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The high rate of economic growth has created great opportunities but has also generated a lot of stress and a strong sense of being left out and not getting a share of wealth no matter how hard you try. One happily married, well-off young executive at a mobile phone company — somebody you would think has it all — told the Los Angeles Times, “Life is so stressful. I feel enormous pressure on my shoulders all the time. If only I could do better somehow I might become rich and happy.” Even so In an 11-nation survey on anxiety by the New-York-based adverting firm, JWT, China scored the lowest. Japan scored the highest.

A Chinese sociologist told the New York Times, "People are busy, they're making money and they don’t care about your private life. Before people were idle and liked to tell you how to lead your life, but that's changed.” A 29-year-old Chinese drug addict told the Washington Post, ‘society is so utilitarian now. People only get along with others if they can give them something. It’s such a cold society, and people feel abandoned. People give up at night. They want to forget.”

Explaining why baseball bats are becoming widely used as defensive weapons, Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at People's University in Beijing, told the Los Angeles Times, "Chinese people do not feel safe today...There's a coldheartedness to society." The Rising Sun Anger Release Bar in Nanjing employs 20 muscular men as “models” for customers to beat and scream at to release pent-up anger and stress. Customers are also, for a fee, allowed to smash glasses and generally make a mess of things.

Stress. See Education, Economics

Websites and Sources: Book: Understanding the Chinese Personality ; Understanding Chinese Business Culture ; Status of Chinese People Blog ; Chinese Human Genome Diversity Project ; Opinions on Asian Fetish ; Essay on Humor, China and Japan ; . 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.

Pushing, Staring and Not Waiting in Line in China


Chinese are notorious for bumping into each other, blocking doorways, littering, spitting in restaurants, smoking anywhere they please, letting doors slam in people's faces, stopping their cars wherever they want, butting in line, shoving and pushing, walking in groups that take up the entire sidewalk, leaping into elevators, and generally not getting out of the way or watching where they are going. Chinese generally don't form lines they form "huddles" around ticket booths and bank clerks.

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: In crowd situations, with strangers toward whom they have no social obligations, Chinese can be, from the Western perspective, surprisingly loud, pushy and lacking in manners. The great Cambridge Sinologist Dr Joseph Needham wrote about what he called the Chinese ‘courtyard vision of the world’: inside the courtyards of their lives (at home, school or work), Chinese tend to be models of tact, care and attention. Outside the courtyard with strangers, there are generally no holds barred. If you want to get to a ticket window, get on a bus, make your way through a crowded entrance or otherwise negotiate in situations with large numbers of Chinese strangers, you too may need to sharpen your elbows. Many an expat has found a need to re-learn culturally appropriate ‘crowd manners’ once they returned home. [Source:“CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

Chinese act pushy unconsciously. They don't have the same concept of personal space as Westerners. Chinese are used to crowds and pushing you way through a busy sidewalk or subway station is considered normal. If two people collide, a brief apology might be offered, then people continue with their business as if nothing happened. After years of long queues, Chinese people have learned to be ruthless about cutting in line. Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at Beijing University told the Los Angeles Times, “The whole society is impatient. President Hu Jintao said...we Chinese must be modest and cautious and avoid arrogance. Of course this means we’re none of these things.”

The Chinese love to stare at foreigners and it is not unusual for a "staring squad" of a hundred people to gather around a tourist in rural towns where local people don't see many foreign visitors. Hairy arms and legs and red and blonde hair seem to be particularly fascinating and some Chinese like to touch or pluck the hairs to see if they are genuine. Staring back or getting angry is often counter-productive: it only attracts more attention.

On drivers and waiting in line in Shanghai, Andrew Field wrote: “At times it seems to be an all out battle for supremacy over the road with no quarter given. The "me first" mentality is very strong when it comes to driving etiquette or lack thereof. This in turn leads to far more accidents, which cause traffic delays ratcheting up levels of anxiety, leading to more fender-benders and so on in a vicious cycle. And people end up spending more time and money on the road and getting their cars fixed. But it is all worthwhile if one can shave that second off the road trip by cutting in front of another vehicle. This used to be true of lines here in China as well, such as the queues formed at a bank or a ticket counter. People have become far more polite about lining up since I first arrived in China in the 1980s. I suspect that over time, people in Shanghai will develop a more sophisticated sense of etiquette when it comes to driving. But who knows? Only time will tell.

