China is an incredible country for a whole range of reasons.
A tech giant. Home to incredible architectural feats, diverse cuisine, and a rich history.
If you’re planning on visiting China, you might want to brush up on your knowledge of the Middle Kingdom before you leave.
But even if you’re just interested in learning more about China from home, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this list of fun facts about China.
Some facts are common knowledge, but others might surprise you.
Either way, I hope they at least get you excited for your very own adventure in China.
1. ‘China’ is an abbreviation
Oz is Australia, the US should be the United States of America, and the UK is short for United Kingdom. You can see a clear pattern here.
Well, China is actually the People’s Republic of China.
Maybe you’ve seen it written or referred to as the PRC.
The People’s Republic of China is quite a mouthful for people to say over and over. So, China is a quick and connectable shortened version of the country’s official name.
The PRC was founded on October 1, 1949. If you’re into history, this is the start of a super interesting period in China to research further.
Some scholars believe that the name ‘China’ is derived from ‘Qin’. First Emperor Qin Shi Huang is said to be responsible for initially unifying China in 221 BC.
If you ask me, this seems like a very fitting name.
2. The world’s most populous country
At least for now.
At the time of writing, China’s population is estimated to be a little over 1.4 billion. That’s around 17% of the global population.
The current data puts China just a few million people ahead of India.
It’s possible that India will soon overtake China as the world’s most populous country. At the moment though, the PRC still dominates.
Also, China’s population is expected to peak later this century as the population ages and the fertility rate plummets due to a range of societal issues.
This includes the increasing cost of raising a family (including education) and the growing rejection of marriage among young Chinese women.
3. 56 ethnic groups
While we’re on the subject of people, let’s talk about diversity.
China is home to 55 minority groups, plus the Han people which are the largest ethnic group. That’s 56 ethnic groups in total!
Around 91% of the Chinese population identify as Han. That’s a pretty overwhelming majority.
I won’t list all of the minority groups here, but I’m sure you’re already familiar with a few of them such as Mongolian, Tibetan, Vietnamese and Korean.
If you’re given the opportunity to learn more about, or even experience, the traditions of a Chinese minority group, I highly recommend you say “yes, please!”
I once stayed in a Miao village near Guiyang, Guizhou province, and it was an unforgettable experience.
4. Second or third biggest?
If you’re a bit geographically challenged, like I am, then this one’s for you. Otherwise, this fact might not impress you very much.
When I first looked at a map of China in detail, the day before I moved here, the first thing I said was “It’s massive!” and I wasn’t wrong.
But in terms of area, China is only the third biggest country in the world.
Russia takes gold, Canada (another shock for my brain’s incomplete geography folder) claims silver, leaving China to just make the podium with bronze.
However, this data does also include water bodies.
If we get rid of them, and look purely at landmass, China moves up to second place. That’s 6.3% of earth’s total land mass.
5. Border towns galore
Being such a big country means that China also has a lot of borders. There are 14, to be exact.
That’s more land borders than any other country!
China’s neighbors include:
- North Korea
- Myanmar (Burma)
If you visit Chinese towns or cities close to any of these borders, you’ll likely find a unique blend of cultures there.
Manzhouli, up by the Russian border, features a Matryoshka doll shaped hotel, while the southern areas of Yunnan have a strong southeast Asian influence.
6. One country, one time
Despite its vast size, China only has one singular time zone!
China Standard Time (CST) was implemented by Chairman Mao in 1949. He decided that the whole country should be on Beijing time for the sake of national unity.
I remember one of my Chinese colleagues being shocked and baffled when she learned that other countries have various time zones and we couldn’t just write “local time USA” in a press release.
As someone who loves their sleep and hates missing out on it, I’m quite content without the clocks jumping forward once a year.
I do miss the extra hour in bed at the end of Daylight Savings though.
7. Cute, cuddly and all China’s
Of course I’m talking about China’s national animal, the giant panda.
These black and white balls of fluff are native to China. They’re also owned by China, even if they don’t all live in the country.
Panda diplomacy first started in 1941.
Nowadays, this is the act of leasing pandas to other nations in a bid to strengthen global ties and encourage conservation of the species. If pandas produce offspring while overseas, they will also belong to China.
There is one slight exception to this rule and this is Chapultepec Zoo in Mexico.
You see, up until 1984 China actually gifted their pandas without contracts or agreements in place for their return.
China donated two pandas – Ying Ying and Pe Pe – to Chapultepec in 1975. This meant that, after great success in breeding, the zoo actually owned the offspring these pandas produced.
You can’t take back a gift, right?
The zoo and China have since come to an agreement, and any future pandas born at the zoo will belong to China.
This means that Xin Xin, the last surviving descendant of Ying Ying and Pe Pe, will be the final panda to be considered Chinese only in name.
