Visas: All visitors apart from citizens of Japan, Singapore and Brunei, require visas, which are relatively easy to obtain. Your travel company should be able to arrange them for you.
Public holidays: 1 Jan; Spring Festival (Jan/Feb); Labour Day; National Day (1 Oct).
Good buys: Tea and silks.
Local dishes: There are four regional types of cuisine: Beijing/Mandarin and Shandong (with steamed bread and noodles as staples); Cantonese and Chaozhou (lightly cooked meats and vegetables); Shanghainese (characterised by ‘red cooking’ and wuxi spare ribs); and Sichuan (spicy, with lots of chilli). Tea and beer are the most popular drinks.
Interesting fact: China is two-thirds mountain and desert, and yet one in five of the world’s population lives in this country.
Good reading: Jung Chang’s mega-seller Wild Swans is a fascinating family saga spanning three generations against the backdrop of China’s turbulent 20th-century history. Of the most recent travel books written about China, the two best are Colin Thubron’s Behind the Wall and Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster.