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China Travel Guide

China Travel Guide

One of the four great ancient civilizations along with the Babylonian, Mayan and Egyptian, China enjoys great diversity in geography. At 9.6 million square kilometers, China is the third largest country by area in the world. It has a north-south extent of 3,900 km and an east-west extent of 5,000 km. 33% of the Chinese territory is mountainous, 26% high plateaus, 19% basins and deserts, 12% plains regions, and 10% hills.

China has the highest point in the world: Mount Everest 8,848m (29,029 ft) as well as the third lowest depression in the world: Turpan Depression -154m (-505 ft).

China also has the most international borders, neighboring with 14 countries: Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, North Korea.

China Enjoys Great Language Diversity

Chinese is the origin of the only surviving pictographic writing system. It is often believed to be the world’s most-spoken and most-difficult-to-learn first language.

Mandarin is the official Chinese and is taught in schools all over China. But there are many dialects...

Some regions speak Mandarin with a dialect; some regions have their own distinct languages. Cantonese, for example, is spoken in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, and Macau. Some around Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu speak Wu dialect. These dialects can be very different from Mandarin.

China has Rich Cultural and Philosophical Traditions.

China boasts a huge depth of culture developed in a long and relatively isolated history, including Confucianism and other philosophy, tea culture, martial arts, poetry, calligraphy, the imperial legacy, and many others.

China has no unifying religion, but people hold a wide range of beliefs. From atheism or ancestor worship to one of the "four major religions": Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, or Christianity.

·        Capital: Beijing (since 1271)

·        Population: 1.38 billion (2016)

·        Area: 9.6 million sq. km (3.7 million sq. mi.)

·        Location: East Asia


China is located in eastern Asia along the western shore of the Pacific Ocean. It spreads over a vastly diverse geographical area of 9.6 million square kilometers (about the size of the USA or Europe), and is home to approaching 1.4 billion people (more than N. America and Europe combined).

The highlands and hill regions account for 65 percent of the country's total landmass, and there are more than 2,000 lakes dotting the landscape. The highest mountain peak is Qomolangma (Mt. Everest) in Tibet, the highest in the world, 8,848 meters above sea level.

Among the 220,000 kilometers of rivers the Changjiang (Yangtze), Huanghe (Yellow River) and Zhujiang (Pearl River) are the most famous. The Yellow River Basin is the cradle of Chinese civilization, as the many cultural-historical sites along its banks can attest.

A cruise up/down the Yangtze offers unique encounters with China's rich cultural heritage as well as some spectacular vistas. Check out the 2018 Cruise Calendar to explore the Yangtze River, and to explore China's ancient culture

Chinese food is famous all over the world, but you may be shocked by its surprising range and variety of ingredients if you’ve only eaten in Chinese restaurants abroad. Chinese food has countless delicious and fantastic dishes. And people from different areas have different cuisine types, which can be bland, sweet, salty, spicy, or sour.

China’s Regional Food Types

China can be divided into several regions with distinct styles of cooking. The ingredients used are based on the natural and agricultural products of each region.

The main features of China’s regional cuisines can be described as follows:

·        Northern China food — salty, simple, less vegetables with wheat as the staple food. Food using wheat as its main ingredient, such as noodles and dumplings is prevalent there.

Northern China experiences harsh, cold, and dry winters, as well as hot summers, which makes calories and salt replacement more important.

A strong flavor is very important for Northerners, who achieve this with salt and strong seasonings, compared with the South where chilies and pickles are more used, or dishes are lighter in flavor. Generally, northern dishes are oilier and richer in meat, and make liberal use of garlic and scallions.

The most popular seasonings used are soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, scallions, ginger, leeks, star anise, sweet bean sauces, chili peppers, and sesame oil. Northern chefs skillfully make use of seasonings to add richness to its dishes without covering up the natural flavor of the ingredients.