If you visit in China, be sure to head to Chengdu and check out the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.
You can find more details about this, and the best things to do in Chengdu, right here.
8. 12 animals of the zodiac
The Chinese zodiac shockingly doesn’t include a panda among its many animals.
But it does include 12 other animals: cat, dog, goat, rooster, horse, snake, monkey, ox, pig, rabbit, rat, and… a dragon.
The dragon is actually made up from parts of the other 11 animals.
Similar to Western horoscopes, these zodiac signs each have personality traits associated with them.
And much like horoscopes in the West, these zodiac signs play a role in how others see you and what their expectations of you are.
However, the Chinese zodiac signs are based on the year you were born and therefore play an important part in Chinese New Year celebrations.
The signs also follow the moon rather than the constellations. One animal per year means that this is a 12-year cycle.
If you have time to spare, you should look into the story behind the animals of the Chinese zodiac.
9. Tallest buildings
China is currently home to five of the world’s top 10 tallest buildings.
The Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in China and the third tallest building in the world.
The other monstrosities are:
- Ping An International Finance Center in Shenzhen at 599 m (1,966 ft) – 5th tallest in the world
- Guangzhou CTF Finance Center and Tianjin CTF Finance Center, in Guangzhou and Tianjin respectively, both stand at 530 m (1,739 ft) – equal 8th tallest in the world
- China Zun in Beijing at 527 m (1,731 ft) – 10th tallest in the world.
After all my time in China, I’m still amazed by just how many skyscrapers there are – even in cities you’ve never heard of!
10. Fastest train in the world
Japanese bullet trains typically get global recognition for speed, but China actually wins this race.
Shanghai Maglev, the world’s fastest public train, can reach speeds of 460 km/h (286 mph). The really cool thing about this train is that it uses magnetic levitation (Maglev) to run.
It takes only 7 minutes to travel 30 km (18 miles) from Longyang Road station in Shanghai’s city center to the international airport in Pudong.
If you’re flying out of Pudong, I recommend taking this route. At least just to say you’ve done it.
For me, it was an exciting end to a lovely weekend in Shanghai.
There are plans to expand this rail network to include links to other cities. Just watch this space.
11. Longest sea-bridge crossing
What on earth is a sea bridge?
Well, it’s exactly what it says it is: a bridge which crosses a sea. And China is home to the longest one!
Technically, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (or HZMB for short) is actually a series of bridges and a tunnel which connect the islands of Hong Kong with Mainland China and Macau.
The bridges link up to manmade islands, and then the tunnel goes under the sea.
It’s 55 km or 32 miles long and has been in use since 2018. Apparently, it’s been built to last for 120 years.
From Shenzhen, you can take a day cruise around the Pearl River Estuary, Lingding Channel and Jiuzhou Channel to actually see the bridge up close.
If you get lucky, you may even spot some dolphins playing in the bay too.
Oh, and there are plenty of other cool things to do in Shenzhen too. You can check them out here.
12. Longest wall
Go on then!
It wouldn’t be fun facts about China without mentioning The Great Wall, especially while we’re on the topic of long things.
The Great Wall of China is arguably the most famous place in China.
Spanning an incredible 21,196 km (13,171 miles), with parts of it said to date back as far as 220 BC, the wall is very impressive. There’s no doubt about it.
Nothing prepared me for just how remote and lonely the wall felt.
Words can’t express the feeling when you’re at the wall. It’s definitely a must-do while in China.
13. Longest river in Asia
It’s also the world’s longest river to flow entirely in one country, and the world’s third longest river.
Of course, we’re talking about the Yangtze River which flows a total of 6,300 km (3,900 miles).
Venturing through eight provinces, two municipalities and one autonomous region, it’s unsurprising that this river is of great cultural, economic and historical significance.
In Chongqing, you can see where the Jialing River meets the Yangtze. At certain times, each river looks to be a different color!
I can imagine it must be quite something to see. Sadly, when I was there, it was a grey afternoon and there wasn’t much difference in color.
The Yangtze is also one of the world’s most polluted rivers.
14. Highest peak in the world
Did you know you can visit Mount Everest from China?
This means that China is home to the world’s highest mountain, well at least the northern slope of the mountain, anyway.
From Tibet, an autonomous region of China, it’s possible to visit this world-famous landmark.
It’s worth noting that access to the mountain is limited in a bid help conservation efforts and you must apply for a special travel permit to visit Tibet. Yes, even if you do have a Chinese visa.
An organized tour group is the best way to visit. Weather conditions can be unpredictable and you don’t want anything to ruin this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
15. Most coffee shops
When you think of Chinese drinks, you think of tea, right?
