Despite China’s growing global dominance, misconceptions about the world’s most populous nation still abound. Many foreigners still believe cold war-era stereotypes that bear little to no resemblance to contemporary China. Like the Berlin Wall, these stereotypes must too fall: from creativity to kung fu, comedy to corruption, 8 common misconceptions foreigners have about China, debunked.
Misconception 1: Chinese People Are Uncreative
It may be a general truth that education in China focuses on memorizing and testing, and westerners are generally taught to be creative, but to say that Chinese people are mostly all uninventive and boring would be a lie; it’s a little ignorant and racist to believe so. Just as there are plenty of mindless boring Americans, there are plenty of creative, artistic and brilliant Chinese. Americans sometimes think that because most of the world’s technology and entertainment comes from the USA, we must have some inborn ability that others don’t. But, (and granted, it’s just my theory) I think the reason that most technological advances have come from America is because we have a developed legal system that protects intellectual property, giving those few who are inventive the incentive to market and develop their ideas. China’s legal system is still developing, and with that development will come more technological advances and entertainment.
Misconception 2: Chinese People Aren’t Funny
They are funny. Just learn the language, and then you’ll get their jokes.
Misconception 3: Chinese Government Officials Are Corrupt
Maybe it’s because the ideological effects of the cold war are still lingering among Americans, but we sometimes think that China, is a country of inescapable, institutionalized corruption. Before I came to China, my bomb-shelter baby boom parents thought I would be kidnapped by either corrupt officials wanting ransom money, or by human traffickers who were protected by the corrupt officials.
This didn’t happen; and although I have read media reports of both happening, I think it is pretty rare. The fact is that government officials here are certainly not perfect. You do hear stories of corruption, and your Chinese friends can tell you more. But as a foreigner you shouldn’t expect to find corruption, unless you go looking for it. In fact, when I have suspected corruption in officials, I always turned out to be wrong, and at the same time offended some very good people.
Misconception 4: China Is Still in the Stone Age
While it is true that life can be boring, slow and poor in the remote countryside, the urban areas are rapidly developing. The streets of any major city are bustling with new cars (1,200 of them per day in Beijing), environmentally friendly e-bikes, and people are constantly using iPhones that have been smuggled in from Hong Kong. There are amusement parks, movie theaters, and bullet trains. Chinese homes have all the little goodies that make life easier: washing machines, microwaves and computers. However, it is true that some of these luxuries are only available to those who can afford them.
Misconception 5: Chinese Women Are Subservient
NO! Not even remotely true. In the past, Chinese women kowtowed to the men with bound, folded feet, but those broken feet have been unbound! Parents still sometimes prefer to give life to a son rather than a daughter in this crowded country, but the girls that are born are tough! They have to be in a country where competition is the only way to success.
This country is full of entrepreneurial, competitive and assertive women. These women are wealthy, powerful, and respected. And no, they are not eager to date the first white guy they come across. (Another misconception! Sorry, dorks.) And as a general rule, always try to make these women your friends, not your enemies. Really, some of them are cut-throat. The ones you really have to watch out for are the old ladies. They’ve been around long enough to know they don’t have to take crap from anyone!
Misconception 6: All Chinese Are Very Smart
Well, who doesn’t like being told their smart? Many Chinese people are creative and smart, but not all of them. Some are dumb. Just because it always seemed like the Asian kids in your grade school always got the best grades doesn’t mean all Chinese are brilliant. However, if you’re a foreigner in a major city, consider this: it probably took a lot more talent for your Chinese co-workers to get where they are than it did for you to get where you are. Although you might have gotten a decent score on your SAT, your Chinese coworker that actually made it into a university probably scored in the highest percentiles of a test administered to millions of students in the most populous country in the world. So, it is very likely that you are meeting very smart people all the time.
Misconception 7: China Is More Different Than It Is Similar
When interviewing people about what misconceptions they had about China, foreigners often said the only misconception they had was that life would be very different in China. And while China does have its differences, those differences are not greater than the similarities. Life in China can be just as comfortable, normal and even boring as your life back home. On your way to work you can go to McDonald’s for breakfast, get stuck in traffic on the way to work, get in an argument with your boss, and get stuck in traffic on your way home. (See, the same boring life.)