·        Western China food — hearty halal food

Western China is mainly Xinjiang Province and Tibet. The food reflects the characteristics of the culture, geography, climate, and agriculture of this region.

Xinjiang Cuisine — Halal Food

The region of Xinjiang in northwest China is traditionally home to ethnic Muslim peoples like the Uighur (pronounced wee-ger), so there is no pork or carnivorous animals on the menu. Being a region with lots of pasture, sheep features on top of the menu. Xinjiang is also famous for its fruit, particularly dried fruit.

Tibetan Cuisine — Flavors of Nepalese, Indian and Sichuan Cuisine

Tibet is a high-altitude, harsh-climate area, where it is hard to grow food, so vegetables and fruits are scarce. It has a distinct food culture. The Tibetan yak has traditionally been the animal of choice for nomadic pastoralists, as it is able to withstand the harsh winters. Yak farmers can live almost exclusively on Yak products, including Yak fat tea.

Traditional Tibetan cuisine emphasizes "calm" tastes, so many dishes do not have any spicy seasonings except salt, scallion, and garlic.

However, influenced by its neighbors India, Nepal and Sichuan Province, Tibetan cuisine also use lots of pungent spices and seasonings, including curries with mustard seeds and chilies.

·        Eastern China food — sweet and light

Eastern China food is the food of the Yangtze Delta area — Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing, the Yellow Mountains… — and as far south as Xiamen.

Eastern China food mainly features a sweet and subtle flavor, using sugar, wines, vinegars, and soy sauces. It's basically the similar cuisines of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, and Fujian, four of China's Eight Major Cuisines.

·        Central China food — hot and spicy with a lot of seasonings

·        Southern minority food — sour, and many minorities eat chilies every day

China's south (mainly Yunnan, Guizhou, and Hunan provinces, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region) has the greatest concentration of ethnic minorities anywhere in China. These ethnic people have their special cuisine, which is famous for its sour and spicy flavors

Before planning a trip to China, checking out the weather facts is pretty important. Before you choose where and when to go, read through these ten major facts to ensure your planning is well-informed.

1. China has the largest climate differences for a single country.

Before you travel, we suggest you check this page detailing weather conditions throughout the country and throughout the year. This is especially important if you are traveling to multiple destinations as climate can vary considerably, so you may need to pack a variety of clothes.

2. North China's winters are cold and dry; summers are hot and humid.

Northern China experiences temperatures well below freezing in winter, with winds coming in from Siberia. In the summer, winds from the south can carry in steamy hot weather.

Destinations such as Beijing, but especially destinations further north such as Harbin (which is famous for the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival that only takes place in winter as the ice statues are best kept under these conditions), January is the coldest month of the year. January in Harbin has an average high temperature at -13°C (8°F) and an average low at -25°C (-13°F). They require lots of extra preparation in terms of clothing to bring.

3. Southern China has a monsoon season.

China's southern cities experience monsoon rainfall during summer (generally April through to September), with the amount of rainfall depending on the city you're visiting. Guangzhou, for example, has an average of 276 mm of rainfall in June and 233 mm of rainfall in July. Hong Kong and Guilin both have more. For city specific information, check out this page with weather conditions throughout China. If you are traveling during this time, make sure you pack rain gear!

4. Southern China is also prone to typhoons during the typhoon season.

The south is prone to typhoons from May to December, but especially July to September. Worst hit areas include the islands of Hong Kong and Taiwan, but also coastal Guangdong and Fujian provinces. Categories of typhoons put wind speeds at up to 194 km/h. Find more information about traveling during China's typhoon season here.

While weather conditions are dependant on the severity of the storm, typhoons generally lead to severe rainfall and strong winds in a short amount of time.

5. Beijing's biggest climate issue is not the weather, but its air pollution.

Perhaps not surprising if you've ever watched the news, Beijing's biggest 'weather' issue is actually its pollution. Since 2008, the PM2.5 particles in the air in Beijing can be six times above what the US's Environmental Protection Agency deems safe at an average of 100 micrograms per cubic meter.

