Shanghai's skyline attracts foreign and domestic tourists to view it from the Bund
Kuling Poster in the 1920s, Kuling, Jiujiang

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  The PRC's earliest tourists came from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.[9]: 117  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 (CTEA), which later became the China National Tourism Administration.[8]: 94 

In the early phases of the Cultural Revolution, international tourism came to a halt.[9]: 117  In this period, Red Guards denounced China Travel Service and CITS for their foreign connections.[9]: 117  The issue of tourism became less contentious again in 1970.[9]: 117  At the 1971 National Tourism Work Conference, tourism was deemed an important part of China's foreign affairs work.[9]: 117  Between 1971 and 1978, the number of foreigners admitted through CTEA increased by a factor of 20, and its earnings of foreign currency increased by a factor of nearly 120.[9]: 117 

In 1977, the National Tourism Planning forum stated that the mission of tourism was to earn foreign currency to fund the Four Modernizations.[9]: 131  Beginning in 1978 and 1979, Deng Xiaoping promoted the development of tourism for purposes of economic development.[8]: 97  As tourism became an important means of obtaining foreign currency for the government, China emphasized its exotic qualities to international tourists.[9]: 18 

Bridge at Nanxi Street over Puhuitang River
Lantern Festival in Nanjing

By 1980, China's tourism business was booming.[9]: 136  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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12][13]

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.[14]

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.[15]

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:[16][17][18][19]

