The Chinese government issues visas to travellers from countries that have a normal diplomatic relationship with the People's Republic of China. Most foreign travellers need an "L" type- "Tourist" visa to travel in China.
It is not difficult to apply for a visa from Chinese embassies and consulates in most countries. Travellers need to wait no longer than three to five working days to obtain a standard 30-day, single entry visa which are valid for entry within three months. For business people and other regular visitors there are multiple-entry visas good for six months at a time. As an alternative, many tourists make arrangements through travel agencies.
Visa Extensions are dealt with by the local Public Security Bureau (Gong'anju). The period of extension varies, but if travellers hold a 30-day visa, they can expect to obtain an extension of 15 days to one month. Second extensions are rarely granted. The penalty of overstaying your visa in China is at least RMB300 per day.
In the past, many foreign travellers made the trek to Hong Kong to renew visas and get extensions. It is possible to get a "Business Consulting" Visa in Hong Kong from most travel agents. Costs vary and the Visa can usually be obtained within 48 hours. Some agents may ask for a Business Card as proof. As long as your "Business Card" doesn't list your job description as "Journalist" you should be ok. Another option for Visa renewal is to go through one of the agents in Beijing. Check out the bi-weekly magazine "City Weekend" for classifieds listing possible agents.