Massage is available all over China, often both high quality and reasonably priced. Traditionally, massage is a trade for the blind in Asia, with expert work for ¥15 to ¥30 an hour.
- Almost any hairdresser will give a hair wash and head massage for ¥10. This often includes cleaning out ear wax and some massage on neck and arms. With a haircut and/or a shave, ¥15 to ¥25.
- Foot massage is widely available, often indicated by a picture of a bare footprint on the sign. Prices are from ¥15 to about ¥60.
- Whole body massage is also widespread, at prices from ¥15 an hour up. There are two varieties: ànmó (按摩) is general massage, tuīná (推拿) concentrates on the meridians used in acupuncture. The most expert massages are in massage hospitals, or general Chinese medicine hospitals, usually at ¥50 an hour or a bit more; the best value is at tiny out-of-the-way places some of whose staff are blind (盲人按摩).
These three types of massage are often mixed; many places offer all three.
Some massage places are actually brothels. Prostitution is illegal in China but quite common and often disguised as massage. Most hot spring or sauna establishments offer all the services a businessman might want for relaxation. As for the smaller places, if you see pink lighting or lots of girls in short skirts, probably considerably more than just massage is on offer, and quite often they cannot do a good massage. The same rule applies in many hair salons which double as massage parlors/brothels.
The non-pink-lit places usually give good massage and generally do not offer sex. If the establishment advertises massage by the blind, it is almost certain to be legitimate.
It is possible to take a nap for a few hours in many massage places and even to spend the night in some. Hairdressers generally do not have facilities for this, but you can sleep on the table in a body massage place or (much better) on the couch used for foot massage. Fees are moderate; this is probably the cheapest way to sleep in China. Note, however, that except in high-end saunas with private rooms, you will share the staff's toilet and there may not be any way to lock up luggage.
Language for massage:
- tòng (痛) and bú tòng (不痛) are "pain" and "no pain"
- hǎo (好) and bù hǎo (不好) are "good" and "not good"; hěn hǎo (很好) is "very good" or "great"
- yào (要) is "want", bú yào (不要) "don't want"
- yǎng (痒) is "that tickles"
There are several ways a masseur or masseuse might ask a question. For example "does this hurt" might be asked as tòng bú tòng? or tòng ma?. For either, answer tòng or bú tòng.
If you are planning to spend a longer time in China then you may want to consider learning some of the traditional arts, such as "tai chi" (太极拳 tàijíquán) or calligraphy (书法 shūfǎ), a term that covers both writing hanzi and painting scrolls (that is, classical landscapes and so on). This is after all a unique chance to learn the basics, or refine already acquired skills, directly from master practitioners in the arts' home country. Many cities have places that accept beginners, and not knowing Chinese is usually not a problem as you can learn by example and imitation. Other possibilities include learning to play traditional Chinese instruments (inquire in shops that sell these, they usually have classes), cooking Chinese cuisine, or even singing Chinese Opera (京剧 jīngjù). Fees are usually extremely modest, and materials you need will also not exactly break the bank. The only requirement is being in the same place for a long enough time, and sufficient respect; it is better not to join these classes as a tourist attraction.
China also has a couple of traditional games. Two famous strategy board games that originated in China are Go (围棋 wéiqí) and Chinese chess (象棋 xiàngqí). Mahjong (麻将 májiàng), a game played with tiles, is very popular and often (well-nigh always) played for money, though the vast regional variations mean that you would have to learn the new rules everywhere you go. Among the most well known variants of this game are the Cantonese, Taiwanese and Japanese versions. Chinese checkers (跳棋 tiǎoqí ), despite its name, did not originate in China but can be found.
Karst is type of limestone formation named after an area in Slovenia.
Large parts of Southern China have karst terrain, including some of the most famous tourist areas — Wu Yi Mountain in Fujian, Guilin and Yangshuo in Guangxi, and much of Guizhou province (although the karst areas of Guizhou are much less frequented by tourists). Many people think Chinese paintings of karst terrain are strange stylized representations of mountains and are amazed to discover that China actually has mountains that look like that.
Karst can also erode in such a way that it forms mazes of pinnacles, arches and passageways. The most famous example can be found in the Stone Forest (石林 shi lin) near Kunming in Yunnan.
