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Visas and permits

To get a tourist visa for China, first apply to the nearest Chinese embassy. If, for some bureaucratic reason they do not issue you with one, you can get one in Hong Kong.

There are a number of places in Hong Kong which offer individual visas for China. Firstly, China now has an official visa office in the British colony (387 Queen’s Road East), although at the time of writing it rarely issues tourist visas to casual travellers; this may change soon.

A number of private companies and hostels have also offered individual tourist visas in the past, and probably still do so. They include:

Travellers’ Hostel, 16th floor, Chunking Mansions, Block’A’, Nathan Road, Kowloon (opposite Hyatt Regency Hotel), tel:3-687710. Hong Kong Student Travel Bureau Ltd, Room 1020, Star House, Kowloon (near the Star Ferry Terminal), tel: 3-694847.

China Tour Center, RoomL1-55, New World Center, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, tel: 3-683207.

The official China Travel Service (77 Queen’s Road, Central) has also been known to issue individual tourist visas masquerading as group visas. Some people have been designated as a group of one (themselves). If you are with a friend or friends, ask if you could be designated a ‘group’. Another possibility is to join one of the regular China Travel Service-operated tours to Canton and get your visa extended when you get there.

Some tourist visas are valid for a month, some for a week; it varies wildly. But once you are in China, you can get the visa extended by the Public Security Bureau (the police) at least once and probably twice. Some PSB offices are more generous than others; the large offices, particularly those in Peking and Shanghai, have the reputation of being less helpful in this regard.

In the past for travel within China, every foreigner had an Alien’ Travel Permit, issued by the Public Security Bureau, listing all November 1982, tourists have been allowed to visit 28 selected cities and towns without a permit.

If you want to travel beyond these places, you will still need the Aliens’ Travel Permit. Go to the Public Security Bureau foreign affairs office in any large city. And write out a list of cities you want to visit on the application form. Some of the places many be crossed off, but-of-the-way places, you can only get permission at the nearest provincial capitals.

The following is a list of the main places that are now open to foreign tourists. Those marked with an asterisk (*) are the ‘open’ cities which travellers can visit without a premit; the rest reqrire on this list – all they can do turn you down.

Tianjin (Tientsin)
Anhui Province: Hefei, Huangshan
Fujian Province: Fuzhou (Foochow), Quanzhou, Xiamen (Amoy).
Gansu Province: Dunhuang, jiayuguan,
Lanzhou Guangdong (kuangtung) Province: Canton (guangzhou)*,Conghua, Foshan*, Huainan Island, Shenzhen (special economic zone next to Macao).
Guangxi Province: guilin (Kweilin)*, Liuzhou (Liuchow), Nanning*.
Hebei Province: Beidaihe (Peitaiho), Chengdu*, Qinhuangdao*, shijiazhuang*.
Heilongjiang Province: Kaifeng*, Linxian County, Luoyang*, Shaolin Monastery, Zhengzhou*.
Hubei Province: Wuhan*, Yichang*
Hunan Province: Changsha*, Shaoshan.
Inner Mongolia:Baotou, Huhehao (Hohhot),Xilinhot.
jiangsu Province: Cahngzhou*, Nanking (Nanjing)*, Suzhou*, Wuxi*,Xuzhou, Yangzhou (Yangchow)*, zhenjiang.
Jiangxi Province: jingdezhen*, jinggangshan, Lushan, Nanchang.
Jilin Province: Changchun*, jinlin.Liaoning Province: Anshan, Dalian (Luda, Dairen), Shenyang (Mukden*).
Shaanxi Province: Xian (Sian)*, Yanan (yenan)
Shandong Province: Jinan*, Qingdao (Chingtao)*, Qufu (Chufu), Shengli oilfield, Taishan,Yantai.
Shanxi Province: Datong, Dahzai (Tachai; sometimes), Taiyuan*.
Sichuan Province: Chengdu*, Chongqing (Chungking)*, Dazu*, Emei Shan, Leshan*.
Xinjiang (Sinkiang) Autonomous Region: Shihezi, Tianchi*, Turfan (Turpan), Urmqi.
Yunnan Province: Kunming*, Xishuang Banna.
Zhejiang Province: Hangzhou (Hangchow)*, Ningbo, Shaoxing, Wenzhou.
The Yangtse River from Chongqing down to Wuhan – which takes in the famous Yangtse Gorges – is ‘open’, but the towns along the river are almost all ‘colsed’.
Tibet is a special case. Its capital, Lhasa, is sometimes’open’, and regular tourist groups have visited the city, but it is still officially classified as ‘colsed’.
Apart from those places already mentioned, virtually all of the rest of China is off-limits to foreigners. However, in the hope that more areas will be put within the reach of tourists, other, officially ‘closed’ areas have also been included in this guide.


Chinese customs officers are primarily interested in Hong Kong Chinese, who are the ones most likely to be smuggling things in and out of the country. Other foreigners are usually given a fairly cursory inspection. The important thing is to declare all your electrical goods, watches, tape recorders, stc. when you enter the country, otherwise you could have trouble when the time come to leave. If you lose any declared item during your travels, go and see the Public Security Bureau.

At Peking airport, one of the most common points of entry, the customs people X-ray all baggage but rarely open suitcases, another

Sign of their primary interest in electrical goods. You can bring as much foreign currency as you like into the country. Non-resident foreigners are allowed to bring in four bottles of alcohol and 600 cigarettes duty-free.

