Skip to Content

5 Fun Facts About China I Bet You Didn’t Know

After a year of on-site research, here are a few fun facts about China that I want to address.

As a seasoned debate nerd, I dedicated a decade of my life (11-21) to telling people, “Stop talking. You’re wrong. Here’s why.” Especially when it comes to China. China is terrifying for some people.  

As a rising superpower, people will find any reason to cast it in a negative light or spread information that isn’t accurate. But I’m on the ground. I can immerse myself in the culture, observe the movement of politics, and catch food poisoning every month.  

There are so many benefits, that it’s hard to control my excitement.  

1. Communism is a Dominant Force in Everyday Life

FALSE: The government won’t bother you if you don’t bother it.

“Hey, how’s communism?” seems to be a popular question to email me. It’s time to set the record straight. In China there is a LARGE variety of wealth distribution, Chinese people do have Facebook accounts, and unless you’re passing out anti-government pamphlets, you will successfully avoid a tour of the luxurious prisons that China has to offer.

While reports of censorship are somewhat true, none of the decisions that you will face while on the road will be influenced by the state; except for the Visa application. Make sure you don’t have any “priors” because you will be denied entry and to be honest, I don’t blame them.

It’s a similar process to getting a US Visa to be honest. If you’ve got a criminal record you’re out of luck. If you’re moving more permanently to China, you might experience more state-led processes and bureaucracy, but really, I haven’t experienced it since living here.

Honestly, when I moved here, like a lot of foreigners, especially Westerners, I expected the government and communism in general to be a much bigger presence than it’s actually been. As long as you’re not actively protesting the government, you’re probably not going to even notice it a lot of the time.

You might want to get a VPN before you come to China to access the sites that you want to get on, but especially in the big cities, it feels a lot like any other Asian big city.

2. Chinese People LOVE Foreigners for No Reason At All

FALSE: Chinese people see foreigners as accessories to show off to their friends.

While traveling in China, you will probably be asked to take a photo with some random stranger or to sit down at a table in a posh nightclub simply because you’re foreign; and that’s okay. Enjoy the free bottle service in China.

Here’s why this happens: hanging out with Westerners implies that you have the education and finances necessary to communicate and “hang” with other cultures. It’s a subtle, but effective way to show off.  

For that reason, Chinese companies have been known to hire foreigners to be models in business meetings or a “friendly foreign face” at the front desk of hotels, spas, and other service industries.  It’s a power play and it works.

But this creates obvious problems.  Because there is an enormous difference in salary, benefits, and influence between foreigners and Chinese nationals, there is a deep-seated sense of resentment in society.

This happens a lot in many societies, but normally it’s the opposite way around. 

Disclaimer: Not all Chinese people hate all foreigners. That should be obvious. But I’m trying to paint a vague, general image of the type of cultural practices you will experience while traveling in China. I’m on a dozen stranger’s camera rolls from them coming up and asking for selfies and I’ve definitely felt like a token foreigner in bars, meetings, and other places, for better or worse.

I‘ve lived abroad for many years and love helping others find work abroad and figure out their “Move Abroad Plan.” Check out my class below to get you started ASAP!

Move Abroad Master Class

3. Everyone Speaks English

FALSE: Everyone has studied English, but very few people are confident enough to speak it.

Despite pretty much everyone in China studying English at some point in their education, it’s pretty rare to hear it in the open. That’s not because they’re stubborn or will only speak Chinese as they’re in China – this is a common attitude in a lot of European countries. 

Chinese people are constantly concerned with embarrassment. For that reason, they will avoid speaking English to save face when it comes to incorrect conjugations or mispronounced words.

Normally, only those who are financially fortunate enough to study abroad are confident enough to use their English on a regular basis.

If you need help, go into an internationally recognized hotel chain or any luxury hotel because they will have someone who speaks English on site.

