The Dos and Don’ts of Confrontation for Expats Living in China

The Dos and Don’ts of Confrontation for Expats Living in China
Aug 13, 2019 By Degen Hill ,

As much as we’d like it to be, life in China isnt perfect. It’s inevitable that we’ll face challenges, disagreements, and confrontations in our lives as expats in a foreign country. Whether it’s with your Chinese girlfriend/boyfriend, your Chinese boss, or the Chinese delivery guy, knowing how to handle a confrontation in China is immensely useful. Here are some dos and don'ts of dealing with confrontation for expats living in China.

Confrontation in China
Photo: Buster Benson



A universally applicable piece of advice, it’s important to listen to what the other person has to say when you’re dealing with a confrontation in China. Even if your aggressor is ranting and being rude, let them say their piece. If they start repeating themselves, then perhaps it’s time to jump in.

The thinking behind this is that Chinese people tend to shout at and over each other when in an argument. If you actually show you’re listening and considering their point of view, it may well throw them off and go a long way to resolving the situation.

Be open to alternatives

“Dying on a hill” isn’t a great way to approach a confrontation in China. Obviously the two parties want or think different things, so every mediator’s favorite word, “compromise”, is your best way out of the situation quickly.

We’re in the Middle Kingdom, so try to find that middle ground. This is realistically your best option, especially if you want to avoid endless arguing and/or a crowd gathering around you. Chinese people are used to negotiating on everything, so this is a very agreeable solution. Just be prepared to go back and forth before settling on something that’s mutually agreeable. It’s the Chinese way!

Stick to the issue

It’s easy to deviate from the issue at hand, but it’s also common sense that bringing up other issues won’t help you resolve the current one. For example, maybe your washing machine broke because you put your shoes in it and your landlord has refused to pay for the repairs. Now is NOT the time to talk about who pays the water bill, that you need new keys made, or that the WiFi is slow.

Deal with one thing at a time. Picking your battles is very important when navigating conflict in China.

Respect your elders

Respecting elders is immensely important in Chinese society due to a long held Confucius-endorsed belief in filial piety. If you find yourself in a confrontation with an older Chinese person, therefore, do your best to be polite, listen to what they have to say, and try to resolve the dispute peacefully.

If they are at fault, it’s okay to point that out, but try to avoid causing them to lose face and discuss things away from other people. It’s also a good idea to use polite forms of address, such as nín (您 - you), shūshu (叔叔 - uncle), ayí (阿姨 - auntie), yéyé (爷爷 -  granddad), or nǎinai (奶奶 - grandma). Your older adversary will likely appreciate your consideration and will hopefully be more accommodating when working to resolve the issue.


Get angry

Easier said than done, I’m aware, but getting angry in China means you lose face, and that isn’t going to get you anywhere. Also, remember that confrontations are a spectator sport in China, especially if you're loud, so try to keep the issue between yourself and the other person.

It’s okay to feel frustrated or angry, especially when there’s a language barrier, but do your best not to show it. Don’t yell and don’t lose your cool. It will only count against you.

Don’t make it personal

No matter what the cause of your confrontation, don’t get personal. Avoid name calling, don’t insult your opponent’s character, and certainly don’t say anything that generalizes China or Chinese people.

Making these kind of remarks out of anger will not help your cause and may put you farther away from resolving the situation. You also might leave a bad impression of foreigners in that person’s mind (and whoever else might be watching). If you can’t play nice for your own good, do it for the rest of us!

Don’t use profanities

Whether your confrontation is in English or Chinese, dropping a nasty swear word in either language is an easy way to derail your conversation and lead to a full-blown fight. Most Chinese people recognize the F-word, even if they don’t always understand the context in which it’s being used. Hearing it will almost definitely instantly put them on the front foot, and your discussion will be pretty much downhill from there.

Like it or not, you’re likely to have a confrontation or three as an expat living in China. It might be over something big, like a traffic accident, or something small, like someone cutting in line. Regardless of the situation or who is involved, remember to follow these dos and don’ts. If you do, you’ll hopefully be able to defuse or resolve the situation in a way that satisfies both parties.

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Keywords: expats living in China confrontation in China


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I have made all these mistakes. Getting angry is hard to avoid if you've come from a culture where yelling is normal. But anywhere in Asia, getting angry is bad.

Oct 19, 2019 10:28 Report Abuse



Good article

Oct 18, 2019 17:10 Report Abuse



Whenever I get into the personal space of Chinese people I don't know, whether it's in an elevator, on the street, or in the subway, I simply bow, preferably low. The lower, the better. I open a lot of doors for Chinese people. I try to smile at people who look like they're having a bad day or wave softly. I always salute Security (Bao An) and ignore the Police (Jin Cha). I make funny faces at children and give high-fives to students. If I am having a tough day, or things aren't going my way, I say a few lines of the Chinese mantra (oh mi tou fo) and take a deep breath. I never forget that this country and this people have showered me with kindness, given me an education and provided me an honest living for the past 10 years. I once had a spat with my landlord and he threatened me by calling the police. He was in the wrong because I was a good tenant. I ended up leaving a month early and giving up my security deposit. When he came to confirm that I had left, I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush, making it spic and span before I left. Needless to say that he was shocked. He didn't say a word. I may have lost a bit of money, but at least I walked away still carrying my dignity...

Aug 15, 2019 23:03 Report Abuse



good dude

Aug 22, 2019 14:54 Report Abuse



Informative article

Aug 13, 2019 17:29 Report Abuse