CHINESE PERSONALITY TRAITS: INDIRECTNESS, PRAGAMATISM, COMPETITION AND LOSING FACE

LOSING FACE AND KEEPING ONE’S WORD IN CHINA

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The Chinese are very conscious of face. Face is essentially respect in a community and is a crucial underpinning of society. Loss of that respect threatens the relations of individuals with almost everyone in his or her world and is hard to get back once lost, and thus must be avoided at all costs.

Face is called "mianzi" in mandarin, which can also be translated to mean “dignity, prestige and reputation.” It has been said that "face is more important than truth or justice." Losing face if often people's worst fear. Chinese go out of their way to be polite and accommodating, to maintain dignity in a variety of situations and avoid disputes, conflicts and embarrassment in their pursuit to avoid losing face.

The government often uses social pressure in the form of face-losing criticism to keep people in line on issues such as having extra children or complaining about the government (the threat of imprisonment is also used).

Maintaining face and avoiding losing face are important concepts in the West. But as Scott Seligman, author of Chinese Business Etiquette, Manners and Culture in the People’s Republic of China told the New York Times, “The Chinese raise face to a high art. It’s a fragile commodity in China that can easily be lost....The trigger doesn’t have to be extreme. You can contradict somebody in front of someone who is lower ranking and cause that person to lose face. Even the simple act of saying no to somebody can make that person lose face.”

Chinese also value loyalty and stress the importance of keeping one's word. Discretion is greatly valued. It is tied with humility and not causing others to lose face.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Chinese Personality book on PDF file ihome.ust.hk Book: Understanding the Chinese Personality mellenpress.com ; Chinese Personality and Work personality.cn ; Negotiating and Building Relationships with Chinese by Sidney Rittenberg cic.sfu.ca ; Understanding Chinese Business Culture legacee.com ; Status of Chinese People Blog chinaview.wordpress.com ; Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project www.pnas.org ; Difference Between Chinese and Japanese, a Blog Report socyberty.com ; Opinions on Asian Fetish colorq.org ; Wikipedia article on the Mongoloid Race Wikipedia ; Chinese Personality Constructs highwire.org ; Old Chinese jokes China Vista ; Essay on Humor, China and Japan aboutjapan.japansociety.org . Book: One of the most enlightening books about China is Chinese Lives by Sang Ye and Zhang Xinxin, a series of interviews with ordinary Chinese talking very candidly about what matter to them.

Links in this Website: CHINESE PEOPLE Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE PEOPLE AND DNA Factsanddetails.com/China ;CHINESE PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE PERSONALITY TRAITS AND CHARACTERISTICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; REGIONAL DIFFERENCES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE CUSTOMS Factsanddetails.com/China ; BAD MANNERS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SOCIETY, CONFUCIANISM, CROWDS AND VILLAGES Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SOCIETY AND COMMUNISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; CLASSIC CHINESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE LITERATURE Factsanddetails.com/China ; MODERN CHINESE WRITERS Factsanddetails.com/China ; RELIGION, FOLK BELIEFS AND DEATH ( Main Page, Click Religion) Factsanddetails.com/China JAPANESE PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SOCIETY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

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Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist

Shyness, Modesty and Embarrassment in China

Chinese often appear shy and self conscious to Westerners, especially when they are around foreigners or are in situations which they are not used to. Chinese don't like to be separated from crowd, stared at or asked too many personal questions (even though they often stare at and ask personal questions of Westerners).

Chinese often smile or giggle when a sensitive subject is broached or they feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. When young Chinese are asked if they have a girlfriend they usually laugh and look away. Chinese often grin when something bad has happened. Laughing loudly is often a sign of uneasiness. The writer Peter Hessler described the “the Chinese grin of embarrassment” as “the kind of expression that make your pulse quicken.” Many Chinese will give a broad smile when they make eye contact with a stranger and then frown when they look away.

Chinese generally don’t express their feelings very well. The American-born Taiwan-raised film director Bertha Bay-Sa Pan told the New York Times, ‘The Chinese are not very expressive. We don’t tend to say, “I love you,” even to our families, and we’re not physically affectionate.” At the same time some Chinese can be very self-deprecating. It is not unusual for a man to introduce himself as “Hu, a silly old pig.”