Unlike most East European Communist countries, there are virtually no controls on what books foreigners can bring into China. English and other European languages are double Dutch to the average Chinese customs official, and he has no way of telling a racy pornographic novel from a damning critique of Chinese Communism. One exception has arisen recently however: copies of New York Times correspondent Fox Butterfield’s book on China on China, China, Alive in the Bitter Sea, have been seized at customs checkpoints, so if you are reading that, it might be an idea to put it at the bottom of your bag.

Things to bring Clothes

Don’t bring too many. As a tourist, you won’t need anything more formal than casual wear, even for banquets. Jeans are ideal. Most of the foreigner’s hotels can return laundry within 24 hour, So don’t bright too many changes of clothes. In summer, most of China is very hot, so T-shirts will be useful, but bring along a sweater or light anorak for use on cool evenings or when you climb mountains. In the winter time, China is cold: temperatures in Peking, for instance, can drop to 10oF or even 20oF below freezing (-7o-12oC). Down south in winter, the temperatures aren’t so low, but the added humidity can chill you to the bone. Make sure that you have thick shoes, heavy-duty socks, long-Johns, and a thick jacket. You might like to buy one of the huge padded greatcoats, coloured green or blue, which everyone in China wears. They may not be much use back home, but they are among the best buys in the country.


Bring a sturdy, comfortable pair of walking shoes. Tourists in China do a lot of walking, up and down the Great Wall, traipsing through temples and factories, investigating the back streets of cities, etc.

Books Bring your own, Most major cities have ‘foreign language book stores’, but they stock few books of interest to foreigners. A handful of bookstalls, mostly in top hotels, also have some foreign paperbacks on sale, but if you’re a reader, it would be best to have your own supply. If you plan to travel by train a lot, you will be thankful of a thick novek or two.


Kodak colour film (slides and prints) is a available in most major cities in the foreigners’ shops or hotels, but at higher prices than outside China. Elsewhere only locally made black-and-white film is available. Colour prints can now be developed in Peking in one day; there are film-processing counters at the Peking Hotel and the International Club. Cigarettes and alcohol

A wide selection of foreign-brand cifrettes and some alcohol is available in the Friendship Stores. The local cigarette brands are pretty strong, and the rice wine is formidable, but the beer is generally good.


China’s electricity is 220 volts, 50 cycles.


A couple of places (Peking and Canton) now sell foreign instant coffee at exorbitant prices. The local coffee is mostly terrible, so if you’re a connoisseur, bring your own.


A shortwave radio is an excellent idea if you want to stay in touch with what’s happening in the world. The Voice of America (VOA) can be picked up loud and clear in most of China, but the BBC is quite weak, especially in the north. Without a radio, up-to-date world news is hard to come by except in Peking, Shanghai and Canton where the Herald Tribune and the Asian edition of the Wall Street Journal are available, a couple of days late. There is also the official English language daily newspaper, the China Daily, which provides velatively objective coverage of international evens.

Other ideas A coupler of phrase books. If one book doesn’t have it, the other one will. Some people write down lists of useful questions and have someone write the Chinese underneath. A better method is to put each questions on a separate card.

Multi-vitamin tablets are a good idea, particularly if you intend to eat mostly where the ordinary Chinese do.

A water bottle is useful in summer. In many places there is nothing available but sweet iced lollies and sweet fizzy drinks, neither of which really quenches the thirst.

Many Chinese hotal have only baths and no showers, and the baths in some places can be pretty dirty. So, if you like soaking in a bath and intend to travel beyond Peking, Shanghai and Canton, some bath-cleanser would be useful. If you prefer showers, a handy item is a plastic shower nozzle which can be attached to bathtaps

If you have any favouritesoap, toothpaste, make-up, etc, you should bring adequate supplies with you. Money

One yuan = 100 fen, 10 fen = one mao

China’s currency is the renminbi (people’s money), but most foreign visitors in China don’t see too much of it. In an effort to put a stop to black-marketeering and financial funny business between local Chinese and outsides (mostly Hong Kong Chinese), in 1980 the authorities introduced a new form of currency known as ‘foreign exchange certificates’. Unauthorised local people are not suppesed to possess the new notes, which can be used to buy things in the foreigners’ shops, where quality is higher and stocks greater than in ordinary shops.

As a result, the obvious happened: a black market in the certificates developed, and foreign tourists are sometimes badgered by local people (especially in the south) to exchange ordinary money for the prized certificates. Occasionally the government appears to spread rumours that the certificates are about to be abolished in order to scare local people into unloading their holdings. But despite the problems, and criticism from many people who object to the existence of two kinds of Chinese currency – one high-class type for foreigner, and a lower-class one for ordinary Chinese – the Chinese government has apparently decided to stick with the foreign exchange certificates.

As a foreign tourist, it is perfectly legal to possess either type of currency. The main difference is that the certificates can be changed back into foreign currency (on presentation of the original currency exchange receipts), while ordinary renminbi cannot be changed and cannot be taken out of the country. Some places (foreigners’ hotel, airline ticket offices etc.) only accept the foreign exchange certificates, but the ordinary renminbi is useful out on the streets. Many shop will eagerly accept the certificates as well, but in off-the-beaten-track areas, you many find people who have never seen the certificates who will insist on renminbi.

One thing to watch: when you pay in foreign exchange certificates, make sure you get your change in the certificates, or you will end up with a pile of ordinary money that you can’t exchange when you want to leave the country. Also remember to save all your currency exchange receipts for when you want to convert back to foreign currency.

