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China - Overview
Population: 1,306,313,812 (July 2005 est.)
Languages: Standard Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on the Beijing dialect), Yue (Cantonese), Wu (Shanghaiese), Minbei (Fuzhou), Minnan (Hokkien-Taiwanese), Xiang, Gan, Hakka dialects, minority languages
Religions: Daoist (Taoist), Buddhist, Muslim 1%-2%, Christian 3%-4%. Officially atheist (2002 est.)
Currency: yuan (CNY), also referred to as the Renminbi (RMB)
China is a vast country, with a wide variety of landscapes and climates. Located in East Asia, it has borders with many other countries including Russia, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also borders the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea and South China Sea. China's landscape includes mountain ranges and high plateaus in the west, deserts and deltas inland, and hills and flatlands in the east. Only a third of the country is suitable for farming. China is home to around 20 percent of the world's population, including many different ethnic groups. It is organized into twenty-two provinces, five Autonomous Regions, two Special Administrative Regions and four Municipalities. The economy has grown dramatically over the past 20 years, and living standards have improved significantly for many Chinese people. However, the country is still subject to very tight political controls.
China's culture is very different to that in the West, particularly the restriction of personal freedoms and the concept of the group being more important than the individual which governs many aspects of life. Every foreigner will have a 'Waiban' or a representative of the Foreign Affairs Office allocated to oversee their stay in China, help provide whatever they need, and ensure they stay out of trouble. It is quite normal in China for foreign government officials, journalists and some business people to be put under surveillance by the security services, to have their telephones and emails monitored, and their personal possessions searched.
In both personal and business interactions, the concept of 'guanxi' is of utmost importance. This means a relationship which is established over time, in which there are mutual obligations and owed favours between the parties concerned. Respect is also very important in China, and it is considered particularly important to show respect for seniors, guests and people with whom you have a guanxi relationship. Respect is often demonstrated as extreme politeness, which can be seen as overly formal by westerners. 'Losing face' is very shameful in Chinese society, so it is very important that you do not cause someone to lose face when dealing with them in business or personal life.
Expatriates may be concerned by some of the habits and customs which are prevalent in Chinese society, such as spitting, openly staring at a foreigner, and failing to observe the usual western courtesy of queuing. The concept of personal space is also virtually unheard of in China, with people moving closer to others than would be normal in western society, and extreme overcrowding in public places being typical.
Daily life is likely to be relatively frugal for expatriates living in China, particularly for those such as teachers who are on a low salary. Added to this, hardly anyone speaks English, so communication can be a problem.
China is generally safe for foreigners, but the crime rate is gradually increasing. Petty crime such as pick pocketing is quite common, especially at places frequented by tourists. Visitors to China should also be aware of the practice whereby locals ask foreigners to exchange money at a preferential rate. It is illegal for individuals to do so and the visitors may be detained by police and charged with breaking foreign exchange laws.
A posting in China may therefore present an exciting opportunity to experience a very different way of life for western expatriates, but the country is likely to be more difficult than some other locations for English speaking expatriates to adapt to. As a result of the restrictions and cultural barriers, expatriates in China tend to congregate together within their areas of residence, and expat communities with a wide range of social activities have developed, particularly in the cities.
The 2008 Olympic Games are to be held in China and there is much construction work going on in Beijing and Shanghai to prepare for this. The work includes a new international airport for Beijing.
Read more about this country
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