There are two kinds of people in China: Chinese nationals and foreigners.
If you belong to the first group, you will spend weeks acquiring permission to leave the country. You will spend hours leaning against walls or curled up on the floor with thousands of people when waiting to catch a train. You will spend minutes waiting for every website to load at its heavily bandwidth-limited speed… that is, as long as its not censored material.
If you belong to the second group, your visa approval is a mere formality and will be ready within 5 business days. You will breeze through security without being asked to show your ticket to find large, plush seats at your train station and plenty of room to spread out with friends for a game of cards. You will browse the internet freely, as the hotels, businesses, and cafes that you frequent are not slowed or censored by the monitoring of the government. And do feel free to break minor laws. The police aren’t counting. Heck! You’re American!
There are two faces of China. One with sub-par standards of living and ID cards under the watchful eye of the Chinese Communist Party. The other with all the conveniences and freedoms of America or Europe. One is meant to keep a vast, diverse, and occasionally dissatisfied population calm and unified. The other is meant to keep a more vast, more diverse, and more easily dissatisfied population from seeing the conditions of the other.
The tensions among the CCP over keeping China united are highly charged. If you are a foreigner in China, venture outside the western downtown regions of Shanghai and Beijing. Walk the line between the two words. You will feel it in the air. A storm may be brewing.