shanghai china student group park

Diversity in Shanghai

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CIEE wants all our students to feel welcomed, supported, and empowered to succeed while studying abroad. On this page, local CIEE staff have provided details about conditions and cultural attitudes that students with specific identities might encounter at their location.

The information below is just a broad overview so if you have specific questions or concerns not covered here, please email We would be glad to have local staff share their perspectives, talk with you about accommodations, connect you with resources, and/or put you in touch with a program alum who could speak about their experiences navigating a program in this location.

No matter where you choose to study abroad with CIEE, our staff—all of whom receive regular and comprehensive training in diversity, equity, and inclusion—will be on hand throughout your program to provide advice, resources, and support regarding these issues. 

Body Size/Image

Weight and body image are popular topics among the younger Chinese. Though being slim still fits the preference of the majority, working out in the gym to build up muscles is gaining popularity. You may find young Chinese friends, especially females, frequently saying that they are “fat” even though they look slim. They seldom judge others’ body sizes and instead criticize their own. However, elderly Chinese may comment on your body size in a very direct or even impolite way because they believe it is either a truth or a compliment. Please do not take these comments to heart as “you’ve gained weight” and other related sayings can sometimes mean simple greetings like “it’s good to see you again!”



In Chinese society, disabilities are generally taken care of and respected. However, not all facilities in Shanghai are easy to access for those with disabilities, such as elevators and escalators at certain subway stations and buildings. City buses and cabs usually do not accommodate movement-related disabilities. 

Students are encouraged to provide as much information as they can related to their specific disabilities (or related needs) prior to arrival so CIEE staff can assess potential challenges and arrange for appropriate accommodations.


Gender and Gender Identity

To most Chinese, women and men share relatively equal social rights. Women can get jobs and choose their husbands; men can work outside of traditional hard labor or business roles. There is little restriction on gender norms as it applies to women, so you may find some women dressed in a more “boyish” fashion and not face many issues. However, that freedom of expression is more restricted for men, so you will not find many men openly dressing in what could be considered a more “feminine” fashion. Women should be advised that outfits revealing cleavage, shoulders, midriff, or legs may be considered sexual, especially when going out at night.


X Gender Marker

China does not recognize non-binary genders and does not have an official legislation that recognizes or protects gender-neutral people. People holding X gender marker passports are allowed to enter the country if the passport and the visa on the passport are valid but may face uncomfortable questioning regarding their gender identity. To avoid any problems while entering the country, it is important to make sure all travel information provided matches with identity and travel documents. As the X gender marker is not officially recognized within China, travelers holding X gender marker passports may be forced to choose between the binary genders (male and female) in some situations. 

Socially, Chinese people are generally not well informed on LGBTQIA+ related topics. In Shanghai, gender-neutral foreigners may be subject to curious stares or questions when engaging with locals, and often will be referred with the binary markers.


Heritage Seekers

You might think you are home when get back to China, where your parents or grandparents are from. You may meet Chinese people welcoming you as a Chinese or you may meet Chinese people that think you are not Chinese enough. You may feel irritated or even insulted that locals will hold your Mandarin and culture knowledge to much higher standards than other foreigners who can’t say more than, “Hi, my name is …” in Chinese. However, getting back to China is the best time for you to explore how you choose to define yourself. You can be both a US passport holder and a heritage seeker learning to appreciate the culture, get involved in the community, and bridge cultural gaps. As a heritage seeker, you will find opportunities to put your life and family history into a local perspective.


Racial and Ethnic Identity

Though China is comprised of 56 nationalities, more than 90% of the population is Han Chinese. Most Chinese minorities have some similar physical traits, so most Chinese people don’t really feel like racism is present and therefore do not address or concern themselves with the issue of race. Many Chinese may feel very curious about foreigners, especially if they are from smaller parts of the country where encountering foreigners is less common. There will be stares, asking for photos, and even touching when you are in China, especially when traveling to more rural areas. Chinese people may mistake the country you are from or the ethnicity you belong to; You may even feel offended by some comments or gestures from locals on occasion. Please be patient and open minded to these mistakes as they are almost never intentional or meant to offend. Study abroad doesn’t just mean that you learn the local culture, but also means that you help locals to better understand your culture too.



Buddhism, Daoism, and Islam are three religions with a large number of followers in China. Certain branches of Christianity and other Western religions also have followers, so it is not too hard to find a church to pray. Before your departure, please search online for information about the community of your religion in China. It isn’t hard to find people that share the same faith as you and attend services regularly. However, not all religious gatherings and activities are sanctioned or allowed by the local government, so please always ask CIEE site staff before you join in the activities held by your religious community.


Sexual Orientation

While Chinese public opinion on the LGBTQ+ community is becoming increasingly open, the government’s opinion on LGBTQ+ rights and freedom of expression remains a grey area. The government has cracked down on events, social gatherings, and media at times. Younger generations are more open about LGBTQ+, but the older generations of Chinese can be more hesitant to accept it as an identity or right. While students belonging to the LGBTQ+ community might face some challenges navigating societal conventions in China, many still enjoy their experiences and have successful semesters abroad.  Throughout your program, CIEE staff are on hand to provide advice and support regarding your LGBTQ+ identity, community gatherings, or cultural norms.


Socioeconomic Status

Shanghai has a variety of options when it comes to place to eat that can accommodate your budget. Shanghai is a big city and even though it's considered to be expensive, especially in comparison to smaller cities or rural areas, you can still find cheap places to eat. There are some fast-food Chinese chains that offer rice with different kinds of Chinese side dishes and generally include both meat and vegetables. Noodle places are also some of the cheapest options when you are eating out, and you may find places that sell traditional Shanghainese breakfast and other Chinese snacks that are quite filling for a low price. Western or other international food is generally pricier in comparison to the Chinese options, but there are some restaurants that have reasonable prices if you want to indulge.

Programs in Shanghai