This article was first published in November 2019 and was last updated in June 2020.
Whenever my friends take trips to Mainland China for the first time, they come back eager to share stories and all the fun facts about China.
Recently, a friend pondered, “What’s the deal with parents picking up babies, and holding them over a trash can to relieve themselves?”. Her companion added, “If we were lining up and left an inch of space in front of us, people would cut right in!”.
Many travelers to China, especially those from a Western country, will encounter “culture shock” to various degrees during their trip. They’ll face behaviors and customs that may seem odd to their minds but are part of daily routine to locals.
I was personally introduced to strange Chinese culture facts as a child, when I visited Guangzhou for the first time with my family.
I had never encountered a squat toilet before this trip and let’s just say that the first attempt left me rather wet!
My eyes bugged out when I saw child beggars performing tricks on the streets, an image that contrasted sharply with the giant roast pig that was later served for dinner.
Today, I remain drawn to all these and other interesting facts about China. Every time I scan the news, my attention is piqued by headlines like “China opens a fully robot-staffed restaurant” or “Shanghai cracks down on wearing pajamas in public”.
With its centuries of rich history and an enormously diverse population, China is naturally a country of superlatives. The more you learn about China, the more you’ll be intrigued by Chinese culture facts from both ancient and modern times.
Enjoy my round-up of fun and interesting facts about China, I have a feeling this list will leave you feeling both impressed and befuddled. Perhaps you’ll be motivated to travel to China and experience its offbeat quirks for yourself. And don’t forget to also read about specific parts of China that are particularly fascinating:
- Fun facts about the Autonomous Region of Tibet
- Fun fact about the Special Administrative Region of Macau
China is a country of superlatives
Many of China’s interesting facts are directly correlated with its sheer size, which gives it the chance to rank number one for a staggering number of superlatives.
The country is famous for having the world’s largest population, with about 1.4 billion people (although closely followed by India with just over 1.3) living within its borders. This means that one in every five people on the planet is Chinese. Putting this in perspective, the USA only has around 330 million people.
China is also home to the world’s largest city, Shanghai, which has grown dramatically in the last few years. It is interesting to note that Beijing was, in the 16th century, the world’s largest city.
The most popular language in the world is Mandarin Chinese, with 14% of all humans speaking it. But remember that not all of China speaks it or belongs to the same ethnic group, there are 56 groups, and speaking Mandarin won’t help you in places like Hong Kong where they speak Cantonese.
China also has the world’s largest standing army (closely followed by North Korea!), and the second largest economy in absolute terms, or the largest economy when measured by purchasing price parity, ahead of the US and all countries in Europe.
The world’s tallest mountain, Mt. Everest, is on the border between Tibet and Nepal. But China also lies at the second lowest point of the Earth. The Turpan Depression is 154m below sea level, ranked lowest in the world after the Dead Sea in Jordan/Israel.
China has some of the world’s most polluted cities
But economic development and growth do not come cheap. China is the largest producer and consumer of coal with devastating results on the environment and its people.
Several cities in China are in the top 50 of the world’s most polluted, but the situation has been improving in the larger cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) possibly at the expense of the poorer parts of the country.
This is because the Government has been moving factories and polluters away from the main urban centers. They have even nominated some parts of China, such as Anji County where Alila Anji is located, as eco-friendly and devoted not only to tourism but also to growing clean foods.
Largest country all in the same time zone
China is the fourth largest country in the world in land mass, and borders more countries than any other nation. These 14 countries are: Afghanistan, Russia, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, Bhutan, North Korea, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.
However, despite its geographical expanse, China has the same time zone in every part of the country. This makes sense in the eastern region where the capital and main cities are, but may not in the western portions, thousands of miles away.
As a result, the sun rises and sets at unusual times in some parts of the country. For example, while sunrise in Beijing in January is at 7:30am in the morning, the sun does not come up in Urumqi, a city part of the Silk Route located further west, until 9:30am.
This was not always this way. The Communist Party set one time zone for the entire country in 1949 in an effort to simplify matters, but it may have caused more issues than benefits.
Reincarnation only with government approval
Since the Communist government has a state policy of atheism, the country has the highest number of atheists on the planet, with 67% of the population identifying as irreligious. Around 40-49% of China’s population has stated that they’re confirmed atheists.
However, there are many religions followed in China, some of which you may have never heard of, like Taoism. As a result, the government accepts reincarnation, as Buddhism is one of the major religions, but only if they can control it.
This stance has led to some of China’s most interesting facts and head-scratching regulations, such as a decree that Tibetan lamas cannot reincarnate without the state’s permission.
This means that the Panchen Lama (the successor of the Dalai Lama) chosen by the Chinese Government is not the same as the one chosen by the Dalai Lama himself, one of the many interesting facts about Tibet.
The world’s oldest continuous civilization
Many scholars believe that China is the world’s oldest continuous civilization, with 3,500 years of written history. The first settlements date back to around 6000 BCE, followed by a succession of royal dynasties, to the Communist government that is in power today.
Because China has centuries of human history, archaeologists have unearthed some important relics here. For example, the world’s oldest surviving book is a Chinese print of the Buddha’s Diamond Sutra, dating back to 868 BCE.
In a recent unusual find, scholars learned that the world’s oldest pair of pants (discovered in a cemetery) are Chinese: definitively a fun fact about China.
But it does not end here. China is also home to 55 UNESCO world heritage sites making it the country with the most in the ranking, tying with Italy.
China has many world records
China’s diverse population contains an enormous pool of talent and genetics. As you might expect, they hold many incredible (and unusual) Guinness World Records making for some interesting facts about China.
Most schoolchildren can recite this well-known fact: the Great Wall of China is the longest in the world. Spanning 8850 km (5500 miles), it is the largest man-made structure on the planet and the only one which can be seen from Space.
Construction began around 220 BCE, under the first emperor Qin Shi Huang, and continued throughout subsequent dynasties. A fun China fact about the Great Wall: the Ming Dynasty portion is held together by a sticky rice mortar.
The paste did such an excellent job at holding the stones together that they stand strong today, and weeds still cannot grow between them.
The Chinese are known for their strong hair, which has led to several hair-raising record-breakers. The woman with the world’s longest hair is Xie Qiuping; her Rapunzel-esque locks measure 5.627 meters (18 feet and 5.54 inches).
A Chinese lady also holds the Guinness Record for the longest eyelashes. You Jianxia noticed her lashes starting to grow after a nature retreat and they reached a length of 12.40 cm or 4.88 inches.
It does not end there. An 81 year old Chinese man is pleased to have the longest recorded eyebrow hair (at 19.1 cm or 7.5 in), as this traditionally means good fortune and long life.
