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Official Name: The People’s Republic of China – PRC

Capital City: Beijing

Type of Government: Communist

Official Languages: Putonghua – Mandarin dialect

Area: 9,599,834 sq. km/3,692,244 sq. mi

Population: 1.3 billion

Religions: Buddhism, Taoism; Islam (2%), Christian (3%)

Currency: Name: Renmimbi (Rmb) Unit: Yuan (¥)

Number of Time Zones: 1

For entire country: Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) plus 8 hours; Eastern Standard Time (EST) plus 13 hours

Weights and Measures: Metric system; some traditional Chinese systems also used

Country Domain: .cn

Country Tel Code: 86



China is the world’s most populous country and in recent years has become a dominant economic force in the world, especially with the ebbing of Japanese economic influence since the mid-1990s.

One of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, China has throughout its history nurtured the cultures of the East in the same way that Greece and Rome spawned Western civilization. The arts, science, writing system, philosophy, religions, and social order that developed in China have had tremendous influence on the countries of East Asia as well as the Western world.

To many Western visitors, urban China does not reflect great beauty. The congested streets of its cities are full of pushing, noisy crowds, and traffic jams and overcrowded public transportation increase frustration and air pollution.

However, certain regions of the country are beautiful and serene, the inspiration for the timeless images of the great Chinese landscape paintings, or shanshui. The dramatic Himalayan Mountains on its western border with Nepal, the Yangtse River, and the historic Great Wall of China, built through several dynasties to keep out barbarian hordes, are among the attractions that bring tourists to the country in ever increasing numbers.

Even though China is such a large country geographically covering several time zones, all of China operates on a single Standard Time (GMT+8) all year round.


The People’s Republic of China is a one-party state, controlled by the CCP. Mainland China is ruled by a Communist Politburo of party elders, a State Council or Cabinet, and the National People’s Congress, the NPC, which is a legislative body.

Communist politics have not been open to public discussion or criticism by the press. Dissent is not tolerated and dissidents can be deprived of all freedoms. The government attaches higher priority to maintaining public order and suppressing political opposition than to enforcing legal norms.

Since the Communists took control in 1949, China has gone through cycles of political openness followed by repression. This pattern has encouraged rapid industrialization and economic growth while maintaining centralized Communist political control.

China has been supportive of the post-September 11th “war on terrorism,” although some critics hint this is to justify its efforts to suppress the activities of Muslim separatists in the area of East Turkestan, and also to exert influence in Afghanistan.


Mainland China’s relationship with Taiwan has been a source of continuing friction. China considers Taiwan as one of its provinces. Taiwan, while admitting that it is part of China, seeks recognition as one of two political entities in China with its own governmental structure. Tension between the two areas escalated somewhat following the election of the independence-oriented president of Taiwan in March 2000. Both sides are attempting to relax the tension without giving in on basic stands.


In recent years, China has boasted one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The re-acquisition of Hong Kong from the British in 1997 is representative of the challenge China’s leadership faces in modernizing its economy while maintaining a central authoritarian approach to government.

High unemployment – especially as the government addresses the problem of streamlining and privatizing unprofitable government-owned enterprises – and high inflation have contributed to economic problems, although 2008 figures show unemployment dipping to 4%. Other impediments to rapid economic growth include air pollution, loss of arable land to soil erosion, and the steady drop in the water table.

To alleviate the water problem, the government has been building waterways from the Yangtze River to dry land in northern China. This Three Gorges Dam project – the primary phase of which was completed in October 2008 – has been controversial for a number of reasons, including the flooding historic and scenic areas and displacement of an estimated 1.2 million residents. Supporters of the project point to the much-needed hydroelectrical power output that will be generated from the dam system. Sixty million rural residents in China lack electricity. In terms of cost, the dam is expected to pay for itself within 10 years.

WTO membership

After twenty years of economic reform, China was admitted into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December of 2001. The country has made positive strides toward compliance with WTO policy, but sweeping changes will likely be slow in coming. For their part, the Chinese are looking forward to lower prices on goods where new foreign competition enters the market. Unfortunately, this new foreign competition comes at a price: unemployment at local manufacturers.


The Chinese have a strong sense of belonging to a long and often intense history. Relationships of all kinds take time to develop. Families are close knit and relationships between and within families and institutions go back for generations. Nevertheless, the Chinese have learned through their long history that some flexibility is required to survive.