Shouting and Making Noise in China

The Chinese like to shout and make noise and can be quite loud and boisterous. What sounds like a bitter argument is often just a normal conversation, especially in southern China. What sounds like a loud party is often just an ordinary get together. According to the Lonely Planet guide of China, "there seems to be a competition for who can speak the loudest, turn the radio or TV up to the highest volume and detonate the most firecrackers." Many scenic and otherwise serene spots in China are embellished with loud crackly music blaring from speakers nailed onto temples and trees. Chinese vitality is sometimes described with the word "renao," meaning “hot and noisy.” Even though Chinese can be loud and physical themselves they often frown upon Western-style loudness and boisterousness.

Chinese have been described as "non-confrontational." They often go out of their way to be polite and accommodating and avoid disputes and conflicts. Still, while fistfights are rare, pushing and shoving and screaming matches are quite common, and when conflicts do begin they can quickly escalate. Many public altercations begin as a dispute over money or reaction to being bumped into or stepped on and mushroom into, in the words of the writer Paul Theroux, a "more general and menacing harangue." "The most common mode of conflict," wrote Theroux," "is the screaming out-of-hand row — two people screeching at each other, face-to-face. They are long and loud, and they attract large crowds of spectators. For face-saving reasons such disputes can only be resolved by a third party, and until that person enters they fray, two squabblers go on shrieking."

Atlantic monthly editor James Fallows wrote: “Westerners who have not traveled in China might be surprised at how outspoken ordinary Chinese people can be. When cars or bicycles collide (often), the parties involved get out to yell at each other or at the cops, and plead their case to the gathering crowd. Workers complain about bosses who have cheated them. Residents complain about the landlords...But when people complain, it is usually about those crooked bosses, reporters, mayors or bureaucrats — not about the system or its rulers.”

Cheating in China

Cheating is common in secondary schools, universities and in society as a whole. Andrew Jacobs, wrote in the New York Times, “Many educators say the culture of cheating takes root in high school, where the competition for slots in the country’s best colleges is unrelenting and high marks on standardized tests are the most important criterion for admission. Ghost-written essays and test questions can be bought. So, too, can a hired gun test taker who will assume the student’s identity for the grueling two-day college entrance exam.” [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, October 6, 2010]

Cheating and falsifying credentials also occurs outside the education system. In 2009, state media warned that growing competition for government jobs appeared to have encouraged cheating in the civil service entrance exam, with about 1,000 cheaters caught over a four month period. After a plane crash in August 2010 killed 42 people in northeast China, officials discovered that 100 pilots who worked for the airline’s parent company had falsified their flying histories. It has also been revealed that Tang Jun, the millionaire former head of Microsoft China and something of a national hero, falsely claimed to have received a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, October 6, 2010]

Stephen Wong wrote in the Asia Times, “Exam cheating has deeper roots in the moral decay of today's Chinese society. The Chinese, long proud of the Confucius virtues of honesty, courtesy and loyalty, have been experiencing a moral and ethical void ever since those values were broken by the Cultural Revolution and replaced by a feverish pursuit of money and power. The order of the market economy, however, is yet to be fully established. Thus cheating becomes widespread - not only in the exam venues, but also in the academic field and in the government itself. Cheating has become so widespread that the cheaters no longer feel shameful.” [Source: Stephen Wong Asia Times, August 22, 2009]

Fighting in China

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Describing an altercation he witnessed at the McDonald’s in Beijing, Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “The drunk couple began arguing loudly. Suddenly the woman stood up, brandished a newspaper, and smacked the man on the head. Then she stormed out, right past Playland. Without a word the man folded his arms, lay his head down on the table, and went to sleep.”

Passengers picking fights with bus drivers, often while the vehicle is still moving, due to missed stops or other grievances, is an issue in China. One in Chongqing in October 2018, a driver careered off a bridge, killing himself and over a dozen passengers after one such incident. People have called for better protection for drivers, as well as heavier penalties for unruly passengers.

Basketball violence occurs in China. In August 2005, a nasty brawl involving Chinese fans and players from China and Puerto Rico ended a game prematurely in Beijing. The brawl broke out at the end of the game — which China was leading by a large margin — when two Chinese players rushed off the bench to fight Puerto Rican players who had inflicted a hard foul on a Chinese player. A Chinese newspaper reported: “Fists, plastic cups, water bottles and even a fan’s shoe went flying during the fracas.” The Puerto team was forced to flee to their locker room. One player held up a plastic chair to protect his head. It was seen as particularly bad form with the Beijing Olympics only three years away. The state media referred to the escapade as a “night of shame.” See Separate Article BASKETBALL IN CHINA: HISTORY, THE NATIONAL TEAM, CNBA AND ONCOURT

In July 2001, just 10 days after Beijing was awarded the right to host the Olympics, a bench-clearing brawl occurred in Shanghai after the final buzzer in a game between China and Lebanon. Fans threw water bottles and other objects at Lebanese players, several of whom were bloodied before the fight was broken up by police. Liu Wei, captain of the national team, was suspended for 10 games and fined $7,273 for leading an attack on a foreign player — Nigerian forward Gabe Muoneke of the Yunnan Bulls — as he was exiting a stadium with his wife and three children. Liu and several teammates from the Shanghai Sharks ambushed Muoneke in the player’s area, cornered him and attacked him for more than a minute, before they were pulled away by security staff.

