used with the windows and doors open.
China's landscape ranges from mountain ranges, high plateaus, and deserts in the center and the far west to plains, deltas and hills in the east. The Pearl River Delta region around Guangzhou and Hong Kong and the Yangtze delta around Shanghai have thriving industry and commerce, as does the North China plain around Beijing and the Yellow River. On the border between Tibet and Nepal lies Mount Everest, at 8,850 m, the highest point on earth. The Turpan depression, in Xinjiang is the lowest point in the country, at 154 m below sea level. This is also the world's second-lowest point on land, after the Dead Sea.
During holidays, hundreds of millions of migrant workers return home and millions of other Chinese travel within the country (but many in the service sector stay behind, enjoying extra pay). Travelers may want to consider scheduling to avoid being on the road, on the rails, or in the air during the major 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 a lot more, so book well in advance (especially to travel between remote western China and the coast). Train and bus tickets are easily purchased at other times, but are scarce during the holidays. Air tickets tend to sell out more slowly because of their higher prices and are still available to stranded tourists and air travel remains a comfortable mode of transportation. The new bullet-train network is nice, but the holidays bring overcrowded, smoke-filled, cold, loud and disorganized train depots making boarding hectic. The spring festival (Chinese New Year) is the largest annual migration of people on earth.
China has five major annual holidays:
Nearly all workers get at least a week for Chinese New Year, some get two or three, and students get four to six weeks. For National Day, a week is typical.
The Chinese New Year is especially busy. Not only is it the longest holiday, it is also a traditional time to visit family, so many stores and other businesses close for several days, a week, or even longer. Most migrant workers leave the cities and return to the countryside. This is often the only chance they have. Everyone wants to go home, and China has a lot of "everyone"! Unless you have friends or relatives in China, it is not ideal to visit during this period.
Also, during early July over twenty million university students go home and in late August they return to school, jamming the transportation system especially between the east coast and the western regions of Sichuan, Gansu, Tibet and Xinjiang.
A complete list of Chinese festivals would be long since many areas or ethnic groups have their own. See listings for individual towns for details. Nationally important festivals not mentioned above include:
In addition to these, some Western festivals are celebrated, at least in cities. Around Christmas, one hears carols — mostly English, a few in Latin, plus Chinese versions of "Jingle Bells", "Amazing Grace", and for some reason "Oh Susana". Some stores are decorated and one sees many shop assistants in red and white elf hats. For Valentine's Day, many restaurants offer special meals. Chinese Christians celebrate services and masses at officially sanctioned Protestant and Catholic churches as well.
Non-guidebooks, either about China, or by Chinese writers.
For a complete list of provinces and an explanation of China's political geography, see: List of Chinese provinces and regions.
Below is a top ten list of some of those most important to travellers in mainland China. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section. See the Dynasties and capitals section for a detailed list of China's many previous capitals.
You can travel to many of these cities using the new fast trains. In particular, the Hangzhou - Shanghai - Suzhou - Nanjing line is a convenient way to see these historic areas.
Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa to travel to China:
For 15 days
For 30 days
For 60 days
For 90 days
Residents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cuba, Georgia, Guyana, Laos, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Vietnam must have their passports endorsed as "For public affairs" by the Chinese government in order to enter visa-free.
Visa-free stopover via international airports
Citizens of Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States/American Samoa are allowed a 144-hour visa-free stopover in Beijing/Tianjin/Shijiazhuang or Shanghai/Hangzhou/Nanjing or Dalian/Shenyang, or a 72-hour visa-free stopover in Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Guilin, Harbin, Kunming, Qingdao, Wuhan, Xi'an or Xiamen provided these conditions are met:
If you do not qualify for the 144 or 72 hour visa-free stopover (for example, if you are not flying into or out of one of the qualifying airports, or if you are not a citizen of one of the qualifying countries), you may be able to avail of the 24 hour visa-free stopover instead. This is available at all airports in China served by international flights (except for Fuzhou, Mudanjiang, Shenzhen and Yanji airports, and available at Urumqi airport only if you spend no more than two hours in Urumqi). The 24-hour period begins from your scheduled flight arrival time, until your scheduled flight departure time. For the 24-hour visa-free stopover, there are no territorial restrictions on your movement within mainland China (except Tibet) during your stopover, and you are not required to fly out of the same airport as the one you flew into. For example, if you arrive in Beijing at 06:00, you can travel to another city and fly out of another airport as long as your scheduled departure time is before midnight of the next day.
Pearl River Delta
Those visiting Hong Kong and Macau are able to visit the Pearl River Delta visa-free under certain conditions.
Citizens of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Turkmenistan can visit visa-free for 30 days, if traveling with a tour group that is accompanied by a representative of a tour operator registered in both countries.
Only the special economic zone province of Hainan allows visa-free access to mainland China for 15 days for nationals of the following countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As long as they are visiting as part of a Chinese-government-controlled agency in Hainan with five or more people. Nationals of Germany, Russia and South Korea can enter visa-free for 21 days with a tourist group of two or more people.
Most travellers will need a visa (签证 qiānzhèng) to visit mainland China. In most cases, this should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure. Visas for Hong Kong and Macau can be obtained through a Chinese embassy or consulate, but must be applied for separately from the mainland Chinese visa. However, citizens from most western countries do not need visas to visit Hong Kong and Macau. Visitors from most western countries can stay in Hong Kong with a free visa for 7 to 90 days. The duration depends on the traveller's country of origin. However, people from Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cuba and Ethiopia need to apply for a visa for Hong Kong before they travel.
The most notable exception to this rule is transit through certain airports. Most airports allow a 12- to 24-hour stay without a visa so long as you do do not pass through immigration and customs (stay airside) and are en-route to a different country.
To visit mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau residents of Chinese nationality need to apply at the China Travel Service, the sole authorized issuing agent, to obtain a Home Return Permit (回乡证), a credit-card-sized ID allowing multiple entries and unlimited stay for ten years with no restrictions including on employment. Taiwan residents may obtain an entry permit (valid for three months) at airports in Dalian, Fuhzou, Haikou, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai, Wuhan, Xiamen and China Travel Services in Hong Kong and Macau. Visitors must hold a Republic of China passport, Taiwanese Identity Card and Taiwan Compatriot Pass (台胞证 táibāozhèng). The Compatriot Pass may be obtained for single use at airports in Fuzhou, Haikou, Qingdao, Sanya, Wuhan and Xiamen. The entry permit fee is ¥100 plus ¥50 for issuing a single-use Taiwan Compatriot Pass. Travellers should check the most up-to-date information before traveling.
Tourist visa extensions can be applied for at the local Entry & Exit Bureaus against handing in the following documents: valid passport, visa-extension application form including one two-inch-sized picture, and a copy of the Registration Form of Temporary Residence which is received from the local police station at registration.
Some travellers will need a dual-entry or multiple-entry visa. For example, when entering China on a single-entry visa, then departing the mainland to Hong Kong or Macau, a new visa to re-enter the mainland is needed. In Hong Kong, multiple-entry visas are officially available only to HKID holders, but the authorities are willing to bend the rules somewhat and may approve three-month multiple-entry visas for short-term Hong Kong qualified residents, including exchange students. It is recommended to apply directly with the Chinese government in this case, as some agents will be unwilling to submit such an application on your behalf.
Holders of multiple-entry visas must leave China to renew the visa. The easiest way was to go to Hong Kong, Seoul or some other country, cross the border and re-enter China. A new way is to go to Xiamen and cross to Jinmen island. Jinmen is held by Taiwan and like Hong Kong is officially considered leaving China. See details of below on boats to China.
There may be restrictions on visas for political reasons and these vary over time. For example:
Currently a Z-visa only gets you into the country for 30 days; once you are there, the employer arranges a residence permit. This is effectively a multiple-entry visa; you can leave China and return using it. Some local visa offices will refuse to issue a residence permit if you entered China on a tourist (L) visa. In those cases, you have to enter on a Z-visa. These are only issued outside China, so obtaining one will likely require a departure from the mainland, for example to a neighbouring country. (Note that in Korea, tourists not holding an alien registration card must now travel to Busan, as the Chinese consulate in Seoul does not issue visas to non-residents in Korea.) They also usually require an invitation letter from the employer. In other cases it is possible to convert an L visa to a residence permit; it depends upon which office you are dealing with and perhaps on your employer's connections.
It is possible for most foreigners to get a visa in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. . . (Dec 2010) Reservations for travel and hotel are acceptable. During busy periods, they may refuse entry after 11:00. There can be long queues, so arrive early. Also be aware of major Chinese holidays, the Consular Section may be closed for several days.
Special Economic Zone Visa
Obtaining a Visa on Arrival is possible usually only for the Shenzhen or Zhuhai Special Economic Zones, and such visas are limited to those areas. When crossing from Hong Kong to Shenzhen at Lo Wu railway station, and notably not at Lok Ma Chau, a five-day Shenzhen-only visa can be obtained during extended office hours on the spot for ¥160 (Oct 2007 price) for passport holders of many nationalities, for example Irish or New Zealand or Canadian. Americans are not eligible, while the fee for UK nationals is ¥450. The office accepts only Chinese yuan.
Any non-Chinese citizen must have a Tibet Travel Permit in order to enter Tibet. This permit is issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau, and will be checked when boarding any bus, train or aircraft bound for the TAR. However, the only way to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit is to arrange a tour operated by a Tibet travel agent which at least includes hotels and transportation. Foreigners are also not permitted to travel by public buses across Tibet and are only allowed to travel by private transportation as organised in the tour. Moreover, if entering Tibet from Nepal, one must also have joined a group tour and be only allowed on a group visa. The Tibet Travel Permit has to be handed in to the tour guide upon arrival in the airport or train station, and to tour guide will keep the permit until the traveler leaves the TAR. The Tibet Travel Permit is also required by Taiwanese holding a Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents, but it is not required for Chinese citizens from Hong Kong or Macao holding a Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macao residents.
Registering your abode
If staying in a hotel, guest house or hostel, the staff will request to see, and often scan, your passport, visa, and entry stamps at check-in.
When staying in a private residence, in theory it is required to register the abode with the local police within 24 (city) to 72 (countryside) hours of arrival, though in practice the law is rarely, if ever, enforced so long as you don't cause any trouble. The police will ask for (1) a copy of the photograph page of your passport, (2) a copy of your visa, (3) a copy of your immigration entry stamp, (4) a photograph, and (5) a copy of the tenancy agreement or other document concerning the place you are staying in. That agreement might not be in your name but it will still be requested.
The main international gateways to mainland China are Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Almost every sizable city will have an international airport, but options are usually limited to flights from Hong Kong, neighbouring countries such as South Korea and Japan, and sometimes Southeast Asia.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Dragon offers discounted companion fares  on return flights between Hong Kong and mainland China when travelling in a group of two to six people (the return journey must be no later than seven days after the outbound journey).
If you live in a city with a sizable overseas Chinese community, check for cheap flights with someone in that community or visit travel agencies operated by Chinese. Sometimes flights advertised only in Chinese newspapers or travel agencies cost significantly less than posted fares in English. The same discount price is available if requested.
See also: Discount airlines in Asia
Information: As a result of the H1N1-flu pandemic there are some kinds of health-checks currently in effect. These may be as simple as a customs person judging your appearance to IR-cameras checking for elevated body temperature. If there is a suspicion of flu, you will be quarantined for seven days.
Airlines and Routes
China's carriers are growing rapidly. Airbus estimates the size of China's passenger aircraft fleet will triple from 1,400 planes in 2009 to 4,200 planes in 2029.
Fliers may prefer Asian airlines as they generally have more cabin staff and quality service. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific  is an obvious possibility. Other candidates include Singapore Airlines , Japan Airlines , and Garuda Indonesia . Korean Air  often has good prices on flights from various places in Asia such as Bangkok via Seoul to North America. Connecting flights may be cheaper than direct flights. Korean Air also flies to more than a dozen Chinese cities.
China can be reached by train from some of its neighboring countries and even all the way from Europe.
China has land borders with 14 countries; a number matched only by its northern neighbour, Russia. In addition, mainland China also has land borders with the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, which are for all practical purposes treated as international borders. Most of the border crossings in western China are located in remote mountain passes, which while difficult to reach and traverse, often reward travellers willing to make the effort with breathtaking, scenic views.
Relations between the two nations are frosty, but the Nathu La Pass between Sikkim in India and southern Tibet has recently reopened for cross-border trade. Currently the crossing is not open to tourists, and special permits are required to visit from either side.
Entering China from Myanmar is possible at the Ruili (China)-Lashio (Myanmar) border crossing, but permits need to be obtained from the Burmese authorities in advance. Generally, this would require joining a guided tour.
For most travelers Hanoi is the origin for any overland journey to China. There are currently three international crossings:
Local buses ply from Hanoi's eastern bus station (Ben Xe Street, Gia Lam District, tel: 04/827-1529) to Lang Son, from where minibuses and motorbikes continue the journey to the border at Dong Dang. Alternatively there are many offers from open-tour providers; for those in a hurry, they might be a good option if they offer a direct hotel-to-border-crossing transfer.
There are freelance money changers, but check the rate carefully beforehand.
Border formalities take about 30 minutes. On the Chinese side, walk up past the "Friendship-gate" and catch a taxi (about ¥20, bargain hard) to Pingxiang, Guangxi. A seat in a minibus is ¥5. There is a Bank of China branch right across the street from the main bus station; the ATM accepts Maestro cards. Buses and trains operate to Nanning.
There is an eight-hour train trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai in a soft sleeper. From there, it's a long walk (or a five minute ride) to the Lao Cai-Hekou border. Crossing the border is simple, fill out a customs card and wait in line. They will search your belongings (in particular your books/written material). Outside the Hekou border crossing is a variety of shops, and the bus terminal is about a ten-minute ride from the border. A ticket for the seven-hour Hekou to Kunming ride costs about ¥140.
At Dongxing, there is a bus to Nanning, a sleeper bus to Guangzhou and a sleeper bus to Shenzhen (12 hours).
From Luang Namtha a bus leaves at around 08:00 going to Boten (Chinese border) and Mengla. A Chinese visa must be obtained beforehand as there is no way to get one on arrival. The border is about one hour away. Customs procedures will take another hour. The trip costs about 45k Kip.
Also, there is a direct Chinese sleeper-bus connection from Luang Prabang to Kunming (about 32 hours). This bus can be boarded at the border, when the minibus from Luang Namtha and the sleeper meet. Don't pay more than ¥200.
The Karakoram Highway from northern Pakistan into western China is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It's closed for tourists for a few months in winter. Crossing the border is relatively quick because of few overland travelers, and friendly relations between the two countries. A bus runs between Kashgar (China) and Sust (Pakistan) across the Khunjerab pass.
The road from Nepal to Tibet passes through amazing mountain scenery. Entering Tibet from Nepal is only possible for tourists on package tours, but it is possible to travel into Nepal from Tibet.
From Zamiin Uud. Take a local train from Ulaanbaatar to Zamiin Uud. Then bus or jeep to Erlian in China. Local evening trains depart on most days and arrive in the morning. The border opens around 8:30. From Erlian there are buses and trains to elsewhere in China.
Khorgos is the only border crossing. Buses run almost daily from Almaty to Urumqi and Yining. No visa-on-arrival is available, so ensure both your Chinese and Kazakh visas are in order before attempting this.
It is possible to cross the Torugart pass to/from Kyrgyztan, but the road is rough and the pass is only open from June to September. It is possible to arrange crossings all the way from Kashgar, but ensure that visas are in order.
Alternatively, while less scenic, a smoother crossing is located at Irkeshtam to the south of Torugart. Public sleeper buses ply this 24-hour route between Kashgar and Osh a few times weekly.
Kulma is the only border crossing and is open on weekdays from May-November. A bus operates across the border between Kashgar in Xinjiang and Khorog in Tajikistan. However, its use is currently limited to Chinese and Tajiks.
The most popular border crossing is at Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia. Buses run from Manzhouli to Zabaikalsk in Russia. There are also ferries across the Amur from Heihe to Blagoveshchensk, and Fuyuan to Khabarovsk. Farther east, there are land border crossings at Suifenhe, Dongning and Hunchun. Ensure both your Russian and Chinese visas are in order before attempting.
Crossing overland into North Korea is possible at the Dandong-Sinuiju border crossing, but must be pre-arranged as part of a guided tour from Beijing. In the reverse direction, the crossing is fairly straightforward if you have arranged it as part of your North Korean tour. Several other border crossings also exist along the Yalu and Tumen rivers, though these crossings may not be open to tourists. Tourists are currently able to use the Tumen-Namyang and Quanhe-Wonjong crossings across the Tumen River between China and North Korea. Ensure both your Chinese and North Korean visas are in order before attempting this.
There are four road border crossings into the mainland from Hong Kong at Lok Ma Chau, Sha Tau Kok, Man Kam To and the Shenzhen Bay Bridge. A visa on arrival is available for some nationalities at Lok Ma Chau, but visas must be arranged in advance for all other crossings. Both sides on the above crossings offer good connections to many places.
The two border crossings are at the Portas do Cerco and the Lotus Bridge. A visa-on-arrival can be obtained by certain nationalities at the Portas do Cerco.
