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CHINA – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – China Flag
GEOGRAPHY

China is bound to the north by Russia and Mongolia; to the east by North Korea, the Yellow Sea and the South China Sea; to the south by Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, India, Bhutan and Nepal; and to the west by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Macau forms an enclave on the southeast coast. China has a varied terrain ranging from high plateaus in the west to flatlands in the east. Mountains take up almost one-third of the land. The most notable high mountain ranges are the Himalayas, the Altai Mountains, the Tianshan Mountains and the Kunlun Mountains. On the border with Nepal is the 8848m-high (29,198ft) Mount Jolmo Lungma (Mount Everest). In the west is the Qinghai/Tibet Plateau, with an average elevation of 4000m (13,200ft), known as “The Roof of the World”. At the base of the Tianshan Mountains is the Turfan Depression or Basin, China’s lowest area; 154m (508ft) below sea level at the lowest point. China has many great river systems, notably the Yellow River (Huang He) and Yangtse River (Chang Jiang). Only 10% of all China is suitable for agriculture.

HISTORY
Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

For centuries, China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. However, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest, major famines, military defeats and foreign occupation. After World War II, the Communists under Mao Zedong established an autocratic socialist system; that, while ensuring China’s sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life of the citizens.

After 1978, his successor Deng Xiaoping and other leaders focused on market-oriented economic development and by 2000 output had quadrupled. For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically and the room for personal choice has expanded. Yet, the political controls remain tight. Since the early 1990s, China has increased its global outreach and participation in international organizations.

THE PEOPLE

China is a multi-racial country with 56 ethnic groups. In the long course of its development, all the nationalities have joined in the effort to create the great culture that China represents. Apart from the Han nationality, the other 55 ethnic groups, with a total of more than 96.5 million people, constitute roughly 8.04% of the total population. Those with more than one million people are: Zhuang, Hui, Uyghur, Yi, Miao, Manchu, Tibetan, Mongolian, Tujia, Bouyei, Korean, Dong, Yao, Bai and Hani.

The constitution guarantees all non-Han groups certain national rights and privileges, such as the exemption from the one-child-policy, lower academic requirements for entering colleges and universities, tax breaks and government subsidies.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Cultural differences may create misunderstandings between local people and visitors. The Chinese do not usually volunteer information and the visitor is advised to ask questions. Hotels, train dining cars and restaurants often ask for criticisms and suggestions, which are considered seriously. Do not be offended by being followed by crowds, this is merely an open interest in visitors who are rare in the more remote provinces. The Chinese are generally reserved in manner, courtesy rather than familiarity being preferred.

The full title of the country is ‘The People’s Republic of China’, and this should be used in all formal communications. ‘China’ can be used informally, but there should never be any implication that another China exists. Although handshaking may be sufficient, a visitor will frequently be greeted by applause as a sign of welcome. The customary response is to applaud back. Anger, if felt, is expected to be concealed and arguments in public may attract hostile attention. In China the family name is always mentioned first.

It is customary to arrive a little early if invited out socially. Toasting at a meal is very common, as is the custom of taking a treat when visiting someone’s home, such as fruit, confectionery or a souvenir from a home country. If it is the home of friends or relatives, money may be left for the children. If visiting a school or a factory, a gift from the visitor’s home country, particularly something which would be appreciated in China (a good coffee table book about the USA, if visiting a school, for example). Stamps are also very popular as gifts, as stamp-collecting is a popular hobby in China. A good gift for an official guide is a Western reference book on China.

LANGUAGES

The official language is Mandarin. Among the enormous number of local dialects, in the south, large groups speak Cantonese, Fukienese, Xiamenhua and Hakka. Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang, which are autonomous regions, have their own languages. English is not commonly spoken, except at establishments catering to Westerners, but translation and interpreter services are good. English is spoken by many guides.

GOVERNMENT

China is a Communist State.

 TIME ZONE

All of China is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST). Despite the vast size of the country, Beijing time is standard throughout.

ELECTRICITY

China runs on 220 volts with a variety of plug types. Most common are the 2 prong straight plug (USA style) and 3 prong angled (Australia style).

CLIMATE

China has a variety of temperature and rainfall zones, including continental monsoon areas. In winter most areas become cold and dry, in summer hot and rainy.

 CLOTHES TO WEAR

North – heavyweight clothing with boots for the harsh northern winters. Light weight clothing for summer.

South – Medium weight clothing for winter and light weight for summer.

Conservative casual wear is generally acceptable everywhere, but revealing clothes should be avoided since they may cause offence. Visitors should avoid expressing political or religious opinions.

LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

Before you go:  To enter China, you need a visa as well as six months’ validity remaining on your passport.  If you do not have a valid passport and the appropriate Chinese visa, you will not be allowed to enter China, you will be fined, and you will be subject to immediate deportation.  U.S. citizens traveling to China may apply for up to a one-year multiple-entry visa.  Check your U.S. passport before applying for a visa to make sure that it has one year or more validity remaining; otherwise, you may be issued a visa for less than the time you request.  The Chinese embassy and consulates general in the United States do not always issue maximum validity visas even if requested to do so.  A multiple-entry visa is essential if you plan to re-enter China, especially if you plan to visit either Hong Kong or Macau and return to China.  China instituted new supporting document requirements for tourist (L) visas in September 2013.  Visit the website of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China for the most current visa information.

Some regions, such as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other remote areas, require special permits for tourist travel, most often obtained through a Chinese travel agent.  Permits usually cost approximately RMB 200, are single-entry, and are valid for a maximum of three months.  Permits are not always granted.  When travel to Tibet is allowed, usually only Lhasa and part of Shan Nan are open to foreigners.  If you do enter a restricted area without the requisite permit, you could be fined, taken into custody, and deported for illegal entry.  A Border Travel Permit (bianfangzheng) is required for travel in and around the TAR and the Nepal border area.  Applications for the permit are made at the Public Security Bureau’s office in Lhasa.  To learn more about specific entry requirements for restricted areas, check with the Visa Office of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States by telephone (202) 338-6688 between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday,  fax (202)588-9760, or e-mail visa_us@mfa.gov.cn. China no longer restricts tourists with HIV from visiting, but it will not issue them residence permits.  Please verify the restrictions with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China before you travel.

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China’s website also has a list of other available services and frequently-asked visa questions with links to their consulates general in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

 Upon Arrival:  Whether you are traveling to or living in China, you must register with the police within 24 hours of your arrival in the country.  Even foreigners with residence permits are required to register after each re-entry.  If you are staying in a hotel, the staff will automatically register you.  However, if you are staying in a private home with family or friends, you should take your passport to the local police station to register.  Failure to do so could result in fines and detention.  Chinese law requires that you carry your valid U.S. passport and Chinese visa or residence permit at all times.  If you are visiting China, you should carry your passport with you, out of reach of pickpockets.   If you live in China and have a residence permit, you should carry that document and leave your passport in a secure location, except when traveling.

Once you are in China, authorities expect you to comply with the requirements of your visa.  For example, if you are on a tourist visa, you are not allowed to work; if you are on a work visa, you typically cannot become a full-time student.  It is difficult to change or renew your visa within China.  Visitors cannot change tourist (L) and exchange (F) visas to other visa types.  Entry and exit requirements are strictly enforced.  Police, school administrators, airline and train officials, and hotel staff may check your visa to make sure you have not overstayed.  You will typically not be allowed to check into a hotel or travel by plane or on some trains if your visa has expired, and you may be taken into custody.  If you intentionally or inadvertently violate the terms of your Chinese visa, including staying after your visa has expired, you may be charged a RMB 500 fine per day up to a maximum of RMB 10,000, experience departure delays, and face possible detention.

Some parts of China are off limits or accessible only if you travel with an organized tour.  You should always use common sense and avoid unlawful entry to sensitive areas, including military zones or bases and places where there is current civil unrest.  If problems arise, the U.S. Embassy and consulates have limited ability to provide assistance.  The Chinese government does not usually authorize the travel of U.S. government personnel to Tibet or areas where there is civil unrest, even to provide consular assistance to U.S. citizens.  As recently as October 2013, the Chinese government delayed consular access to Tibet for 48 hours, despite an emergency situation involving multiple U.S. citizens.

Leaving China:  You must have a valid visa not only to enter China, but also to leave China.  If your visa has expired or if you lose your passport while you are in China, immigration authorities will not permit you to exit the country until you receive a new visa.  The time it takes to get a visa replaced varies depending on where you are in China; however, in Beijing, it can take at least one week from the date of application, regardless of your previously-scheduled departure date.  You should not expect the Chinese visa renewal or replacement process to be expedited to meet your travel schedule.

If you overstay in China, you may be detained for various amounts of time, as well as fined up to RMB 10,000.  You must apply for a visa extension from the Entry/Exit Bureau before attempting to leave the country.