Overall Peaceableness of the Chinese

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “By what force are these vast masses of human beings kept from flying at each other's throats, and indulging in the luxury of mutual extermination? We believe Thomas Taylor Meadows was right in saying that it is due to the prevalence of moral forces which have in Chinese civilization replaced physical forces. We do not forget the terrible clan-fights for which the province of Guangdong is especially noted, and in which pitched battles occur, causing the loss of hundreds of lives. In the presence of these social typhoons, the ordinary machinery of law is useless. The mandarin is fully aware of this, and does not think of getting between the sharp blades of the social scissors, but judiciously waiting until they are once more parallel, appears on the scene waving the banner of peace and order. What do these occurrences prove? That while the Cantonese and perhaps the Fujian men, are clannish and belligerent, the Chinese as a whole, are not so. They are peaceable. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894; ; Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang, a village in Shandong]

The Chinese fight crickets and cocks, but do they have dog-fights and bull-fights? Have any of our readers ever seen two Chinese on the verge of a quarrel, and the bystanders urging them on with exclamations of savage delight : " Hit him! " " Down with him! " " Make mince-meat of him! " and the like? Do they form a ring, cry for " fair play," and insist that the difference shall be determined then and there by brute force, the man with the strongest biceps, and the most ponderous fist, to be the " best " man? Nothing of the sort ever came under our observation, and visit too much to say that it never comes under the observation of any one? The density of population and the tangled community of interests, do indeed lead to constant quarrels and disputes, of all degrees of violence. Relatively speaking, however, few of these come to violence, and of that violence a relatively small part is serious.

For the most part a Chinese quarrel is a reviling match, low language and high words. But an infinitesimal fraction of the participants in Chinese fights, is seriously disabled, in other respects than that by incessant bawling they have become hoarse. We should be surprised to hear that anyone ever saw a Chinese crowd egg on combatants. What we have all seen, what we always expect to see, we all know. It is the instant and spontaneous appearance on the scene, of the peace-maker. He is double, perhaps quadruple. Each of the peace-makers seizes a roaring belligerent, and tranquillizes him with good advice. As soon as he finds himself safely in charge of the peace-maker, the principal in the fight becomes doubly furious. He has judiciously postponed losing control of himself, until there is some one else ready to take that control, and then he gives way to spasms of apparent fury, unquestionally innocuous both to himself, and to others. In his most furious moments, a Chinese is amenable' to "reason,'' for which he has not only a theoretical, but a very practical respect. Who ever saw a belligerent turn and rend the officious peace-maker, who is holding him from flying at his foe? This is the crucial point in the struggle. Even in his fury, the 'Chinese recognizes the desirableness of peace — in the abstract — only he thinks in his concrete case, peace is inapplicable.. The peace-maker judges differently, and nearly always drags away the bellicose reviler, who yells back to his opponent malignant defiance as he goes.

“It is this peaceable quality of the Chinese, which makes him a valuable social unit He loves order, and respects law, even when it is not in itself respectable. Of all Asiatic peoples, the Chinese are probably the most easily, governed, when governed on lines to which they are accustomed. A social machinery so complicated as that of China, must often creak, and sometimes bend under extreme pressure. Yet it seldom actually breaks beneath the strain.

