Crash Course to Surviving China

A bit of background information to start:

China FYI


China, with over 1.31828 billion people (excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) as of May, 2007, is without doubt the most populous country in the world. According to the census at the end of 2004, the ratio of the sexes is about 51.5% male and 48.5% female. Some 41.76% of the population resides in the urban cities and towns while the rest is in rural areas.

Family Planning

China has almost 20% of the world's total population. To control rapid growth in the population growth and to ensure quality of life, 'Family Planning', is one of China's basic state policies, since 1978. As a measure to avoid over population, late marriage and postponement of childbearing means fewer but healthier babies, something that is greatly encouraged by the government. In 1979, China became the first country to launch the 'one child per couple' policy.

However, for those who endure more strenuous lives in countryside and where there is a greater need for manual labor, they are allowed to have their second baby several years later after the birth of the first one. A more liberal policy is also followed in ethnic minority areas. Generally, two children are allowed for one family, sometimes three. For extremely underpopulated minorites, there is no limitation on childbirth.

Ethnic Groups

China is a multiracial country consisting of 56 ethnic groups, the most populous being the Han who form about 91.59% of China's total population, while 8.41% are other 55 ethnic minorities. All the ethnic groups live together over vast areas while some live in individual concentrated communities in small areas. Although there are fewer people within the Chinese minorities, they are widely distributed throughtout the country. Yunnan Province is the most multi-national region where there are 25 ethnic minorities. The minorities mostly have their own religious beliefs, the freedom of which is highly respected and legally protected by Chinese government.

Chinese people

Like in the states, hotels often have available towels, shampoo, soap, and many time toothbrushes and toothpaste. Bring some travel size portions of these items for backup along with any other items you can’t live without (i.e. shaving cream, face cleanser, contact solution, etc.) You’ll need a small amount of clothes soap as well (if you plan on rinsing things in the tub or sink).


The Chinese are industrious, hardworking, peace-loving and a strenuous nation, while the numerous people are hospitable, conservative, modest and in general easy to approach.

Nowadays, Chinese people enjoy a higher standard of living, with greatly improved facilities for education, a fact that contributes much to the overall quality of life for the entire nation. Economic growth means that in time those in the poorer regions will enjoy a higher standard of living but with such a large population these improvements take time. There has been a distinct improvement in the status of women; while rights of senior citizens and children enjoy more protection and care. Chinese society has become more open, accommodating and self-sustaining in these new times. However, the people never forget to carry forward and develop the traditional Chinese virtues while they are willing to accept new ideas and try new things.

Exactly what time is it?

When contacting friends and family back in the states, don’t forget to factor in the time difference! While your loved ones are excited to hear from you, calling them at 3:00 a.m. may detract from their enthusiasm.

Time Zone of China

Geographically, China covers five time zones (Zhongyuan Time Zone, Longshu Time Zone, Tibet Time Zone, Kunlun Time Zone and Changbai Time Zone). However, the standard times used in Chinese Mainland, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan Province are the same, for they are all in the same time zone (UTC+8), 8 hours ahead of the Universal Time Coordinated.

Beijing Time

For the unity, the whole China adopts Beijing Time as its standard time, which is also in the time zone (GMT+8). Beijing Time is worked out and released from the National Time Service Center, Pucheng County, Shaanxi Province, which is geographically almost the center of China. Unlike western countries, China now does not follow the daylight saving time.

World Time Difference to China

The time in China is 13 hours ahead of New York (EST), and 12 hours ahead of Lubbock, Texas (CST). This means you will be a day ahead, so when it is 10:00 a.m. June 8th in China, it will be 10:00 p.m. June 7th in America.


A majority of the students/faculty you will meet will be fairly proficient in English, however it is polite to try to use a few phrases in Chinese. Below is a list of a few phrases that might be helpful.

Phatic Communication

A smile, good eye contact and politeness are expressions of sincerity. These are the beginning of communication. Just like westerners, the Chinese usually pass the time of day with one another as a precursor to getting to the point of a conversation or presentation.

