I’m pretty well-travelled but the only interesting facts about China I heard before I visited were half-baked horror stories from expat colleagues. Almost all of these story-tellers had “done” China (aka posted there for a couple of years) before scuttling back to the London suburbs, delighted to have ticked “international role” off on their cv.)
Many Interesting Facts About China Are Just Myths
So, when I told people where I was going for a trip, I found that I wasn’t the only one who had amassed a stock of interesting facts about China that were rather dubious.
It’s true that China has challenges, but it’s a truly amazing country with so much to offer every kind of traveller, from adventure seekers to foodies to culture vultures.
Little did I know that I was about to fall in love with China and that it would become one of my favourite countries of all time.
Everything from the people to the history, the natural beauty and the fabulous food totally blew me away. By the time our trip was over, we were already hatching plans for the next trip. After all, you really can’t “do” a massive country like China in just one trip.
If you still have doubts, here are seven of the most common misconceptions about China, plus why they’re about as true as one of Pinocchio’s tales.
Myth 1: China is a Dangerous Communist State
Like millions around the world, I watched the 1989 student uprising in Beijing (known in China as the ‘June the Fourth incident’). With absolute clarity, I remember the brave student standing in front of the tanks sent to crush the protests. I also remember the horrifying bloodshed as troops opened fire on the assembled crowds, killing and injuring thousands.
For years after this, China was more closed than ever and difficult for foreigners to visit. Times have changed dramatically though, and modern China is different. It’s still an assault on all the senses but in a good way.
While you’ll see police everywhere in China, you’ll feel safe walking around, even at night and in street markets. You just need to have your wits about you, exactly as you would anywhere else in the world.
Myth 2: If you don’t Speak Chinese it’s Impossible to Get Around
This was one of my biggest reservations going into my trip. As a polyglot, I’m used to travelling in countries where I can at least read the alphabet! We’d chosen the luxury of a private tour guide; however, we explored independently too and never had any problems.
China is incredibly easy to get around. On the bullet train from Beijing to Xi’an, the station announcements are in Chinese and English, and the subway in Shanghai is very straightforward to use (and so
Take something with you with the name and address of your accommodation on it so you can show a taxi driver the address if you’re lost. This worked perfectly for us after a long ramble through the winding streets of the night market in Xi’an!
If all else fails, use a translation app
But remember that you can’t access Google in China. Try Waygo which allows you up to 10 free translations per day.
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Myth 3: The air pollution is dreadful
You will see plenty of people in China wearing masks – even in hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. We bought masks as soon as we arrived (ask your guide/driver to stop at a pharmacy, as they are so much cheaper to buy in China than at home!!). Despite being a pair of wheezy asthmatics, we never used the masks. We simply didn’t need them. I might save them for my next trip to London though…
Myth 4: China is Disgustingly Dirty
On the whole, in the big cities, this is so far from the truth it’s laughable. I can’t stress enough how clean every single place we visited was. There were hordes of janitors, road sweepers and park-keepers everywhere we turned.
The streets were spotless everywhere from the awesome historical sites to the bustling street markets. We didn’t see any specks of litter anywhere. It made me rather sad that we don’t still have the same civic pride here in the UK. Even the public toilets were perfectly clean, including the squat toilets. (Once you’re off the beaten track, you will encounter some squalor though.)
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Pro Tip: If you’re a smoker, don’t drop cigarette butts in China as it’s a serious offence! A portable ashtray will keep you legal.
Myth 5: You’ll End Up Eating Dog Meat and Get a Gastro Upset
A few cautious friends were keen to re-hash 3rd hand horror stories about eating bugs, intestines and dogs, but I’m a pretty experimental foodie. I was thrilled at the prospect of eating ‘real’ Chinese food, not something in a tray from the local takeaway! Trying out a new cuisine is one of the best aspects of travelling to a new country for me.
Chinese Food is Awesome!
China is vast, boasting many different cooking styles and regional specialities, so I was in serious foodie heaven. With one notable exception (the Hot Pot Horror) we ate like royalty throughout our stay.
From our 50th birthday celebration, blow-the-budget champagne brunch to awesome crab dumplings in Shanghai, beer fish in Yangshuo and our favourite seafood kebabs from a stall in the Muslim market in Xi’an, we loved all the food that China had to offer.
Try out the street food – you won’t be disappointed
Do your taste buds a favour and step outside your hotel restaurant to go and experience the delicious variety of real local food. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll save £££s!
Pro Tip: Lots of eateries have pictoral menus. You can order food even if the staff don’t speak a word of English! You might get mystery dinner, but it’s (almost) always delicious…
Myth 6: China is Overcrowded. You’ll Feel Claustrophobic Everywhere
China is huge and Shanghai and Beijing are two of the ‘megacities’, with populations in the tens of millions. Prepare yourself for crowding and queuing as part of your trip, just as you would for Disney or for attractions in London during peak holiday periods. As you’d expect, some times of the year are much busier than others. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid weekends, school holidays and Chinese National Holidays. .
Most sites are massive and if you’re patient, you can get awesome photos just by waiting a few moments for gaps in the crowds.
Myth 7: The ‘Inscrutable’ Chinese Are Not Very Friendly
This was the complete opposite of true! In every single place we visited, lovely people greeted us with the widest of smiles. Even where there was a language barrier, people practically tripped over themselves trying to help us. Without exception, we met the most delightful, kind people. We swapped stories, laughed a lot, used sign language and had great conversations with everyone. Local families even invited us to join them for dinner.
We found it hilarious that so many locals wanted to have their photo taken with us, but we said ‘yes’ to everyone who asked us. Posing for selfies with locals felt like being z-list celebrities but we got into it and had such a laugh. Chinese people are anything but unfriendly. Another of those interesting facts about China proved to be completely untrue!
Can you see why I love China so much? It’s sad to hear people spouting old myths about this amazing country. We only had positive experiences during our trip and left loving both the country and the people.
Have these interesting facts about China convinced you to check China out for yourself?
Drop a comment below to let me know! We love to hear what interesting facts about China you’ve heard and whether they coloured your travel experiences.
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