Some of China’s world records veer on the wacky side. Wei Shengchu holds the record for the most needles inserted into a head, after poking 2118 needles into his face and scalp. Speaking about heads, gymnast Li Longlong climbed 36 steps while balancing on his head.
The year before, a group of Chinese bakers created the world’s longest cake, which stretched out 1.9 miles or 3.1 km. Not quite as long as the Great Wall, but impressive nonetheless.
China’s Four Great Inventions
Some of the most interesting facts about China relate to innovative inventions which they are famous for. The Chinese proudly teach their children that their ancestors were responsible for the “Four Great Inventions”: paper, gunpowder, block-printing and the compass.
Much of what we use today is based on these four inventions. Gunpowder is also what made the Mongols of Ghenghis Khan superior to the rest of the Central Asian tribes and allowed him to expand its Empire to modern Europe.
In addition, the Chinese discovered how to make silk and porcelain. Kites, paper money, football (originally known as Tsu Chu and practiced by the army) and restaurant menus are also Chinese inventions.
It is believed that Chinese invented suspension bridges (in Tibet by a saint), tea as an infusion (when a tea leaf fell in an Emperor’s cup) and the bamboo-stick decimal system (which replaced fingers in counting).
Chinese eat lots of unusual foods
If you have even been to China you will know to be careful before ordering at random from a Chinese-only menu. The Chinese like to eat all parts of an animal and it is common to cook a chicken in full and then simply chop it into pieces: cartilage, bones, feet and head all in. Or some of the most unusual and exotic fruits.
If you are apprehensive to innards or unusual foods, you should make sure to use your translator before ordering, or ask for a menu in English. Sometimes, however, translations can be confusing.
For example, in convenience stores you may find boiled chicken feet sold vacuum-packed as snacks. In Beijing there is an entire market devoted to fried bugs and other strange foods such as seahorses, tarantulas, worms, millipedes, etc.
But perhaps the most shocking of them all is the dog meat festival that takes place in China every year and has drawn much attention and horror from the rest of the world.
Many renowned Italian foods are in fact Chinese
Many believe the Chinese invented pasta and that Marco Polo brought it to Italy in the 14th century when he returned from his years exploring the empire of the east.
In 2005, archaeologists unearthed a 4000 year old bowl of noodles in China giving further strength to this claim.
As a result of the Silk Road trade between China and Europe, pasta, either in the shape of noodles or dumplings filled with meat, is now eaten across the length of it, all the way from China to Italy and across Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
While the origins of pasta may be a well known fact about China, this one will surely surprise you. Forget Italian gelato, ice cream was invented by the Chinese!
It is believed that ice cream also has its roots in China. Around 200 BCE, the Chinese made a frozen dish out of snow, milk and rice. In the 7th century, Emperor Tang loved ice cream so much that he hired 94 men to prepare a regular supply for him out of buffalo milk.
Fortune cookies are another misconception. If you visit China you may be disappointed not to receive any fortune cookie at the end of your meal. This is because this is not a Chinese tradition, nor a sweet that was invented in the country.
Fortune cookies are an American-Chinese invention created in San Francisco at the turn of the 20th century. These folded crispy biscuits had their origins in Japan but were adopted by an entrepreneurial Chinese businessman.
Toilet paper is also Chinese
The Chinese also invented many items that are indispensable to our hygiene today. In the 6th century, the Chinese invented toilet paper, but it was initially only available to the royal family.
Judging by how infrequent toilet paper is today in many squat public toilets across China you would think it’s still a scarce amenity reserved to the high society!
In 1498, the bristle toothbrush was also introduced to China for the first time.
We owe sunglasses to the Chinese
Sunglasses made their debut in 12th century China. In addition to protecting their eyes from the sun, Chinese judges wore sunglasses while they were holding court and questioning the accused. These dark frames helped them appear impartial, and perhaps look cool as well!
Intrigued by these facts about China so far? Eager to learn all about China and its surprising culture? Then read on for both modern and ancient China facts that will wow you.
In Chinese movies, zombies hop and ghosts are banned
I remember watching my first Chinese “zombie” film in Hong Kong, with my cousins. I was expecting to see the dead rising from their graves and stumbling around, much like “Night of the Living Dead”.
However, I burst out laughing when I saw that the Chinese undead got around by hopping like bunnies!
According to Chinese folklore, these “jiangshi” are reanimated corpses who died outside their hometowns and want to get back to their villages.
They tend to wear Qing Dynasty outfits and have their arms stretched out in front of them. Since the jiangshi are stiff from rigor mortis, they can only move by hopping forward. To Western eyes, a film about hopping jiangshi appears to be funnier that frightening.
In jiangshi films like “Mr Vampire”, the dead are a bit of a mix between vampires and zombies. Instead of sucking your blood, they drain the living of their qi, or life force. Instead of using crucifixes and holy water to deter them, the Chinese Taoist priests throw uncooked sticky rice, and hold up yin-yang symbols.
You can also stop jiangshi in their paths by writing a spell on a fulu, or yellow piece of paper, and sticking it on their forehead, much like a Post-It note.
Jiangshi films pass through Mainland China censors, perhaps since these spirits are part of Chinese folklore and nobody actually believes hopping zombies are real.
However, a strange fact about China is that ghosts are verboten. Movies such as Frankenstein, Crimson Peak and Ghostbusters have been banned from China since they contain ghosts and supernatural elements.
Why is the Chinese Communist Party spooked by ghosts in movies?
The atheist government does not want citizens to believe in supernatural forces and religion, as these can undermine the party’s power. Ghost movies are therefore forbidden.
The anti-ghost censorship process is not cut and dry, however. Coco was allowed to be released in China without a single cut, even though the children’s animated film is swarming with ghosts. Perhaps if the story is heartwarming and the ghosts are friendly, China will let them in?
Winnie-the-Pooh is persona non-grata
Cutesy Winnie-the-Pooh is persona non grata in China in any shape and form since August 2018.
The Disney movie Christopher Robin was denied a release because rebellious students were comparing President Xi Jinping to the silly ol’ bear in funny memes. Oh bother.
Since then, all representations, merchandising and products using the character had to be removed from shelves. I bet Disney was not impressed.
Chinese babies wear crotch-less pants
My friend, screenwriter Eric Bergemann, spent a year teaching in China and wrote about his misadventures in his book, “Rough and Lonely Going”. He relates his surprise at finding out that Chinese babies wear “kaidangku” (literally “open-crotch pants”) instead of diapers.
He writes, “It wasn’t uncommon to see a baby in sub-zero temperatures bundled up so only its eyes, nose and chapped red ass were showing”.
