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Holidays in China

Understanding China

"I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there" — Confucius


The first civilizations in China arose in the Yangtze and Yellow River valleys at about the same time as Mesopotamia, Egypt and India developed their first civilizations

For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences Paper, gunpowder, the compass and printing both block and movable type for example, are Chinese inventions Chinese developments in astronomy, medicine, and other fields were extensive A Chinese tomb contains a heliocentric model of the solar system, about 1,700 years before Copernicus In mathematics, the Pythagorean theorem and Pascal's triangle known in China as Yang Hui's triangle were known in China centuries before their Western discoverers lived There were also grand feats of engineering not to be matched in Europe until centuries later, such as the Dujiangyan Irrigation System in Sichuan built during the Qin Dynasty, and the Grand Canal from Beijing to Hangzhou with its complex system of locks, built during the Sui Dynasty

China was also the first civilization to implement a meritocracy Unlike other ancient cultures, official posts were not hereditary but had to be earned through a series of examinations Based on mastery of the Confucian Classics and the literary arts calligraphy, essay writing, poetry, painting, a prototype the exams were first conducted during the Han Dynasty The system was further refined into the formal Imperial Examination System and opened to all regardless of family background during the Tang Dynasty The Imperial Examination proved very successful, and save for a brief period during the Yuan Dynasty, continued to be used by all subsequent Chinese dynasties until the beginning of the 20th century To this day, education is still taken very seriously by Chinese parents

Historically, East Asia existed in a China-centric order very different from the nation-state system which emerged in Europe China is the "Middle Kingdom" 中国 Zhōngguó Foreigners of all nationalities are "outside land people" 外国人 wàiguórén Rather than sovereign states, the Emperor was sovereign over all "under heaven" 天下 tiānxià and thus rulers seeking to be "civilized" would need to enter the tributary system As the Middle Kingdom, China was surrounded by states which paid tribute to the Emperor The Emperor did not receive ambassadors from these outlanders, only tribute bearers

New kings in these surrounding countries were invested by the Emperor and granted seals of authority, thus giving them the "right" to rule Many areas which are now considered part of China — Ningxia, Qinghai, Gansu, Xinjiang, Yunnan, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria — were once tributary kingdoms and later formally incorporated as parts of China Other places not considered part of China — Malacca, Korea, Vietnam, Burma, Mongolia, Nepal, Okinawa, Japan — were also tributaries at various times in history Okinawa's Shuri Castle has an interesting exhibit on the tributary system Tributary missions from some countries continued right up until the 20th century Of course at times "tributary" states were more militarily powerful than the Chinese dynasty at the time However, the idealized image of a harmonious order with China and the Emperor at the center endured for centuries

Tributary relations were complemented by academic, religious, political and cultural exchanges Tributary rulers received protection, trade benefits, and advisers academic, political, scientific, etc In a sense, China really is the "middle country" Chinese influence is quite apparent in the traditional culture of many of its neighbors, most notably Vietnam, Korea and Japan Each of these countries adopted the Chinese writing system at some point, and it is still in use, to varying degrees and with certain modifications, in the latter two today Confucian philosophy and social theory deeply influenced their societies Indeed, Japan's ancient capital of Nara was modeled after the Tang dynasty capital of Chang'An now Xi'an

China also explored widely and traded extensively with distant lands By the 5th and 6th centuries CE, voyages to India and the Arab countries were routine In the 15th century, the Ming Dynasty fleets under Admiral Zheng He reached as far as East Africa These ships were technologically very advanced, much larger than European ships of the day, and equipped with a system of watertight compartments that Europe was not to match for several centuries These voyages were not for settlement or conquest, but for trade and tribute Zheng He's voyages brought tribute and glory but were fabulously expensive Facing renewed troubles on its northern border, after 1433, China turned inward with a vengeance Records of the great trading voyages were destroyed in 1477 and the ships rotted away in dry dock

Interaction with the West and the Decline of the Imperial System

One of the first Westerners to visit China and write about it was Marco Polo in the late 13th century He wrote of Hangzhou, "The city is beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world" and rated Quanzhou as one of the two busiest ports on earth The other was Alexandria Among the Chinese innovations that Europeans first heard of from Polo were paper money, window glass and coal

When seaborne Western traders arrived in the 16th century, China was initially hostile to them The first Western base was Portugal's colony of Macau, awarded by the Ming in the mid 16th century gratitude for clearing out a local pirate base - although Macau was not formally ceded to Portugal until 1887

The Emperor imposed various restrictions on trade, allowing Westerners to trade only at Canton today's Guangzhou, only with payment in silver, and only through a government-approved monopoly of traders called the Cohong 公行 Export of items that would break Chinese monopolies, such as tea seeds or silk worms, was strictly forbidden Traders eventually smuggled both out, creating two of India's greatest industries Western traders resented these restrictions and struggled to interest the Chinese in Western goods, without notable success

By the end of the 19th century, the situation would be completely reversed Assorted Western powers had taken various pieces of Chinese territory and relatively free trade was well established through an ever increasing number of treaty ports and spheres of influence Throughout the century, the Sino-Western relationship continued to be fraught with difficulties Westerners tended to see China as corrupt and decadent; Chinese often viewed the West as greedy and contemptible Both were right, at least part of the time

There was also an enormous difference in world view To the Chinese court, Western envoys were just a group of new outsiders who should show appropriate respect for the emperor like any other visitors; of course the kowtow knocking one's head on the floor was a required part of the protocol For that matter, the kowtow was required in dealing with any official Some countries, like the Netherlands, were willing to participate For others, most notably the United Kingdom, treating China's "decadent" regime with any respect at all was being generous The envoy of Queen Victoria or another power might give some courtesies, even pretend the Emperor was the equal of their own ruler However, they considered the notion that they should kowtow utterly ludicrous

The greatest contention was opium For the West, the profitable commodities were "pigs and poison," indentured laborers and opium Britain's balance of trade — paying for tea and silk in silver and being quite unable to interest Chinese in most British products — would have been disastrous without opium However, by growing opium in India and exporting vast amounts to China, the British were able to enjoy a healthy trade surplus - selling opium for silver and using the silver of which they now had a surplus to buy tea, silk, and other trade goods Millions of Chinese became addicted to opium; many merchants made fortunes from the trade But every Chinese government from the Qing to the present has been unalterably opposed to the opium trade and all other forms of drug trafficking

The 19th century was a period of wars, rebellions, territorial cession, and turmoil:

  • Two Opium Wars 鸦片战争 yāpiàn zhànzhēng, 1839-1842 and 1856-1860, pitted China against Western powers, notably Britain and France China quickly lost both wars After each defeat, the victors forced the Chinese government to make major concessions After the first war, the treaty ceded Hong Kong island to Britain, and opened five "treaty ports" Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Shanghai and Ningbo to Western trade After the second, Britain acquired Kowloon, and inland cities such as Nanjing and Wuhan were opened to trade
  • The Taiping Rebellion, 1851-1864, was led by a charismatic figure claiming to be Christ's younger brother It was largely a peasant revolt The Taiping program included land reform and eliminating slavery, concubinage, arranged marriage, opium, footbinding, judicial torture and idolatry The Qing government, with some Western help, eventually defeated the Taiping rebels, but not before they had ruled much of southern China for over ten years This was one of the bloodiest wars ever fought; only World War II killed more people Nanjing, which was their capital, has an interesting Taiping museum
  • The Panthay Rebellion 杜文秀起义 Dù Wénxiù qǐyì, 1856–1873, in Yunnan pitted the Hui ethnic group against central authority Up to one million people died during the revolt
  • In 1858 and 1860, the Qing signed the Treaty of Aigun and the Treaty of Peking which transferred sovereignty of Outer Manchuria today's Primorsky Krais, Jewish Autonomous Oblast and parts of Amur Krais and Khabarovsk Krais to Russia
  • The Dungan Rebellion, 1862-1877, in central China and Xinjiang saw Hui and other Muslim ethnic groups fighting against local authorities Suppression of the rebellion brought what is now Xinjiang firmly under central rule
  • In 1879, Japan annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom, then a Chinese tributary state, and incorporated it as Okinawa prefecture Despite pleas from a Ryukyuan envoy, China was powerless to send an army The Chinese sought help from the British, who instead awarded the islands to Japan
  • In 1884-1885, China and France fought a war that resulted in the loss of China's modernized Fuzhou-based naval fleet and China's accepting French control over their former tributary states in what is now Vietnam The Qing armies performed well in campaigns in Guangxi and Taiwan, however
  • In 1895, China lost the Sino-Japanese war and ceded Taiwan, the Penghu islands and the Liaodong peninsula to Japan In addition, it had to relinquish control of Korea, which had been a tributary state of China for a long time
  • In 1898, Britain acquired a ninety-nine year lease on the New Territories of Hong Kong in the Second Convention of Peking

The Chinese resented much during this period — notably missionaries, opium, annexation of Chinese land and the extraterritoriality that made foreigners immune to Chinese law To the West, trade and missionaries were obviously good things, and extraterritoriality was necessary to protect their citizens from the corrupt Chinese system To many Chinese, however, these were yet more examples of the West exploiting China

Around 1898, these feelings exploded The Boxers, also known as the "Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists" 义和团 yì hé tuán led a peasant religious/political movement whose main goal was to drive out evil foreign influences Some believed their kung fu and prayer could stop bullets While initially anti-Qing, once the revolt began they received some support from the Qing court and regional officials The Boxers killed a few missionaries and many Chinese Christians, and eventually besieged the embassies in Beijing An eight-nation alliance: Germany, France, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, the US, Austria-Hungary and Japan, sent a force up from Tianjin to rescue the legations The Qing had to accept foreign troops permanently posted in Beijing and pay a large indemnity as a result In addition, Shanghai was divided among China and the eight nations

The Republican Era First Republic

The 20th century brought revolution The empire was overthrown in 1911 and Sun Yat-sen 孙中山, Sūn Zhōngshān in Mandarin, a doctor, Christian, revolutionary, nationalist, socialist and democrat, became president of the newly formed Republic of China 中华民国 Zhōnghuá Mínguó He stepped down shortly thereafter allowing the former Qing general Yuan Shih-kai to become president After an abortive attempt at declaring himself emperor, Yuan died in 1916 Central rule collapsed and China broke into semi-autonomous warlord regions Until 1949 the various warlords fought challenges to their local power from any outsider, regardless of nationality or ideology

In 1919 frustrations with China's weakness at the hands of foreign powers, particularly Japan, led to student protests in Beijing Today known as the "May Fourth Movement" 五四运动 wǔ sì yùndòng the students called for radical reforms to Chinese society including the use of the vernacular language in writing as well as development of science and democracy The intellectual ferment of this era gave strength to two rising movements: the Kuomintang KMT, established in 1919 and the Chinese Communist Party CCP, established in 1921

In 1926-28 a united front between the KMT and the CCP united much of eastern China under KMT rule after the "Northern Expedition" However, the KMT under Chiang Kai-shek turned on the Communists killing thousands and driving the movement underground During this time, Mao Zedong set up a base area in the mountains of Jiangxi Province called the Jiangxi Soviet The Kuomintang launched a series of extermination campaigns against the Communists Pressure on the Jiangxi Soviet forced the CCP to flee west in 1934 The epic Long March led the CCP and Red Army from Jiangxi across southern and western China before ending in 1935 in Yan'an in Shaanxi Province

From 1927 to 1937, the KMT consolidated authoritarian one-party rule Often called the Nanjing Decade after the Kuomintang capital in Nanjing, the period was one of economic expansion, industrialization and urbanization Many of the great trading families of Hong Kong made their fortunes in Shanghai during this time Shanghai became one of the world's busiest ports and the most cosmopolitan city in Asia, home to millions of Chinese as well as a polyglot community of around 60,000 foreigners which included British Taipans, American missionaries, Iraqi Jews and refugees from Nazi Germany, Indian police, White Russians and many other notables Nonetheless, KMT rule remained fragmented and weak outside of urban centers in eastern China Severe problems persisted in the countryside including civil unrest, warlord conflict, banditry and major famines

