What is a Friendship in China….

This last week I learned a valuable lesson on friendships in China.   I grew up in America and was taught by my grandmother that friendships are very important.  Your friends are the people who will always stand by you thru thick and thin… they will be there beside you no matter what.  Your friends are people who even if you are far away or haven’t spoken in 10 years… when you see each other it is like you never were apart.   I was taught that friends are your family and sometimes closer than family.  Your friends will support you when you feel sad… and cheer when you feel happy… In America friends are an important part of your happiness and your personal life.

I had this idea of friendship when i first came to China.  I thought… wow… i can make some new friends to enhance my life and add to my family.   My mother is gone, my father is gone.. my grandmothers and grandfathers have gone… i have lost uncles and aunts … and I only have my one brother…. so my family and my support system has left the earth.. and moved on into the after life…. so my friends are my family.. they take the place of what I am missing… they are an important part of my life… and I couldn’t wait to meet new friends and new members of my extended family.

Unfortunately, I have come to realize that friendship isnt defined the same in China.   I have found that friendships are forms of “relationships” that you need to survive here…. these “relationships” are what you need to do business, buy a home, a car, get paperwork done… or even find jobs.   These “relationships”… separate the rich from the poor… and the successful from the not successful.   There are “gifts” you must give.. and dinners you must eat and cigarettes you must smoke.   These relationships must be nurtured and cared for like a fragile tree .. until they grow strong and are able to give you shade and support.   Life in China can be very unhappy if you do not have these special “friendships”.

You also may lose people who you felt were your real friend because you have not usefulness to them.   You can’t aid them in any way or foster their success so you are not useful and therefore not a valued friend.  You become an afterthought and eventually… no thought at all.

What a depressing way of life it must be for some that live here their whole life. I asked how do you make these connections… and was told… thru others that have these connections… so you need to connect with someone who has larger connections.. that may even have larger connections… to become successful in China.

So much work.. to achieve success…. more work than doing the business itself…All this ass kissing gets in the way of actually doing business.

Where are the “real” friendships China?  Where is the companionship and the love of friends?

Now my issue is… what do I do?   Do I keep my natural instinct of what friendship really is?  Do I keep the values of friendship that I was taught by my grandmother?   Or.. Do I change?  Do I use the Chinese way and use “relationships” as friendships?  Do I forget all that has been taught to me .. about honesty.. and loyalty…. and just use people to achieve my success in this country?  Do I do as Chinese because I am in China? Just forget the values of my Country?

Such questions that I never thought I would be faced with.  Questions that I never imagined I would ask myself.  But as I see my Chinese “friends” slowly disappear… and stop talking to me… and stop.. calling or seeing me… I realize that maybe I am not as useful to them.. as they thought i was…. However.. what they do not know.. is WHAT I know.. and WHAT I can do…. my true friends… that really care about me… can see… my usefulness…. can see my abilities….. they know that my friendship is one of power, understanding, honesty and respect.

Crazy thing about  China.. the people … are all playing a game..they take the term “game of life” literally….. a large, intricate, hurtful game… nothing is what it seems.. no one is who they seem…. Nothing is real…. I understand the lack of trust .. everyone has here now… there are too many secrets, too many lies… and too may fake people….. after 7000 years of history… you would think… that China would have learned what Americans learn in a small amount of time….. that … HONESTY is the best policy…. and material things go away.. but a real FRIENDSHIP… is forever. That Beauty is only skin deep and UGLY is to the bone.


41 thoughts on “What is a Friendship in China….

  1. a chinese girl who values friendship

    so now i dont really trust chinese friendship. i very rarely make friends with them unless they are noticably different from most other chinese people. like this other friend i had who was pretty much an outcast (not because people hated her but because she just didnt really fit in) and she was someone i trusted. i mean i lost contact with her but its not because she did that stupid dumping crap. on the contrary it was just kinda her personality to be distant from people and after i moved overseas we unfortunately didnt keep in contact. but i knew her personality. she was NOT the type of person to befriend you just to use you and then dump you later after she was finished with you. she may have been distant but she was sincere and honest. which is probably why she wasnt really in the “in group” with the other chinese people in my school. so now when i make friends with chinese people i make sure that its not a sort of “typical” chinese person but a sort of outcast. i trust outcasts more.

