How To Sort Out Your China Tourist Visa

From 2018, in the years leading to the Covid pandemic, China unfurled in step-wise fashion a global tourist visa application program that was as bureaucratic as it was prickly. But since the end of the pandemic, coinciding with her rising economic woes, China’s been accelerating in the exact opposite direction. Recently, it’s become far more flexible and welcoming to foreign travelers. Read on to find out how.

China Loosens Its Visa Rules For Western Europe and Asia

China’s visa loosening began in July 2023 when it resumed visa free travel for citizens from Singapore, Brunei and Japan. Then, on December 1, 2023 it extended this in a total first, allowing citizens from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia to travel under the same conditions – namely for up to 15 days visa-free in the country.

A month later, on January 1, 2024, China relaxed considerably the documentation that US-based travelers need to provide with their tourist (L) visa application and they also shortened the online application by about two pages.

Then, on January 11, China made it possible to get a visa on arrival at the airport, as described below, and – as if that wasn’t enough – a few days later, it qualified Swiss and Irish passport-holders also for visa-free travel!

China Makes It Easier For US Residents To Get A Tourist Visa

The process now in the USA is for travelers to fill out an online application and take this together with their passport, a passport photo, driver’s license (proof of address), an application fee and a “where you stay” form to the Chinese consulate responsible for their state. Although the online application form at 9 pages is shorter than it used to be, it is still pretty detailed. One section asks about travelers’ intended itinerary. Previously, applicants had to provide plane tickets and hotel confirmations attesting to this itinerary. However, this requirement is now removed and all applicants need do is describe their intended itinerary with no commitment whatsoever to performing it, i.e. you can change your itinerary as needed after the fact. If all the forms have been completed correctly, after 9 – 12 business days, a 10 year multi-entry L visa will be provided to you.

A Quick Note For All Business Travelers – New Possibility of Visas on Arrival!

On January 11, 2024, China relaxed its visa rules a little more, but it only offers an advantage for non-leisure travelers, principally business travelers and so I include only a brief mention here. If a traveler has an urgent need to visit China, say for business, and not enough time to sort out a business visa, what they can do now is jump on an international flight to China and make their case to the customs police at the airport once landed. (They will likely need a detailed, stamped letter from a Chinese company attesting to their situation effectively acting as an invitation letter.) If you can provide the right documentation, depending on your circumstances, then the airport customs police now have the latitude and authority to issue you with a 24, 72 or 144 hour visa so that business people can take care of urgent affairs in China.

It Remains Onerous To Get A China Visa In The UK, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico

To get an idea of how favourable the new policy is for US residents, compare it with how unfavourable the policy remains for UK residents. British applicants must still travel to a visa centre – whether Manchester, Edinburgh or London – to have their finger prints scanned, the policy since 2018. As well as a completed application form, a photo and an application fee, they continue to be required to provide hotel and plane confirmations coinciding with the itinerary they outline in the application form. The requirement to undergo the finger print scan together with the requirement for plane and hotel confirmations means that the UK application process is more onerous than the one in the US, and of course many western European countries don’t even require a visa now. We are hopeful that the visa application process will loosen in the UK, Mexico, Brazil and other countries in the next couple of months. Should this happen, we’ll update agents in an email blast.

Should You Use a Visa Service?

I find myself baffled by seemingly pointless bureaucracy, and so find the visa application process tremendously off-putting. As a result, I always get an agency to deal with my visa applications and I would recommend others do the same. In the US, Imperial Tours has co-operated with Passport Visa Express for many years. (Back in the day, I used to be able to phone them up and get VIP’s next day China tourist visas, but those times have now sadly passed.) In the UK, we work with Cultural Tours, an outfit informally linked through the Chinese network to CTS (UK), a state-owned travel company.

The advantage of using a visa agency in the US is manifold. Most practically, they will “walk” your application into the consulate for you so that you don’t have to go there yourself. Secondly, you can choose between one of two services. Either (i) you get them on the phone and they fill in the form for you (heaven sent!) or (ii) after you fill in your online form but before submitting it into the consulate’s computer system you save a copy onto your PC and email this version to them so that they can check it to ensure you’ve answered all the questions correctly before submitting it, thereby saving you the complications and delay of an incorrect or incomplete application. The third benefit of working with them is in eliminating much of the back and forth in the application process, giving you both more confidence in the visa system and in getting your visa back in good time for your travels.

These days, Passport Visa Express‘ normal service takes 9 – 12 business days and their premium service takes from 6 – 8 business days. (The super-fast 1 – 2 day turnaround time is currently unavailable.)

Cut To The Chase Already!

