This is an independent review of Keats Chinese School in Kunming, China.

Are you thinking about heading to Keats to learn Chinese?

If so, then read this first!

I went ‘undercover’ at Keats to find out what it’s really like there.

From the orientation and accommodation to the food and Mandarin classes (of course), I leave no stone unturned in my honest review.

If you can’t be bothered reading all the way down, in summary I loved my time at Keats and I’d like to go back again.

But there were some downsides that you need to know about too.

About my review

Before I start, let me answer some burning questions you might already have:

  • Was I compensated by Keats in any way for this review? No.
  • Did Keats know I was writing a review for The Helpful Panda? No.
  • Was Keats involved in any way with this review? No.
  • Did I have to pay to attend Keats School? Of course.

Alright, let’s begin!

The Keats program

Keats students

You’ll make new friends at Keats no matter the program you choose. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Keats Chinese School offers a number of different programs, including one-on-one, small group and online classes.

I chose the intensive one-on-one Chinese classes.

With the intensive Chinese language program, you can choose four hours or six hours of study each weekday, and the package includes accommodation and food.

I opted for four hours of study, and thank God for that!

At the end of each day, I was mentally exhausted and had no brain capacity for anything else. Not even Netflix.

You also need to factor in time for homework, which I mostly did in the mornings when I felt fresher.

apps banned in chinaapps banned in china

While most students I spoke to chose four hours of classes per day, there were some students who were doing six (plus homework).

They said it was brutal, and some even had to drop back their hours.

So, my recommendation is to choose four hours. You can always increase your hours later if you want to go harder, faster.

On top of the language study, Keats also offers paid add-ons like Kung Fu and tai chi, Chinese calligraphy, and cooking classes.

Although they sound great, I’m glad I didn’t sign up for any of them. The one-on-one language classes were enough for my old brain.

Plus, I wanted some free time to explore Kunming on my own.

Welcome and orientation

Keats teacher at Walmart checkout

One of the staff will give you a tour of the area, including the Walmart. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I got picked up at Kunming Changshui International Airport.

If you’re arriving by high-speed train or bus, Keats will pick you up from there as well, as part of the package. It’s pretty sweet.

The driver wasn’t rude, but he didn’t say a word either. I introduced myself and asked him a question in Chinese, but got no response. We drove to Keats in pure silence.

The silence continued at Keats as he took me up to my room and pointed at the door-locking system and also the English written instructions on where to meet in the afternoon.

A couple of hours later, I met my soon-to-be teachers. They were lovely!

The teachers quickly assessed my level of Mandarin, and asked smart questions like “How do you like to learn?” and “How much homework do you want to do?”

Then, one of the teachers, Ms Deng, took me to the local Walmart to buy a few bits and pieces that I needed. She showed me some other handy places along the way, including a bakery and fruit shop.

By this stage, it was Sunday evening, and it was pretty impressive that Ms Deng was still at work.

You really can’t fault Chinese people for how hardworking they are, and the Keats team is no exception.


Keats Chinese School accommodation

My room at Keats. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Keats bedroom

I left the school and came back, and this was my second room. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The room was absolutely tiny.

I was expecting a small room, but not this small. Similarly, the bathroom was insanely tiny. It’s more a cupboard with plumbing than an ensuite.

As there’s no shower recess, when you take a shower the water goes everywhere, including all over the toilet.

This is normal for many Chinese apartments and older hotels. So, while it didn’t shock me, it might come as a bit of a surprise to you.

The room includes:

  • Single bed, bedding and towel
  • Desk, wooden chair and lamp
  • TV
  • Portable fan
  • Wardrobe and storage
  • Mini fridge
  • Drinking water tank.

The drinking water is an extra expense. I chose to buy small bottles of water myself and put them in the bar fridge, as I’m not a fan of drinking room-temperature water on hot days (probably like most Westerners, right?).

apps banned in chinaapps banned in china

You get a small roll of toilet paper to get you started, but no hand soap.

While the room is the size of a shoebox, Keats makes clever use of the space. For example, there’s a clothes drying rail attached to the ceiling so your clothes can quickly dry while you’re in class.

I was at Keats in summer, and I found the room to be incredibly hot and stuffy, even with the fan turned on. Apart from the window, there’s no ventilation in the room, and the bathroom fan didn’t work either.

Keats Chinese School bathroom

The tiny bathroom. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Bathroom at Keats

Another bathroom at Keats. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Some nights, it was hard to sleep because the room was that stuffy. Air-conditioning should really be installed.

