6 Things Foreigners Often Get Wrong about Chinese People

6 Things Foreigners Often Get Wrong about Chinese People
Jun 28, 2011 By Jessica Larson-Wang , eChinacities.com

6 Things Foreigners Often Get Wrong About Chinese People
Photo: ernop

While foreigners are often a misunderstood bunch in China, we’re not immune to making assumptions and having prejudices of our own. Many foreigners harbour a lot of misconceptions about China and its people, from their lifestyle, to their culture, to their motivations for wanting to get to know you. Here we take a look at some of the ways that Chinese people are misunderstood by the foreigners who live here.

1) Chinese People Will Jump at the Chance to Live Abroad

Most of us have been warned about dating Chinese people who are just out for a green card, but the truth is that while some, perhaps even many Chinese people would love to go abroad, just as many are happy to stay in China. In fact, some men and women who date Chinese people may find, to their surprise, that their partner has no interest in living abroad and instead would rather have their foreign boyfriend or girlfriend to settle down in China! Many Chinese people are very comfortable here in their home country, and while they might enjoy visiting a foreign country, have no desire to emigrate.

2) Chinese Women Only Want Your Money

While more than one foreign man has been burned by a Chinese gold-digger, the truth is that many Chinese women look for the same qualities in a partner that foreign women do. While they may value a partner who is established and provide for a family, they are not gold diggers in the traditional sense. Chinese culture places a high value on a man’s ability to be the breadwinner, and so Chinese women tend to be attracted to men who have good jobs with decent salaries, but this is not due to greed. Most Chinese women also value personality traits such as kindness or a good sense of humour as highly as they value what’s in your pocketbook.

3) Chinese People Have Low Salaries

While it is true that in most of the 2nd and 3rd tier cities the salaries for the average Chinese office worker remain fairly low, the salaries for experienced professionals, especially in the big cities, can rival anything an English teacher can pull in. At a local Chinese private high school in Beijing, senior Chinese physics and chemistry teachers make 8000 RMB a month and senior engineers at some companies make upwards of 20,000 RMB a month. It can be dangerous to assume that every Chinese person you speak to will be in awe of your big foreign salary. China is growing and Chinese professionals with the right experience and sought after skills are making lots of money.

4) Chinese People Are Sheep

Anyone who has taught at a Chinese university and graded a stack of essays has probably felt a bit dismayed by what seems to be a lack of original thought and critical thinking skills among the population. But the truth is, China is full of creative thinkers, from writers to musicians to armchair philosophers who will tell you their view on life, the universe and everything else if you give them a chance. Beware of forming opinions on Chinese people as a whole based on group of students who are, after all, not quite fully formed yet as individuals and who are, furthermore, still in the public education system which does not place a high value on creativity or individuality. Just because the education system doesn’t value these things, however, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist in the society. China is full of interesting people with a lot to say.

5) Chinese People Are Rude

Most foreigners have complained about Chinese people’s inability to queue, spitting on the sidewalk, or small children taking a leak in the middle of the supermarket. In fact, if you polled the average Chinese person, they’re not fans of these things either. Most Chinese people would rather there be orderly lines, but unless everyone lines up, the people who do stand nicely in their place and wait for others will never make it to the front. And who enjoys walking down the sidewalk and stepping in a pile of human poo, or dodging loogies flying at your feet? Most educated people would not allow their children to use public areas as toilets, but they don’t feel it is their job to stop others either. Most Chinese people and foreigners feel the same way about the “lack of manners” you can sometimes see on display in China. The main difference is that most Chinese people are accustomed to it and don’t usually voice their displeasure as vocally as foreigners do.

6) Chinese People Just Want To Use You For English Practice

While it is true that in China you will run into “language leeches,” people who are only interested in practicing English with a foreign speaker, if you make the effort and learn some Chinese you’ll find that most people are just as happy to speak with you in Chinese as in English and that most people actually find it a relief not to have to recall their gao kao level English skills that they haven’t put to use for the past 10 years. And while some friends might start out simply wanting a foreign friend for language purposes, the people who are only interested in you for your English will quickly lose interest and the people who want to be your friend will stick with you regardless of what language you’re using to communicate.

