If you choose to work or study in China, you’ll want to brush up on your knowledge of its history, politics and culture. We take a look at the essential information you need to know before moving there.
There are records of civilisation in China as far back as 1766 BCE, which makes it one of, if not the, oldest continuous culture in the world. Over this long history, China has been ruled by many different dynasties and became home to important advances in art, philosophy, politics, and science. Although some of the dynasties in China lasted for hundreds of years, perhaps the most notable was the Han Dynasty. From 206 BC to 220 AD, this period of history contributed greatly to Chinese culture, and its influence is still felt today. China’s final dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, was in power from 1644 to 1912.
After a people’s revolution in 1912, China became the Republic of China and adopted the Gregorian calendar used in the west. China fought with the Allies in both World Wars but also had its own internal struggles. In 1927, civil war broke out between the Nationalist Government of China and the Communist Party of China (CPC). In 1949, the CPC, under the chairmanship of Mao Zedong, won the war and formed the People’s Republic of China. Meanwhile, the nationalists fled to Taiwan and set up a government there.
The country began to recover from this political upheaval towards the end of the 20th Century and has continued to progress ever since. It is now the world’s second largest economy and has significantly contributed to worldwide popular culture.
The Communist Party of China has ruled the country since the end of the civil war in 1949. Although technically there are other political parties, they all formally accept the rule of the CPC. China has a constitution, but it changes frequently. It was most recently amended in 2018, removing the five-year term limit for Presidents. As such, current President Xi Jinping can rule indefinitely.
The country has a Political Bureau or ‘Politburo’, which is the main body that makes decisions. The group of 24 members has huge sway in every aspect of the country’s running. A nine-member standing committee is the central pillar, having even greater power. A 3000-member National People's Congress approves the decisions made by the Politburo.
Due to its enormous size, China’s climate varies considerably across the country. For example, the northeast of China is hot and dry during the summer but icy cold in the winter. The southeast of the country is semi-tropical, having hot, wet summers and cool winters. Central areas of China also experience a lot of rainfall, with warm summers and cool winters.
In the north of China, it’s possible to find a variety of ski resorts open during the winter. In the south, there are beautiful tropical beaches.
China is in Southeast Asia and spans along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. As the world’s third-largest country, it has a coastline that runs for 18,000 kilometres, and it borders 14 countries. The landscape in China is varied, with many plains, mountains, foothills, and basins. It’s also home to the highest peak in the world, that of Mount Everest (the international border between China and Nepal runs across the summit).
There are four main regions in China: the North, South, Northwest, and Qinghai-Tibetan areas. Each has its own distinct cultural elements. China is further divided into 23 provinces, four municipalities, five autonomous regions, and two Special Administrative Regions.
As one of the earliest ancient civilisations, China’s culture is rich and varied. The many different regions and provinces each have their own customs and cultural elements that differ from their neighbours. China has played a significant role in shaping the culture of Southeast Asia, with many of the linguistic, culinary, architectural, and philosophical elements still seen in surrounding countries.
Food is an important part of Chinese culture. There are also eight major types of cuisine (Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang) that represent a variety of different areas and cooking styles.
The country’s major religion is Taoism (also known as Daoism), but Buddhism is also prominent. Confucianism (a set of philosophies and ethical beliefs) is also followed widely. This is closely linked to the hierarchical structure of the family, which has central importance in China.
Below, we’ve picked out some customs and conventions that you might experience in China:
- Greetings in China are usually formal, and the oldest person should be greeted first. You will find that most people also greet you with a handshake. You should address people by their title followed by their surname. Once you’re on familiar terms, they may ask you to address them more informally.
- Non-verbal communication is key, so keep an eye on facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice to read a situation.
- In China, personal space is prized, and touching is usually uncommon between casual acquaintances.
- Gifts are an important part of Chinese culture, and there are many nuances to gift giving. You may find that someone refuses your gift up to three times before accepting, for example. Four is an unlucky number, so don’t give four of something. Similarly, eight is a lucky number and brings luck to the recipient.
This article was written with the help of the International Admissions Office of Shaanxi Normal University, Xi'an, China. For questions about Shaanxi Normal University's degrees, email firstname.lastname@example.org