It’s worth noting, however, that not all the rooms are the same size or configuration. Generally speaking, I found that students who were staying at Keats long term had slightly larger or better rooms.


Keats Cafeteria

You’ll be well fed at the Keats Cafeteria. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

View from Keats window

Keats Chinese School is located within an office tower. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Keats Kunming is situated within an office building in the city center. You’ll see busy office workers go up and down the elevator, so it’s not like a school campus in a traditional sense.

The main Keats floor, where the cafeteria and classrooms are located, is professional, welcoming and sparkling clean. It feels like a nice place to be.

You can use the school’s numerous washing machines, which are on the same floors as the accommodation, for most of the day and evening.

And, there’s even a well-equipped gym for the fitness bunnies out there! (I must admit, I didn’t use the Keats Fitness Center, but I had every intention.)

The classrooms themselves are tiny, but as the intensive program is one-on-one, there’s no need for an enormous space.

Toilet paper sign

The loos have weak water pressure. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

But like the lodging, the classrooms are stuffy in summer. There’s no airflow and no aircon.

I specifically bought a pair of sandals at the local Walmart to help me cool down while in class.

You’ll also need to get used to throwing your icky toilet paper in a bin beside the toilet. This is common in older Chinese buildings. You’ll get used to it!

But don’t worry about having to use a squat toilet. All the toilets in Keats are the sit-down type.


Buying train tickets at a Kunming subway station

There’s a subway station next to the school. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Spring City Shopping Mall in Kunming

Nearby shopping mall and cinema. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The area is great, and there are lots of food and coffee options nearby. Walmart is a 15-minute walk away.

There’s also a really nice (read: expensive) shopping mall with luxury brands about a block away. While I don’t have money to splash out on a Louis Vuitton belt, the center’s cinema is affordable and there are English flicks showing.

The best thing of all about the neighborhood is there’s a subway station practically next door to the school, making it a breeze to explore Kunming in your free time.

And on the weekend, if you choose not to do the extra activities (which I talk about further down), you can travel to cute tourist towns like Dali and Lijiang.

You can get to these places from Kunming Station, the high-speed train station which is only a few subway stops away.


Sweet potato fritters in China

Keats dishes up good food, and you help yourself. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

There weren’t too many students when I was at Keats, probably around a dozen or so.

This was probably because of the Covid travel hangover, as well as the poor China-West relationship at the moment.

So, each lunchtime and dinnertime, there were four food options at the Keats Cafeteria: three vegetarian dishes and one meat dish.

For me, this was excellent as I’m mostly on a plant-based diet. I found the food to be simple yet tasty and nutritious. Yum!

However, breakfast is another story.

Keats puts on a Chinese-style breakfast, which is very different to a Western breakfast. Think hot noodles, fried rice, and boiled vegetables.

Many students struggled with the breakfast, and some would only choose one thing to eat.

apps banned in chinaapps banned in china

My advice to Keats would be to replace this with a Western-style breakfast, including fruit, bread (toast), and cereal and milk. This would also be much easier for the in-house cook (who was amazing, by the way) as there’s no cooking required.

I can’t speak for all foreigners, but Keats, if you’re reading, we don’t like such a heavy breakfast!

The coffee was also terrible, and the advertised Keats Time Café was closed due to the relatively low student numbers. But there are some decent coffee shops nearby, so if you’re addicted to caffeine like I am, you don’t need to panic.

Meal times are run to a strict timetable:

  • Breakfast 8 am to 8:30 am
  • Lunch 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm
  • Dinner 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

I would have liked an additional half-hour for breakfast as it takes me a while to wake up, but that’s just me.

Keats teachers

Keats teacher

The best thing about Keats is the teachers. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Keats teacher doing cooking activity

The teachers even show you how to cook! Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

The Keats teachers are incredible. They’re experienced, knowledgeable and patient.

I had three professional teachers over two weeks of study. Each teacher had a different teaching style, which I really liked as it helped keep me on my toes.

Lessons were well prepared, interesting, and most importantly, challenging. The teachers focused on the four key areas of language

  • Speaking
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Writing.

One of the great things about Keats is you can tell them how you like to study, and what you want to focus on. So they’ll prepare lessons based on your objectives.

Don’t want your head buried in a textbook all day? No worries – they’ll take you outside and have an outdoor lesson, and teach you practical things like how to bargain.

It’s this flexibility that I really like about Keats.