If your passport is lost or stolen in China, you will need to replace both the U.S. passport and the Chinese visa.  The first step in this process is to immediately report the loss or theft of your passport to the Chinese authorities and obtain a report in the city in which the loss occurred.  Reporting regulations vary from place to place in China.  For instance, if you lose your passport in Beijing, the local authorities will require you to file a police report at the local police station before they will issue a replacement visa in your new passport, while in Shanghai you must report the loss to the Entry/Exit Bureau.  In Guangzhou, Shenyang, Chengdu, and Chongqing, the local authorities will require you to file a report first with your local police station and then with your local Entry/Exit Bureau.  Many police stations will not accept a report if the loss did not happen in their district.  Once you report the loss and are given a copy of the report, you will need to come into the U.S. Embassy or a consulate general to apply for a new U.S. passport.  Once you have the passport, you will need to take it to the local Entry/Exit Bureau to obtain a replacement Chinese visa.

U.S. citizens named (or whose businesses are named) as respondents in civil suits are often barred from leaving China pending resolution of the case.  More information regarding business disputes and exit bans can be found in the the SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES section.

Transiting China: In general, if you are travelling through China en route to another country, you do not need a visa, as long as you 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.

If Beijing Capital, Shanghai Pudong, Guangzhou Baiyun, Chengdu Shuangliu, Shenyang Taoxian, or Dalian Zhoushuizi airport is your international transit point, you may stay in mainland China for 72 hours without a Chinese visa if you have: a valid passport, a visa for your third country destination, an onward plane ticket departing from the same airport, and you remain in the same municipality/province in which you entered.  Make sure you get an endorsement stamp at the immigration desk before you leave the airport.

Embassy and Consulate Locations:

Embassy of the United States of America

#55 An Jia Lou Lu

Beijing-100600, China

Tel: (86-10) 8531-4000

http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/

Canadian Embassy

19 Dongzhimenwai Dajie

Chao Yang District,

Beijing -100600, China

Tel: (86-10) 5139 -4000

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/china-chine/offices-bureaux/index.aspx?lang=eng

HEALTH

Some HIV/AIDS entry restrictions exist for visitors and foreign residents of China. There are several laws in place that do not permit those with HIV/AIDS to enter China, and long-term residents must obtain clearance from Chinese health authorities. For further information about HIV/AIDS restrictions, contact the Embassy of China before traveling.

For the latest information on specific travel restrictions, quarantine measures applicable to all travelers in or entering/transiting the People’s Republic of China, or other considerations please see the Embassy Website at http://beijing.usembassy-china.org.cn/contact_us.html. For more information on travel safety and U.S. Government policy during a pandemic, please see the State Department’s “Pandemic/Avian Influenza” and “Remain in Country” Fact Sheets at http://travel.state.gov.

Please note: Some medications may not be permitted in the country. Please check if the medication you are bringing is permitted in the country you are visiting.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

BANKS AND CURRENCY

The official currency in China is the Renminbi (RMB or CNY) or in Chinese “Ren-min-bi”. The basic unit is the yuan (also known as “kuai”), which equals 10 jiao (or “mao”), which is then divided into 10 fen. Paper currency comes in 1.2,5,10,50 and 100 yuan notes. Paper jiao come in denominations of 1, 2, and 5. There are also 1 and 2 fen notes, but these are rarely used as they have no purchasing power. 1 yuan, 1 and 5 jiao, and 1, 2, and 5 fen coins are even common used in larger cities.

 It is possible to exchange traveler’s checks or cash at most banks, and hotels always have a money exchange counter. Cash advances are available on most common credit/debit cards such as American Express, Visa and Master Card, but this facility is available only from the main branch of the Bank of China in most Chinese cities. A fee of 3-4% will apply.

The Bank of China has an ATM network that will allow cash advances from major credit / debit cards and ATM cards. Check your credit card provider for this information before leaving your home country. You are required to present your passport to change money/travelers checks. Hotels will usually only allow you to change money if you are a guest at the hotel. The RMB is not easily convertible on the international market so it is only usable in China.

It is advisable to change only the money that you need for your trip as it may be difficult to change back to your preferred currency. CNY is now readily convertible in Hong Kong. You can convert unused CNY to another currency in China by producing the receipts for your original purchase of CNY in China. This exchange is done at the airport as you leave China.

Major credit cards such as Master Card, Visa, JCB and American Express are accepted in major hotels and department stores. Check on the acceptance of your credit card before you purchase. Credit cards cannot be used in most restaurants or small convenience stores. Air Travel could be purchased with credit cards. Credit cards can be used to get a cash advance in the main offices of the Bank of China.