Successful Chinese are often very modest. Most of China’s super rich are publicity-shy. They rarely grant interviews and little is known about them. When they do talk they tend to talk more about their $2 haircuts than lavish possessions. Perhaps they are reminded of the old Chinese proverb: Fame portends trouble for men, just as fattening does a pig.

Formality, Punctuality and Apologizing in China

left Chinese tend to be very formal and have an us versus them attitude towards outsiders. Their formality persists until one is allowed on the inside of their group, which is something that usually takes place over time and requires following established protocol and recognizing hierarchies and showing proper respect to achieve.

Apologizing is important in China. The methods, manners and the ways it is carried out is affected by the rank and identity of the person doing the apologizing and the person being apologized to and is often conducted in a way that is difficult for Westerners to unravel and comprehend.

Chinese find it difficult and humiliating to apologize to someone face to face. Sometimes they refuse to apologize even when they know they are wrong. Refusing to apologize causes great harm because of concerns about losing face. In some places in China, there are apologist-for-hire businesses that allow people to hire a stranger to say I'm sorry to someone they wish to apologize to. The enterprises began in 2000 in Nanjing and have spread to Beijing and other cities.

The Chinese have a strong sense of punctuality. See Social Customs.

Indirectness, Uncertainty and Lying

Chinese can also be very indirect, sometimes painfully so, especially when talking about something that bothers them or may cause them to look bad. Chinese, for example, consider it rude to ask for something directly and tend to avoid using questions that have a yes or no answer to avoid putting someone in the position where they might have to give an answer they don't want to give or hurt someone's feelings. Even inquiring about directions can be perceived as impolite because the person who is asked directions may not know where the place is and this could cause them to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.

The Chinese do a great deal of communicating thorough symbolic expression, hints and allusions, expecting listeners and readers to grasp the meaning by reading between the lines. The Chinese like to say, “He who says the least says the most.” One Chinese man told the Los Angeles Times, "Chinese thinking is different from Western thinking. Westerners try to get at things very clearly, asking what, why and how much. Chinese are more interested in dealing with things using metaphors or intuitive comparisons."

Chinese have a high tolerance for uncertainty, Many feel comfortable and even thrive in it. A book editor told the Los Angeles Times. “After a while it becomes quite normal.”.

One Chinese man who returned to China after many years in the United States, told the Washington Post, “People think in a more complicated way. I’m more straightforward now, but they’re all zigzagging.” A prominent architect said, “We could do much better if we could think more. But you don’t have so much time for thinking.”

People in China lie all the time about this and that. Teenagers lie about their age to get jobs. Workers lie when they are negotiating so they can a better job.

Endurance, Diligence and Complaining in China

right Many Chinese are very tough and have endured hard lives (See Labor, Cultural Revolution). The editor mentioned above told the Los Angeles Times, “While life for ordinary people is hard it also makes them strong and determined to survive.”

It also makes them exhausted. In Riding the Iron Rooster, Theroux wrote: "The cycle of frenzy and fatigue...seemed a Chinese way of living, working very hard, with tremendous concentration...and then stopping suddenly and going to sleep. Often in trains, two chattering and gesticulating people would crap out and begin to snore like bullfrogs."

Chinese generally don’t complain. Being pushy and emotional generally doesn’t get you anywhere in China or Asia. In a 1997 survey by the Leo Burnett ad agency, 57 percent of Chinese agreed that people should not voice complaints (compared to 4 percent among Americans). Presumably this is at least partly the result of enduring so much hardship and possibly winding up in serious trouble if you do complain..

Eating Bitterness

The expression “eating bitter” describes putting up with hardships. One Chinese businessman told the Los Angeles Times, “If you have any problems, you go to your parents. And if your parents can’t help you, you bear them yourself.” Enduring and eating bitter are virtues highlighted by the Communists in the Long March and living in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. In modern China, people seem willing to tolerate unfairness and bitterness as long as their standard of living improves.

Asian societies have traditionally put an emphasis on maintaining a stiff upper lip, remaining strong and getting over problems rather than talking about them. Those that seek help are often stigmatized as weak or crazy. Psychology, psychiatry and counseling are rather new fields in China, where Confucian hierarchy has traditionally provided stability and people didn’t talk much about their feelings. “Chinese traditionally don’t like to articulate their emotions,” one psychologist told the Los Angeles Times.

Self-sacrifice has long been esteemed as a righteous virtue in China. It ties in with collectivism.a trait valued by both Chinese and Communists, in which a person puts the group before he individual and nobly illustrated by a teacher putting the interests of his students before his own.