Long short, if you live in much of western Europe or the US, getting a tourist visa to China is pretty straightforward these days.

In May 2023, during my first visit to China after the pandemic, I was astonished by the development of Xi’an. “How Has Covid Changed China” chronicles the transformation of this previously unkempt city into a more modern metropolis of gleaming towers and high-tech zones interconnected by elevated expressways, metro lines and buses set on a canopy of lake-centred parks and green spaces. It was like time-traveling from 1980 to 2025 in the space of four years.

China Map

To understand the forces behind Xi’an’s incredible leap over the past five years, we need to look at government policy towards Xi’an over the past forty years, but particularly either side of the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of 2013. Prior to the BRI, exports routinely traveled from China to the rest of the world eastwards by ship. And as Xi’an is in western China, she was facing irrelevance and obsolescence.

China’s reforms of the 1980’s had led to a widely-celebrated economic boom along the east and south coasts where customs-exempt manufacturing zones located by rapidly growing ports were exporting a range of low-cost goods around the world. Meanwhile, because of poor inland infrastructure, foreign investors shied away from Xi’an which subsequently suffered slow growth and emigration. This imbalance was addressed by President Jiang Zemin’s “Go West Campaign” of 1999 which between then and 2006 prompted public investment of more than ~US$140 billion in transport, energy and connectivity to develop the attractiveness of western regions for investment. To forestall inevitable environmental complaints about this steel-woven carpet of concrete infrastructure, ecological protection along with education, were incorporated into the policy from the outset – over a million hectares of farmland and wasteland were converted into forest with farmers compensated for their resulting loss of income.

Xi'an North Station

This long-term planning, a characteristic of Chinese governance, from two-decades ago is coming to fruition now. Apart from building smart new highways for China’s burgeoning middle classes and road-hauliers, a second airport terminal was completed in 2003 and a third in 2012. Also, Xi’an’s connection to China’s expansive high speed railway system, the largest in the world, was facilitated through the construction of Xi’an North Station. And again with an eye on the environment, investment was planned for a city metro system whose 9 lines covering 263 miles (423 km) opened between 2011 and 2023.

However, this first phase of development, pre-BRI, received a disappointing response from foreign investors. On the one hand, this was because the strategy had all been directed by the government which made western business people uncomfortable, and on the other, it was because it was ultimately misdirected. The billions spent on improving the infrastructure and educating the local workforce still did not compensate for the easy convenience of locating manufacturing capacity in the vicinity of the already established shipping hubs with their teaming populations.

This state of affairs was to be radically changed by President Xi Jinping, whose hometown is a one-hour drive from Xi’an. In 2013 he launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), prompted by three separate factors. Firstly, China still needed to address the longstanding economic imbalance of its underperforming western regions. Secondly, Xi realized that China’s reliance on shipping for all its exports created a significant trade, economic and military vulnerability – any geostrategic rival could bring China to its knees by blockading the Malacca Straits through which nearly all China’s shipping passed. Lastly, as a result of the massive stimulus it unleashed following the 2008 financial recession, China had developed over-capacity in infrastructure-related capabilities, particularly in steel and concrete production. Coupled with a need to diversify its asset holdings from an over-reliance on US bonds, it saw an opportunity to leverage its infrastructural know-how through an international development loan and export program.

So what is the oddly-named Belt and Road Initiative? (BRI for short) Translated uncomfortably from the Chinese, “belt” and “road” refer to two different sets of envisaged trade routes. “Belt” describes the web of historic overland trading routes popularly referenced as the “silk road” linking Europe and China via Mongolia, Russia and Central Asia. This ancient commercial network has already been significantly rejuvenated through a gargantuan Chinese-built infrastructure program and even now continues to receive more investment from both China and participating countries. Xi’an has always been at the Chinese terminus of that network.