China excels in handmade items, partly because of long traditions of exquisite handmade items, partly because labor is still cheap relative to other countries. Take your time, look closely at quality and ask questions (but don't take all the answers at face value!)
Porcelain with a long history of porcelain making, China still makes great porcelain today. Most visitors are familiar with blue and white, but the variety of glazes is much greater, including many lovely monochrome glazes which are worth seeking out. Specialist shops near hotels and the top floors of department stores are a good place to start, though not the cheapest. The "antique" markets are also a good place to find reproductions, though it can be hard to escape from attempts to convince you that the items are genuine antiques (with prices to match). Two of the most famous centers for porcelain are Jingdezhen and Quanzhou.
- Furniture in the last 15 years China has become a major source of antique furniture, mostly sourced from China's vast countryside. As the supply of old items dwindles many of the restorers are now turning to making new items. The quality of the new pieces is often excellent and some great bargains can still be had in new and old items. Furniture tends to be concentrated in large warehouses on the outskirts of town, Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu all have plenty of these. Hotels will tell you how to find them. They can also arrange shipment in most cases. Zhongshan has a huge furniture market.
- Art and Fine Art the art scene in China is divided into two non-interacting parts. On the one side there are the traditional painting academies, specializing in "classical" painting (bird and flower, landscapes with rocks and water, calligraphy), with conservative attitudes and serving up painting that conforms to the traditional image of Chinese art. On the other hand there is a burgeoning modern art scene, including oil painting, photography and sculpture, bearing little relation to the former type. Both "scenes" are worth checking out and include the full range from the glorious to the dreadful. The center of the modern scene is undoubtedly Beijing, where the Da Shan Zi (sometimes called 798) warehouse district is emerging as the new frontier for galleries, reminiscent of New York's Soho in the mid-80s.
- Jade There are two types of Jade in China today: one type is pale and almost colorless and is made from a variety of stones mined in China. The other type is green in color and is imported from Myanmar (Burma) - if genuine!. The first thing to be aware of when buying Jade is that you will get what you pay for (at best). Genuine Burmese jade with a good green color is extraordinarily expensive and the "cheap" green jade you will see in the markets is made either from synthetic stone or from natural stone that has been colored with a green dye. When buying jade look closely at the quality of the carving (How well finished is it? Is it refined, or crude with tool marks visible?). The quality of the stone often goes along with the quality of the carving. Take your time and compare prices before buying. If you are going to spend a fair sum of money, do it in the specialist stores, not in the fleamarkets. Khotan in Xinjiang is a famous area for jade.
- Carpets China is home to a remarkable variety of carpet-making traditions. These include Mongolian, Ningxia, Tibetan and modern types. Many tourists come looking for silk carpets: these are actually a fairly recent "tradition", most of the designs being taken from middle-eastern traditions rather than reflecting Chinese designs. Be aware that though the workmanship is quite fine on these carpets they often skimp on materials, particularly dyes. These are prone to fading and color change if the carpet is displayed in a brightly lit place. Some excellent wool carpets are also made in China. Tibetan carpets are amongst the best in terms of quality and construction, but be aware that most carpets described as Tibetan are not made in Tibet, with a few notable exceptions. As with jade, best to buy from stores with a reputation to uphold.
- Other arts and Crafts Other things to look for include Cloisonne (colored enamels on a metal base), laquer work, masks, kites, wood carving, scholar's rocks (decorative rocks, some natural, some less so), papercuts, and so on.
At the risk of stating the obvious, there's a lot of tea (茶 chá) in China. Green tea (绿茶 lǜchá) is served up for free in almost every restaurant, the most common types being green gunpowder tea (珠茶 zhūchá), so named not after the taste but after the appearance of the bunched-up leaves used to brew it (the Chinese name "pearl tea" is rather more poetic), jasmine tea (茉莉茶 mòlichá) scented with jasmine flowers, and the half-fermented oolong (烏龍 wūlóng). However, specialist tea houses serve a vast variety of brews, ranging from the pale, delicate white tea (白茶 báichá) to the powerful fermented and aged pǔ'ěrchá (普洱茶); check prices carefully before ordering as some of the best varieties can be very pricey indeed, and some can even fetch millions of US$ in auctions.