Why do many Chinese babies wear crotch-less pants, instead of diapers? This interesting fact about China is believed to have stemmed from when parents would work in the fields and the flap seemed easier out in the open. This was then brought into cities.
Therefore, when you’re traveling in China, you may see toddlers voiding their bladders by crouching on the sidewalk.
The Chinese celebrate New Year late and for long
It obviously depends on who you ask whether Chinese New Year is late or the Western New Year (January 1st) is early. Following the Gregorian calendar used across the world, Chinese New Year falls between the 20th January and the 21st of February.
The Chinese follow their own lunar calendar, which is why Chinese New Year is also referred to as Lunar New Year and celebrated across several countries in Asia that have Chinese influences. For example, it is the most important celebration in Singapore where Chinese make up the majority of the population, or in Vietnam.
Dates change every year and the new year is devoted to an animal from a zodiac list of 12. For example, 2020 is the year of the Rat and 2019 was the year of the Pig. You can’t miss the animal for each year as it is used as decorations everywhere.
The Chinese horoscope attributes specific qualities to each of the 12 animals, with Dragon being the most sought after. In the year of the Dragon you can expect an increase in births as parents want their child to be born during that year.
Chinese New Year celebrations include lots of traditions and legends. There are specific foods one must eat: oranges are particularly auspicious and you will see small orange trees everywhere. Firecrackers scare the bad spirits and monsters, and red envelopes with money are given as gifts.
Paying tribute to your ancestors is a must, through prayers, altars and visits to grave sites. Perhaps the most colorful and visible of the traditions during, before and after Chinese New Year are the lion and dragon dancers that you may come across in the street.
Troupes of dancers wearing bright red and yellow outfits and carrying dragons with long tails on poles or lion heads dance in the streets or inside buildings, even in office spaces, to the tune of drums and music.
The most skillful lion dancers put up a real circus performance with jumping and balancing acts aimed at providing luck for ancestors in the afterlife.
Chinese New Year is such an important celebration that everyone will travel home to meet their family. This causes annual chaos as millions of people try to make their way upcountry. It also leaves the major cities absolutely deserted for an entire week, a sight to behold.
Be sure to avoid visiting China during Chinese New Year as absolutely everything will be closed and you will have a hard time even finding a restaurant open. If you find yourself in China, don’t forget to wish everyone “Gong xi fa cai” in Mandarin or “Gong hei fat choy” in Cantonese.
China has guidelines for English translations
One of the most fun facts about China is that there are often funny English translations, which you will find everywhere. It is impossible to visit China and not come across several strange or downright funny translations on street signs or food menus.
The issue has become so widespread and the source of so much mockery that the government issued translation guidelines for use in the public domain, to improve its image.
Some of these odd translations will simply leave you puzzled and confused about what a menu or sign is trying to say. Others might be more alarming, like translating wheat gluten as roasted husband.
Spitting and hacking are accepted behaviors
Screenwriter Eric Bergemann ponders the widespread practice of spitting in China, in his book “Rough and Lonely Going.” He explains, “The Chinese considered it unhealthy to retain excess mucus or saliva—thus people were constantly spitting on the sidewalks, on trains, on restaurant floors, and occasionally, on each other. There was no social prohibition against spitting indoors.”
However, it wasn’t the phlegm in the streets that Eric found most alarming. “It was the extensive spit preparation that got to me. I’d hear people sucking the snot through their nasal cavities and down into their throats, where they started revving up for its final takeoff.”
Spend some time in China, and you’ll be certain to hear people making this hacking noise in the streets.
Because this unusual fact about China is so true and commonly spread, the government tried to get its people to stop spitting and making expectorative sounds in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
They spent 1,700 hours observing Chinese spitting habits in order to tackle this project. The government put up posters, volunteers handed out “spit bags” and repeat offenders were fined.
While the incidence of spitting has decreased over the years, it remains a persistent habit that shows no sign of disappearing in China. This is the same in Seoul and throughout South Korea where hocking a loogie in the street is okay, but blowing your nose in a restaurant is sacrilege.
There are incredible natural places to see in China
While you may have heard of the Chinese Wall, the Forbidden City, Xi’An’s terracotta warriors or Shanghai’s The Bund, where I stayed at The Peninsula, China is home to numerous other truly incredible sights, many of which are yet to be discovered by the outside world.
For example, have you heard of the Avatar Mountains? UNESCO-listed Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is often referred to as the Avatar Mountains because of their shape, and are a major draw to the country.
Natural wonders abound in China. For example, did you know there is a rainbow mountain near Xining? Yep, the mountain has all sorts of colors thanks to the many types of soils.
There are also remarkable engineering feats in China, from the high-altitude train to Lhasa in Tibet, to several glass-bottom bridges across the country, one of which cracks when a person walks on it (probably frightening more than truly dangerous).
Beijing’s Tiananmen Square is the world’s largest place of gathering, and the Gorges Hydroelectric Dam is the world’s largest, albeit considered an environmental catastrophe by many.
China is also home to The Grand Canal, locally known as Jing–Hang Grand Canal. It is a UNESCO site, the world’s longest canal and according to UNESCO, “one of humankind’s greatest masterpieces of hydraulic engineering”.
Animals have meanings in China
If you observe Chinese ancient art, porcelain or some of the beautiful paintings, you will realise that animals are a common depiction.
Chinese believe that certain animals symbolise various things. For example, dragons are the ultimate symbol of power, which is why they are so popular. Cicadas represent rebirth and regeneration as they shed their skin (you can find them for sale in the streets of China).
Phoenixes are important birds and symbolizes feminine power. In contrast, horses are a male symbol and were very important in China (and Central Asia).
Carps represent perseverance and bats bring good luck.
A group of women with bound feet formed a disco dancing group
It’s hard to believe that tiny bound feet were once considered beautiful in China. Foot binding was practiced for a thousand years in China until it was banned by Mao Zedong in 1912. However, it was secretly still performed in some rural villages up to the 1950s.
Around age 4-6, a girl’s toes were broken and folded under and then bound with cloth to create hoof-like “lotus” feet. These deformed arches were considered feminine and delicate, and a sign of beauty, especially among elites.
Today, the painful procedure is considered barbaric and is no longer practiced in China. Foot-binding resulted in major health consequences for these women, including pungent infections and loss of toes and mobility.
Many Chinese women were so damaged by foot-binding that they could not walk. On the other hand, from the 19th to the mid-20th century, some became dancers and even circus performers, performing stunts while standing on horses.
