How to Cope with Huge Crowds While Traveling in China

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With a growing population of almost 1.4 billion people, here's how to deal with overcrowding while sightseeing in China.


Crowd of Chinese tourists in the Shichahai Old Town area in Beijing Photo © Getty Images/Didier Marti

The Chinese are experts at calmly navigating crowds, and you should expect to cop an elbow or a shove here and there while traveling here.

Queuing is not the norm in China – it really is every person for themselves. But, amid the chaos, there are a few rules for effective crowd navigation.

Elbowing is a part of Chinese history

There's a historical bent to the tendency to elbow your way through a crowd, as one American living in Shanghai explains.

"Traveling here requires patience because it is so overcrowded. They feel like they must rush, push, eat fast, or they won't get where they need to go, or they won't get the food."

While the Chinese may find it culturally acceptable to push and shove, you might not think it's very polite.

The shoving is usually not overly violent, just enough to move you out of the way. Places notorious for this behavior include on trains, buses and metro stations, at both the ticket counter and the stop.

Stay calm

Being in a tight crowd can produce panic and claustrophobia in some visitors, so remove yourself from the chaos by leaning against a wall or ducking into an alleyway.

Or, act like a local and stand your ground by refusing to let anyone past you in the queue or shoving back those that shove you.

Forget about personal space

This Western cultural tendency doesn't exist in China. If there is an empty seat beside you in a restaurant, expect it to be filled by a local, even if you make it clear you just want to sit with your group. If there's an available nook or cranny, people in China will attempt to fill it.

This diluted concept of personal space can also take on a tender aspect, as it's common to see people holding hands or hooking arms while walking down the street.

It is also normal for Chinese people to stare. It's not out of rudeness as much as curiosity, especially if you are blonde, have red hair or if you are a person of color – something many local people don't often see.

Tourist crowds in China

Time off work is scarce in China, so many people travel during the few holidays they can, such as Chinese New Year.

This means high-touristed areas become even more packed during peak holiday times. 

It will be impossible to avoid the mad rush in many places. If you are visiting popular sites like The Great Wall, either reconsider your travel dates or, if that isn't possible, get away from the crowds by going further up the landmark, where there will be fewer people.

Travel off-peak and go out when there are fewer people (late afternoon for lunch instead of 1pm, when everyone is having lunch), and you'll be fine.

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  • Deb said

    That's probably why the perspectives on personal space are a bit different in China.

    I keep hearing about how China is going to move millions and millions of rural people into urban areas within a decade or so. It seems as though the Chinese are doing a lot of real estate development. I have also heard of Chinese “ghost cities” where all these developments go up but have remained largely vacant.


  • Bruce said

    The hardest part for me on my first trip to China in 1998 was the fact that I was almost never alone; perhaps it was curiosity, but the few times I'd find myself with a little space, that space rapidly disappeared as locals crowded around. My favorite Chinese queuing experience happened in India when I was boarding a flight to Bangkok which continued on to Beijing. The Chinese started shoving as they were about to allow us to board the plane and one woman actually tried to crawl through my legs to board quicker.


  • Sophia said

    My take on this overcrowded,, beware of fakes even the wall is why go?... actually I wouldn't visit China even if paid to (ok maybe a few million) Everyone I've spoken with who went there had horrible stories that I kept asking Why did you even want to go there if have to endure such crap? So, as said visiting China means having to watch out for scams ect. more than having a pleasant holiday_not for me !!!


  • rick baldwin said

    I was there last year & had a ball,only did Beijing & the Wall.
    But the people at the Happy Dragon were fun,our morning market just outside,
    the best place for breakfast in the country.Got some laughs at Mao's tomb & had
    Peking Duck every other day.The only conmen were the tuk tukers,but my few Chinese
    words kept them fairly honest with me & my friends.


  • Conrad said

    I personally know Chinese people and these facts are so true! If it weren’t for the one-child policy, Chinese people would already be overcrowded into oblivion by overbreeding. But long before that, they would have starved to death as it takes more land per capita to farm than to house. Even before that happens, they would suffocate as the country would mostly be deforested as farmers clear more land for farming. EVERYONE MUST remember that Earth’s resources are finite, not infinite.

    Not only are they blind to their own problems, but they do not accept it even when presented with strong evidence. So much for “traditional values”. Such IDIOTS! The same also applies to Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indonesians, and Filipinos.


  • Tim said

    Some parts of China are actually okay... Just beware in Xinjiang


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