How to be politically correct in China?
As most of the things in China, politics is a complicated thing. The country has one of the most unique political systems in the world. In the Middle Kingdom, there are some political topics that are considered “uncomfortable topics” or “sensitive topics”. Foreigners looking for a job or already living in China have to be aware of these sensitive political topics so as to avoid getting into any awkward conversations or offending anyone. Steering clear about these topics will keep your conversations positive and friendly.
Here are four Chinese political topics that might be considered a sensitive issue. We will explain different ways on how to be “politically correct” while you live in China. First, we will explain the political issue. Then, we will give some suggestions on how to be politically correct regarding it.
Explanation: Taiwan is one of the oldest political issues in the Chinese political landscape. The territory of Taiwan and adjacent islands is currently administered by the government of the Republic of China (ROC), however the People's Republic of China (PRC) considers Taiwan a renegade province, not a country, and therefore foreigners should avoid referring to it as an independent country. The PRC and the ROC were two different factions during the Chinese Civil War, which never legally ended. As a result the Mainland government claims that both factions belong to the same sovereign country. Mainland media usually refers to the ROC as the “Taiwan Province”, “China's Taiwan”, or “Taiwan Region”. For them, Mainland China and Taiwan are part of the same country. Although the majority of Chinese people would disagree with seizing Taiwan by force, nonetheless most of them maintain the position that there is only ONE China in the world and Taiwan is an “inalienable part” of China.
Suggestion: If you want to be politically correct in China, you should remember to never talk about Taiwan as an independent country or nation. In addition, never express support for Taiwan’s independence. If you want to be VERY politically correct when speaking about Taiwan in China, we suggest using the expressions “China Taiwan” or “Taiwan Province”. Also remember to always use maps that include Taiwan as part of China.
2-Hong Kong & Macao
Explanation: Many foreigners mistakenly believe Hong Kong (HK) and Macau to be countries. HK and Macau officially are Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of China. Both places were originally part of China, but were taken over by Europeans during the Colonial Age. Hong Kong was previously a British territory, and it was returned to China in 1997. Macau was previously a Portuguese territory, and it was returned to China in 1999. Although they have a higher degree of autonomy than most Chinese provinces, HK and Macau are still part of China. Politics in the two SAR is a bit complicated. In Macau the political landscape is more serene. On the contrary, recent developments in Hong Kong, from human rights marches to universal suffrage claims, have taken concerns about political stability in HK to a new level.
Suggestion: Try not to express open support for HK’s independence or Macau’s independence in China. Also avoid trash talking China when talking about HK-Mainland relations or Macau-Mainland relations.
Explanation: China and Japan share a common history. Japan has been strongly influenced throughout history by China with its language, culture, and philosophy. Japan and China were friendly nations, but in modern history, especially after WW2, the relations have been strained by different issues. According to the Chinese government, Sino-Japanese relations have been strained at times by Japan's refusal to acknowledge its wartime past (including the issues regarding the Nanjing Massacre, Yasukuni Shrine, and comfort women). Don’t be surprised to hear some very outspoken anti-japanese sentiment in China. On top of historical issues, territorial disputes (like the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute) are detrimental to the improvement of Sino-Japanese relations.
Suggestion: If you want to be politically correct in China, abstain from comparing China to Japan (Don’t even think of saying that Japan is better than China). Also refrain from taking sides in any of the territorial disputes and historical issues regarding China and Japan.
4-Cultural Revolution (CR) and other events related to the Party
Explanation: The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), launched by Chairman Mao, was a sociopolitical movement aimed at preserving “true” communism and eliminating harmful elements from the country, such as capitalism, revisionism, religious dogma, etc. The CR was basically a mess, probably the worst period in the country since the founding of the PRC. Although the Party officially condemns the Cultural Revolution, there are many Chinese people who hold more positive views about it. The CR was one of the most controversial events in recent Chinese history. Older generations of China usually don’t like to talk about these sensitive political events (like the CR, the Great Leap Forward, 1989, 1999, etc). On the contrary, China's youth in particular is now far more open to engaging in political discussions, especially with foreigners. Nonetheless public discussion about the CR and other controversial events is still very limited in China.
Suggestion: Avoid engaging in political discussions about controversial events with strangers. You can engage in discussions with young people, especially university students. If you want to be politically correct in China, you most remember to always talk about these historical events with respect and caution, always remember there are some topics off limits because of official censorship.
Some people might say that in China there is a general unwillingness to discuss political issues, this is not exactly accurate. Chinese people enjoy discussing politics, especially in Beijing, where politics is almost a part of everyday life. However, Chinese people for the most part are not very comfortable discussing with foreigners political issues that might bring shame or embarrassment to their country.
Remember to always be respectful towards other people's opinions, because nearly nothing in this world is truly black and white, especially politics.
Tags:General Language & Culture Expat Rants & Advice
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