Related links
8 Common Misconceptions About China Debunked
Six Probing Questions Chinese Ask Foreigners
The Inscrutable Chinese? Challenges to Understanding China

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Keywords: Things foreigners get wrong about China misunderstood Chinese people China misunderstood by foreigners


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So when you state "Chinese people" do you mean the Chinese who live in China or those who are Chinese Americans?? :S I am confused because being Chinese and being a Chinese American are two differnet thiings all together. I'm Chinese american who was raised here in the U.S. since 8 years old.

Dec 07, 2012 23:45 Report Abuse



1. Chinese don't jump at the chance to live abroad, just the ones with money. Haven't met one wealthy Chinese who a) doesn't plan to move to the west or b) already have citizenship to the west as a backup plan or retirement. That's my experience.
2. Chinese women don't want money? Have you every listened to a Chinese woman have a conversation with anyone? Hell, just go around any street and ask what is important for a woman's husband, and they will say, "house, car, money."
3. Chinese people don't have low salaries. If you're lucky enough to be associated with the government or even better, related! You're in for a treat! Odds are you land yourself a job that pays well. As for the general working class though, not so. Teachers earn less than $1000 USD a month, doctors similar, and they are expected to work as much overtime as their boss deems with NO overtime pay.
4. Chinese people are sheep. You say uneducated people are creative but the educated are not? Nuff said.
5. Chinese aren't really rude, the majority of the population hates rude people, but if you are polite than the majority will be rude and you'll be left behind? How did you put this thought together? How many times have I been at a shop and there's no customers and while I'm being served some guy walks in and starts ordering around the clerk while they're dealing with me? Let me think about this... hmm... oh, every time.
6. Chinese people generally can't relate to the western thought (or thought in general... thinking can get you into trouble, best to just find a boss and be ordered around). How many times has a mother or father or grandmother or grandfather yelled at their child "Speak English with him now!" How many people have befriended me only to later ask me for English lessons for them or their children. Generally, the Chinese have family for relations and friends for useful purposes.

Granted it's not true of all Chinese, but it's a huge huge majority in my experience. But what the hell would I know? I've only lived here 15 years, speak the language fluently... I generally only deal with them at work now, and I don't live here full time anymore...

You're dealing with a culture that has no rights. They don't even understand the meaning (it's quanli, pronounced Chew On Lee). The only thing they understand is they have to fight like hell to get anything when dealing with a government that says they give the people stuff and then steals it back. Hell, they can't even buy land. They lease their houses for 70 years. It's a dog eat dog world in China. If you're lucky, you're corrupt with a lot of connections.... then you may have an ounce or rights.

Nov 23, 2012 20:29 Report Abuse



Generalize much??? As a Chinese American who has a stable job, salary over 6 digits in coroporate managment you stereotype of Chinese woman only care about money is quite detestable.

For your information, the current Chinese woman are becoming CEOs and owning their own business. I doubt they will even date a guy who's has a lower job possition than themselves.

Dec 07, 2012 23:50 Report Abuse



Number 9 looks like he's been bitten by a venomous toad.

Oct 24, 2012 12:17 Report Abuse



Chinese can go SUCK it!

Oct 17, 2012 23:55 Report Abuse



A great new book that explains these cultural differences - "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to understanding crazy American culture, people, government, business, language and more."

