There are many ways to get around in China, whether you are trying to get from one building to another or one city to another, and I have been on most of them. There are a couple of things that if I knew beforehand, would have made journeys easier. Maybe it would've made everything just a little more fun.
Walking is, of course, the cheapest way to navigate a city. Strolling through a Chinese city gives you the opprotunity to stop and check out any park, restaurant, or historical place you come upon. Be warned however, that this is really more of an experience than a way of getting from one place to another. Going anywhere can be tough. Everywhere I've been in China, though less so in Beijing and Shanghai, I have gotten stares. I've seen a couple of memerable double takes, even gotten my picture taken and asked to sign autographs (on English text books). People will just stop you on the street and start talking to you. Also, walking on the street in China is probably the most dangerous thing you can do. If you stick to sidewalks and never cross the roads, you will be safer off, but cabbies still ride on sidewalks sometimes. Maps can be bought in train stations, in Chinese, or for big cities English maps are sometimes available in hotels or travel agencies.
The pedicab is the most basic of transportation. I have only seen rickshaws for people going up mountains, in cities people tend to stick to bicycles. A pedicab involves usually an old Chinese man who bikes you around on his tricycle. People have expressed horror at this, saying who would make an old man carry their weight! But they have to make money, and in reality it is not that difficult. Something I do, because it is fun and people laugh, is to make the driver sit in back and I bike him around. In the end, I still pay him but everyone has a little more fun. Usually between 2 and 5 yuan.
Only really big cities have subways, and they are just like your standard subway in a western country. One interesting thing though, the Chinese don't wait for people to get off, when the doors open everyone rushes to get on and off at the same time. Many times there is enough room for everyone to sit down, but the Chinese still need to be on that subway as fast as possible. Also of note, the blue line in Beijing goes in a circle, which I think is wonderful. You can get on the subway and stay on as long as you want, then get off where you got on. It's like a zoo. Usually between 1 and 3 yuan.
Like your normal city busses, but normally packed full of people, they just don't know when to stop loading more on. Fairly comfortable when you can sit down. Around .5 to 2 yuan.
Cabs are everywhere in China, they fill the streets. You don't have to call a company, just go to the side of the road. Cab drivers are normally good natured, but if they don't turn the meter on, simply tell them they won't get any money. In Shanghai there is a star system for cab drivers, the more the better. I've seen as many as four stars. Rates vary from town to town, in small towns the start rate is 5 yuan, larger towns, even province capitals the start rate is 7 yuan, and in the major towns like Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, etc. the start rate is 10 yuan. At night, obviously, cabs cost more and I've had to pay as much as 55 yuan one night. You can bargain with cabbies, especially late at night. If you are paying a fixed rate (take me here for this much money, yes?) they will go much quicker.
Road-mobiles, whether they be motorcycles, bicycles, or cars, are a dangerous idea in China. I ride my bicycle around, but it is something you have to get used to. Think of a road in China like a river. It is large and dangerous and there is a chance that once you step into it, with the intention of crossing, you won't make it to the other side. When you do reach the other side, you feel relieved like you just accomplished something difficult. When you have your own means of transportation you become a fish in that river and for a while everything becomes new and confusing. You simply become an bigger target. Around 200 yuan for a bicycle, 2,000 for an electric bicycle, 4,000 for a motorcycle, and 350,000 for a new sports car.
The bus is actually a preferred method of travelling, if you're not going too far. When you buy a ticket you buy a seat, which is important, because they don't pick up random people, everybody has their own seat. Less crowd means more comfortable. Busses are usually air-conditioned, play movies, and give out snacks. Sometimes if you are going far, you can take a sleeper-bus. This is a bus loaded with beds. The beds are small for a Chinese person, which means for your average foreigner, they are impossible. I got by by propping my legs above the driver's seat, but I woke up every time I wanted to turn over. They loaded my bus with freight, every cubic inch seemed occupied with something. I don't know if that is normal, I never took a sleeper bus again. Busses usually cost more than trains, because they are nicer.