After the 1895 war, Japan continued its imperial expansion in East Asia It invaded Manchuria in 1931 and established the puppet kingdom of Manchukuo under the nominal leadership of the last Qing emperor, Pu Yi Japan launched a full-scale invasion in 1937 and overran much of eastern China by the end of the decade Japanese behavior was often brutal; the most extreme example was the 1937 Nanjing Massacre Chinese resistance was spirited The Japanese generals thought they could take all of China in three months; instead it took them three months just to drive the Chinese army out of Shanghai and they never did manage to take the entire country After the expected quick victory in China, Japan's generals planned to move most of their army to other fronts, but in fact roughly half the Japanese army was tied up in China throughout the war The Allies sent aid via the Burma Road

As a result of the Japanese invasion, the Kuomintang and Communists signed a tenuous agreement in 1937 to form a second united front The agreement broke down in the early 1940s The Kuomintang frequently held back troops from fighting the Japanese and used them against the Communists The Communists used the power vacuum behind the Japanese lines to expand their guerrilla operations and set up rural networks The stage was set for the Communists under Mao Zedong and the Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek to openly fight each other after Japan's defeat

Outright civil war resumed in 1946 Corruption, hyperinflation, defections and desertions crippled the KMT government and army In 1949, the Communists won; the Kuomintang took the national gold reserves and imperial treasure and fled to Taiwan There the KMT reestablished themselves and promised to recapture the Mainland Various Western countries refused to recognize "Red China" and continued to treat the Kuomintang as the only "legitimate" government of China, some until the early '70s

The People's Republic PRC

The East is Red

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, labor unions, civil society and governance were brought under Party control After an initial period closely hewing to the Soviet model of heavy industrialization and comprehensive central economic planning, China began to experiment with adapting Marxism 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 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 attention to Mao Zedong Thought rocked China from 1957 to 1976 The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are generally considered disastrous failures in China itself The cultural and historical damage from the Cultural Revolution can still be seen evident today Many traditional Chinese customs, such as the celebration of the Hungry Ghost Festival 中元节 zhōngyuán jié, are still thriving in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and overseas Chinese communities, but have largely disappeared from mainland China

30 Years of Reform

Mao Zedong died in 1976 One month later his widow was arrested as part of the "Gang of Four" The gang was blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution In 1978, Deng Xiaoping became China's paramount leader Deng and his lieutenants gradually introduced market-oriented reforms and decentralized economic decision making Economic output quadrupled by 2000 and continues to grow by about 8% a year, but huge problems remain — bouts of serious inflation, regional and income inequality, human rights abuses, massive pollution, rural poverty and corruption China also remains firmly a one-party authoritarian state and political controls remain tight even though economic policy continues to be relaxed, enough for China to secure admission to the World Trade Organization, WTO In 2003, the CCP changed its statutes to accept a new category of members: "Red Capitalists" October 2007 saw the first official guarantees for private property, a clear step away from doctrinaire communist economics

The current president and CCP General Secretary, Hu Jintao, has proclaimed a policy for a "Harmonious Society" 和谐社会 héxié shèhuì which promises to restore balanced economic growth and to channel investment and prosperity into China's central and western provinces, which have been largely left behind in the economic boom since 1978 This policy involves additional tax breaks for farmers, a rural medical insurance scheme, reduction or elimination of school tuition fees and infrastructure development to encourage investment in underdeveloped areas, eg the Beijing/Lhasa railway - a dream first put down on paper by Sun Yat-sen in the early 1900's

Dynasties and capitals

Many cites have served as the capital of China, or of various smaller states in periods when China was divided Beijing and Nanjing mean northern capital and southern capital respectively; each has been the capital several times

  • Legend has it that the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors 三皇五帝 sānhuáng wǔdì, who were mythical God-like kings, ruled China from about 2852 BCE to 2205 BCE
  • The Xia dynasty 夏朝 Xià cháo seems to have ruled the Yellow River valley area from about 2100 BCE to 1600 BCE, though some experts consider this period more legend than history However, archaeological evidence at Erlitou has shown that at the very least, an early Bronze Age civilization had already developed by that period
  • The first historically confirmed dynasty, the Shang 商朝 Shāng cháo, 1700-1027 BCE, ruled only the Yellow River valley and had their capital near Anyang in Henan Written Chinese characters began to develop during this time, as evidenced by court records carved on turtle and cattle bones
  • The Zhou Dynasty 周朝 Zhōu cháo, 1027-221 BCE, had their first capital at Hao near modern Xi'an After a military defeat in 771 BCE, they continued as the Eastern Zhou with capital Luoyang The Zhou is the longest dynasty in Chinese history, lasting about 800 years However, the Eastern Zhou was a period of political turmoil with various feudal lords vying for power, culminating in the Spring and Autumn Period 春秋时代 chūnqiū shídài, during which prominent Chinese philosophers like Confucius and Laozi lived, but later stabilized into seven large states during the Warring States period 战国时代 zhànguó shídài
  • The Qin Dynasty 秦朝 Qín cháo, 221-206 BCE was established when King Ying Zheng of Qin defeated the Zhou and the six other feudal states, and became the first ruler to unite an area anything like all of China The empire thus united, Ying Zheng took a new title: Qin Shi Huangdi - the First August Emperor of Qin The Qin were the first introduce a centralized system of government for all of China Their capital was at Xianyang, near modern Xi'an Our word "China," and the word "Chin" in languages of India, probably comes from their name
  • The Han Dynasty 汉朝 Hàn cháo, 206-220 CE, had its capitals at Chang'an near modern Xi'an Western Han and Luoyang Eastern Han This was the period of the first Silk Road trade, was also the period when paper was invented Chinese still use Han as the name of their largest ethnic group and Chinese characters are still called "hànzì" 汉字 in Chinese, with similar cognates in Korean and Japanese The Han is considered by most Chinese to be the first golden age in Chinese civilization
  • The fall of the Han Dynasty saw China split into the three states of Wèi 魏, Shǔ 蜀 and Wú 吴, known collectively as the Three Kingdoms 三国 sān guó Despite lasting for only about 60 years, it is a greatly romanticized period of Chinese history The capitals of the three states were at Luoyang, Chengdu and Nanjing respectively
  • The Jin Dynasty 晋朝 Jìn cháo, briefly re-unified China from 280-317 Though they continued to exist until 420, they only controlled a small area for most of the period During the unified period, the capital was at Luoyang and later Chang'an
  • From 317-581, China was divided Capitals of various important states included Luoyang, Nanjing and Suzhou
  • The short-lived Sui Dynasty 隋朝 Suí cháo, 581-618, managed to re-unify China It had its capital at Chang'an The dynasty embarked on major public works projects including the Grand Canal but bankrupted the through massive military campaigns in Korea
  • The Tang Dynasty 唐朝 Táng cháo, 618-907, had its capitals at Chang'an and Luoyang This was the golden age of Chinese poetry, Buddhism and statecraft It saw the development of the imperial examination system, which attempted to select officials by ability rather than family background The Tang is considered by most Chinese to be the second golden age in Chinese civilization, and Chinatowns overseas are often known as "Street of the Tang People" 唐人街 Tángrén jiē in Chinese
  • China was then divided once again for about fifty years, during which it was under then control of several small short-lived states The capitals of the various states include Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Yangzhou, Changsha and many others
  • The Song dynasty 宋朝 Sòng cháo, 960-1279, again united most of China and had its capital at Kaifeng until it fell to the Jurchens The Song moved the capital to Nanjing and later to Hangzhou Eventually, the Mongols defeated the Jurchens and proceeded to conquer the Song empire Although militarily weak, the Song reached a level of commercial and economic development unmatched until the West's Industrial Revolution Marco Polo, who was in Hangzhou a few years after the Mongol conquest, describes it as one of the richest and most beautiful cities on Earth The Jurchen Jin Dynasty maintained a capital at modern-day Beijing
  • The Yuan Mongol dynasty 元朝 Yuán cháo, 1279-1368, used the area that is now Beijing as their capital Polo mentions it under the name Canbulac, the Khan's camp
  • The Ming dynasty 明朝 Míng cháo, 1368-1644, initially had Nanjing as their capital then moved the capital to Beijing They built many of Beijing's famous buildings including the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven Several of the most famous Chinese novels including "Journey to The West" 西游记 Xīyóujì, "Water Margin" 水浒传 shuǐhǔzhuàn and "Romance of The Three Kingdoms" 三国演义 Sānguóyǎnyì were written during this period
  • The Qing Manchu dynasty 清朝 Qīng cháo, 1644-1911, used Beijing as the capital of China but they had their own Manchu capital at Shenyang The famous Chinese novel, "Dream of the Red Chamber" 红楼梦 Hónglóumèng was written during this period The Chinese empire grew to its current geographical size largely during this period
  • The Republic of China 中华民国 Zhōnghuá Mínguó, which ruled from 1911 to 1949, moved the capital back to Nanjing Since retreating from the mainland in 1949, they have controlled Taiwan and a few small islands off the coast of Fujian Taipei is their "temporary capital" During the Second World War, Chongqing was also a temporary capital
  • Beijing has been the capital of the People's Republic of China 中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó since the Communist victory in the civil war in 1949


China is a one-party authoritarian state ruled by the Communist Party of China 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 Head of State is the President 主席 zhǔxí while the Head of Government is the Premier 总理 zǒnglǐ In practice the President holds the most power, while the Premier is the second most powerful person in the country

China largely follows a centralised system of government, though the country is administratively divided into 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions and 4 directly-controlled municipalities Each of the provincial governments is given limited powers in the internal affairs of their provinces Autonomous regions are suppossedly given more freedom than the usual provinces, one valid of 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 of which have separate legal systems and immigration departments from the mainland, and are given the freedom to enact laws separately from the mainland and therefore much more open and democratic 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 closer link their economies, esstentially removing the danger of war

People and Habits

China is a very diverse place with large 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 50% of Chinese still live in rural areas even though only 10% of China's land is arable More than half the total population, some 800 million rural residents, still farm with manual labor or draft animals Government estimates for 2005 reported that 90 million people lived on under ¥924 a year and 26 million were under the official poverty line of ¥668 a year Generally the southern and eastern coastal regions are more wealthy while inland areas, the far west and north, and the southwest are much much less developed

The cultural landscape is unsurprisingly very diverse given the sheer size of the country China has 56 officially recognized ethnic groups; the largest by far is the Han 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, are far from homogeneous and speak a wide variety of mutually unintelligible local "dialects"; which most linguists actually 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 Contrary to popular belief, there is no single unified Han Chinese culture, and while they share certain common elements such as Confucian and Taoist beliefs as a basis, the regional variations in culture among the Han ethnic group is actually very diverse Many customs and deities are specific to individual regions and even villages Celebrations for the lunar new year and other national festivals vary drastically from region to region Specific customs related to the celebration of important occasions such as weddings, funerals and births also vary widely In general contemporary urban Chinese society is rather secular and traditional culture is more of an underlying current in every day life Among ethnic minorities, the Zhuang, Manchu, Hui and Miao are the largest in size Other notable ethnic minorities include: Koreans, Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs, Kirghiz and even Russians In fact, China is home to the largest Korean population outside Korea and is also home to more ethnic Mongols than the Republic of Mongolia itself

Some behaviours that are quite normal in China may be somewhat jarring and vulgar for foreigners:

  • Spitting: in the street, shops, supermarkets, hotel lobbies, hallways, restaurants, on buses and even in hospitals Traditional Chinese medical thought believes it is unhealthy to swallow phlegm Spitting has declined considerably in more developed urban areas like Beijing and Shanghai since the SARS epidemic of 2002 However, in most other areas the habit persists to varying degrees, from moderate to ever-present
  • Smoking: almost anywhere, including areas with "no smoking signs" Few restaurants have no smoking areas although Beijing now forbids smoking in most restaurants; lower class establishments often do not have ashtrays Western restaurants seem to be the only ones who actually enforce the ban so they are your best bet Masks would be good idea for long distance bus trips
  • Anyone who does not look Chinese will find that calls of "hello" or "laowai" are common: lǎowài 老外 literally means "old and thus respected outsider", a colloquial term for "foreigner"; the more formal term is wàiguórén 外国人 Calls of "laowai" are ubiquitous outside of the big cities and even there, occasionally; these calls will come from just about anyone, of any age, and are even more likely from the very young and can occur many times in any given day
  • Staring: This is common through most of the country The staring usually originates out of sheer curiosity, almost never out of hostility Don't be surprised if someone comes right up to you and just looks as if they are watching the TV, no harm done!
  • Loud conversations, noise, discussions or public arguments: These are very common Many mainland Chinese speak very loudly in public including in the early mornings and it may be one of the first things you notice upon arrival Loud speech usually does not mean that the speaker is angry or engaged in an argument although obviously it can Full-blown fights involving physical violence are not very common, but they do occur If you witness such an event, leave the vicinity and do not get involved Foreigners are almost never targets in China and you will be treated with great respect provided you don't act recklessly Noise means life, and China is rooted in a community based culture, so you may want to bring earplugs for the long bus or train ride!
  • Pushing, shoving and/or jumping queues: This often occurs anywhere where there are queues, or lack thereof particularly at train stations Again, often there simply are no queues at all Best bet is to pick a line that looks like its moving or just wait for everyone to get on or off the bus or train first but you may be left behind!
  • General disregard of city, provincial and/or national rules, regulations and laws This includes among many other things dangerous and negligent driving, see Driving in China that includes excessive speeding, not using head lights at night, lack of use of turn signals, and driving on the wrong side of the street, jaywalking, and smoking in non-smoking areas or defiance of smoking bans including hospitals, inside health clubs and even on football pitches!

Some long-time foreign residents say such behaviors 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 big city 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 - when the escalator behind them is fully packed What the actual causes of such behavior is include suggestions that China has been largely an argiculuturaly based society for centuries thrust suddenly into the modern age and/or the ghosts of the Cultural Revolution still at play

On the whole, however, the Chinese love a good laugh and because there are so many ethnic groups and outsiders from other regions, they are used to different ways of doing things and are quite okay with that Indeed the Chinese often make conversation with strangers by discussing differences in accent or dialect They are often very used to sign language and quick to see a non-verbal joke or pun wherever they can spot one A laugh doesn't necessarily mean scorn, just amusement and the Chinese like a "collective good laugh" often at times or circumstances that westerners might consider rude The Chinese love and adore children and allow them a great deal of freedom and heap attention upon them If you have children, bring them!

Climate and Terrain

The climate is extremely diverse, from tropical regions in the south to subarctic in the north Hainan Island is roughly at the same latitude as Jamaica, while Harbin, one of the largest cites in the north, is at roughly the latitude of Montreal North China has four distinct seasons with intensely hot summers and bitterly cold winters Southern China tends to be milder and wetter The further north and west one travels, the drier the climate

There is also a wide range of terrain to be found in China with many inland mountain ranges, high plateaus, and deserts in center and far west Plains, deltas, and hills dominate the east The Pearl River Delta region around Guangzhou and Hong Kong and the Yangtze delta around Shanghai are major economic powerhouses, as is the North China plain around Beijing and the Yellow River On the border between the Tibet Autonomous Region and the nation of Nepal lies Mount Everest, at 8,850 m, the highest point on earth The Turpan depression, in northwest China's Xinjiang is the lowest point in the country, at 154 m below sea level This is also the second lowest point on land in the world after the Dead Sea


China is a huge country with endless travel opportunities During holidays, however, millions of migrant workers return home and millions of other Chinese travel Travelers may want to seriously consider scheduling to avoid the major holidays At the very least, travel should be planned well in advance Every mode of transportation is crowded; tickets of any kind are hard to come by, so it may be necessary to book well in advance especially for those traveling from remote western China to the east coast or in the opposite direction Train and bus tickets are usually quite easy to buy in China, but difficulties arising from crowded conditions at these times cannot be overstated Travelers who are stranded at these times, unable to buy tickets, can sometimes manage to get airplane tickets, which tend to sell out more slowly

Chinese New Year Dates

  • 2010 - 14 February
  • 2011 - 3 February
  • 2012 - 23 January

China has five major annual holidays:

  • National Day 国庆节 guóqìngjié - 1 October
  • Chinese New Year or Spring Festival 春节 chūnjié - late January/mid-February
  • Labor Day or May Day 劳动节 láodòngjié - 1 May
  • Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 duānwǔjié - 5th day of the 5th lunar month, usually May-June 16 June in 2010 Boat races and eating zongzi 粽子, steamed pouches of sticky rice are a traditional parts of the celebration
  • Mid-Autumn Day 中秋节 zhōngqiūjié)- 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually October 22 Sep in 2010 Also called the Moon Cake Festival after its signature treat, moon cakes 月饼 yuèbǐng People meet outside, putting food on tables and looking up at the full harvest moon while talking about life

These are not one-day 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 Labor Day and National Day, a week is typical

The Spring Festival is especially busy Not only is it the longest holiday, it is also a traditional time to visit family, much as Christmas is in the West More or less all the university students twenty-odd million of them! go home, and more or less all the migrant workers who have left their farms and villages for better pay in the cities go home This is often the only chance they have Everyone wants to go home, and China has a lot of "everyone"! Around the Chinese New Year, many stores and other businesses will close for several days, a week, or even longer

Also, during early July millions of university students go home and in late August they return to school, jamming transportation options especially between the east coast and the western regions of Sichuan, Gansu, Tibet, and Xinjiang

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

  • Lantern Festival 元宵节 yuánxiāojié or 上元节 shàngyuánjié - 15th day of the 1st lunar month, just after Chinese New Year, usually in February or March In some cities, such as Quanzhou, this is a big festival with elaborate lanterns all over town
  • Tomb Sweeping Day or Qingming Festival 清明节 qīngmíngjié - Around April 4-6, cemeteries are crowded with people who go to sweep the tombs of their ancestors and offer sacrifices Traffic on the way to the cemeteries can be very heavy
  • Double Seventh Festival 七夕 qīxī - 7th day of the 7th lunar month, usually August, is a festival of romance, sort of a Chinese Valentine's Day
  • Double Ninth Festival or Chongyang Festival 重阳节 chóngyángjié - 9th day of the 9th lunar month, usually in October
  • Winter Solstice Festival 冬至 dōngzhì - December 22 or 23

In addition to these, some Western festivals are noticeable, at least in major 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


Non-guidebooks, either about China, or by Chinese writers


  • The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo - the Venetian traveler's stories in the Middle Kingdom see also: On the trail of Marco Polo
  • Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han by Hannü ISBN 9789889799939 - Tibet through the Tibetans with a Han traveler


  • Winter Stars by Beatrice Lao ISBN 988979991X - a collection of poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义 - the classic Chinese novel of the heroic deeds of the generals and leaders of the three kingdoms following the collapse of the Han dynasty Noted for its details of cunning military and political strategies One of the Four Great Classics
  • Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh 水浒传 - a Song Dynasty tale of bandits living in the Huai River Valley to fight against the corrupt government Noted for the rebellious nature of its main characters against an established order It's the Chinese version of "sticking it to the man" One of the Four Great Classics
  • Journey to the West 西游记 - perhaps the most famous Chinese novel, a fantasy account of Xuan Zang's Tang Dynasty journey to retrieve sacred Buddhist texts with the aid of the monkey king Sun Wukong, the gluttonous Zhu Bajie and dependable Sha Wujing Noted for its extremely creative fantasies and adventures One of the Four Great Classics
  • Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦 also known as The Story of the Stone Penguin Classics, 5 volumes- a lively account of aristocratic life in the Qing dynasty told through the stories of three powerful families Noted for its extremely accurate portrayal of Chinese aristocrats and the work is often regarded as the zenith of Chinese literature One of the Four Great Classics


  • The Search for Modern China by Jonathan Spence - a renowned book written by a Yale professor about Chinese history since 1644
  • 1587, A Year of No Significance by Ray Huang - describes an uneventful year in the history of Ming Dynasty China Its Chinese edition is one of the most well known history books on this period
  • China: A New History by John K Fairbank - the last book of a prominent American academic that helped shape modern Sinology
  • The Cambridge History of China - ongoing series of books published by Cambridge University Press covering the early and modern history of China This is the largest and most comprehensive history of China in the English language
  • The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600 by Valerie Hansen - presents in colorful detail the history, culture, and socio-economic development of China from the Shang period to the Ming
  • 1421, The Year China Discovered the World by Gavin Menzies ISBN 0553815229 - well known but well contested account of China's alleged efforts to explore and map the entire world Interestingly, this book which suggests that Chinese first discovered the New World is largely denounced as fictional by Chinese academics
  • The Sextants of Beijing by Joanna Waley-Cohen - a book that summarizes recent thinking on how China was much more open and less xenophobic than often assumed
  • Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow- recounts the months that he spent with the Chinese Red Army in the summer and fall of 1936
  • The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang ISBN 0140277447 - the forgotten Holocaust in WWII
  • The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe by John Rabe - firsthand description of the sadistic rapes, torture and slaughter perpetrated by Japanese soldiers in WWII and Rabe's ultimate success in saving perhaps a quarter of a million lives
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang ISBN 0007176155 - a biography of three generations, from the warlord days to the end of Mao's era, illustrating life under China's version of nationalism and communism banned in China
  • Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now by Jan Wong, a reporter for the Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada The book describes her experiences as one of the first foreign exchange students to study in China after the Cultural Revolution and her life and experiences as a reporter in China until the mid 1990s


  • Bernardo Bertolucci - The Last Emperor 1987
  • Zhang Yimou - Raise the Red Lantern 1991
  • Chen Kaige - Farewell My Concubine 1993
  • Zhang Yimou - To Live 1994
  • Wu Ziniu - Don't Cry, Nanking 1995
  • Zhang Yimou - Keep cool 1997
  • Xie Jin - The Opium War 1997
  • Zhang Yang - Shower 1999
  • Feng Xiao Gang - Sorry Baby 1999
  • Zhang Yimou - Not one less 1999
  • Xiaoshuai Wang – Beijing bicycle 2001
  • Zhang Yimou - Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles 2005
  • Gianni Amelio - La stella che non c’è or The Missing Star 2006
  • Zhang Yuan - Little Red Flowers 2006
  • Daniel Lee - Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon 2008
  • Roger Spottiswoode - The Children of Huangshi 2008

Talking in China

The official language of China is Standard Mandarin, which is based on but not identical to the Beijing dialect of Mandarin, known in Chinese as Putonghua 普通话, "common speech" It 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 for one to be understood

Many regions, especially in the southeast and south of the country, also have their own tonal "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 Of true dialects within Mandarin, 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 A few who are older, less educated or from the countryside may speak only the local dialect, but this is unlikely to affect tourists It often helps to have a guide that 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 always appreciate any attempt to say a few words or phrases in the local dialect or language, so learning a few simple greetings will help you get acquainted with the locals much more easily 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 the same everywhere

Formal written Chinese is for all intents and purposes the same everywhere 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 pick up some sign-reading skills On the other hand, native speakers usually do not encounter problems reading either script so learning how to write either one would usually suffice