My teachers understood my request for them to speak Chinese at all times, which was pleasing. That’s why I signed up – to be fully immersed in Chinese and not speak English.

Unfortunately, some other teachers spoke to me in English, including at the ‘Chinese-only’ table in the Keats Cafeteria. This was disappointing.

I understand that the school sees many beginner students, but as an intermediate learner, I expected all staff to speak Mandarin to me. That’s how language immersion works.

Some staff would also default to speaking English if I didn’t understand them the first time.

But as a language teacher myself, you need to find ways to help the student understand you.

This could involve saying things in a different way or using different words, using body language, or just slowing down your speech.

To be honest, I got the impression that some staff members were more interested in practicing their English than speaking Mandarin with me (e.g. on the weekend outings). I didn’t like this inconsistency.

But just to be clear, my own teachers were outstanding and always spoke to me in Mandarin.

Course structure

Keats timetable

My timetable for the first week. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Keats supplementary learning material

Helpful, everyday learning material. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

As I mentioned earlier, if you do the intensive one-on-one Chinese course at Keats, which is the most popular program, you can choose four or six hours of study per day.

You study in two-hour blocks, which are at these times:

  • 8:30 am to 10:30 am
  • 10:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm
  • 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm.

Unless you need to use the bathroom, you go straight from one session to the next.

In my case, I had classes all morning or all afternoon, meaning I sat for four hours straight. I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to maintain concentration for that long, even with a caffeine hit.

Ideally, the school should enforce a 10-minute break after each two-hour session. This would benefit both students and teachers.

I found that my Chinese language level improved significantly after just two weeks.

I can only imagine how better it would have been after a month or more!


Keats students

Students typically have diverse backgrounds and vary in age. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Keats welcomes foreign students of practically any age. When I was there, the age range was around 16 to 60-plus.

You’ll meet people from all around the world, but mostly the US and Europe.

Most Keats students were really nice, respectful, and had a keen interest in Chinese culture (I’ve written an entire guide on that here) as well as the language.

apps banned in chinaapps banned in china

There were a couple of young know-it-all’s (not Keats’ fault) who I didn’t want to be around, but I guess you find people like that everywhere?

It’s also worth noting that the majority of students are complete beginners or struggle to string a few words together in Chinese, so I spoke English with them.

Administration and communication

Signing up was easy and effortless, with multiple payment options offered.

Keats replied to all emails super quickly, and this impressed me.

In addition, throughout my stay at Keats I had a few extra questions and requests, and manager Estelle was quick and courteous with everything.

I would rate the administration and communication at the school as excellent.


Yunnan Nationalities Village performers

Day trip to Yunnan Nationalities Village. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Boating at Lucheng Scenic Spot near Kunming

Pedal boating at Lucheng Scenic Spot near Kunming. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Every day there are optional cultural activities, from cooking classes to sightseeing and outdoor activities on the weekends.

Most activities are free, while some weekend activities are paid (but are very affordable).

In the two weeks that I was there, I did all this:

  • Enjoyed a traditional tea ceremony and learned how it works
  • Watched Chinese movies (don’t worry – there are subtitles)
  • Learned how to make a local Chinese dessert
  • Participated in a language exchange with local people
  • Went market shopping and bargained for souvenirs
  • Visited a Confucian temple and held a martial arts weapon
  • Explored a cultural park which showcased Yunnan’s ethnic minorities
  • Tried spicy noodle soup in a funky alleyway
  • Visited a resort town, went hiking and pedal boating.


As you can see, the activities are very diverse and there is truly something for everyone. Most are accessible via the subway.

And best of all, you’re chaperoned by one of the Keats teachers at all times.

Chairlift ride at Western Hills Park, Kunming

Chairlift ride at Western Hills Park. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Standing next to rock at Kunming Stone Forest

The Stone Forest is the city’s most famous attraction. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I also love solo traveling in China so I did quite a few things in my own time as well. I visited Kunming’s most famous sights including:

  • The Stone Forest
  • Western Hills Park, where there are temples and grottoes
  • Green Lake
  • Dounan Flower Market.

Keats arranges tours to these places as well, it just depends on the weeks you’re at the school.

There are a lot of amazing things to do in the heart of Kunming and the rest of the city, which makes Keats a top choice if you’re coming to China to learn Mandarin and see the sights.

Special touches

Keats farewell pack

The Keats farewell pack. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

I was really impressed by the way Keats looked after underage students (high school age) during extracurricular activities.