Of course, if you’re moving to China, it’s worth learning some of the local languages whether that’s Mandarin, Cantonese, Yue, Wu, Minbei, Minnan, Xiang, Gan, or Hakka.

Even if it’s only a few words and phrases, it’ll help you get by and maybe open up some Chinese people to speak to you in English, upon hearing how embarrassing your Chinese might be.

Try taking Pimsleur lessons to brush up on your Mandarin or Cantonese!

4. Chinese New Year is Just a One Day Thing

FALSE: Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days – and it’s a huge party. 

Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year is later in the year than Western New Year and is normally around the end of January and the beginning of February. This results in a massive celebration filled with food, drinking, dancing, music, and parades all around China, and this goes on for over two weeks.

It can feel chaotic at times and you might struggle to remember what day it is, which celebration you’re going to that night, or whether you accidentally had five meals instead of three.

Across China, Chinese New Year is a bigger celebration than Christmas and you’ll see fireworks and red and gold decorations everywhere you turn. It doesn’t matter if you’re in one of the big cities, one of the small towns, or a rural village, Chinese New Year is celebrated everywhere.

It’s even celebrated across the world in various forms during the Lunar New Year, so if you’re traveling in the area, be aware of similar holidays and festivities. 

It’s all about prosperity and luck for the year ahead, so a common practice is for older relatives to give young people red envelopes filled with cash. You can open and spend, or keep it in your wallet to bring you good luck, the choice is yours! 

Like with any huge cultural festival, there are a lot of crowds, and prices can go up in touristy areas. Hotel prices are going to rise, as will transport, with Chinese families coming together for the New Year.

Be wary when you’re planning your travels and try to book in advance to avoid the price hikes. 

Move Abroad Starter Kit

5. Traveling in China is Expensive.

FALSE: A little money goes a long way. 

The cost of living in China is far below that of Western communities so you can spend less and get a whole bunch more. Right now, the exchange rate is 1 USD to 6.18 RMB.

The cost of Chinese food will range from 2-40 RMB; so MAYBE you’ll spend more than 1 USD on a meal. Maybe. Compare that to anywhere in the US and that’s a huge deal. 

Western food is more expensive and will cost you upwards of 30-100 RMB, but it’s pretty easy to live on a super serious budget regardless. Cheap beer costs anywhere from 2-10 RMB and what more do you really need during a personal financial crisis?

This also makes eating and drinking out and being social a financially viable option which is great when you’re new to a city and want to meet new people.

Hotels are a bit more expensive because they’re aimed at the international community so they will cost you anywhere from 70 – 1,000 RMB depending on what you consider “standard.” When traveling in China, avoid flying and use the train system whenever possible to save money!

In fact, if you stretched out the Chinese network, it would go around the world twice. It’s super well maintained, speedy, and links a ton of great cities and towns. 

To take the fast train from Beijing to Shanghai, it’ll cost you about 500 RMB for first-class accommodations. That’s like…. five meals at a Western restaurant in Beijing.  It’s even less than my CrossFit membership.

It’s all about budgeting according to what’s important to you. You can easily explore all around China on the train network and save plenty of money while you do so.

You can save flight money for when you want to hop around other East Asian countries, using your new Chinese home as a jumping-off point. You might even be able to explore more using the money you’ve saved with China’s low cost of living versus Western nations.

Keep in mind that major cities are dramatically more expensive than smaller less-developed cities. Prices are subject to change based on how international the city is or isn’t. Of course, the more expats and Westerners, the more expensive a place is going to be.

It’s the same as anywhere – as soon as there are tourists, the prices take a steep hike. Head out to local neighborhoods and see where they eat and drink – locals are not going to be paying over the odds for a night out, that’s for sure!

Private Coaching Session

Related Posts:


Thursday 18th of September 2014

Hi Vanessa,

Thanks very much for this website: I found it most enjoyable and honest.

Best of luck with the rest of whatever it is you have left to do in China!