The Insider’s Guide: 5 Ways to Get to Know the Real China

From the outside, China may seem homogenous and monocultural, but once you delve further, you’ll find out that assumption is wrong. With 56 official ethnic groups and 100s of other unique communities throughout the country, it is almost impossible to get to know it all. But you can get a deeper understanding of the country than most visitors if you are willing to make a little effort. Here are things you can do to know the real China better. 

Five Ways to Better Understand China

Number 5: Stay Away From Guided Tours

The draw to join a guided tour when visiting China is strong. After all, you can’t speak the language, and most tour groups seem like a good value. Although you will probably save money and see a lot more touristy stuff with a group, you definitely won’t see the real China, but only an approved and sanitized version of it. Independent travel may be more expensive and riskier, but it is worth it overall. A good travel guidebook and phone translator can help make traveling to China on your own very doable. 

Number 4: Understand the Political Landscape

Politics play a tremendous role in the lives of ordinary Chinese people from their school days onwards. The government delivers a codified political message through the country’s news and most aspect of public life. So, despite many Chinese people being sophisticated and modern thinkers, the majority still tow the party line in most situations. Understanding this aspect of the Chinese psyche sheds light on why Chinese people can hold certain beliefs that dumbfound Westerners. 

Number 3: Learn the History of China

China has a long and colorful history, and modern Chinese people appreciate and incorporate it into many aspects of their daily lives. Chinese TV shows and movies based on ancient history are popular and are the basis for countless historical comics and novels as well. And, of course, the ideas of ancient philosophers like Confucius, Sun Tzu, and Lao Tzu are still taught in school. This shared history seeps into the way Chinese people view the world, and by learning Chinese history, you will better understand how the Chinese people think and why they do what they do. 

Number 2: Take a Western-Bound Train

Many of the most popular cities with tourists are on the east coast of the country, but if you want to get to discover the heart of China, you need to head west, preferably by train. Traveling by train exposes you to the real China, both inside and outside the train compartment. You will have time to converse with locals and see the changing landscape while getting a chance to experience the landscape and sheer scope of the country. Some cities to consider traveling to include: Guiyang, Xi’an, and Chongqing. 

Number 1: Meet the People

There is no better way to get to know a country than to engage with the people there. Luckily, most of the young people in China can speak English decently and are more than happy to try it out by having a conversation with you. So, when you are in China, put yourself out there, and speak with locals. Whether with a patron at a local bar or a staff member at your hotel, you will come away with a new perspective on the country. 

Making an effort to learn more about China will make your trip more exciting and give you a better understanding of one of the most influential countries in the world.