Trains in China – What are the classes of travel?

Every train offers a variety of seats or beds that differ in terms of comfort, space, privacy and cost. Not all classes are available on every train.

Types of seats on high-speed trains

Second class seats are the most popular and are quite comfortable and the cheapest option. First class seats are also quite popular while business class seats offer the ultimate comfort but at a high price.

Second class seats

The second class section has a 3+2 configuration (A-B-C-aisle-D-F).
These seats are always facing forward as they are turned around at the end of every journey.
There is more leg space than the typical economy seat on a plane.
The padded seats are about 42cm wide and leg room is about 40cm.
The seatback can be lowered and there are armrests.
There is a foldable tray attached to the back of the seat and, usually, there is a power outlet under the seat (less frequent on D trains).


First class seats

The first class section has a 2+2 configuration (A-C-aisle-D-F).
The seats always face forward.
These seats are more comfortable and larger than in second class.
The seats are 47cm wide and legroom is 40 to 50cm.
Compared to second class seats, these seats have more padding, a footrest and a foldable table in the armrest.
There is usually a power outlet.

China-bullet-trains-first-class-seats China-bullet-train-first-class-seat

Business class seats

Business class is the ultimate in luxury.
There are two or three seats per row which seats are comparable to first class seats on certain flights.
The seat configuration is A-aisle-F for the first row and A-C-aisle-F for other rows.
The seats face forward.
The very comfortable leather seats can be completely flat so that you can lie completely.
There is a LED screen in one armrest and a folded table in the other plus a power outlet under the seat.
Sometimes you will be served a snack and a drink.
Not all high-speed trains have a business class section.


VIP seats

A few trains have a VIP section.
The exact configuration is variable from one train to another.
The seats are sometimes similar to those of first class but with three seats per row and sometimes similar to those in business class.

To see what these classes in China high-speed trains look like and understand the various facilities on board, watch this video that gives an overview of this type of train and classes of travel.

Types of seats or beds on normal trains

Normal trains can have both seats and beds. Getting a seat on an overnight train is the cheapest way to travel but is not comfortable. The exact type of seat as well as their comfort and design can vary quite a bit from train to train.

Hard seats

Hard seats are the cheapest option when traveling by train in China.
The seats are hard and the backs do not lean back making it a poor option for longer distances.
The seats are “back to back” meaning that half of the seats are facing the back of the train.
It also means that you are facing other passengers in the opposite row with a small table in between.
The hard seat area if often crowded and noisy with passengers without a seat filling the alleys.
The seats are about 40cm wide with no armrest. The seat configuration is typically 3+2.


Soft seats

Soft seats are not available on all trains and can vary in quality.
While better cushioned than hard seats, they often have no armrest and may not always lean back.
With a 2+2 configuration, the seats are about 45cm wide and often arranged “back-to-back” so that they are facing each other.


Hard Sleepers

This is the choice of travelers on a budget.
Hard sleeper compartments consist of 6 beds, 3 on each side.
Beds are shorter and narrower than in more expensive classes.
Your ticket will specify the row number and whether it is the lower sleeper, middle sleeper or upper sleeper.
The lower sleepers are most expensive while the less convenient upper sleepers are the cheapest.
It is not possible to sit in the middle and upper sleepers. There are seats in the corridor.
The hard sleeper compartment is an open area without door. Space for luggage is limited. There is space under the bed and on the rack across from the sleepers.
There are a few power outlets in the corridor.
As the compartment is not closed, it is more noisy and there is no privacy.
Lights are usually turned off at about 10pm and the car gets somewhat quiet.
Generally beds are 180cm long by 60cm wide.
Head space is 90cm for the lower sleeper and 65cm for the mid and upper sleeper.
Clean bedding is put in at the beginning of the journey of the train.


Soft Sleepers

Soft sleeper compartments consist of 4 beds, 2 on each side.
The beds are labeled lower and upper sleepers. The lower sleeper is more expensive than the upper sleeper.
Beds are softer than those in the hard sleeper section.
The compartment has a door that can be locked.
A group of 2 or 3 people looking for privacy can purchase all four tickets.
There is enough space for a reasonable amount of luggage below beds or in the space above the door.
The beds are numbered in sequence and the ticket will also tell you if it is an upper or lower sleeper.
There is a small table between the two lower beds and usually with a power outlet below the table.
You have a light switch for the compartment.
Generally beds are 190cm long by 75cm wide. Head space is 95cm for the lower sleeper and 80cm for the upper sleeper. There is about 50cm between beds.
Clean bedding is put in at the beginning of the journey of the train.


Deluxe Soft Sleepers

Deluxe soft sleepers offer privacy with 2 beds per compartments and more space.
The compartment also has a private toilet and a sofa.
There is plenty of space for luggage and the door can be closed and locked.
There is sometimes a small closet to hang clothes or a safe to put away valuables.
Generally beds are 200cm long by 85cm wide. Head space is 95cm for the lower sleeper and 80cm for the upper sleeper. If you wish to have a private compartment, you need to purchase 2 beds.
Not all overnight trains offer this option.


To see what these classes in China normal trains look like and understand the various facilities on board, watch this video that gives an overview of this type of train and classes of travel.

Learn more about:

High-Speed China trains
Normal China trains
China train stations

Popular train routes with Deluxe Soft Sleepers

Beijing – Xi’An
Beijing – Shanghai
Shanghai – Xi’An
Shanghai – Guilin
Beijing – Harbin

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  • Can a family of three purchase a deluxe soft sleeper cabin?

    ---- Michael Terelmes
    • if your kid is under 1.2 meters, then you three can fit in a deluxe soft sleeper cabin as the child is free. If she/he is overnight 1.2 meters, then you need to buy her/his a child (under 1.5 meters) or adult (over 1.5 meters), but you will get a sleeper in another cabin.

      ---- admin
  • Hello. We plan to travel Xian to Ping Yao, Ping Yao to Beijing same day on the 19th of May, 2018. We will be carrying luggage, is there a place to store luggage at Ping Yao train station while we tour Ping Yao?
    Thank you.

    ---- Amethyst
    • Yes, there are storage place at Pingyao station (normal train) and Pingyao old town station (bullet train)

      ---- admin
  • Are overseas Chinese tourists above 60 years old entitled to discounts for normal train tickets?

    ---- Shirley Hor
    • Unfortunately there is no discount for old people. It is same price as adults.

      ---- admin