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There are two types of hotels in China: Sino-foreign joint venture hotels, which are Chinese-owned properties with foreign management; and wholly Chinese-owned and -managed hotels.

The Chinese government ranks hotels on star system whereby five-star accreditation is handed out by a central authority, while four-star and below ranks are determined by local authorities, none of whom are beyond a little (or a lot of ) wining, dining, and palm-greasing. Five-star hotels have the complete facilities and services of any international luxury hotel, but even among its ranks, quality varies more than it should. Four-star hotels come close, often lacking only a few technical requirements (such as a swimming pool or other facility). Both levels are popular choices for Western travelers, providing English-speaking staff and clean, comfortable, even luxurious accommodations. Foreign-managed hotels have foreign staff at the top levels, though increasingly the Chinese are filling more of these positions even in joint venture hotels. For Western travelers, your first choice should be foreign-managed hotels followed by the top Chinese-managed outfits.

Three-star hotels are almost always Chinese-managed and provide basic rooms. Few of them have English-speaking staff. In the bigger cities, three-star hotels are adequate for the budget traveler who merely needs a decent place to spend the night. In many parts of China, however, the three-star hotel is the best you’ll find.

Due to the comparative lack of cleanliness, two- and one-star hotels, as well as unrated hotels and basic guesthouses catering to the rugged backpacking traveler, are generally best avoided, if possible.

In general, most hotel rooms, no matter how basic, have the following: a telephone whose line you can plug into your laptop computer; air-conditioning, either centrally or individually controlled, which often doubles as a heater; a television which usually receives only local Chinese channels, if that; and some sort of potable water, either in the form of hot water thermoses which are delivered to your room after you check in, or bottled water and an electric kettle.