In the 1970s, a group of women with lotus feet formed a disco dancing troupe. They achieved some fame from touring the region, performing dance moves like the Hustle and Funky Chicken in four-inch long shoes!
China opened a fully robotic theme restaurant
Robot chefs, such as a Nagoya ramen restaurant that doled out the noodle soup, have popped up over the years across many countries. Tokyo also has a Robot Restaurant where scantily-clad women ride giant neon Mr Robotos.
In 2018, Shanghai took the trend up a notch by opening the first fully robotic restaurant. At Robot.he, every aspect of your meal is automated for Jetsons-like dining experience.
The futuristic restaurant is located in Hema Supermarket. Customers use their phones to scan QR codes on the menu and place their order. A huge robotic arm and conveyor belt takes the food to the kitchen, where it is precisely prepared by robots.
When your dish is ready, it’s delivered to your table by what looks like a clear car. The robot announces “your food is here” in a childish voice, and the lid opens. Once you take your food, the robot speeds back to the kitchen. No tipping required.
Vanquish your enemies by hitting an effigy with a slipper
In Guangdong, people get rid of bad luck by visiting a “villain hitter”. In this odd Chinese ritual, an old lady hits a human-shaped paper with her slippers in order to vanquish your enemies.
Villain hitting is a dramatic ritual that supposedly stamps out bad luck. If you want to curse someone, such as a nasty boss, you can ask the old lady to hit an effigy representing that person.
She’ll burn papers and incense and violently whack her flip-flop against a piece of paper depicting a human. The villain hitters can also perform magic rituals to encourage good luck, without damning any specific individual.
Your go-to apps and websites are banned
It’s a commonly known Chinese culture fact that many popular websites and social networks are banned in Mainland China (not in Macau or Hong Kong). If you want to continue using them, you will need a VPN.
Facebook has been banned in China since 2009. Google and its products such as Gmail are also blocked, as are Wikipedia (in languages other than Chinese), Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, Pinterest, YouTube, HBO and Netflix.
Mainland China doesn’t allow access to some surprising sites as well, such as Nintendo.com, and the homepage for KALI-FM, a Vietnamese language radio station in Santa Ana, California.
Most of the above are banned by the government because they do not allow for censorship and control. Others were not given licenses in favor of local versions.
In order to get around, you will have to download apps such as Didi (instead of Uber) or WeChat (instead of Whatsapp). WeChat is a superapp not only used as a messaging service but also as a payment method. Alipay is the other payment alternative.
You will see QR codes at all outlets which you can scan to pay for anything, from a drink from a street vendor to a full meal or an expensive purchase.
Since 2016, international credit cards (Mastercard, Via, American Express) are also banned in China so you will only be able to use them in hotels, every other place will only accept cash or Union Pay cards.
Your card will not work at an ATM to withdraw cash either. Make sure to come prepared with enough cash or get ready to use Western Union or the like.
There are internet addiction boot-camps in China
Despite the blockage, many Chinese still find ways to access all the forbidden sites through a VPN. And despite web-browsing restrictions, the Chinese are hyperconnected, with over 800 million Internet users as of 2018.
Some Chinese teenagers have become so addicted to online gaming and forums that they spend almost all of their waking hours online. Recently, parents have been shipping them away to military-style Internet addiction boot camps.
A few of the Chinese camps have garnered controversy for using treatments like electroconvulsive therapy. One teen died after sustaining physical injuries in an Internet addiction boot camp.
Most Chinese access the web primarily using smartphones. There is a rising number of Chinese smartphone brands; you’ve likely heard of Huawei, but perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the brands Honor, high-end iPhone contender Xiaomi or affordable Oppo, which is very popular in India.
People are so addicted to their cellphones that a Chinese city created a dedicated pedestrian lane for people staring down at their screens while strolling. In the southwestern city of Chongqing, a street was divided into two sections, with one side prohibiting walking while texting.
Casinos are banned in China
This is a very interesting fact about China, the land of contradictions. While casinos are banned in mainland China, Macau is larger than Las Vegas and it is mostly frequented by Chinese tourists coming to gamble to their heart’s content by the busload, or rather ferry-load, usually on a day visit.
The former Portuguese colony and important port has a fascinating mix of old and new, showing influences from both Chinese and Portugues culture. Macau has a large gambling industry at the mercy of Chinese policy.
First names come last
When meeting someone in China or of Chinese origin, you are likely going to assume that their first name is the first word in their business card or name tag – and that would be wrong.
Most Chinese will write their surnames first and their first names after, which is the same in Japan and Korea, like North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, his father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung. Usually, first names are made of two sounds, and will have two words. It is important to note that names in China can be used for men or women interchangeably, and that by reading someone’s name, you cannot assume gender.
Many Chinese who work in international firms or interact with foreigners have chosen a Westernized name to be called by, to make life easier for foreigners who may struggle to pronounce Chinese words properly.
Adopted Western names in China are chosen by the person as an adult, and are often related to a person’s idol or favorite celebrity. It’s also common to choose a similar sounding name in English to the Chinese original or a direct translation (if possible).
This is why you often find people will tell you their name is Siew or Xie but call me Sherry, Amber or Gwyneth.
Reminiscing about his days as a teacher in China, screenwriter Eric Bergemann marvels: “I had students named Dollar, Tractor, and Best. (Me: “So you think you’re the best?” Best: “That’s right.”) I convinced students to take names like Muffin and Cupcake, which gave me months and months of amusement doing my best wiseguy voice whenever I called on them. “Whadya think, Cupcake?” “Hey, I’m talking to you, Muffin.”
China has a Little People theme park
In one of the strangest facts about China, there is a theme park near Kunming called “Kingdom of the Little People”. Visitors come to this controversial attraction to see performances by little people dressed up in costumes.
The Kingdom was founded in 2009 by Chen Mingjing, a real estate investor. He hired over 100 little people as entertainers: each had to be shorter than 51 inches (130 cm) to qualify. Most of them live in nearby dorms, which were built to accommodate those of shorter stature.
Some argue that the amusement park is a “human zoo” that makes fun of little people through comedic performances.
The owner claims that the Kingdom provides jobs for those who would otherwise be unemployed, as disabilities continue to be stigmatized in China, especially in rural places where they are considered a “loss of face” to the family.
Extremely long braids and fingernails were once in fashion
When the Manchu conquered China in the early 17th century, they introduced a male hairstyle known as the Manchu pigtail. Men shaved the front of their heads, and braided the rest into a long “queue”. Some men had braids so long down their backs that the ends reached the floor.
In 1645, the Manchu forced all of the men of China to adopt this hairstyle, to symbolize their dominance over the Han Chinese. If a man refused to wear his hair in the Manchurian style, he’d be executed for treason.
