General information about China
China – the "Middle Empire". In China, the land of emperor dynasties, revolution and socialism, the world of the Far East comes to its mystic climax. China is a country of mysterious puzzles and a thousand faces. Here gigantic rivers, boundless deserts and thriving metropolises make the country unique – a country in which aphorisms are as plentiful as the ant-like population. Whether eras, wonders of nature or people, everything in China is measured in large numbers.
China is a country of gigantic statistics and impressive dimensions. The longest river in the world flows through China – the Jangtsekiang, or the "Long River", as it is affectionately known in China. China has the greatest desert in Central Asia, called the "Hanhai"; and here also is the fascinating city of Beijing, which has been the centre of spiritual and secular power in China from antiquity. China is also the home of the Terracotta Army, the Great Wall - the structure which can be seen from space, Genghis Khan and Marco Polo, the first European to discover the Middle Empire and who helped to establish the mythos of the Silk Road with sand and silk.
In the final analysis, China is also "Yin and Yang", a school of medicine which dates back thousands of years, and which is applied to almost all aspects of life. As well as this, Yin and Yang is a kind of philosophy of life for China which is based on Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism. China is a country, which in spite of the turbulent events of its 5000 year old history, has been able to maintain its cultural identity. Officially, Beijing time applies to the entire country. The time difference to CET (Central European Time) is plus six hours in summer and plus seven hours in winter.
With an area of 9,560,980 qkm, China is the world's third largest country, and almost twenty-eight times larger than the Federal Republic of Germany. The country is over 4,200 km in width and 4,500 km in length. China has 20,000 km of borders with 14 neighbouring countries, and a coastal region 14,000 km in length.
This area is inhabited by 1.3 billion Chinese, of which about 92% are Han Chinese and 8% belong to recognised ethnic minorities. The language of the country is Chinese, which is spoken by 70% of the population.
The Chinese climate zones range from Siberian cold to tropical heat. However, the majority of the country is situated in temperate regions. The change from dry, cold and dusty winters to warm and humid summers is most distinct in Northern and Central China. Rain falls mainly in early and late summer as well as in autumn.
In Southern China there is no real difference between the seasons. Here the summers are usually oppressive and stifling, and in the winter months it can also be quite cool. The weather is quite fresh above 1,400 m, and on the high plains of Tibet the temperature can fall below -20°C in the winter months.
During the summer months, lightweight summer clothing is adequate for all of China.
In winter, winter clothing should be taken for the north of China and warmer clothing for Southern China. Rainwear is recommended, especially for the southern regions. It is important to pack a sun hat, suncream and a good pair of sunglasses with UV protection for hot sunny days.
Chinese cuisine is a special form of expression of Chinese culture. However, there is no unified cooking tradition, but rather this is a term which has arisen externally, as if you were to speak of "European cuisine" in Asia. Of course, in such a large and varied country, the food varies greatly according to the region. The Chinese love to make each meal and the preparation of the food into an event. For Europeans, eating is always a culinary pleasure with many different experiences of taste if you have the courage to experiment.
Chinese cuisine thrives on variety, and you can only get to know this it you order different dishes, which are placed in the centre of the table, where everyone serves themselves. One could say that the French will try anything once for the sake of experience, while in China, everything is eaten out of necessity. In fact though, specialities such as turtle, sea serpents, snakes, bears' paws, cicadas, scorpions and rats are no less exotic to many Chinese than they are to Europeans. These are not usually found in all restaurants, and also they are usually exceedingly expensive.
China also has a wide range of accommodation to offer. From the well-known international luxury hotels, which are mainly to be found in large cities, to small, typical "Lodges" in the country, the range is enormous. For some time now, there has been an increase of Boutique Hotels which are adapted to the local style of building. These give the visitor something of the unmistakeable atmosphere of the country.
The Renminbi is the currency of the People's Republic. It is issued by the People's Bank of China and has the symbol ¥. The units of currency are Yuán, Jiǎo and Fēn. A Yuan is equal to 10 Jiao or 100 Fen. Notes and coins with Fen values are now extremely rare. Foreign currency may be imported into China without restriction, however, it must be declared. It is recommended to take Dollars or Euro as traveller's cheques. Credit cards (mainly Visa, MasterCard, American Express) are accepted in large towns and by hotels (above 3 star), friendship stores, travel agents, airline offices and some department stores. Money can be exchanged in hotels. Normally a better rate of exchange can be obtained at a bureau de change or a bank. Unofficial exchange is prohibited. Exchange receipts must be kept safe, as when leaving the country, Renminbi can only be exchanged back if this receipt is presented. Amounts of up to 6000 Yuan may be taken into or out of the country.