The train is the preferred method of travel in China. You can catch a train almost anywhere, though sometimes you must go through one city to get to another. There are four options for tickets on the train, hard seat, hard sleeper, soft seat, soft sleeper.
The hard seat is the cheapest, and the most crowded. The seats are done in booths, with 4-6 seats in a booth. Sometimes the car has bench seating, in which case expect to squeeze an extra person on. The seats are not too uncomfortable, except for all the people. The trains are stuffed full of people, sitting, standing, people everywhere. The cheapest ticket on a train is actually a standing ticket, but because it is hellish beyond description, just pretend the hard seat is the cheapest. Riding in a hard seat is fine for up to 5 hours, between 5 and 10 hours it's still possible but uncomfortable. I once rode in a hard seat for 19 hours, and please don't do this. This is not hardcore, this is weirdcore. This is not brave, this is stupid. When you ride hard-seat you are thrown into Chinese culture head first, and when you're on one too long it can hurt. Trains in China are like one big Chinese party, everybody laughing and smoking and drinking and spitting (oh god, the spitting) and playing cards and trying their best to talk to you. It doesn't matter that you don't speak Chinese, you will hold many conversations while riding the train. The countryside is quite beautiful and very different depending on where you go. China is a big country. Show someone near you your ticket and they will usually let you know when to get off. I find fruit, especially oranges, make the whole ride much easier. If you have something you can bring that will ease boredom, bring it.
These are cabs of beds, 6 to a booth, 3 to a bunk. There are places near the window where you can sit down, if you want. These, while hard, are not uncomfortable. If you can sleep while moving, you can sleep on these. There is a bottom, a middle and a top bunk and I recommend the middle bunk. People always sit down on the bottom bunk to eat or talk, regardless of whether you are currently sleeping in the bed. The top bunk does not have enough room to sit up. The middle bunk presents the best of both worlds. Also, people will be coming around with much more snacks then you can find in the hard seat cabs. I especially like sleeping with my head pressed against the window because it looks like you're speeding along through the night without the train, like you're flying.
I have never taken these, but I am told they are simply more comfortable seats. Like first class. If you have the extra money, go ahead, you will be more comfortable, but for my money I would rather get a sleeper for long rides and a hard seat for short rides.
A friend of mine swears by these for long rides. They are like hard sleepers, but more comfortable and only 4 to a booth. Again, like first class. Though, if you are going to spend 30 hours on a train, a soft sleeper isn't a bad way to do it. These are also usually the last tickets to be sold.
To make a hard ticket into a soft ticket, I believe it costs 100 yuan more. Train prices vary depending on where you are going and what kind of ticket you buy. Buying your tickets in advance will save you money, getting a service to buy your tickets for you will cost you. Usually if you just say where you are going you can get the right ticket. If you miss your train you can catch the next one, but you must stand. This is China though, and you are a foreigner, so if you just smile and insist, they might give you a seat (a friend and I missed a train 3 times (long story) and in the end got a seat, all because we smiled and made friends with some military guys waiting for a train).
I have taken a boat down the Chang Jiang and around Shanghai, so that's where my information comes. Boats will give you your own bed on long trips, and you can spend as much money as you want really. You can get really, really, high class rooms, or just a place to sleep. The cheapest of accommodations is set aside for the Chinese. Boats aren't too dirty, mostly spit and sunflower seeds, but I wouldn't use the bathroom. Public toilets in China are for the most part squatties, and can get pretty disgusting. On the 3 day cruise down the Chang Jiang I simply refused to shit. Try not to eat on board, the food isn't very good but it is expensive. Also there is a boat from Shanghai to Japan for around $150.
I have not taken a plane in China, so I don't know much. They are not too expensive, around $100 for Shanghai to Beijing, but in general I would just take the train. Also of note, I am told while hiring stewardesses, Air China makes note of physical appearance.