As a rough guide, here are some exchange rates, valid at the time of writing:

US$1 = 2 yuan
UK¡ê1 = 3 yuan
1 yuan = HK$3


The major cities of China have three or four different kinds of accommodation including hotels for foreigners, overseas Chinese and government officials and lowly inns for the ‘masses’ The rooms in the foreigner’s hotels generally range from 30 to 60 yuan a day, and foreign tourists will be constantly pushed to take rooms at the top end of the range. If you are travelling on a budget, don’t give in until you’re convinced that there are on alternatives: there are almost certain to be some (see Budget accommodation below). Booking ahead is virtually impossible; hotels in China only like to deal with people actually standing at the reception desk, although CITS canuseually help. The only hotel in China with a formal reservations system is the Jiangguo Hotel in Peking, comanaged by the Peninsula Hotel Group in Hong Kong.

Hotel rooms for foreigner in China are generally spartan but acceptable. There will be two single beds, two chairs with a small table in between them on which is placed a flask of hot water and some cups. In some places, there will be a television set. Most tourist rooms

Have private bathrooms, but the plumbing is not always very reliable and some rudimentary knowledge of toilet cisterns is useful. Even if you don’t have such knowledge before your trip, you may well have by the end.

In just about every hotel in China, on each floor, near the elevators there is a counter behind which sit the roomboys. They are there to clean the rooms, deliver laundry and also to keep an eye on the guests. It’s all part of the mornings, so it is best to shower or bathe in the evening. If you want an early morning walk-up call, ask the service desk on your floor of the hotel. Laundry usually takes a day, but don’t hand in any particularly delicate fabrics for washing.

Budget accommodation

Many of the people who have travelled China as individual tourists in the past couple of year have been budget travellers, on their way through Asia on the cheap, who managed to get visas in Hong Kong. Those who have done it this way say it is possible to get by on an absolute minimum of about US$50 a week, depending on how much travelling you do. A more reasonable estimate would be US$80-100 a week.

Most cities in China have at least one hotel with dormitories which foreigner can stay in for between five and ten yuan perbed-space-per night. That is more expensive than similar accommodation in most places in Southeast Asia and India, but the standard is generally higher, too. There are usually clean sheets, and sometimes a bathroom attached to the room (if not, then down the hall) The attendants in some hotels may deny the existence of a dormitory or swear that all the bed-spaces are full. When this happens, as it will many times during your travels, remain calm and polite, and say you will sit down and wait until a bed becomes vacant. You may have to wait an hour or more, but eventually your patience will almost certainly be rewarded. Whatever you do, don’t get angry.


Airlines The Chinese airline, CAAC, has a comprehensive domestic network, but planes fill up quickly so it is wise to book several days in advance. Airline ticket prices for foreigners are not extortionate (about UK50 Peking-Shanghai, 80 Peking-Canton), and are only slightly more expensive than first-class train tickets for the same route. Some airports in China are a long way out of the city, so it is useful to know that there is always an airport bus leaving from the CAAC office in the centre of town, which is free for ticket-holders.

The airline is rather strict on its baggage limit of two suitcases and 20 kilos (44lb) maximum weight, but as more groups check and weigh in for flights collectively, this is not usually a problem, unless your baggage is drastically overweight.

Trains The most convenient form of surface travel is the railways, and there is a good service linking all but one of the major cities of the People’s Republic: the exception is Lhasa in Tibet. The trains are clean, and usually punctual. Long-distance trains are divided into three classes: soft-sleeper, hard-sleeper and ordinary hard seats. The soft-sleepers, which consist of cabins for four people, with frilly curtains and potted plants, are the preserve of foreigners and high-ranking Communist Party officials. The other Chinese and the more adventurous foreigners rough it in the hard carriages. The hard-sleepers are, in fact, not hard at all, and are perfectly adequate for most travellers. Ticket prices for the three classes vary widely, with the added complication that foreigners pay almost double the amount that the local Chinese do for the same tickets. Train tickets are sold at the stations, but there can be long queues in front of the ticket offices. It is usually possible to buy tickets through CITS or some foreigners’ hotels. Trains are sometimes fully booked, so buy your tickets a couple of days in advance. Keep your ticket with you when you get off the train: you will need it to get out of the station.

Food is sold on the trains. Attendants move through the hard-class carriages before mealtimes and sell ticket vouchers exchangeable for cheap containers of rice with some vegetables and meat. Better food is available in the restaurant cars, but beware you don’t get over charged. Attendants come round every so often to fill up tea mugs with hot water; if you are travelling hard-class, bring your own mug.

Buses There are buses operating between virtually all cities in China, but foreigners are not allowed to use most of them, because they travel through, and stop in, ‘closed’ areas. However, there are some places where buses can be ridden. Theyare not as comfortable as the trains, but they are cheap, and give you a good view of the countryside. Buses in the cities are usually very crowded, and you will often have to fight your way on with the crowd, but they are a convenient way of getting round. City bus route maps are usually available at major bookshops and at the railway stations. The bus services in most cities stop running at about 9.00 p.m. or 10.00 p.m. at the latest, and often a lot earlier.

