Before I left for Harbin, I bought my hard-sleeper ticket to Hohhot so that I had a guaranteed departure date from Beijing when I returned.
The capital of China is one thing to get to, but quite another to leave. I couldn't get a hard-sleeper to Harbin, so to get to the North-East on the day I wanted I paid the extra for a soft-sleeper.
A soft-sleeper, at double the price of a hard-sleeper, has only four berths to a compartment and sliding doors to provide some privacy.
The beds had white sheets; light blue curtains were tied up to the side of a net curtain; on the table was a tablecloth and lamp; and the floor was carpeted.
The compartment still had the piped music, but at least the volume could be regulated or switched off completely. The hot-water flask was a pump-action type, rather than a remove-cap-and-pour. Even the corridor was carpeted in dark red with a black border luxury.