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In 2015, China welcomed more than 56 million international visitors.
China remained closed to foreign tourists after the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. The few visitors allowed to visit China in the ‘50s and ‘60s were mainly from the Communist bloc countries (U. S. S. R., Eastern Europe, North Korea, North Vietnam). It was not until 1964 that a travel and tourism office was established so that a limited number of western tourists were allowed to visit the country. Many countries, including the United States, were banned from traveling to China.
The ban was lifted in 1971 when the age of “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” began. The American ping-pong team had the privilege of visiting China. These first steps of American citizens on Chinese soil led to many other visitors, notably those of American Secretary General Henry Kissinger and President Richard Nixon. In the 1970s China granted more than 15,000 visas to US citizens. However, the Chinese ruling class remained hostile to tourism, which was considered a bourgeois leisure activity.
One year after Mao's death in 1976, tourism became a major sector of the national economy. The policy was designed to promote friendship among peoples and accumulate enough funds to modernize China.
By the end of 1978, almost 200,000 foreign tourists had visited China. In 1985, 1.35 million foreign tourists generated more than $1 billion in revenues. Tourism is then seen as a driving force of the Chinese economy and becomes a pillar of the "Four Modernization" reforms.
The most visited cities in 2016 in China were Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.
In 2016, the tourism industry contributed 2.5% of China's GDP directly to the economy and more than 23 million jobs were directly linked to it.