Telephoning to Europe is no longer a problem. Even German network providers now have roaming contracts with China. Internet cafés are widespread in China and are very cheap. If you wish to telephone from China, Germany has the dialling code 00 49 + dialling code for the town (without the first zero) and the telephone number. The dialling code to China is 0086. The emergency number for the police is also 110 in China, and for the fire service it is 119.
Adequate medical treatment is available in all large towns. Doctors' fees and costs of medicine must be paid for directly. If you need any daily medication, please ensure that you have an adequate supply with you. Hygienic conditions in China are better than in most Asian countries, however, certain precautions should be taken: wash your hands often, and do not drink tap water or water which has not been boiled. Wash fruit well before eating, or better still, peel it.
No mandatory vaccinations are necessary to enter China, unless you have been in a region in which yellow fever is endemic during the last six months. It is also advisable to check your general vaccination status – diphtheria, tetanus and polio. We also recommend vaccination against Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid and possibly Rabies. Travellers should obtain information about infection and vaccination protection in good time and seek medical advice. Please refer to to the general information available from health authorities, doctors experienced in travel medicine, specialists in tropical medicine, travel medicine information services or the Federal Centre for Health Education [Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung].
There are no standard mains sockets in China. In some hotels, adapters can be borrowed. However, to be certain it is better to bring your own adapter with you. A world-travel adapter is recommended, as these usually have all the varieties of plug which are to be found in China. The mains voltage is normally 220 Volt, frequency 50 Hz.
The following quantities of cigarettes and alcoholic beverages can be imported into China duty free: 400 cigarettes or 100 cigars or 500 g of tobacco, 2 bottles of spirits (0.75 litres each). All travellers may carry a camera, a cassette recorder, a standard video camera and a mini computer for their personal use. These must be re-exported, otherwise import duty is due. There are no restrictions on the import of currency, travellers' cheques and credit cards on entering the country. Travellers with and without a residence permit for China may import US$2000 or US$5000, respectively, or other currency of equivalent value. This must be stated in the customs declaration. A copy of this form is required by the customs on leaving the country. The export of antiques which have not been imported is only permitted with the confirmation of the responsible authorities and must be declared to the customs on leaving the country. Antiques which do not have the red lacquer seal of an official antique shop may not be exported.
Prohibited imports are: weapons of all kinds, drugs, and publications which have a negative effect on the politics, economy, culture and morals of China.
At first, as a European, there is nowhere where you will feel more a stranger and out of place than in China. You will no longer cause so much attention or astonishment as a "da bi zi" (long-nose) in large towns or when visiting places of interest, but you will meet with reserve and a different way of life.
Travelling in China often requires much patience, time and energy. Therefore, in order to manage in this difficult country, you should accept Chinese values. Politeness, modesty and reserve are still highly valued virtues in China, and these are also expected of foreigners. The Chinese greatly value a clean and tidy appearance. Anyone who is sloppily or inappropriately dressed loses much respect in the eyes of the Chinese.
Good service cannot always be taken for granted. It can happen that you are simply overlooked in restaurants. Although this often gives the impression of unfriendliness is very rarely malicious. It is rather due to the fact that most Chinese do not speak a foreign language, and it is usually very difficult for them to find out what a guest wants. In any case, for the Chinese there is a vast range of opportunities to make mistakes and to loose face when dealing with foreigners, and as a result, no-one feels themselves responsible for foreigners.
Before photographing people, permission must usually be asked. Photography of military installations and airports is strictly forbidden. It is not usual to give tips in China, however this custom is increasingly being introduced by tourists. A tip is given to tour guides at the end of their service. The amount of the tip depends on how satisfied you were with the service.
Due to the predominant scruples and the drastic penalties for violence against foreigners tourists are quite safe in China. However, as in all other countries, you should not leave anything lying around unobserved. Valuables should be carried close to your person and you should keep your eyes open with regard to what is going on around you.
Routes through or in China
This information has been compiled to the best of our knowledge, however this may be subject to change. We are not liable for the accuracy of the stated information.