Boats There are regular services along the coast and along the major rivers, but foreigners are often refused permission to go aboard. Regular services operate from Shanghai, Fuzhou and Xiamen to Hong Kong. There are river ferries on the Yangtse River which foreigners can use, and also on the Grand Canal between Hangzhou and Suzhou (however, some people have been refused permission to make this trip). Taxis The large cities of China now have taxi fleets for the use of foreign visitors, but only in Canton (so far) can they be hailed in the street. In other centres, you must go to a regular taxi stand to get one, and most are situated at the main tourist hotels. The taxi fares vary depending on the size of the car rented, and are generally about 50 fen per kilometre. Waiting time is cheap, and it is often a good idea to keep a taxi driver hanging around for the return fare if you are going somewhere out-of-the-way. In smaller cities and towns, the only taxis available for foreigners are generally under the control of CITS, and there are often only a handful. So if you want a car to go somewhere, it would be wise to make arrangements the day before.

How to get from the station to the hotel This is a crucial, and sometimes exhausting, problem for the independent traveller. The easy way is to check in with crrs at your last stop and arrange for a guide to meet you with a car .To get to the hotel on your own, check the individual travel sections of this book which, in most cases, will give you the information you need. Usually, the standard form of local transport is the public bus, and there is a bus terminal near just about every railway station in China. Sometimes there are pedicels, especially in southern China – agree on a price before you get on board -and sometimes the hotels are within walking distance. Guided tours Tourist groups in China at present travel on group visas which the tour guides hold. Individual passports are not stamped with visas unless you specifically ask for one.

Most people on group tours of China are very experienced travellers, but they quickly discover that China is something different. Basically, you have to accept things as they come; there is almost nothing that can be done to effect changes, so try to develop a calm, Zen-like acceptance. There may be sudden changes of itinerary. You may be put in hotels outside town, or in accommodation that is of a considerably lower standard than you are used to. Just accept it. Any changes are usually the result of bureaucratic foul-ups by CITS, an organisation which is still feeling its way through the mass tourism business, and it has to deal with huge numbers of people that are, as it were, dumped on it from above (see p. 33).

The foreign tour companies have effectively no control over which hotel you stay in: it is all decided by CITS. Sometimes it is necessary to share rooms, especially during the summer and autumn when the hotels are very full. On most tours, it is not impossible for groups or individuals to deviate from the list of cities given beforehand, if they want to, although, in some cases, CITS is forced to alter the itinerary for its own reasons.

On most tours, group meals are provided at the hotels as part of the deal, but you can skip meals and go out and explore some local restaurants whenever you want, at your own expense, of course. If you intend to eat in the foreigners’ section of a restaurant, you should make a reservation, and once the reservation is made, you will generally have to pay whether you turn up or not. If you want to go somewhere on your own, you can hire a taxi at the hotel. Except in Canton, it is virtually impossible to hail a taxi in the street, and very few of the taxi drivers speak any English. Take along a card or pamphlet with the name of the place where you want to go and the name of your hotel in Chinese to help you get there and back.

The sightseeing itinerary for the group in each city will have been arranged long in advance. If you have some special suggestion as to what the group should visit, bring it up as early as possible after arriving in the city concerned. You are likely to visit schools, factories, communes, museums, temples, etc., and the pace can be very wearing, so take it easy and find time to relax. When on visits to factories and other ‘units’, there will be standard introductory speeches given by some responsible official while you sit around drinking tea. If you have questions, be sure to keep them simple and phrase them clearly.

In all of the cities you visit, you will be completely free to wander around the streets as you wish, and going for a walk is often far more interesting than going to see yet another handicrafts factory Again, take along a hotel envelope or something similar in case you get lost. There will be many opportunities for shopping. The official Chinese guides will continually herd you in the direction of the local Friendship Store, antiques and handicrafts shop (see What to buy, p. 31), but you should also go and look at some local shops.

Most important of all, keep a sense of humour, and be considerate, especially if your tour is a long one. You’re going to have to live with your fellow travellers right through to the end.

Contacts with Chinese people The thing that makes touring China as an individual traveller really pleasurable is the contacts you can have with the Qrdinary people. Most Chinese will show you great courtesy and kindness, and many will go out of their way to help ‘foreign guests’. Even the bureaucrats and police officials are generally pleasant and helpful, and there are none of the problems of petty corruption which make travel in many Third World countries so unpleasant.

Riding in the hard-class sections of trains, you are bound to come across people who can speak some English and who want to practise with you. The most interesting ones to talk to are generally the older people who learned their English before 1949. However, it is important to remember that if you talk to or befriend Chinese people, they could possibly get into serious trouble as a result. How the situation is handled depends largely on how conservative the local branch of the Public Security Bureau is, but there have been many cases of people being detained by the police after simply chatting to a foreigner in the street. So be careful.

Language China has effectively only been open to tourists for a few years, and many of the people you will come into contact with will not be able to speak English, let alone any other foreign language. However, there are times when it seems as if just about every person in China under the age of 30 is learning to speak English, and at some time during a trip around China, you are certain to be approached on the streets by some earnest young student wanting to practice the latest phrases from English by Radio. If you do come across an impenetrable language barrier, one good tip is to keep an eye open for one of the thousands of young Hong Kong travellers who make their way around China on the cheap. The Hong Kong Chinese, usually very distinctive because of their Western style of casual dress and their hair styles, generally speak some English, and can get by in Mandarin, even though their native language is Cantonese, a very different dialect. Phrase books are useful, but do not always include all the words or sentences you need, particularly if you are travelling on a budget. A good idea is to put your most commonly used questions on separate cards, and have someone write the Chinese next to them. The Pinyin spelling system used to romanise Chinese characters is rather confusing. Here are some pronunciation hints:

X sounds like an ordinary’s’
Q sounds like ‘ch’ 
C sounds like a hard ‘ts’
Z sounds like a soft ‘dz’
Zh sounds like an ordinary ‘j’

With words ending in ‘ong’, the middle vowel sounds like a long ’00’ (as in ‘shoe’). ‘Dong’ , for instance, sounds like ‘a long’ .