Note that in calligraphy, the number of scripts is much 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 other minority languages including Manchu, Mongolian and Korean are also 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 all educated individuals will be bilingual in both their minority language and Mandarin Sadly some of the minority languages such as Manchu are dying out

See also: Chinese phrasebook, Cantonese phrasebook, Minnan phrasebook

English speakers

All Chinese are taught English as it is a compulsory subject starting from late elementary school Passing an English exam is a requirement to earn a four-year university degree, regardless of major However, the focus of the instruction is formal grammar and writing rather than conversation As a result, few are able to participate in an English conversation Even in the big cities, outside the main tourist attractions, it is rare to find locals conversant in English Staff at hotels and airline staff are more likely to be able to speak English, although in-depth conversation skills are seldom seen Proficiency among graduates are diverse and range from basic to fluent

While English signage is increasingly widespread in China, especially at or near tourist attractions, it is often written in grammatically incorrect English with the wrong sentence structure, and even mistranslations of several words The signs can be difficult to read but as "Chinglish" follows certain rules, it can usually be deciphered

It is helpful to simplify your English Speak slowly, avoid slang and idioms, use simple sentence structure, and split phrasal clauses into two sentences Don't say "Would you mind if I come back tomorrow?", stick to simpler, more abrupt phrasing like "Tomorrow I will return" This brings the phrase closer to its Chinese equivalent and is therefore not necessarily condescending Avoid saying "It's a place where I feel at home" and say "I feel home in this place"

One way to meet people is to ask about "English Corner" - a time and place in town where local residents meet to practice English with one another Typically, they are held on Friday evenings or Sundays in public parks, bookstores, or on university campuses There may also be Corners for French, German, Russian and perhaps other languages

Learning Chinese

See also: Learn

In the West, Chinese has an undeserved reputation for its difficulty While it is very different from Western languages, a traveler may be surprised to learn that the basic grammar is pretty simple Verbs are static regardless of 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 and using 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, blame, depending on tones 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 very common for Chinese to ask how to write someone's name by telling the meaning of all characters one by one "My name is Wang Fei 王菲 Wang is the Wang with three strokes, Fei is the fei in shifeigossip, 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 the brain capacity to memorize so many characters - most of them are logically related and formed based on certain rules

There are, by 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 character and graduates in university 5000 characters

To bridge the gap between recognizing and reading out loud, pinyin was developed, which uses Latin script as an aid to teaching Chinese Pronouncing pinyin is not intuitive for English speakers, as certain letters and consonant clusters are not pronounced as a westerner would expect Nonetheless, learning it at even a basic level has enormous practical value for the traveler

What to see in China

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

Whether you are a history buff, a nature lover or someone who just wants to relax on a nice beach, China has it all from the majestic Forbidden City in Beijing, to the breathtaking scenery of Jiuzhaigou Even if you live in China for many years, you'll find that there's always something new to discover in another part of the country

Karst Scenery

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 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 — Wu Yi Mountain in Fujian, Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi, and much of central and western Guizhou province

Sacred sites

For sacred mountains, see the next section

Several sites in China have famous Buddhist art:

  • Yungang Grottoes in Shanxi Province - more than 51,000 Buddhist carvings, dating back 1,500 years, in the recesses and caves of the Yangang Valley mountainsides
  • Mogao Caves in Gansu province - art and manuscripts dating back to the 4th century
  • Dazu Rock Carvings near Chongqing - dating from the 7-13th century
  • Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang - 5-10th century


China is home to many sacred mountains

The Five Great Mountains 五岳 wǔyuè, associated with Taoism:

  • Mount Tai 泰山, Shandong Province 1,545 meters
  • Mount Hua 华山, Shaanxi Province 1,997 meters
  • Mount Heng Hunan 衡山, Hunan Province 1,290 meters
  • Mount Heng Shanxi 恒山, Shanxi Province 2,017 meters
  • Mount Song 嵩山), Henan Province, where the famous Shaolin Temple 少林寺 is located 1,494 meters

The Four Sacred Mountains 四大佛教名山 sìdà fójiào míngshān, associated with Buddhism:

  • Mount Emei 峨嵋山, Sichuan Province 3,099 meters
  • Mount Jiuhua 九华山, Anhui Province 1,342 meters
  • Mount Putuo 普陀山, Zhejiang Province 297 meters, an island
  • Mount Wutai 五台山, Shanxi Province 3,058 meters

The three main sacred mountains of Tibetan Buddhism:

  • Mount Kailash, Tibet 5,656 meters, also known as Gang Rinpoche in Tibetan, also one of Hinduism's holiest mountains visited by many Hindu pilgrims
  • Kawa Karpo
  • Amnye Machen

There are also several other well-known mountains In China, many mountains have temples, even if they are not especially sacred sites:

  • Mount Qingcheng 青城山, Sichuan Province
  • Mount Longhu 龙虎山, Jiangxi Province
  • Mount Lao 崂山, Shandong Province
  • Mount Wuyi 武夷山, Fujian Province, a major tourist/scenic site with many tea plantations
  • Mount Everest, straddling the border between Nepal and Tibet, world's highest mountain
  • Mount Huang 黄山 Yellow Mountain, in Anhui province, with scenery and temples
  • Mount Wudang 武当山, near Danjiangkou in Hubei, Taoist mecca, birthplace of taichi and Wudang kung fu
  • Changbaishan/Paektusan Chinese:长白山 Korean:백두산, the most sacred mountain in the world to both ethnic Manchus and Koreans, located on the border with North Korea

Revolutionary Pilgrimage Sites

  • Shaoshan 韶山 - First CCP Chairman and Chinese leader Mao Zedong's hometown
  • Jinggangshan 井冈山 - The first CCP rural base area after the 1927 crackdown by the KMT
  • Ruijin 瑞金 - Seat of the China Soviet Republic from 1929 to 1934
  • Zunyi 遵义 - Site of the Zunyi Conference where Mao Zedong joined the Politburo Standing Committee
  • Luding 泸定 - Site of a famous forced crossing of a high mountain river
  • Yan'an 延安 - Primary base area for the Communist Party from 1935 to 1945
  • Wuhan - Site of the Wuchang Uprising that led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China


Some itineraries cover trips that are entirely within China:

  • Two weeks to a month in China
  • A week near Hong Kong
  • Along the Yangtze river
  • Along the Yellow river
  • Along the Grand Canal
  • Overland Kunming to Hong Kong
  • Yunnan tourist trail
  • Overland to Tibet
  • Long March

Others are partly in China:

  • Europe to South Asia over land
  • Overland from Singapore to Shanghai
  • Silk Road - ancient caravan route from China to Europe
  • Karakoram Highway - Western China to Pakistan through the Himalayas
  • On the trail of Marco Polo

Buying stuff in China

The official currency of the People's Republic of China is the renminbi 人民币 "People's Money", often abbreviated 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 yuan is currently pegged at ¥677 to the US dollar

Cheat Sheet

  • 10 fen 分 is 1 jiao
  • 10 jiao is 1 yuan 元, the base unit
  • yuan is commonly called kuai
  • jiao is commonly called mao
  • 10 is shí
  • 100 is bǎi
  • 1000 is qiān
  • 10000 is wàn

The official subdivisions of the yuan are the jiao 角, at 10 jiao to the yuan, and the fen 分 at 10 fen to the jiao The fen is extinct nowadays A coin worth ¥010 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 mao" 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 50000 becomes wu wan, not wu shi qian

A lot of 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 certain experience on it From ¥1 coin, to ¥10, ¥20, ¥50 and ¥100 bills, all currency are subject to a risk The very first lesson to survive in China is how to scrutinize notes and even coin The main focus is on the texture of different parts, metal line, change of colors under different lights Ask anyone how, all of them have their own way

It is very common for Chinese cashier to scrutinize the banknotes you pay Don't be offended; they are not suggesting that you're using counterfeit currency They just need to be responsible When you get change, do the same, scrutinize the banknotes you get, especially notes over ¥50 Salespeople may try to give you counterfeit money that they took from other customers as change

Counterfeits from ATMs became a hot topic in recent years, although it is not common If you are worried, withdraw your money from the bank counter and say "I worry about jiabi counterfeit" Bank staff seem to be very understanding on this

It's not unheard of a non licensed money exchanger on China borders to change counterfeits to travelers If you're not experienced in checking notes, you're highly advised to go to banks

When you pay with a ¥50 or ¥100 banknote in a shop or taxi, it's socially accepted that you remember the last few digits of your currency number as you pass it It's possible that they say that your banknote is fake, just make sure you get back what you gave them

Changing money

Although still restricted, yuan is readily convertible in many countries, especially in Asia The Hong Kong dollar, US dollar, Canadian dollar, Euro, British pond, Australian dollar, Japanese yen and South Korean won can be easily changed in China Southeast Asian currencies are generally not accepted, the exception being Singapore dollars, which can be changed at all major banks and money changers

Black market does exist especially on the border but you are highly advised to avoid it unless you are confident at telling the difference between legitimate and counterfeit notes - even local people are not confident sometimes

Foreign exchange is under tight control in China some restrictions have been dropped for the World Expo: now foreigners can freely exchange from RMB to foreign currency Private money exchanger, widely seen in many tourist spots or shopping malls around the globe, is still uncommon in China In a bank, it usually takes 5 minutes to 60 minutes to process the exchange in banks, sometimes a little faster in an hotel, depending on their experience You need to fill a form and show your passport Keep the exchange receipt if you plan to leave the country with larger sum of money

Exchanging US currency for RMB can be simple, but expect the bills to be heavily 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 banks will allow you to get a cash advance via a debit or credit card It's useful to carry an international currency such as British Pounds, US Dollars, or Japanese Yen to fall back on should you not have access to a cash machine

As Counterfeiting is a major issue when exchanging money in China, beware the private money changers found in markets and hanging around large banks While their exchange rates may look attractive, unless you have a local friend to help you out, do not exchange money with them It is not uncommon to exchange a large amount of cash only to find that most of what you got is fake Stick with the Bank of China or one of the other large banks as even though you get slightly worse rates, the risk of getting counterfeit bills from them is close to zero

ATM cards

ATMs are all over the country but most ATMs outside the large cities that accept Cirrus, PLUS, VISA and MasterCard network are owned by Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank In big cities like Shanghai any ATM will take Visa/Plus/MC/Maestro/Cirrus, and it's only cash advances from Diner's Club, American Express, or JCB cards that are an issue 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 and flat fee

Before traveling, find out if your home bank charges a currency conversion fee often between 0-3% on such transactions It is worth opening a zero conversion fee account beforehand if possible Otherwise it would be better to open a local account on arrival to store money in if staying for a sufficiently long time

If you have trouble because the ATM requires a 6 digit PIN and you only have 4 digits, add 2 zeros before it If you find yourself in a town with a Bank of China branch but no international network-capable ATM, it is possible to get a cash advance on a credit card inside the bank Just ask

UnionPay, the local ATM card network, has made agreements with various ATM card networks across the globe If your card is covered, any ATM in China will accept withdrawals and balance inquiries from your card Currently covered are Pulse in America also applies to cash advances from Discover cards, Interac in Canada, and LINK in the UK

Also, if your bank is part of the Global ATM Alliance, be aware that China Construction Bank is the local partner for fee-free withdrawals

Travelers cheques

Most banks and upscale hotels will exchange currency and travelers' cheques You will need identification; in second-tier cities you will need to go to the head branch of Bank of China or Merchants' Bank

Foreign currency

Foreign currencies, including Hong Kong dollar or US dollar, are rarely seen as a substitute for RMB except in several 5-star hotels, some shops on the border, and stock exchanges You are unlikely to use other currencies in most transactions after all, the average visitor comes to China to sight-see and shop, not to play day-trader, but for the curious, the minimum balance for US$ trading is US$1000 with US$19 A/C opening fee while the minimum for HK$ trading is HK$5000 If you are running out of money and only have dollar in your pocket, it usually means that you don't have money to pay the bill Many shops don't accept it, having no idea on exchange rate and how to check if they are counterfeit

