Before my recent trip to China, for some reason, I had a bunch of wrong notions and misconceptions about this country. In hindsight I feel that some were so random that I can’t even begin to fathom where did they originate from. But whatever my expectations or beliefs China proved me wrong on nearly all of them. Hence it’s not surprising that this holiday also doubled into a learning experience – that I term as China 101. I discovered many new facts, explored some different facets and met some of its amazing people. Some of these experiences / discoveries were amazing, some shocking and some downright disgusting.
And based on my own experiences, sharing 50 random facts about China with you below –
1. The common / Chinese name for China is “Zhongguo” which means “nation / middle kingdom”. Beijing means “northern capital” and Shanghai means “above the sea”.
2. Reforms and growth in China is only about 30 years old – Economic reforms began in 1978 and were carried out in two stages. First in the late 1970s and early 1980s with decollectivization of agriculture, opening up of foreign investment, and permission for entrepreneurship. The second in the late 1980s and 1990s, with privatization and contracting out of state-owned industries, lifting of price controls, protectionist policies, and regulations etc.
3. All Chinese don’t look alike or have the typical features that we associate with them. There are 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities in China and some of them are genetically Turkish, Central Asians and Russians. These ethnic groups look very different from the Chinese and have their own language, culture, dressing, traditions, etc.
4. Infrastructure in the entire country i.e. roads, airports, trains etc, is new, extremely modern, state of art, extensive and amazing. The connectivity across the country (despite the massive size, topography etc) is really impressive.
5. There is censorship of media including television, print media, radio, film, theater, text messaging, instant messaging, video games, literature and the Internet. There is censorship in topics / subjects too and you cannot openly talk about democracy, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, Maoism, Falun Gong, ethnic independence movements, corruption, police brutality, anarchism, gossip, disparity of wealth, etc etc.
6. Due to its massive size China spans 5 time zones; still the entire country follows just one uniform time zone called the China Time Zone.
7. China is an extremely safe country for solo women travelers. I have traveled solo and even was out at late hours too but there is absolutely nothing to worry about. There is a historic reason for this and you can read more on this at – GoChina
8. Mandarin is a tonal language i.e. the meaning of a word changes according to its tone. There are 4 tones and a neutral 5th tone. For example – the sound “ma” can have five very different meanings depending which tone is used to pronounce it: – mā (first tone): “mother”, má (second tone): “hemp”, mǎ (third tone): “horse”, mà (fourth tone): “to curse”, ma (neutral tone): a grammatical particle that indicates a question.
9. Mandarin grammar is pretty simple as they don’t have any singular-plural or verb conjugation. Differences in mood and tense are indicated with grammatical marker words or implied by context.
10. An old gentleman told me that written Chinese consists of more than 40,000 logographic symbols, where each symbol represents one syllable or concept rather than a sound. Also to be considered a literate one needs to study at least 2500 symbols (around 2,000 are taught in schools)!!!
11. Chinese characters are the most widely adopted characters in various other languages across East Asia too. They are used in Japanese and known as kanji; in Korean as hanja, and in Vietnamese as chữ Nôm.
12. For number counting their hand gestures are very different from us. For example – 10 is not 10 open fingers, but a closed fist. You can read more on other gestures here.
13. There is no tipping anywhere in China including hotels as it is not a part of their culture. In fact if you tip them, then in most cases they don’t understand and return the excess amount.
14. They refer to Indians as “Indu”.
15. For some reason everywhere in China men hold women’s’ purses (in public too). Even if women don’t have anything in their hands, men still hold their bags and purses.
16. In weddings men pay dowry to the bride’s family. This is also becoming a social issue as the sex ratio in China is pretty skewed (less women for the number of men) and if men are not able to pay a hefty dowry, then they are unable to get married.
17. Chinese weddings are pretty simple wherein you apply for a license by submitting the required documents and then collect the marriage licence once approved. This is normally followed by an elaborate reception at a hotel.
18. This is a huge rage in China. Before the wedding itself, couples create an elaborate professional wedding albums with pictures taken at various locations and in different outfits. I saw many couples all over the country getting these albums made and in all cases the brides were wearing sports shoes under their long gowns.
19. People here are very warm towards foreigners and Indians. Many of them (especially people from Tibet) have been to Dharamshala.
20. People are very proud of their nation and have a deep sense of nationalist pride.
21. All Chinese are extremely proud about the Beijing Olympics and love to show the Olympic stadium to every visitor. They believe that the Beijing Olympics has been a catalyst of change, helped develop their international image & become more integrated with the world and improve their infrastructure & the economy.