Words ending in ‘eng’ sound like the English ‘ung’ (as in ‘sung’). The surname of China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, is pronounced in a similar way to an English synonym for manure.

Pronunciation is complicated by the existence of four tones in standard Mandarin, the national language. A sound can have many different meanings depending on its tone. Here are some useful Mandarin phrases:

Hello I how are you? -Ni hao ma? Goodbye -Zai jian. Sorry I excuse me -Dui bu qi.

I don’t understand -Wo bu dong.

There are a number of ways of saying ‘hotel’ in Chinese, as you will find in this guide. Here are some of them:

binguan- guesthouse, usually a high-class place for foreigners fandian – hotel luguan- (small) hotel

Most of the street names in the guide are written in Pinyin to make it easier for you to ask people directions. Most thoroughfares in China are named either ‘lu’ (road) or ‘jie’ (street) as in English. They often have a direction added, too. Here are the Chinese directions:

Bei-North Nan- South Dong-East Xi-West

So, ‘Zhongshan Bei Lu’ means ‘Zhongshan Road North’; ‘Jiefang Dong lie’ means ‘Jiefang Street East’.

Food and drink

Food Chinese food is rightly considered to be one of the greatest of the world’s cuisines. There are a number of different styles around the country, the most notable of which are Cantonese, Peking, Shanghai and Sichuan, but the food in each region has its own special qualities. It’s purely a matter of personal taste as to which is best. The quality of the food varies widely, depending mostly on the size of the city or town you are in. Shanghai, being the largest city in China, probably has the best food of all, both for local people and the foreigners. In some places, especially in northern China in winter, the food can be just awful.

The foreigners’ hotels an have restaurants which are generally

reasonable in price, and the food is usually of a better quality than in ordinary restaurants outside. But you should try at least a couple of local restaurants, especially if you are travelling on a budget.

Mealtimes in ordinary restaurants in China are much earlier than most Westerners are used to. Lunch starts at 11.00 a.m. or soon after, while the main evening meal is generally over by 7.30 p.m. and even earlier in rural areas. At set mealtimes, every restaurant in China seems to be bursting at the seams.

Foreigners often get special treatment in the ordinary restaurants, even if they don’t want it. Many of the bigger restaurants in Peking and other major cities have a special room for foreigners in which they are served large meals at exorbitant prices, out of sight of the ordinary Chinese. Being pushed off into a corner and ripped off is objection- able, and many travellers would much prefer to rough it with the locals. One problem, however, is that, in restaurants without the discreet backroom, the staff can sometimes be a little too eager to please and roughly press other patrons to hurry up and finish to make room for the ‘foreign guests’. It’s outrageous, but there’s often nothing that can be done about it.

Most ordinary restaurants have no menus: items available that day are chalked up on a noticeboard and rubbed off as the kitchen runs out. If you speak no Chinese, either have some favourite dishes written down in Chinese to show the attendants, or else point to dishes other patrons are eating. Food prices vary widely. A backroom feast in a top restaurant in Peking could cost 20 yuan or more per head. A meal in a grubby backstreet noodle shop may cost only 30 or 40 fen. The choice is yours. For strict vegetarians, China can be a difficult place to tour. The Chinese eat a lot of pork and much of the fried food is cooked in animal fat, so some vegetarians simply give in and eat meat for the duration of the trip. But it’s not impossible. There are vegetarian restaurants in some cities, and usually a vegetable dish or two on the menus of most restaurants. I met one Avstralian traveller who was so strict a vegetarian that he didn’t even drink milk or eat eggs and cheese. He had been travelling around China for nearly three months when I met him and he looked fit, although very thin. His advice for strict vegetarians was bring some simple cooking pots with you, buy your own vegetables and cook them yourself. He passed on a do-it- yourself cooking method for those willing to take the trouble: buy one of the hot water thermos flasks which everyone in China uses, place the food you want cooked in the bottom, pour boiling water on top and let it stand for between 2 and 12 hours depending on what it is. For vegetables, two hours is about enough; for grain and rice, 12 hours is sufficient.

Drink All the major tourist centres of China now stock a wide selection of foreign liquors, which are quite expensive but at least they are there. In the old days (before 1979), you either brought your own or you did without. The local beer throughout China is generally good, although beer- drinkers agree that the best brands are Tsingtao and Beijing (Peking) beer. In Shanghai, the beer, the soft drinks, everything, tastes of mud, but if you’re there long enough you cease to notice it.

There is a vast choice of Chinese-made wines, ranging from cheapo rice wines at about one yuan a bottle (which will knock you out if you can force the fiery liquid down your throat), to ‘Dynasty’ white wines, produced near Tianjin as a joint venture with the French company Remy Martin. A Hong Kong wine expert said of one of these wines: ‘Its fruity bouquet and fine taste complements seafood perfectly, and as an accompaniment to shark’s fin, it’s simply unparalleled.’ The alcoholic drink prized most highly by the Chinese themselves is Mao Tai, made from sorghum (a type of millet), which is the traditional drink for toasts at official banquets. It is an expensive drink, and people wanting to grease the palm of some official often give Mao Tai as a ‘present’ .As a Chinese joke so wisely puts it, those who buy Mao Tai don’t drink it, and those who drink it don’t buy it. Some foreigners even claim they enjoy Mao Tai. Like any alcohol, it tastes better after the fifth glass.