Joseph Kahn wrote in the, New York Times, “As told in the magnum opus of ancient Chinese history, “Records of the Grand Historian,” King Goujian knew how to nurse a grievance. At the start of his reign in the fifth century B.C., Goujian’s archenemy attacked his kingdom, captured Goujian and made him a slave. The king was granted amnesty after three years and allowed to reclaim his throne. But Goujian swore off the trappings of monarchy, eating peasant food and living simply. He slept on a bed of brushwood and dangled a gallbladder from the ceiling, licking it to taste its bitterness every day. A Chinese aphorism, “sleeping on sticks and tasting gall,” celebrates his determination to remember the shame and humiliation he suffered — and to draw strength from it. [Source: Joseph Kahn, New York Times, July 18, 2013]

Risk, Success, and Competition in China

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In the West risk takers are generally praised as people with ambition and drive while in China they are often viewed as overly emotional and careless. But that isn't to say Chinese don't take risks. They also invest heavily in the stock market and like to gamble. They also have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and powerful desire to succeed in business. If they fail at one thing they try something else.

Chinese can be very competitive. They are very serious about games and will do anything to the win. One Uighur man told the New Yorker that Chinese never fight fair: “It’s not because of their culture, and it’s not because of their history. It comes from something inside their blood.”

It traditionally has been considered to be in bad taste in China to come across as too ambitious Many Chinese today however are obsessed with achieving success. Peter Hessler wrote on National Geographic that he found the following slogans inscribed next to a worker’s bed: “Find success immediately,” “Face the future directly,” and “A person can become successful anywhere; I swear I won’t return home until I am famous.”

The Chinese used to say friendship first, competition second but this view is changing as individual and self development become more developed.

One Chinese chatline user said, China “is an unusual society. Many Chinese like to shift responsibility and duty to others. If that person succeeds, he is revered. If the opposite happens, he will be condemned.”

Speed and Change

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The pace of life is very quick. Chinese get off planes very fast. Elevators doors close almost before you have time to step out. Jonathan Franzen wrote in The New Yorker, one difference between Shanghai and New York “was the alacrity with which the tiniest advantage was seized, the slightest hesitation exploited. Even more striking, though, was the self-blinkering angle at which the women pushing around me...held their head. It was the angle of looking at the ground exactly one step ahead.

Speed is of essence, lest one gets left behind. The term “Chinese time” sometimes is used to describe the breakneck pace in whcih things are done and chnage in China. Mao Jian, a Shanghai-based writer wrote in the Washington Post, “ Sizzling in the wok is not stuffed buns, but hearts beating fast, faster and faster still. Got to speed up to make a buck. Tear down the old courtyard, fill in Suzhou Creek, race to register that domain name. One day late is forever late. Overnight a fairy sprinkles her pixie dust and that corner shed turns into an idyllic café. But when you walk in, you see the owner reading a how-to-guide on opening a restaurant. Yet another new idea sprouting. Longevity is not the goal; speed is the style in China today.”

The developer Zhang Xin told The New Yorker, “Chinese people don’t like anything old—they want everything new. If someone came from th moon, they would think is a newer country than America...Maybe that is what Mao wanted.

Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker,”The place changes too fast; nobody in China has the luxury of being confident in his knowledge. Who shows a peasant how to find a factory job” How does a former Maoist learn to start a business”...Everything is figured out n the fly; the people are masters of improvisation.”

Peter Hessler wrote in National Geographic, “Few Chinese spend much time thinking about the future. Decades of political turmoil taught citizens that nothing lasts forever, which inspires the fearlessness of the entrepreneurs but also makes them shortsighted.”

China Daily: Why the Rush?

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After the Wenzhou high-speed train crash in July 2011 that left 40 people dead Raymond Zhou wrote in the China Daily, “ For three decades, China has prided itself on its mantra of "faster and higher". Our GDP overshoots others by many times. Our high-rises pop up as if powered by testosterone. Our cityscape takes on new forms every few years. We had been stagnant for too long. We have to catch up. We don't want to be left behind in this era of globalization.” [Source: Raymond Zhou, China Daily, August 4, 2011]

In this madness for speed, we tend to forget that faster and higher do not necessarily equal better. Of course, living standards have risen for most of us, but if we stop to contemplate the costs, we will be shocked. Besides the environmental costs, there is the unaccounted-for price of mental health that is often left out of the equation. When we feel dizzy by the world that is whizzing by, when we get nostalgic about the simple life we used to lead in dilapidated homes (which was actually not that good, if one is objective), it could be signs that growth is a bit too fast for comfort.

