Shanghai's skyline attracts foreign and domestic tourists to view it from the Bund
Kuling Poster in the 1920s, kuling town, Mount Lu, Jiujiang (China)

Tourism in China is a growing industry that is becoming a significant part of the Chinese economy. The rate of tourism has expanded over the last few decades since the beginning of reform and opening-up. 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 world's largest outbound tourist markets. According to Euromonitor International, economic growth and higher incomes in nearby Asian countries will help China to become the world's number one tourist destination by 2030.[1]

China ranked second in the world for travel and tourism's contribution to GDP in 2022 ($814.1 billion), and first in the world for travel and tourism's contribution to employment (66,086,000 jobs in 2014).[2] Tourism, based on direct, indirect, and induced impact, accounted for 9.3 percent of China's GDP in 2013.[3] In 2017, the total contributions of China's Travel and Tourism sector made up 11% of its GDP.[4] In 2018, the domestic tourism sector contributed around US$1.47 trillion to the nation's GDP.[5]

Since 2012, tourists from China have been the world's top spender in international tourism, leading global outbound travel. In 2016, the country accounted for 21% of the world's international tourism spending, or $261 billion.[6] (The stats include journeys made to the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as Taiwan; in 2017, these accounted for 69.5m of the so-called "overseas" journeys.) As of 2018, only 7% of Chinese had a passport, so the "potential for further growth is staggering", according to a UK news report.[7]


Tourists inside the Forbidden City, Beijing

The first Chinese-operated travel agency, in China was founded by banker Chen Guangfu in 1923.[8]: 89  Tourism began emerging as part of bourgeois lifestyle and a nascent industry during China's nationalist era.[8]: 91 

After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, tourism was not a contributing sector of the company's economy due to the PRC's political system and the political and economic blocks imposed on China by Western countries.[8]: 91  China's tourism bureau was a government agency handled tourism matters viewed as important to China's foreign relations.[8]: 91–92  The state-owned tourism company China International Travel Service (CITS) as established in 1954.[8]: 93  "International" in this context referred to diplomacy.[8]: 93  In 1958, the Secretary-General of the State Council was placed in charge of CITS and its branches were transferred to local governments.[8]: 92 

Organized around diplomatic and political purposes, tourism in China provided tours such as the production study tour (shengchan guanmo tuan) or the industry and commerce study tour (gongshang kaocha tuan).[8]: 92  Premier Zhou Enlai stated that the purpose of tourism was "to xuanchuan ourselves, understand others, wild influence, and gain sympathy".[8]: 93  Through CITS, China provided travel service to overseas Chinese visiting China and tourists who might spread a positive image of China to their home countries.[8]: 94 

In 1964, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress approved the creation of the China Travel and Tourism Enterprise Administration (which later became the China National Tourism Administration).[8]: 94 

Beginning in 1978 and 1979, Deng Xiaoping promoted the development of tourism for purposes of economic development.[8]: 97 

Bridge at Nanxi Street over Puhuitang River
Lantern Festival in Nanjing

The expansion of domestic and international airline traffic and other tourist transportation facilities made travel more convenient. Over 250 cities and countries had been opened to foreign visitors by the mid-1980s. Travellers needed only valid visas or residence permits to visit 100 locations; the remaining locales required travel permits from public security departments. In 1985 approximately 1.4 million foreigners visited China, and nearly US$1.3 billion was earned from tourism.[9]

In 2015, China was the fourth most visited country in the world, after France, United States, and Spain, with 56.9 million international tourists per year.[10] In 2017, tourism contributed about CNY 8.77 trillion (US$1.45 trillion), 11.04% of the GDP, and contributed direct and indirect employment of up to 28.25 million people. There were 139.48 million inbound trips and five billion domestic trips.[11][12]

In 2018, the Chinese hotel industry had a large pipeline of 2,500 new hotel projects.[4]


Sightseeing boats ply the river in Shanghai, providing just a tiny percent of the revenue from tourism

