Welcome to my blog about China! I am going to be writing a total of 5 blogs about China. The first will be this general overview of China and then the others will focus on the four different cities that I visited while in China; Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, and Suzhou. Each city has interesting characteristics and facts. But first I want to talk about China in general. China is an ancient country with thousands of years of history.
China is currently a Communist nation. This is a picture of the Chinese flag. It has one large golden star surrounded by four smaller stars. The large star stands for Communism and the four smaller stars stand for students, farmers, worker, and business men respectively. It means that all people of China follow Communism. However, it seems like China is turning a bit more Capitalist in the recent years. People now are able to work harder and improve their life. Before everyone had the same regardless of how hard they worked. Chinese people don't care if they have a capitalist or communist government they just want a happy/better life. They do not have control of who their future leaders will be. The top 7 people in the government decide who the next chairman (president) will be. The people just hope that they will get a smart leader that will develop the economy. China is 16,800 kilometers long or 24 Hong Kongs, and it takes 4 days to drive from east to west in China. China has 13 districts, 5 counties, and 2 special areas. Hong Kong used to be owned by the British and Macau was owned by the Portuguese. These areas are capitalist and don't have to have to follow the rules like the rest of China. They have their own governments and policies. But they are not allowed to have a military. It is hard for people in the rest of China to get permission to go there, and when they do it is only for 7 days at a time. I think this is why we didn't need a visa to go to Hong Kong, but we did for the rest of China. It also explains why tours going to Hong Kong were rare on traveling groups.
In the larger cities in China high rises are very common. I was shocked when our plane was landing into Beijing, because from the air the amount of high rise buildings was over whelming. I had never seen anything like it before. It truly amazed me. The Chinese government likes the idea of high rise buildings because it shows great faith in the government, or it shows that a lot of people want to live in that area. However, the Chinese government tries to limit the amount of people that live in the big cities. They have a system called ID cards. It is kind of like our social security card, but it is even more important in China. A Chinese ID card is for a specific place or city in China. People use their ID cards in order to get an education, health care, food rations, oil, and a lot of different things that are essential to their lives. If the Chinese person moves to a different area in China they do not receive the benefits of their ID card and everything is a lot more expensive for them. If a Chinese person is walking down the street and gets stopped by a police officer if they do not have their ID on them they are sent directly to jail until a family member can come to the jail with their ID card. Children follow their mother's ID card. If their mother was born in the country side, but their father was from Beijing and they were born in Beijing their ID card will still be from the area of the country their mother's ID card was in. This is a way that China tries to prevent people from moving throughout China. In the past Chinese people weren't even allowed to travel throughout different areas of China. They had to stay in their own city.
There is another important reason why high rises are important in China which is due to their population. There are over 1.4 billion people in China. That number is staggering when you consider that the US has just over 313 million people. That means that China almost has 1.1 billion more people than the US. China hasn't always like this though. In 1949 their population was around 400,000 million people. But their leader at the time was worried that this population wasn't large enough. The Korean War was under way and China worried that if Korea fell that the US would decide to turn to China to stop Communism there as well. He thought that World War 3 was going to start and that it would be fought in China. Therefore, he encouraged a large population boost so that China had more man power. A trend started, the more babies a woman had the higher she should be regarded. So Chinese families started to have 6 to 9 kids. Any people who opposed the leaders plan or said that it wouldn't be good for China were put to death. By the 1970's China's population had risen to 1.1 billion people. In 1976 China decided that they needed to do something to control their rising population so they enacted the one child law. This means that every Chinese couple can only have 1 child. In China 93% of the population is of Han decent and then the rest of the people are split up into 55 different minority groups. The one child law only applies to Han people. However, if a woman has twins or triplets they are not forced to split them up. They are considered lucky and get to keep the children. If your child dies, has mental, or physical problems the parents are able to try again. The government provides people with free condoms at work and very cheap means of birth control. Also abortions are common and legal in China. If a women has an abortion she is entitled to one week off of work. The punishment for having more than one child is severe. First if the parent works for the government they lose their job. Also they incur a fine of 3 years of the father's income. Also the child can not get an ID card which means that they can't get an education and that they have to pay more for everything. Single mothers are not common in China. The girl feels honor bound to either get married or to have an abortion. It is rare that single girls raise children on their own without a father.