We Chinese always want to get ahead of the neighbor. If our neighbor's kid has a score of 98, we want ours to get 99 or 100. Does the higher score reflect his or her higher ability? We don't really care that much. On a national level, we want to accumulate the biggest tally of gold medals at the Olympics. Does that speak of the bigger picture of the country's fitness and sports? It's just an afterthought.

We even want to have all those trivial and strange conquests that belong to the realm of Guinness World Records - not for fun, mind you, but for bragging rights. We are pursuing speed for the sake of speed, or for the sake of vanity. Other countries also try to "keep up with the Joneses", but nowhere is this as pronounced and concerted as here in China where it is an obsession - from the highest official to the lowest footman.

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In this relentless drive for growth and wealth, collisions are bound to occur. Of these, the one between development and a citizen's right to their homestead is probably the most acute, and the one between development and the ecology, the most sustained. The old order is crumbling, and the new is not yet ready. There is a vacuum that scamsters and demagogues are only too happy to fill.

Rules and regulations are often tossed aside as an inconvenience. Look at this report from last year from the Railway Ministry's own newspaper: Some German specialists were hired to train the drivers of bullet trains. They said they needed three months to complete a training course. But they were told they had only 10 days to do the job. It became the ego trip of the rail department that they could turn out drivers in 10 days while in Germany they needed as long as three months, to the extent this report was spread far and wide as a token of its achievement.

Who benefits from such haste? Surely, not the passengers. Realistically, it enhances only the self-glorification of a few people and departments.High speeds will take us to our destinations in a shorter time. But not every trip is intended to save time. We take a ramble in a park at a leisurely pace...We don't really need the frenzy of non-stop acceleration, especially when higher speed comes at higher risks to safety. Accidents are sadly unavoidable. But that is no excuse for those errors that occur as a consequence of lax management or under-tested facilities.

It is time we paused to reflect on the purpose of the journey that is life.When we slow down, we'll notice that life is not always a car race. Our skyline may take on new shapes, but our conscience should remain in shape. Our trains may derail, but many of us tenaciously hold on to our old morality, our sense of good versus evil.

Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

In a review of the book: “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” by Evan Osnos, John Pomfret wrote in the Washington Post,“Two themes drive this compelling and accessible investigation of the modern Middle Kingdom. The first is hunger. China is living through “a ravenous era,” Osnos declares early in the book. And it’s a hunger not just for meat — the consumption of which has increased sixfold since the 1970s. After 40 years of dead-end Maoism, Chinese are combing the globe for commodities, wealth, experiences and respect. The second theme is the chase. “All over China people were embarking on journeys, joining the largest migration in human history,” Osnos writes, and he doesn’t mean that just in physical terms. He peppers the book with tales of characters making spiritual, economic, emotional and philosophical expeditions that have transformed their lives and the world as we know it. [Source: John Pomfret, Washington Post, May 16, 2014. John Pomfret, the author of “Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China” /*\]

“And it all has happened so fast. As Osnos notes, the 1980 edition of China’s authoritative dictionary, “The Sea of Words,” described individualism as “the heart of the Bourgeois worldview, behavior that benefits oneself at the expense of others.” But today Chinese have embraced the idea that they can be the agents of their own fate with an alacrity that perhaps only an American observer can really understand. Dividing the book into three sections, Osnos depicts the pursuit of wealth, freedom and something to believe in. Along the way the reader is treated to a series of finely wrought portraits of Chinese searchers. We meet Lin Yifu, who as a young officer in the army on Taiwan makes the remarkable decision to swim to China in 1979, then earn a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago and, as the World Bank’s chief economist, become one of the principal cheerleaders of China’s hybrid economic model of unfettered capitalism and state control. /*\

“There’s Gong Hainan, a peasant who founded a dating Web site in a typical rags-to-riches story that has become central to China’s sense of itself. Tang Jie is a philosophy student at a leading university in Shanghai whose problems with the Western media’s portrayal of China’s treatment of Tibet give Osnos a way to explore the critically important world of Chinese nationalism and its fixation that the West is out to get China. The prominent dissidents Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaobo also receive deeply insightful treatment. In all, Osnos ranges omnivorously between rich and poor, Christians and Buddhists, the patriotic and the oppressed, moguls and Mafiosi, democrats, dissidents and dogged supporters of the regime. /*\

