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e-Tour International / China Travel Guide

Chinese Culture

Cuisine

A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine but perhaps the best known and most influential are Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine (specifically Huaiyang cuisine), Cantonese cuisine and Sichuan cuisine, representing North, East, South and West China cuisine correspondingly. These styles are distinctive from one another due to factors such as availability of resources, climate, geography, history, cooking techniques and lifestyle. One style may favour the use of garlic and shallots over chili and spices, while another may favour preparing seafood over other meats and fowl. Jiangsu cuisine favours cooking techniques such as braising and stewing, while Sichuan cuisine employs baking.

Southerners love rice, northerners like pasta. In fact, this is due to the North and South agricultural production structure. The climate in the south is hot and rainy. Most of the arable land is mainly paddy fields. Therefore, local peasants plant rice in high temperature and rainy conditions. However, rainfall in northern China is less, the temperature is lower, and most land are suitable for the growth of cold-tolerant wheat. This is the so-called “you eat what you plant”. Therefore there is a north-south different diet.

Colour, fragrance and taste are the three aspects traditionally used to describe Chinese food, as well as the meaning, appearance and nutrition of the food. Cooking should be appraised from ingredients used, cuttings, cooking time and seasoning. Based on the raw materials and ingredients used, the method of preparation and cultural differences, a variety of foods with different flavours and textures are prepared in different regions of the country. Many traditional regional cuisines rely on basic methods of preservation such as drying, salting, pickling and fermentation.

Nowadays, people also separate the cuisines into “Eight Cuisines” of China, namely Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Sichuan, and Zhejiang cuisines.

Since chopsticks (and spoons) are used in place of forks and knives, Chinese cuisine tends to serve dishes in bite-size pieces or employ cooking techniques that render dishes such as fish or hong shao rou soft enough to be picked apart easily. Some common etiquette is:

  • Chopsticks should always be the same length and held so that the ends are even, a practice popularly explained as due to the former use of uneven boards (三長兩短) in Chinese coffins.
  • Similarly, do not leave chopsticks sticking upright out of dishes, owing to a Chinese practice of leaving such dishes for the dead, and visual similarity to burning incense for the dead.
  • Do not chew on the ends of chopsticks, even if they are plastic.
  • Chopsticks are not used to move bowls or plates.
  • Do not bang your chopsticks as though you were playing a drum. It implies you are a beggar or a child.
  • Treat chopsticks as extension of your fingers. It is impolite to use them to point at other people or to wave chopsticks around.
  • Unless they are disposable, chopsticks will be washed and reused. Consequently, don’t use them to pick at your teeth or for other unseemly endeavours.
  • Avoid spearing food with the chopsticks.
  • One should not ‘dig’ or ‘search’ through food for something in particular. This is sometimes known as “digging one’s grave” or “grave-digging” and is extremely poor manners.
  • When not in use, and if the restaurant provides them, place the front end of the chopsticks on the chopstick rests. These are usually small ceramic rests placed near your napkin on the right hand side of your bowl.
  • Both hands should be above the table even when the left hand is not holding a utensil. For right-handed people who hold chopsticks in their right hand, their left hands either hold down the bowl on the table, or pick it up so that it is near the mouth. It is considered rude to leave the left hands on their laps, although exceptions are sometimes made when eating from a plate.

Festivals and Holidays

New Year’s Day (1 January)

New Year’s Day

Chinese New Year/Spring Festival (January or February)

The Chinese Spring Festival dates back to the beginning of the Shang Dynasty about 4000 years ago. During this time, the Spring Festival began as a tradition of respect to ancestors and deities during the close and beginning of years. The Spring Festival is an annual event held in China and in Chinese communities around the world. This massive event takes place on different dates each year according to the lunar calendar.

There are legends and wise tales linked to the celebration of the Spring Festival. The most popular tale is about the nian (年) monster and the closing of the year. According to Chinese legend, the nian was a beast that devoured animals and humans for every day of the year. After it was discovered that the yearly monster could be driven away with the color red, people used red excessively for the first two weeks of the new year.

Red is now a lucky color that is used in clothing and fireworks during the Spring festival. The color red is expected to drive away the nian monster and bring good fortune for the year ahead. In addition to using red in clothing, decorations, and fireworks, there are also many other traditions associated with the legends and history surrounding the Spring Festival. In accordance with cleaning the home and body, new clothing is often bought prior to the festival. Family elders also give children money in a red purse or envelope. In return, children show great respect and appreciation to the elders and ancestors.

