There are a very few situations where no visa is required or you can obtain one on arrival. The following paragraphs explain the main exemptions. You should also be familiar with airline regulations.
1. For Diplomatic, Service or Official Passport Holders
China has mutual visa-free agreements (PDF) with some foreign countries, but they are mainly for diplomatic, service or official passport holders and only allow the duration of stay less than 30 days.
2. For Direct Transit
No visa is required for foreigners who hold tickets to the final destination and have booked seats on international airlines, ships, trains transiting directly through China, and will stay for less than 24 hours and do not leave the specified transit area.
3. For Nationals of Singapore, Brunei and Japan
Ordinary passport holders of Singapore, Brunei and Japan are allowed to enter China without visas for up to 15 days for tourism, including visiting family or friends, or minor business purposes provided they enter through nominated international ports.
For nationals of these three countries, a visa is required under following circumstance:
(1) Ordinary passport holder visits for tourism, business, visiting friends and relatives and stay for more than 15 days.
(2) Ordinary passport holder visits for the purposes of study, work, official visit, settling down and interview.
(3) Diplomatic and Official passport holder.
4. For Holder of Aliens’ Residence Permit
Foreign nationals who visit for the purposes of study or work and resident foreign journalists shall apply for Aliens’ Residence Permit at local public security authorities within 30 days after entry.
Within the period of the validity of the Residence Card, the holder is entitled to enter and exit China for many times without applying for another visa.
5. For Holder of APEC Business Travel Card
The APEC Business Travel Card is regarded as a multiple entry visa valid for three years. With this card and relevant passport, the holder is entitled to enter China for many times within three years. The duration of each stay should be within 2 months.
6. For Tourists Visiting Hainan Province
Citizens holding the ordinary passport of the following 26 countries are exempt from visa requirements when they travel to Hainan Province as a group (at least 5 members) organised by International Travel Agencies that have been set up and registered in Hainan Province: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kazakstan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Thailand, USA and Ukraine. The stay is limited to 15 days.
Citizens of Republic of Korea, Germany and Russia who join an international tourist group (with two members or above) can stay up to 21 days.
7. For Tourists Visiting the Pearl River Delta Region
Citizens holding passports issued by the nations with diplomatic relations with China is exempted from applying for a visa if he or she joins tourist group at Hong Kong and Macao organized by registered travel agencies in Hong Kong and Macao to visit the Pearl River Delta region (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhaoqing, Huzhou Municipalities) for tourism and stay up to 6 days.