Electronic transfers

Electronic money transfers to another country are difficult Most banks don't offer this service; you need to use the main branch of the Bank of China, and even they may not do it except in major cities Service charges are high, the staff is often not properly trained, and the process can take up to a week Alternatively, you may choose to look to a Chinese branch of a foreign or Hong Kong-based bank to do your transfers from This is easier in the big cities, though

It will be MUCH easier if you have an dual-currency account with the Bank of China - opened at the branch from which you plan to get your money Electronic transfers to dual currency accounts incur no or very low fees although it will usually take about one week Transfers to Chinese accounts from overseas also take from three to ten business days All you need to start an account is your passport, visa and a small initial deposit can be RMB plus the new-account fee ¥10-20 If you open a foreign currency account or a dual currency account, be sure to check if you will be able to access it in another province eg the Bank of China does not allow this as of 2006 Alternatively, for visitors from the US, Wells Fargo offers a service called ExpressSend that allows someone to send money from the US and have it arrive at a China Agricultural Bank account on the same day

Western Union has deals with China Agricultural Bank and with China Post so there are a lot of Western Union signs around This is what overseas Chinese sending money to relatives, or expats sending money out of China, generally use; it is generally easier and cheaper than the banks A list of locations is available through Western Union's website There may, however, be problems Their "system" may be "down" or the employee you deal with may ask for silly things — for an overseas transfer, the recipient's passport number and visa number; for a within-China transfer, cash in US dollars Just try another branch if you are having difficulties

Credit cards

Outside of hotels, major supermarkets, and high-class restaurants, credit cards are generally not accepted not even in places such as KFC, and most transactions will require cash However, those with Discover credit cards will find that their card is much more widely accepted under the UnionPay system than those with Visa/Mastercard/AmEx 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 stores have point-of-sale terminals for Chinese bank cards; typically these will not work for foreign cards 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 traveling to smaller ones, try signing up for 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 traveling to nearby countries later


Unless you are heading to Hong Kong or Macau, China is generally a cheap place to visit If you eat local food, use public transport and stay in a very inexpensive budget hotel or hostel then ¥100 to ¥200 is a perfectly serviceable daily backpacker budget However, if you want to live an extravagant lifestyle and eat only Western food and stay in star-rated hotels, then ¥1000 a day would not be nearly enough There is a high degree of variation in prices depending on where you go Major cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou generally cost much more than second tier cities and rural, inland parts of the country Shenzhen and Zhuhai are also known for being expensive by Chinese standards but they are still relatively cheap by Western standards Many Hong Kong or Macau residents, who are generally more affluent than their mainland Chinese counterparts, often go to these cities to shop


As a general rule, tipping is not practised anywhere in China, and can even be insulting in many cases In addition, many service staff and taxi drivers are forbidden from accepting tips by their employers, and doing so may cost them their jobs Even if your tip is accepted a restaurant, note that more often than not, it is the boss and not the waiter that gets to keep the tip

While some staff working in tourist industries that see many American toursts have started to expect tipping, especially from Caucasians, it is widely accepted not to tip for room service, hotel staff, airport service, taxi and anything If a taxi driver or masseur becomes pushy at getting your tips, most Chinese see this as extortion and an immoral practice, so just be firm with them if you don't wish to give any

In China, compliment over service is usually expressed in an implicit way If you are a smoker, you are expected to pass a cigarette to people near to you, or you will be seen as selfish and egocentric It is common to buy a bartender and pub owners a drink If you are satisfied with service and the one who serves you has a longer relation with you, you will more likely treat him dinner rather than tipping him

Tipping in a wrong way can lead to embarrassment, and can sometimes be an insult, because you are suggesting that the relationship is based on money, not friendship


Opening a bank account in China is a very 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 very 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 if you have the bank book or card they issued with your 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 You may receive a bank book in which will record all transactions and balances - 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% for depositing and withdrawing money in a different city than the one you opened your account in if opening with Woori Bank, they offer unlimited ATM withdrawals at any ATM in China until June 2011, and Wing Hang Bank offers the same except they charge a ¥5/month maintenance fee no matter the balance ATMs are now present in almost all towns and cities except in the most remote areas 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

Also, 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 ¥3000 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 & Bank of America Bank of America and China Construction Bank have business ties, and because of this, Bank of America customers can use China Construction Bank ATM's without any fees to withdraw RMB

China Merchants Bank This bank gets best reviews from expatriates as at July 2009

Standard Chartered This bank is also very 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 traveling 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 Very difficult to get complete bank statements from them

Do note that if you are employed in China, you may not get a choice: many companies and schools deposit into only one bank, and therefore you must have an account with that bank to get paid


Antiquities Banned From Export

China's government passed a law in May 2007 banning the export of antiques from before 1911 It is now illegal to purchase antiques from before 1911 and take them out of China Even antiques bought in proper auctions cannot be taken out of the country As violation of this law could lead to heavy fines and a possible jail term, it would be wise to heed it However if you let vendors know you are aware of this law they may lower their prices since they know you know their "antiques" really aren't Ming Dynasty originals

As China's emergent middle class finds itself with increasing amounts of disposable income, shopping has become a national pastime A wide range of goods are available to suit any budget In most brand name shops or more upscale malls and supermarkets, the prices of goods 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 do not require a receipt for your purchase For unmarked goods, there is wide room for bargaining

In the West, sales are often advertised with big percentage numbers on the windows which show the actual discount In China, the tell-tale sign to look for when bargain hunting is 折 zhé, which tells you what fraction of the original price you pay For example, a 20% discount would be displayed as 8折

China excels in handmade items, partly because of long traditions of exquisite artisanship and partly because labor is still relatively inexpensive compared to other countries Take your time, look closely at quality and ask questions, but don't take all the answers at face value! Many visitors come looking for antiques, and hunting in the flea markets can be great fun The overwhelming majority of the "antique" items you will be shown are fakes, no matter how convincing they look and no matter what the vendor says Should you buy a real antique you may not be able to export it See Infobox Do not spend serious money unless you know what you are doing, since novices are almost always taken for a ride

  • Porcelain with a long history of porcelain manufacture, China still makes great porcelain today Most visitors are familiar with Ming-style blue and white, but the variety of glazes is much greater, including many lovely monochrome glazes which are worth seeking out Specialist shops near hotels and the top floors of department stores are a good place to start, though not the cheapest The "antique" markets are also a good place to find reproductions, though it can be hard to escape from attempts to convince you that the items are genuine antiques with prices to match Two of the most famous centers for porcelain are Jingdezhen and Quanzhou
  • Furniture in the last 15 years China has become a major source of antique furniture, mostly sourced from the vast countryside As the supply of old items dwindles many of the restorers are now turning to making new items The quality of the new pieces is often excellent and some great bargains can still be had in new and old items Furniture tends to be concentrated in large warehouses on the outskirts of town, Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu all have plenty of these and hotels can tell you how to find them Major sellers can also arrange international shipment in most cases Zhongshan has a huge furniture market
  • Art and Fine Art the art scene in China is divided into three non-interacting parts First, there are the traditional painting academies which specialize in "classical" painting bird and flower, landscapes with rocks and water, calligraphy, with conservative attitudes and serving up painting that conforms to the traditional image of Chinese art Second, there is a burgeoning modern art scene, including oil painting, photography and sculpture, bearing little relation to the former type Both "scenes" are worth checking out and include the full range from the glorious to the dreadful The center of the modern scene is undoubtedly Beijing, where the Da Shan Zi sometimes called 798 warehouse district is emerging as the new frontier for galleries, reminiscent of New York's Soho in the mid-80s The third arts scene fits closely with China's prowess in mass-production China has become famous for producing hand painted reproductions of great works The Shenzhen suburb of Dafen is particularly renowned for its reproductions
  • Jade There are two types of Jade in China today: one type is pale and almost colorless and is made from a variety of stones mined in China The other type is green in color and is imported from Myanmar Burma - if genuine! The first thing to be aware of when buying Jade is that you will get what you pay for at best Genuine Burmese jade with a good green color is extraordinarily expensive and the "cheap" green jade you will see in the markets is made either from synthetic stone or from natural stone that has been colored with a green dye When buying jade look closely at the quality of the carving How well finished is it? Is it refined, or crude with tool marks visible? The quality of the stone often goes along with the quality of the carving Take your time and compare prices before buying If you are going to spend a fair sum of money, do it in the specialist stores, not in the flea markets Khotan in Xinjiang is a famous area for jade production
  • Carpets China is home to a remarkable variety of carpet-making traditions These include Mongolian, Ningxia, Tibetan and modern types Many tourists come looking for silk carpets: these are actually a fairly recent "tradition", most of the designs being taken from middle-eastern traditions rather than reflecting Chinese designs Be aware that though the workmanship is quite fine on these carpets they often skimp on materials, particularly dyes These are prone to fading and color change, especially if the carpet is displayed in a brightly lit place Some excellent wool carpets are also made in China Tibetan carpets are amongst the best in terms of quality and construction, but be aware that most carpets described as Tibetan are not made in Tibet, with a few notable exceptions As with jade, best to buy from stores with a reputation to uphold
  • Pearls & Pearl Jewelry cultured Akoya and freshwater pearls are mass-produced and sold at markets across China The use of large scale aquaculture makes pearl jewelry affordable and available to virtually anyone in the world Big, lustrous, near-round and round freshwater pearls come out with a variety of colors and overtones In addition to pearl jewelry, pearl-based cosmetics are also widely available
  • Silver Coins a variety of silver coins are sold in China's markets with good reason: in the 19th century, the emperor decreed that foreigners had to pay for all silk and tea in silver The United States even minted a special silver "trade dollar" just to meet this requirement Collectors can find Mexican, US, French Indochinese, Chinese and other silver dollars available for purchase, mostly dated 1850-1920 Unfortunately, most of the coins on sale now are counterfeit If you want to collect coins, carry a small portable scale to check their weights In a tourist area, expect at least 90% to fail this simple test
  • Other arts and Crafts Other items to look for include Cloisonne colored enamels on a metal base, lacquer work, masks, kites, shadow puppets, Socialist-realist propaganda posters, wood carvings, scholar's rocks decorative rocks, some natural, some less so, paper-cuts, and so on

Luxury goods such as jade, expensive ceramics and other artwork, antiques or carpets are risky Most of the antique furniture available 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 molded 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 very good buy However, none of them are worth anywhere near the price of real top-quality goods Unless you are an expert on whatever you want to buy, you are quite likely to get sold low quality merchandise at high prices

There are two solutions Either stick to the cheaper products, some of which are quite nice, or if you do decide to spend a substantial amount, then deal with a large and reputable vendor; you may not get the bargains an expert could find elsewhere, but you probably won't get cheated 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 next section for additional comment Chinese brands, similar in look, feel and style to their foreign counterparts, are often an excellent deal

Travelers would be wise to try on the item they wish to purchase as sizes tend to be very 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 min for free

There are very affordable tailors anywhere in China In the major cities, some of them can make a fine job of Western-style garments Shirts, pants and suits can be measured, fitted, assembled and delivered within three days in many cases Some tailors have their own fabric selections while others require customers to purchase it in advance from fabric markets The quality of the tailors, as everywhere, varies widely More reputable tailors will often come to hotels to do measurements, fittings and final sales

Brand-name goods

Items with big worldwide brand labels sold in China may be bogus, especially expensive sporting goods like brand name running shoes or golf clubs By no means all are bogus; major companies do market in China, but some will be unauthorized or downright bogus If you are buying genuine branded foreign goods, particularly haute couture brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada, there is usually little, if any difference in price to buying them in Western countries Indeed, Chinese tourists often purchase luxury brand name goods outside of China because the costs are often lower than in Chinese stores