  2. a chinese girl who values friendship

    sorry you had to go through that. im chinese and i see friendship as something that is very important as well. i would never do that to a friend. to be honest chinese people have that shitty habit of just randomly ditching their friends quietly and without warning. i had a chinese friend who did that. and whats worse was she wasnt just any friend she was a childhood friend that i had known since we were 5. thats why i promised myself that IF i were ever to decide that i dont want to be someone’s friend anymore(which i try hard not to do in the first place. friendship is supposed to be forever) i make it clear to them and ill tell them the reason. i dont just quietly dump them because i know how hurtful that is.
    hope you can make some true friends for support. dont worry they are out there. id love to be your friend if we ever met in real life because we seem to both value friendship a lot . its hard to live in a world where a lot of people dont seem to value friendship as much as people like us do.

  3. Michael

    No. That is not what Chinese friendships are. What you described as “American friendship” is what “friendship” means globally, and your understanding of Chinese friendship is only “skin deep”.

  4. Aiden

    No no no. This is not it. They just have a view of friendship where one deed is outdone by another. This guarantees in a way that they know that you are true friends, and would be willing to make sacrifices for them. I have made friends in China, and though I have run into this situation before, it doesn’t come by often. Many friends replace kindness with more kindness. When they do this, it makes the friendship grow. I can easily consider many of my friends in China closer than my friends in North America.

  5. Adele

    hi there, I read your blog when i am in a very depressed mood here. I, as a Chinese native, was very unsuccessful to find any real friend. I used to have 4 who i considered as my close friend, and eventually i left them all in my way. Besides the RELATIONSHIP issue you mentioned in article, even the two have same interest and similar personality, other things like care, appreciation and support are even missing… Im very disappointed about this. What I mean is it is just very difficult to have a person who value friendship as an important thing. Now im alone again, walking in my way again…

  6. Shaukat Naeem

    I have been traveling to China for the past decade and a half and met a lot more Chinese of different ages and during my travel. I have experienced that the Chinese dot not rely on the friendship they rather prefer to go for the relationship. I am of the opinion that Chinese believe that friendship does not bring any worthless to them and relationship worth full and is loaded with benefits. They consider that the friendship is just with girls / women – blathering, jabbering, chattering, shopping, spending money, buying handouts, even helping their family and to have luncheon and or dine out together. I have experienced that “friendship “depends on the strength and powers of RMBs of benefits and it’s just alike a yellow cab meter (ride as much you could afford to pay). Most of the Chinese trust only on the “Blood Relations” kin. They can enter into business and can have stronger ties with them compared with the non-Chinese. I am not that dissatisfied with the Chinese people. I should not really blame them as they seek the way-out to stay alive and be fruitful in life.
    I have fallen out of many friendships because of not accepting narrow mindedness, over – conservativeness, “Chinese’s culture slogan” and egotism – yes Sophia from Beijing and Amy from Shenzhen were Kool …..