Xi'an International Railway Port

“Road” relates to a more logistically ambitious goal for China to access the Indian Ocean via complex corridors through South East Asia (particularly Myanmar) and via the adjoining Arabian sea through the Pakistan Economic Corridor. The westerly cities of Chengdu and Chongqing, which along with Xi’an form the “West Economic Triangle Zone”, are the gateways for this route. The BRI is therefore intended to increase China’s strategic resilience by reducing its reliance on the eastern and southern seaboards for exports. Of course, by reducing the cost and time to transport cargo from China westwards by rail to Europe, the BRI necessarily increases the attractiveness of western regions for foreign direct investment.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading the papers, both foreign and local companies jumped at the logistical advantages of the BRI. The American company HP was an enthusiastic early adopter, proud to replace a 37-day journey from China to Europe eastwards by ship in 2009 with a 15-day journey westwards by rail ten years later. As a result between 2018 and 2019, rail volumes from Xi’an to Europe increased by a factor of 6! Then, in 2019 the volume of rail travel between Europe and China almost doubled. Suddenly, the western region boomed. And Xi’an was the place to be. In 2019, the government supported the rail project with an International Trade and Logistics Park along with a bonded area in an accompanying High-Tech Industrial Development Zone for cross-border e-commerce. Money poured in. Xi’an profited from US$31 billion of investment in private investment in 2019 alone. The city’s population grew from 6.2 million in 2013 to 8.8 million in 2023 and – despite the accelerated pace of construction – house prices rose 46% between 2016 – 2019. Similarly, the value of the city’s GDP or production tripled from US$57 billion in 2013 to US$156 billion in 2022. As a result of its fast population growth, Xi’an was able to extend its city limits and allocate more land to its fast-growing Qujiang District, where many of its new and soon to come luxury hotels are located. When I arrived in Xi’an in March 2023, having not been there since 2019, I was utterly astonished by the tail end of all that investment.

Qujiang Art Centre

But Xi’an may well have hit its apogee just as Covid hit, because the pandemic has partly cut off the oxygen on which Xi’an thrived, namely foreigners’ access to the city. By June 2020, new business registrations had fallen by 40%. Tourism, along with equipment manufacturing and service outsourcing, was one of Xi’an’s pillar industries. Although domestic tourism provided some support, international tourism was completely interrupted from 2020 until March 2023, and because of reduced airlift to and from China, it is still only now beginning to recover. Furthermore, the conflict in the Ukraine and US sanctions on Russia have complicated Europe-bound rail logistics, though attempts are being made to create a new route that skirts Russia’s southern border across the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus to Europe. Lastly, the economic and military standoff between China and the US has spilled into its relationships with Western Europe, Japan and South Korea, nullifying the Foreign Direct Investment on which Xi’an’s recent success and strategy has been predicated.

Following twenty years of continued investment Xi’an positively glistens. Expensively constructed government, commercial and residential buildings embellish a state-of-the-art infrastructural plan of social utopianist promise. However, tourism, a pillar industry, and reliance on continued foreign direct investment are being held hostage to the geopolitics of the moment. Without some kind of thaw in China’s relationship with western countries, Xi’an’s regeneration and even the ingenuity of the BRI are liable to stagnate. I and many Xi’an residents hope the world can find a way to avoid this fate.

As China’s big cities return to a new-normal, bars and restaurants are open, friends can meet and everyone is back to work. So, what about those wishing to take a break from everyday life and get away for a well-earned weekend? Of course, international travel is not really an option right now, but how has China’s domestic tourism market faired in these uncertain times?

The year of course began with considerable disruption due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, during which all of China’s many and varied tourist destinations were closed. By May 1st, however, China had long since declared victory over the virus and most of its world-famous sites were up and running again. Combined with the weekend, Labour Day (1st May) was a three-day holiday in China, of which many people took advantage.  

In the first two days of the holiday more than 50 million trips were made, a respectable number by any calculation. In Beijing, the Forbidden City was partially open for the first time, albeit with limited ticket sales and social distancing measures maintained. In Shanghai, the city’s main tourist attractions welcomed more than 1 million visitors back, albeit initially operating at only 30% capacity and requiring visitors to wear masks. On the first day of the holiday, China’s railways carried 7.4 million passengers, the highest daily number recorded since the Lunar New Year holiday when the crisis began. Of course, one should bear in mind that these numbers were barely a quarter of the norm for this period, and there are many reasons for this. For starters, many people simply did not feel travel was yet worth the perceived risk. A nation that had been told to stay in their own homes for their own safety took a while longer to be lured back onto trains and planes.

Another reason may be linked to the path that China had taken out of lockdown, namely in its use of QR health codes. As mentioned in an earlier blog post “The Benefit of Experience in Tackling Covid-19”, most of China is now covered by a mandatory QR code system. To apply for the code, you register on an app such as Alipay, an e-wallet widely used in China, and enter information about your health, recent travel history, as well as ID information. This will give you a QR code: if green, you’re free to move around, but if your code changes to yellow, then restrictions including quarantine may follow. Each city generally has its own system and criteria, with differing consequences for varying colours. If a neighbouring city has confirmed covid-19 cases for example, travelers had reported that a visit may result in a yellow code and the need to self-isolate upon return. For a short trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou, just an hour away on the train, such potential uncertainty may have been off-putting even to locals. Accordingly, business travel reduced, with companies avoiding the risk of their employees getting stranded. However as things have moved on, it’s now possible to acquire multiple QR health codes, or codes which are compatible across cities. This has helped somewhat, allowing travelers to apply for clearance in advance, and has encouraged more people to get out and about.