Now we might be biased, but Beijing is still incredible. If you've got preexisting health conditions or you are traveling with the very young or the elderly, it might be worth checking out our article to see when Beijing's air pollution is the least problematic. If you are in Beijing on a poor air quality day, we've listed some ways to cope with a polluted Beijing day (and alternative activities).

6. Beijing is not the only city where smog is an issue.

If you are sensitive to pollution, we also recommend being careful in cities such as Tianjin, Chongqing, Xi'an (home to the world-famous Terracotta Army), Datong, Luoyang (where the Longmen Grottoes are located), and Urumqi (the capital of Xinjiang, often a starting point to journeys through Northwest China).

These places and many more large cities in China can also experience high air pollution levels (but still have sights worth visiting!). Once outside the city center, air quality can improve considerably.

7. Most of China is very hot in July and August.

China's summers are nothing like temperature summers found through much of Northern America and Europe, they can actually be really, really hot depending on where you go.

In Beijing, for example, July can see temperatures as high as 40°C (104°F), while in Shanghai temperatures during the day frequently hit 37°C (98°F) and 26°C (79°F) during the night. It's more humid the further south and east you go.

If you're not sure you can cope with hot summers, or want to make sure that you're not melting during your trip, make sure you're avoiding July and August through most of the country, and prepare with light clothing made of natural fibres, lots of water to drink, sunscreen, and taking plenty of breaks in the shade.

8. Tropical Hainan is a great island escape for sun-chasers all year long.

Hainan Province, an island province located in the extreme south of China (not far from Hong Kong) is a great escape for those seeking the sun all year around.

Many Northern Chinese people actually spend their winters on the tropical island, mostly around Sanya, and you'll find there are lots of comfortable and luxurious resorts to enjoy. Sanya boasts beautiful beaches, tropical sun and scenery, and a cooling sea breeze to keep you comfortable.

9. West China has the most extreme summer to winter temperature differences.

Western China, where the most popular tourist destinations include Xinjiang, which is largely desert, and Tibet, which consists of extremely high and vast plateaus, experiences some of the biggest temperature differences between summer and winter. In Kashgar, for example, the average minimum temperature in January is -11°C (12°F) in Kashgar, and average highs of 33°C (91°F) in July.

Much of Xinjiang and Tibet is really not recommendable between December and March (if not November–April), and Xinjiang especially experiences uncomfortably hot summers (as it is the dessert) from June to August.

10. October is the best month in China for weather.

Overall, October in China is the best month for the weather. The north and northeast are cool and dry. Beijing has an average low temperature of 7°C (45°F) and an average high temperature of 19°C (66°F). The east is a little warmer. Shanghai averages at 15°C (59°F) and 22°C (72°F) low and high respectively. And cities in the south like Guilin, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Kunming are less rainy. Guilin for example has 10 rainy days in October when compared to 15 in August. Even in Western China (Xi'an, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Dunhuang) you can expect cooler temperatures, but not too cold to be a deterrent.

This makes October, all factors considered, the best time to travel to China. But one thing to keep in mind about traveling then is to avoid the National Day holiday, also known as Golden Week (October 1–7), because a lot of China's population will be traveling during this time too. However, even during this period, we can still recommend some great places to go to escape the October National Day Crowds.

5 Things to Know Best Time to Go to Help Decide Your Travel Dates

1. Weather-wise, the best times to visit China are spring (April–May) and autumn (September–October), when most of the popular places have their most tourism-friendly weather.

2. Summer (June–August) is a good time to travel, except for the crowds and the heat. It is a peak travel time for Chinese families with school-age children, and students.

3. Winter (November–March) is low season for most of China, which means lower prices (transport, hotels, etc.) and fewer crowds, and the cold can produce fine scenery too.