Different conditions require different styles in which conversational greetings may be exchanged. When you meet someone for the first time, the most commonly-used words are:

For greeting acquaintances, the words will be more informal and friendly like the following:

This phatic communion is a salutation without expectation of a response, the question being rhetorical. However, it should be compact, friendly and respectful. It is improper to ask about the personal affairs of other people, for delving into another's privacy is considered to be discourteous. Remember always to be active, passionate, natural and attentive when greeting others.


As one of the six official languages used by UN (United Nations), Chinese now has earned itself greater status in the World. The official language of China is the Mandarin (Standard Chinese), which is the very name of 'Hanyu' or 'Putonghua', belonging to Sino-Tibetan.

Putonghua, standard form of modern Chinese, is a parlance in mainland China. It is the common language of all modern Han nationality people. In Taiwan Province and Hong Kong, it is called 'Guoyu' while in Singapore and Malaysia, it is often called 'Huayu'.

Mandarin Chinese is shaped and based on the Beijing dialect and other dialects spoken in the northern areas of China. Students are often taught Chinese language as 'Yuwen' in their schoolbooks. It is beyond all doubt that Chinese is the language used as a mother tongue by the most people accounting for about one fifth of the world's population. Chinese once had very great influence on some peripheral countries with their languages and characters, such as Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

English is a required course and universal education in China and has great popularity. Nowadays many Chinese people can speak basic English, especially the youth, students, and staff of service trades like hotels, restaurants, airlines, banks and post offices. In large cities there are more people who can communicate with foreigners in English than smaller towns & cities. Some may master a second foreign language like French, German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish. However, in rural or remote areas, few people can speak English or other foreign languages.


With a vast territory and huge population, China has many different dialects which are of great complexity. Divided into official and non-official dialects, they vary between different areas. The official dialects generally refer to the northern dialects, while the non-official dialects are often spoken in the southeast part of China. Below is a table showing the Chinese dialects in detail:

Due to the differences between each of the Chinese dialects, there are obvious obstacles to people speaking their own dialects and communicating with each other, especially among the non-official Chinese dialects.


The Chinese character has more than 3,000 years of history. It is a kind of hieroglyphic which originated from carapace-bone-script in the Shang Dynasty (16th - 11th century BC). It then developed into different forms of calligraphic handwritings like large seal script, small seal script, official script, regular script, cursive script and running script.

There are altogether 80,000 Chinese words or so that originate from ancient times; however, only about 3,000 words for daily use are available to express over 99% of the information in written form because a Chinese word contains many different meanings. The Chinese character is now of two kinds – Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Simplified Chinese are often used in mainland China, Singapore, and oversea Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, while the latter is often accepted in Taiwan Province, Hong Kong, Macau and oversea Chinese communities in North America.


Actually the Mandarin and Chinese characters used by Han people are also the common language for other minorities. Among all the 55 Chinese ethnic minorities, the people of Hui and Man nationalities also use Mandarin Chinese and its characters. 29 ethnic minorities have their own traditional languages like Tibetan, Yi, Mongol, Uygur, Kazak, Lahu, Chaoxian and Kirgiz. Some minorities, like Dai nationality and Jingpo nationality, use even more than one kind of language and characters.


An introduction is the first step to establish an interpersonal relationship. A successful introduction makes the people being introduced feel closer and creates a good first impression.


With regard to introducing yourself there is little difference between China and elsewhere. It is considered polite to give your full name, job positions and the place you work for, especially on more formal occasions. Only your full name with a simple greeting is enough on informal occasions:

Being introduced

If someone is making the introductions, to introduce your self is considered disrespectful. So when it is your turn to be introduced, stand up, smile and look at the people also being introduced with ease. After being introduced, you can shake hands with each other and give mutual greetings, sometimes with an exchange of calling cards.

Introduction to others

In China, there are many strict conventional rules on introduction to others:

  1. The junior should be introduced to the senior first;
  2. The male should be introduced to the female first;
  3. The inferior should be introduced to the superior first;
  4. The host should be introduced to the guest first.

These ways of introduction is to show high respect to the senior, the female, the superior and the guest. However, if you are in a generally more informal occasion, the introduction to others can be less ceremonious.