“Osnos’s examination of Chinese ambition is... ambitious in revealing the national traits of modern Chinese. While Chinese describe themselves as more cautious than Americans, Osnos notes at one point, psychological research has shown that they take consistently higher risks with their investments than Americans of comparable wealth. In most developing countries, the educational level of parents is a decisive factor in determining how much a child will earn in adulthood; but in China, Osnos writes in another section, “parental connections” — not education — are the key, making urban China one of the least socially mobile places in the world. Osnos’s book brings to mind “Chinese Characteristics,” written by the American missionary Arthur H. Smith in 1894; it was the most widely read book on China well into the 1920s. “Chinese Characteristics” is riddled with the patronizing racism of the time, but it’s also deeply insightful. Smith’s description of the Chinese concept of “face” inspired China’s best-known writer, Lu Xun, to compose his most famous short story, “The True Story of Ah Q.”

“And finally, amid all of China’s frenetic energy and miraculous economic growth, Osnos observes that its Gilded Age is an era without any “central melody”; there’s a huge spiritual hole in the middle of the Chinese soul, and, he argues, it makes that great country’s future uncertain and a bit scary for them and for us.” /*\

Book: “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” by Evan Osnos, 2014]

Pragmatism, Control and Logic

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Some have argued that the influence of Confucianism has caused Chinese to put more trust in traditions and authority over science and method, which Westerners emphasize. While Chinese can be very thoughtful, intuitive and logical, the argument goes, they tend to give more weight to relationships, obligations, loyalties and traditions when making a decision and approach problems in a holistic way rather than in sequential, linear or progressive way, which is the norm in the West.

Even so, Chinese also have a reputation for being quite practical and pragmatic. Peter Hessler told National Geographic,” People seem quite rational—very, very pragmatic...This generation of Chinese: you can pretty much predict how people will respond because they tend to act in their own best interest."

Pearl S. Buck once said; “The Chinese, while not a changeable people, are nevertheless people who are able to change when they see the time has come to change. They are basically practical people. They do not cling to a custom or tradition or even a religion just because it has always been the way. When they see that something no longer works, they change it.”

A survey on preferred ideology taken among students in the northern province of Hebei in 2006 found that 66 percent of them favored pragmatism over communism (favored by 13 percent) and hedonism (favored by 11 percent). Some have argued Chinese pragmatism is rooted in Confucianism.

My wife teaches Chinese exchange students at a university in Japan. She said that many of her students—who grew up in China in the one-child policy, Little Emperors era—have difficulty negotiating and coming to an agreement as a group. She attributes this to growing up without brothers and sisters.

Jackie Chan raised some eyebrows in April 2009 when he said that “Chinese need to be controlled. Before an audience of business leaders on Hainan Island in China he said, “I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not. I’m really confused now. If you’ve got too much freedom you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic...I’m gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we’re not being controlled, we’ll just do what we want.”

Chinese Approach to Negotiations

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Journalist and China expert James McGregor wrote in the Washington Post, “China is about unity, focus and leverage. Chinese officials and business executives are obsessed with a single question: What advantage do I have over you?”

Henry Kissinger wrote in Newsweek, "China's approach to policy is skeptical and prudent...impersonal, patient and aloof; the Middle Kingdom has a horror of appearing supplicant. Where Washington looks to good faith and good will as the lubricant of international relations, Beijing assumes that statesmen have done their homework, and will understand subtle indirections." The Chinese often "indicate a strong preference, not a condition....To the Chinese, Americans appear erratic and somewhat frivolous."

Beijing takes it time making decisions. Kissinger wrote: "The Chinese maneuver to induce their opposition to propose the Chinese preference so that Chinese acquiescence can appear as the granting of a boon to the interlocutor....When faced with what is considered a legacy of colonialism, China is prone to bully in order to demonstrate its imperviousness to pressure. Any hint of condescension or sign that Chinese territorial integrity is nor being taken seriously evokes strong—and to Americans, seeming excessive—reaction."

One Chinese scholar, who has written extensively about the United States, told Time, "If you treat China as a friend, he will treat you well and will never betray you. Treat him like an enemy and he'll fight back without hesitation."

