|Area||total: 9,596,960 sq km |
land: 9,326,410 sq km
water: 270,550 sq km
|Population||1,284,303,705 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages (see Ethnic groups entry)|
|Religion||Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Muslim 1%-2%, Christian 3%-4% |
note: officially atheist (2002 est.)
|Time Zone||UTC +8|
China (中国 Zhōnggu�), formally known as the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国 Zhōnghu� R�nm�n G�ngh�gu�) is a country in Eastern Asia that is slightly larger than the United States of America.
With coasts on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, it borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar(or Burma), Laos and Vietnam to the south, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the west, Russia to the northeast and northwest, Mongolia to the north, North Korea on the northeastern coast.
China is vast, but it can be divided into the following regions:
- Shaanxi, North East: Urban northern China with capital Beijing
- Beijing, Tianjin
- Gansu, Xinjiang
- Guangxi, Sichuan, Tibet, Yunnan
- Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, Shanghai, Zhejiang
China has many large and famous cities. Below is a list of the most well-known. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section.
- Beijing- Capital city and host of the 2008 Olympics, the largest city with long history in China.
- Chengdu - ancient city in Sichuan, city circled by mountains.
- Chongqing - direct administrative city in Sichuan on the Yangtze River.
- Guangzhou - One of China's most prosperous and liberal cities.
- Guilin - Popular destination for both Chinese and foreign tourists, sensational mountain/river scenery
- Hangzhou - Famously beautiful city, major center for the silk industry
- Harbin - Northern city with Russian influences and a winter festival.
- Kunming - Capital of Yunnan
- Nanchang - The capital of Nanjing - Former capital, still an important city
- Qingdao - Former German concession, home of Tsing Dao beer
- Shanghai - One of China's largest cities, famous for its river side scenery. Major commercial center.
- Shenzhen - boom town near Hong kong
- Suzhou - Old city, famous for canals and gardens
- Tianjin - Port city near Beijing
- Xiamen - Port city and special economic zone in Fujian
- Xi'an - Former capital, terminus of the ancient Silk Road, home of the terracotta warriors
- Great Wall of China
- Silk Road
- Hainan island, tropical paradise
China (including Tibet) is home to five sacred Buddhist mountains.
- Mount Emei, Sichuan Province (3099 meters)
- Mount Jiuhua, Anhui Province (1342 meters)
- Mount Putuo, Zhejiang Province (297 meters)
- Mount Wutai, Shanxi Province (3058 meters)
- Mount Kailash, known as Gang Rinpoche in Tibetan, Tibet (5,656 meters)
- the 1,500-year-old Yungang Grottoes near Datong in Shanxi Province. There are more than 51,000 Buddhist carvings in the recesses and caves that cover the mountain-sides in the Yangang Valley. The grottoes are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- the Gansu Province - an important site for Buddhist art and literature.
- A week near Hong Kong
- Europe to South Asia over land
Keep in mind that China is a very diverse place with large variations in culture, language, customs, and economic levels. The economic landscape is particularly diverse ranging from the major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai which are basically first world to rural areas in the interior which are still at third world levels.
Something else to remember is that China has recently experienced a huge economic explosion, catapulting rural residents who are often quite socially inept into the status of metropolitan businessmen or "migrant workers". This results in a large class of people who have not yet become accustomed to living in a modern society. This means that, from time to time, you may encounter folks who due to their moderate (and sometimes substantial) financial success will appear to be reasonably cultivated but who in fact aren't and behave in a manner that most people from fully developed nations would find unacceptable. However, these peculiar behaviors are usually benign in nature.
Things you can expect from many Chinese people are:
- Spitting: in the street, shops, supermarkets, hotel lobbies, hallways, or even in restaurants and hospitals.
- "Hello": Numerous calls of "hello" just about anywhere outside of the big cities (and even there, occasionally).
- "Laowai" (lit. meaning "old outside", which is their most polite term for "foreigner"): calls of "laowai" are ubiquitous outside of the big cities, and these calls will come from just about anyone (of any age) and can occur many times in any given day.
- Staring: Common through most of the country.
- Loud Conversations, Discussions or Public Arguments: These are very common and sometimes take place at inappropiate times and/or at inappropiate places.
The climate is also extremely diverse, from tropical in the South to subarctic in the North.