Hong Kong and Macau
There is regular ferry and hovercraft service between Hong Kong and Macau and the rest of the Pearl River Delta, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. Ferry service from Hong Kong International Airport allows arriving passengers to proceed directly to the mainland without having to clear Hong Kong immigration and customs.
There is a two-day ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Osaka, Japan. Service is once or twice weekly, depending on season.
Hourly ferries (18 departures per day) run between Kinmen and Xiamen, with a journey time of either 30 minutes or an hour depending on the port. There are three daily ferries between Kinmen and Quanzhou. A twice-daily ferry links Matsu with Fuzhou, with a journey time of two hours. From the Taiwanese main island, there are weekly departures from Taichung and Keelung aboard the Cosco Star to Xiamen.
Golden Peacock Shipping company operates a speedboat three times a week on the Mekong River between Jinghong in Yunnan and Chiang Saen (Thailand). Passengers are not required to have visas for Laos or Myanmar, although the greater part of the trip is on the river bordering these countries. The ticket costs 650 yuan.
In the fall, several cruise lines move their ships from Alaska to Asia and good connections can generally be found leaving from Anchorage, Vancouver or Seattle. Star Cruises operates between Keelung in Taiwan and Xiamen in mainland China, stopping at a Japanese island on the way.
China is vast, so unless you enjoy spending a couple of days on the train or on the road getting from one place to another, consider domestic flights. Flights connect all the major cities and tourist destinations. Airlines include the three international carriers: Air China, China Southern and China Eastern, as well as regional ones including Hainan Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines. In recent years, it has been popular for large cities and provinces to open their own (dubiously funded) airline. These include Chongqing Airlines, Chengdu Airline and Hebei Airlines, amongst others. The parent company behind Hainan Airlines has spawned some 13 airlines in the region, including Grand China Air, Yangtse Express, Hong Kong Airlines and Deer Jet.
Flights between Hong Kong or Macau and mainland cities are considered to be international flights and so can be quite expensive. Hence if arriving in, or departing from, Hong Kong or Macau, it is usually much cheaper to fly to or from Shenzhen or Zhuhai, just across the border, or Guangzhou, which is a little further afield but offers flights to more destinations.
Prices for domestic flights are set at standard rates, but discounts are common, especially on the busier routes. Most good hotels, and many hostels, offer ticketing and may be able to save 15%-70% off the price of tickets. Travel agencies and booking offices are plentiful in all Chinese cities and offer similar discounts. Even before considering discounts, traveling by plane in China is not expensive.
For travel within China, it is usually best to buy tickets in China via a high-street travel agent, or on Chinese websites. Most domestic flights when bought abroad (e.g. on Expedia or even via an Air China office) will be more expensive, as only full-fare tickets are sold. Discounted tickets are only sold within China, or as a tag-on fare on an international ticket. Schedules for domestic flights are generally not finalised or released until two to three months before a flight. Unlike most air markets, early buyers will pay higher rates, as discounts tend to increase with time. For most flights, the optimum purchase period is two to four weeks before a flight. On emptier flights, the rates are discounted in the days before the flight. Once you know your intended route, it's advisable to monitor the fares to see when they rise and fall (which they will almost definitely will do). However, when travelling during a busy period (e.g. Chinese New Year), it's wise to buy earlier to guarantee yourself a seat. Some more expensive tickets are flexible, allowing cancellation for a nominal amount (between 5%-20%), then rebooking at a lower fare. Recently, premium cabins have been discounted on domestic flights. On some routes, the buy-up from economy is minimal and justified by the extra space. Ground-side perks (e.g. lounge, extra luggage, points) are often excluded on the discount rates.
Be prepared for unexplained flight delays, as these are common despite pressure from both the government and consumers. For short distances, consider other, seemingly slower options. Flight cancellations are also not uncommon. If you buy your ticket from a Chinese vendor they will likely try to contact you (if you left contact information) to let you know about the change in flight plan. If you purchased your ticket overseas, be certain to check on the flight status a day or two before you plan to fly. Chinese airlines are generally quick to offer meals when a particular flight has been delayed. It is always advisable to travel with emergency rations in China. Water cannot be brought through security, but all Chinese airports have hot-water machines, so bring a plastic mug and some tea bags.
As everywhere in the world, prices for food and drink at Chinese airports are high. Coffee that is ¥25 in a downtown shop is ¥78 at the same chain's airport branches. KFC seems to be the lone exception; their airport shops charge the same prices as other branches. Paying ¥20 or more for a KFC meal may or may not be worthwhile when there are ¥5 noodles across the street, but at the airports it is usually the best deal around.
Train travel is the major mode of long-distance transportation for the Chinese. Their extensive and rapidly expanding network of routes covers the entire country. Roughly a quarter of the world's total rail traffic is in China.
China is in the process of building a network of high-speed trains, similar to French TGV or Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains. These trains are already in service on several routes. They are called CRH and train numbers have a "G", "C" or "D" prefix. If your route and budget allow, these are the best way to get around. For more detail, see High-speed rail in China.
Chinese train categories are designated by letters and numbers indicated on the ticket. The hierarchy of Chinese trains from fastest to slowest is as follows:
On the regular non-CRH trains there are five classes of travel:
Soft-seat and soft-sleeper cars, and some hard-seat and hard-sleeper cars are air-conditioned.
The CRH trains usually have five classes - second class (3+2 seat layout), first class (2+2 layout) and three VIP classes (2+1 layout just behind the driver's cabin). The three VIP classes are named "商务座" (business class), "观光座" (sightseeing class) and "特等座" (deluxe class). Unlike on airliners, 商务座 (business class) is in fact better than "一等座" (first class) on CRH trains. 商务座 (business class) and 观光座 (sightseeing class) are priced the same, while 特等座 (deluxe class) is usually more expensive than "一等座" (first class), but cheaper than 商务座 and 观光座. The second class is equivalent to economy class on airplanes but offers more comfortable seats and much legroom. On the other hand, the premium classes cost only a little more and offer luxurious rides.
At the point where a given train starts, train tickets can usually be bought up to seven days in advance. After the point where a given train starts, a small number of tickets might be reserved for purchase in larger towns along the route of travel. Usually these are the "standing" class. To get a seat assignment (zuowei) or a sleeper (wopu), then find the train conductor, who will tell if there is availability. The biggest demand is for hard seats and hard sleepers, so ask a local friend to buy hard-seat tickets as the sellers are not always willing to sell them to foreigners, although this is changing. As of January 2012, nationals and foreigners alike must present ID in order to purchase a ticket (e.g., national ID card or passport). The purchaser's name is printed onto the ticket and each individual is required to be present, with ID, to pick-up their ticket.
There are local state-railway ticket agencies in many locations remote from train stations, clearly marked "Booking Office for Train Tickets" in English and Chinese and with a locomotive emblem, but are easily overlooked as these are simple "hole in the wall" shops. They are equipped with computers connected to the central booking system. Tickets purchased at these locations can be bought up to ten days in advance at face-value prices which can be half of what commercial travel agencies charge. Staff usually does not speak English. An easy fix is finding someone who looks like a college student and he will usually be willing to help.
Do not expect English-speaking staff at station cash desks either, even in big cities. And if the cashier finds some English-speaking colleague, don't expect that he can work with the reservation system. If unable to speak Mandarin, write the departure and destination stations, date and time of departure, train number and required class on paper. You can write the station name in pinyin, as the cashier enters them in the same way to the reservation system. Beware that many cities have different stations for normal trains and high-speed trains. High-speed station names usually consist of city name and cardinal direction (for example Héngyángdōng "Hengyang East").
During busy seasons (Chinese New Year, for example) tickets sell out rapidly at train stations. It may be better to get tickets in advance through an agent. In major cities there are also agents who sell tickets in the normal time frame with a nominal markup. The convenience of avoiding a trip to the train station and waiting in the queue is well worth the small increase in cost. Travel agencies will accept money and bookings for tickets in advance but the ticket is not guaranteed until the station releases them onto the market, at which point the agency will buy the ticket that had previously been "guaranteed". This is true anywhere in China.
The toilets on trains tend to be cleaner than on buses or in most public areas because they are simple devices that empty the contents directly onto the ground near the tracks and thus don't smell as bad. Soft-sleeper cars usually have European throne-style toilets at one end of the car and Chinese squat toilets at the other. Before a non-CRH train stops at the station, the conductor will normally lock the bathrooms so that people will not leave deposits on the ground at the station. CRH (G, C, D) trains are newly built and are equipped with modern vacuum toilets, therefore don't have the problem.
Long-distance trains have buffet or dining cars, which serve hot, overpriced (at ¥25 or so), mediocre food. The menu will be entirely in Chinese, but by interpreting some of the Chinese characters or asking for common dishes by name, one can eat well. When the train stops at a station, there are normally vendors on the platform selling cheap noodles, snacks and fruit. Trains generally have boiled water available so bring tea, soup and instant noodles for instant food.
Guard valuables while on the train; property theft on public transportation has increased in recent years.
On most higher-level trains (T, K, Z and CRH trains) pre-recorded announcements are made in Chinese, English and occasionally Cantonese (if the train serves Guangdong province or Hong Kong), Mongolian (in Inner Mongolia), Tibetan (in Tibet) or Uighur (in Xinjiang). On local trains there are no English announcements, so knowing when to get off is harder.
Motion-sickness pills are recommended for those inclined toward that type of ailment. Ear plugs facilitate uninterrupted sleep. In sleeper cars, tickets are exchanged for cards on long-distance trains. The cabin attendants return the original tickets when the train approaches the destination station, thus ensuring everyone gets off where they should, even if they don't wake themselves up.
If you have some things to share on the train, you'll have fun. The Chinese families and business people aboard are just as bored as the next person and will happily attempt conversation or share a movie shown on a laptop. And the watching the countryside going by is a neat experience.
A ticket is needed to enter and exit the station - usually there will be an inspection at the departure-hall entrance or the boarding gate and another at the exit gate. Once in the departure hall, follow the digital indicator boards to find the right boarding gate (they are in Chinese but will display the train service number which is printed at the top of your ticket). Approximately ten minutes before boarding, the train and platform will be announced and the gate will be opened, just follow the crowd to the platform - at larger stations the train will already be waiting, in smaller stations the car number is written on the platform edge. Wait in the right place because the train will often stop briefly. Some newer stations have high-level platforms that are level with the door, but at smaller stations the platforms are low and passengers must ascend several steep steps to board the train, so be prepared carrying a large suitcase. Generally passengers are friendly and will offer to help with bulky luggage.
Smoking is forbidden in seating and sleeping areas, but is allowed in the vestibules at the end of each car. On the new CRH trains, the Guangzhou-Kowloon shuttle train and the Beijing Suburban Railway, smoking is completely forbidden. Smoking is banned inside station buildings apart from in designated smoking rooms, although these places are often unpleasant and poorly ventilated.
Travelling by public city buses (公共汽车 gōnggòngqìchē) or long-distance buses (长途汽车 chángtúqìchē) is inexpensive and ideal for in-city and short-distance transportation.
On city buses there are plastic seats, many people, no English signs and unhelpful drivers. However, if you can understand the bus routes then they are cheap and go almost everywhere. Buses normally have recorded announcements indicating 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 - now arriving). Some major cities such as Beijing or Hangzhou have English announcements on some major routes. Fares are usually about 1 or 2 yuan (the former for older buses with no air-conditioning, the latter for air-conditioned modern buses) or more if travelling into the suburbs. Most buses simply have a metal cash-box next to the entrance for fare collection (no change - save up those one-yuan coins and notes). On long routes a conductor collects fares and issue tickets and change. Note that the driver usually prioritises speed over comfort, so hold on tight.
A coach or bus in rural China is a different experience altogether. Signs in the station to identify buses will only be in Chinese or another local language, routes may also be posted or pasted on bus windows and drivers or touts will shout their destinations as you pass, the coach's license plate number is supposed to be printed on the ticket, but all too often that is inaccurate. Due to different manners and customs, foreigners may find bus personnel to be lacking in politeness and other passengers lacking in manners as they spit on the floor and out the window and smoke. Some drivers pick up as many passengers as can be crammed into the bus. The ride is bumpy, especially in the back of the bus. Scheduled times of departure and arrival are only rough estimates, as many buses won't leave until every seat is sold, which can add hours, and breakdowns and other mishaps can significantly extend the trip. Rides of 10 or 20 hours straight can be miserable. As gut-wrenching as all this sounds, short of shelling out the cash for your own personal transport, rural coaches are the only forms of transportation in many areas of China. On the bright side, such rural coaches are usually more than willing to stop anywhere along the route should you wish to visit more remote areas without direct transport. Buses can also be flagged down at most points along their route. The ticket price the rest of the way is negotiable.
Chinese drivers often disregard the rules of the road and accidents are frequent. Sudden swerves and stops can cause injury, so keep a good hold wherever possible. Horn-honking is widespread, so use earplugs to sleep en route.
Obtaining a ticket can be difficult. Large bus stations have ticket counters who sell printed tickets displaying the bus' departure time, boarding gate and license plate number (not always accurate) and have fixed prices. Smaller bus stations have touts shouting destinations and directing passengers to the right bus, where payment is made on board. Large stations often have touts outside - generally they will call the bus driver of a departing bus, who will wait up the road while the tout brings the passenger on the back of a motorcycle to the waiting bus - then the fare is negotiated with the driver. This is sometimes a complete scam and sometimes results in 30% savings - depending on the passenger's bargaining and Chinese abilities.
Independent Travel Network is an alternative that was created by a western company. Dragon Bus China now operates an integrated nationwide transport and accommodation network. The network is a “Jump On & Off” style of travel, allowing stays in cities that they travel through and the future buses for onward travel from there. This alternative reduces the hassle of traveling by public buses and increases safety.
Cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Shenyang, Xian, Chengdu and Nanjing have subway (地铁 dìtiě) systems. Chongqing has monorail systems. Xiamen has a system of bus-only roads for bus rapid transit, mostly elevated. Generally these are modern, clean, cheap and efficient, and virtually all station signs, train signs, and ticket machines are bilingual in both English and Chinese. On both station platforms and in trains there is usually bilingual signage listing all stations on that particular line. Also, bi-lingual staff members are usually present near the ticket machine or on the platform. Therefore, the subway might be the easiest way to travel through the city for a non-Chinese speaker.
One caveat is that the subway network maps posted on the walls in the stations are not always completely bilingual, or hard-copy pamphlets with fully bilingual maps may not always be available in the stations. This can be a problem when trying to change lines in a hurry, because you need to know the correct line terminal to board at the correct platform. Bring along a bilingual subway network map while traveling by subway.
Subway stations in Chinese cities generally have a security checkpoint before the turnstiles that is manned when the station is open. They normally do not have walk-through metal detectors so you won't have to empty your pockets like in an airport. But these checkpoints do have an X-ray scanner large enough to take all bags up to small carry-ons, and all patrons are expected to run their bags through the scanner. Sometimes the staff will ask water bottles to be removed from bags and conduct additional inspections.
Spare change is needed for the subway. Most of the ticket machines will accept coins and small bills from 5 to 50 yuan. One hundred yuan bills are generally not accepted, nor are credit cards. Small bills can easily be exchanged at the ticket counter.
Most of these systems are being expanded, with multiple subway lines per city planned. By 2020 or so China seems likely to have some of the world's most extensive urban transport infrastructure. Subway systems which link into regional rail systems such as between Guangzhou and Shenzhen are planned elsewhere.
Taxis (出租车 chūzūchē or 的士 dishì, pronounced "deg-see" in Cantonese-speaking areas) are generally common, and reasonably priced. Flagfalls range from ¥5 in some cities to ¥14 in others, with a per kilometer charge around ¥2. In most situations, an ordinary trip within the city costs between ¥10 and ¥50 There is no extra charge for luggage, night fares are higher. Tips are not expected.
While it is not unheard of for drivers to cheat visitors by deliberately selecting a longer route, it is uncommon. When it does happen, the fare difference will usually be minimal. However, should you feel you have been seriously cheated on the way to a mid- or high-range hotel that has a doorman, appeal to him and/or the desk staff for assistance: A single sharp sentence pointing out the deception may resolve the issue.
Some taxi hawkers stalk naive travelers inside or just outside the airport terminals and train stations. They try to negotiate a set price for the trip and will usually charge twice or thrice the metered fare. If you’re not familiar with the area, stick with the designated taxi areas that are outside airport terminals and insist that the driver use the meter. The fare should be plainly marked outside the taxi.
Finding a taxi during peak hours can be difficult and is even worse when it rains. Away from peak hours, especially at night, it is sometimes possible to get a 10% to 20% discount especially if you negotiate it in advance, even if with the meter on and asking for a receipt. As with everything else in China you should not tip. (It's seen as a form of corruption.)
Sitting in the front passenger seat of taxis is acceptable; some taxis even mount the taxi meter down by the gearbox, where you can only see it from the front seat. Be warned that drivers may start smoking without asking by just opening their window and lighting up. In some cities it is also common for drivers to try and pick up multiple passengers if their destinations are in the same general direction. Each passenger pays full fare but it saves the time of waiting for an empty cab at rush hour.
Outside of Beijing and Shanghai, it is difficult to find an English-speaking cabbie. Saying the destination's name in Mandarin, but with your native pronunciation, may not be understood. Therefore, it is advisable have the destination written. Chinese characters are better for this than a romanized (pinyin) version, as many drivers cannot read pinyin, and the same pinyin may correspond to different characters. Get business cards for your hotel, and for restaurants you like, to show taxi drivers. Equip yourself with a sound-tracked guide to conversation in Chinese. Such tools can be easily found on the Internet in different languages. Through your cell phone, your Chinese friends can state the destination to the driver.
