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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
China Social Profile
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Food & Drink

Chinese cuisine has a very long history and is famous worldwide. Cantonese (the style most Westerners are usually familiar with) is only one regional style of Chinese cuisine. There are eight major schools of Chinese cuisine, named for the places where they were conceived: Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan and Zhejian. For a brief appreciation of the cuisine, one can break it down into four main regional categories:

Northern Cuisine

Beijing, which has evolved from the Shandong school, is well known for Peking Duck, which is roasted in a unique way, and eaten as part of a thin pancake with a sweet plumb sauce and cucumber. Another specialty of the North is Mongolian Hotpot, which is the Chinese version of fondue. It is eaten in a communal style and has a central simmering soup in a special large round pot into which is dipped various raw meats and vegetables, which are cooked on the spot.

An inexpensive and delicious local dish is shuijiao, which consists of pasta-like dough wrapped round pork meat, onions and chives, similar to to Italian ravioli. These can be purchased by the jin (pound) from street markets and small restaurants, and are an ideal filler if you are out all day and do not want a large restaurant dinner. It should, however, be noted that for hygiene purposes, it is advised to take one’s own chopsticks.

Southern Cuisine

Guangdong (Cantonese) food is well known for being the most exotic in China. The food markets in Guangzhou are proof of this, and the Western visitor is usually shocked by the huge variety of exotic and rare animals that are staple in the cuisine, including dog, snake, wildcat and turtle.

Eastern Cuisine

Shanghai and Zhejiang cuisine is sweet and rich, often pickled. Well known for seafood, noodles, vegetables and hot and sour soup.

Western Cuisine

Sichuan and Hunan food is spicy, and is usually sour and peppery. Specialties include diced chicken stirred with soy sauce and peanuts, and spicy doufu (beancurd).

One of the most famous national drinks is maotai, a fiery spirit made from rice wine. Local beers are good quality, particularly Qingdao, which is much like German lager. There are now even some pretty good wines, which are produced primarily for tourists and export.

Nightlife

Visitors can adhere to itineraries made in advance, when enjoying the nightlife of the larger cities, including a selection of prearranged restaurant meals and trips to Chinese opera, Chinese state circus, ballet and theatre. Local Chinese usually only drink socially with a formal meal so bars and nightclubs are generally only found in the more cosmopolitan cities and major towns. Karaoke (written OK on Chinese signs) is a popular form of nighttime entertainment.

Shopping

The Government sets all consumer prices, and there is no price bargaining in shops and department stores, however one can bargain fiercely in small outdoor markets (of which there are many) for items such as jade, silk garments and antique ceramics.

All antiques more than 100 years old are marked with a red wax seal by the Government, and must have an export customs certificate. Access to normal shops is allowed, offering cheap souvenirs, work clothes, books and posters; if accompanied by an interpreter, this will prove much easier, although it is possible to point or ask for assistance of a nearby English-speaker. Items are sometimes in short supply, however prices will not vary much from one place to another.

In larger cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, there are big department stores with four or five floors, offering a wide variety of products. The best shopping is in local factories, hotels and shops specializing in selling handicrafts. Arts and crafts department stores sell local handicrafts. Special purchases items include jade jewellery, calligraphy, embroidery, paintings and carvings in wood, bamboo and stone. It is recommended to retain receipts, as visitors could be asked to produce them at Customs before departure.

Shopping hours: Monday-Sunday 09:00-19:00.

Special Events

The most important festival in the year for the Chinese, is Spring Festival when families gather to share a sumptuous meal on the eve of the Chinese new year. Homes are festooned with pictures and banners to bring good fortune. Additional activities associated with the festival include the lion dance, the dragon-lantern dance and stilt walking. For a full schedule of events contact the China National Tourism Administration (see Contact section).

The below list is a selection of special events occurring in China in 2005:
 
Jan 5-Feb 28 Harbin Ice and Snow Festival
Feb 9-11 Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), nationwide
Feb 9 Tibetan New Year
Feb 25-26 Great Prayer Festival, Tibet
Mar 23 Saga Dawa Festival, Tibet.
Apr 4-6 Qintong Boat Festival in Yangzhou.
Apr 11 Hainan International Coconut Festival
Apr 13-15 Water-Sprinkling Festival of the Dai, Jiahong City
Apr 25 Fujian Mazu Festival, Meizhou Island
Jun 24-26 Torch Festival of the Yi Minority, Yunnan
Jul 25-Aug 25 Wutai Mountain Tourist Month, Shanxi Province
Aug Qingdao Int’l Beer Festival Horse Race Festival, Qiangtan, Tibet; Shoton Festival, Tibet.
Sep 10-15 Shaolin Int’l Martial Arts Festival, Henan Province
Sep 26-Oct 10 Qufu International Confucius Culture Festival
 
Social Conventions

 Cultural differences sometimes create misunderstandings between visitors and local people. The Chinese don't generally volunteer information, therefore the visitor is advised to ask questions. Hotels, train dining cars and restaurants will usually ask for criticisms and suggestions, which will be considered seriously.

 Do not take offense when being followed by crowds, this is merely curiosity and interest in visitors who are rare in the remoter provinces.

 Chinese people are usually reserved in manner, courtesy rather than familiarity being preferred.

 The official title of the country is ‘The People’s Republic of China’, and this should be used in all formal communications. ‘China’ can be used informally, however, one should never imply that another China exists.

 Although shaking hands may be sufficient, a visitor will often be greeted by applause as a sign of welcome. The customary response is to return the applause.

 Anger, if felt, is expected not be shown and public arguments may attract hostile attention.

 In China the family name is always be mentioned first.

 It is customary to arrive a little early when invited out socially.

 Toasting at a meal is customary, as is the custom of taking a treat when visiting someone’s home, for example, fruit, confectionery or a souvenir from a home country. If it is the home of friends or relatives, money may be given to the children. When visiting a school or a factory, a gift from the visitor’s home country, especially something which would be unavailable in China (a text book if visiting a school, for example), would be very much appreciated. Stamps are also popular gifts, as stamp-collecting is a popular hobby in China. A proper gift for an official guide is a Western reference book about China.

 Conservative casual clothing is generally acceptable everywhere. Revealing attire should be avoided since they may cause offence.

 Visitors should not express political or religious views.

 Photography is not permitted in airports. Historic and scenic places may be photographed, however permission is needed before photographing military installations, government buildings or other possibly sensitive subjects.

Tipping

Officially not encouraged, but accepted from visitors.