As with any great celebratory event, the Chinese Spring Festival is holiday with many entertaining activities for people of many ages. During the half-month long festival, Chinese and people from across the world can experience dragon dances, grand fireworks displays, street festivals, crafts, parties, live music, and many other events.

On the final day of the festival, or the 15th day of the first lunar month, a lantern festival is held. Families and organizations from across China and Chinese communities place lanterns along the street for people to enjoy. Some lanterns are simple while others are quite elaborate. Some people also hang riddles along the streets for visitors to solve. If a person can solve the riddle, he or she goes to the owner of the riddle to collect a prize. Prizes usually come in the form of small trinkets, baked goods, or candy.

Qing Ming Festival or Chinese Lantern Festival (April)

TThe Qing Ming Festival is one of China’s largest events based off of the lunar calendar. Qing Ming officially starts 104 days after the winter solstice. The festival usually begins on April 4th or 5th. Qing Ming is often referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day or Pure Brightness because of the holiday’s events. The primary role of the Ching Ming Festival is to pay respect to ancestors. In accordance with the Ching Ming Festival’s tradition of ancestor worship, an activity known as tomb sweeping is an important part of the festival day or the 10 days leading up to it. The purpose of this activity is to clean and beautify the graves or urns of ancestors. In many cases, people will also offer their ancestors their favorite food and wine as tribute. After paying respects to ancestors, many Chinese take part in a spring outing, or taqing (踏青), to enjoy the warm weather and company of friends. The first spring outing occurred during the Tang Dynasty and it has become a time of celebration ever since.

Qing Ming is also a celebration of spring because of the impending planting season in most of China.

During the Qing Ming Festival, there are various customs and traditions that people take part in. One of the most enjoyed festival activities is kite flying. During the day, people fly kites of various colors to celebrate spring. People also celebrate the holiday with kites in the evening, but small lanterns are attached. When hundreds of kites are in the air, the Chinese sky looks like it is filled with many stars. The kites are symbolic of good fortune, but according to legend, they are also said to be able to cure and prevent diseases.

Labor Day (May)

Labor Day in China first began in 1919. In 1949, the Chinese government officially declared Labor Day to be a national holiday. This holiday originally served as a means of honoring workers across China. In present day, Labor Day is now a fun-filled holiday meant for enjoying some time off with friends and family.

Unlike many Chinese holidays, the date of Labor Day is based on the Gregorian calendar instead of the lunar calendar. Labor Day is three days long, but the days other than May 1 change every year. If Labor Day is on a Tuesday, the other two days will be on the Monday before and the Wednesday after. During Labour Day, travel volume is high and dense crowds can be expected. China’s prime tourist destinations are frequently visited by both Chinese citizens and foreigners.

Dragon Boat Festival or Duanwu Festival (May or June)

The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and elsewhere around the world. The people of China generally receive a three-day break from work in order to celebrate with friends and family. In Mainland China, the Dragon Boat Festival is referred to as the Duanwu Festival. The Duanwu Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar. Because of this, the holiday is often called the ‘double fifth’ festival.

The Dragon Boat Festival originated from the events of China’s Warring States Period. According to the old stories, there was a Minister of the state of Chu who supported the decision to wage war against the oppressive state of Qin. This minister’s name was Qu Yuan. At first the people of Chu and other Chinese states supported Qu Yuan, but as time passed, the King of Chu disapproved. To express his distaste for the war plan, the King exiled Qu Yuan. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote various patriotic poems that expressed his love and vision for China. Among these poems written by Qu Yuan is the world famous “The Lament”. When the state of Qin began to gain ground and take over China, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River in 278 BCE. It is said that Qu Yuan loved China so much that he would rather die than see it fall into the hands of the Qin. After his death, the works of Qu Yuan were circulated. Having gained prestige as an author and a patriot, the Dragon Boat Festival began to commemorate his death in the river.

To honor the life and work of Qu Yuan, boat races are held on various waterways throughout China each year. While regular people participate in these races, there are also teams of racers who train for months leading up to the events. Prizes and medals are sometimes awarded to winners, but traditionally, the winning team earns a year of happiness and good fortune. The canoes and long boats used in these races are painted with elaborate dragon designs and colors to celebrate the holiday. People who visit these events can expect to hear loud rhythmic drums that help teams paddle in sync with each other.

During the Dragon Boat Festival, you may enjoy a variety of cuisine that has been created just for the holiday. Zongzi (粽子) is one of the most common treats. These are sticky rice dumplings that are filled with rice, beans, and other ingredients. They are sometimes wrapped in bamboo or rice paper. The flavor and texture of Zongzi vary greatly depending on region and chef.

Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival (September or October)

The Mid-Autumn Festival began as early as 3000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty. While it has certainly evolved over the years, this festival remains at the root of Chinese culture. It falls on the middle of autumn and is the time for harvest. The Mid-Autumn Festival is one of the largest festivals in Mainland China and East Asia, such as Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam etc. This festival began as a celebration of the full moon, but it is also a time to reconnect with family members. Many traditions of the Mid-Autumn festival are centered around family reunion and happiness.

The Mid-Autumn Festival in China has various legends and lore surrounding its traditions. One of the most popular legends is that of Chang’e and Hou Yi. According to this legend, the world had ten suns that destroyed the crops of the Earth and made people suffer. A Chinese hero known as Hou Yi crafted a bow and shot down all of the suns except one with his arrows. For saving mankind, the Queen of Heaven rewarded Hou Yi with a immortality potion. Hou Yi did not drink the potion because he wanted to stay with his wife, Chang’e. Hou Yi gave the immortality potion to his wife for safe keeping, but she drank it one day when she was attacked. This caused her to become immortal and fly to the moon. People honor Chang’e with moon cakes and offerings of food for good fortune. Other popular Moon Festival legends include the “Jade Rabbit” and “Wu Gang and the Cherry Bay”.

One of the most sought after treats during the Mid-Autumn Festival is the moon cake, or yuebing (月饼). Moon cakes are a sweet pastry made from wheat or rice flour and sugar. They are often filled with watermelon seed paste, red bean paste, or lotus seed paste for flavor and texture. Moon cakes vary in design and flavor depending on which region you are in. For example, the Cantonese moon cake is sweet, but is sometimes filled with pork or duck fillings. In contrast, the Beijing moon cake is a much lighter pastry that is almost always flavored with a light sweetness. The focus for this style is appearance and design over flavor. Moon cakes are often given to family members as gifts as a show of honor and respect during Mid-Autumn festival reunions. Traditional family meals are also enjoyed during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

National Day (October)

In China under imperial rule, National Day was a celebration of the Emperor’s birthday or his rise to the throne. On October 1, 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong declared the formation of the People’s Republic of China after Chiang Kai-Shek and his Nationalist forces were driven out of mainland China. Ever since then, the first day of October has been a day of patriotism and national celebration. The holiday is held annually in Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China.

The first seven days of October are referred to as the Golden Week. This is a time of travel and leisure that is celebrated differently in various parts of China. People in cities often travel to rural areas to relax and enjoy the quiet surroundings. People from urban areas also travel to other cities throughout China to take part in celebrations.

Beijing is the center of the largest National Day activities. Each year, a large National Day celebration is held in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. On the evening of National Day, a grand and elaborate fireworks demonstration is performed. This fireworks show is sanctioned by the Chinese government and some of the highest quality rockets and explosives are used to fill the sky with sparkling colors of gold and red. One of the most popular festivals for celebrating National Day is the Flower Bed festival that occurs in Beijing. The Flower Bed festival is known for its elaborate displays and flower arrangements. Visitors of this festival often walk around to enjoy the weather while looking at the vibrant colors of some beautiful flower beds.

National Day is also a time of shopping. Many companies offer very large discounts on products during Golden Week, so people should put a bit of money to the side and use this as an opportunity to purchase some of the things that have been on their wish lists for a while. Technology and clothing are among the most common kinds of items to have discounts.

There are normally seven official public holidays in China. Each year’s holidays are announced weeks before the start of the year by the General Office of the State Council.  Weekends are usually swapped with the weekdays next to the actual holiday to create a longer vacation period. Please refer to Chinese Central Government for the actual days off.

Education in China

Overview:

Confucius is remembered by the Chinese as firstly a tutor then a philosopher. Confucius believed that the core of education had four phases: cultivate ourselves, regulate our families, govern our state and keep the world peace.

Nowadays, every Chinese student knows that the National College Entrance Examination is what he or she works for from the beginning of his or her student life. China’s annual National College Entrance Examination was developed from the Imperial Examination System which was established during the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD). The purpose of the ancient Imperial Examination System was to discover the talents of the ordinary people. The National College Entrance Examination largely plays the same role. For three day in every July, nearly ten million students attend the National College Entrance Examination to gain high marks which might determine their destinies. Parents wish their children could change their fate by going to top universities so that after they graduate, they could find a better-paid job.

School System 教育制度

All Chinese children receive 9 years’ free compulsory education. Children aged between 6 and 12 will be in primary school, while aged between 13 and 18 will be in junior and senior high school. Similar to Australia, the public primary and secondary schools take in students according to their residential districts. Should they want to go to a better one that is not a designated school, they will have to pay a fee to study there. These better schools, ie, students there achieve higher marks at all sorts of national exams, usually require students to live on campus in organised dormitories during the week and only go home at the weekend.

