Shocking Facts About China

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 21, 2020 2:52:50 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: @kaiyi0619/Twitter

Massive in both geographic size and population, China is a country that boasts a rich history as well as a fascinating present and a complex future. As the site of one of the earliest known civilizations, China has held the title of most populous nation for centuries.

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Along with its ever-surging population, the country has a rapidly growing and changing economy and consumer market. It’s also the largest manufacturing nation and exporter of goods — by far. Pick up random items around your home, and you'll quickly discover that many have "Made in China" written somewhere on them. So, what kind of cool facts do you not know about China? Let’s find out!

Illegal Video Games

Now one of the major markets for video gaming culture, China was initially very resistant to the influx of video games. In 2000, the country banned the sale of gaming consoles altogether, and that ban wasn’t lifted until 2015.

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Of course, the consoles may have been banned officially, but that certainly didn't stop citizens from finding a way to get their gaming fix. Sold on what was termed the "gray market," hardware and software were pretty readily available to those who wanted it. In just a few years, 25% of the revenue generated from the industry now comes from China.

Time Travel Is Disrespectful

The strict Chinese government may have a penchant for revisionist history, but only on their terms. Combine that with their distrust of Western films and what do you get? A ban on time travel. Well, not time travel-related movies. Sorry, Marty McFly.

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Back To The Future
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According to the Chinese government, time travel, and its cinematic depictions, are “frivolous” and disrespectful to history. Critics like to point out the hypocrisy at play here — the Chinese Communist Party has destroyed certain Chinese relics, or purposely left elements of history out of textbooks, in order to curate a particular narrative. Who knows if the ban will one day extend to actual time travel machines, but, for now, keep the Flux Capacitor to yourself. 

Believe in Reincarnation? That Might be a Problem…

Due to the ongoing conflict between Tibet and China, the Dalai Lama — the Tibetan Buddhist leader — has lived in exile for years. The friction came to a head in 2007 when China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs outlawed Tibet monks “reincarnating without approval.”

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Dalai Lama
Photo Courtesy: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/Getty Images

How could this law be enforced? Well, maybe enforcing it was never the real intention behind the law’s creation. Critics of the ban have suggested that the law was created just to rile up the Dalai Lama, who, for his part, stated that the government had no reason to make such a statement — let alone patrol reincarnation.

Next Level Traffic Jams

If you're a resident of a major city and a regular driver as well, you might think you’re pretty well-versed in the frustration that comes with traffic jams. Well, think again! Due to overpopulation, traffic jams in certain parts of China are unrivaled in terms of their severity.

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Traffic Jam In China
Photo Courtesy: @ChinaDaily/Twitter

One particular traffic jam, which occurred in 2010 on Highway 110 was so bad that it has its very own dedicated Wikipedia page. Formed on the Beijing-Tibet expressway, the jam slowed thousands of vehicles for more than 100 kilometers and lasted a whopping two weeks! Crazy but true!

Cockroach Farming

Cockroaches may be one of the most dreaded creatures in the Western world, but they are viewed as welcome creatures in China. In a controlled environment, they can be used for many medical purposes.

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Cockroach farms — as in, produced on purpose! — can be found throughout the country. The largest farm of all in Xichang breeds more than 6 billion adult roaches each year, far surpassing the number of humans in the country. Once they reach maturity, the insects are crushed and used in a medicinal potion that is believed to combat stomach pain and other ailments.

Boyfriends for Sale

Have you ever felt pressure from family members to find a mate and settle down? Well, this issue is equally relevant in China, and they have come up with a practical solution to the problem — rent-a-boyfriend services.

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That’s right — for as little as 600 yuan (about $85), you can choose a man to play your boyfriend for the day in order to curb the endless questions and feelings of failure. Prices for these services surge during Spring Festival, a time of year frequently spent with the extended family. In addition to the rental fee, the renter is expected to pay for all travel costs.

In the Military, You Don’t Get Internet Clearance

Although the citizens of China don’t have access to platforms like Google, YouTube and Instagram, things are even stricter when it comes to the government’s regulation of military members and internet access. In 2010, the government tried to ban those in the military from using online dating services and apps.