There is also a wide range of terrain with mostly mountains, high plateaus, and deserts in west; while plains, deltas, and hills can be found in the east. On the border between Tibet and Nepal lies Mount Everest, at 8,850 m, being the highest point on earth. While Turpan Pendi, in northwest China is the lowest point of the country, at 154 m below sea level. This is also the second lowest point in the world, after the Dead Sea in Israel.
The first civilizations in China arose in the Yangtse 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 and gunpowder, for example, are Chinese inventions and Chinese developments in astronomy, medicine and other fields were extensive.
China also explored the world and traded extensively with other nations. By a few centuries AD, voyages to India and the Arab countries were routine. There is evidence of Chinese voyages to East Africa, Australia and the Americas as well.
However, China has always been inward-looking. China is the "middle kingdom". The Emperor did not receive ambassadors, only tribute bearers. Around 1425, China turned inward with a vengeance. Records of the great trading voyages were destroyed and the ships allowed to rot.
When Western traders arrived in the 16th century, China was initially hostile to them.
By the 19th century, various Western powers had taken various pieces of China and trade was well established. Westerners tended to see China as corrupt and decadent, Chinese to see the West as corrupters.
Several wars were fought in China in that century.
- Two Opium Wars pitted China against Western powers demanding the right to sell opium to the Chinese. China quickly lost both wars and Britain got Hong Kong
- The Tai Ping Rebellion pitted a gang of peasants led by a madman claiming to be Christ's younger brother against the empire. He almost won, which shows how messed up the empire was.
- In the 1890s, China lost another war and Japan took Taiwan.
The 20th century brought revolution. The empire was overthrown in 1911 and Sun Yat Sen, a doctor, socialist and democrat, became president.
Japan took Taiwan in a 1895 war, invaded Manchuria in 1931 and conquered much of China by the late 30s. China had other problems as well, such as civil unrest and major famines. The Communists under Mao Zedong and the Kuomintang (the party Sun Yat Sen founded) under Chiang Kai Shek often fought each other when they might better have been fighting Japanese. Various warlords and bandits fought whoever they felt like.
After World War II, outright civil war broke out. More Chinese were killed in this than in resisting Japan. By 1949, the Communists had won and the Kuomintang only held Taiwan.
The Communist government imposed strict controls over everyday life; basically, the Party ran everything. They also indulged in various experiments such as the Great Leap Forward, intended to industrialise China quickly, and the Cultural Revolution, aimed at changing everything by discipline and attention to Mao Zedong Thought. These failed at disastrous cost.
After 1978, Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping gradually introduced market-oriented reforms and decentralized economic decision making, and output quadrupled by 2000. Political controls remain tight even while economic controls continue to be relaxed.
Electricity is 220 volts/50 hz. Most buildings have universal outlets that can handle a wide variety of plug shapes.
Tap water may or may not be drinkable. Hot boiled water is avalable everywhere, in trains, restaurants, even small shops, it is safe enough by most peoples standers. Carry a water botttle and some green tea and never be without a refreashing drink. People who prefer can drink the widely available and usually cheap bottled water (or the more widely avalable and slightly cheaper beer).
Toilets are usually incredibly dirty and smelling. It's just a hole in the ground and tissue paper is seldom availble. You should always carry some tissue with you and not flush it into the toilet if a small bucket stands next to the toilet, reserved for used paper. Bars, restaurants and internet cafes also sell tissue packages for at most 2RMB. Remember the characters for MEN (?) and WOMEN (?).
Most travellers will need a visa. In most cases, this should be obtained from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure.
Getting a tourist visa is easy for most passports as you don't need an invitation, which you do for business or working visas. It is also quite cheap compared to other countries' visa fees, about 20 �. The usual tourist single-entry visa is valid for thirty days and must be used within three months after it was issued.
Holders of most passports can easily get Chinese visas in Hong Kong or Macau, either by going to the government office themselves or paying a bit more to have a travel agent do it for them. China Travel Services handles visa processing. Same-day-service is usually available: in by 10, out by 4 or some such.
Obtaining a visa on arrival is sometimes possible, though is not recommended as this is not possible at some entry points or for some passports, or you may be issued a visa to cover only limited parts of China.