Chinese Love of Business and Money

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In the Mao era Chinese prided themselves on their frugality and desire to serve the people but today that sentiments seems like something from the distant past in fast-paced urban China. One Chinese man told the New York Times, “The things we care about most in China now are money, money, and money.” Another said, "It’s all money-grubbing. Many Chinese have lost their sense or morality and ethics.”

One woman told the New York Times, "Chinese people never talked so much about money before. Now they are always talking about salaries and stocks and joint ventures." One Chinese woman told the Washington Post, “People here don’t want any more Cultural Revolutions or war. We like material things.”

In a poll in the 1990s, 68 percent of the Chinese said their attitude towards life was “ work hard and get rich." Only 4 percent said it was "never think of yourself; give everything in service of society." In a 1997 survey by the Leo Burnett ad: 64 percent of Chinese agreed that making money is most important part of career, compared to 27 percent of Americans. In a survey in China in 2005, nearly three quarters of those asked said that money was the most important thing.

A desire to make money is not something that is deeply rooted in Confucianism. Merchants and businessmen were at the bottom of the Confucian social order. Sons have traditionally been taught to give whatever money they made to their parents.

Seeking wealth has become an end to itself to a point that for many people nothing else matters and many people are spiritually adrift. Yang Yo, a singer who is sometimes called the Bob Dylan of China, told the International Herald Tribune, “Few people in China think about a simple life of following dreams, ideals and knowing who you are. The just sit around talking about how to make more money.”

Chinese Directness, Openess and Earthiness

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In some situations Chinese can be very indirect, but in other situations they can be very direct,open and frank to the point of tactlessness. One aspect of Chinese "peasant directness" is that Chinese are not as shy about talking about their feces and urine as Americans. They often excuse themselves from social gatherings by saying the equivalent of "I have to take a shit" or "I have to take a piss" when they have to go the bathroom. When Theroux once asked a Chinese man on the train what he just did, he said, "I vomited in the toilet."

Chinese will sometimes openly laugh at the way foreigners look and dress and make comments about their noses and the way they speak Chinese.

The same is true with feeling. Unlike the Japanese and other Asians who often mask their feelings, the Chinese often not shy about expressing their feelings. One Uighur told the New Yorker, “The Chinese—if they don’t like you, it’s always clear.”

A guidebook for Chinese by Hong-Kong-born London-based Chinese advised his readers: “Don’t ask foreign women how old they are.” Chinese are often ask people they have just met: their age, marital status, how much money they make, and whether or not they have a boyfriend or girlfriend questions that Westerners regards as personal and prying. Chinese ask these questions for a couple of reasons. First all they are curious. Second, they want know a person's age and marital status so they know how to address the person.

See Spitting, Urinating, “Spiritual Civilization” Campaign, Customs

Socializing and Privacy in China


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People like to hang out and socialize on the street, in courtyards or in open public spaces. Conversation is a major pastime and people enjoy joking around and teasing one another. Things are often done with the help of personal contacts. If you can't find someone with a service you need you find someone who does know such a person.

Homes are open to family and friends. Brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts are frequent visitors. Friends often don’t knock when they visit, they just walk in. It is not usual for guests to spend the night. There is not an emphasis on privacy and calling ahead to let people know you are coming like there is in the United States.

"The search for personal privacy is a pervasive theme in the daily life of people who live in small villages," wrote Columbia anthropologist Marvin Harris. Villagers "apparently know too much about each other's business for their own good...One must whisper to secure privacy—with walls of thatch there are no closed doors. The village is filled with irritating gossip about men who are impotent or who ejaculate too quickly, and about women's behavior during coitus and the size, color, and odor of their genitalia."

In poor villages sometimes seven people sleep together in a single room and parents have sex while their children are sleeping.

Social Activities, Singing and Photos in China

While Chinese can be shy and suspicious they can also be very outgoing, generous, curious and genuinely friendly. Many enjoy speaking English with strangers or going out drinking and having a good time. A Sinologist with Warner Brothers told the Los Angeles Times: “Chinese people are very verbal, have vivid imaginations.” However, they generally don't invite people to their house, which is regarded as private place just or family members.


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Chinese like to do things in groups. They feel comfortable doing things with their friends and get a certain sense of security and reassurance from being with people like themselves. They tend to be absorbed in the group and their activities and could care less about what people outside their group think of them.