For real connoisseurs, and for those who think they’ve tried every- thing, may I sqggest Hejie Jiu (lizard wine), produced in Guangxi Province in the southwest. Each bottle contains a long-tailed, four- legged (dead) lizard floating perpendicularly in the clear alcohol. The creatures look glassy-eyed, but after soaking in such fierce alcohol for so long, who wouldn’t? Even if you don’t fancy trying it, a bottle of lizard wine makes a great souvenir to take home to offer your guests.

In the soft drinks line, Coca Cola is now produced in Peking although it is produced mostly for foreigners and not the locals. To many people, it doesn’t taste quite like the real thing. Perhaps it’s the water.

Virtually each city in China has its own brand of fizzy soft drink, all of them incredibly chemical-tasting. In Peking, it’s a sort of orange flavour; in Canton and Shanghai, it’s an extremely orange flavour; Fuzhou has something allegedly flavoured banana; and so on. Some people go around China sampling and comparing the beers, others, the soft drinks. You, too, can be an instant connoisseur expounding on the subtle reasons why Wuhan beer is superior to Xi’an beer.

Nightlife and entertainment

Compared to other tourist destinations in Asia, China has little of either, and markedly less now than in the very early 1980s. Peking used to boast one or two theoretically ‘foreigners-only’ discos, but the Communist Party’s fear of Western culture and ideas gaining a hold among the ordinary people of China led to them all being closed. At the time of writing only one hotel in Peking has permission to hold dances the Jianguo Hotel, which is co-managed by the Peninsula Hotel Group from Hong Kong.

Shanghai went one better and had live bands playing in two or three ‘foreigners-only’ bars around the city .The musicians were veterans of dance bands which played in the old Shanghai before the Communist take-over in 1949, and some of them weren’t bad. But alas, they also fell victim to the campaign against so-called ‘bourgeois liberalism’, and all the bars were shut down in August 1982. Hope-fully, they will be allowed to start playing those old Glenn Miller hits again soon.

Other, more proletarian and ethnic, entertainment basically consists of f1lms or theatrical productions in local theatres. Tickets are often hard to get, so it is best to arrange them through the hotel or through the local CITS office (see p. 33). But with Chinese opera, plays or films, you would not be blamed if you could not sit through an entire performance.

Chinese opera is definitely an acquired taste. One English ‘China expert’ of the nineteenth century, a Mr Arthur H. Smith, had this to say: ‘If there is in China any such thing as singing, it may safely be said never to come to the ears of foreigners. The shrill falsetto cackling of the Chinese-style singing is, to those who have never heard it, quite indescribable. Those who have heard it, require no description.’ The opinion of Mr Smith, cultural chauvinist, can be safely dismissed, but it is true that Chinese singing can sound raucous to the stranger’s ear, and can be wearing after a while. However, a real proletarian opera, especially in the smaller cities, is always worth going to, more to watch the audience than what’s going on on stage. It’s very much a social event, with kids and grandmothers wandering round chatting to acquaintances, spitting out melon seeds and occasionally acknowledging a Solo from one of the players with the appreciative expletive ‘Hao!’ (good). On summer evenings in Some cities, there are opera performances in the parks. Peking operas tend to be harder on the foreigner’s ear than the more melodic operas of the south.

Films are a different matter. The standard of filmmaking in this, the largest movie market in the world, is appalling. The audiences know the films are bad, but go anyway because there’s nothing else to do. The film-makers themselves know their products are bad, but there is little they can do about it because they are supervised at every turn by Party watchdogs Who tend to veto anything even slightly adventurous. Plots are usually predictable, characters are generally cardboard stand-ups. Nevertheless, things are better today for Chinese movie-goers than at any time in the past 15 years or more. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution and after, only a handful of f1lms were made each year, all to the same boring formula, featuring revolutionary goody-goodies and reactionary baddies. Today, movie production has increased, and some detective and love stories get Shown along with the usual blatant propaganda. A few foreign films have also been imported – Death on the Nile was a box-office hit in 1982, for instance. You should go to the cinema at least once in China. It doesn’t matter too much if you can’t understand Chinese in 99 films out of 100, the plot will be So transparent that you will have no trouble following it. But the audience can be very vocal in its approval or disapproval, which is fun.

Another form of entertainment is, of Course, television, although the mainland Chinese variety is not all that entertaining. Huge numbers of viewers in southern China buy large aerials So that they can pick up Hong Kong or Taiwan television instead. An average evening of television viewing in China begins at 6.30 p.m. with a ‘learn English’ programme called Follow Me, bought from the BBC. Then at seven o’clock, there is the news- snippets of film about a model Commune in Hunan or how study of the latest political line has helped raise production in the No.13 bicycle factory in Taiyuan. At about 7.20 p.m. Comes one of the most revolutionary things that has happened to China in the past 30 years -ten minutes of satellite news film from the West which gives the Chinese people their first reason- ably objective view of the outside world. The authorities generally go to great lengths to keep their citizens away from information and influences from ‘outside’, but the news film fits in well with their efforts to emphasise the negative aspects of Western society the wars and street demonstrations, the riots and crises. At 7.30, there might be a travelogue programme on some part of China, or perhaps on Yugoslavia, followed by a Peking opera or a feature film. Some relatively good television dramas have been produced in recent years, especially ones set in classical China, but the television audience still seems generally dissatisfied. The huge number of families that have invested in television sets in recent years want to get some value for their money. Station closedown comes at about 10.00 or 10.30 p.m.