China has become a major tourist destination following its reform and opening to the world in the late 1970s instigated by Deng Xiaoping. In 1978, China received about 230,000 international foreign tourists, mostly because of the severe limitations that the government placed on who was allowed to visit the country and who was not.[13]

Data from 2016 showed that the majority of foreign visitors hailed from Asian countries with South Korea being the top source country for China inbound tourism. Among the number of tourist arrivals, a substantial 81.06 million are from Hong Kong, 23.5 million from Macau and 5.73 million coming from Taiwan. The number of foreigners visiting China in the same year, was 28.15 million.[14]

In the same year, overnight visitors increased 4.2% over the same period of 2015 to 59.27 million (of which over 60% came from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan).[3]

Visitor statistics

Most visitors arriving in China were from the following areas of residence or countries of nationality:[15][16][17][18]

Nationality 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
 Hong Kong 80,500,736 79,368,424 79,795,890 81,059,400 79,448,100 76,131,700 76,884,600
 Vietnam 7,948,664 7,587,932 6,544,198 3,167,300 2,160,800 1,709,400 1,365,400
 Taiwan 6,134,236 6,136,081 5,871,268 5,730,000 5,498,600 5,365,900 5,162,500
 South Korea 4,346,567 4,191,790 3,854,869 4,762,200 4,444,400 4,181,700 3,969,000
 Russia 2,722,571 2,414,301 2,344,646 1,975,900 1,582,300 2,045,800 2,186,300
 Japan 2,676,334 2,689,662 2,680,033 2,587,400 2,497,700 2,717,600 2,877,500
 United States 2,406,657 2,483,554 2,309,282 2,247,800 2,085,800 2,093,200 2,085,300
 Malaysia 1,383,502 1,290,744 1,232,499 1,163,900 1,075,500 1,129,600 1,206,500
 Philippines 1,177,668 1,202,966 1,160,875 1,134,700 1,004,000 967,900 996,700
 Singapore 1,008,545 978,028 940,223 921,900 905,300 971,400 966,600
 Thailand 870,526 832,605 775,747 749,000 641,500 613,100 651,700
 India 869,570 708,517 818,954 799,100 730,500 709,900 676,700
 Canada 776,328 849,941 805,026 740,800 679,800 667,100 684,200
 Australia 734,511 751,865 733,663 673,200 637,300 672,100 723,100
 Indonesia 724,784 708,517 680,841 632,900 544,800 566,900 605,300
 Germany 622,198 643,074 634,053 // // // //
 United Kingdom 612,213 607,846 590,714 594,300 579,600 604,700 625,000
 France 490,963 499,160 493,712 503,500 486,900 517,000 533,500
 Italy 279,474 277,776 279,686 266,800 246,100 253,100 251,200
 Spain 165,984 167,988 155,564 149,600 136,300 141,000 132,400
 Sweden 103,600 109,991 111,758 115,200 118,400 142,000 159,000
 Mexico 94,312 92,546 82,134 73,300 68,300 65,800 60,100
 Macau // 25,150,800 24,650,000 23,503,200 22,888,200 20,639,900 20,740,300
 Myanmar // 12,379,800 9,655,500 2,428,100 144,400 132,800 134,700
 Mongolia // 1,915,800 1,864,000 1,342,300 1,014,100 1,082,700 1,050,000
 Laos // 305,200 230,900 83,600 26,100 21,700 19,400
 North Korea // 250,700 229,500 209,500 188,300 184,400 206,600
 Netherlands // 196,200 194,000 199,500 181,800 180,400 188,600
 Kazakhstan // 195,100 222,900 225,400 241,500 343,600 393,500
 Ukraine // 180,700 171,800 160,400 141,700 118,100 121,900
   Nepal // 157,500 132,500 83,300 50,000 53,600 58,800
 New Zealand // 146,400 143,500 136,000 125,400 126,600 128,600
 Pakistan // 130,900 127,300 119,100 113,100 108,900 106,500
 Brazil // 118,800 105,200 93,300 85,500 94,600 95,800
 Cambodia // 101,600 61,600 49,900 42,500 39,300 34,600
 Bangladesh // 101,600 91,500 85,000 80,200 69,800 58,900
 Israel // 97,500 91,500 82,900 76,200 78,500 79,700
 Iran // 96,900 136,700 128,000 113,200 113,700 88,900
 Poland // 95,300 90,500 83,900 74,800 76,100 71,600
 Egypt // 85,600 83,500 82,900 86,500 83,900 74,400
 South Africa // 83,600 74,900 66,700 65,500 68,200 68,600