4. The cultural and historical destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi’an are hardly affected by weather conditions. They are suitable to be visited all year round.

5. Book well in advance and get ready for crowds of Chinese tourists if you are travelling during Labor Day Holiday (May 1-3), Chinese National Day Holiday (October 1-7), and Chinese New Year Holiday (in late January or early to mid February).

China has built a comprehensive transportation system of airports, trains, highways, subways, ports, and waterways that is world class in many places.

In the past decade, the construction of high speed rail lines, highways, and many new subways has transformed China's transportation system and the daily life of the people.

This information is about how to best enjoy these new transportation facilities to go to China, travel between cities, and local travel.

How To Get to China

By Air Travel

Airplanes are the fastest and most convenient means of transportation for international travel between most of the countries in the world and China. Air travel can save precious time and energy for enjoying the attractions in your destination.

China's Airlines have witnessed dramatic improvements year upon year. In 2015, 436 million air passengers were ferried. This is almost double the passengers who flew in 2009.

The hubs of China's air travel are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. These four cities were in the world's top 20 busiest airports in 2015.

International flights go to major cities around the world, and domestic flights go to all major cities within the country.

There are two cities in China that have two airports: Beijing (Capital International Airport and Nanyuan Airport) and Shanghai (Pudong International Airport and Hongqiao International Airport).

Air Travel Tips

If you choose to board a plane by yourself, please make sure of your flight information: departure time, flight terminal and airport.

Please let us know if you are a member of a certain airline company if you book flights with China Highlights because we can consult about membership points for you.

Visa free access: Currently about 16 cities have 72-hour visa-free access.

By International Cruise Ship

Cruise ships: Some would enjoy the leisurely option of international travel by cruise ship. Cruise ships dock at Tianjin for passengers going to Beijing. Ships ply all around East Asia and could take you to China or Hong Kong.

By International Train

International trains: Russians and Europeans might consider a journey from Moscow to Beijing. The journey time presently is about 124 to 144 hours depending on the route.

There are direct train lines to Vietnam also. The Hanoi, Vietnam to China train is an option especially for border crossing from Guangxi. International trains also go to Ulan Bator (Mongolia) and Pyongyang (North Korea).

How To Travel Long Distances in China

Once you're in China, we recommend domestic flights for simple, convenient longer distance travel, especially to western China and parts of central China.

But a recent development is that China's new bullet trains allow travel to many cities in the central, eastern and northeastern areas that is fast, convenient and economical.

China Train Travel

Traveling by train is one of the cheapest ways to travel on some of the long distance routes in China, and it is popular with the local population. In general, we recommend that tourists would benefit from taking bullet trains where possible and only taking the slower regular trains to save money if you have the time to travel or the interest. See Out of the Ordinary Trains below for special interest trains.

Bullet Train Travel

Bullet trains: On routes to cities where it is available, it offers speed, convenience and economy. China's new bullet train system is unique in the world for its size and low priced tickets. For example, you can presently travel between Beijing and Shanghai by the superfast G train in five or six hours for 88 USD and save money and time.

However, for longer journeys between Beijing and Guangzhou (8 to 10 hours) or Shanghai to Chongqing (13 hours), taking a plane is probably more convenient though more expensive.

What To Expect on Chinese Trains

It is important to know what to expect if you decide to travel by train in China.

English is generally not spoken by any of the staff on the regular trains or in the regular railway stations, and there are limited English signs on the regular railway stations.

China Highlights recommends booking a soft sleeper because you'll get a separate waiting lounge. Priority boarding is available at the railway stations for passengers traveling in the soft sleeper section.

Long Distance Travel in China by Bus

We suggest that you don't use long distance buses unless absolutely necessary due to uncomfortable conditions and safety concerns. Buses go everywhere in China and are economical, but theft and other issues are more likely.

