I know this is an old thread, and the OP is now most likely working in China. But I thought I would provide some information about banking in mainland China, in case anyone else is asking the same questions. BTW I'm from the UK but have been teaching in China for over a year now, both at a private training school and state middle schools.
Opening an account with a Chinese bank is actually quite simple, fill out the form which is in Chinese and provide passport ID. The bank teller will open your account while you wait, and give you an ATM card straight away, usually takes around 10-15 minutes. Most schools pay RMB directly into your account. I've never heard of schools paying by cheque. I suggest going with one of the bigger banks, e.g. Bank of China, Bank of Communications, Agricultural Bank of China or China Construction Bank. These are the banks with most branches in just about all cities.
HSBC despite it's name (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.) is not in fact a Chinese bank, it's a London bank. There are actually very few HSBC branches within mainland China.