Chinese people are very proud of their history and ancestry. We have our family trees that go back some generations. However, the Chinese have a family book that tracks their ancestry for the past 2,000 years. The Chinese prize this. The only problem with this is that only a son's name will go into the book and continue their family name. A daughter's name goes into her husband's book. This made Chinese families want to have a boy instead of a girl. Also 70% of Chinese people are farmers that work their land by hand and they need boys to help them work on the farm. This led to baby girls being abandoned in the country side so China restructured the law. If a family in a country has a girl they are able to retry for a boy in four years. In 1985 the divorce rate in China was .003% now it is up to 14%. If people remarry and one of the partners do not already have a child they are able to have a baby together. However, if both partners already have a child they are not able to have a baby together. Chinese people treasure their children and spend all of their time and money on their children's future. These children have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents that adore and spoil them because that child is rare or one of their only grandchildren. This led to a generation of very spoiled children that don't know how to really get along with others very well. They are used to people doing everything for them and when two children from families like this get married they often can't stand to be around each other. The have flash divorces or divorces within three months. This was so common in China that they began to set up classes to teach people how to get along and how to live together. Now people have to take classes for 6 months before they can get divorced. However, due to the popularity of having boys it is expected that by 2020... 400,000 boys of the marrying age will not be able to find a wife.
Speaking of Chinese marriages there are a couple traditions that Chinese people do at their weddings. First of all, 6 months before their wedding the couple takes wedding pictures so that they can hang a large welcome banner at their wedding reception to welcome guests. Also, Chinese brides don't always wear white dress. I saw one Chinese girl taking her wedding pictures in a red dress while we were there. The couple in the picture above was having their wedding reception at a place where we were eating lunch in Xian. I saw this banner and took the picture. While we were there they were continuously firing off fireworks. Also my tour guide mentioned that it is common that a jade bracelet be given to the bride by her mother in law to wear on her left hand. Recently the bride wants two things when she gets married her jade bracelet and a diamond ring. In the past the bride did not get a diamond ring. Also my tour guide mentioned that when she was married her parents in law gave her 1001 yuan, because they thought she was 1 in a 1000. My tour guide told us that men always need 3 luxury items to attract a wife. In the 1980's the luxury items were a watch, bicycle, and sewing machine. A watch was to always know what time it was, a bicycle was for transportation, and a sewing machine was to make new clothes for the family. In the 1990's the 3 luxury items changed to a color tv, a washing machine, and a refrigerator. A man is expected to be married at age 22 and a girl at 20. If a girl is 23 or if the boy is 25 that is considered a late marriage. Also if a girl gives birth on or after 25 years it is considered a late birth.
Like I mentioned above most Chinese people live in apartments. Most live in small two bedroom apartments with one bathroom. However, they only own their apartment for 70 years. After that the land goes back to the government and they have to repurchase it if they would like to live there again. Therefore, most Chinese families live together with their parents. The older generations save to buy either a house or an apartment for the younger generations and then they live with them. Parents live with their eldest son. However, due to the one child policy younger generations are going to have to take care of two sets of parents. This is making nursing homes more prevalent in China where in the past there were almost none. It is interesting that in China people do not show displays of affection even at home. It is custom that parents do not tell their children that they love them, but their grandparents are allowed to. Also people in China rarely say I love you to each other in public or hold hands or anything like that.