As a result, every Chinese male (other than Buddhist monks) sported this identical hairstyle, until the Manchu rulers were ousted in 1911.
During the late Qing dynasty, it also became a trend among the wealthy to grow fingernails to extremely long lengths.
The Empress Dowager Cixi was known for her six-inch long nails, which she protected with luxurious gold nail guards. Both men and women adopted the style, but most only grew out a few claws and covered them with guards, for practical reasons.
A fun fact about China today: you’ll still run into men sporting a single long pinky fingernail. They grow it out to indicate that they are rich and don’t need to engage in hard labor that would require short nails.
The wars with the greatest death tolls occurred in China
Steven Pinker’s book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, surprised me with ancient China facts I had never heard of. His thesis posits that we are currently living in the most peaceful time in history, even though we may feel that there is plenty of violence in the world.
Pinker ran a poll that asked which war people believed killed the most individuals. The majority answered World War II, which was true in terms of absolute numbers. However, if adjusted for total global population size, WWII was only the ninth deadliest event.
Using this approach, Pinker found that the most deadly wars in history actually occurred in China. The 8th century An Lushan revolt killed 36 million Chinese, which would be equivalent to 429 million deaths in the mid-20th century.
The second deadliest were the 13th-century Mongol invasions, which killed 40 million (equivalent to 278 million in the mid-20th century) in China and other Central Asian countries (Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan).
China also takes the fourth spot on the list, with the Taiping Rebellion and fall of the Ming Dynasty (17th century) killing the adjusted equivalent of 112 million.
Pinker’s book emphasizes our “short term memory” when we look back at historic events. We easily recall 20th-century atrocities like Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward, which resulted in a famine that took 45 million lives.
However, most of us have never heard of the late 19th century Chinese Dungan Revolt, which killed 10 million at the time, and other significant events from past millennia.
The Chinese eat bird’s spit and placenta to stay young
Every culture has its quirky cures for old age, such as traditional medicines that supposedly are the fountain of youth. You might be surprised to learn that the Chinese have been eating bird’s nest soup and avian spit for centuries as an anti-aging food!
Bird’s nest soup is considered a delicacy in China, and it’s expensive at around $30-80 USD a bowl. The nests are created by swiftlet birds and take about 35 days to build. The saliva that holds together the nests will supposedly improve your complexion and invigorate your “qi”.
Scientists found the clear, gelatinous bird spit to be rich in amino acids and minerals, but whether it can turn back the clock is up in the air.
Eating human placenta is also a centuries-old Chinese panacea for aging. The dowager empress Cixi famously ate it to stay young and the practice continues today.
The sale of human placenta is banned, so it takes place on the black market. People will pay high prices and risk contracting hepatitis, syphilis or HIV in order to consume this “fountain of youth”.
The horror movie Dumplings, in the style of some Japanese horror movies, plays off an urban legend that the Chinese will eat human fetuses to stay forever young. Many of these rumors stem from a 2000 performance piece by artist Zhu Yu, who filmed himself cooking and eating what appeared to be a human fetus. In fact, it was a duck body with a doll head.
In 2019, a few Chinese women have made headlines for looking far younger than their years. Lure Hsu is an Instagrammer who appears to be in her 20s, but she is actually 43 as of 2019. Actress Liu Xiaoqing also looks remarkably young for her 63 years, sparking rumors of plastic surgery that she denies.
What is their secret?
Chinese fear the number 4, but clamor for number 8
I loved pushing elevator buttons as a child. In China, I ran ahead so that I could be the first to push the button. To my surprise, I had a hard time finding the correct floor number, because the building appeared to be missing a few levels!
I realized that there was no fourth floor, or 14, 24, 34. There was also nothing between 40 and 49. And this was normal for buildings all throughout China. Why the tetraphobia?
In Chinese, the number four sounds like death (“shi”) and is considered bad luck. Locals will go out of their way to avoid 4, such as by getting phone numbers, house numbers and license plates without the scary digit in it.
On the other hand, the number eight (“ba”) is considered propitious because it sounds like “fa” or wealth.
Businesses will pay big bucks to have #8 in their address or phone number, as it can draw in clients. Many popular flights to China have 888 as their airline code. The Beijing Olympics officially began at 8:08 pm, on 8/8/08, for good luck.
For the most part, the love of #8 and fear of #4 is just one of the many fun Chinese culture facts. Sometimes, though, it has bothersome consequences.
A Beijing initiative to reduce traffic backfired because very few people had a license plate ending in 4. As a result, there weren’t many cars on the road on the day reserved for those plates, while the days for plates ending in 8 were congested.
China has a “social credit score” that can shame you on a billboard
The “Black Mirror” sci-fi episode, “Nosedive” follows a woman who is obsessed with increasing her social score. In this universe, a high rating (out of 5 stars) leads to better opportunities and status.
This story hits close to reality in some parts of China, which implemented a social credit score. Individuals are rewarded or punished based on their rating, which can change depending on their behaviors. By 2020, China plans to implement the system nationwide.
Bank accounts and credit histories are not as common in China, so the social credit system is a means to determine a person’s economic trustworthiness.
Everyone starts with 1000 points, and this number goes down if you commit a crime, or are unable to pay your debts. On the flip side, you gain points if you engage in good behavior like volunteering.
The social credit system is handy, as it lets you check if a potential business partner has a good track record. However, if someone unexpectedly goes bankrupt, they’ll have a hard time getting back on their feet since they are now on the blacklist. Those with a poor score are banned from traveling and doing certain business and cannot get their children into good schools.
In one of the strangest facts about China, the government will flash photos of blacklisted individuals on electronic billboards and before movie screenings.
This public shaming is the worst part of being on the blacklist, as “loss of face” (losing one’s perceived social status and honor) is perhaps the most terrible fate that can befall a Chinese individual.
Children must visit their elderly parents by law
Filial piety, or respecting and caring for your parents, is a pillar of Chinese culture.
In the 6th century BCE, Confucius wrote about the importance of this value, and it remained pivotal for centuries after. In his time, government officials were even expected to mourn for two years after their parents died.
Today, caring for one’s aging parents has become more difficult as children move from the countryside to the cities and are the sole earners for the family (due to the longstanding one-child policy). Confucianism and traditional values also now have a lesser impact on many Chinese.
In 2013, China passed an “Elderly Rights Law” to enforce filial piety. Children must visit their elderly parents regularly and take care of their “spiritual needs”, or else they can be sued or placed on a bad credit blacklist.
Shanghai nursing homes can also legally call up the children and nag them if they aren’t coming over enough to visit their folks.
