After a heated discussion on Facebook about comparing China to North Korea… I realized that many people are very confused about China, it’s culture and laws. So, I thought I should write a blog to clarify some things. Now mind you, China still has a long way to go when it comes to some things… and I am the first to admit that.. but China has improved a lot in just the 10 years that I have been here.
First of all, I could generalize about “Chinese people” but that’s not fair. The Chinese culture is vastly different from north to south and east to west. And there really is no such thing as “Chinese people” or “Chinese language”. There are Han Chinese – which are the main ethnicity and there are 56 other ethnic groups that make up the population of China. There is Mandarin Chinese – which is the National language of China, and then there’s a different dialect for every town and county in China; including Cantonese that is spoken in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong.
Okay… here we go...
Chinese People Don’t Have Siblings – The Chinese Government’s One Child Policy was put into effect only in 1978. That’s relatively recent. So, anyone born before 1978 very likely has one or more siblings. The policy is not intended to cover everyone equally and is meant more for the urban population. Farmers and China’s ethnic minorities are allowed more than one child, especially if the first child is a girl. So if you travel to the countryside or into remote regions of China, you’ll find families with more than one child. However, 3 years ago in 2015, they did away with the one Child Policy. Now, everyone can have two Children. Unfortunately, the cost of having and raising a child in China is so expensive, many families are not choosing to have two children…many are not even having one child.
Chinese People are Rude – *Voice Volume: One of the first things you noticed when walking down the streets is how loudly everyone talks. And I’m American – we’re supposedly the loud ones. It seemed like everyone was angry. I watched two elderly ladies across the street one day in what looked like an amicable discussion, but the decibel level made me think they must be angry with each other. I soon learned that people are quite animated when speaking and when something in the story gets exciting or important, the volume is turned up. Chinese folks in my experience aren’t shy to argue or make a stand. In a country where standing in line is a recent practice, I’ve seen heated arguments in McDonalds about who was there first. I’ve been involved in them, also, arguments about parking their car or blocking traffic. Folks seem to be pretty direct. * Standing in line: Like I said, it’s a recent phenomenon and in some places, like the line in a local supermarket or fast food restaurant or even amusement park entrance, it’s a mere suggestion. It’s annoying if you’re used to waiting in lines with some personal space around you, to have people push and shove up behind you or wedge their way in front of you just because you didn’t have your nose touching the back of the person in front of you. But that’s the way it is, and you have to stand your ground and stand tough. It’s nothing personal. In the past, they didn’t stand in lines, there were so many people that if you didn’t push your way ahead you would never get in or get the food that the government was handing out. *Spitting: This is very aggravating to me however, there are many Anti-spitting campaigns in most large cities like Shanghai and Beijing. You see signs everywhere that say no spitting, no throwing trash on the ground and even no using the bathroom on the street. Its still a new concept but many cities have even enforced no smoking bans.
No One Speaks English – Wrong! You’ll be amazed at how much English is spoken. Reverse the situation (Chinese person visits your home country and expects to use Mandarin) and you’ll shake your head in shame. Now, while the amount of English is high, the level of understanding is varied. The tailor at the fabric market will know the simple vocabulary for making clothes but will very likely not be able to get into a detailed discussion of the Chinese education system. Speak slowly. And when asking questions, don’t use yes/no questions because a lot of times, service industry people will just agree with you or say yes, even if they haven’t understood. Taxi drivers don’t generally speak English. It’s always good to have a card on hand with the place you’re going to written in Chinese. However, in big cities the streets are even written in English (pinyin) so you can self-navigate also the subway and city buses usually have English translations….
All Chinese Know Kung Fu – No, not every man in China can do Kung Fu. I have never seen anyone break into Kung Fu on the street. I have visited some Kung Fu schools and seen performances on special occasions. I see older people practicing TaiChi in the parks early in the mornings or dancing in the park in the early evening but that is just for exercise …You can certainly study Kung Fu in China, but you won’t see everyone Kung Fu fighting.
Everyone uses Traditional Chinese Medicine – Many people still use some traditional medicines but most people have found western medicine quicker and more useful. Most hospitals will prescribe a combination of both. I have found that traditional Medicine is something that takes a long time to work, and it is a preventative medicine. If you already have an issue… it doesn’t really help much.
Chinese people eat dogs and cats – This myth has some value. There are some minority groups that still eat dogs and cats…. but most Chinese people find it disgusting and there are many protest and campaigns to stop the practice of this. The government is also involved in stopping this practice. It started long ago when China was very, very poor and many people didn’t even have food to eat, so they would eat whatever they could find to keep from starving to death. Which explains a lot of the bugs and spiders that they eat also.