In 2012, the total mileage of highways in China reached 4,237,000 km (2,633,000 miles). Almost all towns, counties, and cities are accessible by highway, and buses can take you almost anywhere. Highway construction has actually intensified since.

Road conditions are usually very good, but be prepared that in remote areas such as Guizhou, Tibet and Xinjiang, the roads might be poor. It is suggested that travelers lower their expectations for facilities or comfort in these areas.

The frequent departures available for buses make the tickets easier to get than train tickets. Buses are also often cheaper than train travel for the same distance.

Sleeper buses are available for longer trips. Bed space is very cramped and you should take extra special care of your belongings. Theft is more common on buses than in the hard bed or soft bed cabins on trains.

China Tourist Cruises

Yangtze cruises: Of all the rivers, the long and broad Yangtze River is the favorite for cruise boat tours.

There is interesting and beautiful scenery. You can travel all the way from Shanghai to Chongqing by cruise boat and see cities and highlights in between as your leisurely travel.


Since they are simple to use, safe and quite inexpensive (a ticket may be as low as 30 cents USD), travel by subway is probably the best way for tourists where they are available.

Beijing Subway

Rapid construction: Since 2002, subways were rapidly built in many cities. Now [2017] about 23 cities have subways lines, and more subway systems are under construction in other cities. The top two longest subways are in Shanghai and Beijing.

They are a good way for tourists to get around because there are English signs and maps and English speaking attendants. Subways stop at central hubs where you can conveniently transfer to other means of transportation

Taking a Taxi in China

Taking a taxi is the most comfortable and secure way of getting around. Taking a taxi is a very fast and convenient way to get to your destination, whether it be a hotel, a scenic spot, an airport, or a railway station.

You can find taxis in almost every city, and the fare is relatively inexpensive for Western travelers. Simply wave your hand and a taxi will stop for you. Prices vary by city but are usually very cheap. The meter should always be activated. Pay the driver upon arrival. Tipping is not the custom.

You can order a taxi from your hotel and ask the concierge to write down your destination on a card. Tourists can also hire a taxi for a half or a whole day, but make sure you first agree on a price with the driver.

Unusual Local Transportation

In many places tourists go, there are people on motorcycles, tricycles, pedicabs and even bicycles available and looking for riders. We suggest that tourists new to China avoid these for safety and to avoid being overcharged. Locals will often ride these types of vehicles for convenience and price, but they are familiar with the area and know what to expect.

Cycling in China

Cycling is an excellent method for getting around in China's cities or seeing tourist sites such as Guilin or Xi'an. But now in many inner cities, cycling is restricted or illegal.

China still is thought of by many as the kingdom of bicycles. China had 500 million bicycles in 1987 or one for every two citizens. But China now has the largest automobile industry by far, and about twenty million automobiles are sold each year.

However, in some poor rural parts of the country, bicycles are still ingrained in everyday life. They are an important means of transportation, and while on tour in China, you can rent a bike and join them riding bikes in the country.

Walking in China

There is probably no better way than walking around to give you an authentic experience of ordinary life. By walking in the lanes or the neighborhoods, you will see things you might never notice from the tourist coach.

However, before you hit the road, here are some tips:

·        When crossing the street, you need to look BOTH ways even if the green light is on.

·        Pickpockets are very common in tourist spots. Don't carry your valuables and passports in a backpack. Put them securely in an inside pocket or a secure pocket in a waist bag and keep an eye on it.

·        Remember to get a business card for your hotel in case you get lost or want to get a taxi back. Or you can ask the hotel staff to write down the places you want to go in both Chinese and English.

·        Buy a tourist map of the city with street names and sights in both English and Chinese in case you want to ask for directions.

·        Take some small change with you in case you get tired or lost and want to take a subway, bus or taxi. Taxi drivers are reluctant to break 100 Yuan notes, and you might end up getting fake notes in your change

The main ways traveling in China varies from in the West are in levels of crowding, lower prices, usually lower service standards, bigger language problems, and many different ways of doing things: from catching a train to having a meal to visiting an attraction.