China is filled with bicycle graveyards
China is a nation of cyclists. The country has 500 million bicycles, more than any other country in the world. Even in large cities like Shanghai, it is common to see many locals on a bike. Katie Melua famously sang about the bicycles in Beijing in a 2005 hit song.
However, biking is actually less popular now than it was in the 1990s, when about 670 million Chinese owned bikes. This is because the government encouraged people to switch to driving cars and taking public transport, in order to grow these industries.
In the past few years, multiple startups tried to introduce bike-sharing programs to the country. Armed with oodles of funding, they brought in millions of bikes and pushed the market hard.
Unfortunately, they were soon plagued by management and growth issues, and lawsuits over unpaid bills. By 2018, the major bike-sharing apps had closed down.
The oversupply of bicycles they brought in, however, remains a problem. Renters would leave their bikes at random, leading to street blockages. Cities impounded the growing number of abandoned bikes, which grew into immense piles.
This has resulted in “graveyards” filled with tens of thousands of bikes, all over China. The bicycle graveyards look especially bizarre when filmed from above in a drone video, and there is no easy solution in sight.
There’s an immense gap between rich and poor
That the rich are getting richer is one of the most intriguing facts about China.
The country now has 285 billionaires (calculated in US dollars), which is the second-highest number for any nation after the USA. China is also currently producing billionaires faster than any other nation.
In 2019, Ma Huateng topped the list of richest people in China. As the founder of Internet company Tencent and other businesses, he has a net worth of 38.8 billion USD. Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, sits in a close second place with 37.2 billion USD.
Many of the “nouveau riche” have enjoyed flaunting their wealth, especially on social media platforms. These “rich kids of China” show off their lavish lifestyle of fancy cars, private jets and luxury fashion.
Recently, President Xi Jinping cracked down on ostentatious shows of money, as this appears unseemly for a Communist government. Still, the luxury market is booming in China, and the rich are eager to live large.
In 2017, real estate tycoon Hongtian Chen paid 154 million USD for the most expensive house in China. Called “Utopia”, this traditional Chinese-style mansion has 32 bedrooms and 32 bathrooms and is surrounded by lakes and gardens fit for an Emperor.
The lifestyles of China’s richest contrasts sharply with that of its poorest villagers. These rural areas have few jobs available and locals can hardly live off subsistence farming on the barren land.
Xiaoguancheng village in Hebei province is one of the poorest in all of China. Its residents have an average annual income below $475 USD, leaving them with barely enough to eat. They live in crumbling homes and sleep on traditional stone beds, with a small coal stove as their only source of heat.
Xi Jinping announced a campaign to wipe out poverty across China by 2020, targeting villages like this one. These plans include relocation, developing industries and providing social services. Whether they can reach this ambitious goal remains to be seen.
A pigeon sold for millions of US dollars
China’s wealthy have found some eccentric ways to spend their money. Many have made the news for dropping extraordinary sums of money for goods or experiences.
Perhaps the most bird-brained purchase was made by a Chinese man named Xing Wei. In 2019, he paid $1.4 million USD for a racing pigeon named Armando.
This bird had won major races, earning him the nickname of the “Lewis Hamilton of racing pigeons”. Wei explained that he splurged on Armando in order to breed future winged champions.
Square and line dancing are big in China
The words “line dance” generally make you think of Texans in cowboy hats and boots. “Square dancing” brings up images of old Europeans performing do-see-dos in poofy skirts. And so, you may be surprised to learn that these two Western dances have become extremely popular in China.
Group dancing in public spaces has been a Chinese pastime for centuries. During the Cultural Revolution, many performed folk dances together in parks and squares. You can see this in Singapore too.
Today, Chinese grannies gather in the hundreds to perform square, sailor dance and line dance routines.
The moves give them nostalgic memories and are a way to socialize and exercise. As many as 100 million Chinese take part in the choreography, which is set to both traditional and modern songs.
But not everyone is charmed by these “tiaowu dama” or dancing grannies. Neighbors have complained about their blaring boom-boxes at dawn and dusk, as well as their flamboyant costumes and props. Some have even unleashed dogs and thrown feces at the little old ladies.
In response, Beijing has cracked down on the dancing grandmas. If they’ve been found to disturb the public order, they’ll be fined.
Still, the People’s Republic “can’t stop the beat”.
In 2015, nearly 20,000 grandmas gathered at a square in Hebei province to set a record for the largest line dance. The next year, over 50,000 square dancers in 14 cities achieved the Guinness Record for multiple site large-scale dancing.
China’s “one-child policy” led to a skewed gender ratio and other issues
The “one-child policy” of family planning is among the most well-known but still interesting facts about China. The birth regulation was introduced in 1979 and changed to a universal two-child policy at the end of 2015.
The “one-child” title is a bit of a misnomer, as rural parents were permitted to have a second child if their first was a daughter, starting in the mid-1980s.
If you gave birth to twins or other multiples, you were not penalized. Many elites were willing to pay the hefty fine or give birth in another country, in order to have more children.
On the other hand, the disadvantaged were subjected to sterilizations and abortions to ensure compliance.
China’s unusual birth policies were put into place to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of the then-surging population.
However, the regulations worked a little too well, and the birth rate has been dropping faster than ever. China’s population will likely peak at 1.4 billion people in 2029 and decline steeply after, to the point where India’s population will knock them into second place.
The “one-child” policy has also led to a skewing of the sex ratio.
The Chinese have traditionally favored boys, causing many baby girls to be abandoned or left for adoption. As a consequence, China has between 32 million and 36 million more males than it naturally should.
This has led to social issues such as men being unable to find partners, especially as more independent women are saying no to marriage. As comedian John Oliver explains in the video below, Chinese men have resorted to some serious measures to woo a female companion.
Will the new two-child policy will reverse the tide? Only the future will tell.
China is one of the world’s largest wine producers
Last but not least, China is the second-largest country in terms of vineyard area, after Spain. Wine in China is not just produced by local companies but by international names such as Domaines Barons de Rothschild (like Rupert and Rothschild in South Africa) or LVMH who bought local vineyards.
Some Chinese mix wine with Coca-Cola
Sommeliers will let out a collective gasp at this odd fact about China. Some Chinese will drink their wine by mixing it with Coke, Sprite or other soft drinks!
What is the reason behind this blasphemy, as wine snobs might call it?
Local wine educators teach people to drink wine in this fashion, as a Chinese practice. Homegrown wine has also traditionally been quite poor-tasting, so people might add Coca-Cola to it to improve the taste.