Foreign Arrivals in Beijing

Nationality 2019 2018
 United States 629,000 720,000
 Hong Kong 322,000 348,000
 Japan 247,000 249,000
 South Korea 242,000 248,000
 Taiwan 222,000 242,000
 Germany 198,000 194,000
 United Kingdom 153,000 159,000
 Australia 141,000 150,000
 Singapore 127,000 123,000
 France 120,000 127,000
 Canada 100,000 152,000
 Russia 96,000 87,000
 Malaysia 82,000 87,000
 India 75,000 68,000
 Italy 69,000 65,000
 Thailand 57,000 75,000
 Indonesia 45,000 50,000
 Spain 45,000 48,000
 Philippines 31,000 26,000
  Switzerland 30,000 32,000
 Mongolia 29,000 31,000
 Sweden 27,000 30,000
 New Zealand 22,000 20,000
 Macau 18,000 16,000


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.

According to research completed by The Daily Telegraph in 2017, less than 1 percent of people (some 10 million) in China speak English conversationally.[19]

Domestic tourism

See also: Golden Week (China)

Red tourism first developed in comparatively small villages around the mid-1990s.[8]: 101  A significant rise in red tourism occurred in the late 1990s, prompted by the development of tourism as a significantly profitable economic sector and celebrations and commemorations related to the Communist Party's past becoming settled into tradition.[8]: 100  The government promotes red tourism, which in its view strengthens revolutionary traditions, enhances patriotism, and promotes a unique national spirit.[20]: 64 

A form of agritourism called nongjia le (with the literal meaning, "joy of farmers' families") has been popular among urban Chinese people.[8]: 177  This form of tourism is based on farm households where urban people can go for rustic farm fresh food and country-style lodging.[8]: 177  It has provided a significant source of additional income for farming households.[8]: 177 

There is significant domestic tourism to Macau. Retail in Macau's tourist areas is generally targeted towards tourists from elsewhere in China.[21]: 116  Because Macau benefits from favorable taxation rules, it is a favored location for Chinese tourists to purchase luxury goods like cosmetics, jewelry, and designer fashion goods.[21]: 116 

Tourist Attraction Rating Categories

Tourism in China
Temple of Heaven, an AAAAA-rated tourist attraction in Beijing
Simplified Chinese旅游景区质量等级
Traditional Chinese旅遊景區質量等級
Literal meaningTourist Scenic Area Quality Ranking

Tourist Attraction Rating Categories (Chinese: 旅游景区质量等级) is a rating system used by the Chinese authorities to determine the quality of the attraction relative to its peers in terms of safety, sanitation and transportation. It is divided into five categories which are A (or 1A, the lowest level), AA (2A), AAA (3A), AAAA (4A) and AAAAA (5A, the highest level).

