The People’s Republic of China, more commonly known as China, was founded on 21 September 1949. Once known as the “Middle Kingdom”, it is the cradle of Chinese civilisation that has lasted for more than 4000 years. Now the second-largest economy in the world, China has transformed itself more than once throughout history and continues to fascinate countless people around the world.
As China becomes a significant influence in the world, here are twenty interesting facts about China to help you understand this vast and fascinating country.
1. China owns all pandas in the world
These adorable yet endangered animals can be found all over the world, but China owns all of them! As part of “panda diplomacy”, China rents them out to other countries for $1,000,000 a year.
The only exception is the two pandas that China gifted to Mexico in the '70s, but with an agreement that China would own any offspring they had.
2. The Zhu Family and the Ming Dynasty’s Legacy
The Ming Dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644 CE and was China’s second last dynasty.
Yet, its descendants are not only alive and well, but they still hold vast wealth and power over modern-day China. They occupy top positions in the ruling Communist Party and various state corporations, schools, and societies.
These include Zhu Rongji, a prominent Chinese politician and Zhu Yunlai, the CEO of the China International Capital Corporation.
3. Illegal to be reincarnated
Yes, it’s true: under the State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5, it is illegal in China to be reincarnated without government approval. Order No. 5 states that a Reincarnation Application must be filed by all Buddhist temples in that country before they are allowed to recognise individuals as tulkus (reincarnated teachers).
Through this law, the Chinese government could potentially determine who will be the next Dalai Lama as he is reincarnated.
4. Free to escape…?
If you end up in a Chinese prison, there’s good news: there is no punishment for escaping from prison because their law considers it human nature to want to escape. No extra time is added to an escapee's sentence provided they did not break any other laws while doing so.
However, you might want to think twice about reenacting The Shawshank Redemption: Officers are required to shoot and kill prisoners attempting to escape. Even if you manage to break free, the police will still try to bring you back to jail.
5. A car-free city
Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
China is building a car-free city, Great City, which will be built around a high-rise core housing 80,000 people. It is entirely walkable and surrounded by green space. Furthermore, it is designed to use less water, create less waste and generate less carbon dioxide than a typical city.
6. Food too delicious to be true?
Some restaurants in China lace their food with opiates to keep customers coming back. Apparently, such tactics really work! According to a restaurant owner in Shanxi province, customer numbers leapt after he infused his noodles with 2kg of pulverised poppy buds — which can contain narcotics like morphine and codeine — that he bought for 600 yuan ($98).
And such practices are widespread: In Guizhou province in 2004, police busted 215 restaurants for morphine-laced hotspots.
7. Three Gorges Dam lengthens the day
Le Grand Portage
The Three Gorges Dam, an engineering marvel, holds so much water that according to NASA calculations, the shift of such a mass would increase the length of a day by 0.06 microseconds, and make the Earth only very slightly rounder in the middle and flat on the top!
8. China's subway beggars’ regulations
China’s subway beggars’ have designed a system that governs which turf they get to work. According to the code they have developed, beggars who intrude on lines reserved for the disabled or elderly get a beating.
9. Tu Youyou’s Three Withouts and her Nobel Prize
In 2015, Tu Youyou received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for helping to create an anti-malaria medicine. She became the first woman from China to ever win a Nobel Prize.
Surprisingly, she has no post-graduate degree, no doctorate, and has never worked overseas. Hence, in China, she is often referred to as the “Three-Withouts” scientist.
10. The explosion that brought down a dynasty
The Wanggongchang Explosion remains an unexplained catastrophic explosion that occurred on May 30 of the Chinese calendar in 1626 AD at the densely populated Ming China capital Beijing. It reportedly killed around 20,000 people.
The explosion was estimated to be so powerful that it was similar to that of the Hiroshima bombing, and it contributed towards the end of the Ming dynasty.
11. Follow the one time zone
China has one time zone despite geographically covering what would be five time zones. To illustrate, China borders Pakistan on the west, and there is a 3-hour difference between the two sides of the border.
12. Chairman Mao’s antics
Unknown photographer at the source. Photo distributed by United Press International
During the Cold War, Chairman Mao held meetings in his swimming pool to embarrass Nikola Khrushchev, who had to wear a float as he couldn’t swim. Khrushchev felt insulted, and the incident furthered the deterioration of relations between the Soviet Union and China.
13. Who controls the Chinese army?
Being created by the Communist Party to fight against the Japanese and the Chinese Republican government, the Chinese army is under the control of the Communist Party and not the national government of China, unlike most armies around the world.
14. The earliest form of immunisation
The earliest form of smallpox immunisation was used in China in the 1500s. Doctors would take ground-up scabs from people with mild cases of the disease and blow the material into their nostrils.
This led to a milder version of the disease, which had a mortality rate of 2%, as compared to the 20-30% mortality rate if left untreated.
15. Leftover women
In China, women who remain unmarried until their late 20s are given the term "leftover women".
It is a play on words as the term could also mean "Holy Women", or a nun – the words 剩 (leftover) and 圣 (holy) are both pronounced as “shèng”.
16. Billionaire factory
China’s rapid development and powerful economy has allowed it to produce four new billionaires every week. In fact, in 2019, China produced nearly 4 in 10 of the world’s billionaires, and China today has more billionaires than the US and India combined.
17. A country-sized farm
The world’s largest farm, Mudanjiang City Dairy Farm, is located in Northeastern China and covers an area of 22.5 million acres. This is the same size as Portugal.
18. The Kiwi’s true origins
The Kiwi fruit actually originated from China, more commonly known as the Chinese gooseberry in China. New Zealand farmers named it Kiwi fruit so they could market and sell it.
19. Smoking in China
China accounts for 40% of tobacco consumption worldwide. 52% of adult Chinese men smoke.
20. Qin Shi Huang’s tomb
Scientists still have not excavated the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, because they are not allowed to, and it was, and could still be surrounded by a river of mercury.
Archaeologists are hoping for progress in technology so that any excavation will not cause severe damage to the tomb.