There are a number of sources of potential knock-offs or fake brand name goods

  • The most common variant comes from a Chinese firm that gets a contract to deliver, say, 100,000 shirts to BigBrand They actually have to make a few more than that because some will fail quality control Maybe 105,000? What the heck, make 125,000 Any extras will be easy to sell; after all they have the BigBrand label So 25,000 shirts — a few "factory seconds" and many perfectly good shirts — arrive on the Chinese market, without BigBrand's authorization A traveler might be happy to buy these — just check carefully to avoid the seconds and you get exactly the shirt BigBrand sells for a much better price
  • However, it doesn't end there If the factory owner is greedy, he goes on to crank out a bunch more Only now he doesn't have to worry about BigBrand's strict quality control He can cut a few corners, slap the BigBrand label on them, and make a great profit These may or may not be a good buy, but in any case they are not what you would expect from BigBrand
  • Finally, of course, some other factory may be cranking out utterly bogus "BigBrand" shirts On these outright forgeries, they often misspell the brand name, which is a dead giveaway

Such fake brand oddities include items such as a reversible jacket with "Adidas" on one side and "Nike" on the other or a similar pair of reversible socks found in Guangzhou While these might be interesting curiosities, they definitely are not genuine examples of either brand

There are two basic rules for dealing with expensive brand name goods in China

  • First, you cannot just trust the brand; inspect the goods carefully for flaws Check the spelling on labels
  • Second, if the deal seems too good to be true, be very suspicious China makes a lot of good cheap products, but a hundred dollar "Rolex" is utterly certain to be bogus

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 for travelers' home countries Customs officials will seize pirate DVDs or bogus brand name goods if they find them Some Western travelers have even reported having to pay hefty fines after being caught returning home 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 packing them out of the country, if you have a suitcase full of brand new tagged designer knock-offs or swing produced clothes, you are likely to be hassled at home The likely worst case scenario is you will lose the items and receive a fine; the best case scenario is you will lose the items Simply remove the tags and they will almost certainly go unnoticed with the rest of your belongings

Software, Music and Movies

Most CDs music or software and DVDs in China are unauthorized copies The ones that sell for ¥6-10 and come in cheap flat paper envelopes are absolutely certain to be bogus Some of the ones at higher prices with better packaging might be legal copies, but it can be hard to tell Probably the best way to avoid bogus discs is to buy at one of the larger bookstores or department stores; most of these have a CD/DVD section The prices are ¥15-40

Some good checks, or dead giveaways, for a fake are:

  • Credits on the back of the case which do not match the movie
  • Covers which are obviously made from cinema poster images "Coming Soon", the release date, etc mentioned on them
  • Covers which feature uncomplimentary reviews "Heavy on the spice and light on the meat", "Nothing more than you could get from an episode of CSI", etc

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

If you buy DVDs or CDs and plan to take them home, be sure to get a receipt that will prove your good faith to Western customs officers

Endangered species

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 somewhat 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 jail time 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 note 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 and ground bone


See also: How to haggle

Bargaining is a national sport in China You can bargain almost anything, and sometimes it's possible to ask for discount in a restaurant at the last minute before you check the bill Shopping malls are less willing to bargain, but why not ask "Will I get a free souvenir?"

Unlike many southeast Asian countries, tourism in China is overwhelmingly supported by local people, not westerners Places like Bangkok's Khao San Road or Saigon's Pham Ngu Lao remain rare Merchants in tourist spots, particularly street and sidewalk-stall sellers are usually the masters in exploiting the wallets of foreigners They are also very pushy, sometimes even grab your hands Prices are almost always posted, but they are all marked up considerably high, normally 2-3 times Some items like silk fan largest size: 1'2" is posted ¥60-75, but the lowest sold price is just ¥10 Therefore it's better to buy souvenir somewhere just a few blocks away from the tourist spots The local Chinese have no issue with posted prices because they were all well trained in the art of bargaining Foreigners always pay more for everything in China

The purchasing power of the nouveau riche in China makes the place not always cheap anymore When you go to tourist spots, it is possible to see a ¥1,000 skirt tailor made by a designer, ¥2,000 per a bag of tea, dozens of thousands for silverware

It is hard to tell how much discount rate you should go 5% to 50% discount is common, but if someone offers you too-great-to-be-true discount, it could be worrying The thumb of rule is that to walk around and compare In tourist spots, it's more likely to ask for 30-50% discount, but in a place almost catering for local people, asking for 50% discount will definitely make fool of yourself

In a tourist place, don't take what merchant's say seriously When you ask for 50% discount, they may be appalled and scorn; it's a favorite drama Souvenirs, including so-called antiques, are usually standard products from factories Compare more

In this former communist country, most local people still expect a standard price for grocery products and see it as an 'black-heartened' 黑心 hēixīn to charge too much, even if shops are in a major business district In a tourist place where rental payment is skyrocketing, if someone sells you a bottle of Coca Cola for ¥5 usually ¥3 in most places, you may have a chance to bargain a little bit too It sometimes works, but not all the time

Also tricky are the souvenir places like jewelry, herbs, tea shops, recommended by hotel staff While it is common that they take tourists to places that give them commission, it is also common that they take you to a place only because it's the best deal For the latter one, if you make a show of being overly cautious, it is likely to offend them because you try to suggest a 'good guy' is a cheater

In several places like the Lijiang Ancient City, when you get a ride on a horse carriage drivers run by local ethnic group and stop by to buy souvenirs, assume that you're paying commission These carriage operators are notoriously known for extorting money from shops, or creating troubles if shops refuse The local government usually avoid intervening the case where a minor ethnic group is involved

On many tours, tourists will be visiting the National Academic of Chinese Traditional Medicine, doctors will give inflated-price prescriptions, usually over a thousand USD If you are interested in buying, the interpreter walk you to their herb shop, but you can not take the prescription home with you, even after buying the medicine at the school Actually the prescription is written in Chinese and the interpreter just shows it to you for the price Also, the more money the tourist spend at a place, the more money the tour guide will be award by that place

Western goods

Areas with large expatriate communities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen have specialty grocery stores catering to those communities These are often no larger than a 7-Eleven, usually stock imported snacks, alcohol, groceries and often meat and cheese, and are often expensive See the individual articles for details

Several Western-owned supermarket chains are widespread in China — Wal-mart 沃尔玛 Wòěrmǎ, Metro 麦德龙 Màidélóng, and Carrefour 家乐福 Jiālèfú All have some Western groceries 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 and SM; these also carry imported goods Some larger Chinese chains such as Beijing Hualian 北京华联 Běijīng Huálián also carry a limited selection of foreign products

Tobacco products

While China has experienced a declining trend for smoking, it is still a popular habit 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 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 a little more expensive - stick to major convenience store chains such as C-Store or Kedi as many smaller stores sell counterfeit or illegally imported cigarettes

Premium-brand cigarettes are often ridiculously overpriced and are vary 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 ¥50 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 easily available but expensive

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

Duty-free stores in international airports, international rail stations eg 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 and eating in China

Food in China varies widely from region to region so the term "Chinese food" is pretty much a blanket term, just like "Western food" While visiting, relax your inhibitions and try a bit of everything

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, raw meat and seafood should always be avoided That being said, the hygiene conditions of a restaurant are usually satisfactory which means that diarrhea is usually not a risk to most people

Chinese gourmands place emphasis on freshness so your meal will most likely be cooked as soon as you order it Searing hot woks over coal or gas fires make even street food usually safe to eat

The two-menu systems where different menus are presented according to the skin color of a guest remain largely unheard of in China Most restaurants only have one menu - the Chinese one Learning some Chinese characters such as beef 牛, chicken 鸡, fried 炒, soup 汤, rice 饭 will take you a long way

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 a mistake Dog and snake are usually served in a 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

Regional Cuisines

  • Beijing 京菜 Jīng Cài : home-style noodles and baozi 包子 bread buns, Peking Duck 北京烤鸭 Běijīng Kǎoyā, cabbage dishes, great pickles Not fancy but can be great and satisfying
  • Imperial 宫廷菜 Gōngtíng Cài: the food of the late Qing court, made famous by the Empress Dowager Cixi, can be sampled at high-end specialized restaurants in Beijing The cuisine combines elements of Manchu frontier food such as venison with unique exotica such as camel's paw, shark's fin and bird's nest
  • Cantonese / Guangzhou / Hong Kong 广东菜 Guǎngdōng Cài, 粤菜 Yuè Cài: the style most Western visitors are already familiar with to some extent Not too spicy, the emphasis is on freshly cooked ingredients and seafood Dim Sum 点心 Diǎnxīn, small snacks usually eaten for breakfast or lunch, are a highlight Authentic Cantonese cuisine is also among the most adventurous in China in terms of variety of ingredients as the Cantonese are famous, even among the Chinese, for their expansive definition of what is considered edible
  • Shanghai 沪菜 Hù Cài: because of its geographical location, Shanghai cuisine is considered to be a good mix of northern and southern Chinese cooking styles The most famous dishes are xiaolongbao 小笼包 Xiǎolóngbāo and chives dumplings 韭菜饺子 Jiǔcài Jiǎozi Another specialty is "pulled noodles" 拉面 lāmiàn, from which Japanese ramen and Korean ramyeon are believed to be derived Sugar is often added to fried dishes giving Shanghainese food a sweet flavor
  • Sichuan 川菜 Chuān Cài: Famously hot and spicy A popular saying is that it is so spicy your mouth will go numb However, not all dishes are made with live chilis The numbing sensation actually comes from the Sichuan peppercorn 花椒 It is widely available outside Sichuan and also native to Chongqing If you want really authentic Sichuanese food outside Sichuan, look for small eateries sporting the characters for Sichuan cuisine in neighborhoods with lots of migrant workers These tend to be much cheaper and often better than the ubiquitous up-market Sichuan restaurants
  • Hunan 湖南菜 Húnán Cài, 湘菜 Xiāng Cài: the cuisine of the Xiangjiang region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan Province Similar to Sichuanese cuisine, it can actually be "spicier" in the Western sense
  • Teochew / Chaozhou 潮州菜 Cháozhōu Cài: originating from the Shantou area in northern Guangdong, a unique style which nonetheless will be familiar to most Southeast Asian and Hong Kong Chinese Famous dishes include braised duck 卤鸭 Lǔyā, yam paste dessert 芋泥 Yùní and fishballs 鱼丸 Yúwán
  • Fujian 福建菜 Fújiàn Cài, 闽菜 Mǐn Cài: uses ingredients mostly from coastal and estuarial waterways "Buddha Jumps over a Wall" 佛跳墙 Fó Tiào Qiáng is particularly famous According to legend, the smell was so good a monk forgot his vegetarian vows and leapt over the wall to have some Fujian cuisine can be split into at least two distinct cuisines: Minnan cuisine from the area around Xiamen and Mindong cuisine from the area around Fuzhou
  • Guizhou 贵州菜 Guìzhōu Cài, 黔菜 Qián Cài: combines elements of Sichuan and Xiang cuisine, making liberal use of spicy, peppery and sour flavors The peculiar zhergen 折耳根 Zhē'ěrgēn, a regional root vegetable, adds an unmistakable sour-peppery flavor to many dishes Minority dishes such as Sour Fish Hot Pot 酸汤鱼 Suān Tāng Yú are widely enjoyed
  • Zhejiang 浙菜 Zhè Cài: includes the foods of Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing A delicately seasoned, light-tasting mix of seafood and vegetables often served in soup Sometimes lightly sweetened or sometimes sweet and sour, Zhejiang dishes frequently involve cooked meats and vegetables in combination
  • Hainan 琼菜 Qióng Cài: famous among the Chinese, but still relatively unknown to foreigners, characterised by the relatively heavy use of coconuts The signature specialties are the "Four Famous Dishes of Hainan" 海南四大名菜 Hǎi Nán Sì Dà Míng Cài which are Wenchang chicken 文昌鸡 Wénchāng jī, Dongshan goat 东山羊 Dōngshān yáng, Jiaji duck 加积鸭 Jiājī yā and Hele crab 和乐蟹 Hélè xiè