The vast majority of people in China don't have health insurance unless they work for the government, and hospitals in China will not treat people until they pay. No money, no treatment... regardless of the circumstances. People have to put down a 200,000 yuan deposit at the hospital before they can receive treatment. An average person in China makes around 80,000 yuan a year. So this amount is very high. People in China value their health very much and they try to stay healthy. Only young people in China go to the gym, but the majority of people in China exercise everyday. There are a lot of public parks in China where people exercise at for free. There are a lot of different groups that do a lot of different types of exercises. Some groups do tai chi exercises, others just use fans and dance around, some ballroom dance, or balance balls on rackets and move around. All cities regardless of their size have exercise parks. People retire at earlier ages in China then we do in the United States. Blue collar women retire at the age of 45 and men at 50. White collar women at 55 and men 60. This is due to the fact that so many younger people need jobs. So these retired people are the majority of the people that come out to the parks, although people of all ages are welcome. They call older or retired people "experienced people" instead of the title "older or retired". Arraigned marriages are not that common in China anymore, because the younger generations want to find their own husband or wife. However, younger generations of Chinese people have began to work more and more so they do not have time to meet a person to marry. So when there parents go out to the parks they try to match make for their kids. They have what they call a marriage corner where parents hold up a picture and various details about their child. They try to find other people in the park that might be a match for their child. Normally young people are mortified by this and would much prefer to find a husband/wife on their own. So older people are becoming sneakier and sneakier about how they suggest the kids should meet up. One group of parents pretended like they were old friends that ran into each other, and told their kids to chat with each other while they caught up on the old times. Internet dating has also started to become popular in China.
Chinese people do a couple other things to stay in shape as well. First of all they have a different type of toilet system then we do. The Chinese squat down on their toilet instead of having a sit down toilet like we do. They do have some "western" style toilets like ours but its meant for handicap or older people. They believe that this keeps their leg muscles strong. However, they do not have a good plumbing system so you can't throw toilet paper down the drain. Do you see that little blue basket in the corner?? That is where you are supposed to throw your toilet paper... that is if you remembered to bring your own toilet paper to use. Most bathrooms do not have toilet paper inside of it. And due to the fact that you throw you dirty toilet paper into the basket their bathrooms smell REALLY bad!! Besides a toilet seat, Chinese people do an eye massage twice a day to keep their eyes working good. These massages consist of four different motions that are repeated for sets of 80. First they rub in between their eyebrows, second they massage their tear ducts by their nose, then they put their thumbs on their temple and rub above and below their eyeballs. The last thing that they do is rub their hands together until they get hot and then cover their eyes for 3 to 5 minutes. They believe that this will give them good eye sight. Also, they believe that hard beds are good for their backs.. the harder the better. I hated the hard beds!! I had to stack two quilts on top of each other just to be kind of comfortable.
Chinese people value a good education. There are several layers of schools in China. Everyone wants to be in the top schools that have the best teachers and facilities. Unlike the US, Chinese people believe that public schools have the best education. Private schools are very expensive but do not guarantee a higher quality education. Education is technically free in China, but in order for a child to remain in a top school their parents have to give big "donations" to the school so that they won't be kicked out of it. Chinese people have to attend 9 years of school. They have 6 years of primary school, 3 years of middle school, and then an additional optional 3 years of senior school and then college. Kinder garden is also optional, but in order to get into a top primary school children have to go to a good kinder garden. Children also have to test into which schools they can get into. Once a child is in a higher level school they have a better chance to continue to be a top school in the future. If a child get marks in the 92 to 95 range they are considered stupid, and teachers call their parents to tell them that they need a tutor. Children are expected to be at school promptly on time. If they are not at school by 7:30 am the doors lock and no one can get into the school building. Parents can not even collect their kids until school is out of session. Here is a typical Chinese school day. 7:30 read for 20 minutes, they have 4 classes in the morning for 40 minutes a piece with a 10 minute break in between classes, then they have 20 minutes for exercise and then 10 minutes for an eye massage to protect eye sight (all Chinese people do this twice a day), then they get an hour for lunch, have two more classes and then their grandparents pick them up 3:40 after school. They go to school from Sept through Dec and then they have a month off for the Chinese New Year. Then they go back to school for Feb or Mar until June. Then they have July and August off. After school children usually take up special subjects... like learning English, olympical math, sports, music, or other life skills. Parents usually choose which special class students take. These classes cost extra money so parents usually pick which classes they think will most benefit their children's life in the future. There are usually between 40 to 60 kids in one class, and something unique is that Chinese students stay with their same classmates and classroom their whole school career. The teacher is the one that moves from classroom to classroom not the students. So students stay in the same classroom for years with their same classmates.
