The Chinese have always travelled. Officials take up posts in distant places; traders accompany their goods on short or long-distance journeys; pilgrims travel to famous religious sites; others travel to visit friends or relatives or to find work; and still others are tourists pursuing exoticism or simply a different space and time. When they have no friends or relatives to stay with at the destination, people stay at some kind of serviced accommodation such as hotels or guesthouses. The imperial government ran an extensive guesthouse system to cater for all government travellers including officials, clerks and messengers. Privately run inns catered for private travellers. Travelling monks stayed at temples. Major pilgrimage sites had dormitories. All of these establishments also provided important complementary services such as food, drink (tea and wine), hot baths and sometimes even sensual pleasure (prostitutes and sing-song girls). Western-style hotels came to China during the Republican period (1912–49), but had a presence only in Shanghai and other foreign concessions. The state-run guesthouse system persisted through the high socialist era until today.
There were only state-run guesthouses during the Maoist era because all privately owned inns and hotels were nationalized. The restriction on private citizens’ travel also drastically reduced the need for hotels. The ability to travel and stay at guesthouses (zhaodaisuo) was a privilege available mostly to cadres. Just as in imperial times, differently ranked cadres received different grades of rooms and services. The very few foreign visitors were mostly foreign dignitaries who were received at designated guesthouses (e.g. Beijing’s Friendship Hotel). The reform era opened the hotel field dramatically. Foreign and overseas tourists swarmed in and luxury hotels sprang up in major cities. The five-star hotel-accreditation system was introduced. Chinese people who became rich during the reform era and executives of larger companies also became customers of luxury hotels. People travel for business and pleasure like never before in Chinese history, and the number of hotels of all grades will only increase at a faster speed, making hotels one of the most visible institutions in China’s urban landscape.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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