In some cities, taxi companies use a star-rating system for drivers, ranging from 0 to 5, displayed on the driver's name-plate, on the dashboard in front of the passenger seat. While no or few stars do not necessarily indicate a bad driver, many stars tend to indicate good knowledge of the city, and willingness to take you to where you ask by the shortest way. Another indicator of the driver's ability can be found on the same name-plate - the driver's ID number. A small number indicates a long on the job and, most likely, good knowledge of the city. If you feel you are being cheated, get out the car and write down the license plate number and if you speak some Chinese (or have a good phrasebook) threaten to report the driver to the city or the taxi company. Most drivers are honest and fares are reasonable, but dishonest drivers will try to use visitors' lack of Chinese skills to their advantage.
The Chinese are assertive when seeking a taxi. The person who flags down a particular car is not necessarily entitled to that ride. Some locals move farther up in traffic to intercept cars or shove others out of the way as they try to enter a taxi. When competing with others for rides, move toward the taxi and enter it as soon as possible after flagging it down.
Seat belts should always be worn at all times, even if the driver states otherwise.
By tram (trolley)
Above ground, Dalian or Changchun offer trams. These stop more frequently than light-rail. Single-cart trolleys may also be in use. Both modes are susceptible to traffic jams.
Bicycles (zìxíngchē, 自行车), along with electric bikes and motorcycles, are the most common form of transportation in China; at rush hour there will be thousands of them. Many are traditional heavy single-speed roadsters, but basic multi-geared mountain bikes are also common. For travelers, bicycles are cheap, convenient and better than being squeezed into a public bus.
There are two major dangers for cyclists in China:
In most tourist areas — whether major cities like Beijing or heavily-touristed villages such as Yangshuo — bicycles are easily rented and there are plentiful repair shops. Guided bike tours are also readily available.
Buying a bicycle is easy. Dahon, Merianda and Giant are three popular brands in amateur and semi-professional bicycles and all cities have their distributors. Many supermarkets also carry a good stock of bikes. Prices vary from as little as ¥150 to over ¥10000. For a reasonably well-equipped mountain bike for riding to areas like Tibet, expect around ¥3000-¥4500 for a bike. The biggest cities usually stock professional upmarket bikes, but for very specific requirements, shop in Hong Kong.
Bicycle repair shops are ubiquitous in cities and rural areas; non-Chinese-speaking tourists might find it difficult, so just look for bikes and tires. For a quick fix to a sudden flat tire, there are also many people standing by along the road with a bowl of water and a repair kit ready. For special parts like disc brakes, bring a spare one if planning to visit a rural area.
China provides professional bikers challenging mountains and deserts. However, as of May 2010, foreign tourists wanting to bike across the Tibetan Plateau are required by law to obtain a permit and hire a tour guide.
See Karakoram Highway for one spectacular but difficult route. Companies such as Bike China and Intrepid Travel organize such tours for small groups.
See also: Driving in China
The legal driving age in Mainland China is 18.
The PRC generally does not recognize International Driving Permits and requires foreigners to have a Chinese license. Note that Hong Kong and Macau licenses are also considered to be foreign and having one does not permit driving in the mainland. Unless you have diplomatic status, importing for vehicles is impossible.
Rented cars most often come with a driver, similar to the remises of South America; this is probably the best way to travel in China by car. Driving yourself around China, even if you can read and speak basic Chinese and are able to qualify for a local license, is not recommended unless you are accustomed to chaotic driving conditions. Driving in China's cities is not for the faint-hearted, and parking spaces are often difficult to find. That said, driving in China is still easier than driving in Vietnam and other developing countries in Asia. Traffic moves on the right in mainland China. Many neighbors, such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau have traffic that moves on the left.
English directional signs are ubiquitous in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities which see many Western tourists, but there are few elsewhere. So, have your destination written in Chinese before departing so locals can point you in the right direction.
Foreigners should avoid driving outside of major cities. "One Way" signs usually mean "mostly but not always one way". Drivers who miss an exit ramp on a freeway slow down just before the upcoming entry ramp and make a 270° turn to engage on that ramp. And expect drivers to take creative shortcuts at traffic circles.
Pedestrians should ALWAYS look both ways before crossing any street. Not only do bicycles go in the wrong direction, so do increasingly popular electric motorbikes -- and they are silent.
See also: Driving in China#Motorcycles
Motorcycle taxis are common, especially in smaller cities and rural areas. They are somewhat scary and the fares are cheap and negotiable.
Regulations for riding a motorcycle vary from city to city. In some cases, 50cc mopeds can be ridden without a driving license although many cities have now banned them or reclassified them due to numerous accidents. Riding a 'proper' motorcycle is much harder - partly because you'll need a Chinese license, partly because they are banned in many cities and partly because production and importing have slowed with the focus on automobiles and electric scooters. The typical Chinese motorcycle is 125cc, can do about 100km/h and is a traditional cruiser style. They are generally slow, mundane to ride and have little sporting potential. Government restrictions on engine-size mean that sports bikes are rare but can still be found. Another popular choice is a 125cc automatic 'maxi' scooter based loosely on the Honda CN250 - it's a bit quicker than a moped and more comfortable over long distances. Their automatic transmissions make negotiating stop-start urban traffic easier.
Most cities will have a motorcycle market selling cheap motorcycles, often with fake or illegal license plates - although a foreigner on a motorbike is a rare sight and will grab the police's attention. Helmets are essential on 'proper' bikes but optional on scooters. License plates are mandatory - they are yellow or blue on a motorcycle or green on a scooter and can cost several thousand RMB to register the bike, although fake plates are easily available at a lower price, but risky.
By pedicab (rickshaw)
Reports that "the drivers will frequently try and rip you off" probably refer to rip-off artists working tourist destinations, like Sanlitun, Silk Street, and Wangfujing areas in Beijing in particular. Perhaps the rule of thumb should be, "Beware of anyone selling anything near tourist traps."
If you see normal Chinese families using the "sanlun" - for instance, traveling between the Beijing Zoo and the nearest subway stop - then it's safe. A sanlun wearing an old-fashioned costume to attract tourists will charge ten times the going rate.
Where possible, choose pedicabs over motorized transport to help the poor stay in business and preserve a Chinese tradition. Electrified three-wheeled sanluns developed or converted from the pedicabs seem to be in the majority in Shanghai.
The official language of China is Standard Mandarin, which is mostly based on the Beijing dialect, known in Chinese as Putonghua (普通话, "common speech"). Mandarin has been the only language used in education on the mainland since the 1950s, so most people speak it. Unless otherwise noted, all terms, spellings and pronunciations in this guide are in standard Mandarin. As Mandarin is tonal, getting the four tones correct is necessary to be understood.
Many regions, especially in the southeast and south of the country, also have their own "dialect." These are really different languages, as different as French and Italian, although referring to Chinese dialects as separate languages is a touchy political issue. Like standard Mandarin, the "dialects" are all tonal languages. Even within Mandarin (the large brown language area on the map), pronunciation varies widely between regions and there is often a liberal dose of local slang or terminology to liven up the mix. After Mandarin, the largest groups are Wu, spoken in the region around Shanghai, Zhejiang and southern Jiangsu, followed by Cantonese, spoken in most of Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau, and the Min (Fujian) group which includes Minnan (Hokkien) spoken in the region around Xiamen and in Taiwan, a variant of Minnan known as Teochew spoken around Shantou and Chaozhou, as well as Mindong (Hokchiu) spoken around Fuzhou. Most Chinese are bilingual in their local vernacular and Mandarin. Older, less educated or rural Chinese may speak only the local dialect, but this is unlikely to affect tourists. It often helps to have a guide who can speak the local language as it marks that person as an insider and you as a friend of the insider. While you can easily get by in most parts of China speaking Standard Mandarin, locals appreciate any attempt to say a few words or phrases in the local dialect, so learning a few simple greetings will facilitate getting acquainted with the locals. In general, an understanding of or appreciation for the local speech can be useful when traveling to more remote areas. But in those areas a phrase book that includes Chinese characters will still be a big help as written Chinese is more or less standard.
Formal written Chinese is for all intents and purposes the same, regardless of the local dialect. Even Japanese and Korean use many of the same characters with the same or similar meaning. There is a complication in this, however. Mainland China uses "simplified characters", adopted to facilitate literacy during the mid-1950s. Traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and by many overseas Chinese, but also on the mainland in advertising and commercial signs. As a result you will just as often see 银行 (yínháng) as 銀行 for "bank". The simplification was, however, fairly systematic, which means that all hope is not lost for the traveler trying to read signs. On the other hand, native speakers usually do not encounter problems reading either script, so learning how to write either would usually suffice.
Note that in calligraphy, the number of scripts is more varied as different painters use different unique styles, though these 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 official script used in China today. When calligraphy is written in kaishu, it is usually traditional Chinese characters that are used due to their superior aesthetic value. The casual traveler can easily get by without learning the other four styles though learning them would certainly help those with a deep interest in traditional Chinese art.
In the far western reaches of the country, Turkic languages such as Uighur, Kirghiz 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, Manchu, Mongolian and Korean are spoken in areas populated by the respective ethnic minorities. Yunnan, Guizhou, Hainan and Guangxi in the south are also home to 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 generally usable in these areas, too, and most young people are bilingual in their minority language and Mandarin. Sadly, some of the minority languages such as Manchu are dying out.
English and other foreign language speakers
Chinese students learn English as a compulsory subject starting from late elementary or middle school. Passing an English exam is a requirement to earn a four-year university degree, regardless of major. However, the focus of the instruction at all levels is formal grammar and, to a lesser degree, writing rather than speaking or listening. As a result, most young people in the country can read some English, but might not be able to have a conversation in the language.
Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen have a high proportion of English-speaking locals. In certain cities, outside tourist attractions and establishments catering specifically to foreigners, it is rare to find locals conversant in English. Airline staff and those at large hotels - particularly international chains - usually speak some basic to conversational English, although in-depth skills are seldom seen.
When speaking, use simplified English. Speak slowly, avoid slang and idioms, and use simple present tense declarative sentence structure. Don't say "Would you mind if I come back tomorrow?", use simple, abrupt phrasing like "Tomorrow I will return." This brings the phrase closer to its Chinese equivalent and is therefore not necessarily condescending.
To meet people, ask about "English Corner" - a time and place in town where local residents, often with a foreign host or speaker, meet to practice spoken English. Typically, they are held on Friday evenings or Sundays in public parks, English training schools, bookstores, and university campuses. There may also be "Corners" for French, German, Russian and perhaps other languages.
Consider arranging the services of a tour guide before the trip commences if planning to visit far-flung areas. This will help overcome the language barrier where locals are unlikely to know English. However, due to lasting effects of the Sino-Soviet friendship treaty, in rural regions, particularly in the northwest, Russian is commonly encountered.
Have all places you want to visit written down in Chinese characters, also bunch frequent words like "hotel", "taxi" or "airport". To explain your needs to locals, have Baidu Fanyi (zh-cn: 百度翻译) app installed. It will translate English and some other languages from and to Chinese. Look for 英语 (English) and click on and set your destination language to 中文 (Chinese).
See also: Learn
In the West, Chinese has an undeserved reputation for its difficulty. While it differs from Western languages, the basic grammar is simple. Verbs are static regardless of subject and whether they are referring 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 existence of several consonants not present in European languages (as well as a few vowels found in other European languages but not in English), the use of count words (i.e., the term "head" in the phrase "head of cattle"), serial verb stacking, the emphasis on verb aspect instead of verb tense, and, of course, the use of tones.
Mandarin, like Vietnamese and Thai, is a tonal language that uses a pitch in sounds to inflict different meanings. "Ma" could mean mother, horse, numb, or blame, depending on the tone. Homophones are also common; the same sound at the same pitch usually has dozens of meanings. "Zhong1" ("Zhong" at the 1st tone) can mean China, loyalty, clock, chime, finish, a bowl, etc. All of them come with different Chinese characters, just the same sound at the same pitch. While homophones are unlikely a problem in most everyday conversations, it is common for Chinese to ask how to write someone's name by identifying the characters one by one. "My name is Wang Fei (王菲). Wang is the "wang" with three strokes, Fei is the "fei" in "shifei" (gossip), with a grass on top."
Written Chinese looks like a mysterious secret code to some, but if you can recognize so many commercial logos -- usually not logically related, you will be impressed with your capacity to memorize so many characters - most of them are logically related and formed based on certain rules. Smartphone apps like Pleco, Waygo, and ChineseNow can identify the characters you don't recognize.
There are, in theory, more than 50000 Chinese characters. The good news is that more than 85% have become obsolete, or are rarely used. Like native speakers of many languages, most Chinese couldn't tell you how many characters are required to read a book and never bother to count how many characters they know. One may argue that junior students are supposed to learn at least 2000 characters and graduates in university 5000 characters.
To bridge the gap between recognizing and reading out loud, pinyin was developed, which uses the Roman alphabet as an aid to teaching Chinese. Pronouncing pinyin is not intuitive as certain letters and consonant clusters are used to represent sounds not present in European languages and are thus not pronounced as a westerner would expect. Chinese will not recognize place names or addresses in pinyin; it is always better to use characters for written information.
Translators and Interpreters
Foreign travelers in China will benefit from having a translator or interpreter supporting them for either leisure or business activities. Taxi drivers do not speak English, and most business meetings with either domestic Chinese companies or government agencies will likely be more successful if an interpreter is present. Prices and quality vary substantially, but some Western-managed organizations and marketplaces exist that specialize in translation and interpretation:
SeekPanda, ☎ +1 303.997.0442 +86 185.1170.8629 ([email protected]), . edit Pricing is by the half day / full day. Specializes in business travelers and bilingual events/conferences. Interpreters available in most of mainland China and Taiwan, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Taipei. Can handle last-minute requests for in-person interpretation.
China's attractions are endless. Especially near the coast, if you run out of things to see in one city, the next is usually a short train ride away. History buffs, nature lovers and beach-goers are all catered to in China, where attractions range from the majestic Forbidden City in Beijing to the breathtaking scenery of Jiuzhaigou. Because of its sheer size and long history, China has the third-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after Italy and Spain.
The gumdrop mountains and steeply sloping forested hills with bizarre rock formations favored by traditional Chinese artists are not creative fantasy. In fact, much of southern and southwestern China is covered in strangely eroded rock formations known as Karst. Karst is a type of limestone formation named after an area in Slovenia. As limestone layers erode, the denser rock or pockets of different stone resist erosion forming peaks. Caves hollow out beneath the mountains which can collapse forming sinkholes and channels leading to underground rivers. At its most unusual Karst erodes to form mazes of pinnacles, arches and passageways. The most famous example can be found in the Stone Forest (石林 Shílín) near Kunming in Yunnan. Some of the most famous tourist areas in China feature spectacular karst landscapes — Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi, and much of central and western Guizhou province.
For sacred mountains, see the next section.
Several sites in China have famous Buddhist art:
China is home to many sacred mountains.
The Five Great Mountains (五岳 wǔyuè), associated with Taoism:
The Four Sacred Mountains (四大佛教名山 sìdà fójiào míngshān), associated with Buddhism:
The three main sacred mountains of Tibetan Buddhism:
There are also other well-known mountains. In China, many mountains have temples, even if they are not especially sacred sites:
Revolutionary Pilgrimage Sites
Some itineraries cover trips that are entirely within China:
Others are partly in China:
Martial Arts and Taichi
Those with the time and inclination may study China's famed martial arts. Some, such as tai chi (太极拳 tàijíquán) can be studied by simply visiting any city park in the early morning and following along (there will be eager, potential teachers, too). Other martial arts require in-depth study. Famous martial arts programs include those at the Shaolin Temple on Mount Song and Wu Wei Temple near Dali.
High-quality, reasonably priced massages are easily found. Traditionally, massage is a trade for the blind in Asia. Expert work costs ¥15 to ¥30 an hour.
These three types of massage are often mixed; many places offer all three.
Language for massage:
A masseur or masseuse might ask "does this hurt": tòng bú tòng? or tòng ma?. Answer tòng or bú tòng.
Be aware some massage shops or hair salons are fronts for prostitution. Venues advertising massages by the blind and without neon lighting are usually legitimate massage parlours and generally do not offer sex.
If planning a long stay in China, consider learning some of the traditional arts. Traveling to China is a unique chance to learn the basics, or refine already acquired skills, directly from master practitioners in the arts' home country. Many cities have academies that accept beginners, and not knowing Chinese is usually not a problem as learning is by example and imitation. Calligraphy (书法 shūfǎ), a term that covers both writing characters and painting scrolls (that is, classical landscapes and the like) remains a national hobby. Many calligraphers practice by writing with water on sidewalks in city parks. Classes are offered for learning to play traditional Chinese instruments (inquire in shops that sell these as many offer classes), to cook Chinese cuisine, or even to sing Beijing Opera (京剧 jīngjù). Fees are usually modest, and the necessary materials will not exactly break the bank. The classes require being in the same place for a long enough time, and showing sufficient respect; it is better not to join these classes as a tourist attraction.