Nationality 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013
 Hong Kong 80,500,736 79,368,424 79,795,890 81,059,391 79,448,100 76,131,700 76,884,
 Macau 26,789,348 25,150,834 24,649,971 23,503,215 22,888,200 20,639,900 20,740,333
 Myanmar 12,421,753 12,379,845 9,655,453 2,428,074 144,373 132,787 134,671
 Vietnam 7,948,664 7,587,932 6,544,198 3,167,273 2,160,756 1,709,437 1,365,402
 Taiwan 6,134,236 6,136,081 5,871,268 5,729,955 5,498,600 5,365,900 5,162,509
 South Korea 4,346,567 4,191,790 3,854,869 4,762,163 4,444,389 4,181,700 3,968,998
 Russia 2,722,571 2,414,301 2,344,646 1,975,910 1,582,279 2,045,800 2,186,281
 Japan 2,676,334 2,689,662 2,680,033 2,587,440 2,497,657 2,717,600 2,877,533
 United States 2,406,657 2,483,554 2,309,282 2,247,752 2,085,800 2,093,200 2,085,253
 Mongolia 1,862,278 1,915,832 1,864,012 1,342,308 1,014,102 1,082,700 1,049,997
 Malaysia 1,383,502 1,290,744 1,232,499 1,163,869 1,075,451 1,129,600 1,206,535
 Philippines 1,177,668 1,202,966 1,160,875 1,134,749 1,004,008 967,900 996,672
 Singapore 1,008,545 978,028 940,223 921,887 905,269 971,400 966,605
 Thailand 870,526 832,605 775,747 749,020 641,483 613,100 651,654
 India 869,570 708,517 818,954 799,134 730,490 709,900 676,682
 Canada 776,328 849,941 805,026 740,788 679,800 667,100 684,216
 Australia 734,511 751,865 733,663 673,248 637,300 672,100 723,088
 Indonesia 724,784 708,517 680,841 632,913 544,762 566,900 605,321
 Germany 622,198 643,074 634,053 622,668 623,374 662,600 649,298
 United Kingdom 612,213 607,846 590,714 594,287 579,637 604,700 624,955
 North Korea 555,028 250,654 229,467 209,521 188,337 184,400 206,617
 France 490,963 499,160 493,712 503,480 486,935 517,000 533,538
 Italy 279,474 277,776 279,686 266,793 246,145 253,100 251,162
 Laos 278,469 305,200 230,925 83,603 26,136 21,697 19,399
 Kazakhstan 211,577 195,081 222,946 225,406 241,478 343,600 393,530
 Netherlands 192,338 196,183 193,960 199,464 181,789 180,400 188,562
 Ukraine 182,399 180,725 171,766 160,439 141,706 118,082 121,938
   Nepal 177,779 157,543 132,510 83,317 49,954 53,600 58,817
 Spain 165,984 167,988 155,564 149,626 136,333 141,000 132,378
 New Zealand 149,553 146,403 143,471 136,031 125,400 126,600 128,572
 Pakistan 131,089 130,944 127,265 119,057 113,087 108,900 106,548
 Brazil 127,631 118,828 105,189 93,316 85,487 94,559 95,754
 Bangladesh 113,847 101,622 91,531 85,016 80,196 69,776 58,872
 Cambodia 109,322 101,645 61,603 49,894 42,455 39,285 34,578
 Iran 104,817 96,910 136,681 128,036 113,164 113,687 88,895
 Sweden 103,600 109,991 111,758 115,216 118,362 142,000 159,951
 Poland 98,987 95,338 90,511 83,942 74,823 76,135 71,598
 Mexico 94,312 92,546 82,134 73,326 68,300 65,800 60,144
 Israel 94,289 97,484 91,540 82,945 76,165 78,520 79,699
 South Africa 85,606 83,621 74,940 66,703 65,451 68,230 68,613
 Egypt 81,635 85,556 83,509 82,850 86,509 83,925 74,443
 Turkey 77,748 74,409 75,451 79,092 99,538 106,163 103,947
  Switzerland 70,468 73,931 72,096 72,556 72,675 79,500 80,557
 Belgium 68,912 69,248 68,224 66,650 65,183 67,400 68,404
 Austria 68,653 70,279 67,573 65,932 60,758 64,800 65,711
 Denmark 67,240 70,023 70,239 71,588 70,873 77,556 81,385
 Sri Lanka 61,983 63,043 63,039 60,328 58,059 50,000 49,488
 Portugal 57,219 56,314 56,259 54,985 53,387 52,300 49,395
 Finland 57,159 57,967 57,812 57,891 55,110 60,283 65,662
 Romania 46,247 45,630 48,740 47,789 43,589 41,020 37,950
 Uzbekistan 45,158 41,025 46,358 52,632 55,398 63,044 57,717
 Greece 44,835 44,949 42,198 38,580 36,694 35,719 34,460
 Ireland 44,351 44,002 41,953 42,353 41,600 42,046 41,229
 Colombia 42,476 40,165 40,062 37,810 35,955 37,299 34,636
 Nigeria 41,961 45,367 46,247 52,444 54,149 54,458 45,582
 Kyrgyzstan 41,840 38,269 34,289 44,278 43,733 50,400 49,936
 Serbia 41,002 35,384 27,559 19,155 14,038 12,560 11,441
 Czech Republic 38,399 33,367 34,571 32,684 24,720 23,123 20,640
 Norway 36,158 38,743 39,065 38,244 41,113 47,900 51,439
 Belarus 33,883 24,745 19,154 17,255 13,904 15,575 14,347
 Saudi Arabia 33,875 32,007 34,553 37,377 35,300 36,148 36,531
 Argentina 30,598 34,229 35,132 32,422 28,407 24,427 26,488
 Algeria 29,333 26,961 26,531 25,735 26,568 27,331 29,565
 Jordan 27,983 28,309 29,615 30,885 26,540 27,668 28,151
 Tajikistan 27,169 26,141 22,465 20,930 24,961 33,610 31,916
Total 65,730,000 62,900,000 60,740,000 59,270,000 56,890,000 55,620,000 55,690,000

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.[20]

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.[21]: 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.[22]: 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.[22]: 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".[23]

Ratings alternate Level Quantity
A 1A lowest 130
AA 2A 927
AAA 3A 521
AAAA 4A 785 (by 2006)[23]
AAAAA 5A highest 279 (by 2020)[24]


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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.[25]

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".[26]

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.

The Chinese online tourism market, including for outbound tourism, is concentrated in major online service providers including Ctrip, Feizhu, Mafengwo, and Dazhongdianping.[27]: 120–121 

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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