A city in China.
I’m NOT a typical Chinese. I’ve had American friends who claimed that I’m more American than Americans. So, having said that, I think I’m still in a good position to write about Chinese since I do speak the language, live in the country and have had lots of experiences growing up under Chinese households.
Over the years, as we age, my cousins and I are lamenting on how different we are from our parents. There are many obvious differences and yet as they say, there are also chips off the old blocks! My cousin lives in Hong Kong now and is educating his daughter slightly different from the way his parents educated him (more or less, the correct term should be, disciplined).
So, let’s begin with the word DISCIPLINE.
This is one very obvious difference between the Chinese and the American as well as the European societies. Discipline is something that many Chinese households observe. Remember, whatever that’s being discussed about Chinese here is literally generalization, a common thread among most Chinese, NOT everyone.
From young, children are taught to observe discipline. Some families are very strict, while some less strict on this. Depending on how much western education influences the parents to begin with. So, it is quite safe to say if the parents are those that have had higher education abroad or studied in English schools, they’d be less strict on this front.
There are often household rules that one has to observe. Say for example, the young in the family should always greet everyone first before eating and should be the last one to take the food on the table. Adults will have the first dip into whatever that’s on the table. You shouldn’t start eating until the most senior person (say, your grandparents or your parents or relatives) has begun. Manners are being taught from a young age. I do believe this is the same among many Asian families. In many ways, Chinese children are often restricted in terms of movement and freedom of speech. It is taught to be very disrespectful if you rebut a senior. Also, one will never dream of addressing one’s parents or older relatives by name!!! There are many more instances of unwritten rules that one will have to abide by, as some of these practices will ultimately fall into your work place.
OBEDIENCE is the result of “training” under the principle Discipline. It is one of the end results. Being obedient is treasured and highly looked upon in society. That’s why you do not see much creativity or innovation in the Chinese Society. It is not encouraged and prized for one to be the odd one out or to be unique. Parents will never encourage individuality in their children. If they do, it is because there is something that they couldn’t accomplish when young and hope to see it accomplished by their off-springs. It is usually not because their kids are born different! Chinese parents see their children more an extension of themselves rather than individuals with their own destinies. That’s why you see parents planning so many things (in terms of education and extra-curriculum) for their kids in the hope that they would be ahead of others in life. Chinese will always have this fear, that they’d be left behind by societies (since there are no social welfare nor is anyone going to care if you die in the streets; too many Chinese in China and the world that even if you’d like to help, there are just too many of them and there is no decent way to help!). Hence, from young, Chinese are being told and ingrained in their subconscious that one is on his/her own. The only possible support one may have is from one’s own family. That brings me to the 3rd observation and principle. Family!
FAMILY is the backbone of every Chinese society. It is where one gets support and affirmations. If your family is powerful, your life is much more pleasant than most as long as you follow the rules and doesn’t mess it up on your own. Family reputation is being highly looked upon. If your family reputation is good, you get lots of societal approval and hence life is made easier. As you may have known, each Chinese has a specific dialect he/she speaks, depending on which area of China his/her heritage is. If one is from Shanghai, one speaks Shanghainese. If one is from Canton (present day Guangdong, in south China, near to Hong Kong) then one speaks Cantonese. Most Hongkongers are descendents of Chinese from the Guangdong province and hence speaks Cantonese. There are others like those from Taiwan have had grandparents from the Fujian province, hence speaking Fujian or Hokkien. Some Chinese presently living in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are descendents from Fujian. Hence if one can speak these dialects, one can converse with Chinese in these countries, ie. You don’t always have to speak Mandarin! Most of those Chinese you see in Chinatowns in L.A., San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver are descendents from Guangdong (Canton) province who speak Cantonese or Taishan (another variation of Cantonese which I do speak too). All in all, I can speak 4 dialects on top of Mandarin. Hence, I’ve had no problem conversing with most Chinese :-)
Now, why do I explain about these dialects? Well, you see, in the past, there are clans. Clans are formed among people either with the same family name or come from a specific village. Businesses are built around these clans. People from the same clan with do business with those they know. Hence, reputation comes into play and thus trust and ultimately credit! In other words, strangers are frowned upon in these relationships. There are no way for one to check on reliability if one is not known. That is why Americans find it hard to do business with the Chinese. Unless, one has the reputation of Coca-Cola or McDonald! Now, there are good and bad from this kind of reasoning. Sometimes, if your reputation precedes you, you’d find that you’ve an easy way doing business with Chinese. Many times, your reputation is your asset, you don’t even need to supply any collateral! It is of course, a double-edged sword too.
Hence, it is WHY many Chinese are afraid of failing. Once a Chinese fails, he finds it hard to pick himself up from that society. Many doors are closed and no longer will he has a fair chance at success. Now you get it, don’t you? Why Chinese mothers (& fathers) are so hard on their kids. Why all the disciplines and training. Why it is crucial for their children to observe all the unspoken rules. It is afterall, for their own good! It is also why you can never tell them they are wrong and insane to do so to their children. They do know what children don’t know (in terms of what’s out there awaiting them) and what the Americans and Europeans fail to grasp! It’s not hard though, when you begin to live in Chinese society for awhile, you’ll begin to see the light and the way! At times, some think it’s good to adopt the middle ground, ie, be a little stricter to their kids. At other times, they merely leave because that’s not their kind of lifestyles. Like it or not though, you’d have to content yourself with such ways as with more globalization and partnerships around the business world, more will be demanded of your children and their free-thinking and leisure life will be changed forever and ever.
When a country is filled with a generation unable to compete in the world arena (say, if their math is bad, then the engineering students will be lesser and lesser, then a country will be losing competitive edge as a result), that spells the end of a great nation! If you’re in tune with what’s happening in China (and to a lesser extent in India), you’d know that China produces some 3-5 million graduates a year! That’s the population of Singapore. Imagine… how a small country like Singapore or many small nations in Europe are going to compete with China in the future. That’s a scary thought. I’m awfully glad that I’m not the future generation and am at this age I’m at now. It’s a grim future for many nations! And, if one lives in China, one will think of ways and “tricks” to make sure one’s kids have a fair advantage over others!
Next, LOSE FACE. This is one of the big things in Chinese mentality. Do not ever make someone lose face by either insulting or challenging another’s belief, especially if the person is senior, either in terms of age or ranking or position in life (be it real or corporate). It is a no-no among the Chinese. I do believe it is also the same with Indonesians, Thai and Japanese. Hence, you will find yourself an enemy if you do what you are doing in America. It is best not to try to challenge someone in a way where he/she will “lose face” in public where a Chinese is concerned. That will encourage the other person to retaliate and have unforeseen consequences which you might find it hard to deal with later (even if your intention was a good one to begin with). Act tactfully in a Chinese society and you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant and smooth ride!
Well, these are just a few of what makes Chinese a Chinese. There are a lot more and it’s impossible to cover them all in a review. For Chinese as a language, you might find my review on Chinese Language interesting or alternatively, my last year review on Chinese New Year. The Chinese will celebrate the Year of Rabbit beginning this Feb. 3 and it lasts for 15 days to Feb. 17.
Happy New Year to all Chinese & and all those born under the Year of the Rabbit!
P.S. Some of the Chinese concepts are based on Confucius teaching. One of which is filial piety. If I'm not mistaken, it is illegal for Chinese to abandon one's own parents too! So, the principle of one has to take care of one's family does not apply just on immediate family but also one's own parents! Children are expected to be respectful (hence, no rebuttals and talking loudly to someone more senior or older!) and examplary. In fact, being Chinese can be pretty stressful ;-)
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