Boarding Procedures on Chinese Trains
In the major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, etc) the train stations are incredibly hectic and confusing places. You should arrive at least 30 minutes in advance (40 minutes would be better) to give yourself time to find out from where your train leaves. To enter the station you (usually) need to show your ticket. As you enter you have to put your bags through an X-Ray machine (there’s no metal detector though). Some stations have decipherable signs pointing to where your train leaves but most only have this information in Chinese. If in doubt, show your ticket to one of the many attendants or security guards floating around and they will point you in the right direction.
Either as you board the train or soon after the journey starts, the conductor will take your ticket and give you a plastic coupon. Shortly before you arrive at your destination, the conductor will give your ticket back in exchange for the token. DO NOT leave your ticket on the train or throw it out. You (usually) need to show your ticket one last time as you exit the station.