Friday, April 21, 2006


Sometimes people track me down and ask me to tell them stuff about China. A person recently asked me about the Culture. I think Chinese culture is odd and interesting, so I thought I would document my answer here as well.

• Compliments: People will be extremely nice to you. You are special because you are foreign. If your good looking (or even if your not) people will tell you how great you are all the time. You should reject the compliments or people will think you love yourself. People will just keep telling you over and over and over and you should keep rejecting them over and over.
• Staring: Staring isn’t rude in China, for you or for them.
• Personal space: you will most probably walk diagonally if you have a Chinese person walking next to you until you get used to the fact that your arms will occasionally touch as you walk, they just walk that close to each other.
• Eating: I haven't seen anyone throw up at the table, but it's perfectly okay to spit out a bone onto the table. People actually like chewing on bones when they eat and Chicken especially will have little bones everywhere. Can be frustrating if all you want is a nice big bite.
• Chopsticks: Don't stick chopsticks into rice so they stick up, this is what people do if someone has died.
• 4: Chinese think 4 is unlucky because it sounds like death if you use the wrong tone.
• Communication: Even if you learn a bit of Chinese, don't expect the Chinese people to listen to you. They will assume you are speaking another language and not try to understand your accent.
• Tone: Don't underestimate the power of the tone. There are 4 tones and if you don't get the right one, an average person will never understand you.
• Drivers: In Australia we always used to say that Chinese are the worst drivers on the road, and Chinese women drivers were atrocious. Well - every where I have been in China the traffic is pretty bad (with the exception of Hangzhou). Maybe where you are going the drivers will be better than here, but I have seen every kind of road law broken about 500 times and been almost killed a number of times too. They just don't care about rules.
• Law: Rules and laws in China are bendable by most people, in Guangdong a government official quietly told a friend of mine "China isn't ruled by law, it's ruled by people." This means that if you can get away with it, and if you have enough friends to support you you can do anything you like."
• Business: Being a good business man is akin to being a good swindler in the eyes of some.
• Useful: People here (especially students) will surprise you by saying "I want to be useful to society" something I would never have heard in Australia.
• Love China: The students will vigorously support China, and if you want to talk about China Vs the world they will have a great many pro China arguments.
• Students: Chinese students WILL talk and WILL become very competitive if you give them the right topic. Anyone who says that they could teach just lecture wasn't creative enough. Actually - I don't blame some people for feeling that way, to get them up and speaking, you do have to be friggin creative. I know it works because I can get them up and speaking in 1/2 of my classes. But so far I am not good enough to guess what they will be interested in 100% of the time.
• Social Structure: China isn't really communist, and it's not even really getting over Communism, it's over it. What it's not over are the emperors. China spent so long under the rule of an imperialist leader that they still take class and station very seriously and the kind of things people sometimes attribute to communism, I think in China they are left over from imperialism. That why communism didn’t work in this country; people just don’t think that everyone is the same. A worker will not question or disagree with his boss even if his boss is wrong and EVERYONE knows it. The workplace is very top down. And the migrant worker population are almost not considered citizens by some people. For example, when I first arrived in Wenzhou, the man showing us around the city told me the population. 700 thousand, but with the migrant workers that can increase to 1.5 million. Now that I have been here for a while I know that “migrant workers” doesn’t mean fruit picking, most of them don’t come and go, but they are still not counted in the population or residents. Another example, when they school was built they made dorms for the students and teachers, but the workers who do the gardening, cooking and cleaning don’t have dorms, they literally camp out in any free space that has a roof. Some have even built dividers with wood frame and plastic.


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