Instead of a country of 1.3 billion, what if there were 20+ smaller countries, some with huge populations, all independent and trying out different systems. Guangdong has 100m+ people, shandong, henan, sichuan, jiangsu hebei have over 70m+ each. They're all bigger than France.
Yet in the international mind, countries like Cambodia have way more currency than provinces like Hebei - nobody even knows what that is, and nobody goes out to try Hebei food.
No more monolithic, centrally organized blob which has less internal variation than a single US state. You could have many experiments, many languages and variations. No crushingly boring CCTV steamrolling everything, coopting every local tradition to serve the nation. The cultural revolution, where innocent, interesting people were persecuted, where the old temples and traditions were smashed and stamped out, wouldn't have ruined the heritage of all these people. Some people would have survived intact. Local traditions, diversity and ideas won't have been replaced by counterfeits.
Stupid regulations and fears of a few maniacs in charge wouldn't have been able to touch the local security & power of independent states - so people would have been free to ignore foolish directives from the center.
Instead of "Chinese Food" you could have Hunan Food & Sichuan food (each as popular as vietnamese / thai at home), Dongbei food (about as popular as russian at home), Xinjiang food, Fujianese seafood. These individuals would be allowed to be distinct.
And the countries within the mainland would join the many other countries which have a lot of Chinese people in them - Vietnam, Lao, Phillipines, Indonesia, Malaysia.