The Peoples Republic of China is a huge country, with a very long history. Inside its border there are fertile humid areas, the Gobi desert and the mountains of the Himalaya can be found. Of course there are many karst areas in limestone or gypsum. And because of the long history many cave houses and cave temples can be found all over the country.
The following list gives the four most famous karst caves in China. Obviously such rankings are subjective but all caves on the list are definitely worth a visit, even for foreign tourists. But be aware that all these caves are visited by more than a quarter million people per year.
Unfortunately, the land is not easy to visit, because of the well known political situation. Additionally, there is a massive language problem, as Chinese is not a single language, but many languages. Written Chinese contributes another problem: several thousand different characters make the language hard to learn, and so it is rather hard for foreigners to get information about the country. And Chinese people generally do not learn English as second language. Individual tourism is almost impossible for foreign tourists, It's impossible to talk to people or read signs.
Several cultural differences of China are quite weird for foreigners. First the country is huge and heavily populated, popular caves have enormous visitor numbers. Caves are always full of ancient inscriptions, often chiseled into the cave walls or speleothems. They commemorate the visits of rulers or are poems. Caves have coloured light, typically there are no white lamps at all. The guided tours list "landscapes", which means interpretations of speleothems. Formations are named after Chinese legends and fairy tales, which is rather harmless. But the cave is advertised with the number of landscapes, number of different kinds of speleothems, and number of different kinds of cave sediments. Each of those criteria is weird and does not make any sense. It's not possible to count any of those things in a meaningful way.
Another strange thing is, that every cave description starts a sort of aggressive pissing war. Our cave is the number 1 cave in Asia (in which way?) and we can proof it because a guy visited the cave in 1980 and told us this. In general, we got the impression that hard facts are not very popular. Poems are quite popular but unfortunately impossible to translate. And the rest is an almost baroque list of weirdness.
Another thing is, they count anything which is not countable. A typical text reads "there are 20 scenic spots with around 150 points of interest" in a cave. What's a scenic spot? A platform where you can stand for a minute and have a look? What's a point of interest? A sign bolted to a stalagmite? And there are lists like "contains 95 types of speleothems". How do they count them and what are different kinds of speleothems? Are thin stalagmites and thick stalagmites two different kinds of speleothems? They even count the numbers of different cave sediments. All those numbers are completely nonsense and neither of scientific nor of touristic value.
Chinese obviously have no idea of cave surveying, for some reason they always give the surface of caves, sometimes the volume. International Cavers survey caves in a standardized way. The British Cave Research Association (BCRA) even standardized a system to classify the accuracy of the survey. But there is no valid way to determine the area or volume of a cave, because this would require an enormous amount of measuring, which is quite difficult inside the cave. The reason is simply, that caves have an irregular shape. It's easy to compute the area of a rectangular room, but caves are never rectangular. So it is necessary to approximate the area, and the result is not very accurate and does not justify the enormous amount of work. In the last years it was done using laser scanners, which is still a lot of work and requires expensive and fragile technology. As a result we are sure the area of caves was not surveyed during in the 20th century. We have no idea if the numbers are actually the floor of the cave or the area covered by the cave system. Or if it is the size of the area which protects the cave. Probably they just mixed up length and area. But most likely the numbers are just fantasy.
Zhang and Zhu (1998) wrote in their abstract "according to incomplete statistics, more than 300 tourist caves have been opened to tourists", we have listed about 110 . Unfortunately this paper is in Chinese and does not explain how they got this number, the mentioned statistics is not published and not mentioned in the references. Spate and Spate (2013) also state that China has some 300 show caves, but they analyzed only 54 caves and do not even publish the names of those caves. We guess they copied the number from Zhang and Zhu (1998), which they mentioned. While we believe that the magnitude is more or less correct, we doubt that they list only show caves. We guess numerous caves which are listed as show caves are actually cave temples, mines, or artificial caves. That's just a rule of thumb, and is quite typical in most countries of the world. In total, we estimate that at least 150 existing show caves are not listed on showcaves.com. This makes China by far the number one incomplete country.
Unlike other countries China does not have an official list of show caves. We are sure there is an official list of show caves by the government, after all it's still a communist country and most caves are owned and operated by the state. As far as we know it is not published, at least not international, most likely it's an internal document and top secret. The available information is too limited to make a representative list. Our cave descriptions for China are either based on international publications or rather short. In general only caves which are part of organized tours for foreign tourists are listed and the entries lack important details.
We add caves as soon as we find them on the web, in the last years several caves were published on Asian tourist portals. Tools like Baidu help in finding the location. The quality of automatic translation has become much better, so we have at least a chance to get an idea of the content on Chinese pages. Several of the caves we added lately were opened to the public in the last 10 years, it seems there is a massive development of new show caves.
If you know about show caves in China which are not listed, please send us the name and location (coordinates if possible). The original Chinese name is helpful, the coordinates are very important as many cave names are used multiple times and this is for us the only way to determine which of the homonymous caves you actually mean.