Through the many dynastic and political upheavals in Chinese society, the tenets of Confucianism have provided a constant underlying value system. Although some aspects of its influence on people’s behavior have at times been forcibly suppressed, most recently under the oppressive dictates of Chairman Mao, today it appears that Confucian values are paramount. These include the importance of education, family loyalty, morality, group harmony, respect for elders, and trusting relationships among people. Of utmost importance to them is filial piety – meaning respect for one’s elders and for their wisdom. Hospitality, which includes offering food, is also a very important value.

Another important element of Confucianism is the ethic of proper social behavior and relationships. The main concern is with “saving face;” people strive to avoid embarrassment and shame and to allow others to avoid embarrassing situations and to recover from them with their dignity intact.

The spirits of the dead are a force to be reckoned with as well as taken care of, and the feng shui man must not be ignored. Feng shui – literally “wind, water” – is a powerful force based on a belief that the combined forces of heaven and earth – including the yin and yang – have an influence on everything. Feng shui masters are consulted on matters ranging from how to arrange your furniture to what to name a new baby. Failure to do so would bring bad luck.

China is the world’s most populous country. With over half of its population under age 25, there is a huge burden on its housing, education, and labor sectors. Since the late 1970s, the government has used coercion, economic penalties, and incentives to limit families to one child. As a result, China’s abortion rate is one of the highest in the world. Infant mortality is about 52 deaths per 1,000 live births. Male children are preferred and female children are often abandoned or killed. Although this practice is waning to some degree, there is still an imbalance in the male/female population. Approximately 1.7 million children are abandoned in China each year, the majority female or disabled.

Partly as a result of the imbalance, some areas, especially rural communities, report an increasing problem of abduction and sale of women for marriage. The central government has condemned this practice and has taken steps to prevent it and to punish those responsible. Laws exist to protect women, children, disabled persons, and minorities; in practice, however, discrimination against these groups has persisted.

With some segments of society enjoying improved economic circumstances, a social phenomenon known as the “little emperor” has emerged. This is the doted-on only son of usually middle class families. The child is protected and provided for in ways that to western eyes may exceed rationality.

Ethnic makeup

The overwhelming majority of China’s population, 92 percent, is Han Chinese. The remaining 8 percent comes from 55 recognized minority peoples or ethnic groups, including Zhuang, Uygur, Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Buyi, Dong, Yao, Bai, Tujia, Hani, and Korean. Superimposed on ethnic divisions are many regional groupings such as the Shanhainese, the Cantonese and the Mongolians.

Cultural traditions

As one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, China has a rich culture continuing over thousands of years and through a dozen dynasties and governments. Political events of the second half of the twentieth century may dominate contemporary perceptions of China but are only a fragment in relation to the country’s long prior history.

China has always been a major influence on other Asian cultures. Over centuries, trading routes such as the Silk Road to the West, as well as those served by China’s eastern seaports, have ensured that China’s influence would be spread widely around the globe.

A massive amount of excavation has been conducted throughout China, uncovering spectacular carvings in temples and palaces; much more still lies buried and is accidentally unearthed when a new cable is laid or a new foundation dug. The discovery of the spectacular life-sized terra-cotta warriors at Xian only occurred in 1974. The Chinese government exercises strict control over which sites are explored and by whom.

The Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao in the 1950′s effectively caused the destruction of incalculable quantities of art, architecture, literature and artifacts. Subsequently this movement has been discredited and the preservation of what remains has become an official priority.

Three words are key to understanding Chinese culture and customs: guanxi, mianzi, and renching.


Guanxi, relationships, is a crucial key to doing business in China or in any Chinese community. Some define guanxi as knowing the right official to bribe or pay off. Others define guanxi as developing close ties with business associates whom you respect and trust. These mutually beneficial relationships develop over time and are built on the Chinese sense of family as the structure in which business is developed.

Somewhere in between these two extremes is the everyday reality of guanxi which is that you will get on much better in Chinese business if you have contacts, which you must use unashamedly to get you introductions and to establish relationships. However, never stray toward practices, which might be perceived as bribery. To build these relationships, foreign businesspeople often use a Chinese consultant or associate who will help them develop friendships in the business community as well as in government agencies.

The role of a Chinese partner in the success of a joint venture is crucial. A good partner will have the guanxi to help unravel or smooth over red tape and obstructive bureaucrats.


