What they did announce was this: individuals applying for an L visa (tourist) need to provide, in addition to the previous requirements, a few things: 1) "An Invitation Letter for Tourist Group of Invitation Letter for Tourist by a Duly Authorized Tourism Unit" (what does that even mean?!), 2) "an Invitation Letter issued by companies, corporations, institutions and individuals in China; if the invitation letter is issued by an individual in China, the photocopy of the ID of the individual is required," 3) "photocopy of the roundtrip airline ticket and hotel reservation." (For a full list of what you'll need to apply for a visa, check out this page on the Chinese Embassy's website.) More after the jump.....
Now, the website isn't very clear about what any of this means. From the formatting and phrasing, it's not entirely clear if you need only one of those three things or one of the first two in addition to the third one, or what. The LA Times seems to think that it's one of the first two in addition to the third one. But again, it's not very clear. It seems a little silly to ask travelers to book their flights and hotel rooms before giving them permission to fly and travel there in the first place, but hey, who knows. Bureaucracy has never been known for its airtight logic and completely reasonable procedural hoops.
Additionally, those applying for F visas (business visa; lecturing, conferences, consulting, etc.) now need to provide two letters of invitation from two different agencies. (What kind of agencies, the reasonable observer asks? First one from the inviting agency, and then another from an agency whose specific task seems to be verifying the authenticity of the original invitation, although, again, things aren't entirely clear.) The embassy points out that "application(s) with any fake invitation letter or other fraud will be rejected," which is helpful, and I am sure will serve as a deterrent to anyone who was under the impression that fraudulent, forged documents were valid and above board. Phew! Problem solved.
Now, these measures aren't necessarily new. I heard rumors on a Lonely Planet thread that some embassies (I believe it was Australia, when I heard about it) were already requiring copies of flight and hotel reservations as far back as last year. What seems likely is that for one reason or another they've decided to clamp down on foreign travelers to rout out the rabble-rousers, or something, and for whatever reason this was one of their ideas. It is unlikely to be enforced in any across-the-board kind of way, and is probably going to be treated on a case-by-case basis. This means that you'll probably be able to get around the photocopy clause with a little talking. But keep in mind that this is one of those situations where it's impossible to know exactly how things will play out, so if you can provide the documents there's no reason not to. Otherwise, smile and hope that whoever is behind that smudged glass at the embassy is in a good mood.
As for the invitation letter, if you need to write one so that your family can come visit, I would recommend it look something like this:
Dear Sirs & Madams at the Relevant, Glorious Ministries,
Please grant upon my family your blessing and allow them to travel to the big, vibrant and wonderful country of you and your forefathers. They would like to gaze upon its peaks, marvel at its skyscrapers and traverse its booming, civilized countryside. If you could find it in yourself to allow them the privilege to learn and grow at the feet of 5,000 years of history and civilization, our family would be forever humbly grateful. If you are worried that my family will stay stay in China illegally after their allotted stay, I offer you this assurance: although I love them with all my heart, I will almost certainly be terribly sick of them and their quirks nine days into their 15-day stay, and will be overjoyed to see them go so I can go back to watching bootleg DVDs and ordering delivery food in my underwear.
Ever yours, Jim (王建国)