4 Ways to Navigate Cultural Differences When Living in China

4 Ways to Navigate Cultural Differences When Living in China
Oct 24, 2019 By Degen Hill , eChinacities.com

Whether you’ve lived in China for a while or are just visiting, you'll likely come across some pretty stark cultural differences. Identifying these differences is important, but even more so is learning to deal with them, either on a personal or professional level. Without further ado, here are four ways to navigate cultural differences when living in China.

cultural differences when living in China
Photo: Horia Varlan

Learn about them (knowledge is power)

If you find something strange about Chinese people or their culture, look into it. The more you know about Chinese customs and history, the more you'll understand and empathize with the way things are today. Ask questions, do your own research, and figure out the root cause behind a particular behavior or custom.

You might have strong personal feelings about some of the things you come across in China, but the first step is determining how widespread whatever has upset you is. Until this point you should avoid using phrases such as, "Chinese people are/do/think…” unless you're confident that it's prevalent across the entire culture.  

Understand why it upsets you

Some cultural differences will make you shrug, while others will infuriate you. If a Chinese person does or says something that annoys you, it might just be because your own cultural teachings have ingrained other values in you. Understanding that no one culture is necessarily right or wrong will help you assimilate better when living in China.

Sure, you might have personal expectations about the way things should be, but remember that this is not your country. Certain customs, like queuing behavior, paying before you eat, or spitting in the street, can take some getting used to, but understanding why these bother you is an important step towards accepting them. Acknowledging that we too have habits that the Chinese find weird is also important.

Don't take it personally

Most locals you come across while living in China are not malicious in nature. China is generally a very passive society, so if someone annoys you or makes you angry, they probably didn’t do it on purpose. Adapting your perspective towards cultural differences and realizing no-one is deliberately being rude will not only benefit to your mental health, but also help you stay out of trouble as you may not feel the need to confront people about their behavior or ideas.

No matter how much you yell and argue, people aren’t likely to change simply because you told them to. Additionally, it's not beneficial to see everything as "us" and "them." People are all inherently the same, and it's these cultural differences that, while at times can be annoying, make life interesting. 

Talk to Chinese people

It's easy to sit on the fringes of a new culture and judge or insult everything about it. The more you talk to Chinese people about their culture and points of view, however, the more you'll understand where they're coming from. Talking with Chinese people about the differences between your specific cultural thoughts and behaviors is your best chance of getting someone to see things from your point of view (or for you to see things from their’s). Yelling at people on the subway, no matter how gratifying it might feel at the time, won't change anything. At the end of the day, communication is key, and even if nothing changes because of a conversation, it’s a step in the right direction.

No matter how long you've been living in China, there’ll always be things you don’t like. Cultural differences are a ubiquitous and important part of living abroad. You're not likely to understand or agree with everything you experience, but there are several things you can do to either adapt to or increase your understanding of a different culture. Ultimately, understanding, not necessarily accepting, will help you navigate cultural differences while living in China.

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Keywords: living in China cultural differences when living in China


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I never had to pay before I ate other than at fast-food restaurants. All the normal restaurants I've been to and I've been to many.. the bill always comes after or you go to the counter and pay when you are finished. I don't think there is a cultural difference between that and the west when it comes to paying. Tipping is a different story. I hate tipping and glad I don't have to here.

Oct 27, 2019 10:56 Report Abuse



Try to avoid as much human contact as you can. Keep your circle of friends small and ignore everyone else or just smile and say "ting bu dong" even though you can understand the ignorant shit coming out of their mouths and just walk on. All chinese do is judge books by their cover so no point in trying to reason with them. If you're black, you're just black to them, if you're ugly, you're just ugly to them, if your fat, you're just fat to them.Tall, short, big ass, big tits, white, handsome, beautiful, rich-poor, Your just one these words followed by "laowai". And that's all they will ever mention if they talk to you. Just the negative things they perceive and that's all you are to them. All you are is just a _______ laowai to them. Fill in the blank with some negative thing.( im not saying being black is negative, but chinese think it is) I actually like living in china but its only because i don't deal with people that often. There are a handful that are cool and decent and treat you like another human. The majority does not though.

Oct 26, 2019 16:33 Report Abuse



Are you OK?

Oct 27, 2019 20:39 Report Abuse



Sure, I'm fine...are you saying my analysis of how Chinese perceive foreigners is wrong? If my ears and eyes are lying to me, by all means, enlighten me on the reality of things.

Oct 29, 2019 09:00 Report Abuse



So what you are saying is that i should accept offensive sexual comments and questions as 'cultural difference'? I never understood why it was ok for random Chinese people to ask me insulting/personal/offensive questions (mostly of a sexual nature) yet most would refuse to answer polite questions on simple things that would increase my understanding of life in China, or would make my work life easier. Talking to Chinese people (in my experience) tends to be mostly one-way: more like an interrogation on their part. This post seems to be asking non-Chinese to tolerate being offended as 'cultural difference' because we are 'guests' in China. yes, by all means be aware that you are no longer in your home country, but this does not include accepting being BS'ed or tolerating (sexual) harassment - both foreign men and women have been asked sexual questions by strangers - or offensive questions or comments, as this is NOT how 'guests' are treated, nor how i would treat a guest.

Oct 26, 2019 14:05 Report Abuse