There may be restrictions on visas for political reasons and these vary over time. For example as of mid-2004:
- Nigerians could not get visas in Hong Kong, presumably because Beijing was upset that Nigeria extended diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.
- Americans could no longer get Shenzhen-only visas at the border, presumably because Beijing was irritated by US fingerprinting of Chinese travellers
While several major airlines fly to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, budget seats can prove hard to come by. For good offers, book as early as you can. United Airlines, the dominant US carrier serving China, currently flies to Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai from Chicago and San Francisco. Northwest Airlines also serves China on a more limited basis, and American Airlines will begin to serve Shanghai in 2006.
Particularly busy periods are usually when Chinese students are flying home for Summer, flying back to Universities around the world after Summer or around Chinese New Year (early February). Tickets at these times are often hard to get and/or more expensive.
If you live somewhere like Toronto with a large overseas Chinese community, check for cheap flights with someone in that community. Sometimes flights advertised only in the Chinese newspapers are significantly less.
Moscow and terminates in Beijing, stopping in various other Russian cities, as well as Ulaan Baator, Mongolia.
From Almaty, Kazakhstan one can travel by rail to Urumqi in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. There are long waits at the border crossing for customs, as well as for changing the wheelbase for the next country's track.
Regular rail service links mainland China with Hong Kong
There is also a train from Nanning in Guangxi province into Vietnam.
- Lao Cai (V) - Hekou (C)
- Mong Cai (V) - Dongxing (C)
The road Karakorum Highway from northern Pakistan is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It's closed for tourists for a few months in winter.
The road from Nepal to Tibet passes near Mount Everest, and through amazing mountain scenery.
There is regular ferry and hovercraft service between varying points of the mainland, such as Guangzhou and Zhuhai to Hong Kong and Macao.
There is a 2-day ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Osaka and Tokyo in Japan. Service is once or twice weekly, depending on season.
A twice-weekly ferry also connects Qingdao to Shimonoseki.
To South Korea
There is a ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Incheon, the main port of South Korea. Another line is from Qingdao or Incheon.
China has a great deal of domestic flights to all the major cities and tourist destinations. Beware, though, that travelling from China to Hong Kong is considered an international flight and, as such, can be quite expensive; you can save some money at the price of some hassle by flying to Shenzhen, just across the border, instead.
Prices for domestic flights in China are set at standard rates. However, most good hotels will have a travel ticket service and will be able to save you 15%-40% off the price of tickets. Even after considering discounts, travelling by plane in China is not inexpensive. Do be prepared for flight delays; these are on the increase despite pressure from both the government and consumers.
Train travel is the major mode of long-distance transportation for the Chinese themselves, with an extensive network of routes covering the entire country (with the notable exception of Tibet).
There are five classes of travel:
- hard seats (ying zuo)
- soft seats (ruan zuo)
- hard sleepers (ying wo)
- soft sleepers (ruan wo)
Soft sleepers are the most comfortable mode of transportation and are still relatively cheap by Western standards. The soft sleeper compartments contain four bunks stacked two to a column (though some newer trains have two-bunk compartments), with latch able door for privacy, and are quite spacious. Hard sleepers, on the other hand, have 3 beds per column open to the corridor, with the highest bunk very high up, leaving little space for headroom. Also note that the "hard" sleeper is not "hard" - the beds have a mattress and are generally quite comfortable. Hard seats may not be for everyone, especially overnight, but it is this class that most of the backpacker crowd travels on. You may still buy tickets for a fully booked train, the seat section of your ticket will be marked differently. You may be able to be assigned a seat by the conductor, or it may mean standing in the aisle.
The bathrooms on trains tend to be more usable than on buses or most public areas, because they are simple devices that empty the contents directly onto the track.
Long distance trains will have a buffet or dining car, which serves hot (but generally overpriced, at 25 yuan or so, by Chinese standards) food. If you are on a strict budget, wait until the train stops at a station; there are normally stall vendors on the platform who can sell you some noodles or fruit at a fraction of the buffet or dining car. The menu will be entirely in Chinese, but if you're willing to take the chance, interpret some of the Chinese characters, or ask for common dishes by name, you can eat very well. There will be boiled water avalable, bring tea and instant noodles to make yourown snacks and refresments.
Be careful of your valuables while on the train; property theft on public transportation has gone up in the recent years.