Handshaking, is a kind of silent language, which is especially more important in China, although it is a popularly used form of greeting in many countries worldwide. It is the common propriety on most social occasions as an expression of courtesy and greeting when people meet or say goodbye to each other. Besides, handshaking is also a way to express congratulations, thanks and encouragement to others. Generally, you can make a simple address or beckon and then shake hands with each other, simultaneously with exchange of greetings.

As for the question as to who should offer his hand first, there are some basic principles you should follow. Generally speaking, the elder, the senior, the teacher (compared with the students), the female, the married (compared with the unmarried), the superior should reach out their hands first. If you have to shake hands with more than one person, you should shake hands in succession with the senior and superior to the junior and inferior, from the nearest to the furthest.

Specially, when the host meets the guest, the host should shake hands first to show his welcome; however, when they say goodbye with each other, it is the guest who should offer his hand first.

There are also some exceptions. If someone, no matter whether he is superior or not, offers his hand before you, it is courteous to give an unreserved response.

Then how to shake hands with others? Generally, you should pay much attention to the time and strength. It is inappropriate to shake hands too long or too short, three to five seconds is the best, not exceed to 30 seconds at most. Handshaking should be simple and light, without over exertion.

There are also some things that are unacceptable when shaking hands:

  1. Shake hands absent-mindedly.
  2. Shake hands with left hand.
  3. Shake hands while wearing a hat, gloves or sunglasses.
  4. Shake hands crossways.
  5. Having your other hand in your pocket.
  6. Shake hands while seated unless disabled.
  7. Refuse to shake hands with others.


Table Manners

A multitude of etiquette considerations occur also when dinning in China. There are some special differences from manners in western countries.

  1. A round dining table is more popular in China than a rectangular or square one. As many people who can be seated comfortably around it conveniently face one another. The guest of honor is always seated to the right of the host; the next in line will sit on his left. Guests should be seated after the host's invitation, and it is discourteous to seat guests at the place where the dishes are served.
  2. Dinning may only begin once the host and all his guests are seated. The host should actively take care of all his guests, inviting them to enjoy their meal.
  3. On a typical Chinese dining table there are always a cup, a bowl on a small dish, together with the chopsticks and table spoons. Dishes are always presented in the center of the table.
  4. Apart from soup, all dishes should be eaten with chopsticks. The Chinese are particular about the use of chopsticks. There are many no-no's such as twiddling with chopsticks, licking chopsticks, or using them to stir up the food, gesture with them or point them at others. Never stick chopsticks in the center of rice, as this is the way to sacrifice and is therefore considered to be inauspicious.
  5. Keep your dining pace accorded with other people. Never smoke when dining.
  6. A formal Chinese dinning is always accompanied by tea, beer or distilled spirit. The one who sits closest to the teapot or wine bottle should pour them for others from the senior and superior to the junior and inferior. And when other people fill your cup or glass, you should express your thanks. Guests can not pour tea or wine themselves. Also make sure the spout of the teapot is not pointing towards anyone as this is considered to be impolite. The teapot is usually placed with the spout towards a table were no one is sitting.
  7. A toast to others is a characteristic Chinese dinning. When all people are seated and all cups are filled, the host should toast others first, together with some simple prologue to let the dinning start. During the dining after the senior's toast, you can toast anyone from superior to inferior at their convenience. When someone toasts you, you should immediately stop eating and drinking to accept and toast in response. If you are far from someone you want to toast, then you can use your cup or glass to rap on the table to attract attention rather than raise your voice. However, it is impolite to urge others to drink.
  8. Conventionally, if you are invited to a formal banquet, all the dishes should not be eaten up completely, or you will give the host the impression that he has not provided a good banquets and the food was insufficient. After dining, guests should leave once the host has left the table.


Your Chinese friends will be thrilled when you pick up chopsticks and use them correctly. This small act of assimilation is appreciated and using Western utensils (which will probably be provided) is considered slightly insulting. Below are instruction on how to use chopsticks:

How to Use Chopsticks in Seven Easy Steps

Using chopsticks is not nearly as difficult as most westerners think. With a few pointers and a little practice anyone can learn to use them.

Using chopsticks is not nearly as difficult as most westerners think. With a few pointers and a little practice anyone can learn to use them.

Practice Practice Practice!

