What was it like to travel in China 30 years ago?

Top: An old, Soviet-made Tupolev-154 of China Northwest Airlines; Above: A modern Boeing 777 of China Eastern, Northwest's successor airline.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons, Planespotters

Thirty years have made a world of difference in the way people travel in China. If you think you can go anywhere you want at anytime, that was not the case 30 years ago. Let's take a look at the travel essentials back then.

A recommendation letter from the employer

The recommendation letter 30 years ago worked as an ID card to show the person's identify. Travelers would need it to check into a hotel. China started issuing ID cards in 1984.


Money would not buy you anything 30 years ago, not even a simple meal during the trip. What travelers needed was liangpiao, a food coupon issued by the government.

Seagull camera

Digital cameras and selfies were nowhere to be found among Chinese travelers 30 years ago. The sought-after Seagull camera, produced by China's oldest camera maker, Seagull, was a must-have for people to travel in style.

Bus ticket

Travelling by bus then cost less than 10 per cent of the current price.


A typical hotel back then featured several bunk beds in one big room. Male and female guests stayed in separate rooms.

Tent hotel

Spending the night in a tent was another option. For example, the Guangzhou railway administration ran a tent hotel and charged five yuan a tent for each night. The tents were built in an open space.

Buying an airline ticket

People would need a recommendation letter from their employer as their proof of identity to purchase a plane ticket. Back then, a one-way air ticket could cost as much as 50 yuan, higher than the average person's monthly salary.

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