8 Things Your Friends at Home Probably Don’t Understand About China

8 Things Your Friends at Home Probably Don’t Understand About China
Oct 10, 2019 By Degen Hill , eChinacities.com

After telling people you live in China, you’re likely to be asked many questions, some of which seem ridiculous. Most people who have never been to China don’t really understand just how unique and different the country is compared to the West. Here are eight things your friends back home probably don’t understand about China… besides from why the hell you’re here in the first place.

Photo: Wonder woman0731 

1. How China is so big but actually super connected

If you’ve lived in China long enough, you’ll have inevitably developed a love for the apps unique to the country, including WeChat, Alipay, Dianping, and Taobao, among others. These apps serve a greater purpose than the services they offer - they help connect a nation of over a billion people.

Whether it’s providing a digital means of payment between a customer and a small business, bringing ethnic minorities a stage to showcase their culture, or helping the nation learn about waste sorting, China’s apps are so deeply integrated into society that I’d go as far as to say they’re a part of modern Chinese culture. If you disagree, try imagining what a day in China would look like without WeChat.

2. Differences in social media (platforms + use)

“When in China, embrace Chinese social media” - I think Confucius said that. Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, and other Chinese social media platforms are all unique to Western social media and used in different ways. Weibo uses two hashtags instead of one (#blessed#), Douyin is completely devoted to short videos, and WeChat has a simpler “feed” than Facebook, offering only a “like” or “comment” button.

One of the biggest differences is that social media apps in China are often heavily censored, which should come as no surprise. For example, I once tried to post a picture of a laughing Mao Zedong with the letters “LMAO” on Weibo but was denied the pleasure. While social media in China is largely used the same way as Western social media for public announcements, news, and posting photos, many platforms are also used for e-commerce and in place of search engines.

3. The sheer quantity of people and how that affects daily life

Reading that China has a population of 1.3 billion people is one thing, living among it is an entirely different experience. Traffic/public transportation can be a nightmare during rush hours, while diners will happily queue for hours outside popular restaurants on Friday and Saturday nights.

Those living in first and second-tier cities will also notice that something is always under construction. For example, Beijing just finished building its second airport after working on expanding the subway system for several years. China’s development is directly related to its population, and although that can sometimes be a hassle, it also gives us high-speed trains and amazingly efficient inner-city public transportation.

4. The role of QR codes and cashless payment

“Cash is king” is a dead phrase in China. Starting around 2014, the country, principally due to Alipay and WeChat, began to pay and receive money via QR codes - a function that was largely used to add friends or accounts on social media before.

Nowadays, every store, restaurant, and even street vendors have QR codes, or a QR code scanner, to facilitate payments. You can pay for your rent, your utilities, online purchases, food, clothes, literally anything you can think of using an app on your phone. ATMs exist, but they are rarely used. You can find almost anything in China, except for perhaps a pocket full of jangling change.

5. That foreign credit cards are pretty much useless 

China basically skipped the credit card phase and went straight to mobile payments. As such, Chinese credit cards aren’t super popular here and, you guessed it, foreign credit cards are pretty much worthless.

Some of the fanciest restaurants and hotels in first-tier cities may accept your Visa card, but the majority of places, including supermarkets, will not. With the convenience of paying for things through your phone, or even the convenience of cash, there’s absolutely no reason to use a credit card, especially not a foreign one that will likely charge you. As tourists can’t access WeChat Pay and AliPay, however, this can often come as a nasty surprise.

6. Very few people speak English

Despite the large number of English teachers in China, not a lot of people speak English at a proficient level. Sure, everyone knows “bye bye” and maybe a few numbers, but most people in China exclusively use Mandarin or some other Chinese dialect, especially outside of first-tier cities. Even those who can speak English often don’t for fear of losing face.

There are no official figures on the number of Chinese people who speak English, and there certainly are a lot of them, but compared to the whole of China, they represent a very small percentage. This can be a challenge for visitors, but it also forces expats to learn at least some Chinese.

7. Exactly how hard Mandarin is to learn

If grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary weren’t difficult enough, add in tones, stroke order, pinyin, and the complete lack of an alphabet and you’ve got yourself one hell of a tricky language. Chinese is not easy for native English speakers, or even native Chinese speakers for that matter. Chinese kids spend their entire childhoods learning thousands of characters by heart.

Mandarin is without a doubt one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn, but your friends at home may well be baffled that you’re not completely fluent after living here for five years. I find the biggest challenge is the time and commitment it takes. Many China expats are focused on other things, and trying to fit a few hours of Chinese classes a week, every week, into a schedule with a full time job, the gym, and a social/family life is tough.

8. What a VPN is

This might seem like a no-brainer since most China expats use one on a daily basis, but“VPN” is likely not in the lexicon of your friends and family back home. A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a secure tunnel between your device and the internet. VPNs are used to protect your online traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship by allowing you to mask your location and surf the web anonymously from wherever you want. In short, it allows us China dwellers to scale the Great Firewall in order to look up our exes on Facebook and troll politicians on Twitter, but you know that already.

Living in China is often an experience that’s hard to put into words, and you may find yourself struggling to explain what life is really like here to family and friends back home. Have you ever been asked a ridiculous question about China? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Keywords: Understand about China


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Good article

Oct 15, 2019 17:45 Report Abuse


Not Bad nice writing

Oct 12, 2019 05:46 Report Abuse


not a bad article if not a little obvious

Oct 11, 2019 14:23 Report Abuse


How Chinese think foreigners are an inferior species. That you are on camera the moment you enter the country till you leave . Chinese are always in the right even when they arnt. Some beggers make more money than you can. Health and safety is a controdiction in terms. They are so civilized they put used toilet paper in a bin beside the toilet instead of flushing. Plumbing is like everything else in China ...only half done and breaks easy. It goes on and on

Oct 11, 2019 04:05 Report Abuse


I think the whole "10 Things That blah blah About China" is getting old. Anyone who is been in China longer than a few months knows all these things. You guys should but some unique news article from china or some strange news, something like that once in a while. Kind of like how chinasmack use to. I think that would bring some more readers to the page instead of stating the obvious all the time. Most of the things you write in these articles about can be found in the answer section anyway.

Oct 10, 2019 18:29 Report Abuse