The best evening’s entertainment in China, especially in southern China in the warmer months, is walking around the streets. Compared to many Western cities, there is very little street crime in China, and a foreigner is almost certainly immune from attack..

What to buy Every foreigner who visits China ends up going to at least one of the ubiquitous Friendship Stores, the government-run foreigners-only shops which could be described as China’s only franchised chain of retail outlets. The shops have been set up in just about every major Chinese city, primarily to get visitors to open up their wallets and donate a bit more foreign exchange to the Chinese revolution. They are better stocked than ordinary shops, and often have items which are perennially in short supply outside. The other advantage is that you don’t need ration tickets or letters of approval from your work unit to buy things at the Friendship Store. Local people lucky enough to have relatives living outside China eagerly wait for them to visit so that they can have access to the Friendship Store and buy whatever they cannot get in the normal shops -bicycles, sewing machines, cooking oil, clothing material, television sets or tape recorders.

The Shanghai Friendship Store has one of the best addresses in China, that of the former British consulate on the Bund, but the Peking Friendship Store is the largest, and also features a real West-ern-style supermarket. In other cities, the main department stores often have small backrooms which only open up when they know a foreign tourist group is coming through. You frequently have to bang on the doors for a while to wake the slumbering staff inside. Out in the provinces, where the quality of the food can be pretty terrible, the Friendship Stores are a godsend for the simple reason that they are often the only place in town which sells chocolate, that convenient and tasty source of quick energy.

Some visitors leave China convinced that there’s nothing worth buying in the Friendship Stores. Others depart loaded down with goodies. It all depends on what you’re looking for. For a start, almost everything for sale in the Friendship Stores is also available in the Communist department stores in Hong Kong, which have a better range to choose from and sometimes cheaper prices. Most Friendship Stores have an antique section – some cities have separate antique shops – but the experts say that there are few bargains to be had. The Chinese authorities are well aware of prices on the international market and mark up prices accordingly. But there are some good – value items on sale, even if they are just knick-knacks to take home as souvenirs of a trip to China.

Top of my list are the paper rubbings of old stone inscriptions and carvings which many foreigners’ shops around the country sell. The rubbings, usually black and white, can be very beautiful and often sell for as little as 1.50 yuan. Mounted or framed, they make great wall hangings. Next come the Mao caps, green or blue with a red star on the front just like the old Chairman used to wear. Many visitors buy a Chinese chop (seal) and have their names, or Chinese characters approximating them in sound, carved on the end. Prices for the chops start at about 20 yuan and work up close to infinity. Other good buys include cashmere jumpers and cardigans, silk Tshirts (very slinky) and carpets which, although expensive, are still cheaper than similar – quality carpets overseas.

If you do buy an antique, make sure it has a red seal attached to it. You will be given a receipt, and it is imperative that you don’t lose it. In fact, keep all your receipts for expensive items: you never know what the customs official at the airport might pounce on. At some of the larger Friendship Stores, it is possible to get things crated and shipped back to your home country.

Visitors to China in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Chairman Mao was an almost god-like figure, could buy a bewildering array of Mao junk – Mao badges, Mao lamp-shades, Mao mugs, Mao bed- spreads, and Mao alarm clocks with a Red Guard on top waving a Little Red Book back and forth in time to the tick-tock of the clock – but they’re all gone now. These days, the only faint echo of that time to be found in the Friendship Stores is a series of black-and-white woven portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, which make great table placemats.

Medical matters Anyone contemplating a visit to China, either as an individual tourist or on a package tour, should be certain they are reasonably fit: China tourism is not a matter of lying around on a beach soaking up the sun. It is generally hard work, and for some people it proves to be too much. An especially large number of older tourists have made the trip through China since it opened up in earnest to foreign visitors in 1978, and every year some of them die, at least partly through the strain of the heavy schedule. It has become such a regular phenomenon that it even has a name: ‘Death by Duck’. A typical ageing victim clambers up and down the Great Wall, a difficult task even if you are young and in reasonably good shape, and then goes back to Peking where he consumes a large, greasy Peking Duck dinner. The result: heart failure. One should not be an alarmist, but Chinese tourism can be very tiring.

The most common ailment among visitors is a heavy cold. There is not much you can do to guard against it, but drink lots of liquid, and bring a good supply of tissues. Getting really sick in China is not much fun either. The Chinese authorities will provide foreigners with the best facilities available, and sometimes seem overly cautious with their treatment. But, especially away from the major cities, the standards of medical treatment are, by Western standards, very low. Certain kinds of treatment can also be expensive, so it is worth taking out travel insurance which covers medical treatment before you go.

China International Travel Service (CITS) Travel in China has long been the responsibility of two organisations: the China Travel Service (CTS) for overseas Chinese and Hong Kong visitors, and the China International Travel Service (CITS) for other foreigners. CITS was traditionally a lethargic beast, only occasionally bothered by small groups of well-behaved foreigners who were happy to be herded round factories, communes and kindergartens. Things changed drastically in the late 197OS when the Chinese leadership decided to open the country up to foreign tourism to earn some money. CITS has been stretched to the limit by the flood of tourists, but generally has done a good job in the face of very difficult conditions. There are inevitable bureaucratic foul-ups, but the guides themselves are mostly open, friendly and helpful.