Aug 26, 2012 12:31 Report Abuse



Hi, I was told that Chinese people make fun and talk behind backs of foreigners, is it mostly true?
Every Chinese student that were in many of my classes were always A plus students ,very smart.
What do most Chinese people like aout other peoples cultures? ie:
If they live amongst other races of people, do they like it if strangers say hi, or would they rather be ignored? Are they suspicious of other people?
Do Chinese people make fun of obese or mentally challenged people?
What is the best thing I could do or say....to gain the trust and respect of a Chinese stranger?
thanks, I have more questions but i wil post another time.
I love the Chinese Decor and Culture. Oh and the Men are so goodlooking.lol

Aug 26, 2012 08:41 Report Abuse



Chinese people are rude? Well depends on the individual! I have Chinese friends who are generally quite nice and well mannered - because they are aware of the different cultures and that they know how to behave socially when they go to a foreign country. Other than my friends, most Chinese (nationals) from China (Not Hong Kong!) are generally rude, ignorant, and don't behave socially especially if they go to Western countries where the culture is totally different. They don't want to change their behaviours in China and they pass it on when they go overseas (and the locals in the oversea country will shun at them) so I am not surprised that people have perceived that Chinese people are rude. Not saying that people from western countries are better (rude people are everywhere), and it's definitely getting worse unless something is done to change. Don't forget that the cultural revolution and communism plays a huge part in the major cultural shift of China. The "real" Chinese culture has unfortunately been lost in China, such as morally good values like respect, honouring families, compassion etc. The other countries around the world better do something or else we'll end up the same :(
By the way I am Chinese!

Aug 12, 2012 21:21 Report Abuse



1-cheater: canada immigration requires chinese students who wish to further studies in canada to stamp their qualification at china ministery of education before submitting application because many chinese students tend to forge their diploma and degrees at high scale. chinese graduated overseas are exempted.
2- chinese are rude..the way they talk to each other and mainly foreigners sucks.
3- cheap labor. china is one of the richest economies in the world simply because they pay their employees very little. gap betwwen rich and poor in china is alarming.
4- chinese do everything to flee china. they are everywhere and it doesn't matter to them how far the targeted country is.... selfish because instead of staying in the country and try to fight for a better life in the country for everybody they think short term and only think about themselves.
5- freedom of speech in china is dramatic moreover corruption and pollution sucks too....
6- chinese think too high of themselves, their culture and civilisation. arrogant and not humble

1- nice food ex char kway teow
2- beautiful girls, like so much slit eyes.
3- hard working people

Jul 20, 2012 00:08 Report Abuse



If it smokes (in public places) like a duck, spits like a duck, cheats like a duck and comes from Peking, there is some likelihood that it's a bird of some kind and probably not a pigeon or dodo. Perhaps it's a Peking Duck. Let's do a DNA test on it.

Mar 10, 2012 10:15 Report Abuse



Aodaliya2, I like your comments, the others also have good and bad, just like people, and most of it comes like you have pointed out "bad communication, not communicating, and a failure of understanding other cultures, and the reasons behind why people act as they do. The embarrassing thing of paying for the meals is very true, and only when a true friendship develops will things change. I too on my first experience of China made the same fatal mistakes as most westerners do. Time creates more understanding and I am still learning. I am an English Australian, I love my history, but that is what it is, and we all learn by it. I have also spend a few years and over many years in China and have travel to all parts, my last area yet to travel is the head of the Chicken, Harbin. But my backpacking trips are getting shorter as with time. However, we all know the good and the bad of China, as the Chinese also know the good, bad, and ugly of the west. My fear has always been the speed that China has developed, faster than a generation can adjust. I have posted a comment on the Good, Bad, and the Ugly, how I have watched the country, infrastructure, people, and change. Young children of my Chinese friends now adults, it is knowing these young people and their friends now grown adults that give me hope that the good things about China will remain, and deal with the syndrome of winning the lottery ticket that China is going through, where materialism, money is all that matters.

Dec 16, 2011 20:34 Report Abuse


Matthew Pidoux

I am a young western grad who has been in Shanghai for 8 months and the place is really on the up and has many western influences. The problem here in China is the Chinese people cannot keep up with western influences and that is why there are so many clashes. The older generation have no idea how to handle the western influence that is now in China and this is reflected when you walk down a street in Shanghai and you say hello to an old lady and she will freak out completely. That's my viewpoint.

Dec 15, 2011 09:11 Report Abuse



Hi I wanted to know if you ever found out what the old lady was yelling?

