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People's Republic of China

The Great Wall, X’ian’s Terracotta Army, the Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square: the very names reverberate with history and legend. China’s paradoxes are many: Shanghai’s skyscrapers contrast with Beijing’s historical treasures, while in rural provinces, mechanisation is slow. Its history is one of turmoil in between periods of stability. The civil war in 1945 defined the China of today. Defeated Nationalists fled to Taiwan, while victorious Communists founded the People’s Republic of China. Prior to that, China endured eight years of brutal occupation by the Japanese imperial army from 1937, souring relations between the two countries to this day.

Practical Information

Area: 9 572 900 km² (3 696 100 miles²)

Capital: Beijing

Population: 1.3 billion

Currency: 1 Renminbi Yuan (CNY symbol ¥) = 10 chiao/jiao or 100 fen

Government: People’s Republic. China comprises 23 provinces, five autonomous regions, two special administrative regions and four municipalities directly under central government.

Tipping: Still not officially approved of, tipping is becoming more commonplace in China. It is usual in tourist hotels and restaurants, and with tour guides and drivers. A service charge is often added by restaurants in large hotels.

Legal drinking age: No minimum age for drinking; must be 18 to purchase alcohol

Time zone: GMT + 8 Despite the vast size of the country, Beijing time is standard throughout China

Languages: Mandarin Chinese

Additional descriptions

People's Republic of China: Social customs

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 carsRead more 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 remoter 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. When dining, guests should wait until their seat is allocated and not begin eating until indicated to do so. If using chopsticks, do not position them upright in your rice bowl as the gesture symbolises death. 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 unavailable in China (a text book if visiting a school, for example), would be much appreciated. 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. Conservative casual wear is generally acceptable everywhere and revealing clothes should be avoided since they may cause offence. Visitors should avoid expressing political or religious opinions. Photography: Not allowed in airports. Places of historic and scenic interest may be photographed, but permission should be sought before photographing military installations, government buildings or other possibly sensitive subjects.

People's Republic of China: Food and local specialties

Chinese cuisine has a very long history and is renowned all over the world. Cantonese (the style most Westerners are most familiar with) is just one regional style of Chinese cooking. There are eight majorRead more schools of Chinese cuisine, named after the places where they were conceived: Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejiang. China’s cuisine breaks down into four major regional categories:Northern cuisine:Beijing food has developed from the Shandong school of cuisine. Specialities:Peking duck (roasted and eaten in a thin pancake with cucumber and a sweet plum sauce). Mongolian Hotpot (a Chinese version of fondue, it is eaten in a communal style and consists of 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). Shuijiao (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 make a good snack). Southern cuisineGuangdong (Cantonese) food is 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. Specialities:Dim sum served at lunch. Shrimp wonton noodle soup. Eastern cuisineShanghai and Zhejiang cooking is rich and sweet, often pickled. Noted for seafood, hot and sour soup, noodles and vegetables. Specialities:La Mian (pulled noodles) served with curry beef soup. Xiao Long Bao (pan fried pork buns eaten dipped in vinegar). Western cuisineSichuan and Hunan food is spicy, often sour and peppery, with specialities such as diced chicken stirred with soy sauce and peanuts, and spicy doufu (beancurd). Specialities:Sweet and sour chicken. Orange beef. One of the best-known national drinks is Maotai, a fiery spirit distilled from rice wine. Local beers are of good quality, notably Tsingdao, which is similar to German lager. There are now some decent wines, which are produced mainly for tourists and export, such as Great Wall and Dynasty red wines and Qingdao white wine.

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