Misconception 8: Anything You Experienced via Movies, TV or Your Local Chinese Restaurant Is Really Like China
Before I moved to China, I thought it would be grand. I loved Kung Fu movies and, I loved the egg rolls at my local Chinese restaurant that were made by Mexican cooks. Well, what a surprise it was to discover that very few Chinese actually study Kung Fu, and nobody in China actually eats egg rolls. (And there are very few Mexicans.) The real China is so different than the Americanized, Hollywood version: in real China, nobody karate chops each other, and few people actually like sweet and sour chicken.
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I would only add the comments below.
There is corruption, but it is not universal. One of the reasons for graft is that some government people are on very low salaries. The expectation being that salaries are 'made up' here and there.
But corruption is not universal.
Corruption is unlikely to affect expats.
We have never paid a bribe, but have gifted for them doing admin work that we were supposed to do. This saved us a lot of work.
Update. I believe Beijing is now 1900 new cars per day.
The richest most powerful people I know in China are women. With two exceptions. They are multi-millionaires (USD) and/or senior managers or board directors of national/international companies.
They are polite, quietly spoken, but in no way subservient.
If you work in a multi-national in Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen or Gz, then most of the Chinese workers will be in the top one percentile of the population.
If you go out and catch a taxi, or buy street food you are moving down a notch or three.
Actually, my Chinese family does eat spring (egg) rolls. And I often find them on menus.
Nov 26, 2010 17:03 Report Abuse
Eh, Chinese women are not polite in Western standards and not quietly spoken either. They will openly make fun their overweight friends. I've seen very professionally dressed women hack-up the nastiest snot ball and spit it next to my shoe. However, subservient in a different sense. In the sense that they will follow the lead of their male counterpart. I think the reason why Chinese women are subservient, is because most Chinese men will not date a woman who is more powerful or successful than themselves!
Nov 28, 2010 16:20 Report Abuse
It could be both flattering and disturbing to see yourself, or in this case, your country through someone else's eyes, and that's what I feel here. As patriotic as I am, I won't say in a million years that China is PERFECT, as is none other countries I'm sure. During reading this article the worst thing I could've said is "I'm sorry you found that true". I'm thankful that the author of this article can and did say things with objectivity and good manners. That's what understanding could only be based on.
Aug 28, 2009 01:41 Report Abuse
Definitely everyone's experience of China is very individual. I agree with some of these things and not so much with others. Being able to see how different people experience life here is helpful though. Ivy's is super interesting, about it being flattering and disturbing. @Stephen had that been the title would you still have read the article? ;)
Aug 28, 2009 02:58 Report Abuse
Agree with most of what you are saying. At a glance on reading the sterotype of Chinese women I know the article is written by a western woman filled with its own sterotypes and flawed attitudes. In the west men dare not speak out against such rubbish - sorry I am not more specific. Many women in China really now how to show real love.
Sep 03, 2009 16:59 Report Abuse
I agree with most of what she says. I too have traveled somewhat and find that China is not in the cold war state as I was taught in America.
I also have been able to see more clearly how the US government is very much a tyrannical machine and carupt to the point of being worse than many others I have traveled to. I feel very safe here in China. I do think that other people are going to be flooding into China soon as more and more people see how truly wonderful it is.
Nov 26, 2010 16:24 Report Abuse
I think this is not a general conception about chinese people. I think if you want to know more on what foreigners think about Chinese people you don,t have to limit yourself only on America. i disagree with some of your analysis especially on corruption. Am not in any way supporting the Chinese police but i want you to know that the institution of corruption " is like rain" it,s also common in America and other western countries. also you should know that Chinese women are not subsevient to their husbands.
Nov 27, 2010 01:49 Report Abuse
well I found China very friendly I stayed 60 days did not speak Chinese and used electronic interpretor .lived and ate with locals, some times they find it strange to see westerner using chopsticks and will offer to get fork or spoon.
most polite people I have met,not like in UK..
the food is good ,even if the vegetables look strange.
I only saw two westerners while out there, I think one was lost eating in cafe was not polite to staff. he was not English by his accent. travelled on all modes of transport quite an experience on scooter.
I am trying to learn Chinese now and hope to be able to go again .only thing that stops me is price of airfares for 14 hour flight
Nov 27, 2010 02:20 Report Abuse
How long have you been here ? Never heard such nonsense. I suppose echinacities publishes most anything submitted by a non-Chinese.
