20 Surprising Facts About China

China is huge, ancient, and undergoing rapid change. This combination has led to a lot of unique situations and historical facts, which I’ve been soaking up since my first day in China. I put together a list of my favorite surprising facts about China to educate and entertain you all. Enjoy!

20 Surprising Facts About China

1. No one can legally own land
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A rice farm in China. Photo Cred: Greenpeace

You can apply for a permit to use the land, but the government of China technically owns every piece of land in this country.

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2. There are no fortune cookies

Unless you’re talking about imported “American fortune cookies”, you won’t find them in China. Americans may associate them with Chinese food, but they actually come from San Francisco and only date back to the early 1900s.

3. China is currently going through massive urbanization
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Shanghai Railway Station

Over 300 million people have migrated into major cities in the last 30 years, and that figure is expected to more than double in the next few decades. When you couple that with the knowledge that 90% of Chinese citizens reside on 1/5th of the country’s land, it makes for an alarming visual. For perspective, Nanjing, the city I’m currently living in, is considered small as far as major Chinese cities are concerned, and its estimated to already have about the same population as New York City.

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4. Hong Kong is not mainland China

Hong Kong is an autonomous region despite being associated with major Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing. It was owned by Great Britain until 1997 (How did I miss that huge political event?? Oh yeah, I was 6), and is now technically a “special administrative region” of the People’s Republic of China. In other words, it’s not China.

5. Tens of millions of people live in caves
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Cave dwellings in Shanxi, which is really not that far from Beijing. Photo Cred: Meier&Poehlmann

While hundreds of millions are migrating to urban areas to get desk jobs in newly built skyscrapers, an estimated 30 million Chinese people are living in traditional cave dwellings. Props to them, because these cave houses are nearly perfectly insulated on their own, meaning they’re super sustainable.

6. Resumes are really different

On your Chinese resume, you have to include a picture of yourself, your age, and your gender. In other words, employers can discriminate against all those things.

7. Prior to the 1970s, Chinese families averaged 5 children
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A Chinese family portrait from 1940. Source: mf528.com

Up until last year China had their famous One Child Policy, and now they have a 2 child limit. But it hasn’t always been this way! When you piece pre-70s China and modern China together, it becomes obvious that the younger generation is going to face a lot of burden in caring for their many elderly family members without the support of siblings.

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8. Chinese women don’t take their husband’s last names

It is not commonplace for women here to change their name after they get married, and this is actually considered an “old China” thing. For comparison, the number of women who keep their maiden name in the U.S. has historically stayed well under 30%.

9. The Great Wall was made with sticky rice
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Close-up on a portion of the wall that was made with the sticky rice mortar. Photo Cred: alicialivelaughlove.blogspot.com

A portion of the the Great Wall’s stones were bound together with a mortar created from a mixture of sticky rice flour and inorganic material. Some people think this is why weeds still cannot grow through sections of it – because the sticky rice was so effective at tightly binding the stones.

10. Chinese leaders tried for hundreds of years to ban foot binding

As early as the 1600s, Chinese leaders were trying to end the practice of foot binding, but it wasn’t until 1912 that this beauty technique was officially made illegal. The last case of foot binding was reported in 1957 (source).

11. Beijing could become a desert
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The Green Wall Of China. Source: Economist, Photo Cred: ImagineChina

The Gobi Desert is rapidly expanding, and is now within 100 miles of Beijing. The desert is taking over 1,400 sq mi of grassland every year, and China is spending billions to fight it off. The latest project? The Green Wall of China.

12. More than half of all pigs on earth live in China

Eric and I actually find chicken much harder to find here than pork, and it’s usually more expensive as well.

13. The Republic of China still exists
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The Presidential Building in Taipei. Source: Wikimedia

The old government leadership of mainland China, The Republic of China, fled to Taiwan in 1949 and still resides there, so technically Taiwan is The Republic of China. China still claims ownership of Taiwan, and it’s not an autonomous region, but they do hold their own elections, and they recently elected a badass female president who’s super into LGBT and women’s rights.

14. Pollution in China = Snow in California

Here’s the basic rundown: water vapor up in the atmosphere needs some kind of particle to grip onto before it can fall to earth as a droplet, and China’s air pollution can and does serve as that necessary particle quite often. Although it sounds crazy that the air pollution in China can make its way over to California, it’s the truth. (source)

15. The Terracotta Army soldiers are colorful
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Replicas of what how the terracotta soldiers were painted. Source: Wikimedia

When you think about the Terracotta Army clay soldiers, you likely visualize them all in the same color – the color of clay. In reality, they’ve been found to contain traces of pigment, indicating that they were originally brightly colored.

16. Emperors were ruling China in the 20th century

Communism in China began only 67 years ago, and the preceding government only lasted 37 years. That means only 104 years ago, China was still a monarchy governed by emperors.

17. The world’s biggest mall is here, and it’s nearly empty
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Photo of empty walkways at the New South China Mall, taken in 2010.

The New South China Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world, but 2,303 of its 2,350 retail spaces are unoccupied, and have been for over a decade.

18. More people speak Mandarin than English

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with more than triple the number of English speakers. And yet, there’s English words all over signs in China, and virtually no Chinese characters in Europe or America. Hm…

19. China has a bunch of “ghost towns”
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Photo Cred: 60 Minutes/CBS, Source: Supplied

We noticed immediately that when this country builds 1 skyscraper, they build 10 identical ones next to it. Chinese builders have actually created entire cities of buildings that no one lives in. Why? In an effort to create new urban areas due to rapid urbanization. This has resulted in an estimated 60 million vacant homes in the country. (source)

20. Social media is huge here

Although Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social media platforms are banned in China, they have a lot of options for social media of their own, including near-direct replacements for Twitter, YouTube, and Google, At the moment, it seems WeChat is the most popular social media app in mainland China with over 1.1 billion accounts and 570 million active daily users (source).

Be sure to comment if you have any insight or additional facts! Thanks for reading! Talk to you soon 🙂

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4 thoughts on “20 Surprising Facts About China”

  • Woah. Those are super crazy/fascinating facts.
    Weren’t the terra cotta soldiers meant to look like real soldiers?? So it would only make sense that they painted them!

    • Yeah! I’m pretty sure the idea was that they would protect the first emperor of China in the afterlife, so they were all unique soldiers like an actual army. The craziest thing to me is that this was discovered in the mid-1970s by a farmer, and it’s from 200 BC… WHATTTTTT

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