In ancient times 99% of Chinese people were superstitious. Throughout all of my blogs I will talk about different superstitions as they are appropriate. Right now I will focus on how Chinese people believe in the after life. Confucius says that people should be buried underground because of the after life so that they can be reincarnated, and a grave stone should be placed above them so that future generations can honor them and give them things that they need. They have three days in the year to pay respect to their ancestors. During this time they bring lots of things for their ancestors like fruit, meat, wine, games, and etc... They burn incense to contact spirits. Then they burn fake money. They believe that if they burn something their ancestors will be able to get it. So they burn paper cellphones or cars... or anything that they think will be useful for their ancestors. In recent years the government decided that it was more important to have more farmland than bury people so they decreed that all Han people have to be cremated and a lot of Chinese people are very upset by this. We didn't see any cemeteries while we were in China, but this was probably because the majority of cemeteries are in the suburbs, not the big cities we were in.
The streets in China are jam packed with cars, and drivers in China are scaaaary! First thing that we noticed is that pedestrians do NOT have the right away in China. If someone is walking across a road cars won't bother to stop for them. Its kind of a whoever gets there first type of mentality. People walk across the road regardless of what the walk/do not walk sign says. I felt like I was watching frogger. People would walk into the road and stand inbetween the lines... when a car would go past they would run to the next set of lines and wait until they could get across. Cars often cut each other off in the road, and it seems like the lanes on the highways are only guidelines, because I saw NUMEROUS cars driving in between the lines or in the emergency lanes to get around cars. We witnessed a few accidents while we were in China, and I am really curious as to how many there are in a year. I imagine the rate must be quite high. Anyways, during one of the accidents that we witnessed I was shocked when everyone started to get out of their cars and look around to see what had happened. People were literally standing on the guard rails trying to get a better look. It gave the term "rubber neckers" a whole new meaning to me! Once traffic started to pick back up people ran into their cars and drove away. But as we were traveling down the road you could see spots where people went to the bathroom or left garbage laying around. It was quite a spectacle.
China is considered one of the most taxed nations in the world. That fact surprised me. One interesting tax was a dog tax. We were all surprised not to see too many pets or people walking dogs in China. It turns out that there is a yearly tax on owning a dog. Depending on the dogs size people have to pay between 3,000 and 10,000 yuan a year to own a dog. All other animals are free. Cats have to be indoor pets and we didn't see any stray cats in China while we were there. We saw people carrying bird cages and taking their birds for a walk. I think this must replace having a dog, because owning a dog is expensive. In 1984, China started an income tax. They said that China was a developing country and needed the money to fund expansion. People in China are taxed every month between 7% and 45%. If they make over 3000 yuan a month they are taxed. The average person makes 8000 yuan a month in China. To keep this in perspective that is about $1200 a month. Also like I mentioned income taxes are due every month, so if you have a job like being a tour guide where you make the majority of your money in a 6th month period they don't any account for the 6 months that you do not make income. The more money you make in those 6 months the more taxes they take out. I think that our system of a yearly basis is a little bit more fair in that regard, because you get exemptions based on a yearly basis. There is also a family tax policy if you want anything from your parents after they die you are taxed on it.
It is very common to see little stands set up throughout China into market areas. It kind of reminded me of Jamie's Flea Market. There were vendors everywhere selling things. If you were in one city all of the vendors had pretty much the same things, but when you traveled from city to city the items they sold were all unique. I couldn't find things I bought in Beijing in Shanghai and vice versa. Also the Chinese economy is based on bargaining. Big department stores will not bargain, but street vender will. We found that we could usually get items around a third of what their opening offer was. Dad and I really enjoyed buying different things on the streets and dad has a knack for bargaining. We had a lot of fun going to different markets and looking around. I'll talk about that more in some of my other blogs.