Motion sickness pills are recommended if you are inclined toward that type of ailment.
If you have some things to share on the train, you'll have fun. The Chinese families and business people traveling the route are just as bored as the next guy and will be happy to attempt conversation or share a movie shown on a laptop. All in all, the opportunity to see the countryside going by is a neat experience.
Travelling by bus, and by coach, is inexpensive and ideal for in-city and short distances transportation.
Local buses start at around 1 RMB and can be quite packed during rush hour. More modern buses with air conditioning charge 2 RMB. Fares are marked on the outside of bus doors and no change is provided, so have exact fare.
Coaches tended to be reasonably comfortable with most being air conditioned with soft seats or sleepers. They are often a better, though more expensive option than trains. The bathrooms on the buses are generally in very bad shape. Bus personnel tend to try to be helpful, but they are much less familiar with foreigners than airline personnel and English ability is very rare.
Drivers in China often disregard the rules of the road, and accidents are frequent. Suddden swerves and stops can cause injury, so keep a good hold wherever possible. Horn honking is widespread among Chinese coach drivers, so a set of earplugs is a good idea if you plan on sleeping during the trip.
Taxis are generally common, and reasonably priced. In most situations, expect between 10 and 30 RMB for an ordinary course within the city. There is no extra-charge for luggage, but at night it does get a bit more expensive. While drivers trying to cheat you by taking a longer way are not unheard of, it is not that common, and on average shouldn't be a nuisance.
Note that sitting in the front passenger seat of taxis is the norm -- some taxis even mount the taxi meter down by the gearbox, where you can only see it from the front seat.
Finding a taxi during peak hours can be a bit hard. But it really gets tough if it is raining. Away from peak hours, especially at night, it is sometimes possible to get a 10% to 20% discount, even if with the meter on, and asking for the receipt.
Note that even in major cities like Shanghai or Beijing, it is extremely unlikely to find an English-speaking taxi driver. Chinese language phonetics being quite far from English, keep in mind that even if you say the name of your destination in Chinese (but with your native pronunciation), you can easily be mis-understood, or not understood at all. Therefore, it is advisable to keep a written note of the name of place where you want to go to by taxi, if you can't speak mandarin. Chinese characters will work better in this goal than romanized (pinyin) version.
In most (all?) cities, taxi companies use a star-rating system for drivers, ranging from 0 to 5, displayed on the drivers name-plate, in front of the passenger seat. While no or few stars do not necessarily indicated a bad driver, many stars tend to indicate good knowledge of the city, and willingness to take you to where you asked by the shortest way. Another indicator of the drivers ability can be found on the same name-plate, in the driver's ID number. A small number tells you he has been around for a long time, and is likely to know the place very well.
Rented cars often come with a driver. That is probably the best way to travel China by car, especially as the legal status of International Driver's Permits remains unclear. Alternatively, you can pass a local exam to get a Chinese driver's licence.
See more at: Driving in China
In some mid-sized cities, pedicabs are a much more convenient means of travelling short distances.
In the west, Chinese has an undeserved reputation as being exceptionally difficult to learn. While there are pronounced differences between English and all western languages, there is no reason that a traveler can not learn a bit of Chinese; every bit you learn will be of enormous help. The main difficulty with learning to speak Chinese is the pronunciation; grammar is very simple. You can largely get away with pronouncing Chinese "flat", and still be understood. Written Chinese is famously complex, however there is the advantage of it being easier to learn a bit of. In alphabetic writing systems, you can't understand anything until you know the whole alphabet and speak a good deal of the language. In chinese on the other hand it's very straightforward to pick up the characters, for example for "Internet Cafe" or "Fried Noodles", without knowing anything else about the language. This has enormous practical value for the traveler.
The official language of China is Mandarin, also known as Putong hua (common speech). It has been the only language used in education on the mainland since the 1950s, so most people speak it. However, the pronunciation varies quite a lot from region to region.
Many regions also have their own "dialect". These are really distinct languages, as different as French and Italian. Nearly all Chinese are bilingual in the local language and Mandarin; a few older, less educated or from the countryside may speak only the local dialect, but this is unlikely to affect tourists.
It always 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.