Chinese Bully in the 19th Century

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: This is a compendious description of the Chinese bully, a character of capital importance in China, without an acquaintance with whom it is impossible to comprehend the workings of Chinese social life. The Chinese bully is found in the city and in the country. He is sometimes rich, and at other times he is poor. Sometimes he cannot read, and sometimes he is a graduate of one or more degrees. Sometimes, strange to say, "he" is a woman! But in all cases he unites certain essential qualities in more or less complete proportions, and according to the extent to which these qualities are developed, will be his success as a "bully." He must have a capacity to manage business and to deal with people, and must be possessed of the instinct of general meddling so as to make himself felt in the region over which he domineers. "The bean-curd bully," says one of the enigmatical sayings of the Chinese, " rules a square territory, and the carrying-pole bully rules a strip." The cakes of bean curd are square, while the carrying-pole is long, and these objects are intended to represent by their shapes the representative areas dominated by bullies of varying conditions. The bullies of certain cities enjoy a national reputation, are dreaded all over the Empire. Thus it is said that in certain parts of China, there are notices posted over the doors of inns, "No Tianjin men admitted." The blacklegs of that port are notorious for their violence, and are even called by a peculiar nickname (hun-hsing-ize). It was by their means that the Tianjin massacre was carried through, and such men are everywhere the leaders of the dangerous classes. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

“Extended experience in many provinces has shown how easy it is to stir these elements into a blaze at any time, and on any pretext, especially in any matter relating to foreigners. It is largely due to them that the foreigner in China, or in any part of it, literally never knows what a day or a night may bring forth. In view of their possible combination, aided by some trifling circumstance, every day to the foreigner in China is liable to be a kind of crisis. It was to this that Dr. Williams referred, when he once compared a stay in China to life in a stage-coach; one never knows at what moment it may upset. It is a part of the outfit of the fully equipped bully, that he is extremely intimate with the bad characters who do the work of the yamens. He can prosecute a law-suit with little or no expense, because it is to him that the yamen runners owe their living, that is, the persons who are obliged to go to law and whom the yamen people fleece in the process, are brought to this extremity largely through the help of the bullies who get up rows, or take charge of them after they have been got up by others.

“To a bully of this special type, a row of some sort is the normal condition of life. When there is no occupation of the sort on hand, he is " spoiling for a fight." In the metaphorical saying of the Chinese, such a person, if he has been three days without a quarrel, is obliged to revile the kitchen god, by way of keeping himself in practice! If he is accomplished in his art, he is able to endure any amount of bambooing with comparative indifference, never betraying any sign of pain, or his prestige would be gone. Once having risen superior to the ordinary trammels of the flesh, the bully is assured of a lucrative practice in the brawls of others. If he is beaten by the magistrate, who is very likely to have the utmost antipathy to such a class of the community, he takes it as a matter of course, and this is called " supporting one's upper half, at the expense of one's lower half." Sometimes these bullies provoke the magistrate in the spirit of mere bravado, perhaps even reviling him in open court. The city black-leg, or " bare-stick " as he is significantly called, is matched by his country cousin, who, if less versatile, is equally adapted to the conditions under which he has his being. If he. is a scholar, he 'has some peculiar advantages from that circumstance; while if he is a poor man, always with something to gain and never with anything to lose, he has an advantage from which it is hard to dislodge him. In either case, he is able to exert an influence on the affairs of his native village which is decisive.

Arguments Among 19th Century Chinese

In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“The typical Chinese is a good-natured, even-tempered, peaceable individual, ready to do his part in life without shirking, and asking only for fair treatment. But as the placid surface of many lakes is often lashed into fury by sudden and violent winds pouring down through mountain gorges, so the equilibrium of the Chinese is liable to be destroyed by gusts of terrible passion, instantly transforming him from a quiet member of a well ordered society, into an impressive object-lesson on the reality of demon possession. Whether life is worth living has been thought “to depend upon the liver.” In China one might rather affirm that it hinges upon the spleen. Some of our readers may not be unfamiliar with a legend of a distinguished American who was provided by his kind father with a little hatchet which he tried upon a favorite cherry tree with marked success. When the father discovers this, he asks who did the deed, upon which the child handsomely confesses, and is clasped to his father’s arms with the remark that he would rather lose many cherry trees than to have his son tell a lie. The whole occurrence probably did not consume more than ten minutes. To illustrate some of the traits of disunity already mentioned, let us translate this incident into Chinese. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg]

“Chinese quarrels are objectionable by reason of their suddenness, their violence, and their publicity. The last named feature is the one most repugnant to Western civilization which has not yet learned how to avoid domestic disputes itself. As every occurrence immediately becomes public property, the element of “face” at once enters in, demanding an adjustment which shall put the injured party right in the presence of the rest of creation always conceived as looking critically on.

“One of the most melancholy phenomena of Chinese life is the suddenness, the spontaneity, the inexorableness with which natural affection and all kindly relations under certain conditions seem absolutely to wither up. If a member of a clan comes into collision with the prejudices of the generation above his own, or even with that to which he himself belongs, his grandfather, father, great uncles, uncles, cousins, and brothers often promise to break his legs, rub out his eyes with quick-lime, and the like, and not infrequently carry these threats into execution. It is constantly mentioned as a mitigation of an attack with violence, that there was no intention to kill the individual, only to maul him till he had so many broken bones that he could not stir!