  7. ursula yao

    you are right.chinese people want relationships,not friendships,because the former brings benefits while the latter does not.what they consider friendships here is that,for women/girls gossiping,shopping and eating together.and even that “friendships”depends geografically,and for men,i really don’t think they care about having friends,because all they want is being successful and bring a prretty young girl home.in the eyes,things that don’t bring benefits is a waste of time.that exactly my mom told me.i am a native chinese born and raised up here.i can tell you most chinese people kind of treating families as friends,for they believe in blood ties so much that they marry and form families in a way that like starting a business partnership.they gain and share the benefits.so chinese people only have some trust in their families,that is,their partners,with whom they are in blood ties and laws protect such ties.they just somehow don’t believe that people can support and love each other out of something that is invisible,i.e.personality,hobbies.you have few friends here?well,i,as a native chinese who have lived here for all these years,have no one that can be called friends.some just like you said,use me to assist them.once the work done,they gone.and others,always i call them,they never call first.now i just walk to work alone,eat alone,and talk to myself.i do not treat my families as friends because we are so different and have nearly nothing in common.besides,they gave me a really time when i was growing up.sometimes chinese people can be really cruel to their families.
    PS:i love alice walker and her the color purple very much.i love sophia in the book.i hope i can be as strong as she is.

    sorry if my english is poor.

    like your blog and like you.

    1. @ursula.. I want to thank you for putting a comment on my blog from a Chinese point of view… It validates everything I was sharing. I dont know where you are located in China.. but you can find me on QQ..858764913 and I would be happy to be your friend. OH.. and your English was great… so dont worry…

      1. ursula yao

        sorry,i have posted at the wrong place.i did not notice the “reply”thing.hope you do not mind i copy it here.

        i search your QQ,but i have to give your husband’s name to be added.mine is 953483294.and i live in nanjing,by the way.your”I would be happy to be your friend”made me in tears.since chinese only have families and relatives for support and comfort,families are given high priorities here.(and that’s why they are so eager to get married because families come from marriage,at least in their eyes).so a good/rich/loving family means a lot in china.but as you know,that is something random.you cannot be sure you are born rich,having good parents,etc.that all depends on luck.as for me,my families only care about my exam marks in the past and my job and salary at the moment.they do not care about me.they care about what i have got.i have been really lonely for all these years,and too glad to see your words.

        well,chinese kind of believe the fittest survive thing.results is everything and the stronger have every right to hurt,damage and destroy the weaker.and the weaker get no pity.at least that is what i feel about chinese society.sometimes i am really mad.but all others tell me is you cannot change the environment,just get used to it,that is,to be the fittest.they love being alive tooooooooo much,that even they live like dirt and dust,they are still happy.have you noticed chinese are sooooo good at enduring?sometimes i really wish they are not so good at that.

        1. I will add you to my QQ… by the way my husband’s name is Michael. Don’t be so disappointed with the Chinese people.. they dont know any different. You cant really blame them for finding a way to survive and be successful.

  8. Lucie


    My name’s Lucie and i’m a french chinese born girl. I talked about the “friendship in china” issue with one of my gege (he’s chinese and has always lived in China) and his definition of friendship is the same as yours. I also asked an uncle and he said the same thing.
    The difference is that maybe chinese people need more time to consider you as a real friend, you see, i think westerners usually make friends more easily, they don’t care about how long they’ve known you, as long as they like your personality. But in China, there’s an idiom that says that love/friendship is build with time.
    Moreover, chinese people also have the “face” issue and it becomes more and more important in their lives as they grow old. That’s why their real friends are usually middle school or high school friends, later the ‘friendships” they will make will mainly be the “trading” friendship.

    Um, i’m sorry if i made mistakes, my english is not very good… hope this helped you ! and don’t give up, they do believe in friendship, they just need time to trust you.

    1. Thank you so much on for your comment on this…. I know that sometimes.. people think i am not telling the truth about things.. or they havent been to china in awhile and dont know that things have changed…. I am a pretty observant person.. so i see a lot of things… and your clarification really helps. Thank you so much for reading.. and your.. english is fine…(smile)….

  9. You should maintain your own definitions of “friendship.” IMHO, that is a very principled thing and unless you feel you want to change, you should always be true to yourself on this matter. How you defined it for Chinese people (at least the ones you perceived it that way for whom you have interacted) sounds the way I define many Americans defining friendship. Very materialistically and based on what the friendship does for ME. Americans and everyone else throughout the world including Chinese folks are into living very very narror lines of what friendship is.