Beginners often find it a little easier to hold their chopsticks closer to the middle rather than 1/3 the way down as described. Some people hold the top chopstick between their middle and ring finger as opposed to between the middle and index finger. Remember these are only guidelines, if you are holding your chopsticks slightly different than what is described above that is okay. Do what works for you. If you put a little effort into it, you'll be eating like a pro in no time!

When Visiting Families

There will be opportunities on your trip to meet Chinese families and be invited into their home. Keep these formalities in mind during your visit:

  1. Make an appointment in advance, and then you should always be punctual for the appointment.
  2. Choose an appropriate time to have the family visiting, avoid visiting at other's dining or resting time. The best time is the period after noon or supper.
  3. Bring some gifts as a polite gesture.
  4. Hand your hat, overcoat, raingear, the host for placement.(if prompted)
  5. Greet to all people in the family no matter whether they are acquaintances or not.
  6. Be seated only when invited to do by your host.
  7. Usually you will be offered tea, beverage, cigarette, fruits, candies socks and dim-sum. Just express your thankfulness then you can help yourself to them.
  8. Never poke fun about anything in the host's family.
  9. Generally do not stay more than an hour unless being asked by the host to stay longer.
  10. Always express your thanks to the host when you leave.

Don't Drink the Water

During your stay it is important to remember not to drink the tap water. China has different and often less stringent purification and water safety procedures than the states and the un-adjusted stomach can suffer. Tea and other boiled liquids served at restaurants are usually fine, as are any bottled or canned beverages. Ice is not a common feature in most of the areas you will be visiting, but if available be wary. Ice is a common mistake for travelers as they forget ice melts in your drink and often is frozen tap water. Hotels usually supply bottles of water in the rooms and bottled water is available for purchase from street vendors. While the water is fine for bathing it is a good idea to refrain from using it to brush your teeth. As a reminder place the glass located in the bathroom over the bathroom sink faucet.

Money Matters

Currency and Exchange

he currency used in China is the Renminbi Yuan (RMB or ¥) and the value is pegged to the US dollar. The Yuan is divided into 10 jiao or 100 fen. Notes come in denominations of ¥100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2, and 1. Make sure you exchange your left over Yuan before returning home because it can be exchanged only within China's borders. Travelers cheques, preferably in US Dollars, and foreign cash can be exchanged in cities at the Bank of China. The larger hotels and the special 'Friendship Stores' designed for foreigners will accept most western currencies for purchases. Major credit cards are accepted in the main cities at various establishments, but outside the major cities acceptance is limited. ATMs are scarce outside the main cities.

Below are different quantities of the yuan:

Calling Home


The international access code for China is 86 and the access code for the United States is 1. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code. The internal telephone system is very antiquated. Visitors should note that most numbers are not listed with their city code and, unlike most countries, the number of digits in Chinese phone numbers is not fixed - it can be as few as six and as many as ten. You may make a collect call to the U.S. through AT&T by dialing 10811 before the number you are trying to reach. There are many services that offer discount international calls by adding a few digits before the number you are trying to reach. One such service is 17909 (Note: These services are not endorsed by the Consulate). Mobile phone networks are, on the other hand, fairly advanced. Operators use GSM networks and have roaming agreements with most non-North American international operators. In hotels, local calls are generally free or will be charged only a nominal fee. Internet cafes are available in most main towns. SKYPE is an excellent internet calling program and will most likely be the most affordable option.

Shots and Immunizations

There are no particular immunizations required for entry into China, unless the traveler is coming from a yellow fever infected area. The Canadian and US disease control and prevention authorities recommend the all travelers have current polio and tetanus immunizations. For traveling into the countryside and remote areas, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B are recommended. Some versions of hepatitis vaccinations require up to three shots approximately 4-8 weeks apart; get these as soon as possible to allow for the time sequence!

Places to get vaccinations Phone
Student Health Services, TTU 806-743-2122
Minor Emergency Clinic, 50th & University 806-797-4357

Mind Your Manners

Legal Matters- taken from the US State Department website

Remember: while in China, you are subject to Chinese laws and regulations. Laws in China sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Please exercise caution and carefully obey local laws. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.