Best China Travel Guide Books

  • Tourism in China has greatly expanded over the last few decades since the beginning of reform and opening. The emergence of a newly rich middle class and an easing of restrictions on movement by the Chinese authorities are both fueling this travel boom. China has become one of the world's most-watched and hottest outbound tourist markets. The world is on the cusp of a sustained Chinese outbound tourism boom.

    China is the world's third most visited country in the world. The number of overseas tourists was 55.98 million in 2010. Foreign exchange income was 41.9 billion U.S. dollars, the world's fifth largest in 2009. The number of domestic tourist visits totaled 1.61 billion, with a total income of 777.1 billion yuan.

    According to the WTO, in 2020, China will become the largest tourist country and the fourth largest for overseas travel. In terms of total outbound travel spending, China is currently ranked fifth and is expected to be the fastest growing in the world from 2006 to 2015, jumping into the number two slot for total travel spending by 2015.
  • Travel within China has become easier in recent years with the lifting of travel controls, massive investment in transportation facilities such as roads, railways and airlines, and the rapid rise in incomes.
  • Even though English is becoming more and more popular in China, most Chinese people do not understand it. Some form of Chinese is virtually universal in China, with Mandarin as the standard form and many other varieties also in use; some, like Cantonese and Shanghainese, have tens of millions of speakers. Although many Chinese do not speak English, due to the educational system many Chinese near and in urban areas can read and write it, even though they may have difficulty with spoken English.
  • The following ten essential China guidebooks, phrasebooks and survival guides will help you during your travels aross China as well as in preparing for your trip from home.

    1) Lonely Planet China

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  • The 12th edition of Lonely Planet's massive China guide...and the most exciting one yet. The guide has been completely redesigned. For those who complained about the fonts and spacing? The layout of the pages is easier to read, with better spacing between the sentences. The guide has also been tweaked to provide better accessibility to information. The maps are now less cluttered and focuses on the most pertinent of information. The guide itself has been split into four section:
    1) Plan Your Trip
    Essentially planning information at your fingertips. Top Experiences, a calendar of events, regions at a glance, good range of itineraries etc.
    2) On the Road
    The heart of the book. All our research and a labour of love. This is the destination guides to all the provinces in China. No stone left unturned in the coverage of over 28 provinces.
    3) Understand China
    Essay on matters that make China tick: the people, religion & beliefs, cuisine, arts & architecture, landscapes, martial arts and more!
    4) Survival Guide
    The practical information that will save your day. Directory, transpor, language and train information.

    2) Longman Chinese-English Visual Dictionary of Chinese Culture

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  • The Longman Chinese-English Visual Dictionary collects 20000 entries on 308 subjects related to people's daily life, including food, clothing, shelter and transportation-basic necessities of life, as well as social customs, Chinese culture, industry, agriculture, commerce, politics, law, etc. About 10000 illustrations are provided. This picture dictionary of black & white line drawings has everything from traditional Chinese instruments to fire trucks to hotels to prisons and the public security bureau. You can look up astronomy terms and nuclear missles while you're at it. Learn how to say "space suit life support system" and "execution by gunfire," complete with illustrations showing exactly how it's done. A great gift for the student of Chinese or collector of cultural trivia.

    3) China Survival Guide: How To Avoid Travel Troubles and Mortifying Mishaps by Larry Herzberg

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  • Originally released in time for the China Olympics, this little book immediately caught on with first-time and seasoned travelers thanks to its compact format, affordability, and reliable information delivered with savvy humor. The authors have now improved their work with new sections on critical issues like air travel and appropriate clothing, lots of data updates and fresh recommendations, plus all-new photographs and captions to make the book even more fun to browse. Uniquely designed to address all the travails of being a foreign tourist in China, it includes practical checklists on transportation, lodging, walking, haggling, medical and bathroom emergencies, etiquette, crowds, and learning the twin arts of patience and persistence.

    4) China (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

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  • DK Eyewitness Travel's full-color guidebooks to hundreds of destinations around the world truly show you what others only tell you. They have become renowned for their visual excellence, which includes unparalleled photography, 3-D mapping, and specially commissioned cutaway illustrations. DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are the only guides that work equally well for inspiration, as a planning tool, a practical resource while traveling, and a keepsake following any trip. Each guide is packed with the up-to-date, reliable destination information every traveler needs, including extensive hotel and restaurant listings, themed itineraries, lush photography, and numerous maps.