Most hotels have now reopened, albeit not yet at full occupancy, but likely faring better than elsewhere. With temperature checks and facemasks having been commonplace for months, China’s travel industry is doing its best to help potential guests feel safe and secure away from home. Hand sanitiser is readily available everywhere.

For foreigners travelling within China, things have been a little more difficult. Until recently in fact, the Chinese Foreign Ministry had stopped issuing visas to China. These have since resumed, in a limited capacity and targeted to specific nationals only (mostly European). At present US passport holders are not granted visas for leisure travel. For those foreign nationals already in China – there can still be compatibility issues with QR codes, although the situation is improving as the system matures.

A month after the Labour Day holidays, a new outbreak did occur in Beijing. Then, over 1,200 flights were cancelled, train services greatly reduced and much of the city endured varying degrees of restrictions. However, roads remained open and people were allowed to leave once they had received a negative test result. Whereas this wave was quickly contained (as is to be expected by the swift action of local authorities now), mini-outbreaks have since occurred in Xinjiang Province and, even more recently, in Hong Kong which is currently at the tail end of its third wave. As a nation, the people are therefore much more alert – and uncertainties have affected mobility – but at the same time, most Chinese are confident that they’re currently in one of the safest places to be from the ongoing pandemic.

These days, China appears to be far ahead in getting life back to a new normal. Restaurants are buzzing and there is life on the streets. Air travel has recovered to pre-covid levels.  In many parts, you can see people’s faces again, though masks are still required on most forms of public transport. Whatever setbacks might come in the near future, I don’t doubt that China’s tourism industry, along with other sectors, will bounce back quicker than most.


– Kate is one of Imperial Tours’ China Hosts and a Shanghai resident.

During these times when our faith in the future is questioned, it’s uplifting to be sent glimpses of societies that are further ahead in confronting Covid-19. China and Hong Kong had the misfortune to face their first coronavirus in November 2002. That gave them a head start in meeting the challenge set by this new disease. Kate, Imperial Tours’ Shanghai-based China Host, provides a snap shot of life in Hong Kong and the main cities of China’s mainland. She explains the technology and history underpinning their relative success in confronting Covid-19 and provides peace of mind by showing how – even before there is a vaccine – we can establish a new normal.


The Situation In Hong Kong

When Covid-19 first attacked, it appeared that Hong Kong was at great risk and likely to become inundated with cases. It has many land borders with the mainland and a huge influx of visitors crossing its borders every day, not to mention it being a transit hub for international flights from all over the world. Yet a lockdown never became necessary in Hong Kong. Why? Because Hong Kongers have been here before. These are people that have come through SARS and swine flu and they know the drill. So without the need for laws and lockdowns and police, the Hong Kong people started distancing from each other. They wore masks when they went outside and chose to stay home more. A survey in March found that 85% of people said they were avoiding crowded places, and 99% said they wore a mask if they went outside.

The government supported this effort by acting quickly and following WHO guidelines to test, test, test. They allowed just three crossing points from the mainland to remain open and introduced strict checks and quarantine measures for those arriving in the city. They stopped flights transiting. They also limited gatherings to a maximum of four people and required restaurants to separate tables and limit capacity to 50%. Bars and nightclubs were closed for a time, generally just 14 days. So, restaurants didn’t close, nor did daily life shutdown, yet with the willingness and cooperation of a people quick to play their part, Hong Kong maintained one of the lowest case-counts of the virus in the region.

At the time of writing, Hong Kong’s borders with the outside world remain closed to outside visitors and some restrictions remain in place. For example, it’s common to have your temperature checked and to see plastic screens separating tables in restaurants. However, people are gradually feeling safe to meet, now in groups of eight, as per current guidelines. Bars, beauty parlours and other leisure facilities are reopening and life is getting back to normal, albeit with the continued use of masks


The Situation On The Mainland

At this point, bars and restaurants have reopened and patrons need not wear masks. In fact, only on public transport and in office buildings are masks widely worn indoors. Cinemas and other cultural events are operating at reduced capacity and if you fancy a swim you’ll need to book in advance. However, within those parameters, life is largely back to normal. Schools are slowly opening, people are travelling to work and socialising in the evenings. It appears China’s major cities have reached a new normal.