The categories are awarded based on, amongst other factors, the importance of the site, transportation, tours as well as issues related to safety and sanitation. The system was established in 1999 and extended in 2004 (when the category AAAAA was introduced). The ratings are administered by the China National Tourism Administration[needs update] (CNTA) and are based on the code "Categories and Rating Standard of Tourist Attractions".[22]

Ratings alternate Level Quantity
A 1A lowest 130
AA 2A 927
AAA 3A 521
AAAA 4A 785 (by 2006)[22]
AAAAA 5A highest 279 (by 2020)[23]


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Notable ancient capitals

Renowned historic cities and old towns

Grand Canal tour boat of a traditional style
Pingyao, Shanxi
Nakhi dongjing musicians in Lijiang, Yunnan
Old City God Temple in Shanghai
Tour boats in Suzhou, the "Venice of the East"

Famous sites

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Numerous tourists visit parts of the Great Wall, including the section at Juyongguan
The Terracotta Army in Xi'an
Hall of Supreme Harmony at the Forbidden City
Sculptures at the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity in the Summer Palace
The Bund after dark, Shanghai
Sunset at Sanya Bay, Hainan

Tourist resources

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Tourist resources in China can be divided into three main groups: natural sites, historical and cultural sites, and folk customs. China has 55 World Heritage Sites, the second largest in the world after Italy, which has 58.[24]

Natural sites

The terraced rice paddies of Yuanyang County, Yunnan
Mount Emei, Sichuan
Zhang jia jie

China's mountains, lakes, valleys, caves and waterfalls include:

Mount Tai (Tai Shan) in the east, Mount Hengshan in the south, Mount Hua in the west, Mount Hengshan in the north, and Mount Song in the center of China have been called the Five Sacred Mountains since antiquity. The Taishan massif, which snakes through central Shandong, is admired by Chinese as paramount among them. Another mountain celebrated for its beauty is Huangshan in southern Anhui, known for its graceful pines, unusual rocks, cloud seas and hot springs.

Jiuzhaigou, Huangguoshu Waterfall, and Guilin are all located in southwestern China. Jiuzhaigou in northern Sichuan is a beautiful "fairyland valley" running over 40 km through snow-covered mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and forest. The Huangguoshu Waterfalls in Guizhou are a group of waterfalls, 18 above-ground and four below, which can be heard from five km away. The Li River in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region winds its way through karst peaks for 82 km between Guilin and Yangshuo.

On the plateau in Northern China are many lakes. The Tianchi (Heavenly Pool) in the Tianshan Mountains in Xinjiang Autonomous Region is 1,980 meters above sea level. This 105-m-deep lake is crystal clear, the high mountains surrounding it carpeted with green grass and colorful flowers.

Along the renowned Three Gorges of the Yangtze River are many scenic spots and historical sites; the Qutang Gorge is rugged and majestic, the Wu Gorge elegant, deep and secluded, the Xiling Gorge full of shoals and reefs and rolling water. The Lesser Three Gorges are lush with greenery, flanking water so clear you can see to the bottom. The Three Gorges Dam built here is China's biggest key hydro-power project.

Historical and cultural sites

Beauties Wearing Flowers, by Zhou Fang, 8th century

China's long history has left many cultural relics and the title of "China Top Tourist City" has gone to the first group of 54 cities. The Great Wall, a symbol of the Chinese nation, is also a prime example of historical sites that have become major tourist attractions. As the greatest defense-structure project in the history of human civilization, it dates back more than 2,000 years ago to the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods - huge in its scale and grandeur. There are more than ten sections of the Great Wall open to tourists, including the passes, blockhouses and beacon towers at Badaling in Beijing, Laolongtou in Hebei and Jiayuguan Pass in Gansu.

Grottoes filled with precious murals and sculptures are concentrated along the ancient Silk Road in Gansu. The best known are the Mogao Caves, a "treasure house of oriental art", with 492 caves with murals and statues on the cliff faces. There are 45,000 sq m of murals and over 2,100 colorful statues, all of high artistry. In the south, grotto art is represented in Sichuan by the Leshan Giant Buddha, carved into a cliff face. Seventy-one meters high and 28 meters wide, it is the largest sitting Buddha in stone, showing the carving skill of ancient craftsmen.