For example, they would personally escort them on the subway after the tour was over, and made sure they got back to their room safely.

China is a really safe place to visit, but this extra level of care was above-and-beyond awesomeness.

Keats also provide you with a student ID, which can get you discounts at participating tourist attractions.

I also need to call out course flexibility. I changed my classes (which meant a change of teachers) and the school was happy to help with this.

They were also obliging when I needed to add some extra days to my stay (I hadn’t yet finished exploring Kunming!).

Finally, the school gives departing students a lovely farewell pack. Mine comprised of a certificate, canvas bag, chopsticks and a t-shirt.

Thank you, Keats.

Kunming doesn’t float your boat?

I’ll preface this by saying Kunming is a bloody great place to visit. And you’ve got the rest of Yunnan at your doorstep too.

But if you don’t think Kunming is for you, there are plenty of other places where you can learn Mandarin in China.

You can check out the list of Mandarin schools in China here.

From Beihai to Zhuhai, there’s a school for everyone!

Psst! A quick travel tip

If you want to use Wi-Fi at Keats, or anywhere else in China for that matter, you won’t be able to survive without a virtual private network (VPN) on your phone.

The Chinese internet is censored, and without a VPN all of your favorite apps (e.g. Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Google, etc) are inaccessible, and the equivalent websites are banned too.

Just remember to download the VPN before you arrive as VPN sales are blocked in China.

You can see the best China VPN here or skip my review and go straight here.

Keats overall

If I had to give Keats a score out of 10, I’d give them an 8 or 9.

It’s an excellent choice if you’re looking for intensive one-on-one Chinese instruction that will boost your language skills.

The teaching quality is top notch, I learned a lot in a short time, the location is ideal, the lunch and dinner meals were tasty, everything is impeccably clean, activities are amazing, and the staff are genuinely nice and helpful.

Put simply, Keats is a very well-run, professional school that knows what it’s doing.

Where the school could improve, however, is changing the breakfast to suit Western tastes, being more consistent with Mandarin outside of class, and installing air conditioning to make the rooms more comfortable in summer.

And, although there’s probably not much they can do about it unless they moved premises, the room was too small for my liking.

Overall though, I loved my time at Keats and I would definitely go back.

It’s a great way to fast-track your Mandarin in a safe and supportive environment.

I hope you liked my independent review of Keats Chinese School in Kunming. If you have any questions, please ask them below and I’ll give you my honest opinion. Otherwise, check out my article about tipping in China and don’t forget to get your VPN.

You can also check out the program I did at Keats, including the program fee, on their website here.

Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

FAQ about Keats Chinese School

What is Keats Chinese School?

It’s one of the top Chinese language schools located in mainland China. It specializes in intensive one-on-one Chinese language instruction for overseas students. It also runs other types of programs including small group classes, online courses and HSK preparation.

Where is Keats located?

It’s in the downtown area of Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province. It’s conveniently located near restaurants, takeaway food shops, coffee shops and even a cinema that shows foreign films. Walmart is a short walk away.

What are the Keats teachers like?

You’ll be impressed by your professional Chinese teacher at Keats. They speak standard Mandarin, they have years of experience, and they have unique teaching methods that will help you learn the language quickly. They’re also super lovely people!

What is the on-campus accommodation like?

Keats offers on-site single rooms with private bathrooms. Both the rooms and bathrooms are extremely small, though exceptionally clean.

Do you have to live on campus?

No, you can choose to live off campus if you want (but you would arrange this yourself). However, it’s much easier to live on campus as that’s where Chinese language lessons take place, and that’s where meals are served. Keats doesn’t offer a homestay option with a Chinese family at this stage.

Do you have to have the three meals a day?

No, you can elect to eat off campus, though I found it really convenient, affordable and tasty. If you’ve signed up for the meals option, you can skip a meal whenever you like, e.g. if you want to eat at one of the nearby restaurants to mix things up.

Who typically attends Keats Chinese School?

The school attracts international students from numerous countries including the US, UK, Germany, Italy, France, Russia, Israel and Australia. The age range varies from about 16 to 60+, though it’s more skewed to an early 20s average. The school is ideal if you’re a complete beginner, though the one-on-one courses mean you can have any level of Mandarin to sign up.

Do Keats help with the student visa?

If you plan on staying at Keats long term, they can assist with the student visa application (known as the X visa). If you’re staying for less than a month then you can simply arrive on a tourist visa (L visa) and not have to worry about additional paperwork.