Steps to Going
Chinese currency is called Reminbi (RMB). Units are called Yuan (Y). The exchange rate is approximately 8 Yuan=$1USD. You have a few options. Some large banks can change travelers' checks into RMB, but they may be hard to find. It probably would be a good idea to change money at the airport or hotel upon arrival.
Bank Cards ~ Bank cards such as Visa or MasterCard can be used to make withdrawals at the Bank of China. However, it would be wise to alert your home bank that you will be traveling to China in order to avoid your bank freezing your account, thinking your card was stolen.
Credit Cards ~ Credit cards are rarely used in China outside of touristy areas or overpriced stores. Probably you can bring a credit card along for emergencies, but otherwise, do not expect to use it much.
ATM Cards ~ ATM cards accepted at most national networks in the US are accepted in the larger cities in China. Bank ATM terminals usually have English and Mandarin language options. You will be dispensed the local currency (RMB/Yuan or Hong Kong Dollars) and your bank will do a conversion that will appear on your banking statement in USD. Service charges are generally similar to the US plus a small fee of a few US dollars up to 2% for extracting currency in another country.
Chinese people are generally very warm and friendly. As foreigners, depending on where you are, you are likely to receive special treatment. In addition to friendliness, you will likely experience a lot of interest, ranging from broad smiles and friendliness to downright gawking, depending on where you go. It is also common to have "hello" yelled at you. If you want to return the stares or return the hellos, you may; however, many foreigners, due to the overload of attention, tend to choose not to look people in the eye while walking on the street and usually ignore the hellos. This helps them to avoid a little of the awkward feelings. Also, keep in mind, that while you might feel like this is the closest thing to fame you have felt, you, in fact, are not a movie star and do not need to act like one.
China is a developing country so do not expect it to be like other North American or European places you have visited.
Prepare yourself in advance for:
Dirt, dust, air pollution
Squatty potties (B.Y.O.P. Bring Your Own Paper)
New smells and sounds (bathroom smells, spitting, etc.)
Appearance of lack of orderliness (e.g. lack of lines, crazy traffic)
* Do not drink anything but bottled or boiled water in China. You cannot drink the water from the tap.
The Chinese are generally very modest though their idea of modesty, at times, differs from ours. In the summer, it is not uncommon to see girls riding bikes while wearing short skirts. Also, you might notice some girls wearing "see-through" clothing. Apparently, this is not considered to be a lack of modesty, though you might not want to follow the trend. In the summer, while many people do not wear shorts, it is okay for you to wear shorts; however, you probably will want to stick to longer shorts. Also, avoid skirts that are very short. Tank tops are also fairly uncommon, so you might want to avoid wearing them; however, sleeveless shirts are fine. In western provinces with a larger Muslim population, you will want to cover yourself as much as possible definitely no shorts or sleeveless shirts.
In the North, the heat is generally quite good. However, in the South, there is no heat in the winter. Though it's generally in the 40s or 50s outside, it is just that cold inside, too. You will want to bring plenty of warm clothes. A word to the wise: The heat in China, if you are lucky to be in a place that has it, is turned on according to date, not to temperature. If you go to a northern city around October, you may want to check with the person you are visiting to see if there will be heat then. If not, bring extra warm clothes.
You will not want to bring up any hot topics (death, Tibet, Taiwan, Japan, Tiananmen, abortion, sex, government, politics, human rights, etc.) If asked a question about one of these taboo topics, try to answer with a "universal truth" statement. For example, if someone asks what you think of the U.S. policy on Taiwan, you could answer with, "I don't know much about it. I know sometimes two governments disagree, but the people can still be friends." Or, if asked, "China is really backward; the U.S. is really developed, don't you think?" You might answer, "Every place has their good and bad points. I think Chinese people are so friendly, and Chinese food is delicious. Besides, everyone knows China is developing very quickly." On the other hand, things that our culture considers Taboo (such as age and income) are not considered to be taboo in China. Feel free to ask and answer these types of questions while in China. Keep in mind that Chinese people are very proud of their history and culture and tend to be quite nationalistic. Try to say positive things about their country whenever possible, not negative things. Chinese people generally love to talk about: holidays, education, family, sports, music, and movies.
China's official policy is one of freedom of religious belief. As you know, it plays out differently here. It is okay if people know you are a Christian. It is okay to use the Bible or Christian ideas to back up your opinions. However, under no circumstances should you share your faith or preach in public. This is considered proselytizing in China and is illegal according to the Chinese government. (Proselytizing is converting someone to your religious faith.) If you happen to be in a one-on-one situation with a Chinese person and religion comes up, speak in accordance with the Spirit's leading. Use caution and wisdom in all situations.
Many people who come to China think the food is absolutely delicious. Contrary to popular belief, in most cases, outside of banquets, you will not be asked to eat any "weird" food. Although you will likely enjoy most of the food, it is possible your body might not adjust to it so well right away. Chinese food can be quite oily at times and often uses MSG. Some people's bodies do not react well to this. If you find that it is a problem for you, ask your host to notify the restaurant to use less oil and/or MSG when cooking. This is not offensive. Expect to use chopsticks at every meal. You might want to practice before you come if you cannot use them. You will probably want to pack over-the-counter indigestion aids (Pepto Bismol, Imodium, etc.)
Depending on where you are, you may run into beggars on the streets in China. Many are disfigured men, some children, some old men or women. The word on the street is that many of the disfigured men and children actually are forced to do this work, and the money they earn goes to their "boss." The older people may not be controlled by anyone else and may not have any family to support them. You will probably want to decide ahead of time how you will deal with beggars. You may choose to give or not to give; it is up to you. If you choose to give, a few mao are enough. The maximum gift would probably be one Yuan.
While jet lag is unavoidable, there are a few things you may want to try to reduce its effects. It is recommended that once you arrive in a new time zone you stay up until a reasonable bedtime (dark) before going to sleep. Any naps or going to bed too early will only perpetuate the effects of jet lag. Planning an active day upon arrival may help keep you awake until bedtime. Avoid caffeine and drink plenty of water.
On October 1, 1949 Mao Zedong formally declared the foundation of the People's Republic of China thereby establishing China as a communist country. The current government remains under communist rule. The majority of power lies in the Politburo Standing Committee, a body comprised of five to nine members (currently nine) that includes the top leadership of the party. Under the PSC is the Central Committee (approximately 300 members), comprised mostly of provincial leaders and younger party members. Beneath the CC rests the remainder of smaller committees that reach all the way down to the local level. Representatives at every level are responsible for keeping the higher-ups informed, thus maintaining a rather strict and centralized control of power. The current president, party secretary, as well as head of military, is Hu Jintao.
Healthcare ranges in quality throughout China but rest assured knowing that Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong have Western standard hospitals and doctors (even doctors who speak English). Medicine in pharmacies is generally inexpensive, and most can be had without a prescription should you have to contact a doctor from home and be prescribed medicine.