While tea might still be China’s favorite drink culturally, it’s actually coffee that’s taken the big cities by storm.
In fact, there are currently nearly 8,000 coffee shops in Shanghai alone, making it the city with the most coffee shops in the world.
On a per capita basis though, the average Chinese person only drinks nine cups of coffee a year, according to a 2021 report by accounting firm Deloitte.
This is no match for coffee drinkers in South Korea or the US, who each guzzle 367 cups and 329 cups a year respectively.
If you do happen to visit Shanghai, you can use an app called Dianping (a Chinese version of Yelp) to help find the best coffee shops.
There are also plenty of other amazing apps in China to check out.
16. Most powerful dam in the world
Well, damn, isn’t this cool!?
The Three Gorges Dam, located in Hubei province, has the capacity to produce more energy than any other dam in the world (22,500 MW – if that means anything to you).
China is also home to the tallest dam in the world.
Jinping-I Dam in Sichuan stands at 305 m (1,001 ft) in height!
For context, America’s famous Hoover Dam is a mere 221 m (726 ft) tall.
17. 56 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
That whopping number is only bettered by one other country: Italy with 58.
While China may not be in first place here, I still find this a fun and very impressive fact.
UNESCO sites include well-known landmarks such as the Forbidden City, The Great Wall and the Summer Palace.
However, with such a huge amount to see and do, there are also plenty of lesser known places on the UNESCO list, making it well worth a look when planning your China adventure.
18. Summer and Winter Olympics host
Even in modern times, China is still making history.
After the 2022 Winter Olympics, Beijing became the first city to have hosted both the winter and summer games.
Previously, the summer Olympics took place there in 2008.
For me, the coolest thing about this is how they were able to revamp and recycle venues.
Olympic infrastructure is notoriously costly and so it was really nice to see iconic buildings, such as the Bird’s Nest, take center stage once again.
Another prime example of this is the Water Cube, once used for summer aquatic sports, becoming the Ice Cube.
Going forward, the venue will now be able to be used for ice sports, swimming events, and even live performances.
19. Largest human migration
This fact might sound a little more dramatic than it actually is.
I’m talking about ‘chunyun’.
This is when millions of Chinese citizens will travel across the country – and even the world – to be with family for Chinese New Year.
Of course, celebrations haven’t been quite so grand for the past few years, but Spring Festival is still the biggest holiday in China.
It’s thought that over a billion journeys are made within China during this period.
Lunar New Year is a wonderful time, filled with celebrations, but it’s not the best time to visit tourist hotspots.
I’ve written more about Chinese holidays to help you figure out the best time to visit.
If you’re not getting off the beaten track, then you’ll benefit from the blog about the best time to visit Beijing and Shanghai.
But even if you have no intention of going to China, you can learn more about the Great Migration by watching the movie, Last Train Home.
Some say it’s one of the best movies about Chinese culture. I encourage you to take a look!
20. Water makes money
Currently, China’s wealthiest citizen is a guy named Zhong Shanshan.
Did he create an app? Does he own a huge tech company? Well, no. He sells water.
An elementary school drop-out turned business tycoon, Zhong is the chairman and founder of Nongfu Spring.
This is a popular brand of bottled water sold across China. Remember, you shouldn’t drink the tap water here.
It’s recognizable by its red bottle cap and the green mountain on its label.
Zhong also controls a company which makes rapid diagnostic tests for infectious diseases, including Covid-19 tests.
At present, according to Forbes, his net worth is about $69 billion. This makes him the richest person in China by a cool few billion and around the 15th wealthiest person in the world.
Here are some other famous Chinese people you should take note of.
21. Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world
Okay, I’m reaching a little here.
This is true only when we look at native speakers. Some data even includes various Chinese dialects in this figure.
With 1.3 billion native Mandarin speakers, and even more learning it as a second language, you might want to brush up on some simple words and phrases before you visit China.
Psst! A quick travel tip
If you’re planning a trip, don’t forget the Chinese internet is censored.
So, when using hotel Wi-Fi you won’t have access to your favorite sites and apps like Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google, Gmail and so on, unless you get a VPN before you leave your country.
Check out the top VPNs for China here.
China never ceases to amaze
China is a place that just never ceases to amaze me.
I’m sure a week from now I’ll discover something else about this vast country and my mind will be blown once again.
It was difficult to only give you 21 fun facts today, so I’ll throw in a few quick extras before I go:
- Fortune cookies are not Chinese
- Soccer was invented in China and apparently so was ice cream
- Half of the world’s pigs live in China
- The average life expectancy is 77 years.
Phew! If I don’t stop now, then I never will.
Are there any fun facts about China that I missed? Or did anything really surprise you? Let me know down below.
Main image credit: Shmelkova Nataliya on Shutterstock.