Up until 1993, the most crowded place in the world was Kowloon Walled City, a public housing project in Hong Kong. The tenement has since been replaced by a park—and, to be accurate, Hong Kong wasn't even officially part of China then—but nonetheless, China retains an image as the most crowded country in the world, in addition to being the most populous. Here are the places in China that best earn the country this reputation.
Beijing During Chinese New Year
It's no secret that Beijing has some of the world's worst traffic, even on a good day. Traffic is so bad in China's capital, in fact, that the government has limited who can drive on which days according to license plate number. The effectiveness of this strategy is limited, of course, given the aptitude of Chinese factories for producing fakes of just about everything.
One part of the year during which all hell breaks loose on Beijing's roadways is at the end of the Chinese New Year each February. As families who've scrambled all over China to see relatives race to return to work, unfathomable traffic builds up on the freeways leading back into the city. It's unclear just how many people tend to be involved in these motorized stampedes, but reports of 35-50 lane traffic jams that go on literally for days are becoming more common, which of course makes sense when you consider that Chinese New Year is the world's largest annual human migration.
Hong Kong's Yick Fat Building
Of course, just because the Kowloon Walled City no longer exists doesn't mean Hong Kong isn't home to some truly dense places, let alone residential buildings. Take the Yick Fat Building. Located in the Quarry Bay area of Hong Kong Island, its compact configuration has made it an iconic selfie spot for tourists, to say nothing of its inclusion in major movies. It's not nearly as crowded as Kowloon Walled City was, but few places in China give off a more packed-with-people vibe than this iconic edifice.
A particularly striking way to see just how many people call Yick Fat home (there is no official number) is to walk into the building's courtyard as people are going to work in the morning. Be discreet and respectful, however—this is someone's (well, thousands of "someones") home, after all.
Dameisha Beach in Shenzhen
Sure, highways and buildings in China are crowded, but surely even the world's most populous nation can't subvert the idea of a relaxed day at the beach—right? You clearly haven't been to Dameisha Beach, located near the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province.
The sight of hundreds of thousands of people on this relatively small stretch of sand is shocking, although it's not surprising. Shenzhen's summer temperature frequently rises into the 90s, and with humidity percentage at least as high, the city's 12 million people need to cool themselves off somewhere.
Shanghai Metro at Rush Hour
The Shanghai Metro is one of the world's most crowded, with nearly 10 million people per day riding it during 2016. If you want to get a first-hand look at just how crowded the world's most populous country is, try riding the Shanghai Metro at rush hour, either around 7 in the morning or near 5 in the evening.
Two spots that showcase this crowdedness with particular claustrophobia are People's Square Station and Century Avenue Station. The intersection of three and four Shanghai Metro lines, respectively, these busy transfer depots get stretched to their limits as people go to work and come home every day, and are an easy way to get a glimpse of China at its most crowded.
Jiuzhaigou National Park during Golden Week
On most days, Jiuzhaigou National Park in southwestern China's Sichuan province is one of the most serene and beautiful places in the country, with its crystalline blue-green water and dramatic tree-covered mountains. This is particularly the case during the autumn, when said trees blaze orange, yellow and red, creating a veritable rainbow of leaves and water that's enough to make even the happiest city dweller shed a tear.
One particular part of the autumn you'll want to avoid, however, is the so-called "Golden Week." Every year on October 1, bedlam comes over the country as the vast majority of Chinese people enjoy time away from work. Jiuzhaigou, in particular, gets overrun, thanks both to its growing fame among tourists in China, as well as its proximity to large urban centers like Chengdu and Chongqing. You won't want to be among them, unless you want to see first-hand that China's crowdedness extends far beyond the limits of its cities.
The Great Wall at Badaling
Like Jiuzhaigou, the Great Wall of China is one of the most popular tourist attractions in China. Unlike Jiuzhaigou, however, the Great Wall is perhaps even more famous around the world than it is within China—and it's crowded every day of the year. At least in parts.
In particular, the Badaling section of the Great Wall is accessible by direct train from Beijing, which means that it's where the vast majority of tourists head. If the convenience of Badaling allures you, make sure to leave Beijing before the sun rises to get there right at the 7:30 a.m. opening time.
Otherwise, you'd do better to head to less famous sections of the wall, such as Si Ma Tai, which is not accessible by train and is best seen with a private taxi driver your Beijing hotel can assist you in hiring. The relative difficulty of visiting this part of the wall all but ensures that it isn't going to be as crowded as Badaling.
Xi'an: The Muslim Quarter
Although Xi'an is coming onto the radars of Western travelers more and more thanks to direct flights to Europe and the United States, and increasing international fame for its most popular attraction, it still remains relatively unknown for a city of 8.7 million.
Another thing many people don't know about Xi'an is that it's home to one of China's largest Muslim populations. And the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an is just as crowded as you'd expect the commercial area of any city in the Middle East to be, particularly at night when street food stalls set up amid the rest of the bazaar shops. As you traipse through the crowded Muslim Quarter, the Xi'an Bell Tower tolling above you, it's easy to imagine how this city must've been back when it was an important stop along the Silk Road trading route.
TIP: If you want to avoid crowds in the Muslim Quarter of Xi'an, head there in the early evening when other tourists are still at the Terracotta Warriors.