Fast food

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 Street side food vendors are called gai bin dong in Cantonese, such ventures can grow into a substantial business with the stalls only barely 'mobile' in the traditional street food sense Various quick eats available nationwide include:

  • Various items from the ubiquitous bakeries
  • A great variety of sweets and sweet food found in China are often sold as street food, rather then as a post-meal dessert course in restaurants as in the West
  • Barbecued sticks of meat from street vendors Yang rou chuan 羊肉串, or fiery Xinjiang-style lamb kebabs, are particularly renowned
  • Jiaozi 饺子, which Chinese translate as "dumplings", boiled, steamed or fried ravioli-like items with a variety of fillings These are found throughout Asia; momos, mandu, gyoza, and jiaozi are all basically variations of the same thing
  • Baozi 包子, steamed buns stuffed with salty, sweet or vegetable fillings
  • Mantou 馒头, steamed bread available on the roadside - great for a very cheap and filling snack
  • Lanzhou-style lamian 拉面, fresh hand-pulled noodles - look for a tiny restaurant with staff in Muslim dress, white fez-like hats on the men and head scarves on the women
  • In Guangdong and sometimes elsewhere, dim sum 点心 At any major tourist destination in China, you may well find someone serving dim sum for Hong Kong customers

The Western notion of fast food is arguably as popular as the domestic variety McDonald's 麦当劳, KFC 肯德基, and Pizza Hut 必胜客 are ubiquitous, at least in mid-sized cities and above There are a few Burger Kings 汉堡王 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


China is the birthplace of chopsticks and unsurprisingly, all important etiquette is related to using chopsticks While Chinese generally feel tolerant over table manners, you will highly likely be seen as ill brought up, annoying , offensive when using chopsticks in wrong ways Be stick to the following rules:

  • Never use your chopsticks to examine a dish piece by piece, making everyone to taste your saliva Implicitly use your eye to target what you want, and pick it
  • Once you pick a piece, you are obliged to take it Don't put it back Confucius says never leave someone what you don't want
  • When someone is picking a dish, don't try to cross over or go underneath his arms to pick a dish farther Wait until they finish picking
  • In most cases, a dish is not supposed to be picked simultaneously by more than one person Don't try to compete with anyone to pick a piece from the same dish
  • Don't put your chopsticks vertically into your bowl of rice as it is reminiscent of incense sticks burning at the temple and carries the connotation of wishing death for those around you Instead, place it across your bowl or on the chopstick rest, if provided
  • Don't drum your bowl with chopsticks Only beggars do it People don't find it fun even if you're willing to satirically call yourself a beggar

When a guest fails to comply with etiquette above, observe others' facial expression It's common for them to openly stop you or show a scorn on it

Other lesser important dining rules include:

  • Communal chopsticks 公筷 are not always provided Diners typically use their own chopsticks to transfer food to their bowl While many Westerners consider this unhygienic, it is usually quite safe, and extremely rare for diseases to be spread this way However, if desired, it is socially acceptable to request communal utensils
  • Making slurping noises when eating could be considered inappropriate, especially among well educated families However, slurping, like "cupping" when tasting tea, is more likely accepted and seen by a gourmet as a way to enhance flavor
  • Spoons are used when drinking soups or eating watery dishes such as porridge In China, the dish should be scooped towards you, and not away from you as done in the West, as the Chinese believe that this rakes in wealth
  • If a piece is too slippery to pick, do it with the aid of spoon, do not spear it with the sharp end of the chopstick
  • Putting table scraps on the floor is pretty common, but may not be accepted everywhere See what others do first
  • Dishes are shared When you order anything, it's not just for you, it's for everyone You're expected to consult others before you order a dish When you're asked about your opinion, being overtly picky is usually seen as annoying


In China, restaurants and pubs are very common social places and treating plays an important part of socializing culture

While splitting the bill is relatively accepted by young people - just relatively, treating is still the norm, especially when two are in obviously different social classes Men are expected to treat women, elders to juniors, riches to poorer, hosts to guests, working class to non-income classstudents For friends of the same class, they prefer to split the chance of treating, rather than splitting the bill, ie this is my turn, and you treat next time

It is common to see Chinese competing sweatily to pay your 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 All these dramas, despite still being common among all generations and usually played wholeheartedly, is decreasingly practiced among urban Chinese and the younger generation Going dutch is a growing trend, but more commonly, one of them will treat this time and expect you to treat next time

Unless you only hang out with non-Chinese tourists, you will have fair chances of experiencing all these For budget travelers, the good news is that Chinese tend to be eager to treat foreigners, although you shouldn't expect much from students and grassroots working class families and individuals

That being said, Chinese tend to be very 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

Drinking in China

The Chinese love a tipple and the all-purpose word jiǔ 酒 covers quite 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 very 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


Beer 啤酒 píjiǔ is very common in China and is served in nearly every restaurant The most famous brand is Tsingtao 青島 from Qingdao, which was at one point 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 ¥25-4 in a grocery store, ¥4-18 in a restaurant, around ¥10 in an ordinary bar, and ¥20-40 in a fancier bar

Unfortunately, most places outside of major cities serve beer at room temperature, regardless of season, though places that cater to tourists have it cold

Locally made grape wine 葡萄酒 pútaojiǔ is common and much of it is reasonably priced, from ¥15 in a grocery store, about ¥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 very, very 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 a bit better If you're looking for a Chinese-made, Western-style wine, try to find these labels:

  • Suntime 34, with a passable Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Yizhu, located in Yili and specializing in ice wine
  • Les Champs D'or, French-owned and probably the best overall winery in China
  • Imperial Horse and Xixia, from Ningxia
  • Mogao Ice Wine, Gansu
  • Castle Estates, Shandong
  • Shangrila Estates, from Zhongdian, Yunnan

There are also several brands and types of rice wine Most of these resemble a watery rice pudding, they are usually very sweet and only have a very small amount of alcohol for taste These do not generally much resemble Japanese sake, the only rice wine well-known in the West Travelers' reactions to these vary widely

Báijiǔ 白酒 is distilled liquor, generally about 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 which comes in two variants 56% and 65% 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 it's expensive cousins such as Kaoliang in Taiwan is well-known for its 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 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 35, Chinese brand Changyu 36, 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 that enjoy them

Bars, discos and karaoke

Western style pubs are becoming increasingly popular across the country Especially in the more 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 these places Be aware that imported beer can be very expensive compared to 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 is more than around 5 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, you normally buy beer ¥100 at a time; this gets you anywhere from 4 import-brand beer Heineken, Bud, Corona, Sol, to 10 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; extremely 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 can keep the price tag down but must be done on the sly - 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 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


At the risk of stating the obvious, there's a lot of teachá in China Green tea 绿茶 lǜchá is served up for free in almost every restaurant The most common types served are:

  • gunpowder tea 珠茶 zhūchá: a green tea so-named not after the taste but after the appearance of the bunched-up leaves used to brew it the Chinese name "pearl tea" is rather more poetic
  • jasmine tea 茉莉花茶 mòlihuachá: green-tea scented with jasmine flowers
  • oolong 烏龍 wūlóng: a half-fermented mountain tea

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 very 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, "Dark 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 up as wall decorations

Most tea shops will be more than happy to let you sit down and try different varieties of tea "Ten Fu Tea" is a national chain and in Beijing "Wu Yu Tai" is the one some locals say they favor

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 The type of tea most common in the West is known in China as "red tea" 紅茶 hóngchá


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 lots of smaller independent coffee shops or 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, McD, etc for some ¥8 coffee Additionally, almost any supermarket of convenience store will have both canned cold coffee and instant Nescafé black or pre-mixed with whitener and sugar - just add hot water

Cold drinks

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

You can get cold drinks from small grocery 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 Remember that most people will be drinking tea, which is free anyway, so the restaurant is probably not expecting to profit on your 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

Accommodation in China

Availability of accommodation for tourists is generally good and ranges from shared dorm rooms to five-star luxury hotels In the past, Chinese laws restricted or outright banned foreign tourists from the cheapest hotels, although this is slowly changing The traditional prohibition, still widely practiced, is not always a bad thing Many cheap establishments are still locally state-run affairs and haven't changed much since the Maoist era Other ultra-cheap options are used as temporary housing by migrant workers and would not appeal to most travelers for security and cleanliness reasons That said, there's a dizzying number of sleeping options in most Chinese towns, and despite language and legal barriers you should be able to find something in your budget and comfort range

Finding a hotel when first arriving in a Chinese city can be a daunting task: a mob of passengers is pushing to disembark from the train or bus, touts are tugging at your arm and screaming in your face to go with them, everything is in incomprehensible Chinese and you are just looking for a place to put down your bag It doesn't get any better once you get in a cab because the driver doesn't speak any English and every hotel in your guide book is full or closed! This can be the experience for many travelers in China, but the pains of finding a hotel room can be avoided if you know where to look and what you're looking for

If you're willing to pay ¥200 or more for a room, then you'll probably have little problem finding a room But if you want something cheaper yet still comfortable, you'll need more information than many guide books provide The cheapest options include hostels, dorms, and extra rooms called zhusu Every city has plenty of hotels charging ¥150 and up Sleeper trains and sleeper buses can also be a decent option if you schedule your long-distance travel overnight see the Get around section of this page for more information If you're in a town and you can't find a hotel, try looking near the bus or train station, an area that typically has a larger selection of cheap hotels Hotels that are not licensed to accept foreigners can be heavily fined if they are caught housing foreign occupants, but enforcement of this law appears spotty and many unlicensed hotels will find you a room anyway In the cheapest range of hotels it is important to ask if hot water is available 24 hours-a-day 有没有二十四个小时的热水 yǒuméiyǒu èrshisì ge xiǎoshí de rèshuǐ, and check if the shower, sink and toilet actually work It is also advisable to avoid checking into a room next to a busy street as traffic may keep you up late and wake you up early If you do plan on just showing up in town and looking for a place to sleep, it's best to arrive before 6PM-7PM or the most popular places will be booked for the night If you are absolutely at a loss for finding housing you should seek out the local police 警察 or Public Security Bureau 公安局 They can help you find a place to crash - at least for one night

Prices are often negotiable, and a sharp reduction from the price listed on the wall can often be had, even in nicer hotels, by just 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 daily rate However, these negotiating tactics won't work during the busy Chinese holiday seasons when prices sky-rocket and rooms are hard to get Many hotels, both chains and individual establishments, have membership cards offering discounts to frequent guests

In mid-range and above hotels, it is common for guests to receive phone calls offering "massage" services; this is actually a thinly-veiled front for prostitution

Booking a room over the Internet with a credit card can be a convenient and speedy method of making sure you have a room when you arrive at your destination, and there are numerous websites that cater for this Credit cards are not widely used in China, particularly in smaller and cheaper hotels Such hotels usually ask to be paid in cash, with a security deposit, up front Some new online services 37 allow you to book without a credit card and pay 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

Low-cost Housing

There are various ways to sleep very cheaply in China: hostels, dorms, zhusu, massage shops, saunas, and spas