Various areas of China have famous teas. Hangzhou, near Shanghai, is famed for its "Dragon Well" (龙井 lóngjǐng) tea. Mount Wuyi in Fujian has "Dark Red Robe" (大红袍 dàhóngpáo) tea. Pǔ'ěr in Yunnan has pǔ'ěrchá (普洱茶), named for a city in the central part of the province.
Most tea shops will be more than happy to let you sit down and try different varieties of tea. "Ten Fu Tea" is a national chain, and in Beijing "Wu Yu Tai" is the one some locals say they favour.
Normal Chinese teas are always drunk neat, with the use of sugar or milk unknown. However, in some areas you find Hong Kong style "milk tea" (奶茶 nǎichá) or Tibetan "butter tea". The type of tea that is common in the West, Indian or Sri Lankan, is known in China as "red tea" (紅茶 hóngchá).
Coffee (咖啡 kāfēi) is becoming quite popular in urban China, though it is nearly impossible to find in smaller towns.
Several chains of coffee shops have branches in many cities, including Starbucks, UBC Coffee (Shang Dao Kafei in Chinese), Ming Tien Coffee Language (Is that supposed to be "lounge"?) and SPR (the best of them). All offer coffee and both Chinese and Western food, generally with good air conditioning and nice decor, at fairly high prices, ¥25 or so a cup.
There are also lots of smaller independent coffee shops or local chains. These may also be high priced, but often they are around ¥15 a cup. Quality varies from excellent to abysmal.
For cheap coffee just to stave off withdrawal symptoms, there are several options. Go to a Western restaurant chain (KFC, McD, etc.) for some ¥6 coffee. Or almost any supermarket will have both canned cold coffee and packets of Nescafe (pre-mixed with whitener and sugar), just add hot water.
Many drinks that, in the West, are usually served chilled or with ice are served at room temperature in China. Ask for beer or coke in a restaurant, and it may arrive at room temperature. Water will generally be served hot. That is actually good, because only boiled (or bottled) water is safe to drink, but it's not pleasant to drink hot water in the summer.
You can get cold drinks from small grocery stores and restaurants, just look for the cooler (even though it might not actually be cool). You can try bringing a cold beverage into a restaurant. Most small restaurants won't mind--if they even notice--and there is no such thing as a "cork" charge in China. Remember that most people will be drinking tea, which is free anyway, so the restaurant is probably not expecting to profit on your beverage consumption.
Asking for ice is best avoided. Many, perhaps most, places just don't have it. The ice they do have may well be made from tap water, and so be unsafe for travelers.
China (中国 Zhōngguó), formally known as the People's Republic of China (中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) is a vast country in Eastern Asia (about the same size as the United States of America) with the world's largest population.
With coasts on the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea, in total it borders 14 nations, it borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam to the South; Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the West; Russia and Mongolia to the North and North Korea to the East. Only Russia has more land borders in Asia.
The first civilizations in China arose in the Yangtze and Yellow river valleys at about the same time as Mesopotamia, Egypt and India developed their first civilizations
For centuries China stood as a leading civilization, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. Paper, gunpowder, the compass and printing (both block and movable type) for example, are Chinese inventions. Chinese developments in astronomy, medicine, and other fields were extensive. A Chinese tomb contains a heliocentric model of the solar system, about 1,700 years before Copernicus. In mathematics, "Pythagoras' theorem" and "Pascal's triangle" were known in China centuries before their Western discoverers even lived.
China was also the first civilisation to implement meritocracy of any form. This meant that unlike in other ancient cultures, official posts were not hereditary but instead had to be earned through a series of examinations, which were first conducted during the Han Dynasty, and further refined into the Imperial Examination System and opened to all regardless of family background during the Tang Dynasty.
The vast historical influence of China is also evident in the traditional cultures of some of its neighbours, most notably Vietnam, Korea and Japan, with them even adopting the Chinese writing system at some point, some of which is still in use in the latter two today.
China also explored the world and traded extensively with other nations. By the 5th-6th centuries AD, voyages to India and the Arab countries were routine. In the 15th century the Ming Dynasty fleets under Admiral Zheng He reached as far as East Africa. The ships were technically very advanced, much larger than European ships of the day and with a system of watertight compartments that Europe was not to match for several centuries.