Well, it is ok if one is reading these postings/articles for fun, but I hope the reading public is aware that what they are reading here is just fun fluff.
Nov 27, 2010 06:29 Report Abuse
Never met anyone who thought these things. Also, debunking usually involves facts of some sort. Just because you say it, doesn't make it true. And about the corruption thing, thanks, apparently all the books, articles, myriad people I've talk to, things I've seen first-hand have been wrong. This really is just nonsense and fluff.
Nov 27, 2010 16:53 Report Abuse
I never really had any of those misconceptions and never heard them too often from anyone else.
I have heard it said "Chinese are very smart people" but this is often because many Westerners are familiar with Hong Kong Chinese or Japanese (who they mistakenly think of as Chinese people).
Now, Hong Kong people and Japanese people had often told me Mainland Chinese are stupid 'farmers'.
In reality I found a general mix of general intelligence though it is true there are a lot of very stupid people in Mainland China (far more compared to Hong Kong) and many are like 'backward farmers'.
I absolutely NEVER thought Chinese women were 'subservient' although I met some feminist western women who seem to believe that and claim it's why western men chose some asian brides.
Now I had heard there was a lot of government corruption (I never thought much about it) and then having lived in China I absolutely CONFIRM that is most definitely TRUE and far more than I could have ever imagined. So widespread and entrenched that is is actually the 'norm' and not the exception.
I never really thought of most of these so I never had them as 'misconceptions'.
Nov 27, 2010 19:55 Report Abuse
Hmm. I like hearing your opinion, but I really didn't need to read the entire article to know that it is just an opinion. My buddy did his doctoral thesis on local Chinese government corruption. He now works at Beijing University. According to my sources, you can pay money to receive a lesser sentence if convicted of a crime. Come on, have you ever had sex with a Chinese woman? Total male domination. I like the effort you've put forth to exonerate these supposed stereotypes. If it is one thing that I have personally experienced in China, it is that anytime I think one thing, someone else or something else proves me wrong. So maybe you're right. Maybe sometimes we blow it up to be something that it is not.
Nov 28, 2010 01:32 Report Abuse
Just wanted to add, I had a friend one time rhetorically ask, "what is the last thing the Chinese actually invented?" I see Chinese paintings, they lack personal style. I'm not an art critic, and maybe I don't have an artistic eye, but it just all seems like reproduction to me. There are those rare moments I encounter one of my students has an unprecedented talent to compose a sentence using his imagination, however, it is very commonly known among very seasoned educators that Chinese schools do not teach innovation. Here is a good example, ask your students, "how are you?" You will get the response, "I'm fine thank you, and you?" Now try asking them, "how are you doing?" or "how are you today?" You get the deer-in-headlights look.
Nov 28, 2010 01:39 Report Abuse
innovation is formed before we get what we learn...your example is your experience being a teacher in china,but I guess your students answer you with a so called fixed mold, I'd like to name it "knee jerk reflex" more...totally because they did't master the language but konwledge...
Nov 28, 2010 08:23 Report Abuse
Interesting perspective. I agree it is hard to say when the ability of innovation is conceived. I remember from my Child Psychology courses that there are two schools of thought. One in which many Psychologists believe that we are born with the inherent ability to know. The other school of thought believes we are all "blank slates" at birth, and the skills of acquiring knowledge are learned through our environmental influences. My belief is that we have a little of both. I think that Chinese children possess the ability to create at birth, and they do, but their environmental factors suppress this. I believe, like many others who are actively trying to change it, that it is a systemic problem. Maybe a better word to use is institutional problem. You're right, it is a conditioned response. When you observe the teaching method in China, you see that everything is recitation. More like computer programming and less like teaching. It is my opinion, that besides the fact that a Western Face is a walking advertisement for many schools out here, that we are also out here because of the different teaching methods we bring. Thanks passer!
Nov 28, 2010 15:47 Report Abuse
dude! It's easy for you to say all that coming from a rich country. Give these guys proper education and enough funds for innovation and you will innovation. The reason why all that shit comes from the west is because they have enough funds and an already existing system.
Have you heard any inventions coming from 3rd world countries? Not a lot, because they just don't have money, they care about surviving first rather than investing in innovation.