China has several traditional games often played in tea gardens, public parks, or even on the street. Players often attract crowds of on-lookers. Two famous strategy-based 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 popular and often (well-nigh always) played for money, although its regional variations require learning new rules when visiting different areas. Among the most well known variants of this game are the Cantonese, Taiwanese and Japanese versions. Chinese checkers (跳棋 tiǎoqí ), despite its name, did not originate in China but can be found. Many Chinese are skilled card (扑克牌 pūkèpái) players; Deng Xiaoping's love for bridge (桥牌 qiáopái) was particularly renowned.
China offers varied opportunities for volunteering and giving back, such as wildlife conservation with Panda bears, English, sports education and community aid. There are many ways to get in contact with the desired volunteer project, one of which is a comparison platform. On Volunteer World, a social startup from Germany, . , all volunteering options in China are listed. edit
The official currency of the People's Republic of China is the renminbi (人民币 "People's Money"), often abbreviated as RMB. The base unit of this currency is the yuan (元), international currency code CNY. All prices in China are given in yuan, usually either as ¥ or 元. The RMB is not legal tender in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, both of which issue their own currencies although occasionally it will be accepted on an unfavourable (for those using yuan) one-to-one basis with Hong Kong Dollars.
The yuan is currently ¥6.77 to the US dollar and slowly rising in value (Feb 2019).
The official subdivisions of the yuan are the jiao (角), at ten to the yuan, and the fen (分) at ten to the jiao. The fen is rare, but is present in less-developed areas. A coin worth ¥0.10 will thus say 壹角 ("1 jiao"), not "10 fen", on it. But in colloquial Mandarin, people often say kuai (块) instead of yuan, and the jiao is also dubbed the mao (毛). A price like ¥3,7 would thus be read as "3 kuai 7" (although 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 dropped. 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, keep in mind that Chinese has a word for ten thousand, wàn (万), and thus for example 50,000 becomes wu wan, not wu shi qian.
Much Chinese currency will be in the form of bills — even small change. Bills are more common in some areas, coins in others, but both are accepted anywhere. Even the jiao, at just one-tenth of a yuan, exists as both a bill (the smallest) and two different coins. Conversely, one yuan exists both as a coin and as two different bills. You should be prepared to recognize and handle either version.
Counterfeiting is a serious problem. Anyone staying in China for a few months would have certainly experienced it. From the ¥1 coin, to ¥10, ¥20, ¥50 and ¥100 bills, all currency is at risk. The main focus is on the texture of different parts, the metal line, and the change of colours under different lights. Ask anyone how, all of them have their own way. One such strategy for bills is to hold it up to the light: all real bills will have a watermark in the white blank space off to the side.
It is common for a cashier to scrutinize the banknotes being received. Don't be offended; they are being reasonably cautious, not judgemental. Scrutinize the banknotes received as change, especially notes over ¥50. Salespeople may give counterfeit change that they received from other customers.
Counterfeits from ATMs are uncommon. If worried, make withdrawals from the bank counter and say "I worry about jiabi (counterfeit)". Bank staff seem to be very understanding on this.
Some non-licensed money changers at the borders give counterfeits to travellers. Tourists who are inexperienced in checking notes should use a bank, instead.
When paying with a ¥50 or ¥100 banknote in a shop or taxi, it's socially acceptable to memorise the last few digits of your currency number as you pass it. If the banknote is said to be fake, make sure to get the same bill back.
Although still restricted, the yuan is readily convertible in many countries, especially in Asia. The Hong Kong dollar, US dollar, Canadian dollar, Euro, British pound sterling, Australian dollar, Japanese yen and South Korean won can all be easily changed in China. Southeast Asian currencies are generally not accepted, the exception being Singapore dollars (this is changing- certain branches of Bank of Communications, indicated by a sign at teller windows, will exchange Malaysian ringgit, and Travelex will accept almost anything - with a hefty commission). Currency should only be changed at major banks (Bank of China in particular) or with the licensed money changers usually found at airports or high-end hotels, although these use unfavourable exchange rates.
A black market for currency exchange exists, but is to be avoided as counterfeiting is frequent when exchanging money in China. Private money changers found in markets and hanging around large banks offer attractive exchange rates, but unless a local friend is providing assistance, avoid them. To avoid receiving counterfeit bills in return for a large amount of cash, use the official exchange counter in the Bank of China or another large bank; although the rates are slightly less favourable, there is almost no risk of getting counterfeit bills.
Foreign exchange is regulated in China. Private money changers, present in tourist spots or shopping malls around the globe, are still uncommon in China. In a bank, it usually takes 5-60 minutes to process the exchange, sometimes a little faster in an hotel. Generally speaking, the bigger the city, the more quickly the exchange transaction will be completed.
Regardless of location, it is required to complete a form and show a passport. The passport will be photocopied and scanned. Keep the exchange receipt if planning to leave the country with a large sum of money. Note that not all banks with the "Exchange" logo will exchange money for non-customers or for all currencies in cash. For example, Standard Chartered will only exchange cash for its customers (but they will quickly open an account, even on a tourist visa) and then, only USD and HKD in cash, but they offer a better cash exchange rate than most local banks.
Exchanging US currency for RMB can be simple, but expect the bills to be scrutinized before the exchange is processed. Opportunities to buy RMB before entering China, for example when coming overland from Hong Kong or Vietnam, should be taken, as the rates are better. The same is true going the other way - selling just across the border will often net a more favourable rate. Also, most international banks allow cash advances via a debit- or credit card at a Chinese ATM, but the rates are often unfavourable and may include service charges. It's useful to carry an international currency such as British pounds, US dollars, or Japanese yen to fall back on in the absence of a cash machine.
ATMs are present nationwide. Most ATMs outside the large cities that accept Cirrus, PLUS, VISA and MasterCard-affiliated cards are owned by Bank of China or the Industrial and Commercial Bank. In big cities, most ATMs accept Visa, Plus, Mastercard, Maestro and Cirrus. However, cash advances from Diner's Club, American Express or JCB cards are more difficult. For visitors from Hong Kong or Macau, the only ATMs that natively take JETCO cards are Bank of East Asia ATMs. Most ATMs will charge a small, flat fee.
Although Minsheng Bank, Shenzhen Development Bank and Bank of Shanghai ATMs all display PLUS, Cirrus and Maestro logos, only selected ATMs of theirs are linked to these networks, and there is usually no indication until a transaction is attempted. This is true of many other banks' ATMs, even Agricultural Bank of China (one of the big four).
If an ATM requires a six-digit PIN and your PIN has only four digits, type two zeros before it. In towns with a Bank of China branch but no international network-capable ATM, it is usually possible to get a cash advance on a credit card inside the bank.
UnionPay, the local ATM-card network, has made agreements with foreign ATM-card networks. Any ATM in China will accept withdrawals and balance inquiries from covered cards (such as NYCE and Pulse in the US (as well as to cash advances from Discover cards), Interac in Canada, and LINK in the UK).
Some tourists' banks are part of the Global ATM Alliance, be aware that China Construction Bank is its local partner for fee-free withdrawals.
Most major banks and upmarket hotels will exchange travellers' cheques and will require an ID and a signature on the cheques; your signature in front of the teller will be scrutinized. In second-tier cities, visit the head branch of Bank of China or Merchants' Bank. Exchanging travellers' cheques is usually slower than exchanging cash.
Foreign currencies, including the Hong Kong dollar and the US dollar, rarely substitute for RMB except in several five-star hotels, some shops on the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border, and stock exchanges. Foreign currency is unlikely to be used in most transactions. Without renminbi and with only foreign currency, bills usually may not be paid without a trip to a bank or one of the scarce automatic currency-exchange machines scattered around Tier 1 cities.
Credit- or debit cards can pose the same problem in reverse: a merchant may charge in the home currency instead of renminbi. This practice is referred to as "dynamic currency conversion" or DCC and a commission is applied atop the exchange rate, typically 3%, sometimes more. Ask the merchant to void the transaction and to process it again in local currency.
Electronic money transfers to another country are easier than before. Most big-city banks offer this service nowadays. On the other hand, service charges vary (depending on the sending and receiving bank), the staff is sometimes ill-trained, and the process can take up to a week to clear. A Chinese branch of a foreign or Hong Kong-based bank may do transfers. This is easier in the big cities, though.
It will be MUCH easier to do transfers with a dual-currency account with the Bank of China - opened at the branch from which the money will be received. Electronic transfers to dual currency accounts incur no or low fees although it will usually require a week. Transfers to Chinese accounts from overseas also take from three to ten business days. Usually, providers such as TransferWise are a cheaper and faster alternative to transfer ¥ or $ to China.  Only a passport, visa and a small initial deposit (can be RMB) plus the new-account fee (¥10-20) are required to open an account in China. When opening a foreign-currency account or a dual-currency account, ask whether it can be accessed in another province or overseas. Alternatively, Wells Fargo offers American visitors ExpressSend, a service that allows money sent from the US to arrive in a China Agricultural Bank account on the same day.
Western Union has deals with China Agricultural Bank and with China Post, so there are many Western Union signs around. China Construction Bank (ICBC) has also been known to accept Western Union. This method 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. A list of locations is available through Western Union's website. But problems with this include their system being down or, for an overseas transfer, the employee being dealt with with may insist upon the recipient's passport and visa numbers, or for a within-China transfer, cash in US dollars.
It is sometimes difficult to find the branch listed on the Western Union website, and the process of getting the transfer completed can take a long time. Expect to take your time finding the branch, and spending over an hour inside the bank completing the transaction. Foreigners will almost certainly need a passport. The process is shorter for those fluent in Chinese. Try another branch if faced with difficulties. The exchange rate through Western Union has historically been quite good, and this is a viable way to send money to yourself or to someone else in China. Make certain to have a safe place to hold cash transfers.
Outside of star-rated or chain hotels, major supermarkets, and high-class restaurants, credit cards are generally not accepted and most transactions will require cash. The most popular credit card in China is UnionPay, and due to an alliance between Discover and UnionPay, those with Discover credit cards will find that their card is much more widely accepted (under the UnionPay system) than those with Visa, Mastercard, or American Express. Most convenience stores take UnionPay, as do most restaurant chains, stores selling high-value items, grocery-store chains, and most ATMs. Beware of pickpockets.
Many department stores and large grocery stores have point-of-sale terminals for Chinese bank cards; typically these will not work for foreign cards (unless it is also a UnionPay card). However, because of the nature of Discover's agreement with the UnionPay network, it is treated as a domestic card at ATMs and point-of-sale. If you are going to spend a lot of time in China and use significant amounts of money, consider getting a Chinese bank account if signing up for a Discover card is impractical. Ideally, if in a big city and later travelling to smaller ones, try to open an account with smaller banks like Woori Bank or Ping An Bank; these offer free inter-bank ATM withdrawals anywhere in China (Ping An Bank also offers free withdrawals overseas, a plus if travelling to nearby countries later). Alternatively, Travelex offers UnionPay Cash Passports in certain countries.
As with debit cards, Chinese retail clerks will usually present the POS credit card terminal to the cardholder for entry of a PIN for chip-and-pin cards. Visitors from sign-only or chip-and-sign countries like the United States should attempt to explain that fact to the clerk or simply hit the green button or Enter for no PIN. Chinese terminals have old-fashioned miniature dot-matrix printers which print receipts on carbon-copy duplicate paper. If no PIN was entered, the clerk will then present the receipt to the cardholder for a hard copy signature, then separate the layers and give the carbon copy to the cardholder.
China is quite affordable. Unless you are heading to Hong Kong or Macau, the mainland is generally much less expensive - from a traveller's perspective - than industrialized countries. By eating local food, using public transportation and staying in budget hotels or hostels, ¥200-300 is a serviceable daily budget. As of 2014 street vendors still sell various products for ¥1 a piece. It's potentially risky to dine on street food, but there are alternatives. But dining on the best Chinese delicacies or upmarket Western food and staying in luxury hotels, will cost over ¥3,000 a day. Prices vary based on geography; the larger the city, the higher the price, rural tourism is cheap, and the coast is more expensive than the centre and the west.
Although accommodation, food and travel remain cheap, the prices of tourist attractions (historical sites as well as national parks) are increasing rapidly. Entry fees range from ¥30-300 with the norm of major scenic sites tending around ¥100.
As a general rule, tipping is not practised anywhere in China. When a tip is left on a table, often the waiter will chase after the customer who "forgot" the money. In a hotel, it is acceptable not to tip for room service, airport service, taxis or anything else -- exceptions can be made and, especially in hotels which cater to foreign clients, staff will not be offended if they receive a tip. Masseurs in some areas such as Shenzhen have been known to ask for a tip. Chinese see demanding tips as extortion and an immoral practice, so it is acceptable to decline. However, inappropriate tipping can lead to embarrassment and can sometimes be insulting, because it suggests that the relationship is based on money, not friendship.
Compliments over service are usually expressed implicitly. Smokers are expected to pass a cigarette to the service staff or manager. Offering a seat or drink would also be seen as a nice gesture.
Opening a bank account in China is a straightforward process. The "big four" banks in China are the Bank of China (中国银行), China Construction Bank (中国建设银行), Agricultural Bank of China (中国农业银行) and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (中国工商银行). For locally-owned banks you only need your passport with a valid visa (tourist visas are acceptable). Some banks such as Bank of East Asia will require proof of residence, but this restriction mostly applies to banks based in Hong Kong. For long-term travel or residence, a Chinese bank account is a good idea. Depending on the bank, the PIN and/or ID may be required for withdrawals at the counter (ask beforehand; some foreign banks only require a signature for withdrawal; if you're not comfortable with that, don't open an account there) although deposits can be made - no questions asked - upon presentation of the bank book or card issued with the account. Depending on the bank, the minimum initial deposit is ¥1-100 (some multinational banks like Citibank or DBS require five-digit minimum deposits; these banks are to be avoided for the average person). A bank book may be received, in which all transactions and balances are recorded - including foreign-currency balances. However, most banks in big cities offer card-only accounts by default; if you want a bank book you'll have to ask unless they don't issue ATM cards at all (such as Shinhan Bank or Dah Sing Bank). Banks usually charge a fee (around 1%) on deposits and withdrawals in a city other than the one the account was opened in. ATMs are now present in almost all but the most remote towns and cities. Many ATMs accept Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, Maestro, and Plus debit and credit cards although some only accept UnionPay and Pulse, Interac, or Link ATM cards.
In Shanghai, most of the smaller local banks have relations with each other allowing for no-fee interbank deposits for any amount and withdrawals over ¥3,000. Also, any Bank of Shanghai deposit-capable ATM can do deposits for any bank with a Shanghai-issued account.
Bank of China Bank of China ATMs are occasionally the only ATMs where an international bank card will work. This bank has good international banking experience.
China Construction Bank and Bank of America Bank of America and China Construction Bank have business ties, and because of this, Bank of America customers are charged no fee when withdrawing renminbi from China Construction Bank ATM's.
Standard Chartered This bank is expat-friendly (it is based in the UK), however branches outside the big cities are lacking. They offer unlimited interbank ATM withdrawals within the city the card was issued in as long as the amount drawn is over ¥2000 each time and they also offer multiple foreign-currency investment products.
Woori Bank It has even fewer branches than Standard Chartered, but offers the Shanghai Tourist Card, which gives discounts at assorted restaurants and half-price tickets to various attractions, as a debit card. Locally-owned banks only issue this as a credit card, which foreigners can't get, so this is the better choice if travelling to Shanghai. They also offer unlimited free ATM withdrawals anywhere in China. As a Korean bank, they typically cater to Koreans and it shows in the level of customer service.
ICBC The largest bank in China.
Do note that those employed in China may not get a choice: many companies and schools deposit into only one bank, and therefore an account with that bank is necessary to get paid. Of course, the money may later be transferred to an account at another bank.
In most brand-name shops, upscale malls and supermarkets, the prices already have Value-Added Tax (VAT) and any sales tax included. Thus, anything with a marked price tends to be sold at that price or, perhaps, slightly below especially if you pay cash and do not require a receipt for your purchase. For unmarked goods, there is wide room for bargaining.
Regarding discounts, the character 折 (zhé) represents the tenths of the original price now charged. For example, 8折 refers to 20% off; 6.5折 is equal to 35% off.
China excels in handmade items, partly because of long traditions of exquisite artisanship and partly because labour is still comparatively inexpensive. Take the time to examine quality and ask questions, but don't take all the answers at face value! Many visitors seek antiques, and hunting in the flea markets can be great fun. But most of the "antique" items shown are fakes, no matter how convincing they look and no matter what the vendor says.
Luxury goods such as jade, expensive ceramics and other artwork, antiques or carpets are risky. Most of the antique furniture available today are replicas. Much of the jade is either glass or low-quality stone that has been dyed a nice 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 in World War II or modern Chinese copies. At the right price, such goods can be a good buy, but non-experts are quite likely to pay high prices for low-quality merchandise.
So, either stick to the cheaper products, some of which are quite nice as keepsakes, or if spending a substantial amount, then deal with a large and reputable vendor; they don't offer the bargains an expert could find elsewhere, but they probably won't cheat the customer, either.
China is one of the world's leading manufacturers of clothing, shoes and accessories. Name-brand goods, whether Chinese or foreign, tend to be expensive when compared with the unbranded clothing sold in markets throughout the country. See the next section for additional comment. Chinese brands, similar in look, feel and style to their foreign counterparts, are often an excellent deal. Cheap unbranded clothing is also cheaply manufactured; check the seams and stitching before making a purchase.