Clear baiju liquor and beer are the drinks of choice in China, and the Chinese have not historically sipped on much wine. As a result, many locals are unfamiliar with the nuances, and might not enjoy the taste of an expensive French varietal.
Since soft drinks tend to be drunk at banquets, why not pour some in to make the Cabernet more palatable? Cue groans from wine lovers worldwide.
But don’t worry the Spanish will forgive them because they also mix the two as a “tinto de verano” or summer red wine!
Black rotten teeth are considered normal in babies
Since people in Mainland China tend to only have one child, they’ll treat their little one like a “little Emperor”. Some dress their toddlers in couture clothing and push them in luxurious prams.
And yet, when these babies and toddlers open their jaws, you’ll come across an uncanny sight… A mouthful of black, rotting teeth!
In the Chairman Mao era, toothpaste was scarce and expensive. Since their children would wind up losing their baby teeth anyway, parents decided it was pointless to keep them pearly white.
Today, the Chinese retain the attitude that baby teeth are disposable, and don’t need to be looked after.
They also tend to indulge their precious ones with high-sugar snacks, which encourages further decay. Add on the local belief that teeth-cleaning at a dentist’s office is not necessary, or even damages the gums, and you’ve got a recipe for blackened molars.
A 2016 study found that oral hygiene has improved in China over the years. Still, only 36.1% of adults brush their teeth twice daily. The government continues to try to get the message across about the importance of oral care, even for temporary baby teeth.
Workers dress as pee-scented pandas to tend to the bears
There are many fun China facts about cute panda bears, which are native to the south-central region of the country and loved by everyone.
With their roly-poly bodies and big black eye circles, giant pandas have become a beloved Chinese icon around the world. The vulnerable animals are so appealing to humans that they’re the mascot of the World Wildlife Fund.
Historically, the Chinese have revered the majestic panda. The bear’s parts were not traditionally used in medicine, although the Sichuan tribal people believed that if you accidentally swallowed a needle, drinking panda urine could melt it.
In the 1970s, the People’s Republic of China engaged in “panda diplomacy” by gifting black-and-white bears to international zoos. Since 1984, they changed their tune.
Now, the Chinese will loan out giant pandas for a hefty fee of 1 million USD per year, while retaining ownership of the bears and any cubs born.
Conservation remains an important goal, as there are only about 2,000 pandas in the wild and a few hundred in captivity. Chinese panda researchers in Chengdu introduced artificial insemination methods to help increase birth rates.
The researchers had to engage in bizarre methods in order to tend to the shy bears and keep them from being accustomed to humans. Their solution was to dress up in panda suits, complete with scary masks, to fool the cubs. Moreover, these costumes are doused in panda urine to mask the human smell.
Eggs boiled in boys’ urine are a rural treat
To learn all about China and its quirks, simply look at its food.
A Chinese menu might include such oddities as thousand-year-old eggs, chicken feet and sheep penis. However, a specialty meal from Dongyang (in eastern China) takes the cake for weirdness.
Every spring, locals feast on “virgin boy eggs”: eggs boiled in the urine of young boys. The pee is collected from primary school bathrooms by the gallon and used to soak and boil the eggs.
Urine-soaked eggs have been eaten by these villagers for centuries, and are considered a delicacy.
Vendors claim these salty eggs are good for your body, alleging that they prevent heatstroke and improve circulation. Scientists, however, find no measurable benefit and think these health claims are merely “taking the piss”.
Geese are used as police animals
Since 2012, Xinjiang province has a new “man’s best friend” in law enforcement. They have been replacing dogs with geese as police animals.
The white (and black) birds seem to be an odd choice for a police companion. In fact, geese have sharp hearing and can get aggressive, flapping their wings and charging at offenders.
So far, the Xinjiang police are finding the geese to be more effective police animals than canines.
A man managed to drug two police dogs and break into a building. However, he ran into a gaggle of 20 geese who began shrieking and chasing him and he was quickly apprehended.
The Chinese love to wear pajamas all day long
It’s not unusual to see people in Mainland China wearing Hello Kitty pajamas to go grocery shopping or visit the bank. Pay a visit to a family’s home and, in all likelihood, they’ll be lounging around in nightgowns and PJ sets.
The movie Kung Fu Hustle (set in 1930s Shanghai) pokes fun at the Chinese proclivity for pajamas. The landlady character is always wearing a white nightgown with her hair in pink rollers and a cigarette dangling from her mouth.
Why are pajamas socially acceptable as clothes that you can wear all day in China?
In the early 20th century, expensive foreign-style nightgowns were introduced to the country. Since only the wealthy could afford them, wearing them out became a status symbol.
Nowadays, nobody will bat an eye if you wear comfortable sleepwear in public. Before the 2010 World Expo, the government tried to get people to stop wearing pajamas outside.
However, if you visit any part of China, you’ll see that the “Hugh Hefner dress code” has prevailed.
China has weird buildings
Gazing out at a Chinese city skyline, you’re bound to come across some wacky skyscrapers. While Shanghai’s views of Pudong from the Bund are pretty epic, the rest of the country is not all like that.
Beijing’s CMG headquarters looks like an impossible M.C. Escher square with a hole in the middle. And the round with a hole formula seems to have appealed to many an architect in China.
Guangxi New Media Center is among the strangest Chinese buildings. It became the butt of all jokes as the skyscraper looks remarkably like an erect phallus complete with testicles. The city of Kunming also has a structure that resembles a retro orange cell phone, complete with a window screen and giant buttons.
Chinese architecture has reached such eccentric levels that President Xi Jinxing had to ask for the trend to end. He called for builders to stop erecting weird buildings and instead aim to serve the people and be morally inspiring. Take a look at the 1,000 Trees building complex in Shanghai designed by infamous Heatherwick studios as an example (the same architects that built the Silo in Cape Town among many other famous structures).
But, not all buildings are made of shiny glass and steel, more than 40 million people still live in cave dwellings in Shaanxi province, and you can stay in one too if you visit. These homes are easier to warm during the winter and keep cool in the summer.
Chinese weddings and marriages are very unique
There are plenty of interesting facts about China and its wedding culture, which may appear bizarre to an outsider’s eyes.
Every weekend, parents gather in Shanghai’s People’s Park to try to find husbands and wives for their children. At this Marriage Market, the elders post images and statistics of their children on umbrellas and walls.
They then mill around and peruse other “offerings” hoping to find a suitable match. The potential partner’s weight, height, place of birth and Chinese zodiac sign are of the utmost importance in these arrangements.
Here’s an even stranger Chinese culture fact: there’s something called a ghost wedding, where one or both parties are dead. The ceremony gives the deceased a companion in the afterlife. It also solidifies family lineages in the case of an unmarried daughter, or the death of a fiance.
