Modern tourism in China sprang up in the early 1950s. In 1954, the China International Travel Service was established, with 14 branches in Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities. In 1964, the State Tourism Administration of China was formally established. Since the initiation of the policies of reform and opening to the outside world in 1978, China's tourism has entered a stage of rapid development. In 1999, the number of tourists entering China reached 72.8 million, of which 8.43 million were foreign tourists, 40 times the figure for 1978. Consequently, the foreign exchange income from this industry reached US$14.1 billion, 54 times that of 1978. Currently, China has become an important tourism destination in Asia, and the fifth large fourism country in the world. Domestic tourism is also growing vigorously. In 1999, the number of domestic tourists reached 719 million, spending a total of 283.2 billion yuan - 14.3 percent and 105.9 percent increases over 1995, respectively. With the improvement of the Chinese people's living standards, Chinese citizens have an increasingly strong interest in traveling abroad. In recent years, Chinese citizens have traveled to Southeast Asia and Europe. Foreign travel agencies are now opening offices in China to attract Chinese to travel abroad.
Now, China is fast on its way to becoming a country with developed tourism, and constantly improving tourism facilities and services. It is estimated that, by 2020, China will be the world's No.1 tourism destination and the fourth-largest nation of tourists.
China is a vast land, rich in tourism resources. It comes out in front in the world in scenic spots and historical sites, spectacular landscapes, and colorful and varied national customs. At present, there are two major tour routes in China: One is the "S"-shaped traditional tour route, containing famous political and cultural cities such as Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou; the other one is the crescent-shaped tour route containing coastal open regions, such as the Liaodong and Shandong peninsulas and the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas. Following the "S"-shaped tour route, tourists may climb the Badaling Great Wall and visit the Imperial Palace and Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and view the terracotta warriors and horses excavated from the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, the Stele Forest and the Great Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, wander along the bustling Bund and Nanjing Road and through the Pudong New Zone in Shanghai, enjoy Suzhou's gardens and the sights of the West Lake in Hangzhou. Following the crescent-shaped tour route, visitors may get some idea of the enormous changes which have taken place in the open coastal cities since the initiation of reform and opening to the outside world, and appreciate the charming seaside areas in north and south China. Moreover, the coastal towns all have holiday villages and various recreation facilities.In 2000, China is sponsoring the "China Century Tour". The program consists of dozens of tourism celebrations and festivals, such as the Ice and Snow Festival, Lantern Festival, and Pingyao Ancient City Cultural Festival. Nine specially chosen tourism routes along the Yangtze River, Yellow River and Three Gorges are expected to attract more foreign tourists. Meanwhile, China is starting large-scale promotion activities in the domestic tourism market, so as to make the Chiense people get to know their own country's tourism resources better. During the China Century Tour activities, China is promoting "China's World Heritage - World-Level Tourist Attractions in the 21st Century" as China's competitive products in the international tourism market.