So how does life continue at this critical time of increased vigilance? The answer – Technology.


incense burning

All residents use a QR code within Alipay or Wechat (If you haven’t heard of these platforms, you will have within five mnutes of arrival in China, it’s pretty much impossible to function on the Mainland without them. Think WhatsApp or Facebook but so much more necessary.) The system is pretty straightforward, you sign up with information about your health and where you’ve recently travelled. Then everywhere you go you scan the QR code, for example on a metro carriage or in a mall, and as a result of this you get given a traffic-light-based colour-code. A green code is your passport to freedom! Bars, restaurants, malls, whatever, you just show your green code at the door and in you go.

Now, it is worth pointing out that each city operating these codes has a separate system so the criteria and consequences differ slightly, but broadly speaking, if for any reason someone you’ve been in contact with later tests positive for the virus, your code turns yellow, at which point you’re required to self-isolate at home. You won’t have much option because with a yellow code no-one will let you in anyway. If you yourself develop symptoms and test positive, your code becomes red at which point you need to be in a government operated isolation facility. This method seems to be hugely effective, probably because of it’s ease of use and the willingness of the public to subscribe. The local transmission of cases has fallen to basically zero in all of the major cities. A secondary reason this system may be so effective, is that it makes a green code so valuable, that no-one wants to risk losing it. Therefore, the incentive to take unnecessary risks is reduced significantly


The Benefit of Experience in Tackling Covid-19

China has weathered an array of health crises since it’s opening up in 1979. From the Hepatitis A outbreak in 1988, to the much publicised outbreaks of SARS in 2002/03 and H7N9 in 2013 and now, the worldwide pandemic we all face. Yet as the virus persists and spreads from one hotspot to the next around the globe, in China, where the eyes of the world were so focussed just four short months ago, life is pretty much back to normal. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional small outbreak, quickly contained and dealt with, or that people don’t remain cautious, but on the whole, the economy is moving, people are working, leisure venues are open and China is back.

So how did a country faced with a virus unprecedented in its transmissibility regain control in such a relatively short space of time? In short, the preparedness of the authorities and the willingness of the people.

The virus was widely recognised mid-January, shortly before the Chinese New Year holiday. This may have been a blessing in disguise, as, although huge numbers of people travel for the week long holiday, it made it relatively easy to close workplaces. China’s first line of defence was to lockdown Wuhan city, where the virus originated, closely followed by suspending intercity travel and extending the new year holiday in order to stop people moving around, taking the virus with them.

Increasingly strict measures followed nationwide. Neighbourhood committees (local “police” in charge of each residential area) became extra assertive, especially in Shanghai, where the rules imposed by the neighbourhood committees frequently went further than the national government guidelines. In Beijing, residents were advised to tell their local authorities of their impending return whereupon they would be asked to self-isolate for 14 days. In Shanghai, people could only sleep at the address at which they were registered and could not enter other apartment complexes for any reason. Masks became compulsory when leaving home, something which was only permitted for the purposes of buying essential supplies. Once the borders closed, anyone arriving at Chinese airports were subject to a mandatory quarantine, often in a designated hotel at their own expense. Those that were allowed to quarantine at home were escorted. As they walked from the vehicle to their home, teams in hazmat suits followed, spraying the ground behind them with disinfectant. Temperature monitors were placed on the returnees’ beds to check for a fever while they slept and sensors were placed on the front door of the apartment. If the door was opened for any reason the returnee would receive a text message asking for an explanation.

Extreme measures? Definitely.
Draconian? Probably.
Successful? Undoubtedly.

Just four months later, with its borders closed and rigorous testing in place, China is back in business.


– Kate is one of Imperial Tours’ China Hosts and a Shanghai resident.


If you haven’t yet read Part 1, click here to read about Jaime’s earlier experiences living through the Coronavirus quarantine in Beijing


“Last week there were five straight days without any locally transmitted infections in the entirety of China. Although that trend was bucked this Monday, it has been the case again today that the only new cases in the country are from individuals (Chinese or foreign: it isn’t known) who recently returned from abroad. Hubei province, which was the epicenter of the virus in China, has today announced that it will be lifting the travel restrictions that had been in place for two months, except for its capital Wuhan.

Things are far from returning to normal: thousands remain in hospital in serious condition and millions under varying degrees of curfew or quarantine measures. However, the vast majority of people across China can now go to work at their offices, exercise outdoors, dine with friends at restaurants and return home to their families with the hope that the worst part of the crisis has passed.

As the virus ricochets around the world, there are still stringent regulations in place to dissuade large groups of people congregating in case there are undetected clusters. The main tool that has been deployed in Beijing and other cities is the use of entry/exit cards. These are small cards which each local neighborhood issues and which must be shown upon leaving and entering the community. They have the user’s name and address, as well as in some cases a copy of the identity card on the reverse side to discourage misuse.