Travellers would be wise to try on any item they wish to purchase as sizes tend to be erratic. Items of clothing which may be a size XL in the US can be anywhere from an L to a XXXL in China. Most nicer stores have a tailor on call who will adjust the length and hem of pants in 15-30 minutes for free.
There are affordable tailors throughout China. In the major cities, some of them can make a fine job of Western-style garments. Shirts, pants and suits can often be measured, fitted, assembled and delivered within three days. Some tailors have their own fabric selections while others require customers to purchase it in advance from fabric markets. The quality of the tailors does vary. More reputable tailors will often come to hotels to do measurements, fittings and final sales.
Items with famous brand labels sold in China may be bogus, especially expensive and exclusive popular brands, but not all are, virtually all major brands market in China. When buying genuine branded foreign goods, particularly haute couture brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada, or popular brands such as Nike or Adidas, be aware that they will not be cheaper than buying them in Western countries. Wealthy Chinese who can afford to travel often purchase luxury brand-name goods in Hong Kong or overseas, as it is significantly cheaper than buying them in mainland China.
There are a number of sources of potential knock-offs or fake brand-name goods.
Fake brand oddities include a reversible jacket with "Adidas" on one side and "Nike" on the other or shirts with more than one brand.
There are two basic rules for dealing with expensive brand-name goods in China.
Bogus goods can cause legal problems. Selling "pirate" DVDs or forged brand-name goods is illegal in China, but enforcement is lax. It is generally much less lax at customs in travelers' home countries. Customs officials seize counterfeit merchandise. Some Western travelers have even reported hefty fines after being caught returning with bogus products.
Counterfeit and swing production markets in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing are nonetheless fantastically amusing and a great place to get a completely new "designer" wardrobe for a fraction of the cost in a Western country. Feel free to purchase these items but remove the tags prior to taking them home. A suitcase full of brand-new tagged designer knock-offs or swing-produced clothes may result in confiscation and being fined. Simply remove the tags and they will almost certainly pass unnoticed.
Software, Music and Movies
Most CDs (music or software) and DVDs in China are unauthorized copies. Those selling for ¥6-10 and enclosed in cheap flat paper envelopes are bogus. Some with higher prices and better packaging might be legal copies, but it can be hard to tell. Bogus discs can be avoided by shopping at the larger bookstores or department stores; most of these have a CD/DVD section. The prices are ¥15-40.
Fakes are identified by:
In stores, it is usually acceptable to ask the owner to test the DVD to make sure it works and has the correct language soundtrack.
Obtain and keep the receipt when purchasing DVDs or CDs to prove your good faith to Western customs officers.
There are products that are fairly common in China which you should avoid purchasing — coral, ivory and parts from endangered animal species. China's economic miracle has been a disaster for the world's wildlife and has left such species as the elephant, tiger, rhinoceros, Tibetan antelope and Snow Lotus decimated or on the verge of extinction. The city of Pingyao and several markets on the outskirts of Beijing are notorious for selling rare animal skins, furs, claws, horns, skulls, bones and other parts from endangered (even extinct) species. Anyone purchasing such items is encouraging the further destruction of the species in question.
It is illegal to trade in such products in nearly all countries, including China, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Enforcement in China is lax, but anyone buying such products risks serious hassles either when trying to leave China with them or when trying to import them into another country. This can bring substantial fines and/or imprisonment. So if a store clerk seems eager to sell you a leopard skin or an ivory trinket, use your better judgment and move on.
Ivory is an odd special case. Trade in modern ivory is illegal worldwide, but some antique ivory items are legal. If you want to take any ivory items home, there will be paperwork — at an absolute minimum. You will need a letter from a reputable dealer stating the date of origin. Check with your own country's customs department for other requirements. Also remember that China restricts export of anything older than 1911 (see infobox), and that many of the "ivory" items in China are fakes made from various synthetics or ground bone.
See also: How to haggle
Bargaining is a national pastime in China. Almost anything is negotiable, and sometimes it's even possible to ask for a discount in a restaurant at the last minute before checking the bill. Many restaurants or bars will willingly offer a free dish or two (such as a fruit plate in a KTV) to accompany a particularly large order. Shopping malls are less willing to bargain, but why not ask "Will I get a gift?"
Unlike many southeast Asian countries, the tourism industry in China is overwhelmingly dominated by Chinese businesses, not westerners running businesses for their own such as seen in places like Bangkok's Khao San Road or Saigon's Pham Ngu Lao. Merchants in touristy areas, particularly street and sidewalk-stall sellers, are masters in exploiting the wallets of foreigners. They can also be pushy, sometimes even grabbing the customer's hands. Prices are almost always posted, but they are all substantially marked up, normally 2-3 times. Some items like silk fans (largest size: 1'2") are posted as ¥60-75, but the lowest price is actually just ¥10. Therefore it's often better to buy souvenirs somewhere just a few blocks away from the tourist spots. Local Chinese tourists have no issue with posted prices because they are all well trained in the art of bargaining. Foreigners always pay more for everything negotiable in China but remember that Chinese whose accents identify them as being from other provinces also pay higher prices than locals.
The purchasing power of the nouveau riche has elevated prices. In tourist spots, it is possible to see a ¥1,000 skirt tailor-made by a designer, ¥2,000 per a bag of tea, or dozens of thousands for silverware.
It is hard to tell what price to offer when starting negotiations. Depending on the city, product or market in question, 5% to 50% of the posted price or vendor's first offer is common. And if someone offers a huge discount, it could indicate shoddy merchandise. So walk around and compare. In tourist spots, it's common to ask for a 30-50% discount, but in a place catering to local people, asking for a 50% discount sounds foolish.
In touristy places, don't take what merchants say seriously. When asked for a 50% discount, they pretend to be appalled and show scorn; it's a favourite drama. Souvenirs, including "antiques", are usually standard products from factories. Compare more. Be aware that in tourist markets, the room for negotiation is narrower than before. With so many tourists shopping for the same products, vendors know they can make high margins and may not be as amenable to negotiation. They may dismiss tourists offering low starting prices because trying to get the margin they want isn't worth their time.
Souvenirs in a place may be unrelated to its history and change frequently, perhaps being cheap nick nacks the stallholders' association picked up cheap and in bulk from a disposal sale.
In this former communist country, most local people still expect a standard price for grocery products and see it as 'black-hearted' (黑心 hēixīn) to charge too much, even if the shops are in a major business district. However, in a tourist area where rental payments are skyrocketing, if someone sells bottles of Coca Cola for ¥5 (¥3 elsewhere), there may be room to bargain.
Souvenir shops selling jewellery, herbs and tea recommended by hotel staff can also be tricky. While it is common that the staff takes tourists to places that pay them commission, it is also common that they take them to certain places because the establishment actually offers decent products and prices, so appearing overly cautious is likely to offend the hosts by suggesting a 'good guy' is actually a cheater.
In several places like the Lijiang Ancient City, when the ethnic horse-carriage drivers stop by a souvenir shop, assume that a commission is being added to the price. These carriage operators are notoriously known for extorting money from shops, or creating trouble if the shops refuse to pay. The local government usually avoids intervening in these cases where minority ethnic groups are involved.
Many group tours include mandatory visits to Chinese medicine hospitals such as the National Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, silk, tea or jade factories or similar shops. The goods are often expensive and include a commission for the tour guide or group. Consider this before purchasing. However, the shops visited on tours can also offer competitive prices and safe, reliable international shipping for silk, jade, etc.
Unless there is a supermarket or expat-focused grocery store within walking distance of the hotel (see the section below), the most convenient option for basic supplies and groceries is a convenience store. Major chains in China include Kedi, Alldays, FamilyMart and 7-Eleven. Many convenience stores sell individual toilet-paper rolls, which are a necessity for touring China as many public restrooms do not have toilet paper. Although supermarkets also sell toilet paper, they tend to sell it in six- or ten-packs, which are too much for tourists.
Some discount and mid-market department stores in China also have grocery sections.
Areas with large expatriate communities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have specialty grocery stores catering to those communities. Size and selection vary according to city and store brand. They usually stock expensive imported snacks, alcohol and specialty groceries such as meats and cheeses. See individual articles for details.
Several Western-owned supermarket chains are widespread in China — Wal-mart (沃尔玛 Wòěrmǎ), Metro (麦德龙 Màidélóng), TESCO and Carrefour (家乐福 Jiālèfú). All have some Western groceries - at high prices. However, the availability of foreign products diminishes at their branches in smaller cities. Metro is probably the best of these; in particular, it usually has a fine selection of alcohol. Asian-owned chains include Jusco (佳世客 Jiāshìkè), RT-Mart (大潤發 Dàrùnfā), LOTTE Mart (乐天玛特 Letianmate), Lotus and SM; these also carry imported goods. Some larger Chinese chains such as Beijing Hualian (北京华联 Běijīng Huálián) also carry some foreign products. Furthermore, online services provide home delivery of food and drinks. Two most famous nationwide websites are M1NT Cellars, offering imported wines and a variety of alcoholic beverages, and Sherpa, which also delivers food and soft drinks.
While smoking has declined in China, it is still popular and cigarettes (香烟 xiāngyān) are generally cheap. Cigarettes can be purchased from small neighbourhood stores, convenience stores, counters located in supermarkets and in department stores.
Most mainstream Chinese brands sell at 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 whilst others are more expensive. Chinese cigarettes are stronger than many foreign cigarettes (13mg tar is the norm) although Zhongnanhai is popular with foreign visitors, having a similar taste to Marlboro Light but for only 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 more expensive - stick to convenience store chains such as C-Store or Kedi as many smaller stores sell counterfeit or illegally imported cigarettes.
Premium-brand cigarettes are often overpriced and are rarely smoked personally - they are usually offered as gifts or bribes as an expression of wealth. The two most famous 'premium brands' include Zhonghua (中华 zhōnghuá) (¥60-100) and Panda (¥100). If you choose to buy them then stick to major department stores - those sold in neighbourhood cigarette stores 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 flimsily made. Zippos are widely available, but expensive, whilst counterfeits are cheaper.
Cigars can be bought from tobacco stores and Chinese-made cigars can be good - expect to pay around ¥20-30 for ten locally produced cigars. Beware of terrible, overpriced, counterfeit western-brand cigars sold in bar-districts. Genuine Cuban cigars are available in cigar bars and upscale establishments in large cities, but are expensive (luxury goods are heavily taxed).
Duty-free stores in international airports, in international rail stations (e.g. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou East) and at land borders sell a greater range of imported brands - expect to pay between ¥80-150 for a 200-cigarette carton.
Food in China varies from region to region, so the term "Chinese food" is a blanket term, just like "Western food". While visiting, try a bit of everything. Be aware that some "Chinese" food, such as Beef and Broccoli or Chow Mein should be avoided (if you could even find them), as these are not real Chinese dishes.
Do keep in mind that undercooked food or poor hygiene can cause bacterial or parasitic infection, particularly during warm or hot weather. Thus it is advisable to take great care about (and perhaps abstain from) eating seafood and meat on the street during the summer. In addition, unless you're in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai or other large cities, raw meat and seafood should be avoided. That all being said, the hygienic conditions of a restaurant are usually satisfactory which means that there is little risk of diarrhea. Chinese gourmands place emphasis on freshness, so meals will most likely be cooked upon order. Searing hot woks over coal or gas fires make even street food usually safe to eat.
Most restaurants only have one menu - the Chinese one. Learning some Chinese characters such as beef (牛), pork (猪), chicken (鸡), fish (鱼), stir-fried (炒), deep-fried (炸), braised (烧), baked or grilled (烤), soup (汤), rice (饭), or noodles (面) will serve one well. As pork is the most common meat in Chinese cuisine, where a dish simply lists "meat" (肉), assume it is pork.
Certain Chinese dishes contain ingredients some people may 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 specialty restaurants which do not hide their ingredients. Obviously, products made from endangered ingredients will have astronomical prices and would not be listed on the regular menu anyway.
Generally speaking, rice is the main staple in the south, while wheat, mostly in the form of noodles, is the main staple in the north.
Four Great Traditions (四大菜系)
(The Other Four of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisine)：
Various types of Chinese food provide quick, cheap, tasty, light meals. Street food and snacks sold from portable vendors can be found throughout China's cities. Wangfujing district's Snack Street in Beijing 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 a substantial business with the stalls actually only barely 'mobile'. Nationwide quick eats include:
The Western notion of fast food is arguably as popular as the domestic variety. KFC (肯德基), McDonald's (麦当劳), Subway (赛百味) and Pizza Hut (必胜客) are ubiquitous, at least in mid-sized cities and above. Although common, the menus and flavors in these Western chains have been altered to suit Chinese tastes, such as McDonald's Red Bean Mcflurry. There are a few Burger Kings (汉堡王), Domino's and Papa John's (棒约翰) as well, but only in major 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.
Another Western brand that takes on a surprising incarnation in China is Häagen-Dazs. Note that it is in fact a formal dining experience, where an ice cream sundae costs about 100 RMB. Also note that some other Western brands that are considered casual in the West take on a more formal atmosphere in China. Pizza Hut is an example of this.
China is the birthplace of chopsticks and unsurprisingly, much important etiquette relates to the use of chopsticks. While the Chinese are generally tolerant about table manners, the improper use of chopsticks will be seen as ill-mannered, annoying or offensive. Heed the following rules:
Less important dining rules include:
In China, restaurants and pubs are common entertainment places and treating plays an important part in socializing.
While splitting the bill is beginning to be 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, elders to juniors, rich to poor, hosts to guests, working class to non-income class (students). Friends of the same class will usually prefer to split the opportunity to treat, rather than split the bill, i.e. "This is my turn, and you treat next time."
It is common to see Chinese competing sweatily to pay the bill. You are expected to fight back and say "It's my turn, you treat me next time." The smiling loser will accuse the winner of being too courteous. These dramas are becoming somewhat less common among young urban Chinese despite still being widespread among all generations and usually played wholeheartedly.
Unless you mingle only with non-Chinese tourists, you will have fair chances of being treated. For budget travelers, the good news is that Chinese tend to be eager to treat foreigners, but expect little from students and working-class families and individuals.
That being said, the Chinese are tolerant towards foreigners. If you feel like going dutch, try it. They tend to believe that "all foreigners prefer to go dutch". If they try to argue, it usually means that they insist on paying for your bill as well, not the opposite.
The Chinese love a tipple and the all-purpose word jiǔ (酒) covers a range of alcoholic drinks.
Chinese toast with the word gānbēi (干杯, literally "dry glass"). Traditionally one is expected to drain the glass in one swig. During a meal, the visitor is generally expected to drink at least one glass with each person present; sometimes there may be considerable pressure to do this. And it can be considered rude, at least early during the meal, if you do not make a toast every time you take a drink.
Exercise caution. Fortunately, the glasses are usually small — even beer is often drunk from an oversized shot glass. The Chinese liquor, baijiu, is definitely potent (up to 65% alcohol). Baijiu is often drunk in small shot glasses for a good reason. US president Nixon practiced drinking before his first trip to China to be ready to drink with Mao Zedong. Unless you are used to imbibing heavily, be careful when drinking with Chinese.
If you want to take it easy but still be sociable, say suíbiàn (随便) before you make the toast, then drink only part of the glass. It may also be possible to have three toasts (traditionally signifying friendship) with the entire company, rather than one separate toast for every individual present.
The legal drinking/purchasing age in China is 18, except in Macau where there is no legal drinking/purchasing age. Note, alcohol regulations of Hong Kong and Macau are different from mainland China's.
Beer (啤酒 píjiǔ) is common in China and is served in nearly every restaurant. The most famous brand is Tsingtao (青島) from Qingdao, which was once a German concession. Other brands abound and are generally light beers in a pilsner or lager style with 3-4% alcohol. In addition to national brands, most cities will have one or more cheap local beers. Some companies (Tsingtao, Yanjing) also make a dark beer (黑啤酒 hēipíjiǔ). In some regions, beers from other parts of Asia are fairly common and tend to be popular with travellers — Filipino San Miguel in Guangdong, Singaporean Tiger in Hainan, and Laotian Beer Lao in Yunnan. The typical price for beer is about ¥2.5-4 in a grocery store, ¥4-18 in a restaurant, around ¥25 in an ordinary bar, and ¥40+ in a fancy bar.
Most places outside of major cities serve beer at room temperature, regardless of season, though places that cater to American and Canadian tourists have it cold.
Locally made grape wine (葡萄酒 pútaojiǔ) is common and costs from ¥15 in a grocery store and ¥100-150 in a fancy bar. That said, most of the stuff bears only the faintest resemblance to Western wines. The Chinese like their wines red and sweet, and they're typically served over ice or mixed with Sprite. Great Wall and Dynasty are large brands with a number of wines at various prices; their cheaper (under ¥40) offerings are generally not impressive. Chang Yu is another large brand; some of their low-end wines are better. If you're looking for a Chinese-made, Western-style wine, search for these labels:
There are also several brands and types of rice wine. Most of these resemble a watery rice pudding, they are usually sweet and have only a small amount of alcohol for taste. These do not generally much resemble Japanese sake, the only rice wine well-known in the West.
