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Educators Programs in China

Exploring China

Country Basics

China, officially known as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is a vast country in East Asia. With a rich history spanning thousands of years, China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

China is the fourth-largest country in the world by land area and covers many diverse landscapes. It shares borders with 14 countries, including Russia, India, and several Southeast Asian nations. The country’s geography includes mountain ranges, plateaus, fertile plains, and a lengthy coastline along the Pacific Ocean.

Beijing, one of China’s most populous and historic cities, serves as the capital and the political center of the nation. China is the most populous country on Earth, with over 1.4 billion people living within its borders.

The country is home to the Great Wall of China, one of the most iconic symbols of China and human engineering. Other popular sights include the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Terracotta Army in Xi’an.

Brief History 

China is one of the oldest civilizations on earth and for centuries outpaced the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. It was ruled by several dynasties, beginning with the Shang in 1700 B.C. Following the Shang, China was ruled by the Zhou, the Qin, and then the Han Dynasty. The Han Dynasty established the first enduring state to govern China and fostered a cultural “golden age” in which the economy grew and Confucianism became the state philosophy.

Next came the Sui, the Tang (who began building the Great Wall of China), and the Song dynasties. Mongols conquered China in 1271 and were overthrown in 1368 by the Ming Dynasty which established sophisticated agricultural systems and a strong central bureaucracy. The Qing replaced the Ming in the mid-17th century and ruled as the last imperial dynasty of China.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, China was wracked by civil unrest, famines, and military defeats. In 1911, the last emperor (Xuantong) was overthrown and China became a republic. Between 1911 and World War II, China had a major civil unrest between the National Government, various warlords, and the Communist Party of China. During WWII, China was invaded by Japan. Japan left China after Japan unconditionally surrendered to the Ally Powers.

After WWII, the communists under Mao Zedong established an autocratic socialist system that imposed strict controls over everyday life and caused a widespread famine. After 1978, Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, focused on encouraging the development of the private sector and foreign investment. In opening Chinese markets to the world, Deng Xiaoping paved the way for China to become one of the largest economies in the world.

Cultural Expectations 

While in China, you can expect…

the local people to treat you with interest, curiosity, and kindness. They might request a photo with you!

While in China, locals will expect you…

to make an effort to be polite, understand their culture, bargain at the markets, and try out a few phrases in the local language.

Cultural Icon: The panda (aka the giant panda) is an endangered species with about 1,800 living in the wild. They are found exclusively in China and considered a national treasure.


When in China, you will feast on…

  • Tang tsu li ji (sweet and sour pork)
  • Gong bao ji ding (chicken)
  • Ma po dou fu (tofu)
  • Hun tun (wontons)
  • Jiao zi (dumplings)
  • Chun juan (spring rolls)
  • Chao mian (chow mein)
  • Bei jing kao ya (Peking duck)
  • Lots of rice!


The official dialect of China is Mandarin, also called “Putonghua”. More than 70% of the Chinese population speaks Mandarin, but there are also several other major dialects in use in the country. These include Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghainese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, and other minority languages.

Here’s some Mandarin phrases that are helpful when traveling:

  • Hello: Ni hao 
  • How are you? Ni hao ma? 
  • Good: Nao 
  • Good morning: Zao shang hao; Good evening: Wan shang hao; Good night: Wan an 
  • Welcome: Huan ying
  • Goodbye: Zai jian
  • Please: Qing; Thank you: Xie xie 
  • Excuse me (to ask a question): Qing wen 
  • Sorry: Dui bu qi 
  • How much is it? Duo shao qian? 

Ethnic Groups

91 percent of the population are Han Chinese. Other minority groups include Zhang, Hui, Manchu, Uighur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan, Mongol, Dong, Buyei, Yao, Bai, Korean, Hani, Li, Kazakh, Dai, and other nationalities.

The People’s Republic of China officially recognizes 56 ethnic groups.


The country is officially an atheist state. The government formally recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism are recognized separately), and Islam. The breakdown in the country is as follows:

52.1 percent unaffiliated, 21.9 percent folk religion, 18.2 percent Buddhist, 5.1 percent Christian, 1.8 percent Muslim and a smaller number of other faiths.


The renminbi (RMB) is the official currency of China. However most people internationally know the currency as yuan (CNY). Essentially, the yuan is the basic unit of the renminbi, but the word is also used to refer to the Chinese currency in general.

Did You Know?

  • Fortune cookies are not native to China. A worker in the Key Heong Noodle Factory in San Francisco invented them in 1920.
  • Millions of acres of Chinese forest are lost each year due to chopstick production.
  • In 2008, China hosted the Beijing Olympic Games and was the  first country in 112 years to fully sell out at 6.8 million tickets.
  • Toilet paper was invented in China in the late 1300s and was for emperors only.
  • The most popular hobby in China is stamp collecting.
  • There are 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.
  • A full Zodiac is 12 years and a calendar cycle is 60 years.
  • When you write your name in Chinese, you put your family name before your first name.
  • Many historians believe soccer evolved from the ancient  Chinese game of t’su chu.
  • Red symbolizes happiness and good fortune for the Chinese.
  • China holds about one-fifth of the world’s population.
  • Despite its size, all of China is in the same time zone.
  • The Great Wall of China is longest man made structure in the world, totaling 21,196 kilometers (13,171 miles). That means it would take three to six months just to walk along the main section of the wall!

Rustic Pathways in China

China Highlights

From giant pandas to giant cities, everything about China is grand.


Q&A: Going to China With Rustic Pathways

Our China Country Manager answers the most frequently asked questions about travel to China.

History and Hot Topics

Why China is Set to Overachieve its 2030 Climate Goals

President Xi Jinping pledged that China will adopt stronger climate targets to have lower emissions by 2030, and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

NBA in China

Podcast episode: Why China Went to War With the N.B.A.

Great Wall of China

Totaling more than 13,000 miles, the Great Wall of China will take your breath away.


China’s Dynasties in Seven Minutes

A crash course on 5000 years of Chinese history.


Books of China

Get a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and history with these book recommendations.


Scallion Pancake Recipe

Tasty, crispy, and flaky are just a few words to describe this delicious snack!

How to Eat Xiao Long Bao

Famous soup dumplings from Shanghai. Steamed, filled with soup and meat, they are a must-try!


Mapo Tofu

Watch soybeans from the field get transformed into tofu, then into a traditional spicy tofu dish.


 Top 100 Chinese Songs Playlist

All genres of modern Chinese music. This playlist updates regularly!

Chinese New Year

The most important holiday in China!