The travel service is well equipped to help individual tourists wanting to tour China in comfort. You can book guides, taxis, travel and theatre tickets and hotel rooms. All you have to do is visit the CITS office in one city and have them send a message to the branch in the next city, detailing your needs. Of course, things sometimes go wrong but, overall, CITS is pretty efficient. If you are a budget traveller, you will not find CITS much help. They want you to spend money, as much as possible, and will constantly steer you towards the most expensive hotels, train berths and restaurants. But in an emergency, they are there.

The following is a list of the addresses and phone numbers of the main CITS offices around China:

Baotou 5687 Baotou Guesthouse
Canton(Guangzhou) 34831 179HuanshiLu
Changchun 38495 2 Stalin Da Jie 
Changsha 2225?130Wuyi Lu, Sanxing Jie 
Chengdu 8225 Jinjiang Guesthouse
Chongqing (Chungking) 51449 Renmin Guesthouse
Dalian (Luda, Dairen) 25103 56 Fenglin Jie
Datong 2704 Xinjian Lu
Fuzhou (Foochow) 33962 Wusi Lu 
Guilin (Kweilin) 2648 14 Ronghu Bei Lu
Hangzhou (Hangchow) 22487 10 Baoshu Lu
Harbin 31495 124 Dazhi Jie 
Hefei 2221 Jiang Huai Hotel 
Huhehot (Hohhot) 4494 Huhehot Guesthouse
Jinan 35351 372 Jingsan Lu
Jiujiang 2526 77 Nansi Lu 
Jiuquan 2943 2 Cangrnen Jie 
Kaifeng 3737 102 Ziyou Lu, Zhong Duan
Kunming 4992 68 Huashan Xi Lu
Lanzhou 4962 14 Xijin Xi Lu 
Luoyang 7006 Friendship Hotel
Lushan 2497 
Nanchang 62571 Jiangxi Guesthouse 
Nanking (Nanjing) 85153 313 Zhongshan Bei Lu
Nanning 4793 Xinmin Lu 
Peking (Beijing) 755374 2 Qianmen Dong Da lie
Qingdao (Chingtao) 28877 9 Nanhai Lu 
Qufu (Chufu) Confucius Mansion 
Shanghai 217200 59 XianggangLu 
Shenyang (Mukden) 34653 3 Zhongshan Lu, Yi Duan
Shijiazhuang 8962 Weiming Lu
Suzhou 4646 115 Youyi Lu 
Tai’an 3259 Dai ZoP.g Fang 
Taiyuan 29155 YingzeDaJie 
Tianjin (Tientsin) 34831 55 Chongqing Dao 
Wuhan 23505 1395 Zhongshan Da Dao
Wuxi 25461 7 Xinsheng Lu 
Xiamen (Amoy) 4286 444 Zhongshan Lu
Xi’ an (Sian) 21191 272 Jiefang Lu 
Yan’an(Yenan) 2363 56 Yan’anShiDaJie
Yichang 3103 Tao Hua Ling Yueyang 2282 Qingnian Lu
Zhengzhou 5578 8 Jinshuihe Da Dao

Embassies and consulates

The following is a list of the telephone numbers of some of the foreign embassies in Peking:

Australia 52-2331 Austria 52-2061 Belgium 52-1736 Canada 52-1475 France 52-1331 Germany, West 52-2161 Greece , 52-1391 Ireland 52-2691 Italy 52-2131 Japan 52-2361 Malaysia 52-2531 New Zealand 52-2731 Norway 52-3631 Spain 52-1967 Sweden 52-3331 Switzerland 52-2831 United Kingdom 52-1961 USA 52-2033

Consulates in Shanghai:

France 37-7414 Japan 37-9025 Poland 37-0952 USA 37-9880

Consulates in Canton (located in the Dongfang Hotel):

Japan 69-900X2785 USA 69-900×1000

Further reading

Here is a short selection of books about China:

Denis Bloodworth, The Chinese Looking Glass (Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York, 1980).

David Bonavia, The Chinese, A Portrait (Penguin, 1982): a good general introduction to modem-day China.

Fox Butterfield, China, Alive in the Bitter Sea (Hodder & Stoughton, 1982): an anecdote-filled guide to the dark side of Chinese life.

Roger Garside, Coming Alive! China after Mao (McGraw-Hill, 1981). Simon Leys, Chinese Shadows (Penguin, 1977): one of the first books to explode the Mao myth.

Jean Pascalini, Prisoner of Mao (Penguin, 1976): an extraordinary account of the Chinese labour camp system written by a former French-Chinese inmate .

Edgar Snow, Red Star over China (Penguin, 1968): the monumental book which first introduced the Chinese Communists to the outside world in 1936, telling the story of the Long March.

Almost no fiction of worth has been written in the Chinese language since 1949. One of the few great books is The Execution of Mayor Yin by Chen Jo-hsi, published by Indiana University Press in 1978, a semi- fictional account of the madness of the Cultural Revolution from the inside.

One of the best translations of classical Chinese literature is Monkey , translated by Arthur Waley (Penguin, 1961), also known as Travels to the West, which is the best Chinese fairy story of all time. The greatest classical Chinese novel is considered to be The Dream of the Red Chamber, the best translation of it (called The Story of the Stone) being by David Hawkes (Penguin, 1973,1977,1980).

Of guidebooks, the most important is Nagel’s China, a heavy tome filled with very detailed information on historic monuments, although much of it is now out of date. An excellent guide to old Shanghai is Pan Ling’s In Search of Old Shanghai Point Publishing, 1982). The original In Search of Old Peking, written by Messrs Arlington and Lewisohn in 1935, was reprinted by Paragon Book Reprint Corp. in 1967.

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