Basic Geographic Knowledge about China

I read a book about travel in U.S. I learnt some new ideas, like the Amtrak in America that connects all major cities. I was quite excited to find out another way besides air travel in U.S. If you ask me to list some cities I think are most important in U.S, I will give the following list

  • Washington D.C.
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • San Francisco
  • L.A….

They are just the names pop up in my brain when I listed them, in no particular order. I can draw a relative location map for these cities, but sometimes, I still make mistakes. I made bet with a friend on where Detroit is. I insisted that it is in South Texas. It turned out, without doubt, that I lost the bet. I was talking about Huston, TX….

China v.s. U.S.: Unbalanced Level of Understanding

This experience helped me get an idea of the situation first time visitors China is facing. Where is Guangzhou? Where is Hangzhou? Is Hangzhou nearer to Guangzhou or Shanghai? These simple questions may not be easy for foreigners.

I remember one question the student in Beijing asked President Clinton when he visited Beijing was: “The young generation in China knows about America much better than those in America do about China. Do you have any plan for that?”

The situation is very true. I guess many people in China at least know New York is on the east coast and San Francisco is on the west but not many people in U.S know where exactly China is.

China Cities

So here is a brief introduction about important cities in China.

Beijing is on the north, near the sea, but not a port. It is in the north area, a location similiar with Philadelphia.

Shanghai is in the east of China.

Guangzhou is on the south, near Hong Kong.

The distance between Beijing and Shanghai, Shanghai and Guangzhou are almost the same (Guangzhou-Shanghai distance is longer).

Chengdu is in the south-west.

Hangzhou, Suzhou is very near Shanghai – they almost merge with each other. The distance is 2 hour and 1 hour train’s ride.

Here is a China mapfrom Encarta. It is good enough to get some idea of the cities. Here is another map.


Travel between Beijing and Shanghai? Train and Air are both preferred.

Travel between Beijing and Guangzhou? Only Air. Train is too tiring.

Travel between Guangzhou and Shanghai? Air preferred.

Travel between Shanghai and Hangzhou/Suzhou? Train or Bus. It is too near to operate a flight….

From Shanghai to Chengdu? Air – definitely air. Don’t try train since it is among the most crowded train lines in China. Don’t take taxi. I got an email this morning, asking me how much it costs to take a taxi from Shanghai Pudong Airport to Chengdu. It is the third email on the same question since I started this site. Well. My answer is, I don’t suggest anyone to take taxi to Chengdu. It is 1600 KM away from Shanghai. If you do want to have a try, I guess it costs at least 5000 RMB and three days (if the car does not break down in the middle way)… This is also a trigger for me to write this elementary level China Geographic Knowledge Book.

22 thoughts on “Basic Geographic Knowledge about China

  1. I agree with JoyMocha. Maybe except the independent hall, what else can reminds people about Philadephia? Here are some thing can remind you about Seattle:

    Home town of Microsoft, used to be headquarter of Boeing (still most important and biggest factory site of Boeing), Starbucks, Amazon, Costco, most profitable bank of north America — Washinton Mutual, RealNetworks, Expedia, ….

  2. I also experienced this dilemma when I arrived here, I got confused and lost with names and geography of the cities of China. I messed them up with the names of the streets of Shanghai. Well, I should’ve brought China map with me, in the first place.

  3. Hi Jianshuo,

    You are definitely correct about the Americans’ lack of awareness and understanding of modern China. When I talk to people about China, I’ve had people ask me whether the Chinese still ride around in rickshaws and live in ancient pagoda-style houses! Most Americans still have misconceptions about this country.

    Great background info on the major cities in China. I think there are a good amount of foreigners who travel to Shenzhen as well. Maybe you could provide some info about this city also. Thanks!



  4. Jianshuo, you did not mention New York which I think is one of the important cities in US. It is hard to define what an important city is. Do you mean by the size,or population?

    Any way, in any aspect, New York and San Francisco will stand out.

  5. Jian Shuo,

    Philly has the world famous cheesesteak sandwiches. ym ym! You have to try it, You only can find the best cheesesteaks in Philadelphia.

  6. I think you should add that Beijing and Guanzhou are north-east and south-east respectively. If you say Bejing is north, people will try to find it on the map somewhere around the middle of inner Mongolia. When Chinese people think of China, they think Chengdu is the furtherest west. But when a foreigner looks at a map of China, we think Sichuan would be central China.

    Possibly you could add something like: when people talk about the northeast of China they are talking about [such and such] provinces. Southwest is Yunnan, Sichuan etc. Eastern Seaboard is: etc. Because when we look at a map we see things geographically rather than demographically — Chinese people ‘don’t count’ Qinghai, Gansu and Xinjiang although they take about half the area of China because (comparatively) hardly anyone lives there.