“If the matter comes to a lawsuit, it is a common cry that no compromise shall ever be made, until the opponent has parted with his last piece of land. The suspense of mind under which many Chinese habitually live, uncertain whether these menaces will be carried into execution, would drive an Occidental to insanity or to suicide, or both. A frequent ending to a stormy conference is the dark hint: “We shall see about this later.”

"Wrath Matter" and 19th Century Chinese Quarrels

Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “Quarrels, in which the principals lose all control of themselves, shriek out words of reviling abuse at the highest possible pitch, and jump up and down in paroxysms of fury after the' manner of a periodical geyser, are yet not inconsistent with that " peaceableness " which we have seen to bea distinctive Chinese trait. The water that boils over with rapidity when the pressure of the atmosphere is abnormally low, will likewise freeze quickly under a sudden lowering of the temperature. It is the same water, but subject to varying conditions. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

“One of the most enigmatical characters in the Chinese language is that which is used to denote the rise of passion, and which Sir Thomas Wade euphemistically translated "wrath-matter." This word “is a most important one in all kinds of Chinese philosophy and in practical life. " It is generated when a man becomes very angry, and the Chinese believe that there is some deadly connection between this developed "wrath-matter" and the human system generally, so that a violent passion is constantly named as the exciting cause of all varieties of diseases and ailments, such as blindness, failure of the heart, etc.

“It is most fortunate for the Chinese that they have not the habit of carrying weapons about them, for if they had revolvers or swords like the former samurai class of Japan, it would not be possible to predict the amount of mischief which the daily evolution of “wrathful matter” would' produce. When a man or a woman is once seized of the idea that he has been deeply wronged, there is no power on earth which can prevent the sudden and often utterly ungovernable development of a certain amount of "wrath-matter" or rather of a very uncertain amount of it.

“If a wrong has been committed for which there is no legal redress, such as abuse of a married daughter beyond the point which custom warrants, a party of the injured friends will visit the house of the mother-in-law, and if they are resisted will engage in a pitched battle. If they are not resisted, and the offending persons have fled, the assailants will proceed to smash all the crockery in the house, the mirrors, the water-jars, and whatever else is frangible, and having thus allowed their Mi to escape, they depart. If their coming is known in advance, the very first step is to remove all these articles to the house of some neighbour.

“One of the Chinese newspapers recently mentioned a case which occurred in Peking, where a man had arranged for a wedding with a beautiful woman, who turned out to be "an ugly bald-headed, and elderly woman." The disappointed bridegroom became greatly enraged, struck the go-betweens, reviled the whole company, and smashed the bride's wedding outfit. Any Chinese would have acted in the same way, if he was in such relations to his environment, that he dared to do so. It is after the preliminary paroxysms of “wrath matter” have had opportunity to subside, that the work of the " peace-talker" — that useful factor in Chinese social life — is accomplished. Sometimes these most essential individuals are so deeply impressed with the necessity of peace, that even when the matter is not one which concerns them personally, they are willing to go from one to the other making k'o-t'ous, now to this side, and now to that, in the interests of harmony.

Examples of "Wrath Matter" in 19th Century Chna

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: A singular illustration of the results of unrestrained "wrath-matter" has come to the writer's notice. A man living in the mountains in central Shandong had a wife and several children, two of them of tender age. In October 1889 the wife died. This made the husband very angry — not, as he explained, in answer to a question — because he was specially attached to his wife, but because he could not see how he was to manage the small children. In a paroxsym of fury, he seized a Chinese razor, and made three deep cuts in his abdomen, so that several feet of intestines protruded. Some of his friends afterwards sewed up the wound with cotton thread. Six days later the man had another accession of "wrath-matter", and not only ripped open the wound, but also tore off what was apparently a piece of the omentum several inches in length, and threw it away. On each occasion he was afterwards unable to remember what he had done. From these fearful injuries he nevertheless recovered, to such an extent that six months later he was able to walk several hundred miles to a foreign hospital for treatment. The abdominal wound had party closed, leaving only a small fistula, but the normal action pf the bowels was interrupted. He is a striking exemplification of that physical vitality." [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

Other examples: “A former employee of a wealthy man fell into a rage, vented all his superfluous "wrath-matter"in the street in front of the house, procured a, large knife, and with violent threats stuck it into the outer door of the establishment, at the same time reviling everyone therein in the most outrageous manner. The master of the house was prudent enough to allow this fit of fury to wear itself out, after which the baffled servant went off and got drunk, and during that night died in front of the rich man's door.