Báijiǔ (白酒) is distilled liquor, generally 80 to 120 proof, made from sorghum and sometimes other grains depending on the region. As the word "jiǔ" is often loosely translated as "wine" by Chinese beverage firms and English speakers, baijiu is frequently referred to as "white wine" in conversation. Baijiu will typically be served at banquets and festivals in tiny shot glasses. Toasts are ubiquitous at banquets or dinners on special occasions. Most foreigners find baijiu tastes like diesel fuel, while a liquor connoisseur may find high-quality, expensive baijiu quite good. Baijiu is definitely an acquired taste, but once the taste is acquired, it's quite fun to "ganbei" a glass or two at a banquet.
The cheapest baijiu is the Beijing-brewed èrguōtóu (二锅头) (¥4.5 per 100 ml bottle). It comes in two variants: 53% and 56% alcohol by volume. Ordering "xiǎo èr" (Erguotou's diminutive nickname) will likely raise a few eyebrows and a chuckle from working-class Chinese.
Máotái (茅台), made in Guizhou Province, is China's most famous brand of baijiu and China's national liquor. Made from sorghum, Maotai and its expensive cousins (such as Kaoliang in Taiwan) are well-known for their strong fragrance and are actually sweeter than western clear liquors as the sorghum taste is preserved - in a way.
Chinese brandy (白兰地) is an excellent value, about the same price as grape wine or baijiu, and generally far more palatable than either. A ¥16-20 local brandy is not a ¥200+ imported brand-name cognac, but it is close enough that you should only buy the cognac if money doesn't matter. Expats debate the relative merits of brandies from French-owned Louis Wann , Chinese brand Changyu , and several others. All are drinkable.
The Chinese are also great fans of various supposedly medicinal liquors, which usually contain exotic herbs and/or animal parts. Some of these have prices in the normal range and include ingredients like ginseng. These can be palatable enough, if tending toward sweetness. 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
Western-style pubs are popular across the country. Especially in the affluent urban centers such as Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Hangzhou one can find painstakingly recreated replicas of traditional Irish or English pubs. Like their Western counterparts most will have a selection of foreign beers on tap as well as provide pub food (of varying quality) and often feature live cover bands. Most of these pubs cater to and are frequented by the expatriate communities so you should not expect to find many Chinese in there. Be aware that imported beer costs more than local brew.
To just go out for a few drinks with friends, pick a local restaurant and drink beer at around ¥5 for a 600 ml bottle. It will be Chinese lager, around 3% alcohol, with a limited choice of brand and may be served warm. Most mid- to high- range restaurants will have small private suites for gatherings (usually offered free if there are more than around five people), and the staff will generally not try to hustle you out even if you decide to stay until closing time. Many residents frequent outdoor restaurants or roadside stalls and barbecues (shāokǎo - 烧烤) for a nice and inexpensive evening.
In discos and fancy bars with entertainment, beer is bought ¥100 at a time, buying anywhere from four import-brand beers (Heineken, Bud, Corona, Sol, etc.) to ten local beers. A few places offer cocktails; fewer have good ones.
Other drinks are sold only by the bottle, not by the glass. Red wine is in the ¥80-200 range (served with ice and Sprite) and mediocre imported whiskeys (Chivas, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels; rarely single malts) and cognacs, ¥300-800. Both are often mixed with sweet bottled green or red tea. Vodka, tequila and rum are less common, but sometimes available. Bogus "brand-name" products are fairly common and may ruin your next day.
These places often have bar girls, young women who drink a lot and want to play drinking games to get you to consume more. They get a commission on whatever you buy. In general, 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 broadly split 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 mike and sells you booze. Much-favored by students, these are cheap and fun with the right crowd, although you need at least a few people for a memorable night. Bringing your own booze on the sly can keep the price tag down, but many places have windows in the door so the staff can make sure you only drink liquor they sold to you.
Rather different is the distinctly dodgier special KTV lounge, more oriented to businessmen entertaining clients or letting their hair down, where the house provides anything and everything at a price. At these often opulent establishments — over-the-top Roman and Egyptian themes are standard — you'll be joined by short-skirted professional karaoke girls, who charge by the hour for the pleasure of their company and whose services may not be limited to just singing badly and pouring your drinks. It's highly advisable not to venture into these unless you're absolutely sure somebody else is footing the bill, which can easily run into hundreds of dollars even if you keep your pants on.
As elsewhere, never accept an invitation to a restaurant or bar from an available-looking woman who just picked you up in the street sometime after sundown. At best, suggest a different place. If she refuses, drop her on the spot. More than likely, she will steer you into a quiet little place with too many doormen and you will find yourself saddled with a modest meal and beer that will cost you ¥1,000 or worse. And the doormen won't let you leave till you pay up. This is somewhat rare. But it does happen.
China is the birthplace of tea, and at the risk of stating the obvious, there's a lot of tea (茶 chá) in China. Green tea (绿茶 lǜchá) is served up for free in some restaurants (depending on region) or for a small fee. The most common types served are:
However, specialist tea houses serve a vast variety of brews, ranging from the pale, delicate white tea (白茶 báichá) to the powerful, fermented and aged pu'er tea (普洱茶 pǔ'ěrchá). Tea in Chinese culture is akin to wine in Western culture, and even the same type of tea will come in many different grades. Always check prices carefully before ordering as some of the best varieties can be pricey indeed. Most tea shops have some teas at several hundred yuan per jing (500 g) and prices up to ¥2,000 are not uncommon. The record price for top grade tea sold at auction was well over ¥7000 a gram.
Various areas of China have famous teas. Hangzhou, near Shanghai, is famed for its "Dragon Well" (龙井 lóngjǐng) green tea. Fujian has the most famous oolong teas, "Big Red Robe" (大红袍 dàhóngpáo) from Mount Wuyi and "Iron Goddess of Mercy" (铁观音 tiěguānyīn) from Anxi. Pǔ'ěr in Yunnan has the most famous fully fermented tea, pǔ'ěrchá (普洱茶). This comes compressed into hard cakes, originally a packing method for transport by horse caravan to Burma and Tibet. The cakes are embossed with patterns; some people hang them as wall decorations.
Most tea shops allow customers to sit and sample various teas. "Ten Fu Tea" is a national chain and in Beijing "Wu Yu Tai" is favoured by the locals.
Black tea, the type of tea most common in the West, is known in China as "red tea" (紅茶 hóngchá). Many Chinese teas, including the famed Pǔ'ěr also fall into the "black tea" category.
Normal Chinese teas are always drunk neat, with the use of sugar or milk 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 widely available.
Coffee (咖啡 kāfēi) is becoming quite popular in urban China, though it is nearly impossible 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 . All offer coffee, tea and both Chinese and Western food, generally with good air conditioning, wireless internet, and nice decor. ¥15-40 or so a cup.
There are also many independent coffee shops and local chains. These may also be high-priced, but often they are around ¥15 a cup. Quality varies from excellent to abysmal.
For cheap coffee just to stave off withdrawal symptoms, there are several options. Go to a Western fast-food chain (KFC, McDonalds, etc.) for some ¥8 coffee. Additionally, almost any supermarket or convenience store will have both canned cold coffee and instant Nescafé (black or pre-mixed with whitener and sugar) - just add hot water.
Many drinks that are usually served chilled or with ice in the West are served at room temperature in China. Ask for beer or soda in a restaurant, and it may arrive at room temperature, though beer is more commonly served cold, at least in the summer. Water will generally be served hot. That is actually good, because only boiled (or bottled) water is safe to drink, but it's not pleasant to drink hot water in the summer.
Cold drinks are available at small "convenience" stores and restaurants, just look for the cooler (even though it might not actually be cool). You can try bringing a cold beverage into a restaurant. Most small restaurants won't mind--if they even notice--and there is no such thing as a "cork" charge in China (there actually is cork charge in most high-end restaurants, but generally it does not apply to foreigners due to the language barrier). Remember that most people drink tea, which is usually free anyway, so the restaurant probably does not expect to profit on your beverage consumption (again, it's actually a matter of language barrier because most foreigners simply do not know what to order to drink in China; in fact most restaurants make huge profit on beverage consumption).
Asking for ice is best avoided. Many, perhaps most, places just don't have it. The ice they do have may well be made from unfiltered tap water and arguably unsafe for travelers sweating bullets about diarrhea.
Types of accommodation for tourists range from five-star luxury hotels to the cheapest options, such as hostels, dorms and extra rooms called zhusu and finding these requires more information than many guide books provide. Sleeper trains and sleeper buses can also be a decent option if long-distance travel is scheduled overnight (see the Get around section of this page for more information). Tourists who are absolutely at a loss for finding lodging should seek out the local police (警察) or Public Security Bureau (公安局). They can arrange a place to crash - at least for one night.
Negotiable prices are the rule and the price listed on the wall may be reduced, even in nicer hotels, by simply asking, "What's the lowest price?" (最低多少 zuìdī duōshǎo). When staying for more than a few days it is also usually possible to negotiate a lower nightly rate. However, negotiating is ineffective during the busy Chinese holiday seasons when prices sky-rocket and rooms are hard to get.
Booking a room over the Internet with a credit card is a convenient, quick method to reserve a room and is available via many websites. Some new online services  allow booking without a credit card and paying cash at the hotel. During Chinese holidays, when it is difficult to get a room anywhere, this may be an acceptable option, but in the off-season rooms are plentiful almost everywhere and it may be just as easy to find a room upon arrival as it is to book one over the Internet.
Affordable lodging is provided by the following:
In certain areas, foreign tourists are only allowed to stay at several approved hotels, although this is changing. Star ratings, especially for two and three-star hotels, generally cannot be trusted in China. Pricing is a much better guide. Many hotels, both chains and individual establishments, have membership cards offering discounts to frequent guests.
The cheapest range of Chinese budget hotels (one step above the zhusu) are called zhāodàisuǒ (招待所). They are spartan and utilitarian, often with shared bathrooms. Be aware that a room with a shared bath may be one of twenty or thirty rooms sharing that bathroom, requiring a wait to use the toilet and a half an hour or longer wait to take a shower. In the cheapest hotels water may not be available 24 hours-a-day (有没有二十四个小时的热水 yǒuméiyǒu èrshisì ge xiǎoshí de rèshuǐ), and the shower, sink and toilet might not work. These hotels can be quite noisy as patrons and staff yell to each other across the halls into the wee hours of the morning and rooms overlooking a busy street are subject to traffic noise. These cheap hotels are often near the bus or train station. Hotels that are not licensed to accept foreigners can be heavily fined if caught housing foreign occupants, but enforcement of this law appears spotty and many unlicensed hotels accept foreigners anyway. Some cheap establishments are still locally state-run affairs and have changed little since the Maoist era. Credit cards are not widely used in China, particularly in cheaper hotels. Such hotels usually ask to be paid in cash, with a security deposit, up front. In rural towns a night's stay might be as cheap as ¥25; in bigger cities a room usually costs ¥80-120. Either have reservations or arrive before 6-7PM, when the best options are full. In small hotels, the innkeepers may simply lock up late at night when it appears no more customers are coming. So, announce a late arrival in advance or end up having to call the front desk, bang on the door, or climb over the gate to enter.
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. Room options typically include singles and doubles with attached bathrooms, and dorms with shared baths. Some of these hotels include complementary toiletries and Internet. Western-quality budget hotels include the following chains, all of which have rooms in the ¥150-300 range and on-line advance booking in English:
Mid-range hotels are usually large, clean and comfortable but not too expensive, with rooms ranging from ¥150 to over ¥300. Frequently these hotels will also have more expensive and luxurious rooms. The doubles 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 a breakfast ticket can be purchased for around ¥10. In mid-range and better hotels, it is common for guests to receive phone calls offering "massage" services; this is actually a thinly-veiled front for prostitution.
Luxury hotels include Marriott, Hyatt, Shangri-La and their Chinese competitors. They charge hundreds or thousands of yuan per night for luxurious accommodations with 24-hour room service, satellite TV, spas, and Western-style breakfast buffets. There are suites in Shanghai, for example, for over ¥10,000 a night. Many of these establishments cater to traveling business-types with expense accounts and charge accordingly for food and amenities (i.e. ¥20 for a bottle of water which costs ¥2 at a convenience store). Internet (wired or wireless) which is usually free in mid-range accommodations is often a pay service in high-end hotels. Some hotels in the ¥400-700 range, such as Ramada or Days Inn, lower their prices when business is slow. Chinese three and four-star hotels will often give block-pricing or better deals for stays of over five days. Tour companies may provide their clients rooms in a luxury hotel for a fraction of the listed price.
Foreign students have diverse educational needs. China's universities offer varied types of courses and teaching methods to cater to these needs as well as to the different educational levels of foreign students. Peking University (北京大学) and Tsinghua University (清华大学), both based in Beijing, are China's most prestigious universities, and are regularly ranked among the top universities in the world.
Language trainees Universities accept students who have achieved the minimum of a high-school education for Chinese-language courses. These courses usually last a year or two. Certificates are awarded upon completion. Students who do not speak Chinese and want to study further in China are usually required to complete a language-training course.
Private language schools also offer flexible language courses to prepare to study, live or work in China.Mandarin House (美和汉语), . was established in 2004 and is a well known Chinese school offering intensive group courses or private tutoring. Students can start every month and choose the length of their studies. Xi'an is also a popular destination for language learners due to it's low population of foreign workers and good standard Mandarin.<listing name="International House Xi'an" alt="IH Xian" url="http://ihxian.com/"> offers intensive language training edit
Undergraduates Undergraduate degrees usually require four to five years of study. International students have classes together with Chinese students. In accordance with each student's past education, some classes of a degree course can be omitted and additional ones added. Students receive a Bachelor's degree after passing the necessary exams and completing a thesis.
Postgraduates Master's degrees are granted after two to three years of study. Oral and written examinations and a postgraduate thesis are part of the course.
Doctoral students Usually four to five years of study are needed to obtain a PhD.
Research scholars Research is usually conducted independently by the student under the supervision of an assigned tutor. Any surveys, experiments, interviews or visits conducted by the scholar must be pre-arranged and authorised.
Short-term courses Short-term courses are offered in Chinese literature, calligraphy, economics, architecture, Chinese law, traditional Chinese medicine, art, and sports. Courses are offered in the holidays as well as during the academic term.
Foreign students are encouraged to continue their studies and obtain Master's or doctoral degrees in China's universities, and those who have graduated in China are welcome to return for further education. Some universities offer courses taught in foreign languages, but most courses are in Chinese, and proficiency must be demonstrated prior to enrolment via the HSK test (汉语水平考试 hànyǔ shuǐpíng kǎoshì), the official examination to certify a Basic, Intermediate or Advanced level of proficiency. The test involves reading, writing and listening, but no speaking. See the HSK homepage  for dates and locations.
To promote its culture and language, the Chinese government offers scholarships to foreigners who want to study in China. Partial scholarships will cover the tuition fees of the chosen academic course. Full scholarships also cover books, rent, some medical coverage, and a monthly allowance for food and expenses. Although studying bases the student in a single city and lessens time for travelling, a scholarship bypasses much red tape, provides a Residence Permit, and allows an inexpensive stay in China.
To learn about scholarships, contact the nearest Chinese embassy, or inquire at universities and language schools with China-related courses. Scholarships are assigned by quota to every country, so if too many people want one, fellow citizens compete against each other, not against the entire world. The procedure varies from country to country, but normally requires the following paperwork:
All of this is shipped by the embassy to Beijing, which then decides who is accepted, where, and under what modalities. Application usually finishes by the end of March, and acceptance may arrive as late as August, with classes starting in September.
If all goes well, a letter of acceptance by the university of one's choice and a visa allowing about a two-month stay in China are obtained. Once in China, more medical tests are performed and the visa is upgraded to a residence permit. Fortunately, the university may handle all of the paperwork and even bring a medical team to campus evaluate students — much preferable to going from the police station to hospital to consulate, especially for those who don't speak Chinese. After all this is completed, a residence permit allowing a one-year stay in China will be issued, permitting leaving and re-entering the country at will. Travel is feasible during weekends, holidays, and the occasional class-skipping stint.
Teaching a language, most commonly English, is a popular source of employment for foreigners. There are English-teaching jobs all over China. The market for teachers of other languages is more limited. However, most universities require all English majors to study another foreign language as well, and there are specialised universities for foreign languages in major cities such as Beijing , Guangzhou , Xi'an , Dalian and Shanghai  which teach the major languages. Guangzhou is earning a reputation as a hub for so-called rare languages.
Requirements and qualifications range from just having a pulse and speaking a bit of English up to needing an MA and experience. Typically the good jobs want at least one, preferably two or three, of:
Those lacking other qualifications should get a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate. Native English-speakers are preferred.
Pay and conditions vary depending on location, experience and qualifications. Free accommodation, provided by the institution, is common. Generally this means an apartment of your own, though some tightfisted schools want teachers to share. Most jobs pay for all or part of an annual trip home. Teachers usually earn enough to live well in China, though some have a problem in summer because many university or high-school jobs pay for only the ten months of the academic year. It is possible to teach private lessons on the side - in fact students or their parents may request this incessantly. Foreign teachers generally earn two or three times their Chinese colleagues' salaries, but the differences are narrowing. A public college or university will often pay less than a private school, but will also require fewer teaching hours.
