China has captured the imagination of the world for centuries. With over 1.3 billion people, it is the world’s most populous country; it is also the largest country in East Asia, and one of the five largest in the world.
Chinese civilization has its roots planted 5,000 years in the past, when nomads settled in the Yellow River valley and built a feudal kingdom that would eventually have the same foundational impact in East Asia that Greece and Rome had in Europe. Here they crafted many cultural achievements, including relatively advanced medicine and one of the few independently created writing systems in history, both of which are still in use today. Ancient China also saw the birth of several important intellectuals, including the renowned Confucius and the legendary sage Laozi, whose philosophical systems have had a lasting effect on Chinese civilization. Later on, Buddhism would arrive from India; several influential new sects developed in China, and from there spread to the rest of the region.
The Dynastic period, beginning in the third century B.C.E., saw the rise of the first unified Chinese state and many more innovations, including the replacement of feudalism with a system of civil service examinations. Paper, gunpowder, and printing were invented in China centuries before Europeans discovered them, and the Chinese built a number of impressive monuments that have stood throughout the ages, such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.
Today, China is a socialist republic with the second largest economy in the world. Since opening to foreign trade in the 1980s it has become the world’s second largest exporter and third largest importer. Opportunities abound for foreigners hoping to work in China, and thousands flock there every year to experience the country’s rich historical heritage and meteoric rise to modernity. Teachers, especially of English, are particularly in demand, as are business professionals. Large cities like Shanghai and Beijing offer many amenities expatriates will be used to, including a fair selection of Western-style cuisine…but of course, the true adventure lies in sampling the huge variety of native Chinese cooking. Make sure you’re confident of your language skills before ordering, especially in the smaller food stalls, but don’t be afraid to try new things!
Many foreigners are intimidated by the Chinese language, but with dedicated practice it becomes a rewarding challenge. There are two types of Chinese characters: the Simplified variety is used throughout the mainland, while Traditional characters are more common in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Chinese is heavily dialectic, and linguists still debate whether the many dialects should be classified as separate languages. The official standard is Mandarin; originating in the Beijing area, it has the most native speakers of any language, and is widely understood throughout the country. Although Mandarin is slowly gaining wider usage in Hong Kong and Macau, Cantonese remains both the official and most commonly spoken dialect, and is used in education. In addition, Shanghainese is widely spoken in Shanghai.
Note: Hong Kong and Macau have their own entry requirements; make sure to find the proper authorities.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Visa Information
Hong Kong Government Immigration Services
China at Wikitravel
ChinaHR Job Board