However, China has always been inward-looking. China is "zhong guo", literally "center land" often translated "middle kingdom"; all others are "wai guo ren", literally "outside land people", often translated "barbarians". The Emperor did not receive ambassadors, only tribute bearers. Around 1425, China turned inward with a vengeance. Records of the great trading voyages were destroyed and the ships allowed to rot.
||North-east (Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang)
Dongbei, the "rust belt"
||North (Shandong, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Hebei, Beijing, Tianjin)
The Yellow River Basin area, historical heartland of Chin
||North-west (Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang)
Grasslands and deserts, nomadic people, Islam
||South-west (Tibet, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou)
The exotic part, home to most of the Chinese minorities, with spectacular scenery
||Southern-central (Anhui, Sichuan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi)
||South-east (Guangdong, Hainan, Fujian)
The traditional trading center
||East (Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang)
The new economic center
The Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau are covered in their own separate articles. The island of Taiwan is claimed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) but is currently administered by the Republic of China (ROC); see the separate Taiwan article for more details.
China has many large and famous cities. Below is a list of the nine most important to travellers. Other cities are listed under their specific regional section. See the Dynasties and capitals section further down the page for a list of China's many previous capitals.
- Beijing (北京) - capital city, cultural center, and host of the 2008 Olympics
- Guangzhou (广州) - one of China's most prosperous and liberal cities
- Guilin (桂林) - popular destination for both Chinese and foreign tourists, sensational mountain/river scenery
- Hangzhou (杭州) - famously beautiful city, major center for the silk industry
- Kunming (昆明) - capital of Yunnan, gateway to the villages of the ethnic minorities
- Nanjing (南京) - a renowned historical and cultural city with many historic relics
- Shanghai (上海) - famous for its riverside scenery, China's largest city is a major commercial center with many shopping opportunities
- Suzhou (苏州) - "Venice of the East", old city, famous for canals and gardens
- Xi'an (西安) - terminus of the ancient Silk Road, captital of China during the Western Han and Tang Dynasties, and home of the terracotta warriors
You can travel to many of these cities using the lovely new fast trains. In particular, the Hangzhou - Shanghai - Suzhou - Nanjing line is a convenient way to see some historic areas.
Some of the most famous tourist attractions in China are:
- Great Wall of China (万里长城)
- Tibet (西藏)
- Silk Road (丝绸之路)
- Hainan island, tropical paradise (海南)
China has dozens of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
For sacred mountains, see the next section.
Several sites in China have famous Buddhist art:
- Yungang Grottoes (near Datong) in Shanxi Province - more than 51,000 Buddhist carvings, dating back 1,500 years, in the recesses and caves of the Yangang Valley mountainsides
- Mogao Caves (near Dunhuang) in Gansu province - art and manuscripts dating back to the 4th century
- Dazu Rock Carvings near Chongqing, dating from the 7-13th century
- Longmen Grottoes - near Luoyang, 5-10th century
China (including Tibet) is home to many sacred mountains.
The Five Great Mountains (五岳 wǔyuè), associated with Taoism:
- Mount Tai (泰山), Shandong Province (1,545 meters)
- Mount Hua (华山), Shaanxi Province (1,997 meters)
- Mount Heng (Hunan) (衡山), Hunan Province (1,290 meters)
- Mount Heng (Shanxi) (恒山), Shanxi Province (2,017 meters)
- Mount Song (嵩山）, Henan Province, where the famous Shaolin Temple (少林寺) is located (1,494 meters)
The Four Sacred Mountains (四大佛教名山 sìdà fójiào míngshān), associated with Buddhism:
- Mount Emei (峨嵋山), Sichuan Province (3,099 meters)
- Mount Jiuhua (九华山), Anhui Province (1,342 meters)
- Mount Putuo (普陀山), Zhejiang Province (297 meters, an island)
- Mount Wutai (五台山), Shanxi Province (3,058 meters)
The three main sacred mountains of Tibetan Buddhism:
- Mount Kailash, Tibet (5,656 meters), known as Gang Rinpoche in Tibetan, is also one of the holiest mountains in Hinduism and is visited by many Hindu pilgrims
- Kawa Karpo
- Amnye Machen
There are also several other well-known mountains. In China, many mountains have temples, even if they are not especially sacred sites:
- Mount Qingcheng (青城山), Sichuan Province
- Mount Longhu (龙虎山), Jiangxi Province
- Mount Lao (崂山), Shandong Province
- Mount Wuyi (武夷山), Fujian Province, a major tourist/scenic site with many tea plantations
- Mount Everest, on the Tibet/Nepal border, world's highest mountain
- Mount Huang (黄山) (Yellow Mountain), in Anhui province, with scenery and temples
- Mount Wudang (武当山), near Danjiangkou in Hubei, famous for kung fu
- Changbaishan/Paektusan (Chinese:长白山 Korean:백두산), the most sacred mountain in the world to ethnic Manchus and Koreans, located on the border with North Korea.