  7. I went to New York and Boston recently. Boston is of my type and I took lots of photos in Harvard and MIT campus., the city’s archtecture is very much European style. New York is a BIG city, and since there are so many Chinese living there, it is not difficult to find a Chinese shop on virtually very street. People are very nice and helpful towards tourist. I found New York very a confortable place to live, I am thinking to move to New York as I got a job offer from there.

  8. Jian Shuo, this is a very interesting and practical subject!

    Kaili’s point about north-east and south-east reminds us that it is probably much useful to introduce the “big-regions” that Chinese conventionally refer to. Furthermore, it is informative, to the Americans anyway (not to Kaili), to relate locations of Chinese cities to locations of American ones, as China and US are geographically somewhat similar. For example, China has a Northeast (Dong Bei) region, referring to Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning provinces, including cities of Shenyang and Dalian. It’s location relative to the rest of China is that of New England relative to the rest of US. China’s Southeast (Dong Nan) region is similar to US’s south. Guangzhou (Canton), Shengshen, Hong Kong, Fushou, Xiamen, Quilin, Kunming are in this region. China has a Northwest (Xi Bei) that covers a larger area than does the US northwest. It has five provinces: Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Xian, Dunhuang, Lanzhou are in this region. China has a vast Southwest where Sichuan and Tibet are, so does the US but Texas is part of the South. China has Central (Hua Zhong) and North (Hua Bei), the US has a Midwest. And then there is the east coast (Hua Dong).

    Comparing the north latitudes (NL) can be a refreshing study between, for instance, some east coast cities of both countries. Boston is NL 42° which is about how north Shenyang is (Harbin, NL 45°, is more north than Augusta, ME). Beijing is NL 40°, so is Philadelphia (see how important is Philly); New York is about 41°. Washington, DC is NL 39°, about Tianjin and Dalian’s location. Shanghai is NL 31°, between the inland Atlanta’s 34° and Jacksonville, FL (30.4°). Miami, the southern tip of Florida, is NL 25.8° or so, about how south Fuzhou (26.1°) and the inland Qulin (25.3°) are. Xiamen (24.5°), Guangzhou+HongKong+Shenzheng (22~23°), Haikou (20°), and Sanya (18.5°) are further south.

    As a reference to American friends, Hanoi of Viet Nam is NL 21° and Havana of Cuba is near 23°.

  9. Jian Shuo,

    I am French, will move to Shanghai within 6 months and have been reading your website for a while. I like it very much but would like to make one comment to your very interesting informations : All the comparisons that you or others make on this thread are comparing China and the US…I think that your website is probably read by people from other countries and some comparison to some other country than the US could be appreciated. For exemple, most of European countries are north of Beijing which is at the same level as Madrid in Spain. Shanghai is at the same geographical level as Bagdad…

    Keep the good work!

    All the best


  10. Knowing that bei actually means north and nan south, xi west and dong east helped a little learning the provinces of China. Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Hainan, Guangdong, Guangxi etc. It would have been more difficult if that was not the case.

    Interesting post and replies.

  11. Mathias, sorry for my ignorance of other countries. Maybe the reason is, I have been to U.S. for three times and been to Canada once, but never set foot to Europe yet. I love Europe very much and would like to visit it one day. Wendy (my wife) came back from her Europe trip and was so passionate to go there with me again.

  12. Uhhh, I talked about the US because I reside there, no intention whatsoever to glorify the Americans or anything. I wish I was qulified to share knowledge of or impression on other countries. Once I mentioned something about Canada, for I went there and heard the story there.

    I am sure it will be much welcome if others also share thoughts from other countries. I can only speak for myself: I would like to learn from you.

    Sorry about the several typos in my last comments. Americans are cowboys, right?

  13. And some mistakes I made:

    Guilin and Kunming belong in the Southwest region not the Southeast, I believe.

  14. Would u please tell me b\n the distance from guanzghou to xiamen in kilometres?and how time it takes by car?by train/or by plane? and their price.

    Thank u in advance.


  15. can u please tell me the distance between xiamen and chendu and also the preferred means of transportation between the two?? thanks

  16. Can you please tell me what is the distance between Shanghai and Guangdong? I have to go for work in Guangdong, and my plane arrives in Shanghai. How many a\hours travelling? And what are the around prices, to go with a plane?

    Thank you!

  17. I am an Indian Citizen considering a job in Foshan, South China. My employer would pay me salry net of tax in China. However, I have some financial obligations in India and may need to remit s good chunk of my earnings to meet my obligations. Is there a restriction in the amount of repatriation permitted ? Also, is there any restriction in getting part of my earnings in USD ?

  18. I want to visit Hu Li District. Tongan industrial zone Xiamen city please tell me how far is it from shanghai and what preferable way to travel Xiamen to shanghai.

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