Whatever the spoken dialect, the written language is always the same, even Japanese uses many of the same characters with the same meaning. There is a complication in this, however. Mainland China uses "simplified characters", adopted to facilitate literacy education some years back. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and many overseas Chinese still use the traditional characters.
Although most Chinese are taught some English at school, the focus of the instruction is formal grammar and writing rather than conversation. Therefore, very few learn it to a sufficiently high standard to be able to understand an English conversation.
Useful hint: it's often helpful if you try to simplify your English. Stay away from using complex phrasing like "Would you mind if I come back tomorrow?" and stick to simpler, more abrupt phrasing like "I will come back tomorrow."
That said, locals who have studied English to University level generally have an excellent standard of English. This is in large part because English is a required topic for university examinations.
See also: Chinese phrasebook
The official currency of the People's Republic of China is the renminbi (人民币 "People's Money"), often abbreviated RMB. The official base unit of this currency is the yuan (元), international currency code CNY. All prices in China are denoted in yuan, usually either as ￥5 or 5元. One US Dollar is about 8 yuan.
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. A coin worth ￥0,10 will thus say 壹角 ("1 jiao"), not "10 fen", on it. But in colloquial Mandarin, nobody ever speaks of yuan; the standard term is kuai (块), and the jiao is also dubbed the mao (毛) instead. The fen remains the same, so a price like ￥3,75 would thus be read as "3 kuai 7 mao 5 fen" (although the trailing unit is often omitted).
Note also that most Chinese currency will be in the form of bills -- even small change. Also note that counterfeiting is a major problem, especially of 50 and 100 RMB bills -- when you buy currency, ask the teller how to spot counterfeit bills and examine all such bills you receive as change.
Foreign currency and/or traveller's cheques can be exchanged into RMB in most hotels and banks, although you will be required to show a passport or identification. Keep your receipt as you will need it at the airport to exchange RMB back into your original currency. Exchanging currency outside of official channels is technically illegal although enforcement of these currency controls is lax. However, as of 2003, the official exchange rates are close to the market value, and so official exchange rates can provide amounts similar to or better than unofficial ones.
Obtaining RMB in western countries can be a difficult or impossible task, and even where available the exchange rates are generally extremely unfavorable. It's generally less problematic to wait until arrival and using your debit or credit card in a local cash machine. Conveniently, the airports in Beijing and Shanghai have cash machines which accept most international debit/credit cards.
Check with your debit/credit card company's web site to find the availability of cash machines in China. They should be widely available. However, the writer found that, while Beijing ATMs had an English option, ATMs in the southern cities of Chongqing and Yichang lacked such an option so proved impossible to use. 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.
Outside of hotels, acceptance of credit cards is infrequent, and most transactions will require cash.
Many stores have point-of-sale terminals for Chinese bank cards; typically these will not work for foreign cards. If you are going to spend a lot of time in China and use significant amounts of money, get a Chinese bank account.
If you are buying anything which is not from a fixed price store, bargaining is normal, though you may get a better price if you let a local person do the buying for you. Vendors will charge the lowest price to local people (who can speak the dialect), next lowest price to other Chinese nationals, and the highest price to foreigners. In general, anything with a marked price tends to be sold at that price or slightly below, but there is large room for bargaining if there is no stamped price.
Many visitors come looking for antiques, and hunting in the flea markets can be great fun. Be aware however that the overwhelming majority of the "antique" items you will be shown are fakes, no matter how convincing they look. You are advised not to spend serious money unless you know what you are doing, since novices are almost always taken for a ride.
In bargaining over price, local people will tend to engage in hard bargaining behavior that foreigners may consider rude (i.e. commenting unfavorably on the quality of the merchandise). Discussions over price generally remain calm however - Monty Python style histrionics usually fail to make progress.
As a tourist, every vendor is going to try to make you overpay. To get a good idea of accurate pricing, pick an item that you want, and is common to many stalls. Call an absurdly low price (like 1-5% of the calling price) for it. When they say "No. Are you crazy?", look at the item a bit longer, and start to leave. They will call out progressively lower and lower prices for the item, the farther you get from them. Remember the lowest price they call out (they may even accept your "absurdly low" price). Go to the next stall, and repeat, with a price that is about 50-75% of the previous lowest. Eventually, you will find a fair price. You can obtain obsenely low prices this way, but don't abuse your bargaining power! Many people depend on making decent margins off of tourists to survive. It never hurts to pay a little more than the lowest price, and it might make all the difference to a poor merchant.