There are also private or international schools that enrol students from anywhere as long as they pay for it. Equivalent to private or Catholic schools in Australia, they are regarded as better schools because they have sufficient funds to provide better facilities, educators, study environment to students and require higher disciplinary standards for studying there. Similarly, students normally live in the share accommodation on or off campus during the week and only go home at the weekend.

When the students go to college or university, they will have to pay full fees. It usually take 3-4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree.

Chinese Education vs Western Education

Education in Western Countries is designed to provide children and young people with the skills and social capability to participate in and contribute to society, developing strong friendships that will possibly continue throughout their whole lives, and gaining sufficient skills and awareness so that they can go on after school and prepare themselves for further academic life or employment. School children from an early age are encouraged to solve problems, to be creative and to express themselves clearly when writing and speaking. Grading is a balance of examination and project based evaluation. This is mostly school-based, with teachers designing appropriate evaluation within the curriculum guidelines. Portfolios – in digital and paper format – are popular in many schools as a way of demonstrating that students have attained designated learning outcomes.

China has a fairly uniform curriculum and competition is encouraged with exam based grading dominant. In contrast to Australia in China there is a greater sense of competition and drive, and school not only equips young people to prepare for useful lives, but also attempts to test and sort them to provide guidance into the most appropriate positions in life. Numbers and scores are essential to develop a reliable, fair and objective appraisal of a student’s ability and suitability. Competition for the best career paths is intense.

With China’s overwhelming size and population it’s not surprising to see that schools are big and class sizes tend to be large. Typically, a Chinese school will have several thousand students and a class will have about 50 students.

Travel Tips

China is a vast country with huge population.  Depends on where you go and what you are going to do in China, you should always check with relevant authority for updated information.  Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provides an official Smart Traveller website which will give you a comprehensive and reliable information about China.  You can find information on:

  • Entry and Exit requirement
  • Safety and Security
  • Local Travel
  • Laws
  • Health
  • Where to get help in case of emergency and Australian embassy contact details etc
  • Additional Information on travelling to China
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Currency

Chinese Yuan 元or Renminbi ¥, 1 Australian dollar = 5 Chinese Yuan (approximately). It is advised to carry some cash into China in case you can’t find banks or ATMs to accept credit cards. You are allowed to carry under US$5000 without declaring it. Major Chinese banks’ ATMs accept Visa, Mastercard, Cirrus, Maestro, American Express and JCB in major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. International hotels and restaurants in major cities accept international credit cards, but probably not in smaller cities.

Passport and Visa

Australian citizens require a visa to enter China.

We recommend that you apply for your visa approximately one month prior to travel to ensure there is enough validity on your visa for your entire stay. You can apply in person or by mail through the Chinese Visa Application Service Centres located in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or Brisbane. The Chinese Embassy and Consulates General in Australia do not accept visa applications.

Most tourists require a standard “L” visa, however if you plan to study or work, do a student exchange or study tour, visit family that are residents of China or are a foreign journalist you will need a different class of visa. Please click “Panda” for more classes of visa. All the information in this post relates to a standard tourist visa only.

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Australian citizens don’t need a visa if they are holidaying in Hong Kong for less than 90 days and not visiting mainland China, or if they are transiting in mainland China for less than 24 hours and will not leave the airport. If you are transiting through Beijing Capital International Airport, Shanghai Hongqiao or Pudong International Airport, Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou or Shuangliu International Airport in Chengdu, and are going to be in China for less than 72 hours, you can apply for a visa exemption, however certain restrictions will apply to your visit.

However, if you are entering mainland China and require a visa, and also entering again as a transit passenger, you will require a double entry visa. If you leave mainland China for Hong Kong and then

re-enter mainland China you will also need a double entry visa. If you are entering mainland China more than twice you will need a multiple entry visa.

What you’ll need for a standard tourist visa application:
  • Passport with at least six months validity from your return date and at least one blank visa page.
  • Photocopy of passport data page (the page with your name and photo).
  • Travel itinerary showing return air travel and hotel reservations. If you are not staying in a hotel you will need an invitation letter.
  • Visa Application Form.
  • One colour passport-sized photo.
  • Visa fee.
  • Reply paid envelope (if applying by mail).
  • If you are an Australian citizen applying from outside Australia, you will also need to show proof of legal stay or residence status on the country you are applying in.
Plugs & Adapters in China

Voltage in Mainland China is 220V, 50 Hz. The following is the plugs used in China.