Quiet chat break for busy office workers. Photo: thesmilingspiderblog.com
Before moving to China, I had certain thoughts in place about Chinese people as a whole. From personal interactions to movies to that brief chapter on Chinese history in high school, a vague picture of a polite, quiet people took shape. And let's not forget that all important issue that every article about Chinese people feels compelled to mention - face (面子). While stereotypes are often exaggerated and sometimes outright wrong, they are what we use to build a framework of someone or something until we have the opportunity to look further – and that's the key, to look further. And so, in the spirit of looking further, here are five stereotypes of Chinese people that only those who have never lived in China will actually believe.<
1) Chinese people are quiet
While those who move to a foreign country (usually to attend school) indeed tend to be the quiet, studious kind, Chinese people in China are… well… loud. It always takes me a minute or two to figure out whether two people are having a friendly conversation or threatening to kill each other. Because whether they are discussing what they had for lunch today or accusing each other of theft, the conversations are all done at roughly the same volume. That being said, it becomes obvious that it is, in fact, a fight when a) a crowd forms and b) hair pulling is involved.
2) Chinese employees are the hardest workers
Yes, they may put in a lot of hours at the office, but experience, second hand stories, and simple observation all indicate that many Chinese workers are not exactly hard at work. From hours of Farmville to the every present QQ to just plain old napping on the job, it only takes a small amount of digging to see that China's workforce is not the most efficient in the world. One former co-worker spent a week – a week! – creating a list of customers to call. By that Friday, the "list" consisted of two names.
3) Chinese women are submissive
I can't tell you the number of times people from my home country have asked about the role of women in China. Most tend to think that, since it's a male dominated society, all the females must be very quiet and demure. Ha! While it's certainly truer in some parts of China (ie: like much of the countryside) the fact is that in most first and second tier cities, it's the women who make the rules. Yes, men still make up the majority of the workforce and make the money (although that trend is subsiding), but it's the ladies who hold the purse strings (you know, unless she's making the man hold her purse strings while she shops). My husband once had a male Chinese co-worker who, when asked what he received from his girlfriend for his birthday, said, "Well, my girlfriend loves photography, so she bought herself a camera."
4) Chinese people are unwelcoming to foreigners
It's a known fact that Chinese society is close knit – most don't feel the need to rouse themselves about an issue if it does not directly involve them or a family member. But it is simply not true to say they are unwelcoming to outsiders. Most Chinese people are more than happy to engage you in a conversation – the younger generation largely to practice their English, the older generation largely when you are able to speak a bit of Chinese. Many will gladly welcome you into their home, talk with you for hours about your country or theirs, and feed you until you're about to pop. Chinese hospitality should not go underrated.
5) Chinese are the most polite
Those who have never lived in China are regularly convinced that Chinese people are the most polite in the world, largely due to that mystical factor called "face." The idea of face – that Chinese people want it, will do pretty much anything to keep it, and without it will be condemned to a life akin to a leper's – is one that the media (especially the foreign media) latches on to in order to explain the most inexplicable behaviours.
What they don't know is that keeping face often leads to outright lying or comments that by any Western standard (or basically any standard other than a Chinese one) would be considered rude. If a Chinese person doesn't know the answer to something, ("How do I get to the nearest metro?" "What type of project does that client want us for?"), a lot of times they will simply make something up on the spot. Most of the time, this results in confusion and embarrassment for everyone else involved – but not for them! Similarly, if they have not performed a task they were given (at work, for instance), when asked about it they will simply stare and not say anything. This, according to my Chinese friends, is a way to "save face" by not admitting you've done something wrong. And I'm still trying to figure out how a society where "You're fat" is a perfectly valid comment to a stranger ever got the reputation for being polite.
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Keywords: stereotypes of Chinese understanding Chinese people prejudice of Chinese preconceptions of Chinese culture and attitude in China
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This is the stupidest article I've ever read on Chinese. We all know chinese people are noisy and have bad manners. No need to come to China to figure it out. However they really are unwelcoming towards foreigners, not to say racist for some of them, never making an effort to communicate with strangers.
Oct 18, 2016 16:16 Report Abuse
BTW, the "you're fat" compliment (and by logic, "you're thin" being a less than polite comment) can be compared to the English expressions "you look healthy / great" and "you look pale" when you see a family member or friend you haven't seen in a little while.