Food in China varies widely from region to region so the term "Chinese food" is pretty much a blanket term, just as "Western food" is. While visiting, relax your inhibitions and try a bit of everything. Keep in mind that undercooked food or poor hygiene can cause bacterial or parasitic infection, particularly during warm or hot weather. Thus it is advisable to take great care about (and perhaps abstain from) eating seafood and meat on the street during the summer. In addition, unless you're in Hong Kong, raw meat and seafood should always be avoided. That said, hygiene is better than in, say, the Indian subcontinent. Chinese gourmands place emphasis on freshness so your meal will most likely be cooked as soon as you order it. Searing hot woks over coal or gas fires make even street food usually safe to eat. Do be on the lookout for ripoffs though; it is not at all uncommon to order a common dish (particularly at lowbrow restaurants) and receive a portion that is obviously much smaller than that ordered by a local sitting next to you, while still being charged the full price. However, if you can avoid such blatant tricks, eating in China can be a highlight (perhaps, the highlight) of your trip. NB: Certain dishes are prepared from endangered species, such as stew made from near-extinct turtles from South East Asia or soup flavored by the threatened facai moss, while other dishes may include ingredients that some people may prefer to avoid, such as dog meat. Therefore, it is advised to check the the contents of dishes before ordering.
- Beijing: home-style noodles and baozi (bread buns), Peking Duck, cabbage dishes, great pickles. Not fancy but can be great and satisfying.
- Cantonese / Guangzhou / Hong Kong: the style most Western visitors are already familiar with to some extent. Not too spicy, emphasis on freshly cooked ingredients and seafood. Dim Sum (点心) (small snacks usually eaten for lunch/breakfast) are a highlight.
- Fujian: ingredients mostly from coastal and estuarial waterways. "Buddha Jumps over a Wall" (佛跳墙) is particularly famous - the story is that the smell was so good a monk forgot his vegetarian vows and leapt over the wall to have some. Can be split into at least two distinct cuisines: Minnan cuisine from the area around Xiamen and Mindong cuisine from the area around Fuzhou.
- Guizhou: combines elements of Sichuan and Xiang cuisine, making liberal use of spicy, peppery and sour flavors.
- Hunan: occasionally referred to on menus as Xiang cuisine, is actually the cuisine of the Xiangjiang region, Dongting Lake and western Hunan Province. Similar to Sichuan cuisine, but can actually be "spicier" in the Western sense.
- Shanghai: because of its geographical location, Shanghai cuisine is considered to be a good mix of northern and southern Chinese cooking styles. The most famous are xiaolongbao(小笼包) and Chinese chives dumplings (韭菜饺子). Sugar is often added to fried dishes giving Shanghai food a sweet flavor.
- Sichuan: widely available outside Sichuan, and famously hot and spicy, though not all dishes are made with live chilis. Arguably the finest PRC cuisine. If you want really authentic Sichuanese food outside Sichuan, look for small shops in neighborhoods with lots of migrant workers. These tend to be much cheaper and often better than the ubiquitous up-market Sichuan restaurants.
- Teochew / Chaozhou : originating from the Shantou area in northern Guangdong, a unique style most Southeast Asian and Hong Kong Chinese will be familiar with. Famous dishes include braised duck (卤鸭), yam paste dessert (芋泥) and fishballs (鱼丸).
- Zhejiang: includes the foods of Hangzhou, Ningbo, and Shaoxing. A delicately seasoned, light-tasting mix of seafood and vegetables often served in soup. Sometimes lightly sweetened or sometimes sweet and sour, Zhejiang dishes frequently involve cooked meats and vegetables in combination.