 COMMUNICATIONS

International Direct Dialing is available. Country code: +86. There are public telephones in hotels and shops displaying a telephone unit sign. It is often easier to make international phone calls from China than it is to make calls internally.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

ENTERTAINMENT

Food and Drinks:

Chinese cuisine has a very long history and is renowned all over the world. Cantonese (the style the majority of Westerners are most familiar with) is only one regional style of Chinese cooking. There are eight major schools of Chinese cuisine, named after the places where they were conceived: Shandong, Sichuan, Jiangsu, Zhejian, Guangdong, Hunan, Fujian and Anhui. For a brief appreciation of the cuisine, it is possible to break it down into four major regional categories:

  • Northern Cuisine – Beijing, which has developed from the Shandong school, is famous for Peking Duck, which is roasted in a special way and eaten in a thin pancake with cucumber and a sweet plum sauce. Another specialty of the North of China is Mongolian Hotpot, which is a Chinese version of fondue. It is eaten in a communal style and consists of a central simmering soup in a special large round pot into which is dipped a variety of uncooked meats and vegetables, which are cooked on the spot. A cheap and delicious local dish is shuijiao, which is pasta-like dough wrapped round pork meat, chives and onions, similar in idea to Italian ravioli. These can be bought by the jin (pound) in street markets and small eating houses, and are a good filler if you are out all day and do not feel like a large restaurant dinner.

It should, however, be noted that in the interests of hygiene, it is best to take one’s own chopsticks.

  • Southern Cuisine Guangdong (Cantonese) food is famous for being the most exotic in China. The food markets in Guangzhou are a testimony to this, and the Western visitor is often shocked by the enormous variety of rare and exotic animals that are used in the cuisine, including snake, dog, turtle and wildcat. 
  • Eastern Cuisine Shanghai and Zhejiang cooking is rich and sweet, often pickled. Noted for seafood, hot and sour soup, noodles and vegetables. 
  • Western Cuisine Sichuan and Hunan food is spicy, often sour and peppery, with specialties such as diced chicken stirred with soy sauce and peanuts, and spicy doufu (beancurd). 

One of the best-known national drinks is maotai, a fiery spirit distilled from rice wine. Local beers are of good quality, notably Qingdao, which is similar to German lager. There are now some decent wines, which are produced mainly for tourists and export.

NIGHTLIFE

Although swiftly catching up with the west in nightlife options, China’s night scene has a distinct personality of its own. In other words, anything goes. Acrobatic shows, karaoke, disco dancing, a sprinkle of naughtiness here and there, Chinese opera dinner shows, western-style bars and pubs, there’s even a Louisiana-themed jazz bar/club downtown Beijing.

SHOPPING

You will have fun shopping in China. There is an incredible choice of boutique shops, department stores, and hotel shopping arcades to browse through. Or you can try bargain hunting at one of the new “free markets” that are springing up all over the country. You’re sure to be dazzled by the unique array of aesthetic and practical gifts available in China. You will find everything from high quality silks and porcelains to antique screens and traditional Chinese herbal medicines. Throughout China, shops offer unique ceramics, paintings, stone rubbings, embroideries, carpets, furniture, jade carvings, custom-carved signature chops, antiques, books, and much more. Shop personnel will often pack and arrange for shipping bulky purchases back home. Prices are usually clearly marked in stores and shops, and English is spoken in most tourist areas. Don’t miss browsing through one of the state run Friendship Stores; they are still some of the best places to find an excellent selection of quality merchandise, plus you’ll find a complete supermarket of Chinese delicacies to bring to friends back home.

An abundance of traditional crafts and treasures are available in China from luminous silks, intricate wood and jade carvings, and elegant laquerware.  The factory outlets and department stores offer a wide selection of Chinese goods of high quality.  Open air markets flourish in every town for practiced bargain hunters.

All antiques over 100 years old are marked with a red wax seal by the authorities, and require an export customs certificate. Access to normal shops is available, offering inexpensive souvenirs, work clothes, posters and books. This will prove much easier if accompanied by an interpreter, although it is possible to point or get the help of a nearby English-speaker. Items are sometimes in short supply, but prices will not vary much from place to place. It is advisable to keep receipts, as visitors may be asked to produce them at Customs prior to departure.

Shopping hours are 09:00 am – 7:00 pm daily.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.

LAUNDRY

There are also no coin-op Laundromats. However, laundry services are available at most hotels, usually via the floor attendants. One-day dry cleaning and ironing services are offered at better hotels. Quality of service and price vary. Try a few easily replaceable articles first.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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