I cannot guarantee my experiences reflect true policy, but hopefully it provides some idea how these processes work. Also, this information is likely specific to US citizens visiting Beijing. Whether it applies to other citizens and other parts of China, I do not know.
Before beginning, my recommendation is to complete any passport or visa issues before arriving in China. Once arriving in China, everything is much more difficult.
While visiting my wife’s family in China, I needed to obtain a long stay French visa for my next job. I would have preferred to complete the visa process prior to arriving in China, but it was not possible. The first hurdle was to renew my passport as it was set to expire within the year. Renewing the passport itself is actually not that difficult in Beijing. One first makes an appointment at the US embassy online and then appears at the embassy with the necessary paperwork.
Two things to know about this step. When arriving at the US embassy, you may see as many as 100 Chinese waiting in line outside the gate. As a US citizen, you do not have to wait in this line; simply present your passport at the gate and you will be allowed entrance. The required form has a space for mailing address. This is misleading because nothing is actually mailed to you; they only want your current Chinese address in this space. After submitting your paperwork you still get to keep your current passport.
In about 5 to 10 days you should receive an email informing you that your passport is ready for pickup. You can then go back to the embassy at anytime during business hours without appointment to obtain the new passport. At that point they will punch a hole in your old passport, invalidating it. Now comes the more difficult point. The US embassy will inform you that your Chinese visa within your old passport is now invalid. You must contact the PSB in Beijing to transfer your visa. The embassy will offer no other assistance or advice for this process.
If you search online for information, you will find all kinds of information, but official information is difficult, if not impossible to find. I saw advice stating the transfer of the visa is easy and takes only 30 minutes. Some will say you must apply for a completely new visa. Others claim you can freely travel with a valid visa in an invalid passport, but I also saw responses stating this is illegal in many countries and will result in imprisonment.
Instead of trusting one particular statement, I went to the PSB to ask directly. Everyone there said a visa transfer is impossible. The first visa officer told me she did not know if I could travel with my visa in an invalid passport, but gave me an unlisted number for border control (64563610, mandarin only). They stated that the visa was invalid, but if I left the country within 10 days, I did not need a new visa. Since I would be staying more than 10 days, I returned the next day with proper paperwork.
Proper paperwork consists of an application—obtainable at the visa office—a 2 inch passport photo, residency registration (as an aside, if you are not staying in a hotel, you need to register at the local police station within 24 hours of arriving in China. The monetary penalties can be quite steep for failure to do so.), and a bank statement showing you have at least $3000. In China, the visa office requires proof that you have at least $100 for every day of your tourist visa and you can only obtain a visa for a maximum of 30 days while in China.
I presented this paperwork to a different visa officer who said that I didn’t need to actually obtain a new visa. We explained what happened last time, but she suggested calling border control again. This time I received different information. According to border control, as long as both passports contain the same name and birthdate information, the original visa is still valid in terms of dates, and the visa is undamaged, you can travel on that visa using both passports.
It seems to be a success, I was able to leave Beijing without any issues. Everyone from the airline representatives to the immigration officials seemed to treat it as a common occurrence. It really wasn’t a big deal at all.
As far as the French visa I needed, I failed to obtain it in China. As far as I can tell, it is impossible to obtain a visa that requires an interview at any embassy other than the one which has jurisdiction over where you have lived the last 3 months. In my opinion, it seems futile to even try and I wouldn’t bother again. I hope this information is useful to someone.