Mianzi means “face.” “Face” refers to how one is regarded in the world. Mianzi is lost when one is criticized or insulted in public; it is gained when one is praised or thanked for good work done. The Chinese are very sensitive in these matters and regard even the kind of lighthearted teasing and banter between friends that is common in the West as a loss of face. These slights are felt deeply and are not easily forotten or forgiven in Chinese culture. Learn to control anger – anyone who loses his or her temper loses respect; anger directed at subordinates causes them to lose face.

The need to preserve face means discussions and negotiations are strictly serious. Do not be tempted to lighten the tone. If you have developed a closer relationship with your Chinese associate outside the workplace, do not let familiarity creep into the business environment. The Chinese are deliberate, painstaking, and formal, and foreigners should follow the tone set by their Chinese hosts. In addition, language differences present the potential for misunderstanding the subtleties of humor.

Great care must be taken to preserve face, especially as one rises in status. It is a delicate matter. Generally, in business dealings, equals deal with equals, subordinates deal with subordinates. Face can therefore also be bolstered by appearing publicly with individuals of senior rank or status to you, and by being included in discussions with such individuals. Face may be lost if you too often associate with less significant players.


Renching is related to face. It means to bestow an honor or a favor on someone, as an expression of respect. No immediate reciprocity is involved or required, although the person on whom such honor is bestowed will remember it and try to find appropriate ways of returning the favor.


Although officially atheist, all constitutions since 1954 have guaranteed Chinese citizens the right to “believe in religion”, although most religions are belittled by the government as superstition. The major religions are Daoism (Taoism) and Buddhism, with Muslims comprising two to three percent of the population and Christians about one percent.

Confucianism is not considered a religion, but rather a system of philosophy that forms the basis for the moral code of Chinese society, emphasizing the extended family and man’s role in society.

Daoism builds on the mystical side of humanity, stressing healthy living, generosity of spirit, and comradeship.

Buddhism, in its contemplative “Chan” form, is practiced in China, with meditation and withdrawal from earthly life being most important.

Islam arrived in China from the Middle East via the Silk Road. In addition to the Muslims in the north and in the autonomous regions such as Tibet, there are believed to be eight million Han Chinese converts to Islam.

Christianity made inroads into China through extensive Christian missionary activity in the 19th century. The Chinese who converted to Christianity were often targets of oppression during the Boxer Uprising.

Attitudes towards foreigners

The Chinese can seem excessively polite and reserved, and relationships will take some time to build. At one time, it was impossible to develop a friendship with a Chinese person. Rules have been relaxed, and relationships are no longer forbidden between foreigners and Chinese nationals – even romantic relationships are now tolerated. However, there is a law against any romantic liaison between unmarried persons regardless of nationality. If an unmarried couple is found sharing a room, a jail sentence could be imposed; usually however, a fine is assessed.

Residential compound gates are still routinely guarded, but more for security purposes. Continue to be circumspect in social relations, not only for your own safety, but also for that of your Chinese acquaintance.

There are many newly “opened” cities which until recently seldom if ever saw a non-Chinese face. If you or your family members happen to be blond and blue-eyed, you may be subjected to much staring and pointing when visiting these areas. The very audacious may even try to touch you or your children. While your more sophisticated Chinese colleagues may be embarrassed on your behalf, this behavior should not be taken personally. If you find it too intrusive, firmly but smilingly indicate that you do not wish to be touched.

Attitudes towards work

Under the planned state economy, the Chinese workers were taught to believe that all work is for the state and that they would have guaranteed lifetime employment – “an iron rice bowl.” This concept lead to a lack of pride in one’s work, as personal achievement was rarely rewarded or even regarded as important in this environment. You may be surprised to find less enthusiasm for work than you are familiar with in Chinese communities elsewhere.

One of the most significant developments was the introduction in the late 1980s of the labor contract system that allowed companies to hire workers on a contractual basis: employees were no longer permanent fixtures on the payroll but could, under certain circumstances, be dismissed.

As foreign companies increase their role in China’s economy, skilled workers are becoming more responsive to the ways of doing business with and working for foreign enterprises. Highly skilled and well-educated workers are in demand and their desire to excel and to succeed materially has become a noticeable phenomenon, especially in Shanghai and the coastal cities and in the economic zones.

Information provided in association with Living Abroad