If it is your first time going to China, you are probably super excited to get on that plane towards a new adventure in China but before going, you should know about the following.

Big Crowds

With more than 1.3 billion people, a big crowd is a normal sight in the larger Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, therefor it is a good idea to prepare yourself for the many people. If you want to try to avoid the masses of Chinese travelers, it is a good idea to not travel during the Chinese holidays. See more about when to avoid traveling in China.


Queuing in China can also be a bit of an experience. In general, the younger generation of Chinese people is good at queuing whereas the elder generation is in a bit of a rush. It is a good idea to keep calm even though somebody is pushing from the back or trying to cut in line.

Affordable But Busy Transport System

The Chinese transport system is great. City transport and long-distance are both fair-priced. Furthermore, the Chinese drivers don’t expect tips. When traveling in Beijing and other big cities in China, the most convenient way to get around is the metro which is fast, has English translations and low ticket fares. You can read more on Transportation in China.

Friendly But Business-Minded Locals

In general, Chinese people are friendly and welcoming but they are also good at business. If you want to, you should try to bargain the price if you are going to a market or a tourist destination where the prices usually vary heavily depending on you being a local, tourist or a foreigner. There's more on Avoiding Tourist Traps.


The Chinese government has cut down on smoking inside public places such as the mall, but people still smoke elsewhere. It is not uncommon for the Chinese men to enjoy a cigarette inside the restaurant after dinner so be prepared. This is usually in the outskirts of the big towns and in smaller cities. See more on dealing with things that may be a culture shock.


In Chinese tourism there are generally two types of restaurants: the authentic local type, and the purely functional ones that are laid on for processing tour groups. Don't get conned out of real Chinese food. You can find out more here about Tourist Restaurants vs Local Restaurants.

Fast But Low-Standard Service

The standard of service in Chinese restaurants etc. is also usually different from the West. Staff can be both tired and in a hurry. They work many hours a day and serve many many people, and good service is not common culture in China yet.

Language can also be a problem when traveling in China. English is not commonly spoken, so be patient with locals. If you are not ready to travel alone in China, we can provide all the help you need.

Good Value Hotels

China has all kinds of hotels. The price for a nice room in a standard hotel is much better value for money than in the West and with the room also comes a western toilet, which is nice because most public restrooms have squat toilets.

However, don't expect star ratings to be like those in the West. See more on Price Bands for Chinese Cities. By booking a trip with China Highlights, we will make sure you will always stay in comfortable rooms.

Affordable Traveling

China is a moderately-priced country to travel in and you will be able to get far for less money than in the West. Because of low-fared transport and good food being more affordable, you can enjoy even more of the country.

Typical Chinese Tours

Group traveling in China differs from the West if you have signed up with a Chinese agency and the other tourists are Chinese. The guide will most likely take you to specific shops to make you buy expensive souvenirs and then rush to and through the next sightseeing spot to another commission earner and so on. Chinese tour groups are always in a hurry and there is no time to enjoy the sights.


China Business Hours

Street in business hours

Just like much of the Western world, China uses a five-day workweek that spans from Monday to Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off. The normal business hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with two-hour break from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. However, there are local variations in different sectors and cities. Particularly with those in western China as they still follow Beijing time.

Public Institutions

Public institutions such as government offices and schools open around at 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m., and usually close around 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. with a two-hour lunch break at noon. These are open from Monday to Friday, and usually close on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays.

Private Companies

Private companies usually open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 6 p.m., with one or two hours noon break. Though usually open from Monday to Friday, some companies may have some staff on duty at weekends.

Hotels and Hospitals

Hotels and hospitals offer round-the-clock services every day. Hotels will generally always have someone on the front desk day or night. Hospitals, as you may expect are always open, as are the emergency numbers in China.