Make certain you understand your employer's policies on outside work as some are quite restrictive. The standard government-provided contract, which most schools use (perhaps amended a bit), prohibits it entirely unless approved by the employer.
Before working as a teacher in China, research carefully. It may be a dream job or a nightmare. Carefully choose an employer; broken contracts and general unscrupulousness and dishonesty are common. As a rule, government schools give the best all-around deals and if there is any dispute, appeal to the Foreign Experts Office of the provincial education ministry. They will quickly take action on a documented, valid grievance. Before filing an appeal, try to resolve the issue through direct discussion. If that fails, enlist an intermediary -- Chinese, preferably, but another expatriate will suffice. Only appeal as a last resort: the threat of action is often more effective than the action itself.
When looking for a teaching job in China it's generally a good idea to apply through a reputable recruiter and ask them about the schools, the contracts, the work, the hours, the pay, etc. With the size of the Chinese ESL market exploding, there are many private academies sprouting up and many unscrupulous businessmen trying to make a buck. Be careful, and let the recruiter do the work of screening an employer. Recruitment services are completely free of charge for teachers. The fee is covered by the schools or the language centers.
See also Teaching English.
To work as a teacher in China, either a Foreign Teacher's Certificate (FTC) or a Foreign Expert's Certificate (FEC) is required. Both are issued by the State Administration for Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA) . In theory, the FTC is for elementary or high-school teachers and the FEC is for tertiary education. In practice, everyone seems to get the FEC. In theory, both require a degree; this is usually, but not always, enforced. Whether it is depends at least on the location, the school's clout, and their willingness to persist. Other certifications or diplomas can compensate for a lack of a degree.
Once the FEC is acquired, getting a Residence Permit is routine. The Residence Permit is generally valid for a year and acts as a multiple-entry visa.
There can be difficulties. Universities and other public institutions can easily get Foreign Expert Certificates for staff, but not all private schools can. Before they can even apply for certificates, they must be authorized to employ foreigners by SAFEA. Getting the authorization takes many months and a significant amount of money. They also have to comply with SAFEA standards such as providing housing, health insurance and annual air fare home for all staff. Large established schools have the permission, but many of the smaller ones don't want the expense, so all their teachers are illegal. Some lie to teachers about this.
People over 60 often have trouble getting visas because of their age, and some job ads specify an age range. There are conflicting reports on whether this is SAFEA policy, SAFEA advice to provincial departments that make their own policies, or a question of health insurance. But there are a few people in their seventies still working legally.
The Foreign Expert's Certificate provides a teacher's discount on some products and services including domestic flights.
Much the safest way to come to a job in China is to enter the country on a Z visa. There can be some confusion with the terms; a few years ago, the Z was a one-year working visa but now the Residence Permit is the long-term visa and the Z is just an entry visa valid for 30 days, long enough to get the FEC and Residence Permit. The Z visa can only be obtained outside of China, and it requires a letter from the employers to accompany the passport when applying. Generally the school will request a signed contract, a health certificate from a health professional, a copy of passport details, and a copy of a diploma. Those over 60 may be required to have their own health insurance when the entity is asking for the province's approval. Some people have been told they must return to their home countries to obtain a Z visa. Others have been able to get a Z in Hong Kong, provided the invitation paperwork clearly stipulates it.
Some employers ask teachers to come in with a tourist visa, and say they can get a residence permit from that. The official regulations require the Z visa, but proceeding from a tourist visa to Residence Permit is sometimes possible, depending on policies at the local PSB (Public Security Bureau) office and the employer's contacts there. On the other hand, working on a tourist visa is illegal and some of the employers who want applicants to come on one are stringing them along; they do not have SAFEA permission to hire foreigners legally and are trying to wriggle around that. Do not even consider taking a post anywhere that wants you to come on a tourist visa unless current foreign teachers already there assure that they came that way and had no problem getting FEC and Residence Permit.
After completing the health certificate in your home country, be sure to get copies of the x-ray, lab reports and other machine documents. Also have the form stamped with the official seal of the hospital. Despite doing all of this, another physical may be required in China. Before coming to China, request that if the physical is also required inside China after arrival, that the school pay for the service. The physical is usually quick: EKG, chest x-ray, sonogram of heart and stomach area, blood test, and urine check. However, the time of completion of various tests varies by province.
An appearance at the local PSB is required to receive residency permit. Again, negotiate with the school for them to pay for the permit prior to departing for China. accompanying children and spouses may require an even higher amount for their residency permit.
Schools range from completely reliable to crooks who leave foreigners stranded without a legitimate work visa after they arrive. It is illegal to work with a tourist visa, but some schools want teachers to do that, and some even want the teacher to foot the bill for "visa runs" to Hong Kong to renew it, although with restrictions on renewals this has become more difficult. Be sure to speak with current or former teachers from the school before signing up. If the school won't offer contact with them, or if current teachers don't have Foreign Experts Certificates, don't go near the place.
There are two options for applying for a position in a Chinese schools: directly or through an agency. Generally, pay is higher going direct but requires negotiating experience with the school and trust that they will honour the conditions set out in the contract. Consequently, the direct route is preferable for experienced teachers with experience of life in China and dealing with employers. Using an agency employs the agency to negotiate the best positions on the applicant's behalf. However, not all agencies are reliable. New teachers are therefore advised to use a reputable UK agency based in the UK or US that is accountable under Western employment laws and standards and can be thoroughly researched before choosing an agency.<ref>https://www.nooneliterecruitment.com/teach-english-in-china/</ref>
The Chinese government is known to try to control the media. Books, magazines and CDs with undesired content may be confiscated, although customs usually doesn't confiscate English books so long as there are no explicit photos depicting Chinese politics. Belongings will be searched even when entering from Macau, Hong Kong, or Taiwan. In general, use common sense.
China is a huge country with big regional differences in crime rates. Most of the major cities in China are safe. Violent crime remains rare and it is generally safe for even women at night. There are some scams such as the teahouse scam. Minor crimes can happen especially at transportation hubs, border crossings and in crowded areas. Contact with "Triads" or gangs are rare, except for those involved in the drug trade and human trafficking.
Begging has been reported as being controlled by organised crime groups which when true means money doesn't go to the beggar. Donating food may be a better idea than giving money. Child beggars may be victims of trafficking with triads buying children from impoverished families before mutilating the children to generate sympathy from passers by and to make the beggars dependent on gang-masters for support. Fortunately, child-begging appear to have declined since the early 2000s due to a crackdown.
Chinese traditionally disapprove of begging, so begging is usually a minor issue. However, it is never off the scene in a big city and is particularly common just outside major tourist attractions and around transportation hubs. Beggars loiter outside some places of worship; Christians may just have heard a sermon, Buddhism has a tradition to give money to beggars.
In China, local people usually only give money to those who have obviously lost the ability to earn money. Professional beggars have clear deformities. Before donating, remember that many Chinese make only ￥30-70 a day doing hard-labour jobs.
See begging for more detailed discussion.
Possession or trafficking of illicit drugs is a serious offence in China and even possession of Cannabis for personal use may lead to imprisonment. Enforcement is weak, but penalties are severe for an offender who is caught. In some cities such as Beijing, the police tend to see foreigners as a high-risk group. Body inspection can happen in an expat bar. Random searches of cars may occur in the countryside, and if caught with drugs, do not expect lenient treatment from the police. Drug trade could result in capital punishment, from which foreigners are not exempted. In 2009, a British national was executed for trafficking heroin despite the British government's protests.
The Chinese strongly dislike drug-use, probably because their humiliation in the past 150 years is linked to the spread of drugs. Cannabis, heroin and LSD are the same to many of them, especially to the older generations. You may appear foolish when informing them that weed is common in the West. It is totally irrelevant to them.
Be aware many massage shops or hair salons are fronts for prostitution. While it may seem widespread and tolerated, prostitution is illegal in mainland China, except in Foshan in Guangdong, where erotic massages also known colloquially as Happy Endings are legal. The consequences for anyone arrested by police can be dire. Look up yourself online the 2003 Zhuhai prostitution case resulting in 14 jail sentences (including 2 life sentences) with Chinese authorities requesting assistance from their Japanese counterparts in detaining a group of businessmen from Osaka. Like almost everywhere else, these brothels are ran by organised crime entities exploiting those working there. Many of the prostitutes are trafficked and/or forced into this work. These establishments are indicated by pink or other neon lighting and/or women in short skirts. Prostitution is the primary vector for the increasing spread of HIV in China.
Tourist areas Beijing and Shanghai are plagued by the "teahouse scam" targeting foreigners. The scam goes something like this.
That being said, it is common for curious Chinese to start a genuine conversation with a visitor and sometimes follow it with an invitation to a meal or a drink. Being vigilant is sensible; being paranoid about all invitations and interactions with the Chinese will ruin a travel experience. Remember the following tips:
However, high prices do not necessarily indicate a scam. In a teahouse, ¥50-200 per cup or pot of tea is common. In a bar, prices vary even more. ¥10-80 per bottle of beer is a norm and having a new bottle of wine can cost from a few hundred to many thousands. However, in all genuine places, prices are stated clearly on a menu.
Finally, although it is perfectly possible to pay more than RMB1000 in a high-end teahouse or bar, run-of-the-mill teahouses and bars should be much less expensive. Such delicate tea would only be offered to tea connoisseurs, not a casual tea taster. Furthermore, it is considered socially offensive to take a new friend to spend so much money and expect them to pay the bill. If this happens, it is most likely a scam.
Beware of the counterfeit ¥100-note scam. In this case, a taxi (or other merchant) who has been paid one or more ¥100 notes replaces the real ¥100 notes with counterfeit ones. Next they inspect "the customers'" ¥100 notes (the fake ones that have replaced those actually paid) and state that they are counterfeit. The cabbie or merchant will then try to return "the customers'" counterfeit ¥100 notes and ask for others, and perhaps scrutinise the others. This is most easily performed by a taxi driver with a customer sitting in the back who is unable to observe the sleight of hand. It is unlikely to receive fake bank-notes from an ATM, so if someone questions money that came from an ATM, it is probably a scam.
Pick-pocketing and other theft such as of bags, bicycles and / or electronic devices is common. Being sensible and vigilant in securing your belongings goes a long way.
For bicycle riders, follow what local people do. If bikes are parked anywhere, just tie yours to a pole. It is common to park a bike without securing it to any fixed object, instead only locking the wheel. Restaurants and Internet cafes with bikes inside are a warning sign. Bike parking is common outside supermarkets or shopping centers, and usually charges RMB 1-2 per day (usually until 8-10pm). Battery packs of electric bicycles and scooters may be targeted.
On long-distance buses, especially those departing from Shenzhen, passengers are required to take a mug shot before boarding. Since this measure was introduced, reports of muggings on buses have decreased.
Privacy and Security
The Chinese police (locally called "Public Safety Bureaus") is a well-known monitor of any communication inside China, including phone calls and Internet data. All unencrypted data transmitted on the Internet (including emails and HTTP transmissions), encrypted Chinese web services (including WeChat, QQ and Chinese-language Skype), and phone calls will be stored for three months in a police database. Any of this data can be used for court evidence if someone is arrested (刑事拘留, xíngshì jūliú).
Driving in China ranges from from nerve-rattling to outright reckless. Traffic rules are practiced half-halfheartedly and are rarely enforced. Zebra crossings are for display, cars are allowed to turn right on a red light and rarely stop for pedestrians. Bikers tend to do as they like. Don't be fooled by following any signs and pedestrian paths; it is common to see a motorcycle driving in a pedestrian lane. On occasion even cars will take to bike lanes and motor bikes to the sidewalk. Equally, pedestrians often walk in the roadways, especially at night, as they are better lit. Look in all directions when crossing! Expect or assume that anything will come at or behind you from any direction at any time. But right now China is unsafe because it has been plagued by the novel corona virus. Officials have advised travel to China is a risky journey.
See also driving in China.
Food and drink
There are no widely enforced health regulations in restaurants. Restaurants generally prepare hot food on order. Even in the smallest of restaurants, hot dishes are usually freshly prepared, instead of reheated, and rarely cause health problems. Most of the major cities have chain fast-food places, and the hygiene in them tends to be good. Use common sense when buying food from street vendors. This is especially true for meat or seafood products; they can be unsafe, particularly during warm weather, as many vendors don't have refrigeration.
A rule of thumb regarding street food is to make certain it is cooked thoroughly while watching; also, visit stalls frequented by locals, and look for plastic-wrapped disposable chopsticks. Minor stomach discomfort may still be experienced from street food and restaurant food alike, but is said to pass as one becomes accustomed to the local food. Ginger is effective against nausea, though it does not kill bacteria.
The Chinese do not drink water straight from the tap, and tourists should not either. All hotels (even boats) provide either a thermos flask of boiled water in guest rooms (refillable by the floor attendant) or - more commonly - a kettle the guest can use to boil water. Generally, tap water is safe to drink after boiling. Purified, bottled water is widely available and a small bottle usually costs ¥1. Check that the seal on the cap is not broken. Beer, wine and soft drinks are also cheap and safe.
Many drugs are available from a pharmacist without a prescription. It is possible to ask to see the instructions that came with the box. Western medicine is called xīyào (西药).
However, some drugs which are commonly used elsewhere do require a prescription, such as dextromethorphan, which is used as a cough suppressant in Western countries.
Ensure that needles used for injections or any other procedure that requires breaking the skin are new and unused - insist on seeing the packet being broken open. In some parts of China it is acceptable to re-use needles, albeit after sterilization.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
While Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is widespread in China, regulation is lax and it is not unheard of for Chinese physicians to prescribe herbs which are actually detrimental to one's health. Do some research and bring along a trusted local friend to help when visiting a Chinese physician. Alternatively, head to Hong Kong or Taiwan instead, as the practice is better regulated there.
For acupuncture, although the disposable needles are common in mainland China, the client is free to provide his or her own needles. The disposable type, called Wujun zhenjiu zhen (无菌針灸針, sterilized acupuncture needles), usually cost ¥10-20 per 100 needles and are available in many pharmacies. There should be minimal to no bleeding when the needle is inserted and removed by a sufficiently skilled acupuncturist.
A list of transmittable diseases in China is at this link on the Fit For Travel website. Numerous vaccinations are recommended there. Serious illnesses transmitted by mosquitoes include malaria, dengue fever and Japanese Encephalitis.
Rabies kills 2000 people in China each year. This is statistically only a small 0.000001429% of a population of 1.4 billion. However you do not want to be one of the 2000. See this document for sensible precautions . The rabies situation is made worse since the 2009 launch of the Yulin Dog Meat Festival (The dog meat trade is the only trade known to encourage the mass unregulated movement, sale and slaughter of millions of dogs each year, posing a significant human health risk through the potential transmission of animal borne diseases, notably rabies, but also cholera and other deadly diseases). 20 million dogs eaten annually makes China the world's largest dog meat consumer. Dog eating often provokes hypocritical indignation by non-Chinese whose otherwise extensive exploitation of animals doesn't include dog eating. Dogs reared on farms are done so with the profit motive of ingestion by humans. There are also many cases of pets stolen to end up in human stomachs via restaurant tables. The karma of rabies transmission from ingesting meat of an infected dog needs no explanation.
HIV in China like anywhere else is most common among prostitutes, clients of prostitutes and injecting drug users. An official report published in February 2009 stated that in 2008, for the first time, HIV/AIDS was China's leading cause of death among infectious diseases. Nearly 7,000 people died in China from the disorder in the first nine months of 2008.
New diseases appear in China, particularly in its more densely populated parts. Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (aka HPAI or bird flu) is well associated with poultry agriculture in China. Influenza A/H5N1 recorded in China in 1996 became in 1997 the 1st influenza variant to transmit from poultry to humans. China is the world's largest producer and consumer of pig meat. In August 2004, researchers in China found bird flu H5N1 in pigs. Pigs are unusual as they can be infected with influenza strains that usually infect three different species: pigs, birds and humans. This makes pigs a host where influenza viruses might exchange genes, producing dangerous new strains. Influenza transmission from pigs to humans was also identified as far back as 2004 (by the researchers at the University of Iowa). Another issue is widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture (especially in China but also globally) intended to promote growth and prevent disease has propagated the antibiotic resistant superbug crisis. Such antibiotics are ingested when people consume meat.
Outside major cities, public washrooms vary from unpleasant to repulsive. In cities, they vary from place to place. Clean bathrooms can be found inside tourist attractions (e.g., the Forbidden City), at international hotels, office buildings, quality department stores, and shopping malls. Washrooms in McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, or any of the coffee chains listed in the drink section are usually clean. While those in common restaurants and hotels are barely acceptable, those in hotel rooms are generally clean. Some public facilities are free, others cost from a few mao up to one or two kuai (¥1-2). Separate facilities are always provided for men (男 nán) and women (女 nǚ), but sometimes there are no doors on the front of the stalls.
The Western-style, sit-down toilets are rare in China's public areas. Hotels will generally have them in rooms, but in places where Westerners are scarce, expect to find squat toilets more often than not. Many private homes in urban areas now have sit-down toilets, and a major benefit of having local hosts is their clean bathrooms. As a rule of thumb, Western establishments such as McDonald's will have western toilets.
Carry tissue paper (卫生纸 wèishēngzhǐ, or 面纸 miànzhǐ), as it is rarely provided. It can sometimes be purchased from the money-taker at a public toilet; it is also sold 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 may block the often poor plumbing systems.
