If you have any doubts about your situation you should enquire at a Chinese Consulate, such as Chinese Embassy in Toronto, Canada, or at a Public Security Bureau Entry and Exit Administration office in China.
Application in Your Own Country
Ideally, complete an application form (Form V.2013) truthfully and clearly on the computer and then print it out, since handwritten forms are no longer accepted. Provide as much information as possible on the form although some questions might not be relevant to your situation. One problem for many travellers is answering the question on where they will be staying. You should simply list some cities you might visit. For tourist L, many nationalities will not need to provide contact information, but if you have any then certainly enter them. If you are seeking dual or multiple entry, indicate the countries or SARs (HK, Macau) you plan to visit to show why you need multiple entry.
Naturally, you should answer questions honestly and risk failing in your application, not being admitted on arrival at the border, being expelled after entry. One hot topic is what happens if you declare that you have a criminal record. You will not be automatically denied a visa, but if you have committed a serious crime then you may have a problem. In some countries persons may receive fixed penalty fines, perhaps for littering, or have a 'no conviction recorded' and bound over not to re-offend, or had restraining orders placed on them: these are not of concern and need not be stated on the application. Other minor offences such as are called 'summary' in Britain or 'misdemeanour' in the USA should be stated to comply with Chinese law, but it is known that many applicants do not declare them.
If you want one with a long duration or dual or multiple entry, indicate it on you application. It will not always be granted. However, do not limit your application based on what may have happened to others. US citizens (only) might as well seek the maximum length with multiple entry as the fee is the same.
The normal processing time is four working days including the day you submitted the application and the day you collect. Remember there might be additional non working days for Chinese public holidays. By paying an additional fee you can usually have yours processed faster. It is normally possible to have your application processed overnight, for collection the following afternoon, though some offices might offer a same day service if you arrive in the office soon after opening. In general try to apply for it well in advance to allow for any delays. Visas granted outside China normally allow first entry at least three months after the date of issue.
Maybe you are also interested in Application in Mainland China (renewal and extension) and Application in a Third Country & Regions.