China is a destination of such epic proportions that we can barely scratch the surface here.
With three major regions, China stretches from the mountainous west, to the desert plains of the Mongol Plateau to Manchuria in the northeast. The largely low-lying eastern region consists of the valleys and floodplains of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, through to the coastal plains of the Pearl River in the south.
It is hard to bypass (and one certainly shouldn’t!) the nation’s capital for over 3000 years — Beijing — as China’s premier tourist destination. The architectural masterpiece of the Forbidden City, the equally impressive Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Ming Tombs, the Temple of Heaven… and of course, the most famous of all — The Great Wall of China, built during the Ming Dynasty’s reign to fortify China’s northern border and today one of the most visited sites in all the world.
Full Name: The People’s Republic of China
State System: Socialist State
Location: East of Eurasia, Pacific West Bank
Land Area: 9,600,000 square kilometers
National Day: October 1st
National Anthem: March of the Volunteers
Country Code: CHN
Official Language: Mandarin
Currency: Renminbi (RMB)
Time Zone: UTC+8
Political System: The System of People’s Congress
State President: Xi Jinping
Party in Power: Chinese Communist Party
Population Size: 1,354,040,000 (2012)
Number of Nationalities: 56
Major Nationality: the Han nationality
Major Religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christian
Per Capita GDP: $6170.70 U.S dollars (2012)
International Area Code: +86
Good Reputations: state of ceremonies, the nation of porcelains, the nation of silk
National Flag: the Five-Starred Red Flag
National Emblem: Tian’anmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace) under five stars, encircled
by ears of grain, with a gear wheel below.
National Animal: Giant Pandas
The Largest Island: Taiwan Island
Neighboring Countries: Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Laos, Burma, Vietnam, Nepal, India
Climate: monsoon characteristics, obvious continental climate, various climate types
Municipalities Directly Under the Central Government: Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing
Autonomous Regions: Inner Mongolia, Ningxia Hui, Xinjiang Uygur, Tibet, Guangxi Zhuang
Special Administrative Region: Hong Kong, Macao
Traditional Festivals: Spring Festival, New Year’s Day, Lantern Festival, National Day, Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, Tomb-Sweeping Festival
For contrast, Shanghai is one of Asia’s fastest growing and most modern cities. A center for commercial trade with the west during the 1800s, by the 1930s it was both famous and infamous as a cosmopolitan world city. Today soaring skyscrapers overlooking the Bund are testament to Shanghai’s influential economic position.
And beyond the obvious, there is also Xian, once an ancient capital on the Silk Road. Xian is most famous for the discovery of its Terracotta Warriors – over 7000 warriors and horses have been excavated from a site first discovered by a group of peasants who uncovered some pottery while digging for a well nearby in 1974.
Then there is Guilin, the Yangtze River, Zhouzhuang, Zhengzhou, Xiamen, Lhasa and so much more. A country certainly worthy of more than one visit, and with so much choice perfectly positioned to suit every requirement.
China — a country so vast, a history so rich and a culture so profound… Home to over one billion people, China is a mysterious and fascinating nation with an incredible array of iconic historical sites, traditions and civilizations that date back many thousands of years, breathtaking country landscapes and futuristic cities.
China has often been referred to as the Nation of Etiquette. According to many westerners, however, Chinese people often act in what appears to be a discourteous manner. The reason for this anomaly lies in the different cultural and historical views of social decorum.
Handshaking is considered formal greeting behavior in China. It is used to show respect, but only if the person is someone important, like a government official or a businessman.
Mianzi, commonly referred to as ‘face’, is a reflection of a person’s level of status in the eyes of his or her peers. Having ‘face’ means you are viewed by your peers, superiors, and subordinates as one in harmony with the prevailing disposition of society. It is a subtlety that is not openly discussed in Chinese society, but exists as a conversational skill nonetheless. Mianzi can best be understood as the avoidance of embarrassment in front of others.
The number Four, which sounds like death in Chinese, is considered an unlucky number in China. You will see that in many buildings, levels 4 and 13 are non-existent for this reason.
When eating with chopsticks, at the conclusion of the meal, do not leave your chopsticks sticking in the rice so that they stand upwards. This is considered unlucky as it looks similar to incense that is often burnt at funerals.
If you want to ‘toast’ your glass with a Chinese person, it is considered a sign of respect to toast the top of your glass lower than theirs.
Traveling in China
Travelling around China is becoming more and more trouble free as parts of the country go through development to make them more accessible to the overseas tourist. There are numerous domestic airlines that fly to almost every corner of the country and where flights are not available there are land routes that can be traveled by train or bus.
As the economy of China continues to grow, many leading brand named hotels are entering the secondary cities, so travelers can expect to be met with the service and facilities they expect. For those looking for a more traditional touch, there are also a number of locally managed properties that cater to this market.