Most residential compounds in Beijing are gated, and each entrance is dutifully patrolled by volunteers working in shifts of a few hours each who check to make sure everyone coming in or out has a card, as well as their body temperature with a laser thermometer. This system has ensured a constant vigilance for potential new cases, and it has helped to ensure that the volume of interactions in any given area is lower than it would be otherwise. Likewise, restaurants and bars have a strict limit on the number of patrons they’re allowed to have on premises at any given time (my estimate is that the limit is 30% of capacity), with a maximum of 3 people seated together and ample space between tables. In what was surely meant as a symbolic gesture of confidence, one section of the Great Wall has re-opened to visitors after being closed for two months, albeit with the mandatory donning of face masks, temperature checks at the entrance and reduced visitor capacity.

Life is not normal in Beijing yet, far from it, but we can see it on the horizon. Whispers of movie theaters and museums starting to re-open are gaining credence and the steadily increasing flow of people on the streets (including a few risk-takers without masks) are for me all but certain signs that this city is steadily returning to its old self.

I sadden when I talk to friends in Italy, and I would rather not ponder too much on what awaits less-prepared countries around the world in the coming weeks, but I am absolutely convinced that if the world follows the instructions of health experts we will be able to get through the worst of this crisis in a much shorter span of time than we can imagine.”


– Jaime is one of Imperial Tours’ Itinerary Designers and a Beijing resident.

“With just three days until Chinese New Year, faced with the gradually spreading coronavirus epidemic, my husband and I decided to refund our New Year’s Eve train tickets to his home and to cancel plans to reunite with my in-laws for the ‘Spring Festival’, China’s most important holiday. Our family of three would stay in Beijing instead. Except for a meal with parents and sisters who were in Beijing for the Spring Festival, we could not visit restaurants or shopping malls, and could not meet  with other relatives or friends. We wanted to relax, but our wandering minds couldn’t help but pay attention to news of the epidemic’s developments and to the extraordinary and heartbreaking efforts of medical staff in Wuhan – watching them was like wondering when a hanging heart would finally fall.

But life must go on. The Beijing city government encouraged employees to work from home and postpone visiting the office. My husband and I were uncertain when this 24/7 balancing act would end, so we set up a home office and with a baby to look after started the new Spring Festival holiday life.

Our five-year-old daughter doesn’t have a habit to sleep during the day, but hardly going out during the day, how could she consume all her energy at home and still fall asleep early in the evening? This was an issue that my husband and I discussed often. How long could the novelty of an indoor trampoline last? My husband and I took turns hopping with her before dinner to make it more fun. As children like to imitate adults, my husband and I followed an exercise app on our tablet for yoga and aerobics with our daughter. But in the end, my husband undusted the Xbox, having left it untouched for several years. Among the games, the dancing, skiing, and active themed ones became our family’s staple evening entertainment. Was this enough for our daughter to burn all her energy to be able to get to sleep early each evening? Not at all. Don’t even think about it! We relented and let her sleep later, so long as it didn’t affect daytime activities.

Family tensions did occasionally run high, but my daughter gradually submerged ever more deeply into her world of Lego and Peppa Pig dolls, curating themed and innovative scenes for them, arranging their respective characters for intense playtime. And when you grow tired of playing and start to get angry with your child, out come the fruit snacks to save the day. Free online children’s courses and newly acquired hobbies such as calligraphy and painting have become part of our lives. If your child is having a good time, then we adults can take advantage of the opportunity to do our own thing. After so many days of having “nowhere to escape”, I found the parent-child relationship remained mostly a mother-and-child bond. This cornerstone having been laid, it allowed my husband and I to run our household smoothly.

During the holiday, my frequent discussions of the virus and epidemic with my husband did not escape my daughter’s ears. We found a newly produced cartoon on viral sciences to watch and explain what was happening to our daughter. Gradually, she learned why our vacation had become so long without the resumption of her kindergarten; why her dad had to video conference from home; why she couldn’t play with her classmates; and why the courier couldn’t deliver direct to our home, but that an adult had to go downstairs to a special desk to collect deliveries. We had to explain why she couldn’t accompany her mother to the supermarket to choose her favourite snacks, not to mention hearing about the ‘uncle’ wearing protective clothing at the supermarket entrance taking everyone’s temperature before they can enter. My daughter would suddenly say: “Mom, I hope you can also be a doctor in the hospital.” Funnily enough, not long ago her kindergarten arranged a ‘virus prevention’ painting activity. My daughter’s piece was of ‘mother in the kitchen making tasty pies’, which she would eat to ‘strengthen her resistance’.