  • Hostels 青年旅社 are, by far, the most comfortable low-cost options They typically cater to foreigners, have English speaking employees, and can provide cheap, convenient transport around town Some of them are even cleaner and better furnished than more expensive places Hostels also have a cozy, international atmosphere and are a good place to meet other travelers and get some half-decent Western food, which can be a godsend after days or weeks surviving off rice and noodles In most cities of any size there is at least one hostel available, and in travel hot spots such as Beijing, Yangshuo, Dali, and Chengdu there are plenty of hostel options, although they can still fill up quickly because of their popularity with backpackers Hostels can often be booked on-line in advance although you definitely should bring a print out of your confirmation as not all hostels are aware you can book their rooms and pay a portion of the cost on-line in advance In Beijing, many hostels are located in Hutongs - traditional courtyard homes in the midst of a maze of traditional streets and architecture While many of Beijing's Hutongs have been demolished a movement to save those which remain has led to a boom in youth hostels for backpackers and boutique hotels for the mid range traveler
  • Dorm rooms 宿舍 are located on university campuses, near rural tourist attractions and as part of some hotels Most travelers have spotty luck with dorms It is not unusual to have rowdy or intoxicated roommates, and shared bathrooms can take some getting used to, especially if you're not used to traditional squat toilets or taking cold showers However in some areas, especially on top of some of China's holy mountains, dorm rooms might be the only budget option in a sea of luxury resorts
  • Zhùsù 住宿, which simply translates as "accommodation", can refer to any kind of sleeping accommodation, but those places that have the Chinese characters for zhusu written on the wall outside are the cheapest A zhusu is not an actual hotel, but simply rooms for rent located in homes, restaurants, and near train and bus stations Zhusu rooms are universally spartan and bathrooms are almost always shared The price can be quite low, costing only a few dozen renminbi Officially a zhusu should not provide a room to a foreigner, but many times the caretaker is eager to get a client and will be willing to rent to anyone There are never any English signs advertising a zhusu, so if you can't read Chinese you may have to print out the characters for your hunt Security in zhusu's is sketchy, so this option is not recommended if you have valuables with you
  • Massage shops, saunas, and spas: spa costs vary but can be as low as ¥25 Entering a spa very late at night after 1AM and leaving before noon may get you a 50% discount When in the spa there are beds or reclining couches in addition to showers, saunas etc Admission to a spa is typically for 24 hours, and a small locker is provided for bags and personal possessions This is ideal if you are traveling light Furthermore spas often provide complimentary food, and paid services such as massages and body scrubbing There is no privacy because usually everyone sleeps in one room However, there is more security than in a dorm, since there are attendants who watch over the area, and your belongings even your clothes! are stored away in the lockers Don't be fooled when receptionists try to make up reasons why you have to pay more than the listed rate They may try to convince you that the listed rates are only for members, locals, women, men, or include only one part of the spa ie shower, but no bed/couch To verify any claims, strike up a conversation with a local a good distance away from the spa and inquire about the prices Don't let them know that you are checking the spa's claims Just act as if you are thinking about going there if the price is good If they know that the spa is trying to overcharge you, they will typically support the spa's claim

Budget Hotels

The next level of hotels, which cater to Chinese clients, are usually officially off-limits to foreigners but you may be able to convince them to accept you, especially if you can speak a smattering of Chinese The cheapest range of Chinese budget hotels one step above the zhusu are called zhāodàisuǒ 招待所 Unlike zhusu these are licensed accommodations but are similarly spartan and utilitarian, often with shared bathrooms Slightly more luxurious budget hotels and Chinese business hotels may or may not have English signs and usually have the words lǚguǎn 旅馆, meaning "travel hotel", bīnguǎn or jiǔdiàn 宾馆 and 酒店, respectively, meaning "hotel" in their name Room options typically include singles and doubles with attached bathrooms, and dorms with shared baths Some budget hotels include complementary toiletries and Internet In small, rural towns a night's stay might be as cheap as ¥25; in bigger cities you can usually get a room for ¥80-120 One problem with such hotels is that they can be quite noisy as patrons and staff may be yelling to each other across the halls into the wee hours of the morning Another potential inconvenience is booking a room with a shared bath as many of these hotels have one bathroom for twenty or thirty rooms You may have to wait a while to use the toilet and half an hour or more to take a shower In smaller budget hotels the family running the place may simply lock up late at night when it appears no more customers are coming If you plan on being late, try to explain this in advance or else you may have to call the front desk, bang on the door, or climb over the gate to get in

Mid-range hotels

These are usually larger hotels, clean and comfortable but not too expensive, with rooms ranging from ¥150 at the low end to over ¥300 Frequently the same 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 that has towels and complimentary toiletries A buffet breakfast may be included, or a breakfast ticket can be purchased for around ¥10

Sprouting up around China are a number of Western-quality budget hotels that include the following chains, all of which have rooms in the ¥150-300 range and on-line advance booking in English:

  • JJ Inn 锦江之星 38
  • Rujia Home Inn 如家快捷酒店 39
  • Motel 168 莫泰168 40


At the high end of the hotel food chain are international hotel chains or resorts, such as the Marriott, Hyatt and Shangri-La These can charge hundreds of yuan per night for luxurious accommodations There are suites in Shanghai, for example, for ¥10,000 a night Many cater to traveling business-types with expense accounts and charge accordingly for food and amenities ie ¥20 for a bottle of water which costs ¥2 at a convenience store Some hotels in the ¥400-700 range such as Ramada or Days Inn are willing to lower their prices when business is slow If you are coming to China on a tour, the tour company may be able to get you a room in a true luxury hotel for a fraction of the listed price

Working in China

Teaching a language, most commonly English, is a very 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 44, Guangzhou 45, Xi'an 46, Dalian and Shanghai 47 which teach most major world languages Guangzhou is establishing itself 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:

  • a 4-year degree
  • a teaching certificate for primary school or high school from your own country
  • a recognised TEFL certificate, eg Cambridge CELTA 48
  • teaching experience

If you want to go and do not already have good qualifications, get a TEFL Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate It really helps

There are a fairly strong preferences for native English speakers and for citizens of major English-speaking countries — UK, US, Canada, Australia, and NZ are on every employer's list, Ireland and South Africa on most Some schools will not even read the rest of your resume if you do not have one of those passports Various prejudices may also come into play; overseas Chinese even with perfect English, Filipinos, Indians, Malaysians, American Blacks, and especially Africans all report some difficulties finding jobs, or getting lower offers Members of all those groups are happily employed in other schools, and many are well-paid, but getting a job is easier for people who fit a stereotype — Caucasians and especially blue-eyed blondes Accent can also be an issue; a really thick Scots or Aussie accent will bother some employers, for example

Pay and conditions vary greatly 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 nearly always make enough to live well in China, though some have a problem in summer because many university or high school jobs pay for only the 10 months of the academic year It is often possible to teach private lessons on the side - in fact your students or their parents may ask about this incessantly Make certain you understand your employer's policies on outside work as some are quite restrictive Foreign teachers generally earn two or three times their Chinese colleagues' salaries but the differences are gradually narrowing A public college or university will often pay less than a private school, but will also require fewer teaching hours

If you plan to work as a teacher in China, research very carefully You might get your dream job or a nightmare Take great care in your selection of 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, you can appeal to the Foreign Experts Office of the provincial education ministry If you can document your case and it is a valid one, they will take action And it tends to be fast Before filing an appeal, try to resolve the issue through direct discussion If that fails, ask someone to function as a go-between -- a Chinese if possible, but otherwise another expatriate will do Only appeal as a last resort: as in other aspects of life everywhere, the threat of action is often more effective than action itself

See also Teaching English

Work visas

To work as teacher in China you need either a Foreign Teacher's Certificate FTC or a Foreign Expert's Certificate FEC Both are issued by the State Administration for Foreign Experts Affairs SAFEA 49 In theory, the FTC is for elementary or high school teachers; 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 where you are, how well-connected your school is, and how much trouble they are willing to go to It helps if you have other certifications or diplomas

If you plan to teach in China, you are strongly advised to enter the country on a Z visa and not to believe any potential employer who tells you to come in a tourist visa, which he will convert for you More likely than not, you will be strung along until getting fired a few days before your permit expires Despite what anybody tells you, you cannot work on a tourist visa If you are caught working illegally, the fine is up to ¥500 per day -- see below for details

Once you have the FEC, getting a Residence Permit is routine The Residence Permit acts as a multiple entry visa; you can leave China and return with no problem Showing the Expert's Certificate may get you a teacher's discount on some products and services including domestic flights

There can be problems 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 lot 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

Until recently many teachers would enter China on a tourist visa and then have their school make arrangements to obtain the FEC and Residence Permit Some schools pay for these; others don't The process was generally smooth Since 2007, however, some Public Security Bureau PSB offices have refused to convert tourist L or business F visas into Residence Permits; they require the foreigner to enter on a working Z visa Working visas can only be obtained outside of China and require an invitation letter from the prospective employer It used to be fairly common for people already in China to go to Hong Kong or Macau for this Since early 2008, however, people are being told they must return to their home countries to obtain a Z visa There seems to be a general campaign to tighten visa regulations and enforcement, presumably partly related to Olympic security

For the Z visa, the employer should send you a letter or form that must accompany your passport to get the visa Many times the school will request a signed contract, a health certificate from a health professional, a copy of your passport details, and a copy of your diploma If you are over 60 and they are asking for their provincial office to accept you, they may also require that you have your own health insurance

If you complete your 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 Even though you do all of this you may,and most likely will, be required to take another physical in China Request before coming to China that if the physical is required inside of China after you arrive, that the school pay for the service The physical is usually very quick: EKG, chest x-ray, sonogram of heart and stomach area, blood test, and urine check However, the time of completion and various tests may change depending on the province

Your appearance at the local PSB is required to get your residency permit Again, negotiate with the school for them to pay for the permit prior to your leaving for China Children and spouse going with you 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 you 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 you sign up If the school won't put you in touch with them, or if current teachers don't have Foreign Experts Certificates, don't go near the place In fact at present, it is not possible to obtain a work Z visa in Hong Kong unless the invitation paperwork clearly stipulates it This is also true of other nearby countries such as Vietnam, Korea, Japan or Singapore A final note of caution valid for all disputes: do not show anger At best you get a concession but you will pay for it later on down the line; but more likely, your anger will simply terminate all contact on the spot and you will be ignored If you feel anger welling up, politely break off the conversation, say goodbye and come back after you have cooled off

Cities in China

What do you think about China?

How expensive is China?
(1 CNY = 0 USD)
Meal in inexpensive restaurant18.2 CNY
3-course meal in restaurant (for 2)133.2 CNY
McDonalds meal26.73 CNY
Local beer (0.5 draft)5.94 CNY
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 22.14 CNY
Cappuccino25.1 CNY
Pepsi/Coke (0.33 bottle)2.99 CNY
Water (0.33 bottle)2.12 CNY
Milk (1l)14.41 CNY
Fresh bread (500g)10.43 CNY
White Rice (1kg)5.83 CNY
Eggs (12) 12.33 CNY
Local Cheese (1kg) 88.81 CNY
Chicken Breast (1kg) 28.14 CNY
Apples (1kg) 10.14 CNY
Oranges (1kg) 11.38 CNY
Tomato (1kg) 7.98 CNY
Potato (1kg) 6.07 CNY
Lettuce (1 head) 3.91 CNY
Water (1.5l)3.29 CNY
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range) 78.4 CNY
Domestic Beer (0.5 bottle)4.1 CNY
Foreign beer (0.33 bottle) 12.25 CNY
Cigarettes16.56 CNY
One way local bus ticket1.82 CNY
Monthly pass for bus94 CNY
Taxi start9.8 CNY
Taxi 1km2.02 CNY
Taxi 1hour waiting31.2 CNY
Gasoline (1 liter) 7.66 CNY
Utilities for a "normal" apartment337.71 CNY
Tennis Court Rent (1 Hour on Weekend) 73.54 CNY, your travel companion

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