    I don’t like that so I guess that’s why don’t have many friends and I have fallen out of many friendships because of me not accepting such narrowness.

    Have you tried more varied social networking on Chinese websites?

    Have you thought of re-patriating to America?

    I have mad respect for your decision to move to China but having done my own research on the rampant smoking that is publicly allowed (I am a non-smoker who will inssit on folks not smoking around me to the point that yes I may not be a friend of those who choose to) and if I get a hint of someone operating on the narrow friendship lines you mention, yes I will choose not to hang with them.

    That’s just me.

    IMHO. Just my opinion on the question you posed.


  10. bwoutofthebox

    When I was in graduate school, I was told by a ESL teacher who taught in China for several years that men in China must learn how to smoke a certain brand of cigarettes in order to network or get the right job. There are so many other customs that I heard about in school that made my feet curl. I guess, what I’m saying is that you have to do your research before moving to another country. It’s good that other responders to this post have mentioned other country’s customs to let you know how friendships are treated there. I once wanted to teach in China. But after hearing the so-called horror stories (i.e. smog, non-stop smoking by men, dogs as meals, and others), I decided that teaching there would not be an option.

    I feel for you and hope that your blog gives you comfort in that you are virally talking to others and getting advice from other ex-pats. I wish you luck.

    D.E. Love @: http://bwoutofthebox.wordpress.com

    1. @D.E. Love… Your right they do have a certain kind of expensive cigarettes that you need to give to your “friends” and those are handed out at every meeting, or greeting .. although the dog eating is done in the North of china..(keeps you warm) and most of the smog is also in the North… there is polluted rivers, and trash thrown everywhere and people relieving themselves in the streets. I choose this country because my ultimate goal is not to be a teacher.. but a business woman.. and this is the place i need to be in to do that… I am very, very thankful for everyone that reads my blogs and gives their opinions because it keeps me going and gives me some one that understands me… to talk to.. I will take your wishes of luck..and cherish them.

  11. pearls

    I say…to thine own self be true! I know it’s hard…but, regardless of the challenge, maintain that which will ensure your peace, happiness, and good conscience when conducting business/relationships! When doing any type of business, there will be exchanges, yet you determine what you will and won’t exchange or participate in exchanging! You set the bar! You can make their views work for you, not you work for it!

    About those relationships! We’re going to have acquaintances we would like to have become friends with, and friends we wish would have remained acquaintances! Yet, there will also be a few true, solid friendships along the way! Even, though you’ve helped your friends above and beyond measure, if they leave…say farewell and bless their departure! Because, they’ve actually helped you make room for the new relationships of real substance, both professional and personal ones you’ll cross paths with. Just like you assisted/networked with others, they’ll assist/network with you in the same way!

    Re thoughts of becoming an after thought…to not being thought of at all by users! I have a suggestion…while you’re on your way home, sort out which thoughts of the day contain value to you, and which ones don’t. Then, before you reach your building’s entrance…the thoughts of no value, leave outside with the other ‘used’ garbage for the trash collectors to pick up!

  12. jackie

    It’s interesting you mention church, my mother-in-law goes to the local church in the city where my husband and I live in China. Just the other day she was complaining about how the priests have gotten their positions through their connections/relationships, that they view it as nothing more than a money-making job. So unfortunately I don’t believe that “church folks” in China would be very helpful, they haven’t been very helpful to her. She also told us a story about an older woman in the church who lost her husband and instead of coming to comfort her, the priest came to ask her if she’d like to donate the proceeds of her house to the church.

    Really sorry to hear how you’re feeling, and I can understand to an extent. Thankfully my husband is a person who detests the whole relationship game of Chinese culture and therefore tends to attract others who feel the same, so we have been able to find some genuine friends. I really hope you are able to do the same. There are some genuine people out there, you just have to look hard for them 🙂

  13. Ami

    Umm wow 😦 I imagined this in my mind about friendship there, but to actually read it and know that it is a reality is disturbing. I will let hubby read this, because he has hopes to reunite with his long lost friends whenever we go back and I think that he needs to be prepared for a just in case scenario.

