Stuff you need for a Chinese visa
I'm about to go to a conference in Beijing this October, and it turns out I need a business (F) visa to do so. The process is very simple - a one-page application form, and a letter of invitation is all it takes. Except, of course, that you cannot mail in your application, but must have somebody deliver the documents in person.
Having returned from a trip to Chicago, where the closest Chinese consulate is, all I can say is that you should not trust the consulate website to have all the information you need. While cash is indeed one way to pay for the visa fee, it only works if you come to get the visa yourself, in person. To get it by mail, you can only pay by a cashier's check or money order (no credit or personal checks), add a $5 on top of the visa fee, and bring a self-addressed envelope (pre-paid or otherwise). This tiny glitch prolonged the process about 20 minutes only, as the consulate staff had provided good directions to the closest USPS office (a mere two blocks away).
All in all, this was by far the easiest visa application process I have been through, despite the little omission on the consular site. Having spent months in pursuit of the all-elusive Schengen visas before, and having been through the US visa process several times before, I had braced for long waiting lines and weird questions.