Chinese are not so comfortable with American-style cocktail partes. One executive with the Chinese computer compnay Lenovo told Time, “We stand there and talk to each their. That’s just not our style.”

Chinese generally are shyer about dancing than singing, whereas the reverse is true about many Westerners. Chinese children generally have few opportunities to dance when they grow up and feel awkward doing it, but they do a lot of singing in school and tend to regard it as a fun activity like recess or sports. Among Chinese adults karaoke is very popular. In parks, people often sit in groups of twenty or thirty and sing songs or put on plays or operas. Chinese singers with good voices of course are admired more than those with bad voices but even bad singers are applauded for their effort.

See Social Customs

Chinese are also fond of having photographs taken of themselves with their friends and are particularly fond of having their picture taken in front of anything considered wacky, different or strange. Chinese on hiking trips seem to do more photo-taking than hiking. This is because Chinese treasure their friends and the memory of good times, and the value of an activity is often measured more in the bonding that takes place than with the activity itself, plus they get enjoyment from posing and looking at the photos later on. Photos without people in them are considered boring.

The Stranger and the Chinese Moral Imagination

Haiyan Lee of Stanford University wrote: “My book “The Stranger and the Chinese Moral Imagination” by Stanford University Press...investigates the modern Chinese moral imagination through the figure of the stranger. Strangers are outsiders who come into our communities and stay with us, bringing alien manners and values with them and never quite renouncing their mobility. They are a threat to a community’s peace and order, but they also promise change and renewal. In modern China, the stranger has been a ubiquitous figure that tests the moral limits of a society known for the primacy of consanguinity and familiarity. [Source: Haiyan Lee of Stanford University December 2014]

“This book employs the concepts of kinship sociality and stranger sociality to map out the moral dilemmas and responses set in motion by the coming of strangers. It surveys the Chinese moral landscape by following the itineraries of several groups of strangers—foreigners in China, peasant migrants in cities, bourgeois intellectuals in exile, disenfranchised class enemies, unattached women, animals on the edge of human society, and apparitions in a secular age—across a range of narrative and visual genres from the late imperial period to the new millennium. It makes a twofold argument: that the pervasive sense of moral crisis in contemporary China has roots in both the Confucian and socialist pasts, and that imaginative literature is the best training ground for coping with the quintessential condition of modernity in which strangers are routinely thrown together.

Table of Contents: Introduction: Talking to Strangers— Fear and Hope in China Strangers: A Group Biography, Lei Feng vs. Levinas: A Morality Play Strangers: A Reading Guide. Part I) Alien Kind: Chapter 1) The Benighted and the Enchanted—The Chinese Sphinx and the Prevaricating Intellectual, The Subaltern Goddess and the Crusading Party, The Homespun Priest and the Pilgrimaging Ethnographer, The Taiwanese Ghost and the Revenant Daytrippers. Chapter 2) Animals Are Us—Anthropomorphism and Zoomorphism, The Bare Life of Animals. Animal Totemism, Why Animals?

Part II. Fictive Kin: Chapter 3) The Power and Pollution of the Stranger Woman—Fu Caiyun/Sai Jinhua: the Courtesan Who Saves the Empire, Zhenzhen: the Spy Who Refuses to Go Home, Nixi/Mrs. Samson: the Widow Who Never Was a Wife, Li Guoxiang: the Cadre Who Terrorizes a Town From Parvenu to Pariah. Chapter 4) The Country and the City—Civility, Governmentality, and the Making of Ruralites and Urbanites, To Be a Gentleman Maids, Tenants, and the Comedies of Stranger Sociality.

Part III. Friends and Foes: Chapter 5) The Enemy Within Class Racism and the Logic of Displacement— The Water Dungeon and Socialist Horror, The Rent Collection Courtyard and the Law of History The Maoist Political. Chapter 6) Foreign Devils— “Foreign Devils” and the Unmaking of Tianxia, Cosmopolitan Peasants in Devils on the Doorstep, Cosmopolitan Nannies in Nannies for Foreigners To Be a Foreigner. Conclusion: Literature and the Veil of Ignorance

Image Sources: 1) Losing Face, from some blog; 2) drawings from Citizens posters. University of Washington; 3) photgraphs, beifan.com http://www.beifan.com/ ; Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist, Global Times Chinese: photo.huanqiu.com http://photo.huanqiu.com/creativity/unlimited/2010-11/1254288.html ; You Tube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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