    I would like to make a good friend or two in China, but will not lose sleep over it as long as I have hubby and am close with his mom. That is fine for me.

    1. your husband probably will not have a problem… he has been in the states.. so they think that is good.. he speaks english.. many will like that.. and he has a USA education… again… coveted here…. you are safe… and his parents have money… you have not worries… you are everything… a chinese connection wants.

  14. ZooPath

    I’m sorry that you’re running into this problem with people confusing making friends with networking. There are bound to be some cool people around you who don’t think that way, it’ll just be harder to find them unfortunately. Like shopping at a really bad TJMaxx. Perhaps some of your former friends were also not happy about your not letting your hubby socialize with them without you being there, although maybe I’m being paranoid 🙂 Are there any churches around, church folk can tend to be more welcoming..I dunno.

    1. no church folks in China.. and I am not big .. on organized religion. As for my hubby socializing with them.. with out me… that is their problem.. they were my friends.. why would they need to be with my husband.. without me.. My mama didnt raise a fool…

      1. ZooPath

        I’m not a big organized religion person either, we haven’t been to church in months. However, we’re finding it a bit hard to find people to socialize with so I’m going to check out a few to see if I can make some friends. I live in the south though so it’ll be tough to fing a non-annoying church, I tend to be easily annoyed by churches.
        When people lose interest in you when they realize that they can’t get to your spouse, they’re just doing you the favor of confirming your suspicions. You could try to do a test and start a rumor that you and your hubby are having some marital issues and I bet they’ll start showing more interest all of a sudden. Vultures are like that.

        1. actually.. before he was my husband no one wanted him.. because.. they didnt think he was rich enough, tall enough, didnt own a house.. or a car.. so he was not boyfriend or marriage material… but now… he is the Cat’s meow…. funny how that works in every country… heheheh

  15. Trina

    I see you’ve hit a cultural dead end of sorts. In some ways I agree with you, but in others I have to disagree. That Chinese brand of “friendship” you describe exists in America (and in Europe), too, and it always has:

    – The “getting/staying connected”.
    – The “making sure to know the right people”.
    – The “gaining access to a golden opportunity because so-and-so tipped me off to it”.

    A lot of power-brokering is done in just that way. How do you think certain people’s kids “magically” get accepted into prestigious schools/internship programs or specific people have the doors to a decent entry level job at “the right” company literally thrown open for them? “Old Boys’ Network” ring a bell? For the longest time “we” didn’t have access to those higher echelon networks, but we had our networks all the same – you know about that “hook-up”, right? 😉 Now special interest groups and organizations (for minorities & women, for example) try to level the playing field by both creating their own networks and infiltrating existing networks.

    We (some of us, anyway) do have the opportunity of true friendship – and some of us hold our friends near and dear. We look to them for emotional support and see them as a “safe haven” away from the hardness and cruelty of the outside world. Those of us who still do that – and still have that – are the lucky one, I admit.

    Me? I often think that the homilies we’re brought up to believe in as “The American Way of Life” where such things are concerned is basically a myth. It pacifies and placates – distracts maybe, but the “real” music is being made/played elsewhere, and we’re often not even a part of the band…

    1. I guess your right…. but in china.. it is like everyone is only looking for this kind of friend.. and if you cant be useful.. they do not even waste the time to talk to you …. in my heart this feels wrong…. I know it happens in America.. but most of us are not taught to think this way…. at least I wasnt.

      1. Trina

        Oh, I wasn’t, either.

        But…when you look at the lives of the “powers-that-be” that’s EXACTLY how they were taught to think – and EXACTLY how they (and theirs) manage to get/stay ahead.

        Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t want to be without my true friends. Just as I have been held up by waves of friendship when I was barely of use to myself, much less someone else, so have I supported friends during rough times in their lives.

