Your local newspaper kiosk will carry China Daily, a bland digest of local and international news in English. It’s worth fighting through the Chinglish and AP reprints to get some idea of the lay of the land when you first arrive – it won’t take up much of your time. You’ll find foreign papers and magazines for sale in high-end hotels, but in practice most foreigners go online for their daily dose of current affairs or favourite news source from home.
Your other state-provided English-language media is CCTV 9 on your television, which is excruciatingly dull. Chinese TV as a whole is very poor, with bland historical dramas supplemented by Korean or Japanese soaps and tacky talent shows, the worst of Italian and North Korean TV combined. It’s straightforward (though not strictly legal) to sort out international satellite TV – you’ll see ads for this in the expat magazines.
English-language magazines here are all free, supported by advertising; they’re also all rather good. One of the more prominent is The Beijinger, a monthly with high production values and full listings of events, restaurants, etc, as well as strong features, interviews and reviews. It used to be called That’s Beijing, but after an ownership dispute it changed name; a new That’s Beijing emerged in 2011, a monthly focusing on long-term residents of the city. City Weekend is a bi-weekly magazine with regular columnists in areas like LGBT issues, parenting issues and dining – it’s strong on listings and has an excellent website, as well as sister magazines for families and property. Time Out maintains the high standards of its namesakes around the world, with a distinct editorial voice and imaginative monthly features. For family-oriented magazines, try Beijing Kids or City Weekend’s Parents and Kids offshoot.
There’s a clear crossover for the best websites. City Weekend and The Beijinger are excellent for listings and community reviews, and That’s Beijing and Time Out offer similar services. Decide which one’s approach appeals to you most and make it your go-to site.
China blogs abound. Some to try are Danwei, The China Beat, Sinocism, ChinaGeeks and Jottings from the Granite Studio. The New Yorker’s Letter from China is excellent. Sinosplice is from a ChinesePod mainstay based in Shanghai, and China Hearsay covers issues of business interest. Two great websites that translate the most popular topics on the Chinese Internet, as well as provide a sampling of chatroom comments, are ChinaSMACK and China Hush. It’s fascinating to see the conversation going on and an eye-opener to those who think Chinese people have a conformist mentality. Note that some of these need a VPN, but using an RSS reader may get around this.
For general China discussion and analysis the Beijing-based podcast Sinica is indispensable (and Pop-Up Chinese, the Chinese-teaching podcast that hosts it, is great too). Shanghai-based ChinesePod has weekly podcasts on culture and language issues; you’ll have to subscribe for its excellent language-learning content.
Beijing apps are booming too. Explore Beijing has the best, most functional subway map bar none. Beijing Taxi Guide will make sure you never have a problem finding a listing in Chinese characters to show a driver again; Beijing Genius Map will make sure you know where you’re going. For language, the heavyweight is Pleco, which is not only a great dictionary but also has an OCR function that allows you to take pictures of Chinese characters and get an instant translation. There’s also Sina Weibo, if you want to explore the thriving world of Chinese microblogging.
This is just a summary; once you start exploring the on- and offline options you’ll find a whole ocean of resources out there.
Sinica (through Pop-Up Chinese)
Beijing Taxi Guide
Beijing Genius Map