The Chinese distrust the cleanliness of bathtubs. In hotels with fixed bathtubs, disposable plastic bathtub liners may be provided.
Wash hands often with soap, or better, carry disposable disinfectant tissues (found in almost any department or cosmetics store), especially after having used public computers; the main cause for a cold or flu is through touching one's face, especially the nose, with infected hands.
Pollution is a serious problem in the world's factory. Talking about air pollution has become a part of life for both locals and expatriates. Stricter environmental protection laws are slowly beginning to bear fruit, with the result that Beijing is no longer the most polluted city in the world, but there is still a long way to go.
Even the countryside, depending on the province in question, is not immune. The nature of air pollution makes it highly variable from day to day, depending on the weather. On days with strong wind or rain, the sky will be clear of any pollution. In general, air pollution is worst in the north. Coastal cities such as Shanghai will have better air quality, and pollution is worse during the winter than in the summer. High-altitude locations and plains like parts of Yunnan and Sichuan, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and outlying islands such as Hainan usually have good air quality. Shenzhen's policy of electrifying the entire bus and taxi fleet makes a very noticeable difference compared to smogged cities like Beijing and Wuhan. Visitors should be prepared to see smog, which can be quite heavy, in nearly all large cities, including those on the coast.
You will also hear a lot of noise. Construction and renovation are full-time activities. Chinese and long-time residents' ears are trained to filter and tolerate it.16 of the worst-polluted cities in the world are in China. Even the countryside, depending on the province in question, is not immune.
Guidelines and tips to avoid faux pas in China:
Homosexuality was de-criminalized in 1997 and taken off the state list of mental disorders in 2001. Though there are no laws against homosexuality in China, films, websites and television shows involving themes of homosexuality tend to be self-censored or banned.
Whilst there is no obvious gay scene or community in China, most Chinese cities have at least one gay bar, although it will be well hidden. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are more in the open, with a range of gay bars and clubs, albeit nowhere near as brash and outspoken as their counterparts in other international cities. Most Chinese are reluctant to discuss their sexuality in public, as it is generally considered to be a personal matter. But younger people in the cities openly discuss their sexual orientation.
Homosexual marriages and unions are not recognised in the country. Nevertheless, while openly displaying sexual orientation in public may draw stares and whispers, gay and lesbian visitors should generally not run into any major problems, and unprovoked violence against homosexual couples is almost unheard of.
Things to Avoid
The Chinese are generally hospitable and honourable to a fault. But, while visiting the country, bear the following in mind:
Electricity is 220 volts/50 hz. Two-pin European and North American, as well as three-pin Australia-style plugs are generally supported. Read the voltage information on electric-powered items to ensure they accept 220V (twice the 110V used in many countries) before plugging them in — it may cause burnout and permanent damage to some devices such as hairdryers and razors. Universal extension cords that can handle a variety of plug shapes (including British) are widely used.
Tourists who do not plan to stay in an exotic rural location or are from a country that does not use European, North American, or Australian-style plugs will generally not need a plug adapter. Wall outlets designed to be compatible with all three types of plugs are found throughout the country, even in the aging hotels commonly favored by tour groups on a budget.
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) may 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 xī (西 "west") might be used.
In some cities, however, these names do not indicate parts of one street. In Xiamen, Hubin Bei Lu and Hubin Nan Lu (Lakeside Road North and Lakeside Road South) are parallel, running 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 major roads.
Laundry services may be expensive or hard to locate. In quality hotels it will cost ¥10-30 to wash each article of clothing. Cheap hotels in some areas do not have laundry services, though in other areas such as along the Yunnan tourist trail the service is common and often free. In most areas, with the exception of the downtown areas in big cities, there are shops that do laundry. The sign to look for on the front door is 洗衣 (xǐyī), or spot the clothes hanging from the ceiling. The cost is roughly ¥2-5/item. There are dry cleaning (干洗 gānxǐ） outlets in all cities and they may be able to wash clothes. But in some areas, only the time-consuming and tiresome process of washing clothes by hand is possible. It may take days for a pair of jeans to dry, which is especially difficult in a dorm room with no hangers, so fast-drying fabrics, such as polyester or silk, are a good idea. In a hotel that does laundry, all clothes are usually washed 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 except for restaurants and bars (including KTVs) - many of which are outright smoke dens, although many multinational restaurant chains do ban smoking. These bans are enforced across the country. Generally, smoking laws are most strict in Shanghai and Beijing, whilst they are more lightly enforced elsewhere. Many places (particularly train stations, hospitals, office buildings and airports) will have smoking rooms, and some long-distance trains may have smoking areas at the end of each car. Facilities for non-smokers are often poor; most restaurants, bars and hotels will not have non-smoking areas apart from top-end establishments although many modern buildings have a smoke-extraction systems which suck cigarette smoke out of the room through a ceiling vent - meaning that the smoke doesn't hang in the air. The Chinese phrase for 'May I smoke?' is 'kěyǐ chōuyān ma?' and 'No Smoking!' is 'bù kěyǐ chōuyān!'.
Internet censorship in China, which (as with most parts of this page) does not apply to Hong Kong and Macau, covers several internet services. Pornographic and political sites and some Chinese-language foreign-based news sites are blocked.
Since the end of May 2014, all Google-related services, including Google Search, Gmail, Google Map and Google Translate do not work in China. It is an unprecedented block on Google services and no reasons have been announced. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Blogspot, Wordpress, Picasaweb and WhatsApp are all banned.
Websites of many universities are inaccessible as well, probably because those servers also host China-related political materials.
Censorship is often tightened during certain sensitive periods, such as the annual meeting of China's parliament in March, the CCP congress every fourth October, and anniversaries such as the National Day in October and the Tiananmen massacre in June.
The most common way to access blocked sites is to use a proxy server. VPN (Virtual Private Network) which usually provides users with more stable and reliable access to banned websites for a fee starting from a few dollars per month. In Chinese this is known as "climbing the wall"(爬墙) and some companies may opt for specialized, yet in a gray-area, leased-line to access unrestricted internet. Other ways to bypass censorship include downloadable free software such as Freegate, Tor, Lantern and Psiphon. These introduce certain levels of encryption, and therefore so-called sensitive content can be seen. These should be downloaded before entering China as access to their official websites are blocked.
Another possibility for short-term visitors is to purchase a Hong Kong-based SIM with an Internet plan and use it to access the Internet. Because all data passes through servers based in Hong Kong, nothing is blocked, and there is no need to purchase a separate VPN subscription or to perform any additional set-up work. This is especially helpful for users of most Android phones due to tight integration with Google services, which are all blocked in China otherwise. There are some recommended Prepaid SIM card providers such as China Mobile Hong Kong, China Unicom Hong Kong and Multi-Byte Info Hong Kong which provide this service. Multi-Byte Info provides long validity options on their China / Hong Kong Prepaid SIM's products, travellers can purchase a SIM card before travelling to China on webshop which sends internationally such as prepaid.com.hk.
It is a legal offense to upload and submit any materials seen as subversive. However, regular internet users, especially English-speakers without political backgrounds, are usually free to write and send anything without a problem.
Certain companies, like Yahoo!, assist the government's suppression of political dissidents. In 2005, Shi Tao, a journalist in China, was imprisoned for ten years for releasing a document of the Communist Party to an overseas-Chinese democracy site after Yahoo! China provided his personal Yahoo! emails to the Chinese government.
China has more Internet users than any other country in the world and Internet cafés (网吧 wǎngbā) are abundant throughout China. Many of them are designed for gamers though and are not useful places to do business. It is cheap (¥1-6 an hour) to use a computer, albeit one with Chinese software. Internet cafés are supposed to require users to show identification (passport). Traffic may be monitored, and be aware that there maybe background malware recording keystrokes.
WIFI is pervasive in coffee shops and many restaurants. Free WIFI is provided in cafés such as Starbucks, Costa Coffee, some McDonald’s and many private coffee houses. However, many free networks (including that in the Beijing's PEK Airport) require submitting a Chinese mobile number to which they can text an access code, thus rendering them off-limits to many foreigners.
Some hotels and hostels provide access from the rooms that may or may not be free; others may provide a wireless service or a few desktops in the lounge area.
A mobile data card can be purchased for use with a computer, instead. These generally cost ¥400 and data plans run ¥10-200 per month depending on usage.
Printing and CD-burning service is provided in many hotels and hostels. Look for the characters 复印 (fùyìn) meaning “photocopy”. Printing costs about ¥1-3 per page and photocopies are ¥0.5-1 per page. Printing/photocopy shops on university campuses are usually cheaper.
China Daily is a state English-language newspaper available in hotels, supermarkets and Beijing newsstands.
There are also a few English magazines such as China Today and 21st Century.
There is no longer any problem getting most foreign news (provided it is in a foreign language, like English) in China.
The Chinese Post Office is generally reliable and sometimes quick. However, be aware that:
International fax (传真 Chuánzhēn) services are available in most large hotels for a fee of a dozen renminbi or more. Inexpensive faxes within China can be made in the ubiquitous photocopy outlets that have the Chinese characters for fax written on the front door.
Telephone service is more of a mixed bag. Calling outside the country is often difficult, and usually impossible without a calling card, which can often only be bought locally. The good news is these cards are cheap, and the connection is clear, uninterrupted and delay-free. Look for IP Telephone Cards, which typically have a value of ¥100 but sometimes can be had for as little as ¥25. The cards have printed Chinese instructions, but after dialing the number listed on the card, English instructions are available. As a general indication of price, a call from China to Europe lasts around 22 minutes with a ¥100 card. Calls to the U.S. and Canada are advertised to be another 20% cheaper.
On lines allowing international direct dialling (IDD), the prefix for international calls in China is 00. To make an overseas call, dial 00-(country code)-(area code)-(tel number). Note that calls from the mainland to Hong Kong and Macau require international dialling. IDDs could be expensive. Ask the rate before calling.
Cellular phones are popular and offer good service in China. They play an essential role in daily life for most Chinese and for nearly all expatriates in China. The typical expat spends a few hundred yuan buying a phone, then about ¥100 a month for the service; tourists might use it less.
With a GSM 900/1800 cellphone, Chinese networks can be roamed, but calls will be expensive (¥12-35/minute is typical). UMTS/HSDPA roaming is not available with every carrier, but a local SIM card for 3G data access can be purchased (see below). Chinese CDMA networks require R-UIM (SIM card equivalent), so most American CDMA phones will not work off the bat, but it's possible to program a new Chinese prepaid number into one at shops for a fee of ¥100-400 — just don't forget to restore the original number before leaving. The exceptions are iPhones 5 and above; plug in a China Telecom R-UIM and it will work after a few minutes of automatic reconfiguration. Droid-series phones will have functioning call/text but making the data work will require perusing Chinese forums or finding a specialist shop at an electronics market to do the reconfiguration. Japanese CDMA phones require similar amounts of reconfiguration; SIM-unlocking and sticking to GSM may be easier.
To use a non-CDMA smartphone with 3G, China Unicom is the only option, as China Mobile uses a different technology which is unique to China. Calls and messages will still work but data won't, at least not at 3G speeds. 4G is a different story, as some phones sold overseas do support China Mobile 4G. The iPhone 6/6+ (if purchased directly from Apple) and iPhone 6S/6S+ all support China Mobile's 4G, but not 3G.
It's difficult to get a Chinese SIM unless without speaking Chinese or having an interpreter. Some companies can provide these before departure to China. A vending machine in Terminal 3 at Beijing Airport sells China Mobile and China Unicom SIM cards for ¥100 each, and ¥50 or ¥100 recharge vouchers.
For a short visit, consider renting a Chinese cell phone from a company such as Pandaphone . Rates are around ¥7 a day. The company is based in the US but has staff in China. Toll-free numbers are 866-574-2050 in the U.S. and 400-820-0293 in China. The phone can be delivered to hotels in China prior to a tourist's arrival and dropped off there at the end of the trip, or shipped to a US address. While renting the phone, they will offer an access code for calling to one's own country, which is cheaper than buying a SIM card from a local vendor and dialing directly.
When staying for more than a few days, it will usually be cheaper to buy a prepaid Chinese SIM card; this provides a Chinese phone number with a certain amount of preloaded money. The Chinese avoid phone numbers with the bad-luck digit '4', and vendors will happily offload these "unsellable" SIM-cards to foreigners at a discount. Along with a phone, prices start around ¥100/200 used/new. Chinese phones, unlike those sold in many Western countries, are never "locked" and will work with any SIM card inserted into them.
China's two big operators are China Mobile  and China Unicom . Most SIMs sold by the two work nationwide, with Unicom allowing Hong Kong/Macau/Taiwan usage as well. There is usually a surcharge of about 1RMB/min when roaming outside the province where the SIM was bought, and there are some cards that work only in a single province, so check when buying. National roaming may need to be activated manually, which may incur a small daily surcharge as long as it's active. For China mobile, credits balances can be obtained by calling 1008611 and get a sms with balance.
International calls have to be enabled separately by applying for China Mobile's "12593" or China Unicom's "17911" service; both require a simple application with no deposit requirement. Usually there will be an English speaker to process orders. Ask for the "special" dialing code, and for 1RMB/month extra on China Mobile (free on China Unicom), this will be provided. Just enter the code, the country code, and then the local number. Don't be fooled by cellphone shops with the China Mobile signage, be sure to go a to a corporate-operated location. The employees will wear a blue uniform and there will be counter services. At time of writing, China Mobile is the cheaper of the two with calls to North America/Asia around ¥0.4/min. Prepaid cards can be used for international calling; just dial the number on the card as with a regular landline phone, and the charges will go to the prepaid calling card.
To recharge, visit the mobile service provider's neighbourhood office, the staff will need the number and and accept cash to charge the account. It is possible to recharge at any post office. Alternately, many shops will sell charge cards, which have a number and password that must be used to call the telephone company to recharge the money in the account. A Chinese-speaking computer answers the phone, but customers who understand Chinese can switch the language to English. Charge cards are sold in denominations of ¥30, 50 and 100. (Unicom users who have a local bank account and understand Chinese can recharge by bank transfer online; this is cheaper and sometimes there will be special offers for recharging this way).
For mobile data addicts, the "Wo" 3G USIM from China Unicom starts at ¥66/month for 240 nationwide minutes, ten videocall minutes, 300MB data, and some free multimedia/text content (ringtones, mobile news reports, wallpapers, music videos, etc.). Incoming transmissions (video/voice call, text) from anywhere are completely free. For short-term use there is no longer a basic-service fee, with calls around ¥1/3 min, text messages ¥0.10 each and data ¥10/MB (overage for the ¥96 plan is a more reasonable ¥0.15/min, ¥0.10 per text ¥0.3/MB). The student plan (¥66 for 50 minutes, 240 texts, everything else same as ¥96 plan) is also an option. China Mobile offers their "Easy Own" prepaid card, the offer also includes data plan options: ¥100 or ¥200 for 1 or 2 GB of data a month. It's possible to de-/activate this service with a short message to the number 10086. There is also a 5 G cap (maximum charge per month) of ¥500.
An alternative for those who want a Hong Kong number, the ability to recharge with a Visa/MasterCard credit card, and/or access to certain overseas websites that are otherwise blocked without paying a small fortune is to get dual-number Hong Kong-based SIM cards. A Hong Kong-based China Unicom SIM costs somewhat more at HK$0.60/minute (HK$0.45/minute in Guangdong), HK$0.50/text, and Internet is HK$38/300MB daily or HK$78/500MB weekly for unfiltered Internet (removing the need to pay for an outside VPN) but is not as unreasonably priced as roaming from most other countries. They now offer another plan with a unified mainland call-pricing of HK$0.39/minute, free incoming calls, and data at HK$48/300MB weekly or HK$68/500MB monthly, but comes with a HK$18 basic monthly fee.
For more data at the cost of speed (no 3G access), China Mobile Hong Kong actually charges less than China Mobile proper at HK$148 for 2.5GB data compared to ¥200 for 2GB, but charges the same higher voice rates as China Unicom HK. They now offer a SIM with unfiltered 4G access at higher prices-HK$48 daily (1GB at full speed, then throttled to no less than 128k), HK$118/1GB monthly or HK$198/2GB monthly.
Note that the downside to using a HK-based SIM is no cheap international calls; China Mobile HK, for instance, charges HK$5.80/minute to call all other countries from China, but softens the blow by offering a recharge bonus that increases with the amount of the top-up applied (for instance, a recharge of HK$300 gets an extra HK$100, a recharge of HK$200 provides an extra HK$50, and anything less than that but more than HK$50 earns a 10% bonus).
For the short-term, the truly data-heavy users, or those to whom money is no object, Three HK data SIMs offer unlimited data in China (again unfiltered because everything runs through Three servers in HK) for HK$98/day. With their recharge bonus scheme a HK$300 recharge will last four days on top of the credit included with the SIM (two days for the $198 SIM + four days from a $300 recharge make six days and HK$10 left over, for instance).
All of these can be purchased in Hong Kong, from specialist SIM dealers in larger cities, or online.
See also cell phones.
The country dialing code for mainland China is 86. Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan have their own separate country dialing codes which are 852 for Hong Kong, 853 for Macau and 886 for Taiwan.
The following emergency telephone numbers work in all areas of mainland China; calling them from a cell phone is free.