Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated May 12, 2020
By Mike Cairnduff

Things about China that may surprise you

Everyone knows that China is famous for pandas, the Great Wall, and its huge population.

However, there are some things about this intriguing country that you may not know, particularly if you’re a first-time visitor.

So, here are 10 things about China that may surprise you.

1. KFC is everywhere

You’re in luck if you love KFC and you’re headed for China.

Why? The country is home to more than 5,000 of the fried chicken outlets in over 1,100 cities.

In fact, KFC is the largest restaurant chain in China. It’s no surprise then that KFC is one of the most recognizable foreign brands in the country.

While the restaurants themselves look the same as what you're used to, the food in a Chinese KFC can be quite different.

Chinese KFC is geared towards local tastes. So, you can have rice as a side dish, a custard tart for dessert or a Twister with duck sauce!

One of the fast-food chain's latest innovations in China, as reported by TechCrunch, is its kiosks with facial recognition technology.

The machines scan your face and make menu suggestions based on your mood, age and gender. It's pretty cool!

2. Half the country is empty

The majority of China’s 1.3 billion people live in megacities in the east of the country.

This is due to better job prospects, higher salaries and a generally better standard of living than the rest of the country.

The west of China is practically empty. Provinces such as Tibet and Xinjiang are home to untouched and rugged landscapes, vast skies and scattered villages.

This landscape in China may surprise you

Yes, this is in China! (Pictured: Kanas Lake, Xinjiang).

If you decide to teach English in China, you'll probably end up working in a city in one of the more developed eastern provinces.

However, you can choose to work in the ‘wild west’ where you'll discover ethnic minorities and unique cuisines (Josh Summers lives and works in China’s little-known Xinjiang province and loves it there).

3. Dog meat is not commonly eaten

It’s a myth that everyone in China eats dog meat. Sure, some do, but it’s a tiny minority.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that sells dog meat, particularly in the developed cities and provinces.

Perhaps it’s the international headline-grabbing Yulin Dog Meat Festival, or Lychee and Dog Meat Festival as it’s officially known, which has many people thinking that eating dog is common practice.

Dog meat is hard to find in China

Dog meat is not found on your typical Chinese restaurant menu.

This annual celebration is held in Guangxi province, one of China's autonomous regions, which borders Vietnam.

It’s estimated that about 10,000 dogs are consumed over the 10-day festival.

The local Yulin government has recently distanced itself from the festival, saying that it doesn’t officially organise it.

4. Temperatures can be extreme

There’s no one-size-fits-all description when it comes to China’s weather.

For example, Beijing is boiling hot in summer but the mercury often drops below zero in winter. Compare this to Shenzhen, in the south, where you'll find a sub-tropical climate all year round.

The climate in China may surprise you

A frozen-over river in northern China.

If you’re going to China for a quick trip, spring and autumn are the best months.

For longer stays, like if you’re teaching English, check the climate of the city you’re going to as part of your planning.

Teacher contracts are for one year so make sure you’re comfortable with the climate before you commit!

5. China has a world-class train system

Unlike some Western countries that pay lip service to improving public transportation, China's bullet train system is world-class.

Most major towns and cities are connected to the network. This allows people to move freely across the country, and encourages development and tourism in previously untapped regions.

What's surprising about China is its world-class bullet trains

Chinese bullet trains are fast and efficient.

Compared to flying domestically, China’s bullet trains are a cost-effective way of travelling long distances.

A first-class seat from Beijing to Xian costs around US$125.

6. Western social media is banned

Social and political commentary is controlled in China.

Major social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are inaccessible on Wi-Fi in China.

In addition, many foreign websites and apps are banned in China. This includes Google, Gmail, YouTube, and even news sites like The New York Times and BBC.

Western social media is controlled in China

Get a VPN to access social media in China.

Luckily, there is a way around the The Great Firewall of China.

You can access your favorite websites and apps by using what’s known as a ‘virtual private network’ or VPN.

To help you, I've outlined some of the best VPNs that work in China.

A word of advice - make sure you download the VPN before you arrive in China (VPN sites are banned in China).

7. Chinese people are eager to learn English

Estimates vary but about 300 million Chinese – nearly as many people as there are in the U.S. – are currently learning English.

They recognize that it’s the dominant worldwide language, and they’re eager to learn.

Chinese students want to learn English

Chinese kids want to learn English.

Chinese students are generally very diligent and strive for top marks.

However, they prefer reading and writing over speaking, so if you're teaching in China, one of your challenges will be getting them to speak up.

Games and fun activities, roleplaying and plenty of teamwork will help them improve their oral English.

8. You’ll see matching clothing

Considered a fashion faux pas in the West, wearing clothing that matches with a loved one is surprisingly deemed acceptable couture in China.

You might see a parent wearing the same t-shirt pattern as their child, like in the photo below, or a loved-up couple showing their commitment to one another with matching attire.

You may be surprised to see people wearing matching clothing in China

Don't be surprised to see people wearing matching clothes in China.

As reported in Daily Mail, couple Li Yang and Zhou Wanting always coordinate their outfits with each other.

Although they live 1,000 miles apart, Li said: “We always wear the same clothing when we are together.”

So don’t be disturbed when you come across people in matching clothing. It’s a fashion crime that’s worth witnessing!

9. You won’t see many birds

While you might see matching clothing in China, you probably won’t see many birds.

In urban areas, birds are as rare as, well, hen’s teeth. Loss of habitat, poaching and pollution all play a role in this.

If you want to see birds, you’ll need to travel to a nature reserve or a rural area.

You will not see many birds in China

You won't see many birds in China (pictured: Tibetan rosefinch).

It’s a real blight on this otherwise spectacular country.

If you're interested in reading more about the downsides of China, check out my blog called the 7 deadly sins of China.

10. There's only one time zone

Despite China spanning five geographical time zones, only one time zone is officially observed – Beijing Time.

It’s been like this since the Chinese government unified its time zone policy in 1949.

China has only one time zone

China runs on Beijing time (pictured: entrance to Forbidden City, Beijing).

However, the ethnic Uyghur people in Xinjiang province run on local time, which is two hours behind Beijing Time. This is because Xinjiang is situated so far west.

Most businesses and schools start their day at 8am local time, despite the clock showing 10am.

When arranging a time to meet with someone in Xinjiang, it’s best to confirm if it’s Beijing Time or local time. Otherwise, you could be waiting for a while!

What surprises you the most about China? Have your say below.


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