It is now the “Spring Equinox” season of the Chinese lunar calendar, where the weather outdoors begins to get warm and there is a feeling of summer approaching. As the fear of the virus recedes, the number of children playing downstairs in the community area is slowly increasing, and more and more restaurants around the city will gradually open for business. I believe our 24 hour ‘home life’ will soon be over.”


– Fiona is an accountant at Imperial Tours.  

Translated from Chinese by Terence Parker. You can read Fiona’s Chinese version here.



(You can read an English translation of this article here)











Updated: 25 March 2020

The Imperial Tours team would like to extend their heartfelt solidarity to everyone around the world who is being impacted by Covid-19. Now more than ever we are reminded of how fortunate we are to be in a business which brings people from opposite sides of the world together. To our amazing partners in the travel sector, we would like to remind that these difficult times will pass and that we will continue to arrange inspiring trips for our guests at the appropriate time. We put the health of our clients first and foremost and when travel to and within China resumes, we will proceed with our tours only if we are sure that there are absolutely no health risks to our guests.

While borders around the world keep closing and travel grinds to a halt, the Imperial Tours team is still very much at your disposal for any existing or future travel inquiries, as well as for on-the-ground updates on how the situation in China is evolving. As China was the first country hit by the pandemic, it is also now fortunate enough to be on the other side of the curve. If you would like to read some uplifting perspectives on the speed with which we can recover from the pandemic be sure to check our Blog in which our staff share their observations of positive developments in China.

If you or your client’s travel to China through Imperial Tours has been impacted by Covid-19, our updated policy is as follows:



In compliance with restrictions and advisories worldwide, Imperial Tours has temporarily suspended all tours departing until August 31st2020. If you have a tour scheduled for these dates, we offer the following options:





Please note these policies are not retroactive from the date published and do not apply for tours departing from September 1st 2020 onwards. The policy is subject to change at any time in accordance with global travel advisories.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Itinerary Designer you have been working with or send us an email to this address.



““One hundred and ten!” one of my neighbors yelled proudly from our shared common courtyard. He had been walking around the inside perimeter of our block of flats for the better part of an hour, phone in one hand and a leash connecting him to his sluggish corgi in the other. Face covered with the now obligatory mask, he walked over towards another dog-neighbor duo sitting on a bench enjoying the spring sun and in his booming voice announced he was increasing his loops by 10% each day. The neighbor didn’t bother to mutter a response, and the man’s corgi, unimpressed, quickly slumped alongside his fellow canine.

Beijing’s Second Ring Road at rush hour.

I am ignorant of what constituted my neighbor’s exercise routine before Covid-19, but Beijing has implemented such restrictive measures on movement that most people are weary to leave their homes except for pressing reasons. Having lived in the historic center of Beijing for almost ten years now, the changes have been unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. The maze-like hutongs (alleyways) used to have shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of people flocking to the restaurants, bars, shops and tourist attractions of the area. These are now all sealed off with a retractable fence at every possible entry point and manned day and night with at least two, typically middle-aged, volunteers. Working in shifts of two hours, they are armed with a walkie-talkie, a laser thermometer and, most importantly, a sense of duty for collective action against a common enemy, this new virus. A large percentage of restaurants and bars remain closed, and anywhere which may be a focal point for crowds has been shut. The main exception is public parks which, to the relief of many, have kept their doors open to visitors so long as they don a mask and agree to a temperature check. 

An eerily quiet Bell Tower

Although these measures were greeted by skepticism around the world when they were announced, the numbers should be enough to placate doubts of their effectiveness. The early days of February when thousands of new cases were being diagnosed on a daily basis are now unthinkable, and the trickle of cases that continue to emerge -outside the epicenter of Hubei- are mostly imported by travelers returning from one of the other large clusters around the world. As of this week they are being quarantined in specially designated hotels, so while they are mostly returning residents and not luxury travelers to China, measures like this will affect travelers for some time to come. Nonetheless, the drastic downward trend in cases is a welcome respite from the early days of the virus spread, and countries where the virus still looks to be gaining momentum should get some reassurance from it.”


You can now read Part 2 for a follow up of Jaime’s experiences living through the quarantine in Beijing.


– Jaime is one of Imperial Tours’ Itinerary Designers and a Beijing resident.