Tap water in China is not drinkable so they do not have water fountains like we do, and you have to be careful of any ice that you get from a restaurant there. Since their tap water is not drinkable all water served in restaurants comes from water bottles, so water is not free in China. Chinese people love tea and have over 2,000 different types of tea. Chinese people drink with very small glasses and do not like to offer free refills, except on the hot tea. Often they eat with smaller plates as well. People in the north of China are usually larger and taller because they primarily eat meat and wheat. Whereas people in the south eat rice and vegetables so they are shorter and thinner. However, we were in different areas of China and I couldn't really see a difference between them. They all looked shorter and skinny to me. However, it is said that most emperors, generals, and warriors come from the north because they are bigger, and most poets, ministers, artists come from the south where people are smaller.
Before my trip I expected that most Chinese people would know how to speak English, but this is not the case. The majority of Chinese people do not speak English, and there were many times when I tried to talk to people, but they didn't understand me at all. Mandarin is the official language of China but they have over 5,000 different dialects. The English language has 26 characters in it, or the alphabet. Mandarin has over 30,000 characters, but my guide told us that to be a writer in a newspaper you only had to know about 5,000 characters. A lot of the 30,000 aren't used today, and Chinese people are good at looking in dictionaries. The way a word is said can also effect its meaning. The saying Ma can mean mom, horse, or abuse based on the way you say the word. Chinese people adjusted the English keyboard to mean Chinese symbols. It is a very long, hard process and sometimes university students will just type their paper in English because it's faster. The picture above has the symbol that means happiness.
Here are some other interesting facts about China that I did not list above. These facts didn't really have enough information to become their own section so I grouped them all together. I just thought these were some fun facts that were worthy of being mentioned. The government controls a lot of factors in people's lives including how much air conditioning they can use. The government rations it and doesn't allow people to waste energy. Dad was very frustrated about this, because our air conditioner barely worked at some of our hotels. Another cool fast is there are many different religions in China, but they all focus on harmony being a key value so they all get along. In the city women run the house, but in the country men do and are often mean to their wives. When the USA doesn't like China we call them the Dragon Country, but when we do we call them the Panada Country. All Chinese flights serve a meal on board regardless of how long the flight is going to be. Every flight we had in China they brought us a meal. Most families in China own a washing machine but not a dryer so they have to hang their clothes outside to dry.
After my last trip I really wanted to make sure that I took a tour with a company that had good value. And I was more than pleased with the tour group that we went on. I thought that Gate 1 was a great company to travel with. Our tour guide was excellent and our group really felt like a family. I would highly recommend Gate 1 to anyone who is looking to travel around the world. They have really decent prices, and I think that you just get so much more out of a trip if you are on a guided tour. You learn so much more than you ever would without it. I wanted to quickly talk about the story of how Gate 1 got its name. A man from Israel named Danial founded the country. He used to work as a bus driver for a different company years before, and he didn't speak English. Well one day he had a bus full of people, and the tour guide disappeared. He had a whole bus full of people that wanted a tour, and luckily there was a passenger who knew some Hebrew and together they were able to tell the group about the place they were at. He liked it so much that he decided he wanted to be a tour guide so he studied hard and learned how to speak English and went to work for an American company. After working for a while the company he worked for went under, and didn't give him money to go back home to Israel so he had to make his own way home. He conducted his own tours, and eventually made a business. At the time a lot of tour agencies were going bankrupt and keeping the money that people had pre-paid their trips with. However, instead of keeping people's money Daniel, gave the people their money back and earned a good reputation. He ended up buying his own travel agency and he told his first tour group to meet him at the airport at Gate 1. He tried to come up with a good name for the company, but thought that was the best name he could come up with and he kept it. Gate 1 is popular for people in the US, and everyone on my tour group was from the US. But it is starting to get more popular in Australia now as well. Gate 1 uses your money very wisely they try to make sure that you see as much of the country as possible and get to do a lot of things affordably. I was very impressed by my tour with them and I think most of us enjoyed it a lot. I hope that you enjoyed my blog on China overall. Originally I was going to include pictures and details about each Chinese dynasty in this post as well, but I've decided that this blog is just too long to do that, and I want to write my blogs about my cities before I spend all of the time and effort on writing that section. I might end up making an additional post about it later on if I have the time.