What to Look for/ buy
China excels in handmade items, partly because of long traditions of exquisite handmade items, partly because labor is still cheap relative to other countries. Take your time, look closely at quality and ask questions (but don't take all the answers at face value!)
- Porcelain with a long history of porcelain making, especially at the famous Jing De Zhen kiln center, China still makes great porcelain today. Most visitors are familiar with 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).
- Furniture in the last 15 years China has become a major source of antique furniture, mostly sourced from China's 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. Hotels will tell you how to find them. They can also arrange shipment in most cases
- Art and Fine Art the art scene in China is divided into two non-interacting parts. On the one side there are the traditional painting academies, specializing 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. On the other hand 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.
- 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 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 fleamarkets.
- 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 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.
- Other arts and Crafts Other things to look for include Cloisonne (colored enamels on a metal base), laquer work, masks, kites, wood carving, scholar's rocks (decorative rocks, some natural, some less so), papercuts, and so on.
Tipping is not necessary (and often considered an inappropiate gesture) but under certain rare circumstances, such as a doorman allowing you into a building at a late hour, they are welcome. (A 1Y tip would suffice for the above example.) The exceptions to this rule are in upscale businesses where you are rendered some type of service. Note: Taxi drivers do not require tips.
When presenting a business card or any other important piece of paper, it is always considered polite to hand it with both hands at the same time, with the thumbs and index fingers holding either side of the document.
If you smoke (and even if you don't), it is always considered polite to offer a cigarette to those you meet, as long as they are of adult age. This rule applies almost exclusively to men, but under certain circumstances, such as a club, bar or tea house, it is OK to apply the rule toward women, particularly in the larger, more cosmopolitan cities. If someone offers you a cigarette and you don't smoke, you can turn it down by politely and gently waving your hand. The same applies to alcoholic drinks or food offered during a meal. An alternative to the alcohol drink tip is to turn your "wine" cup upside down (if it is empty!) and place it on the table in such manner, but do this with a smile. Note: When toasting, it is best to look directly in the eyes of those you are toasting with. Keep in mind that although the Chinese love to drink copious ammounts of alcohol, public drunkenness is frowned upon. If you see some people getting or being obnoxiously drunk in public, by no means think that it is OK -- it isn't.
Never offer illegal drugs to a person, of any nationality, unless you absolutely know that he/she/they are to be trusted. In fact, don't even talk about such matters unless you can trust the other party.
Try to avoid political topics, as they usually lead nowhere and can even cause problems. Many Chinese hold to their beliefs quite rigidly and it is rather rare to find a politically open mind. Those who are open and knowledgeable about political issues, tend to keep such ideas to themselves and those very close to them, so don't expect a quick breaking of the ice in this field. To a lesser extent, topics of history are met with a similar attitude. On the other hand, religious topics are easier to discuss. Note: Do not discuss Tibet or Taiwan political issues unless you fully agree with the policies of the PRC regarding these matters, as they are almost invariably met with varying degrees of hostility.
It is usually best to directly spit the bones found in food directly on the table or a small plate for such purpose, or skillfully take them out with your chopsticks and place them there, rather than using your fingers. This may be totally unacceptable to most people from other countries but it is the rule in China. Sticking your chopsticks into your rice and leaving them there is considered taboo, as it is reminiscent of sticks of incense burning at a shrine or funeral and therefore you are seen to be wishing death on people at the table. Also, if someone clears his/her throat and spits on a restaurant floor, accept it, as it is also very common indeed throughout much of the country.
A small gift taken to a host's home is always very welcome.
As a traveller, you may find that your language, hair and skin colour, manner of dress and behaviour will draw long and sustained stares, especially in rural areas or outside the major cities. While there is a great deal of diversity in China, is it also the case in some areas that people have little contact with people outside of their village or social circle. Do not be put off by this fact or you may spoil your own time in China.
The Chinese tend to be very concerned about correct behavior and face, and also tend to be very conscious of social status. Pointing out mistakes or failings, even for innocent and/or justified reasons, may cause intense humiliation and embarrassment for the person on the receiving end. There is also a strong difference between members of the in-group and strangers, although there is a considerable gray area between the two.