Since Confucian times, the Chinese have long been a male-centredsociety. In marriage, women typically wed into a husband’s household – more a contract between families than two individuals – and subservience was expected. In such a patriarchal society, by contrast sons were sole beneficiaries to a family’s fortune, and highly revered. Indeed Confucius himself was said to opine that “a good woman is an illiterate one” and, education for girls was thus limited to being a virtuous wife and a good mother; to obey the “Three Obedience’s and Four Virtues”. It wasn’t until the late Qing Dynasty, upon turn of the 19thcentury, that an effort to establish girl’s schools took place. After all, a stable home leads to a stable nation. Then, through China’s more recent history under the Communist Party, we saw further progress toward female empowerment and embracing the role of women. In fact Chairman Mao once declared that women “hold up half the sky”, and the years since have seen significant improvements to a woman’s legal and social status. Demographically, Chinese women have seen vastly raised levels of education, healthcare, employment, and most importantly independence. Since Deng Xiaoping’s program of ‘Reform and Opening Up’, some four decades ago, we’ve seen a sizeable emergence of “nv qiang ren (女強人)” – or “Alpha Females” – and according to the annual Hurun China Rich List in 2018, China now accounts for 63% of the world’s most successful female entrepreneurs.

Zhou Qunfei

Zhou Qunfei, founder of touch screen maker Lens Technology

Take for example Zhou Qunfei, founder of touch screen maker Lens Technology, and current holder of the title for world’s richest self-made woman with an estimated net worth of US $9.8 billion. Born into a poor family, Zhou was a success of Deng’s reform policies but most importantly her own dedication and perseverance, earning her the nickname ‘Brother Fei’, with suggestions she is ‘as tough as a man’. Having started with modest watch faces, Lens Technologies is now a major supplier for the likes of Samsung, Huawei, and Apple. Also on the list is Zhang Yin, founder and director of Nine Dragons Paper Holdings, and first woman to become richest person in China. Zhang was never afforded the opportunity of college, instead working from a young age to support her siblings. Her successes were similarly a product of hard work, having seized on opportunities presented by a paper-hungry domestic market in the 1990’s. Now a publicly listed company. Nine Dragons is one of the largest recycled paper manufacturers in the world.
Tao Huabi

Tao Huabi (or ‘Old Godmother’)

With a slightly smaller net-worth but arguably larger household name, the highly admired Tao Huabi (or ‘Old Godmother’, as she’s more commonly known) came from humble roots having accidentally discovered the popularity of her chili sauce – then only a side condiment in the simple noodle shop she was running. It didn’t take long to realise customers were not actually interested in her noodles, which sparked the beginning of a ‘sauce empire’ that has fought off imitations and lawsuits to become one of the best known in China today. In the arts, Chinese women have also seen their share of rise to prominence. Amongst the famous, Eileen Chang spent her early years in Shanghai and Tianjin, before moving to Hong Kong and eventually the United States. Despite this, her formative years in an all-girls school in Shanghai moulded her literary talent: she wrote her first novel at age 12, eventually releasing several big hits, many of which were translated to English, including the highly rated Lust, Cautionreleased as a major motion picture movie worldwide in 2007.
Lijia Zhang

Lijia Zhang ‘freedom fighter’

Top novelist Zhang Lijia, ‘freedom fighter’ and author of titles including Socialism is Great,regularly appears as guest on the likes of CNN and BBC. Having grown up in Nanjing and lived through the cultural revolution, her memoirs recall her own intellectual awakening and struggles growing up through the tumultuous decades that followed. In sports – 2014 tennis world no. 2 Li Na had become a household name, having won 28 singles tennis career titles including both Australian and French Open grand slams. Unlike most sports personalities, Li had famously succeeded by quitting the state run system but instead arranging coaching and training herself. As with much of the world, social perceptions in China have improved and women given more opportunities to reach their potential.  In the Middle Kingdom, this has meant high rates of women in employment (high in fact, even compared to global standards) and much more independence. Couples are marrying later, and many opting not to have children. International Women’s Day is well celebrated in China – with many businesses giving half a day off to female employees. In private however, this is still against a backdrop of prevalent traditional values and an underlying reluctance to challenge patriarchal ideals. China’s very own #MeToo movement was killed off almost as quickly as it began – and in politics the role of women in senior positions is noticeably absent. Despite intentof equal representation: the 25-member politburo only has one female delegate. No women have served the standing committee to date. It doesn’t help that the legal retirement age for women in China is lower than that of men: a logistical hindrance perhaps, but also indicative of an antiquated perception that women are physically limited. As we celebrate 40 years of China’s ‘reform and opening-up’, and yet another women’s month comes to close, we can celebrate the progress of women in Chinese society, but knowing that more needs to be done. After all, women shouldbe holding up half the sky.