"We have heard of a man who applied for baptism to an old and experienced missionary, and was very properly refused, whereupon he got a knife and threatened to attack the missionary to prove by ordeal of battle the claim to the rite of initiation. Happily this method of taking the kingdom of heaven by violence does not commend itself to most noviciates, but the underlying principle is one that is constantly acted upon in all varieties of Chinese social life. An old woman who will not take "no" for an answer, asks for financial assistance, and throws herself on the ground in front of your carter's mules. If she is run over, so much the better for her, for she is thus reasonably sure of a support for an indefinite period. An old vixen living in the same village as the writer, was constantly threatening to commit suicide, but though all her neighbours were willing to lend their aid, she never seemed to accomplish her purpose. At last she threw herself into one' of the village mudholes with intent to drown, but found to her disgust that the water was only up to her neck. She lacked that versatility of invention which would have enabled her to put her head under water and hold it there, but contented herself with reviling the whole village at the top of her voice for her contretemps. The next time she was more successful.

Reviling — 19th Century Chinese Cursing Fit

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “The practice of hallooing is very seldom dissociated from another art, which the Chinese have carried to a degree of perfection, known only among Orientals — the art of reviling. The moment that a quarrel begins, abusive words of this sort are heard, poured forth in a filthy stream, to which nothing in the English language offers any parallel, and with a virulence and pertinacity, suggestive of the fish-women of Billingsgate. The merest contact is often sufficient to elicit a torrent of this invective, as a touch induces the electric spark, and it is in constant and almost universal use by all classes and both sexes, always and ' everywhere. It is a common complaint that women use even viler language than men, and that they continue it longer, justifying the aphorism, that what Chinese women have lost in the compression of their feet seems to have been made up in the volubility of their tongues. Children just learning to talk, learn this abusive dialect from their parents and often employ it towards them, which is regarded as extremely amusing. The use of this language has become to the Chinese a kind of second nature. It is confined to no class of society. Literary graduates, and official of all ranks up to the very highest, when provoked, use it as freely as their coolies. It is even used by common people on the street, as a kind of bantering salutation, and as such is returned in kind. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

The foulness of the language employed is beyond all description. Yet even reviling has its code of honour, and it is not considered “good form" in hurling this abuse at another, to touch upon his actual faults, but rather to impute to him the most ignoble origin, and to heap contempt upon his ancestors. The employment of this language toward another is justly regarded as a great indignity and a grave offence, but the point of the insult consists not in.the use of such language in the presence of another, nor even principally in its application to him, but in the loss of “face" which this application of such terms implies. The proper apology for the commission of this offence is not that the person who has been guilty of it has demeaned himself, and has done a disgraceful act, but that he was wrong in applying those terms to that person at that time. When this has been satisfactorily conceded, all parties are again on the proper basis with the public, and the "face" of each is duly preserved.

“Occidental curses are sometimes not loud, but deep, but Chinese maledictions are nothing if not loud. An English oath is a winged bullet, Chinese abuse is a ball of filth. Much of this abusive language is regarded as a sort of spell or curse. A man who has had the heads removed from his field of millet, stands at the entrance of the alley which leads to his dwelling, and pours forth volleys of abuse upon the unknown (though often not unsuspected), offender. This proceeding is regarded as having a double value, first as a means of notifying the public of his loss and of his consequent fury, thus freeing his mind; and second as a prophylactic, tending to secure him against the repetition of the offence. The culprit is (theoretically) in ambush, listening with something like awe to the frightful imprecations levelled at him. He cannot, of course, be sure that he is not detected, which is often the case. Perhaps the loser knows perfectly well who it was who stole his goods, but contents himself with a public reviling, as a formal notice that the culprit is either known or suspected, and will do well to avoid the repetition of his act. If provoked too far, the loser will, it is thus tacitly proclaimed, retaliate. This is the Chinese theory of public reviling. They frankly admit, that it not only does not stop theft, but that it has no necessary tendency to prevent its repetition, since among a large population, the thieft, or other offender, is by no means certain to know that he has been reviled. The practice of "reviling the street" is often indulged in by women, who mount the flat roof of the house, and shriek away for hours at a time, or until their voices fail. A respectable family would not allow such a performance if they could prevent it, but in China as elsewhere, an enraged woman is a being difficult to restrain. Abuse delivered in this way, on general principles, attracts little or no attention, and one sometimes comes upon a man at the head of an alley, or a woman on the roof, screeching themselves red in the face, with not a single auditor in sight. If the day is a hot one, the reviler bawls as long as he (or she) has breath, then proceeds to refresh himself by a season of fanning, and afterwards returns to the attack, with renewed fury. to which attention has been already directed.