Well, no insult man, coming to China and being a English teacher, I don't expect too much. Maybe 10 years ago teaching is great, now? That's like working at Taco Hell!
Nov 29, 2010 05:54 Report Abuse
The sad part is that there are people like John here that compare teaching in China to working at Taco Bell. The sad part is that there are a whole slew of uneducated monkeys, people that work at fast-food places, probably like John, who come to China and undermine the people who come to China, well-educated people, came here for. There are tons of people who came hear to learn, to study, to experience life to the fullest extent, who desire to grow wise, educated, worldly, and sharpen their intelect with another language and a keen grasp of another culture under their belt, Chaucer's Clerks, so to speak. And then China hires a bunch of morons, again, probably like John here, who recently pulled his last all-nighter at mcdonalds. There are things to consider when you're thinking about calling yourself a teacher. The sad part is, and the embarassing part, is that certain places in China find it easy or suitable to hire people hardly qualified bang a nail into the wall using their head.
Nov 29, 2010 06:34 Report Abuse
John, I agree with you 100%. It is my opinion that the problem does exist partially due to the lack of capital investment and infrastructure. No argument there. Are the Chinese inherently capable of innovation? Yes, I think so. However, again I want to say that I think it is an institutional problem. No offense taken about the Taco Bell comment. Actually I would make more money at Taco Bell! Haha. Seriously, I'm not out here for money, and I don't think that working at Taco Bell can be compared to teaching in China. I wanted a unique challenge, and I got one. To be a good teacher in China is not an easy gig. You can make it one, if you really don't care about the quality of your teaching. People, I don't care if you are American, Canadian or English. Anytime you assume someone's nationality, this is actually the definition of bigotry. I'm not talking about John, I like John, he's actually got well formulated arguments.
Nov 29, 2010 18:08 Report Abuse
This made me cringe:
Someone writes: "Come on, have you ever had sex with a Chinese woman? Total male domination."
First I was thinking how immature someone has to be to suppose that sexual intercourse decides whether the wife is 'subservient' in the broader sense the article was discussing.
Next I wondered if this person saw sex as a 'domination battle' to see who is the 'winner'.
Next I wondered if they have ever had sex with a Chinese woman or were 'bluffing' by their reference to Japanese 'chikan' pornography they saw online.
Then I concluded they did have sex with a Chinese woman once and she just laid there.
I have some bad news for the man. That doesn't mean he is a 'dominant male'. It means he is pathetic in bed and doing something wrong.
Nov 28, 2010 16:23 Report Abuse
Haha! Justin, Love you man! Been here for a while, definitely not a novice. And yes, I absolutely think that the term subservient can be applied to what happens in the bedroom. I'm sorry that turning the discussion to sex is too taboo for you. To harsh of a subject? I think sexuality is extremely relevant in this case. Sex is a huge part in any relationship. Even the Catholic church admits this. And no, referencing the church does not permit you to make more shallow and perverted comments. Seriously though, my comment was meant to serve as an example you crazy boy. Not a perverted thing. Don't blow it up to something that it is not. That's a pretty thorough character development you've graced all of us with. It makes me wonder if you are inadvertently describing someone you know? I think you got some talent in the way you articulate things, but I think it would be better used with different content. On a side note, In Sichuan "Paerdo" is the slang term for a man who is controlled by his wife. Lil interesting tidbit. Cheers!
Nov 28, 2010 17:52 Report Abuse
Sexuality is a part of life but when the subject of women being subservient was brought up you 'refuted it' by appealing only to some sexual experience you (or a friend or video you saw) had where the man dominated (whatever you think that means).
You have to be an American just going by your manners and how you want to have a little "lets find out who is the big penis hero" tone of your posts. What do you want to do 'sexually dominate me' to find out who gets the might for right here?
Lets put it this way - the next time you are 'dominating the woman' by copying porno movies (which you think is sex) and the woman just lays there?
It's because you are really bad at making love to women.
To answer your question 'Come on .. you ever made love to a Chinese woman?'.
They are not subservient in the bedroom and then back to the broader conversation (since life is far more than sex) they are not subservient in family life, business, planning or anything else in life.
Then again, real men (not teenage american boys) can handle that just fine and don't see life and relationships as you do.
Nov 28, 2010 18:24 Report Abuse
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