Aug 26, 2012 08:50 Report Abuse



Good article. I am fed up with Westerners who live in China constantly repeating these stereotypes about the Chinese.

Dec 05, 2011 18:16 Report Abuse



Hi, you are right, and it is not fair, we need to be taught about the truth.
This is a problem with many cultures, ignorance makes people stereotype others in a bad way.
All people should shed the light on their cultures and even help other peoples cultures by standing up for them.
I see it happenig all the time in my town and I set the story straight to help and prevent others from making wrong assumptions about cultures that are not my own.

Aug 26, 2012 08:57 Report Abuse



I totally go with this article. (I mean in opposite way)
All things are exactly reversely said than I think after living in China for 7 years.

These are the drawbacks, please don't try to hide them or misguide those inocent foreigners.

Oct 25, 2011 04:04 Report Abuse


Just me

I know with assurance that some countries in Africa are perfect characterwise

Sep 28, 2011 05:16 Report Abuse



I LOL'd when I read #4

If you say "Chinese people are sheep", this implies 100%. As an all-encompassing generalization. Which is INCORRECT. Sure there are 'many creative people' in China, but don't forget there are also 1.3 billion people... 'many' is not a large fraction by any means...

Perhaps if you said something more along the lines of "The vast majority of Chinese are sheep", then you'd be pretty spot on.

"Creativity" and "uniqueness" are two things NOT encouraged or promoted in the Chinese educational system. (and yes, even the vast majority of Chinese would agree to that, because they themselves are a product of said system).

I hope no one 'blames' them for their lack of creativity, because its really stemming from how they are brought up in society.

Aug 31, 2011 18:00 Report Abuse



oh com'on people!!! You can't judge the whole nation just because of some individuals you've met/seen/heard!!!!! Your own people have a lot of problems too!

Aug 23, 2011 20:18 Report Abuse



I find it both humbling and sad that it takes a white woman married to a Chinese guy (Jessica Larson-Wang) to finally write a sympathetic piece on China, for a change. Humbling in that a white person is actually capable of climbing down from his/her high horse for once and show some genuine empathy for a non-white; and sad in that these whites are so rare.

i commend you, Jessica, for doing what so many of your compatriots cannot and will not. By marrying one of us, you have demonstrated a real commitment to our culture beyond a stereotypical and temporary interest. And unlike your nasty male counterparts, I am fairly confident you didn't marry a local just to sexually exploit them or because you couldn't find a decent mate back home. You had the courage to swim against cultural norms and I salute you.

But as I mentioned earlier, Jessica is in the extreme minority. The vast majority of white females in China remain just as racist and judgemental as their men. It's gonna take more than a few pioneers to reverse a torrent of evil.

Jul 18, 2011 01:17 Report Abuse



this is FUN.
pls!!! more comments!!! ^_^!!
n suanle suanle.. everywhere is fucked up! not only china..
paz y amor...

Jul 17, 2011 12:34 Report Abuse



The word is "Integration " Black in the blind mind never changes its meaning . In the blind mans eyes its only curtains over the window.

Jul 16, 2011 21:39 Report Abuse



i hate spitting! , so disgusting, but not only chinese do so, I've seen that koreans are even worse, i don't know about japanese

Jul 07, 2011 19:01 Report Abuse



大家你好! I am a Pakistani, staying in China for the last two years. The love I've seen for me in the heart of Chinese people is extra-ordinary. I love Chinese people, Chinese people love me. :) Its my best experience to be in China. Sometimes even if you find a rude person, there may be a reason and an individual act. I've never met anyone being rude at me in China; for two years.

Jul 06, 2011 19:03 Report Abuse



re: Yet another face-saving article

1) Chinese People Will Jump at the Chance to Live Abroad
Most of us have been warned about dating Chinese people who are just out for a green card...

2) Chinese Women Only Want Your Money
While more than one foreign man has been burned by a Chinese gold-digger...

By Jessica ***Larson*** - Wang

haha...too bad you forgot to put something about ''irony" and the Chinese lack of it!

Jul 02, 2011 01:07 Report Abuse