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How To Read a Chinese Train Ticket

If you're among the 4/5 of the world's population for whom Chinese is not your native language (and, frankly, if you reading this, I think it's safe to assume that you are), then independent travel in China might seem like a daunting prospect. To you I say, "take heart!" Though it is admittedly easier to travel in China if you know at least a handful of Chinese words, it is possible to get by without any Chinese language skills. When it comes to communication, a series of gestures and pointing can usually get you the basic necessities. As for reading, you won't often find yourself in a position where you have to read important information in Chinese. Most of the time the inscrutable Chinese characters you see are not vital to your well-being, and if they are there is usually an English translation. One exception to this rule is train tickets. Your life will be much easier if you can decipher the information on your ticket. That being the case, I thought it might be useful to provide this short guide to the parts of a Chinese train ticket. Here's a picture of a ticket with different parts numbered for explanation below.

When you take a China train ticket, you can find the names of departure station and destination are shown both in Chinese and pinin, however, there are other important information are shown in Chinese and number only. You can learn to read these info with the introduction below. See the samples please.

新 - New (higher standard)

空调 - Air-conditioned 
特快 - Express train 
快速 - Fast train 
普快 - Ordinary train 


硬座 - Hard seat 
软座 - Soft seat 
硬卧 - Hard sleeper (上铺 - upper, 中铺 - middle, 下铺 - lower) 
软卧 - Soft sleeper (上铺 - upper, 下铺 - lower) 
高级软卧 - Deluxe Soft sleeper (上铺 - upper, 下铺 - lower) 
一等座 - First class seat 
二等座 - Second class seat 

Q - discount info
R - 2D bar code 
S - train number

This is the origin city for your train ride. Tickets always include the Chinese characters and the pinyin.
This is the destination city. Again, you will always have the city name in Chinese and pinyin. A tip: if you have a guidebook or something else that lists the Chinese characters of your destination city, it's worth double-checking your ticket after you buy it to be sure you are going to the right city. Some city names sound very similar, or even have the same pinyin, and it's better to find out you have the wrong ticket before you leave rather than finding out upon arrival. One other note: big cities often have several train stations servicing them. The different stations are typically distinguished from one another with one of the cardinal directions. In Chinese, these words are Bei (北) (North), Nan (南) (South), Xi (西) (West), and Dong (东) (East). On the sample ticket above, you can see that my destination was Shanghai Nan, or Shanghai South Station. This is a good thing to be aware of when you are buying and reading your ticket.

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