22. All parts of the country that I visited were spotlessly clean and there was no littering anywhere.
23. With one child policy people are crazy about kids.
24. All streets are named after other Chinese cities. For example there is a city named Nanjing in China and Shanghai has a road names Nanjing too.
25. Everyone wears a Jade in some any form or the other (bangles, bracelet, neck piece, etc). Jade is believed to protect the wearer and to bring long life, good health and prosperity. Jade also comes in multiple colors and each color has its own significance.
26. Chinese guardian lions or the Imperial guardian lion are at the entrance of nearly all important buildings such as the Imperial palaces, tombs, government offices, banks, temples, rich households, restaurants, hotels, supermarkets etc. They are believed to have protective benefits.
27. People are extremely conscious of their looks and the brands that they wear. Hence it’s not surprising that all major international brands have outlets here and are every expensive.
28. People are very fond of big eyes and always stop and complement foreigners for their eyes. Even though I wouldn’t understand their language they would always use hand gestures to complement and say that we have big beautiful eyes.
29. People here love posing and taking their own pictures & selfies.
30. They also love taking photographs with foreigners, even people they don’t know at all. They just approach them and request for a picture.
31. Across the country every evening, old people (men and women) gather at various town squares at around 8.00pm and dance in groups to loud music.
32. China is so much more than cheap mass manufacturing. There are numerous local trendy & quaint art and craft brands and even cafes all around.
33. Banks open / work 7 days a week.
34. Everyone leaves home in the morning with a tea thermos filled with reusable tea leaves and hot water (black tea). They keep drinking this black tea and adding hot water to their thermos day. A local explained to me that since they eat a lot of meat (acid) they have to drink tea (alkaline) for balance.
35. Chinese love their cars and the speed. There are more luxury cars (like Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Porsche, BMW, etc.) here than I have seen in a lot of other countries.
36. Language is a huge barrier and you have to carry details of your destination in English and Mandarin at all times.
37. All public signs are written in Mandarin and English.
38. Primary education is compulsory and free for everyone. Hence 99% of Chinese youth can read and write Mandarin.
39. People in China are more shy rather than cold or rude. They have been closed as a country for so long that they (especially the older generation) doesn’t know how to treat foreigners. They are also embarrassed about not knowing English, hence run away when they see foreign tourists. If you know mandarin then the same people stop and help you in any way they can.
40. I have traveled to numerous countries where everyone has recognized or pegged us as Indians, but in China they don’t recognize Indians and always ask our nationality.
41. They are extremely strict about security and checking at various airports and tourist locations. They check passports even for domestic travel, x-ray and pat check all travelers and x-ray your check-in luggage at check-in counters itself. They are especially strict about batteries.
42. Loads of websites are banned in China such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc and they have their own local Chinese versions such as Baidu for google, etc.
43. Because of the Hukou system you don’t see any slums in cities or villages of China. Under this system, rural migrants are allowed to work in the city but the city is not responsible for providing social benefits for them such as free schooling, housing etc. Thus rural migrants have to keep circulating between their home villages and cities where informal housing is their only option.
44. There is an erstwhile German now a Chinese Brewery in Qingdao and you get Tsingtao Beer in many parts of China and some cities overseas.
45. It is extremely difficult to find vegetarian food in China especially in the rural areas. Language issues aside, they just don’t understand the concept of vegetarian with no egg, fish or any form of meat.
46. Chinese breakfast in very different from an English breakfast and you don’t get any English style bread, cereal or salads here.
47. For Chinese, breakfast is a meal that must be hot and quick to eat. Many of them pick up their breakfast from roadside vendors and eat it along the way to work.
48. Common breakfast items in China are – congee (rice porridge), mantou (steamed bread of wheat flour), noodle soup, soy milk, dimsums, zongzi (steamed rice dumplings) or Baozi (steamed stuffed buns).
49. A common concept for eating in local restaurants here is – ingredients are kept outside the hotel (from vegetables to live sea food). You select your ingredients, point them out to the waiter and then take a seat. These ingredients are then cooked and served inside the hotel. Also they eat anything – from brains to testicles and of any animal.
50. Food items such as montau, noodles, bing (flat bread) etc are served bland and are eaten along with numerous pickles for flavor and spices.
51. Many countries in SE Asia and Europe are connected to China by train and ferry. For example there are ferries from Shanghai to Japan. There’s even a twice-weekly train from Beijing to Hanoi in Vietnam and then you can take daily trains to Saigon, a bus to Phnom Penh and on to Bangkok, then a train to Malaysia & Singapore.
52. Most Chinese people are lactose intolerant to varying degrees.
53. Chinese don’t eat deserts / sweets after a meal.
54. They eat sweets but as snacks.
55. They also keep roasted sunflower seeds and flax seeds in their pockets and keep eating them as a snack.