Located in Eastern Asia, China borders North Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. China comprises about one-fifteenth of the world’s landmass (9,572,900 square kilometres). Its coastline runs along the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the South China Sea between North Korea and Vietnam. The greater part of the country is mountainous. In the southwest is Tibet; the Gobi Desert lies to the north. The capital city is Beijing.
China’s climate is characterised by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which lead to clear temperature differences in winter and summer. Due to the country’s complex topography, the climate changes from region to region.
Officially atheist, China is a country with diverse religious beliefs and freedom to practise them. The main religion is a combination of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism (93%), while “other” (7%) includes Christians, Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, and Jews. Han Chinese compose 92% of the ethnic make-up of the country, with Huang, Uygur, Hui, Yi, Tibetan, Miao, Manchu, Mongol, Buyi, Korean, and various other nationalities composing the rest.
China’s economy during the past 30 years has changed from a centrally planned system that was largely closed to international trade to a more market-oriented economy that has a rapidly growing private sector and is a major player in the global economy. Its major exports are electrical and other machinery including data processing equipment, apparel, textiles, iron and steel, and optical and medical equipment.
The rate of development has been extreme, with average GDP growth of 8% per year over the last 30 years. Most global economists expect the Chinese economy to become the largest in the world by the end of this century. While urban Chinese have seen significant increases to their standard of living, rural Chinese are still living in poverty. The Chinese currency is the renminbi or the Chinese yuan (sign: ¥).
Food costs are generally reasonable in China; housing is the major expense. Contacts are important for finding the best place to live, so students should begin talking to people as soon as they get to China for comfortable but reasonably priced living arrangements. In general, western China tends to be cheaper than the eastern port cities of Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. In Beijing, both furnished and unfurnished properties are available. Furnished houses are very easy to find in the rental market of Beijing.
Most Chinese universities and colleges provide various levels of on-campus accommodation to international students at different costs to suit different budgets. International students can choose their accommodation when they arrive at the school. On-campus accommodation is usually the cheapest alternative. For travel between cities, buses and boats are almost always cheaper than trains and planes.
The Chinese government has placed priority on developing education. It is revitalising the country through science and education, intensifying the reform of educational system, and implementing nine-year compulsory education. Governments at all levels are increasing their investment in education. China’s education system includes pre-school, primary school, secondary school, high school, university and college, as well as graduate school education.
In the last several years, the number of international students coming to China has more than doubled, due to China’s growing economy and improving higher education system. In March of 2010, the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China announced a total of 238,184 international students were studying in China in 2009. The top five countries with the largest numbers of international students in China are South Korea, Japan, the United States, Vietnam and Indonesia.
The student visa is divided into an X visa and an F visa. An X visa is issued to foreigners who come to China for study, advanced studies, or fieldwork for more than six months. An F visa is issued to foreigners who come with the same purpose but for a period of less than six months. An X visa is valid only for 30 days from the date of arrival during which time the international student and their university must seek a temporary residence permit for the duration of their study or internship, to a maximum of 12 months.
International students are not permitted to work on this visa without permission, and should contact their university or employer after they have settled in to see what can be arranged. All foreign students pursuing higher education in China for a period of over six months need to get travel insurance, student health insurance, and emergency insurance. Students can purchase their insurance from their home country or from the university admission office during registration.