        I guess I am just in a more philosophical place right now, and looking beyond all the myths we’re fed to keep us in line at how some things really work behind the scenery….

      2. Trina

        In the meantime I’ve been thinking about the difference between friendships in the USA versus here in Germany.

        From a German point of view, Americans are socially very superficial. Within a few minutes time you are patting each other on the back and on a first name basis (though that’s become much more common here, too, in recent years), you’ve exchanged cell phone numbers and addresses, invited people to your home, made lunch dates and tell them the story of your life. And vice versa. There is little basis for all this openness – except the positive vibe you get from the person/situation and the national habit of being (more) open.

        In Germany it may take you (literally) years before you see the inside of someone else’s home. If ever. When you get together, you most often do it at a restaurant or pub. You may not know someone’s extended family, though you socialize with them (outside the home) on a regular basis. To Germans, these are just “acquaintances”. People it’s nice to hang out with, and talk to about generalities. Not someone who belongs to your real inner circle. Not someone you confide in or ultimately trust.

        I’ve heard many Germans who’ve lived in the States complain about how confused they were by what they consider to be American pseudo-openness. They were made to feel taken into an inner circle very quickly (by their standards). However, when they really treated those people like they would German friends, they realized it was often just smoke and mirrors. Even something as simple as “let’s do lunch on Tuesday” (which – in a German’s book – is a confirmed date) was just…well… something to say. Let’s not even talk about what happens when you really need a friend’s help (like many an expat does)…

        In other words, what an American might call “authentic” friendship many Germans would still call a superficial acquaintance.

        Long story short: Each culture has a different understanding of friendship.

        None is better or worse, per se. It’s all about what you’re used to.

      3. jackie

        It is true: the majority of people in China will make friends with you if they think you’re useful to them. It’s the way people are programmed here, and it is very hard to accept for an American. Sure, we have some of that in America as well, but it is 5000 times worse in China. Why do you think there’s so much corruption in the Chinese government? People doing favors for the higher-ups to get a favor in return. I don’t know if Chinese people are actually “taught” to think this way, but there is huge societal pressure and most people conform. It really does just feel wrong.

      4. https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.jsI am newly in this conversation; i am not Chinese, but i am Asian in different culture, i am sad on what i am reading in this column or we should call an article. I think “Friendship Relationship” is very important, as the old saying goes “No Man is and Island” everybody needs companionship, I will answer the Question on Top; it says; What is Friendship in China? = base on the article experiences, i think he/she allowed herself or himself to overly used by people. and base on that, he/she has friends, and doing everything for them, because he/she thinks that she is a friend, and willing to do everything but, i think the person who made this article is that he/she expect something in return from those friends. I am talking Genuine Friendship here, if you make friends to other person in any culture, i think you have to show the Authenticity of who you are, or transparency. i think that is a true real value friends.
        My experienced, this year, first time to go to China, my husband allowed me to join with one of his business trip, and i met one of her colleague the first time, and now we became friends,i know at first, the reason why she wants me to be friend with her is because she wants to learn English, she asked to help her to in English language, we communicate back and fort until the friendship develops between us, what i am trying point out here is that, i am willing enough to help her improve her English skills without anything in return from her. i choose to do it because i want anything from her or not, it is willingness to help her, because i want to win her to be my friend, and now we are very close although we only chat once in a while, but we communicate each other as much as we can.I give my Transparent personality to her, my honesty and my real Friendship.
        I think, Friendship Relationship is not just like that, it’s Big Deal, it’s Valuable because that deals with Love, Respect towards two individuals it’s like husband and wives relationship. that’s why there is words that says ” A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”.Proverbs 18:24
        Meeting Friends in Every nationality is the same, it is how the way we interact to each other. My Chinese Friend is So Wonderful, Humans have short comings and we are not perfect, we should reach out and understand more with each other to build that Good Genuine Friendship Relations. LSJ

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