The food in China varies from region to region. While visiting, lose your inhibitions and try a bit of everything. Remember that some food is prepared from endagered species and as such is best avoided. Additionally, undercooked food or poor hygiene can cause bacterial or parasitic infection. That said, hygiene is a lot better than (say) in the Indian subcontinent and eating in China can be a highlight of your trip.
- Cantonese/ Chaozhou/ Hong Kong: this is the style of cooking that most visitors are already familiar with to some extent. Not too spicy, emphasis on freshly cooked ingredients and seafood. Dim Sum (small snacks usually eaten for lunch/breakfast) are a highlight)
- Sichuan: famously hot and spicy, though not all the dishes are made with live chilis
- Hunan: Hunan Cuisine, occasionally referred to on menus as Xiang cuisine, is actually the cuisine of the Xiangjiang region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan Province. Similar to Sichuan cuisine, Hunan food can actually be "spicier" in the Western sense.
- Beijing: home-style noodles and baozi (bread buns), peking duck, and cabbage dishes, great pickles. Not fancy but can be great.
- Zhejiang: Zhejiang cuisine 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.
- Fujian: Fujian cuisine takes most of its ingredients from coastal and estuarial waterways. One particularly famous Fujian dish is "Buddha Jumps over a Wall".
Beer is very common in China, served in nearly every restaurant. The most famous brand is Tsing Dao, from Qingdao which was at one point a German concession. Other brands abound, all light lager-ish beers and usually around 3% alcohol. Imported beers are also available.
Wine is also common, as are brandies and mao tai, a Chinese white lightning. Brandy is good value, about the same price as wine and generally more palatable than the mao tai.
Chinese toast with the word 'ganbei' (empty glass), and traditionally you are expected to drain the glass. Fortunately, local people are usually having much lower expectation on foreigners in this issue, so intoxication may not become a problem. However, exercise some caution. At a meal out, the foreign guest will be expected to drink one glass each with eveyone present. Nixon had to practice drinking before meeting Mao Zedong.
Hotels for tourists are widely available and are generally of good quality. They are also much, much more expensive than hotels intended mainly for local people, even when they are of comparable quality.
Booking in advance is usually not necessary but try to arrive with the addresses of a few hotels in hand.
A well guarded secret for cheap and enjoyable accommodation is the spa. Spa costs vary but can be as low as 25 RMB. When in the spa there are beds in addition to showers, saunas etc. Admission to a spa is for 24 hours, and a small locker is provided for bags and personal possessions. This is ideal if you are travelling 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 (i.e. shower, but no bed/couch). To verify claims, strilke 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 likely support the spa's claims.
Foreign students have different educational needs. China's universities offer many different types of courses and teaching methods to cater to these needs as well as to the different educational levels of the students that come form abroad.
Language trainees: Universities accept students who have achieved the minimum of a high school education for courses in the Chinese language. These courses usually last 1 or 2 years. Students are given certificates after they complete their course. Students who do not speak Chinese and want to study further in China are usually required to complete a language training course.
Undergraduates: Undergraduate degrees usually require 4-5 years of study. International students have classes together with native Chinese students. In accordance with each student's past education, some classes of a degree course can be cancelled and some have to be added. Students receive a Bachelor's degree after passing the necessary exams and completing a thesis.
Postgraduates: Master's degrees are granted after 2-3 years of study. As well as written exams and a postgraduate thesis, oral examinations are also taken.
Doctorate students: Three years of study are needed to obtain a PhD.
Research scholars: Research is usually conducted independently by the student under the supervision of an assigned tutor. Any surveys, experiments, interviews, or visits that a research scholar has to make need to be arranged before hand and authorised.
Short-term training courses: Short-term courses are now offered in many areas such as Chinese literature, calligraphy, economics, architecture, Chinese law, tradtitional Chinese medicine, art, and sports. Courses are offered in the holidays as well as during term time.
Foreign students are encouraged to continue their studies and obtain Master's or doctoral degrees in China's universities, and those who have graduated in China are welcome to return for further education. Some universities offer courses taught in foreign languages.
Major Bodies and Their Functions for Foreign Affairs
The Ministry of Education (MoE) Formulating basic principles, policies, regulations and measures for the work concerning nationwide foreign students affairs, and coordinating, directing and administrating in general the work of nationwide foreign students affairs.