The Chinese love a tipple and the all-purpose word jiǔ (酒) covers quite a range of alcoholic drinks.
Chinese toast with the word ganbei ("empty glass", bottoms up), and traditionally you are expected to drain the glass in one swig. Toasts usually involve only two people, rather than the whole group as in the West. During a meal with locals, the visitor is often expected to drink one glass with each person present; sometimes there may be considerable pressure to do this.
Exercise caution. Fortunately, the glasses are usually small — even beer is often drunk from an oversized shot glass. Also, Chinese beer is generally around 3% alcohol, so it is 'weaker' than Western standards (usually 5%). However, the rice liquor, baijiu (see below) is definitely potent (up to 65% alcohol). Baijiu is often drunk in small shot glasses for a good reason. US president Nixon practiced drinking before his first trip to China to be ready to drink with Mao Zedong. Unless you are used to imbibing heavily, be very careful when drinking with Chinese.
If you want to take it easier but still be sociable, say "suibian" before you make the toast, then drink only part of the glass. It may also be possible to have three toasts (traditionally signifying friendship) with the entire company, rather than one separate toast for every individual present.
Be sure to reciprocate any toast to you. For failing to do so Gen./Secr. State Alexander Haig and his staff were sent out on West Lake in Hangzhou in an unheated boat with no food in the middle of winter and left there for a longer while. This was back in 1970 when they came to set up Pres. Nixon's historic visit. Beijing had to intervene to tell the local officials to be nice to them anyhow and they got a "warmer" send-off when they flew out of Shanghai.
Beer (啤酒 píjiǔ) is very common in China and is served in nearly every restaurant. The most famous brand is Tsingtao (青島), from Qingdao, which was at one point a German concession. Other brands abound, generally light beers in a pilsner or lager style, usually around 3%-4% alcohol. Some companies (Tsingtao, Yanjing) also make a dark beer (heipijiu 黑啤酒). The typical price for beer is about ¥2.5-4 in a grocery store, ¥4 to ¥8 in a restaurant, around ¥10 in an ordinary bar, and ¥20-30 or more in a fancier bar.
Unfortunately, most places outside of major cities serve beer at room temperature, regardless of season, though places that cater to tourists have it cold.
Red wine is common and much of it is reasonably priced, from ¥15 in a grocery store, about ¥100-150 in a fancy bar. Anyone used to European, Australian, or Californian wines will find the general quality in China appalling. There are perhaps some exceptions. But an experienced drinker of wine is unlikely to be satisfied with Chinese wines as they are made today. Bars commonly serve red wine over ice and sometimes mixed with Sprite, like a 'wine cooler'. There are also a few white and sparkling white wines. Quality on those is reportedly better than the reds.
Xinjiang offers decent wines; Suntime , with a passable Cabernet Sauvignon; Yizhu, located in Yili and specializing in ice wine; and the French-owned Les Champs D'or, for best overall winery in China. Ningxia and Gansu produce some decent wines (hot and dry in summer and cold in winter) while what comes out of Shandong and Hebei are blah (warm and moist in summer and not so cold in winter). Imperial Horse and Xixia labels from Ningxia, Mogao Ice Wine from Gansu and maybe Castle Estates from Shandong are decent brands with a small history of quality about them. Yunnan wines are generally rated highly, but not all of them deserve it; Shangrila wine from around Zhongdian is one that does.
Great Wall and Dynasty are large brands with a number of wines at various prices; their cheaper (under ¥40) offerings are generally not impressive. Chang Yu is another large brand; some of their low end wines are a bit better.
Note that the word jiǔ 酒 is often loosely translated as "wine" by Chinese beverage firms and English speakers (see below). If you are looking for Western-style grape wines be sure to ask for 葡萄酒 (pútaojiǔ - grape wine) to ensure you are getting what you want.
There are also several brands and types of rice wine. These do not generally much resemble Japanese sake, the only rice wine well-known in the West. Travelers' reactions to these vary widely.