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Chinese Military
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“Seeking marriage partners, jobs or making friends through the public media is not permitted,” the Communist Party’s Central Military Affairs Commission stated. This all went a step further when the government ban extended to “opening websites, homepages, bloods and message forums found on the internet.” Critics of the policy feel the military internet ban is just another way to censor thought and control citizens, while the government maintains it didn’t want “military secrets” getting out. 

An "Only Child" Country

You have probably heard about the one-child policy that was put in place in 1979 in China to combat the massive overpopulation problem they were experiencing. While this policy may have assisted in slowing the population growth, it also created a gender imbalance.

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Many families felt pressure to have a son, so they put their daughters up for adoption to try again. As a result, there are far more men now reaching marriage age than women. As of February 2020, the population in this age group consisted of 713 million males and 680 million females. In 2015, China altered its policy, and two children are now permitted per household.

Winnie the Pooh Is Outlawed

Chinese President Xi JinPing is anything but “bother free.” After being compared to the fictional, honey-addicted bear Winnie the Pooh time and time again, he took action — serious action. In order to stop the comparisons, the government has banned Pooh from Chinese culture.

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Winnie The Pooh
Photo Courtesy: VON News/Wikimedia Commons; Walt Disney Pictures/Disney+

The Hundred Acre Woods resident has been wiped from the internet, which is under strict government control. That means no GIFs, memes or mentions. If you’re insistent and still try to send a Winnie the Pooh-related message, you’ll get an error message. Oh, bother. 

Much of Hollywood Has Been Blacklisted

Reportedly, the Chinese government only allows theaters to show 34 foreign films a year, which means they’re highly selective when it comes to what’s allowed. When Taiwan-born director Ang Lee won the Best Director Oscar for Brokeback Mountain (2005), the Chinese people were overjoyed for him — even though the film never actually aired in China.

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Big Bang Theory
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The ban has extended to Western TV shows as well with the Chinese government nixing shows like The Big Bang Theory and NCIS, because they “[violate] China’s constitution, endanger the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, [and] provoke troubles in society, promote illegal religion and trigger ethnic hatred.” Even if a Hollywood film or show makes the cut, it’s sure to be censored.

Social Media and Google Aren’t Allowed

In China, citizens can’t “do it for the ‘Gram’” or just “Google it” due to the government’s extreme internet and social media censorship. In 2010, things came to a head between Google and the Chinese government when the Silicon Valley-based company rerouted traffic from mainland China to the uncensored Hong Kong.

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Social Media And Google
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In addition to Google, platforms like Pinterest, Instagram Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat were banned in favor of China’s more heavily regulated apps and services. Some speculate that the government is afraid activists will use social media the way others did during 2009’s Arab Spring. In fact, a Harvard University study reported that over 400 million social media posts are actually concocted by the Chinese government to distract citizens. 

There’s Quite a Bit of Revisionist History

While we can all collectively eye-roll the banning of Winnie the Pooh from a country’s cultural consciousness, things take a much more serious turn when it comes to the Chinese government’s stance on historical events. Certain moments in history can’t be mentioned — let alone written about — lest they paint the government in a bad light.

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Tsquare
Photo Courtesy: Derzsi Elekes Andor/Wikimedia Commons

For example, citizens are not allowed to mention the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, in which students led protests against the country’s communist government — only to be met with violence. Thousands of young people were killed and, since then, the government has tried to erase the incident from its history books. This revisionist history stance extends to the internet as well with the government blocking certain related search terms. 

Protests Against the Government

Famously a communist regime, China is a nation that governs its people much more strictly than what most of us have experienced in democratic countries in the Western world. The control the government retains over its people includes the access citizens have to the media.

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Protests against the establishment are quite common, with somewhere around 100 happening each day across the nation. However, due to limited access to media and tight censorship experienced within the boundaries of the country, it's likely that news doesn't spread far or very quickly about the number of protests that occur.