The China Scholarship Council(CSC) With the consignment of the State Education Commission, conducting the enrollment and administration of foreign students to China who enjoy scholarships by the Chinese Government, and dealing with the applications of those who are sent to study in China by foreign academic and educational organizations, non-governmental friendship teams or organizations.
China Service Center for Scholarly Exchanges (CSCSE) Providing consultation and other kinds of services for foreign students who plan to study in China.
Provincial Education Commissions Provincial education commissions take charge of drawing foreign students principle, policy, regulation and methods for each own jurisdiction. Under each provincial education commission is set up a special organization in change of coordinating foreign students affairs within its own jurisdiction and providing advice and other kind of services.
Universities & Colleges Universities and colleges accepting foreign students usually have special Foreign Students Agents, dealing with foreign students enrollment applications, enrollment registrations, everyday courses, administrations, consultation and daily services.
HSK - Chinese Language Proficiency Test China's Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, known as HSK or the Chinese Proficiency Test is a standardized test at the state level designed and developed by the HSK Center of Beijing Language and Culture University to measure the Chinese proficiency of foreigners, overseas Chinese and students from Chinese national minorities.
Source: China Online
- China Job Listings (http://www.chinaonline.cn.com/china_jobs.html)
- Common scams and pickpockets.
Public bathrooms are generally between dirty and unusable but high quality ones can be found inside major tourist attractions (e.g. The Forbidden City) and at hotels catering for westerners. Public bathrooms in restaurants and hotels are moderately usable, although the one's in rooms tend to be very clean. Make sure to bring your own toilet paper and soap when you leave the hotel. People will stare at you while you use the toilet (and although separate facilities are generally provided for men and women, where there are several cubicles within, for example, a men's toilet, there may be no doors on the front of the cubicles).
Also beware that the sit-down toilet familiar to most Westerners is rare in China in public areas. Hotels will generally have them in rooms but in places where Westerners will be in more of a minority, you can expect to find crouching toilets more often than not. Most private homes in urban areas now have sit down toilets, and one major benefit with knowing a local host is that they have clean bathrooms.
There are no widely enforced health regulations in restaurants. However most of the smaller restaurants will prepare the food in front of you. Most of the major cities have chain fast food places, and the hygiene in them tends to be good.
The water is not drinkable without boiling. However, all hotels (or boats!) provide either a thermos flask full of boiling water in your room (refillable by your floor attendant) or a kettle you can use to do it yourself. Purified drinking water in bottles is available everywhere, and is generally quite cheap (don't pay more than 2 or 3 Yuan for a litre).
One other interesting quirk is that Chinese tend to distrust the cleanliness of bathtubs. Most homes have plastic movable tubs or showers. In hotels with fixed bathtubs, they will generally make available plastic bathtub liners in the rooms.
Parts of southern China have mosquitos which carry malaria. If you will be visiting any such parts, your local travel clinic will be happy to provide advice. Generally, this means taking one anti-malarial tablet per week for two weeks before you depart, during your stay and for four weeks afterwards.
Drugs are generally available from a pharmacist without prescriptions. You can usually ask to see the physician instructions that came with the box.
Always check needles if you require any sort of injection, or any procedure that requires breaking the skin. In many parts of China it is acceptable to re-use needles, albeit after some attempt at sterilisation. In hospitals you may wish to watch as the sterile packaging is opened.
China has only officially recognised the threat of an AIDS/HIV epidemic since 2001. Recently Chinese President Hu Jintao has pledged to fight the spread of AIDS/HIV within China. According to the United Nations "China is currently experiencing one of the most rapidly expanding HIV epidemics in the world. Since 1998, the number of reported cases has increased by about 30% yearly. By 2010, China could have as many as 10 million infections & 260,000 orphans if w/out intervention."(Source: Chinese Wikitravel Expedition
- Tips for Travelers to China (http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/regional/regional_1173.html) - Information from the U.S. Department of State on travel to China, including general information and specific tips for U.S. citizens.
- Travel report from China (http://www.studyrussian.com/seidenstrasse/silkroad/China.htm) - A country of immense contrasts
- China Travel (http://www.chinaonline.cn.com/china_travel.html) - The Definitive China Travel Resource