In the main cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, travel around the city is easy and efficient. Taxis, trains and buses are easily accessible and affordable means of transport.
One important issue to keep in mind in China is that, even in the main cities, English is not widely spoken so travelers should be well prepared to have their destinations translated to Chinese in advance. It is also important to have the contact numbers of the hotels you wish to stay at, should you find yourself in a situation where you may need some directions from staff at the hotel.
From Beijing to Shanghai, Xian and Guilin and even more remote areas such as Lhasa and Lijiang, travel within China is now easier than ever, however the journey to reach a destination is still an adventure in itself.
Know Before You Go: You need a visa and a passport with at least six months validity to enter China. If you do not have a valid passport and the appropriate Chinese visa, you will not be allowed to enter Chinaand will be fined and subject to immediate deportation. U.S. citizens should apply for a year-long multiple-entry visa. A multiple-entry visa is essential if you plan to re-enter China, especially if you plan to visit either Hong Kong or Macau. Visit the Embassy of China’s website for the most current visa information.
If you are a dual-national U.S. citizen with a Chinese passport and you enter the country on your Chinese passport rather than your U.S. passport, you may encounter problems. China does not recognize dual citizenship, and the Chinese government routinely denies U.S. officials access to arrested or detained U.S. citizens who do not enter China using their U.S. passport.
In general, if you are travelling through China en route to a different country, you do not need a visa as long as you plan to stay in China less than 24 hours and do not leave the airport. If, however, you are a transit passenger and have more than one stopover in China, you must exit the transit lounge at the first stop to apply for an endorsement in your passport that permits multiple stops in China. As long as you have a ticket that continues on to an international destination, the endorsement should be routine. In Shanghai, you can transit through Pudong Airport or Hongqiao Airport and stay in Shanghai for 48 hours as long as you have a valid passport, a visa for your onward destination, and a valid ticket for an international destination.
Best Time to Travel to China
China’s geographic area is slightly larger than the United States, and it covers similar latitudes, with the lion’s share located in the temperate zone. This provides endless year-round variety for visitors, from ice festivals in the north to tropical beach resorts in the south.
Keep in mind the vast distances between destinations when planning your trip. Traveling along the popular Golden Route (Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Guilin) is the rough equivalent of visiting Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, and Miami, all in one trip.
Weather-wise, Shanghai and Guangzhou’s climates resemble those of US southeastern coastal states, while Beijing’s climate is more like Chicago’s.
While China is a year-round destination, the months of May, September, and October are ideal months for travel anywhere in the country.
In the north, the winters are cold, and summers are warm, with moist monsoon air streams making it hot (80% of China’s rainfall occurs between late May and early October, mostly in the Southern regions). June through August is a good time to visit central and northern China and spring and autumn are the best months for travel in Southern China. March and April are the lower-priced shoulder season; while the lowest price, off-season travel is from November through the winter months. This is when adventuresome travelers are rewarded with unbelievably low prices and far fewer fellow tourists.
The most comfortable season of the year is early autumn (September to early October). During that period, temperatures are reasonable throughout China (about 50-72 F) with a limited amount of rain. September is the only month when the ancient and valuable paintings of the Beijing Palace Museum are displayed due to proper climate conditions (low humidity and proper temperature).
Spring can also be delightful, with the average temperatures roughly the same as in autumn (about 50-72 F). The best way to dress is to wear layered clothing that will make you comfortable in chilly and warm weather.
Summer (from June to the end of August) can be extremely hot with temperatures well above 72 F, especially in the famous ‘four furnaces’ of China: Wuhan, Tianjin, Chongqing and Nanchang. Summer is a rainy season, so bring umbrellas, light raincoats and rubber/plastic shoes.
Winter can be incredibly cold especially in the north. An off-season visit can offer its rewards. For example, the Harbin Winter Ice Lantern Festival is quite charming.
Before deciding when to visit, check the weather conditions of each city on your itinerary. Remember, the most temperate seasons are also the most crowded. Regardless of the time of the year, a visitor will always be rewarded with charming scenery and experiences.
High Season vs. Low Season
High seasons in China:
* Labor Day (May 1, 3 days duration)
* National Day (October 1, 7 days duration)
* University Holidays: Summer holiday (June-September) and Winter holiday (January-February)
Many people plan a visit during high seasons. However it is not always the best choice. During high seasons tickets for trains, planes, and hotel accommodations are hard to obtain. If you want to travel during the high seasons, consider an organized tour, as you do not have to worry about obtaining tickets yourself.
Compared with high seasons, low seasons couldn’t be a better choice for visits for the following reasons:
* Save money. In low seasons, entrance fees, travel ticket prices, and goods cost less.
* Save time. Low seasons offer you a more tranquil environment. It may take several hours to take a photo during peak times, while in low seasons you can enjoy the beautiful scenery at more leisurely pace.