Even a Flower Has Been Banned

While it seems obvious that a government as concerned with shaping (and maintaining) its image would regulate media and communication tools, it may surprise you to learn that China has also banned a flower. In fact, even the flower’s name is taboo.

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Jasmine
Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

After Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” — which saw the people of the country forcing the president out of power — China’s government banned the jasmine flower, fearing its own citizens would be inspired by the activists in Tunisia. The word “jasmine” has also been censored in text messages and other communication apps.

Tricky Translations

It's a well-known fact that Chinese is a highly complex language made up of thousands of unique characters. Because the language is so unique and difficult to master, you often get some unusual results when attempting to translate Chinese words into English.

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Especially with the names of countries, there are quite a few that have translations that are more than a bit odd. Great Britain, for example, translates as "brave land." Sweden translates as "very lucky soldiers," and America translates as "beautiful country." Those are all complimentary translations, to be sure. Thanks, China!

The Once-Forbidden “Forbidden City”

The Forbidden City, formerly used as the Chinese Imperial Palace, is a palace complex found in Beijing. From the years 1420 to 1912, the palace was the home of the emperor and was entirely off-limits to commoners. Finally, in 1912, the doors were opened to the public, and an extensive museum was created by 1925.

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In 1987, the palace was registered as a World Heritage Site, and it has been recognized by UNESCO as having the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. The most restrictive rule for modern visitors? No selfie sticks are allowed.

Living in a Cave

Living in a cave may seem like a rather prehistoric practice to some of us, but for those living on the Loess Plateau in northern China, cave-dwelling is a common type of habitation. Called yaodong, or "house cave," these carved out dwellings are actually hugely practical.

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Insulated by the surrounding earth, the homes are naturally temperature controlled and stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They are also extremely energy efficient, not to mention affordable. These homes have existed for centuries, and approximately 40 million people still resided in yaodong, as of 2006.

Earthquakes in the Southeast

The southeastern border of China lies a mere 800 kilometers away from a fault line along the tectonic plates. Because of this proximity, the region experiences quite a few earthquakes. Most of them are manageable, but occasionally a quake can be particularly disastrous.

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The region actually holds the not-so-desirable title as the site of the worst earthquake in history, which occurred in 1556. The monstrous quake, estimated to be an 8 magnitude, hit Shaanxi worst of all and killed or injured at least 830,000 people. The death toll was so devastating that it decreased the population of the provinces at the time by approximately 60%.

Separate Governing for Hong Kong

While China as a country is technically governed as a whole, one region has its own separate governing body as well. Known by the rather lengthy title The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, or HKSAR for short, this executive authority was established in 1997.

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Before then, Hong Kong was ruled by the British all the way back to 1841. While the HKSAR is technically a lesser body within The People's Republic of China, it actually rules the region exclusively in terms of both internal and external affairs.

Huge Number of Chinese Variations

Obviously, Chinese is the nationally recognized language of China, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Beyond the distinction of Simplified and Traditional (used almost exclusively in Hong Kong and Taiwan), there are tons of dialects. The most common of these dialects — Mandarin — is so widespread that many people refer to it as a language itself.

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Aside from Mandarin and Cantonese, probably the two most widely known dialects, the number of spoken dialects is approximately 299. Of those 299, 56 languages are recognized as being of indigenous origin.

The Greatness of the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China, perhaps the most admired attraction China has to offer, is a marvel to behold. Built over the course of 200 years, or more specifically during the Spring and Autumn Period as well as the Ming Dynasty, the wall stretches 13,170 miles long.

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Crossing through 15 regions of China, it is massive and attracts approximately 50 million visitors every single year. The less than shiny part of history related to its construction is that it was built by criminals, commoners and soldiers who were all forced to do the manual labor. Throughout the process, an estimated 1 million workers died.

Building a Hospital in 10 Days

China has been in the news a lot in early 2020 due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus, which originated in the city of Wuhan. Although the country has been hit hard and the search for treatment is ongoing, the way that China has fought back against the epidemic is certainly admirable.

