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Travel guide for China
China is one of the largest and most populous countries in the world. That alone is reason enough to visit this country of millions. You will also be fascinated by the country's exciting culture and history as well as the diversity of the landscape. Not in many countries is the contrast between metropolises with millions of inhabitants and villages as great as in China.
Let yourself be surprised by the Chinese cuisine. Have you ever heard of the thousand-year-old egg, for example? A Chinese speciality!
Our travel guide will tell you everything you need to know about the People's Republic of China. Immerse yourself in a foreign, but exciting and lively culture.
If you are looking for ancient history, urban wonders, picturesque landscapes, or cultural experiences, China has all of this and more.
For first time travellers to this beautiful and historic land, here are some interesting facts worth knowing. China is located in eastern Asia along the western shore of the Pacific Ocean. It spreads over a vastly diverse geographical area of 9.6 million square kilometres (about the size of the USA or Europe), and is home to approximately 1.4 billion people (more than North America and Europe combined).
The highlands and hill regions account for 65 percent of the country's total landmass, and there are more than 2,000 lakes dotting the landscape. The highest mountain peak is Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) in Tibet, the highest mountain in the world extending 8,848 meters above sea level. Among the 220,000 kilometres of rivers, the Changjiang (Yangtze), Huanghe (Yellow River) and Zhujiang (Pearl River) are the most famous. The Yellow River Basin is the cradle of Chinese civilization, as the many cultural-historical sites along its banks can confirm.
In a country the size of China, one would expect to find several time zones. However, the whole country observes the same local time since it has only one timezone. The time in China is 7 hours ahead of the Central European Time Zone (CET).
Climate and travel seasons
Due to its geographical size, China has different types of climates. In the west and north there is a continental climate with very cold winters and hot summer months. The climate in the south is more subtropical/tropical. Although the winters are warm and dry, summer is characterised by heavy rains and even hurricanes along the coasts. The best time to travel to the south and southeast parts of China is between June to October so as to avoid the typhoons and landslides that hit the region in other parts of the year.
Preparing your journey
A tourist visa is required for entry into the People's Republic of China, but this is only valid for 30 days. Be sure to apply for the visa early either at your local embassy or consulate. In addition, your passport should be valid for at least 6 months at the beginning of your trip. An exception to the visa requirement is the Hong Kong and Macao regions. Although both are part of the People's Republic of China, they are at the same time so-called "special administrative regions" and can thus make decisions independently of the rest of the People's Republic of China. Incidentally, this also applies to Taiwan. However, as laws in China can change quickly, it is recommended that you review this information prior to traveling. China is not quite freely accessible: foreigners may enter the Tibet Autonomous Region only with special permission.
The Chinese national currency is the Renminbi (RMB), also called Yuán (元). A Yuán splits into 10 Jiao or 100 Fen. You do not have to change money prior to your travels since this can be done at the airport when you arrive in Beijing or in any major hotel. The exchange rate is almost identical everywhere, but some hotels charge a commission rate.
No specific vaccinations are required upon entering China. However, you will be asked to confirm on a form that you don't have any infectious disease. If you have previously traveled and been in a yellow fever area, you may need to prove a yellow fever vaccine. In this regard, it is recommended to look at the website of the Foreign Office for further information. If you want to travel to southern China, a malaria prophylaxis is advisable in summer. In any case, you should check your tetanus vaccine and possibly renew it. Your first-aid kit should contain: remedies for colds, stomach and intestinal infections, painkillers, disinfectant ointment, patches, bandages and sunscreen cream. Please consult with your family doctor prior to traveling to China.
Society and everyday life
The People's Republic of China is a secular state, meaning that religion is a private matter for the state. Common religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. Approximately 62% of China’s inhabitants claim to be atheist.
The Chinese Communist Party has ruled the country since 1949, tolerating no opposition and often dealing brutally with disapproval. In China, personal relations count much more than job titles. A leader's influence rests on the loyalties he or she builds with superiors and protégés, often over decades. That was how Deng Xiaoping remained paramount leader long after resigning all official posts, and it explains why party elders sometimes play a key role in big decisions. These are the Military Affairs Commission, which controls the armed forces: the National People's Congress, or parliament; and the State Council, the government's administrative arm. There have been some moves toward political liberalization, open contested elections are now held at the village and town levels. The current President is Xi Jinping, elected in 2012.
Local language and communication
The general official language is Mandarin. In addition, the following regional languages are officially recognized as other official languages: Cantonese in Hong Kong and Macau, English in Hong Kong, Mongolian in Inner Mongolia, Korean in Yanbian and Tibetan in Tibet.
Many cities are increasingly expanding their metro network; there are currently about 18 subway lines in Beijing. The cost of a ride is 3-10 yuan depending on distance traveled. Another alternative while in the city is to take a taxi. These are cheap and they have a wide presence. As a general rule, the journey costs about €1.5-€2 for the first 3 km, then about €0.3 per km. An alternative to cross national routes is the bus, they are typically the cheapest means of transportation, but are often overcrowded. The bus network, however, is well developed.
