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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Misconception 1: Chinese People Are Uncreative Yes, I think this is a generalization, but in general they are less creative than western people. Misconception 3: Chinese Government Officials Are Corrupt Well maybe we need to define corrupt, but no one can argue China does not have more than its share of shady officials. Misconception 4: China Is Still in the Stone Age Find me one person that truly thinks this. Everything is made in China, and none of it is made with stone. But I would like to see Sarah Meik go to some parts of western China and take a poo in the hole. Misconception 5: Chinese Women Are Subservient Well maybe not, but compared to the west... Misconception 6: All Chinese Are Very Smart This contradicts your whole creative one. So which is it Sarah? Maybe this should be called 8 things Sarah Meik's Parents told her about China that she does not agree with because she is a hipster.
Jun 19, 2014 15:35 Report Abuse
Under misconceptions I know that When I first moved to china with my dad and younger brother I had quite a culture shock, I was surprised that not everyone practiced kung fu and the food was another thing completely, I guess you could say I was a naive 15 year old, now here it is two years later and I have a greater understanding of the culture, I am back in the States now and I work in chinese restraunt where the whole staff is mexican or caucasion, with a few exceptions, my biggest pet peve now is when people come in and think what we serve is authentic food when really it's a big difference, Well thats all I have Thanks ^-^
Dec 31, 2010 11:01 Report Abuse
I would sure like to know what part of china you have been to or have you?
I have lived in china for more along time and now spend months each year there. I am married to a chinese national. I have lived in Shanghai, Beijing Yantai, Chankli, Naining, Shanyang and have had eggrolls in all of these places. Now for corruption, I think a much nicer term would be The backdoor policy, it is just away of doing business in China. I like it and have used it many times myself, but by western standards it would be corruption, make no mistak about it.
I love China, the chinese people and the culture. I could only say 3 thinks negative about china. 1. I can't vote (but votong in this country has not done much for me or others) 2. I can not carry a gun. 3. pollution (but it is been getting better in the last 10 years) For the average chinese person thier goverement is far less controling and fewer restrictive laws then here in the US.
Nov 30, 2010 21:35 Report Abuse
Ok, Justin. You get the medal for vulgarity. Thank you for allowing us to peep into the mind of a truly twisted individual. Maybe you can tell us what exactly is “Japanese chikan porn.” You seem to be privy to the subject. Looking back on all of the comments here, I now realize that this website is just another place for people to attack one another. I think there is a distinct difference between presenting an argument that is well constructed with personal experience or facts as the premise, and then there are those other people who just want to be disagreeable and aggressive. I’m not sure how to describe the difference, but I know it when I see it. The most horrifying part about all of this is that the quality of English being used is disgusting. I’m not talking about the occasional typo either. I’m out.
Nov 29, 2010 17:38 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
If one more moron says 'you must be American,' I will hunt that person down simply due to their stupidity. SOME English people are pretensious c'cksuckers who thing they still rule the world; who think Americans owe them something for the use of their language. If everyone owed someone for the use of their language the English would owe the French, the Germans, the Romans, etc. Sorry English, you f;cked it up enough. Who the hell are you to say 'you must be American.' Find some intelligence. Realize you can't sum people up by the invisible walls they reside between. Justin, you don't know sh't about Americans, you don't know sh't about people, you're just a complete moron when you say things like that.
Nov 28, 2010 23:27 Report Abuse
I'm inclined to agree. Vulgarity, in the right situation, can be as aesthetic as a setting sun, a crashing wave, a silver moon, a supple breast; plus, also in the right situation it can make all those who haven't the stomach for life as it really is throw in the towel.
IM OUT TOO!
Nov 29, 2010 18:41 Report Abuse
dodo, hes right though aint he :-)
if he said "you must be American" and was wrong,,, well that would be that.
but as he was right.....
maybe it speaks for its self.....
I have noticed more arrogance from the yanks than the other brits here, but I guess thats just me then.......
p.s. you must be American. :-P
Dec 01, 2010 11:58 Report Abuse
Right? Arrogance from the yanks? How can you tell who is from where? Is there some flag next to the bloggers name that I missed? He wasn't talking about me when he said 'you must be an American,' was he?
That is quit a build-up of ellipsis' you got going. What exactly are you doing with them? You even got the commas that travel in packs. I dunno whether you’re a brit or not, but you certainly know how to use punctuation. Congrats on your keen eye, picking out nationalities just be reading a few words and all.
Dec 01, 2010 20:50 Report Abuse
Anon, speaking with respect, you may be correct, but you're not right. We need to get away from the idea that calling someone American is somehow degrading. It is easy to forget that America is often referred to as the "melting pot" of culture. We have multiple European roots, African roots, and Asian roots. Many of our citizens are naturalized and not born in the USA. It is a nation of immigrants. So to somehow equate being American to something that is bad, is almost like poking fun at your own culture. I totally agree that dodo is out of line and has a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes, but he is not the only American out there. Furthermore, I like British people. I have many British friends. I want to apologize on behalf of the American people for the reciprocated bigotry coming from the mouths of some of our citizens. It is not an accurate depiction of our country as a whole. We have many debates, just as European coffee shops and pubs have. We are not all gun-slinging cowboys, much like our previous president. We elect them into office, but as soon as they get there, we have little say in what they actually do. You can relate to this with your own Parliament. Maybe Dodo didn't start the mud-slinging, but it doesn't matter. I think it is uncalled for. However, his anger is justifiable. Actually, I believe it was not a British gentleman that started this whole thing. I believe it was a Canadian. Which doesn't surprise me. It is through my personal experience that often times Canadians like to associate themselves with Americans when it favors them and other times they don't. I dated a Canadian national that lived in America. The thought did cross my mind that the Canadian making the comments was American himself. Because, shamefully I admit that I also see the patterns in behavior and sometimes pass judgment. He sounded very American to me. All countries have all types. You realize that, most of the time, it is the same people doing the same thing, but with minor differences. I am personally offended when someone or some group of people do appeal to their own bigotry and make foolish comments. Including my American brothers and sisters. I think we all should be a little more careful in how we represent ourselves here in China. Myself included. Have a wonderful experience Anon!
Dec 01, 2010 22:06 Report Abuse
Addendum to the comment below. The words “European” and “American,” sometimes we think of them in a geographical connotation, and other times we think of them in a cultural connotation. Many of my British friends think it is rude to be considered European. At the same time, Canadians don’t like to be referred to as Americans. I wanted to say that I don’t mean any offense to use these two ways of thinking interchangeably. When I said, “Canadians like to associate themselves with Americans,” I mean in a geographical connotation, not in a cultural connotation. In other words, Canadians are from the North American region, British are from the European region. Maybe this goes without saying. I apologize for the confusion.
Dec 01, 2010 22:51 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