I lived in Beijing about 20 years ago, and at that time I learned the valuable lesson that you can really bring less than you think you should when moving to China. So many things can be bought cheaply here, so it isn't worth carting them back and forth across the ocean. I had a friend who was very worried about famine, so insisted on bringing a year's supply of food with her to China. When it came time to return home to America, she realized that it wasn't really cost effective to ship all of that food home, so she ended up giving it all away. There definitely are some things you will want to bring though.
You can get many spices in China, but there are some that just aren't sold here. There is an online company that sells many things that can't be bought in the store, but even they don't sell some things, and you have to have a Chinese bank account to buy from them. If you live in a first tier city, such as Beijing or Shanghai, you might be able to find these things. But in second tier cities it is much more difficult. Here are some spices I brought over:
--chili powder (They have a chili powder here, but it isn't like mexican chili powder, it is just basically red hot chili peppers ground up.)
--Italian seasoning (you could probably buy it here, but it would be expensive)
--maple flavoring (to make syrup. They do sell syrup in import stores, but it is expensive.)
(You can buy chocolate "shavings" at the import stores, but I prefer the American ones)
--Ranch dressing packets (the ones you add mayonaise and milk to)
--hot chocolate packets and chocolate milk powder (Once again, you can buy these, but at a high price)
--Pinto beans --I don't know if you would want to bring these over, but they don't sell them here. They do have a small black bean, and kidney beans, so I usually use those for chili, or for making refried beans.
Many spices can actually be bought at the local pharmacy. To the Chinese, these herbal spices are medicine. You can buy many spices there, including star anise, bay leaves, and cloves.
The longer I live in China, the more I have found that you can buy most medicines here, although they may not be as effective as the ones sold in America. I have gone to the neighborhood clinic and asked the doctor to translate the names of my prescription medicines (using the internet), and he has told me where I can fill those prescriptions. If they do not carry that particular medicine, he has given me an alternative medicine to take. I have first written emails to my American doctors to make sure that I could switch over. At times I have had to go across the city to a hospital that carries the prescription I needed, and have had to see the doctor there in order to get it.
That being said, there are many over the counter drugs you may want to bring:
cold/flu medicines that you like
benadryl for allergic reactions
pepto bismol (My son thinks it is the cure-all medicine. :)
You can buy vitamins here, although they are somewhat expensive.
If you are a large frame person.....meaning you wear a size large, or if you are taller than about 5'4", you will want to bring all of the clothing you will need for the year's seasons. I am 5'8", and I wear and extra large top, but I was able to find a winter coat here. I cannot, however, find any pants to fit. Occasionally I can buy a shirt, but it is China's size XXXL. Not good for the self esteem..... lol So I shop for clothing when I go home to America for the summer.
I also cannot buy women's shoes. I wear an 11 American size. I have very large feet, even by American standards. Last winter I wanted a pair of winter shoes, and had to go to the men's sections to buy a pair big enough. I found a pair that looked gender neutral, but they were the biggest men's size available.
Winters can get very cold here, especially if you are in a humid region. Heating isn't always very good in apartments, so plan to wear layers. In addition, summers can get very hot, and you may not have air conditioning in your apartment, so make sure to bring appropriate clothing.
If you are a small skinny person, you will be living in shopping heaven. :)
I suggest you bring some kind of Kindle or Ipad. My husband has been able to use his home library account to borrow books occasionally. Otherwise, we have gotten a lot of free books online, and have also bought some books. They do have english sections in the book stores though, so if you want to buy books, you can. But those are mostly classics.
In China there are places that sell pirated DVDs. Some are good quality, but some are not. I prefer to bring my own from America. You can also watch shows online. But in order to have free access to the internet, you will need to buy a VPN service. You can get them for about $10 a month. Without a VPN, you will not be able to access Facebook, Youtube, or blogs.
If you like to do crafts, you will want to bring supplies with you. Here in China you can find yarn and very small crochet hooks. You can also find knitting needles. If you buy online through TaoBao, you can get a set of crochet hooks, and I would think you could get embroidery thread. But I chose to bring felt, embroidery thread, and crochet hooks over from the U.S. I have been able to find posterboard, water colors, colored pencils, and crayons. But there are no "craft" stores in China, and to find things like yarn, you have to know where to go.
You can find most hair care products (although not necessarily the name brands in the U.S.), but makeup is more expensive here. I would suggest bringing makeup, and remover, with you. Nail polish and remover is easy to find here.
There are many beauty shops that will cut your hair inexpensively. But they use a different method than used in the U.S., so just keep that in mind.
In my case, I am very religious, so I brought several religious items with me. You cannot buy scriptures in China. You cannot even buy Christian related Christmas or Easter decorations. So I brought a small nativity from America. I also have brought several Church books over for my own use. If you need more information about religion in China, please ask, and I'll let you know the situation.
I will probably write another post about living in China after it gels in my head awhile. :)