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Chinese Culture

The dictionary defines culture as the arts, beliefs, customs, institutions and all other product of human work and thought created by a people or group. Chinese culture is rich in all of these, and it dates back thousands of years.

Chinese Girls

Dress and Apparel:

Long gone are the days of traditional Chinese dress. This is reserved largely for celebrations, tourists and other special events. While bringing some Chinese guests on a tour of American schools, we could only chuckle when one child asked what people wore in China. One of the visitors dressed in casual attire told the class they were looking at the type of clothes worn every day. He also went on to say that jeans were as common as anywhere else in the world.

In the typical wedding in China, the bride will wear a white bridal gown the same as is worn in weddings in the western world.

Business attire is similar to that worn anywhere in the industrialized world for a given trade. Business suits for marketing sales and banking, while dockers and shirts without ties are appropriate for factory professionals all the way to the factory manager. Laborers, however, will usually wear a uniform.

Color preference: You will notice a difference in colors. The Chinese have a preferences for browns, beige(or tan) and yellows. Black is a very popular color, especially in women's dress and apparel. Bright red is also a popular color for special events, holidays and ceremonial events. Grays are also common. School children's uniforms are brightly colored with white, blue and greens being common.

A tourist may find few people wear shorts, especially the men.

The ruggedness and dust in many parts of the country should encourage you to select more casual and  durable wear. Because of this reason, you may opt to bring some of the older clothing in your wardrobe.


When I think of cultural differences, the most important thing that comes to mind is the Chinese concept of "Face".

In the PRC, face has to do with the image or credibility of the person you are dealing with. You should never, insult, embarrass,  shame, yell at or otherwise demean a person. If you do, they will lose "Face". In ancient times, a Chinese warrior chief, after losing a battle, may commit suicide because he has lost face. While this may no longer occur, the concept of "face" remains alive and well in China. Awareness of face and it's impact is an extremely important cultural issue.

In the business world, negotiations should be conducted to assure that the person at the other end of the table maintains face even if the deal should not successfully conclude. His "face" may be dependent upon his ability to conclude the deal. If not, he saves "face" if  he is the one to bring the negotiations to closure in a manner that he will look best to his superiors, yet not impact you.

Face shows up in many ways and really begins early in life. Chinese children learn it as they are growing up. Parents will not discipline by saying "bad girl" or "Naughty boy". They will discipline with "No" or "wrong".

As the child grows, face creates a strong pressure for an individual to excel. Failure to gain admittance to college, or even enter the better colleges, results in a higher rate of suicide as the child has lost face and sometimes cannot cope with the perceived shame.

Face has a significant business impact. For example, it may be difficult to solicit ideas or obtain survey results. This author has tried a few surveys, both written and verbal. You can always get positive responses, but obtaining critique where subject matter or content needs improvement produces blank pieces of paper and blank stares. For example, if you are teaching a course and the material did not answer a questions, the survey respondents will not tell you what you need to know. While you are looking for an improvement opportunity, they are afraid you would lose face.

Because this is such an important issue, you need to train yourself to recognize where this can become an issue, and to avoid having your contact lose face.

The Changing Face of the Planet:

McDonald's In China

The growth and spread of international companies is changing the face of the planet. As exhibited by the two major food chains(pictured above) found side by side in downtown Shanghai. As we move into the future, we will see more commonality in food, clothing, architecture, and a wide range of cultural aspects. Even in music, while the words may speak the local language, the background music and instrumentation is becoming less culturally distinct.

Family Life:

The traditional vision of family life in China is one of a strong family unit led be the father and husband, who largely has absolute rule and control of the family. Religion plays a major part in defining the roles and responsibilities of family members. Confucianism taught social order and behavior. This control also extended to selection of marriage partners, which was often arranged for the children.

Much has changed today in the family make-up. The father still remains the strong family leader and decision maker. At a minimum, he influences the major decisions of the children. But, normally he no longer exerts absolute control. The father no longer arranges the marriage, although this still exists in some of the most traditional families and in less developed areas. Children select their career fields, again strongly influenced by the father.

Chinese WeddingDating does not usually begin until the early twenties. Typically, young adults will date just a few people, perhaps only one, before choosing a partner. The average age for marriage is 25 to 30 year old. The bride will usually wear a long white wedding gown . The bride will not change her name. As in any country, there are strong traditions around the entire process, from selecting partners to proposing to planning the wedding to the wedding itself. Chinese Wedding Customs is an outstanding guide to the process from start to finish.

Children typically live with the parents until marriage. After a brief honeymoon, the newlyweds will move into an apartment. But, it is not uncommon for newly married couples to remain in one of the parents' homes for a short period after the marriage. The newly married couple then move into a small apartment with one or two bedrooms, a bath and cooking/living room.

The couple are allowed by Chinese law one child. There are exceptions to the one child rule, the most common being minority groups, and in areas where there is labor shortage(rural areas and farms).


China Living

Migration to other cities in China is almost non-existent. Most couples will set up their home in the same neighborhood as their parents. The average housing consists of an apartment with one or two bedrooms. In larger cities, especially where more affluence exists, there will be a bathroom in the apartment. The apartment will also contain a cooking area and living area combined, relatively small in size. According to the Chinese Embassy, the average rural living space has increased from 8.1 square meters in 1978 to 20.5 square meters today.

Apartment prices in major cities, will range from 200 hundred thousand to five hundred thousand RMB($25,000 - $60,00 USD). The lower rate being a unit outside the city and the higher amounts in the center of the city.

As for appliances, here is a general look at what the average home has. In general, appliances are sparse. Clothes dryers for example are almost non-existent. You will find clothes hung out windows of apartments anywhere you go. (Note conditions may vary significantly in different parts of the country when comparing city to city or rural to rural conditions):

Appliance: City Home Rural Home Comment:
Washing Machine Rare Rare
Dryer Rare Rare
Microwave Oven Increasingly common Rare
Oven(Stove) Common Common
Refrigerator Increasingly common Rare
Freezer Rare Virtually non-Existent
Television Most homes Increasingly common Approximately 75 million
Radio Common Common Most Homes
Telephone Un-common, not rare Uncommon Estimated 20 million
VCR Uncommon Rare Increasing with more TV's
Cell Phones Increasingly common Increasingly common

Other Cultural Differences:

There are many, many other cultural differences between China and the West. Of course, differences may not be a significant when comparing China to other countries in Asia.

Here are some interesting cultural differences:

Not being a Christian country, the Chinese do not recognize the term "Bless you" or "God Bless you" when you sneeze. In China, when someone sneezes, you simply ignore it.

Say "Thank you" by tapping four fingers down on the table.

Always refill other's cups with tea or drink without being asked.

For more information as it pertains to business, also see Doing Business in China


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