If you find yourself in any medical emergency be sure to dial 120 for an ambulance. Community clinics are also open every day from 8:30 a.m. until after 10:00 p.m. See more on Dealing with Emergencies in China.

Tourist Attractions

Tourist attractions can be visited every day from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., with some keeping open later into the evening during summer time. Museums usually close for one day during the working week (usually Mondays), and extend opening hours by one or two hours on public holidays and summer/winter breaks.

Restaurants and Bars

Restaurants and bars start doing business from around 10 a.m. until late at night, and usually extend their business hours during weekends and holidays. Some bars remain open until the early hours of the morning, whilst some simply do not close throughout the whole night. In more popular cities it is entirely possible to go drinking in bars indefinitely as you cycle through those opening and closing.


Shops such as convenience stores, supermarkets and department stores open every day for long hours from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., including weekends and public holidays.

Small, local shop sand grocery stores open earlier and close later than that time, with some staying open all night as the owners take turns sleeping in a (still visible) bed in the back room.

However, during the Chinese New Year (which occurs in January or February) and other major public holidays, most stores close early in the afternoon on the Eve, with some stores closing completely during this time as the owners return to their home provinces.

Chinese Names: Understanding, Using, and Choosing Them

A Chinese name consists of a family name first then a given name. Each can have one or two Chinese characters. Learn about the most common Chinese names and forms of address, Chinese English names, and foreign names in Chinese. After reading this article, you will be a step closer to finding yourself a good Chinese name.

The Length of a Chinese Name

A Chinese full name usually consists of two or three Chinese characters, or far less commonly four Chinese characters.

Family Names

The family name always comes first, followed by the given name. Take the basketball player Yao Ming as an example. His family name is Yao, and his given name is Ming, so he should be addressed as "Mr. Yao" instead of "Mr. Ming".

Some 24,000 family names were used in history, but only about 4,100 have been continued and are still used nowadays, among which some 500 are the most common.

The Most Common Family Names

The three most popular family names are Li (李 Lǐ), Wang (王 Wáng) and Zhang (张 Zhāng), and these three are used by about 22% (or 300 million) of the Chinese population. These are easily the three most popular names in the world.

Li: 7.9%

Wang: 7.4%

Zhang: 7.1%

Name frequencies: The top ten names are used by 40 percent of the population: Zhang (张 Zhāng /jung/), Wang (王 Wáng /wung/), Li (李 Lǐ /lee/), Zhao (兆 zhào /jaoww/), Chen (陈 Chén /chnn/), Yang (杨 Yáng /yang/), Wu (吴 Wú /woo/), Liu (刘 Liú /lyoh/), Huang (黄 Huáng /hwung/), and Zhou (周 Zhōu /joh/).

Some 35 other family names are used by 30 percent of the population, such as Gao (高 Gāo) and Lin (林 Lín). So, about 45 names are used by about 70 percent of the population, and the hundreds of other Chinese names are used by the remaining 30 percent.

Compound names: Some Chinese people have compound family names that use two Chinese characters such as Ou Yang, Shang Guan, Si Ma, Dong Fang, and Wei Chi. There are altogether 81 of them, but these are far less common than one-character family names.

Women's Surnames

In China, married women usually retain their maiden name as their family name rather than adopting their husband’s. Children usually inherit their father's family name. In Hong Kong, some married women add their husband’s family name in front of their full name, but they don't drop their maiden name altogether.

Given Names

Chinese given names contain one or two Chinese characters, and they are written after the family name. Chinese people always attach great importance to the choice of given names, and they often tend to convey hopes and good wishes for the child in their names.

Some names express the parents’ good wishes such as Fu (blessing), Jian (health) and Shou (longevity). Other names express the hope of a virtue or gift such as Zhi (clever), Li (courteous) and Xin (reliable).

Naming children: It is considered offensive to name a child after an older member of the family. Naming a child after a household figure, especially figures in mythology and classical novels, is also deemed inappropriate.

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