    5) CHINA: Portrait of a People by Tom Carter

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  • There are more than 1.3 billion people in China. Besides the majority Han Chinese, the population includes 56 ethnic groups numbering over one hundred million. Over the course of 2 years and 35,000 miles, photojournalist Tom Carter captured it ALL on film. Carter's anthropological-like study of China stands apart in its genre, as it focuses expressly on the PEOPLE of China. In addition to documenting the everyday life of "ordinary" people, Carter also backpacked to the most remote areas of China to observe reclusive ethnic minorities. From Inner Mongolian nomads to newlyweds in Hong Kong, from the teenage girl living in Chengdu dressed like an American punk rocker to the soot covered coal miner in Southern Shanxi, Carter's camera documented the complexity and diversity of China like no other book ever has.

    6) National Geographic Atlas of China

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  • Boasting more than 300 full-color maps and illustrations, this essential new atlas dramatically highlights the tremendous changes occurring within China—the world's fastest growing economy and most populous place—as well as their global implications. National Geographic maps the entire country with sections covering all provinces—including towns, cities, and transportation networks—to provide rich, comprehensive, and meticulously researched coverage of China's dynamic landscape. Fascinating thematic maps accurately post the latest information on trade, energy, natural resources, population, military strength, religion, languages, tourism, transportation, and more. A substantial place-name index helps the reader navigate to thousands of specific locations. New satellite imagery—at the highest resolution ever published by National Geographic—reveals amazing details of China's diversified physical landscape. A historical timeline, commentaries, graphs, travel info, and photos complete the thorough yet succinct coverage of today's China.

    7) Insider's Guide to Beijing (Immersion Guides)

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  • The Insider's Guide to Beijing provides an in-depth view into some of the best venues the city has to offer. Although there are guides to the Great Wall, Tiananmen and the Forbidden City, the book also contains insights into the lesser visited sights. Those relocating to Beijing will benefit from the careful review of life in Beijing, including a comprehensive guide to leasing, purchasing and the hunt for a living space in general. The book provides tips for everything from bargaining 101 to xiaochi to the inner workings of Beijing transportation. Like other reviewers have stated, this guide may be too much for your average Beijing tourist, but for expats, study abroad students or tourists who want to experience the real beijing, this is the book for you.

    8) Urbanatomy: Shanghai

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  • Urbanatomy: Shanghai guidebook is just the thing backpackers might make room for (particularly those who are planning to stay in the area a while). The book is thick almost 600 pages of glossy type and pictures... One of the nicest features of the book is its breakdown by neighborhoods, with an occasional listing of shops, museums, and hotels along their respective streets. Most guidebooks, of course, organize their materials in this fashion but 600 pages leaves room for a lot of detail, and the historical background and interviews with prominent Shanghai figures (both expat and Chinese) sets this one apart. As those who have visited and lived in Shanghai know, its neighborhoods do have distinct characters, and it is refreshing to see that reflected in a guidebook, both in text and in image.

    9) Lost on Planet China by Maarten Troost

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  • In his latest, veteran traveler Troost (The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stoned with Savages) embarks on an extended tour of "the new wild west," China. Troost travels from the megalopolis of Beijing to small, remote trails in the hinterlands, the fabled Shangri-La and all points in between, allowing for a substantive look at an incredibly complex culture. He does an admirable job of summing up the country's rich history, venturing to Nanjing to learn about China's deep-seated animosity toward Japan; he also visits the Forbidden City, and the tomb of Mao Zedong, still very much revered despite his horrific record of human rights abuses. Gross disparity in wealth, omnipresent pollution and the teeming mass of humanity that greet Troost at every opportunity wear on him and the reader alike; the sense of claustrophobia only relents when he gets into more remote areas. Throughout, Troost is refreshingly upbeat, without a hint of ugly American elitism; he often steps aside to let the facts speak for themselves, and rarely devolves into complaints over the language barrier or other day-to-day frustrations.

    10) Niubi!: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School by Eveline Chao

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  • You can study Chinese for years, but do you really know how to talk like a native speaker? The next book in Plume's foreign language slang series, Niubi! will make sure you learn all the colorful vernacular words and phrases used by Chinese people of all ages in a variety of situations, including flirting and dating, wheeling and dealing, and even specific Internet slang-not to mention plenty of Chinese words that are . . . well, best not to mention. Accessible and useful to complete novices (Niubi! newbies), intermediate students of Mandarin Chinese, or just anyone who enjoys cursing in other languages, this irreverent guide is packed with hilarious anecdotes and illustrations, mini cultural lessons, and contextual explanations. So whether you're planning a trip to Beijing, flirting with an online acquaintance from Shanghai, or just want to start a fight in Chinatown-Niubi! will ensure that nothing you say is lost in translation.