China is a large country both in region & population, & it can be an intimidating place to be. For this reason, many people prefer to travel in group tours to get the best out of their experience. You can self-guide around the country but be aware there are still large areas where no English is spoken. We visited Shenyang (with a guide), a city of 8 million people & Beijing, a city of 21 million inhabitants. The difference between the two, even though both are large cities, was quite stark. Shenyang had some great sights to see such as the September 18 museum which did have English story boards however the everyday engagements with the citizens of Shenyang were difficult. Beijing is more exposed to a western influence so you will find easier communication particularly in the tourist hotspots. Most of theses tourist central areas have good signposting in multiple languages allowing you to soak up the culture of this Eastern world.
Cash is king in most places with foreign credit cards sometimes accepted. This can be limited to airlines, major hotels (all international brands and big domestic brands), and semi upscale chain restaurants in malls in the major cities Make sure you familiarize yourself with the larger local banks that will allow you to make an ATM withdrawal using your foreign card. Most Chinese now use WeiChat Wallet to make their payments, this requires a Chinese bank account so is not accessible to foreigners. This catches many tourists out so always make sure to have cash on hand. My recommendation is to carry enough cash with you when you're in China as it is accepted everywhere (and carry lots of small bills like 5RMB, 10RMB, and 20RMB for public transit). But bring a Visa or MasterCard and use it wherever you possible can (like hotels) to save your cash in hand.
It might seem like common sense but one of the most important things is to do whilst traveling, particularly in China, is to wash your hands before eating to prevent getting an unwanted gastro bug. A good tip is to carry some hand sanitizer or wipes in your backpack or handbag. You will never regret it! In China you must not only drink bottled water, you must also brush your teeth with it too. Drinking or touching contaminated water can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea which is no fun when you are on holiday. Avoid ice cubes, as these will be made with local water. Avoid fruit drinks, iced tea and iced coffee. To disinfect water, it needs to be boiled for at least 1 minute, and then cooled. Boiling water will not however remove fuels or toxic chemicals. Water purification tablets (containing iodine or chlorine) are also available, however these are sometimes ineffective against some particular bugs.
Ensure that all the food you eat is thoroughly cooked and hot. Cooked food that has been stored needs to be thoroughly reheated. Avoid uncooked vegetables and salads as they may have been washed in water that is contaminated. Eat only fruits that you can peel (bananas, mango, papaya) and avoid fruit that is already cut up into slices (you don’t know how long it has been on display). Avoid unpasteurized milk, cheese and yoghurt. Avoid raw or undercooked meat, fish and shellfish. When eating at restaurants, make sure it is a popular eating spot with lots of customers. These restaurants are likely to have better turnover of foods and hygiene practices. Food from street vendors has been associated with a higher risk of illness. If you are tempted, make sure the food is well cooked (being made in front of you whilst you wait). When preparing for your trip pack some oral rehydration fluids or salts, which are available at most pharmacies. These fluids have a particular balance of electrolytes, which allow them to be more quickly absorbed than plain water or juices. I also went to my GP prior to traveling & obtained some anti vomiting medication which did come in very handy during my travels.
It is also advisable to have your accommodation written in Chinese for the locals to understand. I also had a screenshot of GoogleMaps to show the taxi driver for our journey from the train station to our hotel.
China can be overwhelming, but it is a fascinating country. The highlight for me was a trip to Mutianyu, The Great Wall of China. It was a challenging walk with lots of up & lots of down however to stand atop this ancient structure was an experience of a lifetime.