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You can either have it cheap or easy. Comfort comes with a prize, or rather an investment. My advice is try to make Chinese friends before you get there, and then base your "travel plan" around places you can stay at.

One of the issues in China is the places you can stay at as a foreigner. While budget hotels are available to you, most "cheap-cheap" hotels are only for Chinese nationals.

I think a big aspect of "traveling cheap" has to do with how social you are. Are you willing to share a room with someone you've just met?

While you can't legally work while traveling through China, you could maybe do "English" related activities by going to the countryside. Spend half the day "teaching" children Chinese in inner-China and have the rest of the day be shown around, fed, and given a place to sleep. Still, that would require getting in contact with talent agents and these things would have to be planned out a few months ahead of time.

If you want to go sightseeing in cities like Beijing, Hong Kong, Nanjing, Hangzhou and the like then you have to be prepared to put up some cash for lodging. But, if you're willing to go placer richer in natural and "spiritual" beauty you could go to, let's say, the Blue Moon Valley in Yunnan.

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5 hours ago, Larry Language Lover said:

What is the easiest and cheapest way to live in China for an extended period for immersion in Chinese language and culture when you are over 50?


@Larry Language Lover -- What do you think of as an extended time period. Are you talking about weeks, months, or years? 

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1. If you do plan to take formal Chinese instruction while here, make it a point to find a school which can sponsor a student visa. Many (perhaps most) don't care about your age as long as your wallet still works. Many (probably most) will help you find a simple place to live, sometimes in the form of shared accommodations. It's not unusual for two or three students to get together to share rent and associated housing expenses. The school will act as a "matchmaker" and typically helps you with basic legal matters, such as looking over the lease.  


2. If you don't plan to take formal Chinese classes, but you think you are likely to stay 6 months or more, then rent a small apartment. Use that as your base of operations for travel. Gives you a place to leave heavy stuff and come back to between backpack expeditions. (It's very difficult or impossible to rent an apartment for less than 6 months.)  


3. If you don't plan to take formal Chinese classes, but think you are not likely to stay 6 months or more, then look into serviced apartments that rent by the week and look into small residential hotels. Personally, I'm a fan of serviced apartments in this scenario because they usually have a small kitchenette where you can fix at least some of your meals. 


Another option in this last scenario is sharing an apartment with working Chinese or other expats. In Kunming a resource for that would be the classified ads in GoKunming. https://www.gokunming.com/en/ Many other cities have somethings similar. 


Age doesn't really enter into the equation since you aren't planning to work. Most jobs are not available to men over 60. At 50 you can still get hired, all other factors being equal. What I did when in your situation, was just work real hard and live frugally while in the US, save my money, and then travel in China. The US was for earning 挣钱; China was for spending 花钱。Several months back home working; several months traveling in China and learning the language. Went back and forth like that until I eventually retired. 


Glad to try and help further as your plans develop.

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The above poster mentions age not being a factor, however I'm not sure if that's true. A number of colleagues of mine at a former job had to relocate to a new country once they hit 60(?) because of age restrictions on their visas. This may only be for working visas, though, so it might not be applicable to you.  


Edit: Nvm, guess I should read the whole post before posting myself. Sorry, move along. 

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