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It was particularly impressive when the nation faced a shortage of facilities and resources, so they built an entire hospital in 10 days! Made up of two floors and several isolation wards, the building can hold up to 1,000 patients.

Pricey Beijing Olympics

The Olympic games date all the way back to Ancient Greece, but these days, we do things a bit differently. It's considered a great honor for a city to host the games, but it's also a huge burden, both in terms of finance and infrastructure.

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The Beijing Olympics, held in 2008, currently holds the title of most expensive Summer Olympics to date. The city spent $40 billion on the event, and while it definitely resulted in a phenomenal experience, it’s a bit crazy to imagine all that money being spent on something that only lasts a few weeks.

Soccer’s Connection to China

The history of soccer is a bit foggy and subject to debate. There are more than a few origin stories for the sport, one of which claims the game first began in China. About 2,000 years ago, a game called kuju was played in the country that has very similar rules as soccer, minus the goalie.

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Although China claims this is where the game of soccer came from, Italy, the U.K. and Egypt have their own versions of the story that dispute that claim. Naturally, each of those countries insists credit for the creation of the massively popular sport belongs to them.

Immense Popularity of Ping-Pong

Although the history of soccer continues to remain up in the air, one sport that the United Kingdom can definitely take credit for is ping pong. Originating in Victorian England, the game was originally called whiff-whaff but later became known as ping-pong. The name was officially trademarked in the U.S. in the 1920s.

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The U.S. and U.K. may be the sources of table tennis, but its popularity these days is far more noteworthy in China. In the World Table Tennis Championship games, men from China have won 60% of the titles, and women from China have won all but two titles. They take it very seriously!

Traveling for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year, also known by the names Lunar New Year and Spring Festival, is not a joking matter when you live in China. The celebrations are merry and sizable, and it's quite common for citizens to take advantage of the celebration period to treat themselves to a vacation.

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This time of year is such a popular time to go on holiday that the different modes of transportation become more than a little overcrowded. Each year, about 48 million Chinese people travel by sea, 58 million by plane, 356 million by rail and an unbelievable 2.5 billion by land during this time.

Winged Police Officers

With an unbelievably large population of 1.38 billion people, it's no wonder that civil services like the police force are always looking for ways to work more efficiently and effectively. So, while you may have heard of police dogs, you may be surprised to learn that police geese are not uncommon in China. We sure were!

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Known for their sharp eyesight, hearing, vigilance and aggression, geese may seem like a crazy idea, but China may actually be onto something with their choice to employ these flying friends. Most prominently seen in the Xinjiang region of the country, the method seems to be working. Who would have thought it was possible?

Purchases of Canned Air

Although China may be an overachiever in terms of their output of exports and industrial growth, this type of economy doesn't come without some complications. The most notable downside is air pollution. In fact, the issue is so widespread that it has caused between 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths.

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One slightly odd solution that has appeared to combat the problem is the sale of canned air. Yep, you read that right. Compressed and bottled fresh country air from outside the country is being shipped in with the hope that it will raise awareness and lead to some serious change.

Different Color Interpretations

Westerners don’t give all colors meanings, but we tend to think that the meanings behind certain colors are universal. However, the significance of each hue varies quite a bit, depending on where you are in the world. This is especially true in China, where the associations with certain colors couldn't be more different than those that exist in the Western world.

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At funerals, rather than wearing black, all the mourners wear white, as it's considered a symbol of death. Conversely, red is seen as symbolizing happiness and is the most common color seen at weddings and other traditional celebrations, like Chinese New Year.

Fans of Afternoon Naps

Things in China move at a rapid pace without a doubt, but even with the fast and furious competitive mindset, the Chinese definitely recognize the value of a daily nap. Most Western cultures believe that naps are only necessary for the very young and the very old, but noontime naps are considered to be important for people of all ages in China.

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From schools to workplaces, it's not at all uncommon to observe citizens getting a little shut-eye right around lunchtime before they continue their busy days. We're really hoping the practice catches on soon in the U.S.