Just a different wording / custom, but exactly the same sense.
Mar 30, 2012 06:27 Report Abuse
haha "you're fat" is definitely NOT a compliment in contemporary Chinese culture, especially if it comes from the younger generation of girls who are extremely weight-obsessed. They do NOT think it is good to be fat, they always want to be skinnier and think other people should be too. They're just being honest.
Mar 30, 2012 21:11 Report Abuse
You all forgot the 3 ways to do things. the right way, the wrong way, and the Chinese way. i agree with all . very inefficient workers. and one more thing you got wrong. there is no such thing a a lie in China. they just answer as there is no words in Chinese for " i don't know"
Mar 29, 2012 15:41 Report Abuse
they are certainly NOT hardworkers.
In my office they take siestas...yes you read correctly. Couldn't belive it! Lol lights are off and it's silent for about half hour after they've eaten last nights dinner for lunch. Makes me chuckle how I have to tiptoe around them whilst they rest. Come 6.30pm every single one of them is out of the office. ONly the expats remain. Each culture to their own...
Mar 28, 2012 05:04 Report Abuse
Well, I never thought they were the most polite people in the world. I think Japan has that stereotype wrapped up. Where I'm from Chinese people are seen as rude. But there's alot there so maybe the myth doesn't exist. I totally agree with the rest though! Good list
Mar 28, 2012 02:15 Report Abuse
I loved number one, about the shouting. I used to be subjected to weekly meetings, in Chinese, of all staff, and could not follow a word.
More than once I thought the staff were all getting an absolute bollocking from the management... right up to the point that everyone would burst into laughter!
Mar 27, 2012 21:00 Report Abuse
Well, I would mostly agree to what was said above, yet a comment like "housework are women's job" makes me wonder wether you're an Asian guy, tuxedo!
It's true though, in my experience Chinese mainlanders do work a lot of overtime, but mostly because they're don't know how to be efficient and never deliberate beforehand.
Largely, their attitude is to let things happen randomly, and that's the main reason why people easily come up with excuses and a lot of blabla.
Yes, making up things on the spot and lying seem to be a national sport on the mainland.
But one important factor for that is also socialization. In a country where saying your true opinion might bring you and your family in serious trouble, it's simply a matter of self-protection to conceal your thoughts. Sad, bad still true despite expensive cars, iPhones and glitzy shopping malls all around.
And, finally, I must say that there are a lot of polite Chinese people. But, yeah, to be honest, most of them I met either in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Singapore... ;-) But that's not surprising, since natives of the latter three (largely) Chinese societes had more influx of Western culture. To be fair, mainlanders, even until now, have at large never travelled outside of P.R.C. -- not to mention the hundereds of millions who have no passports.
So how are they supposed to bridge the gap between their own and Western cultures other than in terms of buying LV bags or watching "sex and the city" and the like? Firstly, it's a kind of an inferiority complex and, secondly, we all know that the P.R.C.'s education system isn't that famous for teaching people to develop their own, creative thoughts.
Another thing is conformity, and that's a pan-Asian thing!
Mar 27, 2012 20:40 Report Abuse
Young girls in big cities,90s,80s or 70s now well-educated, and have highly equal rights with men, so they're not submissive, but the men are, Shanghai married men are typical of this, they don't make any decision in even all the matters, and do most housework, maybe good for girls, but I still think housework are women's job, and ask and respect each other's ideas.
Mar 27, 2012 19:10 Report Abuse
in short chinese women are dangerous ,submissive or not,watch out for they are dangerous serpents,u need to pinch her a little to know who she really is,for this men are more submissive and tend to be vocal outside their homes.,Good observation,your analysis is quite correct.
Mar 27, 2012 17:24 Report Abuse
Good Stuff! I too work in an office. Using the right tool for the right job is a huge problem. You should mention something about the absolute abrasion to change too. Chinese are so convinced that there is simply not a better way to do it in China than the Chinese way. Including some of the obvious tasks such as using an excel spreadsheet to sort large amounts of data. No, but hey, keep sifting through those lines of data using MS Word. I'm sure you'll get done by the end of this year.
Mar 27, 2012 16:47 Report Abuse