All Chinese are Buddhists or Taoist – Wrong again, There are many Muslim and Christian Chinese people all over China. There are several churches and mosques all over China. They do not mix with school or government and it is not good to openly promote religion because you never know what someone else believes but there are many formal religious entities in China. No..the government doesn’t behead you for being Christian….(someone told me that once)
Chinese People Hate Foreigners/Black people – This had been brought up many times, yes there is racism in China.. but isn’t there racism in pretty much every country? China is still new to having foreigners and some small towns and villages still have never seen a foreigner, let alone a Black person. However, the majority of people are polite and kind, but curious. So they will ask questions, take your photo, or want to touch you. More out of curiosity than hatred. I am seeing less and less people requiring white faces only for jobs and not wanting to be near black people. So, things are improving even marriages and relationships are increase between the Black people and Chinese people.
Baby Girls Are Killed – Long ago in the poorer parts of China they did get rid of girl babies, because they needed sons to take care of them when they were old. Without any government assistance any kind they invest a lot on their son out of necessity. However, nowadays the government has taken means to stop this practice. Locals are not allowed to know the sex of the baby before its born, and now baby girls are prized because of bride price they bring when they marry. Although, many older people still personally prefer boys to girls… majority of people now just want a child that is healthy.
Chinese are insensitive – I hear this a lot…. I wouldn’t say they are insensitive more like complacent. They have been conditioned to only care about those that are close to them, their families, and close friends and they have been exposed to so many incidents that have led to negative effects that they have become oblivious to the horrors around them. I do have to say that there are many Chinese that are just as outraged by this behavior as people in other countries, and I think the best quote was from my Chinese lawyer friend when he said “My China has lost its way”. However, I have met some Chinese people that would give me a kidney if I asked them, they care so much.
Finally, China is a Communist Country – To say China is a communist country either means you are out-of-date, misinformed, or trying to maintain justification for your right to govern China by the continuation of a political and historical narrative. The CCP still has a singular grip on power but this does not make it “Communist,” but Authoritarian. The “Chinese Communist Party” rules the country, yes, but its policies have been less and less communistic since 1978, when Deng Xiaopeng took over after Mao’s death and started liberalizing the economy as fast as he could starting by opening up several “Special Economic Zones.” Many of those are in Shanghai and Beijing. Contemporary Chinese society would probably make Mao turn over in his grave.. if he knew. It could not be more opposite:
1) The wealth gap here is astounding.
To be “Chinese poor” is wayyyy worse than being “American poor,” yet China still has 128 of the world’s billionaires. I’ve seen more luxury cars on the roads than I ever saw in America. Many of them are driven by government officials but just as many if not more are driven by business people. The average monthly salary of a Beijing local is around $400 a month. Many rural Chinese who flock to the cities looking for work live in underground dorm-like bunkers where the air is so dirty and stale that you get a cough and a sore throat just from being in there for an afternoon nap. The sad thing is, compared to the hard farm life they left they probably have it much better there.
2) The Market is everywhere.
Anyone who has never been to China before would be shocked by the sheer amount of storefronts, many even spilling out into the street. Walk down a busy section of downtown and you are sure to be accosted by a number of Chinese selling watches, iPhones, socks, trinkets, belts or anything you can imagine. They will follow you down the road as you try to get away from them, shouting lower and lower prices at you in an attempt to get your business.
Go to a market and haggle like you have never haggled before. The famed Silk Market in Beijing probably holds the world record for most polyglots in one place. I’ve heard merchants speaking Spanish, German, Russian and even Hebrew to potential customers. They are aggressive, smart, tough and sometimes downright nasty. They won’t hesitate to call you names if they think they can goad you into a sale.
3) Cash rules everything.
Bribery here is so commonplace that you’d think it’s a protocol taught at business schools. You don’t just bribe someone here to get an “extra edge” or try to sway someone who isn’t playing ball. Bribery pretty much happens all the time, for everything. For example, if you want the doctor who is about to perform surgery on you to not “slip,” you’d better slip him a few hundreds. I’m not joking. If you want your teacher to spend extra time with your child.. give a hongbao (or red envelope).
4) It just simply isn’t by definition.
There are definite class divisions here. Means of production are not collectivized. You have to pay for school…elementary school. Lots of people don’t have health insurance. State owned enterprises do not distribute profits amongst the people. People work for wages. Private property exists (although it does become property of the state after 70 years, however, again this is not really communist but rather authoritarian because that property isn’t collectivized).
So these are a few things that I wanted to clear up…. maybe in another post I will mention some other misconception that people have about China….. I some times think the news doesn’t give people the full photo of what is going on. I guess what I am trying to say… is don’t believe all the hype….
until next time…..