Reasons for Arguments and Disputes Among 19th Century Chinese

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “In order to understand one of the principal proceedings by which the normal peaceful order of Chinese society is first interrupted and then restored, we must consider the natural history of a Chinese quarrel in its inception, its development, its culmination and its close. Among a population of such unexampled density, where families often of great size are crowded together in narrow quarters, it is impossible that occasions for quarrels should not be all-pervasive. " Wash and wipe together — love and quarrel together," says the homely old English adage. The Chinese, who have so many things in common, find it comparatively easy to live up to the doctrine of this saying. " How many are there in your family?” you inquire of your neighbour. "Between ten and twenty mouths," he replies. "And do you have everything in common?" you ask. "Yes," is the most common reply. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

“Here then are fifteen or twenty human beings, probably representing three, if not four generations, who live from the income of the same business or farm, an income which is all put into a common stock, and the wants of all the members of the family are to be met solely from this common property. Where is the society capable of withstanding the strain to which it must be subjected under conditions such as this? The grandparents are perhaps superannuated, and complain of the coarse food as tasteless, and require something better. Filial obedience, or oftener the outward shell of it, prevents even the whisper of an . objection, but there are inward murmurs that the old people are growing "gluttonous." The brothers each contribute their time and strength to the common fund, but the sisters-in-law are An element of the most capital importance, and very difficult it is to harmonize them. The elder sister-in-law enjoys tyrannizing somewhat over the younger, and the younger ones are naturally jealous of the prerogatives of the elder. Each strives to make her husband feel that in this community of property, he is the one who is worsted.

“The following lines are a translation of an ode, which is itself a witness to the character of the troubles here described:
“The younger brother was shoved aside until he came to think
His elder brother's natural heart, the colour of India ink;
For when our neighbours hold a feast, quoth he, how comes it so
That we should always stay at home, and you should always go?
The silver which you value, and are gathering all the while
In course of years will aggregate a formidable pile,
And who's to care for who, I pray, when we at last I divide?
Why we shall suffer all the loss, and then be shoved aside!

“Without doubt, there must even in the best regulated families be many occasions for well grounded complaints, and mutual recriminations. The younger generation of children furnish a prolific source of domestic unpleasantness. Troubles of this nature are far from being uncommon, in well ordered homes in Western lands — how much more in the complex and compact life of the Chinese? It is a generalization of antiquity that " the weaker goes to the wall;" but where as in China, the weak are extremely weak, and the strong extremely strong, it is necessary for the preservation of society, that when the stronger has actually pushed the weaker to the wall, the former should be prevented from crushing the latter to a pulp.

In 1899, Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”: “The habit of levying tribute upon those who happen to be in a position to pay it, isdeeply rooted in Chinese life. To what this practice leads, may be seen in the extreme cases of which one now and then hears, such as the following, detailed to the writer by the principal sufferer. A man had a dispute with one of his uncles about a tree, the value of which did not amount to more than a dollar. As he was a person without force of character, and unable to get his rights, he was obliged to “eat loss.” This enraged his wife to such an extent that she hung herself. It was now open to her husband to bring a suit at law, accusing the other party of “harrying to death” (pi ssŭ) the deceased wife. Perhaps this would have been the best plan for the injured husband, but “peace-talkers” persuaded him to compromise the matter for a money payment. The other party had a powerful advocate in a relative who was a notorious blackleg, expert in lawsuits, and who freely gave his advice. Even under these advantages, the middlemen into whose hands the matter was put, decided that the uncle should pay 30,000 cash to the family of the woman, as a contribution to the funeral, which was done. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg]

How Fights Are Resolved in 19th Century China

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”: “If a Chinese quarrel be at all violent, it is next to impossible that it should be concluded without more or less personal vilification. The Chinese, like the Italians, have -seldom learned to box, or if they have learned, it is not scientific boxing. The first and chief resource of Chinese when matters come to extremities, is to seize the queue of their opponent, endeavouring to pull out as much hair as possible. In nine fights out of ten, where only two parties are concerned, and where neither party can lay hold of any weapon, the "fight" resolves itself simply into a hair-pulling match. But before this has gone the length of producing anything like baldness, there are sure to be third parties intervening, who seize each of the combatants, and forcibly separate them, dragging them away, reviling as they go, each shouting back his maledictions and defiance, and apparently making the most violent efforts to free himself, in which, however, he is generally very careful not to succeed. It has been already remarked that to strike the person who is holding him in check, never seems to occur to a Chinese, nor does he either express or feel that resentment which to an Anglo-Saxon under the same circumstances, would be inevitable. [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894]