The Shaolin Temple in Henan, the birthplace of Chinese Zen Buddhism and famous for its Shaolin Kung Fu martial arts, dates back to 495 AD. Here can be seen the Ming period Five-Hundred-Arhats Mural and Qing period Shaolin kungfu paintings. In Hubei, the beautiful Wudang Mountain, with 72 peaks covering an area of 30 km2 (12 sq mi), form a sacred site of Taoism, which preserves one of China's most complete and largest-scale ancient Taoist architecture. In western Sichuan, Mount Emei, dotted with ancient Buddhist temples and structures, is one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains。

South of the Yangtze River, Suzhou and Hangzhou, long known as "paradise on earth", are crisscrossed with rivers, lakes, bridges, fields and villages, as beautiful as paintings. Today's well-preserved ancient cities includes that of Pingyao in central Shanxi, but was also the site of the Neolithic era Yangshao and Longshan cultures, 5,000 to 6,000 years ago. Ancient Lijiang in Yunnan is not only the center of Dongba culture of the Nakhi ethnic group but also a meeting place for the cultures of Han, Tibetan and Bai ethnicities. Built in the Song dynasty, this city has many stone bridges, stone memorial arches and dwelling houses, which provide precious materials for architectural history and can be called a "living museum of ancient dwelling houses."

Folk customs

Lugu Lake, Yunnan

"March Street" celebrated by the Bai people in Dali, Yunnan, is associated with the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy suppressing a devil to help the Bai people. It became traditional to burn incense and offer sacrifices to commemorate her virtues every year and the festival has become a major annual gathering for Bai commercial, cultural and sports activities.

The Water-Sprinkling Festival of the Dai ethnic group in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan, is a lively occasion taking place in the spring. People chase and pour water (a symbol of good luck and happiness) over each other, among other activities such as dragon boat racing and peacock dance.

Lugu Lake between Sichuan and Yunnan has become a tourist destination following the building of a new highway giving access to this area. The matriarchal society of the 30,000 local Mosuo people is noted for its "no marriage" traditions and is called the last women's kingdom on the earth. Mosuo women, local dugout canoes and undulating singing style are considered unique to Lugu Lake.

Tourist themes

The China National Tourism Administration promotes a tourist theme every year; 1992 was "Friendly Sightseeing Year." Then came "Landscape Tour", "Tour of Cultural Relics and Historical Sites", "Folk Customs Tour", "Holiday Tour", and "Ecological Environment Tour." From 2000 to 2004, the themes were "Century Year", "Sports and Health of China", "Folk Arts of China", and "Culinary Kingdom of China", and "Catch the Lifestyle."[citation needed]

The themes for 2005 were "China Travel Year" and "Beijing 2008 -- Welcome to China." In order to strengthen exchange and cooperation with the international tourism industry, the China National Travel Administration is planning a series of related events, including the Shanghai-hosted "2005 International Tourism Fair of China", the Beijing-hosted 2005 annual meeting of the Federation of Travel Agencies of France, and "the 2005 China-Australia Tourism Symposium."

Since 2013, all regions in China have had tourism publicity events under the "Beautiful China" umbrella, but with a different theme for each area.[citation needed] The year 2018 was declared as "Beautiful China – Year of Integrated Tourism" while 2017 was declared as "Beautiful China – Year of Silk Road Tourism".[25]

Tourist services

At right, an Asian woman holding a Norwegian flag with some writing on the bottom leads a group of casually dressed younger men and women, many wearing aviator sunglasses
A guide leads a group of Norwegian tourists to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing

The fast development of China's transportation infrastructure provides wide-ranging travel for domestic and overseas tourists. Throughout China many hotels and restaurants have been constructed, renovated or expanded to satisfy all levels of requirement, including many with five or six-star ratings.

China has regulated international travel agencies. On June 12, 2003, the China National Tourism Administration and the Ministry of Commerce jointly issued Interim Regulations on the Establishment of Foreign-funded or Wholly Foreign-owned Travel Agencies.

See also

Notes and references

Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Country Studies. Federal Research Division.

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