Humans aren’t very good at getting to grips with differences, so on moving to China I found myself hit with a seemingly natural tendency to generalise those around me. There are many reasons for stereotypes and why they persist – some certainly make more sense than others – but stereotypes, like syphilis, are not things we should spread around.
It’s way too easy to put everyone in the same box. When you first move to China you’ll see a Chinese person spit on the street and decide all Chinese people hock loogies just the same. In no time you’ll be thinking that spitting must be sitting alongside ping pong as the national sport. A lack of cultural understanding and the language barrier goes a long way in promoting this sort of generalising thinking.
Here are 3 misconceptions I had about Chinese people before moving to China:
1) Chinese people are all small
As it turns out, not so much. Every morning I jam myself into a tiny elevator with 16 other people and, invariably, one of them is always at least as tall as me (188cm or 6’2”).
And Chinese people are indeed getting bigger. China’s Ministry of Health reported in 2006 that Chinese children are on average 6 cm (2.34”) taller and 3 kg (6.6 pounds) heavier than they were in 1975. The main cause of this growth spurt is of course nutrition – Chinese people now have an abundance of good quality food to choose from and, despite a few dairy scares, they are consuming far more bone-building dairy products than ever before.
When I first returned home to the US after a couple months in China I was surprised by how my fellow Americans weren’t noticeably taller than Beijing people. Immediately obvious, however, was how much fatter we are.
Somehow, Chinese people remain generally quite fit and slim, despite consuming large amounts of oily food – stocky is about as big as they get. Let’s hope China can fight the processed food phenomenon and lifestyle habits that have made Americans 20lbs heavier than they were in 1960 (and we weren’t exactly starving then).
2) Chinese people (all 1.3 billion) are quiet, prim and proper
This misconception probably originated from forgotten impressions of China I’d gathered from old movies, but wherever it came from, I was shocked by the din when I first moved to China. However, for the most part (fireworks and drilling should never start before 8am) I’m totally into it.
The rènào (热闹 - liveliness) is something I love about Chinese cities: the back and forth greetings shouted between old people shuffling along opposite sides of the street; the loud exchanges between fuwuyuan and customers in a restaurant; the deafening laughter of drunk men outside a bar.
The funny thing is, however, that Chinese people generally consider foreigners to be loud. I definitely fall into that loud category, so I love the energy and noise bubbling all around me in Beijing.
3) Young Chinese people are politically conscious
First, let me explain where I’m coming from. In American political terms I would probably be considered left of liberal. My friends have always been interested in politics and once on a rainy day I almost caught pneumonia taking part in a “die-in” (lying on the ground and not moving) to mark the anniversary of the Iraq war.
Before I came to China I knew the media here was state run and that people might be reluctant to express their political opinions. What I didn’t realise, however, is that young people in China’s cities are generally pretty content so have little reason to criticise the government.
For more than a decade in America, traversing the economy has been like bungee jumping with a piece of twine. Meanwhile, China’s growth has skyrocketed alongside individual wealth and consumerism. Young people are much more wealthy than previous generations. Instead of Mao suits they can buy Prada or, more commonly, the thousands of brands offering amazing interpretations of the English language printed on T-shirts.
Meanwhile, the ultra-competitiveness of China’s schooling system and the increasingly clogged job market keeps young people focused on learning and their careers. What time could they possibly have for debating the Chinese government’s business interests in Africa? And even if one has those feelings and thoughts, what do you do with them?
I failed to realise how far voting goes in making citizens feel involved in their country’s political process, even if people only get their wide selves off the’r La-Z-Boys every four years.
In conclusion, I’ve been surprised enough times by China and Chinese people that I’ve finally come to realise that I’ll never really truly understand what’s going on. Moving to China requires flexibility, when squeezing into an elevator, when trying to get a waiter’s attention, when talking about politics ,and when realising that your expectations were uninformed and incorrect.
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Perhaps if Chinese people stopped lumping all non-Chinese into the same 'English speaking American in China to teach kiddies' and acting according to it (typically condescending, mocking, etc...) then we would have an easier time communicating with each others. It's even worse when you are Black, they lump you into the 'Nigerian drug dealer in China to corrupt our youth' bag. Don't make assumptions before you get to know people.
Apr 27, 2018 01:09 Report Abuse
You don't seem to understand the difference between generalizing and absolutism. You keep saying 'all', that's an absolute statement. Generalizing is actually quite useful and is usually correct. Mainlanders can't drive, this general statement can and will save your life. Mainlanders are lying cheats, this can save you from being ripped off or believing nonsense.
Apr 25, 2018 22:02 Report Abuse