If you’re imagining a dead body in a wedding gown, think again: the corpse bride or groom generally isn’t present at the ceremony. The rite is still rather eerie, as it involves dressing up an effigy and saying wedding vows with it.
Ghost weddings have led to controversy in the case where parents pay to put a dead bride’s bones in the grave of their dead son, to give him companionship. Graverobbers have been stealing corpses and even murdering women, in order to sell their bodies as ghost brides.
Even “regular” weddings can be strange in China.
The atheist country doesn’t have a culture of walking down the aisle in a church, but they do encourage collectivity. This has led to the popularity of group weddings, often in wacky settings.
In 2016, 50 Chinese couples took to the sky in hot air balloons for a wedding ceremony. A couple in Xuzhou got hitched after riding in a procession of big red tractors. The company Alibaba has also begun offering group weddings for its employees, presided by Jack Ma.
Many wealthy Chinese couples like to use their wedding as an opportunity to flash their cash.
A 2014 ceremony featured 30 Rolls-Royces and a lavish banquet for 9,999 guests, costing over 1 million yuan ($140,000 USD). In response, the government has cracked down on lavish ceremonies and gift-giving, citing these practices as anti-socialist.
China is haunted by ghost malls and ghost cities
When South China Mall opened in Dongguan in 2005, its owners proudly boasted that it was the world’s biggest mall.
At 892,000 square metres (9,600,000 sq ft), this was indeed the world’s largest mall when measured by gross leasable area, bigger than the famed Dubai Mall.
However, upon opening, the mall suffered from a lack of retail occupants. The mall’s location in Dongguan was not ideal, as it was not easy to access by public transport, and the layout was poorly designed.
As of 2008, 99% of the stores remained vacant, making the mall feel abandoned. The mall has increased this percentage over the years but still hasn’t reached anything close to 50% occupancy.
China is also populated by ghost cities that look like something out of the apocalypse. Some of these cities were built mid-way and then lost funding and were abandoned. Others were constructed out of speculation but failed to attract any residents.
Strolling through a Chinese ghost city, you may come across a few residents, but for the most part, the apartments and shops are permanently empty.
Fun facts about Chinese feng shui
Feng shui is an ancient Chinese practice that continues to permeate the culture. The goal is to align energy forces between humans and their environment, creating harmony and good fortune.
The power of colors is an important element of feng shui. You may be surprised to hear that white is associated with death, instead of black. The Chinese believe white is the opposite of lucky red and symbolizes grief. At funerals, people, therefore, dress in white, much like Bruce Lee did when he mourned his “sifu” teacher in Fists of Fury.
According to feng shui, those with close relatives who recently died are infused with negative chi. These mourners are asked to stay away from friends’ homes, as entering might spread the bad energy.
Feng shui also creates an aversion to used or secondhand goods, as they contain strong energy from previous owners. As a result, many Chinese refuse to wear used clothing, and the high-end vintage industry has had difficulties taking off.
Much of the tenets of feng shui have to do with houses and interior decor. For instance, having stairs that face the front door is considered unlucky, as the chi will rush up the staircase. Parents also teach their children to never have a mirror facing the bed, and not to sleep below a window.
Sometimes, people take beliefs too far. In 2019, a Chinese blog was fined $30,000 USD for criticizing the feng shui of a building designed by Zaha Hadid (architect of the famous Heydar Aliyev Museum in Baku, Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, and a luxury hotel in Macau).
The writer likened the three curving structures to “pig kidneys”, causing tenants to back out. The court decided to penalize the blog, as an effort to curb superstitious views and controversial opinions.
New mothers are confined to a warm bed
According to traditional Chinese medicine, keeping the body warm helps people boost their immune systems and prevents them from catching a cold. In the winter, they’ll bundle their children with warm clothes to the point where they can barely move.
This approach extends to mothers who have just given birth. Women are expected to stay in their beds for a month after childbirth, recuperating and keeping warm with hot soups. In extreme cases, the new moms are forbidden to bathe, wash their hair, brush their teeth or walk, lest it disturb their recovery.
The custom of zuoyuezi, which means “sitting the month”, might have the mother’s well-being in mind. However, the practice often backfires and causes harm, as some women are expected to lie under blankets and wear woolen socks even in the height of summer. A few have even died from heatstroke during the 30 days of confinement.
Some Chinese are blond, red-haired or have green eyes
One of the many unexpected facts about China for foreigners is that not all Chinese have dark hair and eyes.
In the north western village of Liqian, many of the residents naturally have blond locks and green eyes. Yet their facial features look Chinese, and they speak Mandarin and practice Chinese customs.
These villagers aren’t sporting wigs and colored contact lenses. Scientists conducted DNA tests and found out that about two-thirds of the villagers have ancient Caucasian genetics.
Some hypothesized that they are the descendents of the missing Roman army led by Marcus Crassus. Others believe they descended from Eurasian Uyghurs who adopted a Han Chinese identity.
Red-haired mummies from the Bronze Age have also been discovered in China’s Tarim Basin. Scientists found that these Xiaohe people came from a Eurasian lineage with mutations, which gave them red hair. Today, if you look closely, you might notice some black-haired Chinese have naturally reddish tints in their locks.
Ancient Chinese snorted smallpox as a cure
Here’s one of the wildest ancient China facts. In the 11th century, a Chinese monk came up with the first vaccine for smallpox.
The remedy sounds like something out of a horror movie. Take dry scabs and pustules from diseased victims and grind them into a powder. Then, blow the smallpox dust up the noses of healthy people.
Disgusting as it sounded, the cure mostly worked. Some people got quite sick, but others became immune to smallpox after sniffing the scabs.
As the news spread, some got the gist of how to variolate their children but didn’t follow instructions precisely. Instead, they’d feed the smallpox scabs that fell of the victim’s bodies to their children.
Unfortunately, this vomit-inducing method did nothing to inoculate them from smallpox.
Further reading: We have written many other articles on facts about certain countries, so read on if you want some great trivia.
- Facts about the USA
- Facts about South Korea
- Facts about Japan
- Facts about Bhutan
- Facts about North Korea
- Facts about Bangladesh
- Facts about Albania
- Facts about Singapore
This would be a great addition to your China Travel Pinterest board!
BIO: La Carmina is an experienced writer and TV host, best known for her work about Japanese and Hong Kong culture and travel. She runs the award-winning La Carmina blog, and published three books about Asian culture with Penguin Random House. La Carmina appears regularly as a travel expert on NBC, Food Network, Travel Channel (No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern) and other top television networks worldwide. Find her on @lacarmina Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
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