Capital city: Beijing
Population: 1.3 billion (NBS China)
Government: Single-party socialist republic
Currency: Yuan (¥), also referred to as Renminbi
Main languages: Standard Chinese (Mandarin)
Main religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism
At just under 10 million square kilometres, China is the second-biggest country in the world by land area. In the times of the ancient dynasties China was a leader in culture and science, with the ancient Chinese reportedly inventing gunpowder, papermaking, printing and the compass. Home to the world’s largest population and showing rapid economic growth, modern China’s international influence is also on the increase.
With its vast land mass and 56 officially recognised ethnic groups, Chinese culture is difficult to define, with customs varying between different cities and provinces. To foreign visitors, Chinese values often appear traditional and conservative, and this is certainly true to a degree. Media in China is still subject to restrictions, and several major global websites remain blocked by the governing Communist party. However, China is a fast-developing nation, and there is a real desire for progress in academia, science and technology.
Social gatherings in China are often driven by shared pastimes and sports. It is not uncommon to see groups of people playing board games or cards in the street or meeting up in parks to exercise or dance together. On the world stage, Chinese athletes are strongly associated with gymnastics, diving and table tennis. With outdoor tables a regular sight across the country, ping pong remains a staple in China, although football and basketball are increasingly popular too. For a more traditional experience, visitors can watch or even try ancient Chinese pastimes such as dragon dancing, martial arts and equestrian sports. China’s surprisingly vibrant nightlife also has a distinct personality with diverse activities like acrobatic shows, karaoke, gaming and opera!
Food and drink
Chinese food is often defined by the Eight Culinary Traditions, but as with most things in the country regional variations are common. The staple food in southern China is rice, while wheat farming is more common further north where wheat flours are used to make dumplings or noodles. Typically, Chinese dishes are cooked quickly and feature characteristic flavours like ginger, chilli and soy. Meals tend to be communal and consist of lots of small dishes to be shared.
China produces a huge variety of teas and meals traditionally end with tea. Common alcoholic drinks include grape and rice wines, beers and baijiu, a strong spirit reported to be the world’s most consumed due to its popularity in China.
China has several spoken dialects, some of which are not mutually intelligible. This has led to a degree of confusion over what is a language and what is a dialect, and academics continue to debate and evaluate the distinctions today. Officially, the main language is Standard Chinese. Based on a dialect of Mandarin, it is sometimes referred to as Putonghua, Guoyu or Huayu. Cantonese is also widely spoken, and English and Japanese are both commonly taught in schools.
The sheer size of China means its climate varies hugely. The extreme north of the country can see winter temperatures as low as -30°C (-22°F) while in the tropical south temperatures regularly reach over 20°C (68°F), although the difference is much less in summer. China’s weather is also affected by the differing terrains of its regions and there are several microclimates that experience different levels of rainfall, as well as monsoon and typhoon conditions at certain times of year.
Safety and security
China is generally a safe place to visit, with heavy penalties serving as an effective deterrent for most serious crimes. In urban areas, beware of pickpockets and keep an eye on luggage and belongings, but the risk is usually no greater than in other major cities around the world. Road safety is a bigger issue, and care should be taken at all times as traffic can be very heavy and unpredictable. Travellers should also try to be aware of local laws, particularly in areas outside the main provinces.