Báijiǔ (白酒) is often mistakenly translated as "wine" or "white wine," but it is actually a distilled liquor, generally about 80 to 120 proof made from rice, sorghum, or other grains depending on the region. Maotai (茅台), made in Guizhou Province, is China's most famous brand of baijiu and China's national liquor. Made from sorghum, Maotai and it's expensive cousins (such as Kaoliang in Taiwan) are actually sweeter than western clear liquors as the sorghum taste is preserved - in a way.
The cheapest baijiu is the Beijing brewed Erguotou (二锅头) which comes in two variants - the clear bottle (56% alcohol) and the green bottle (65% alcohol). Ordering "Xiao Er" (Erguotou's diminutive nickname) will likely raise a few eyebrows and a chuckle from working class Chinese. Baijiu will typically be served at banquets and festivals in tiny shot glasses. Toasts are ubiquitous at banquets or dinners on special occasions. Most foreigners find cheap baijiu tastes like diesel fuel, while a liquor connoisseur may find good, expensive baijiu quite good. Baijiu is definitely an acquired taste, but once the taste is acquired, it's quite fun to "ganbei" a glass or two at a banquet.
Chinese brandy (白兰地) is excellent value, about the same price as grape wines and generally far more palatable than the baijiu. A ¥16-20 local brandy is not a ¥200+ imported brand-name cognac, but it is close enough that you should only buy the cognac if money doesn't matter. Expats debate the relative merits of brandies from French-owned Louis Wann , Chinese brand Changyu , and several others. All are drinkable.
The Chinese are also great fans of various supposedly medicinal liquors, which usually contain exotic herbs and/or animal parts. Some of these have prices in the normal range and include ingredients like ginseng. These can be palatable enough, if tending toward sweetness. Others, with unusual ingredients (snakes, turtles, etc.) and steep price tags, are probably best left to those that enjoy them.
Bars, discos and karaoke
There are no pubs, except in areas with a lot of tourists or expats such as Yangshuo or Shenzhen. The few there are tend to be quite good, though.
To just go out for a few drinks with friends, pick a local restaurant and drink beer at around ¥5 for a 600 ml bottle. It will be Chinese lager, around 3% alcohol, with a limited choice of brand and may be served warm.
In discos and fancy bars with entertainment, you normally buy beer ¥100 at a time; this gets you anywhere from 4 imported beer (Heineken, Bud, Corona, Sol, ..) to 10 local beers. A few places offer cocktails; fewer have good ones.
Other drinks are sold only by the bottle, not by the glass. Red wine is in the ¥80-200 range (served with ice and Sprite) and mediocre imported whiskies (Chivas, Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels; extremely rarely single malts) and cognacs, ¥300-800. Both are often mixed with tea. Vodka, tequila and rum are less common, but sometimes available. Bogus "brand name" products are fairly common and may ruin your next day.
These places often have bar girls, young women who drink a lot and want to play drinking games to get you to consume more. They get a commission on whatever you buy. In general, these girls will not leave the bar with you; they are professional flirts, not prostitutes.
Karaoke (卡拉OK) is huge in China and can be broadly split into two categories. More common is the no-frills karaoke box or KTV, where you rent a room, bring your friends and the house gives you a mike and sells you booze. Much favored by students, these are cheap and fun with the right crowd, although you need at least a few people for a memorable night. Bringing your own booze can keep the price tag down but must be done on the sly - many places have windows in the door so the staff can make sure you only drink liquor they sold to you.
Rather different is the distinctly dodgier special KTV lounge, more oriented to businessmen entertaining clients or letting their hair down, where the house provides anything and everything at a price. At these often opulent establishments — over-the-top Roman and Egyptian themes are standard — you'll be joined by short-skirted professional karaoke girls, who charge by the hour for the pleasure of their company and whose services may not be limited to just singing badly and pouring your drinks. It's highly advisable not to venture into these unless you're absolutely sure somebody else is footing the bill, which can easily run into hundreds of dollars even if you keep your pants on.
As elsewhere, never never accept an invitation to a restaurant or bar from an available-looking woman who just picked you up in the street sometime after sundown. At best, suggest a different place. If she refuses, drop her on the spot. More than likely, she will steer you into a quiet little place with too many doormen and you will find yourself saddled with a modest meal and beer that will cost you ¥1,000 or worse. And the doormen won't let you leave till you pay up. This is somewhat rare. But it does happen.