“The means by which the Chinese seek to” end a fight “are two-fold, the Row and the Peacetalker. The term " Row," is adopted, not as an adequate, but as perhaps the least inadequate equivalent for the Chinese phrase tach'ao-tzu. The inherent idea in this expression is that of clamour, disturbance, uproar. The instinct of the Anglo-Saxon who has a grievance, is to get it redressed, and to punish, if he can, the person to whom the grievance is due. The instinct of the Oriental, and of the Chinese among the rest, is first of all to let the world at large know that he has a grievance.

Orientals ages ago discovered “that a grievance, like any other commodity, diminishes by being shared with others. It is on this principle, that a Chinese who has been wronged will go upon the street and roar at the top of his voice. This performance is called bawling a grievance (han-yuan), or hallooing the street (han-chkh). A small boy sent out to gather manure, leaned his fork against a building, and went inside. When he came out, his fork was gone, and he began to weep bitterly. " Have you hallooed?" he Was asked, "Go and halloo." He accordingly posted himself upon the edge of the crowded fair-ground, and screamed as loudly as he was able in the intervals of his sobbing, "Who has carried off my manure fork?”

Furious Fight Over a Chopped Down Pomegranate Tree

In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“Mr. Hua Hsing-tun was a well-to-do farmer, who had in his courtyard a handsome pomegranate tree of which he was very proud. His youngest son one day got hold of a sickle, which had been sharpened ready to cut wheat the next morning. With this implement he chopped at everything he saw, and among the rest, at the pomegranate tree which fell at the third blow. Seeing what mischief he had done, he ran to the other end of the village where he played with some boys whom he told that a cousin (the third son of his fourth uncle) had done the deed. This was overheard by a neighbour who passed on to the other end of the village just in time to hear Mr. Hua angrily roaring out the inquiry who had spoiled his pet tree. During a lull in the storm the neighbour, who had stepped into the courtyard to see what was the matter, confided to another neighbour that it was the nephew who had done the mischief. The neighbours soon depart. As no one in the yard knows anything about the tree, Mr. Hua, white with rage, continues his bawling upon the village street, denouncing the individual who had killed his tree. An older son who has just come up, having heard the story of the two neighbours, repeats it to his father, who gaining at last a clue, rushes to his fourth brother’s yard, only to find no one at home but his sister-in-law, whom he begins to revile in the most outrageous manner. For an instant only she is surprised, then takes in the situation and screams at her brother-in-law, returning his revilings with compound interest added. He retreats into the alley and thence to the street, whither she follows him, shrieking at the top of her voice. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg]

“At this juncture the unfortunate nephew alleged to be the author of the mischief attracted by the clamour comes home, when the infuriated uncle administers a great deal of abusive language relative to his illegitimate descent from a base ancestry, as well as a stunning blow with a stick. This drives the mother of the child to frenzy, and she attacks her brother-in-law by seizing his queue, being immediately pulled off by the second brother, and some neighbours, there being now fifty or more spectators. The fourth sister-in-law is forcibly dragged back to her own yard by several other women, screaming defiance as she goes, and ends by scratching her own face in long furrows with her sharp nails, being presently covered with blood.

“Her husband has now come in furious at the insult to his family, reviles the elder brother (and his ancestry) declaring that he will immediately go to the yamên and lodge a complaint. He takes a string of cash and departs on this errand, but is subsequently followed several miles by six men, who spend two hours in trying to get him to return, with the promise that they will “talk peace.” About midnight they all reach home. Most of the next five days is spent in interviews between third parties, who in turn have other conferences with the principals. At the expiration of this period all is settled. Mr. Hua the elder is to make a feast at an expense of not less than ten strings of cash, at which he shall admit that he was in error in reviling this sister-in-law at that time; the younger brother is to accept the apology in the presence of fourteen other men who have become involved in the matter at some of its stages. When the feast has been eaten, “harmony” is restored. But what about the author of all this mischief? Oh, “he is only a child.” With which observation the whole affair is dismissed, and forgotten.

Image Sources: drawings from Citizens posters. University of Washington; photgraphs,; Liu Bolin, China’s Invisible Man artist, Global Times Chinese: ; 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.

Last updated September 2021

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