I just returned from the China's Cultural Capitals trip, and it was wonderful!!! I hope you get Albert for your Program Director. He is an absolute gem and delight!
Anyway, about money. I took $500 in cash, but could have used more. If you don't shop, you will need less than that for sure, because nearly everything is covered under the cost of the trip except about 3 dinners and a lunch or so on your own. I exchanged for Chinese money at our hotels. It was easier than anywhere else, and the rate is set by the government, so don't think you have to "hunt" for the best rate. BE AWARE that your U.S. money needs to be as crisp and new as possible. They either refuse or are very reluctant to take old money, wrinkled, or with little rips or writing on it. They call that "broken money". I used the ATM at one of my hotels, and did not have a problem getting money at all. The vendors at some of the sites are very aggressive (not in a scary way), and will try to sell you anything. Be wary of what you buy from them. If you are looking for the "real thing", don't buy something from them that is supposed to be silk or jade or something like that. It's not. However, regular scarves and little souveniry things would be okay. Many of the museum shops and factory shops (like the jade one) will take credit cards with no problem. Be sure you have notified your credit card provider back home that you are going to China, so if a charge comes through, they won't reject it for security purposes.
I hope my input has been helpful. Write back if you have any other questions.