Culture and History
The history of the capital Beijing dates back to its first documented mention more than 3,000 years ago and was long considered an important trading city and military base. However, due to this role, the city was also often the target of attacks and occupations by neighboring peoples. One of the most famous conquests took place in 1215 under Genghis Khan, whose troops plundered the city and set fire to it. Under the rule of the Mongols, Beijing was re-established as the new capital and assumed a dominant position in the 13th century when the first Europeans came to Beijing via the renowned Silk Road, including the famous Marco Polo. The capital had its greatest vigor from the 14th to the 20th century under the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
After multiple foreign occupations, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty abdicated in 1912 and the Republic of China with the capital Nanjing was founded. In 1949, the Communist People's Republic of China was founded under Mao Zedong and Beijing was declared a capital city once again. In the aftermath thousands of temples were destroyed or repurposed into factories and other such facilities. In 1989, nearly one million people demonstrated in Tiananmen Square in the city center to draw attention to the lack of reform and civil rights present in their nation. On June 4, 1989, thousands of civilians died when the peacefully demonstrative democracy movement was annihilated by the army. Since then, China has regularly participated in human rights conferences.
Present day Chinese culture is an incorporation of old world traditions and a westernized lifestyle. The two co-exist like the traditional Yin Yang formula of balance. This can be seen in the association of towering skyscrapers with heritage buildings, the contrast of western fashion with the traditional Chinese Qipao dress, the people's contradictory attraction to both dim sums and McDonald's. Ancient Chinese Culture is over 5000 years old and has a massive diversity and variety. The olden day sophisticated Chinese civilization was rich in the Arts and Sciences, elaborate Painting and Printing techniques and delicate pottery and sculpture. Chinese architectural traditions were (and still are to this day) very much respected worldwide.
Chinese language and literature, philosophy and politics are still believed to be a strong influence on today's society. The country’s culture managed to retain its unique identity until the arrival of Western culture in the mid-19th century. Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have left a long lasting impression on Chinese culture and tradition. Confucianism spread “Ren” (Love) and “Li” (rituals), signifying respect for society and social pyramids. Taoism supported the controversial philosophy of indecisiveness. Finally, Buddhism emphasized on the need to attain self- emancipation by performing good deeds.
It is difficult to give a specific date for when the Chinese holidays occur since the dates are not the same every year. For example, the Moon Festival, during which the delicious moon cake is eaten, always takes place on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. The festival has its origins in Taiwan, but since 2008 has also been officially recognized as a holiday on the Chinese mainland. Even the Lantern Festival has no fixed date, but it always takes place during the first full moon night in the new lunar year. On the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, the Dragon Boat Festival takes place with the famous Dragon Boat Regatta. Then there are other holidays which always fall on the same day, such as the national holiday on October 1st. On this date in 1949, Mao Tse-tung proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China on Tiananmen Square. The day of work (Labor Day) is also celebrated in China on May 1st. One of the most important celebrations, however, is the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated for 6 days, between January 21st and February 20th.
- Dragon Boat festival - the most popular and representative activity of Dragon Boat Festival is dragon boat racing. Dragon Boat Festival falls on month 5 day 5 of the Chinese lunar calendar (around mid-June)
- Lantern festival - traditionally on the last day of the Chinese New Year. This event was created about 2,000 years ago. Billions of lanterns and drone displays make the occasion incredibly joyful.
- Red leaf festival - held at Fragrant Hill, the most famous place for viewing fall while in China. From mid-October to early November, millions of tourists go to Fragrant Hill to enjoy the beautiful autumn scenery
It is said that Beijing offers the greatest culinary diversity in China. Here you will find specialties from almost all the country's regions as well as delicacies from practically all Asian countries and international locations. Cafes or restaurants with Western cuisine are also easy to find.
Most of the restaurants and snack bars in China are open 24 hours a day. Certainly worth a try are the famous Peking Duck, which is served with black bean sauce in a dumpling, and the Mongolian hot pot, which consists of lamb, shrimp, vegetables, noodles and a very spicy broth. Although the traditional drink is tea, you can of course also find soft drinks such as coke, lemonade, mineral water and beer. You should not drink tap water, and can always ask your hotel to provide you with boiled water.
Common tourist mistakes
Remember that foreign or international driver's licenses are not readily recognized in China. As a rule tourists are advised against falling into the unknown traffic rules of China. However, if you still want to try it out, you should know that in the People's Republic of China the 0-percent alcohol limit applies, and drinking and driving is highly punishable. If you do not speak Chinese and wish to take a taxi, be sure to write down your destination beforehand or simply name a better known location near the destination, as many taxi drivers do not speak English.
Hints and tips
The withdrawal of money at ATMs is often very limited with foreign debit cards. Therefore, if you are traveling to China you should always take a credit card and/or cash with you. It is not common to tip in Chinese restaurants but it is quite customary in the hotel, for the room service or bell boy. The voltage in China is 220 volts. Since the sockets are not standardized, it is recommended to take a multiple adapter.
Take a look at China's most beautiful places and get inspired before your language trip!