China Railways welcomes children onboard. Rail crew will often treat children with particular care. Those travelling on and around International Children’s Day (01 June every year) will in particular feel very at home on some trains.
Young Children Must Be Accompanied: The railways will generally not accept children travelling on their own (except via special arrangements). However, students may travel on their own.
Height Matters: In China, the age of the child is not relevant — what counts is the body height.
▶ Children less than 120 centimetres (3 feet 11 ¼ inches) in height travel for free — but only one child may travel per paying adult.
▶ Children that are taller than 120 centimetres (3 feet 11 ¼ inches) and 150 centimetres (4 feet 11 1⁄16 inches) in height) need a child ticket — this is 50% the price of an adult ticket.
▶ Children taller than 150 centimetres (4 feet 11 1⁄16 inches) in height are treated as adults, and thus require full adult tickets.
Maximum “Free Kid Passengers” per Family: As a maximum of two children travel for free if only a mother and father are both travelling (and only one kid goes for free if only one parent travels), you would theoretically need another adult for a third or subsequent child to travel. The railways, however, are rather mute as to whether or not it has to be a family member — you run less of a risk of being “caught” if an uncle (for example) travels than if a complete stranger travels with you (although good friends should pose no big issues).
Destination Restriction: A child cannot in general travel further than the stop where the adult gets off.
Sleeper Surcharge: If a child that travels for free uses an entire sleeper bunk, he or she must pay as if he or she was an adult. On trains where air conditioning is available, the child must also pay 50% of the air conditioner charge.
Special Care Passengers: A child is considered a Special Care Passenger, and you should let rail crew know that a child is with you. China is an incredibly child-friendly society!
Very Young Children: Most medium-to-large stations offer some kind of special assistance for very young children and in particular mothers. Feeding facilities should generally be available. You are advised, however, to check in advance — or probably to travel from a larger station.