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Chinese have a fundamentally different understanding of man […] he only exists in and through relationships with his fellow human beings. In Confucian thinking, the “I” is not an autonomous entity, it includes the “we” from the outset.
S. Baron, G. Yin-Baron in the book “The Chinese – Psychogram of a World Power”
The history of China begins with the mystical primal emperor 黃帝 – Huáng Dì – Yellow Emperor” Allegedly, all Han Chinese descend from him. The beginnings of Chinese culture, however, were established by the Xia Dynasty, which existed about 4,100 years ago. In the course of time followed countless other dynasties, which first flourished and finally fell again. The Chinese speak in this case that the ruling emperor 天命 – Tiānmìng – The mandate of heaven was withdrawn.
For the past two thousand years, China has been the most powerful and progressive nation on Earth for the various dynasties. Many inventions such as the decimal system (3rd century BC), the paper (2nd century BC), the black powder (2nd century) or the printing (11th century) come from the Reich the middle.
The Chinese people have spread steadily over the various dynasties. From the Xia Dynasty (2100-1600 BC) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The country has always been one of the most populous states in the world. In 50, with a world population of 250 million people, 40 million came from China, in the year 1820 there were 380 million Chinese (world: 1.05 billion) and today there are 1.4 billion Chinese living on the planet (World: 7.75 billion people).
Interestingly, the majority of Chinese people share only 20 family names, such as Zhang, Wang, or Li, and in total there are only 700 different names.
Chronology of the Chinese Dynasties – photographed in the China National Museum in Beijing.
In 1912, the fall of the last Chinese emperor ended the chapter of imperial history. The Forbidden City was no longer banned, but open to the public.
Under Mao Zedong, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949. The country was at that time, as well as the Soviet Union, hostile to the West. Beginning in 1972, China began to reopen to the West under Deng Xiaoping. The economic reforms led to the hoped-for success and thus China, within a century of the overthrow of the imperial family, through the founding of the People’s Republic of China under the rule of the Communist Party from emerging nation to one of the most important economy in the world.
Religions and Confucianism
China has had religious freedom since 1982. The most widely held religions are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. About 700 million Chinese, about half of the country, are atheist.
Most religious followers have Buddhism with about 450 million believers (30% of the population), followed by Christianity with about 80-120 million followers (5-8%). Islam is practiced by 50-70 million Muslims (3-5%) and is difficult for the Taoists to identify, but they are a minority.
Revered everywhere in China, but strictly speaking no religion, is Confucianism. Named after its founder Confucius, this is more of a philosophical guidance system for a “good life“. The teachings contain the five central virtues – humanity, justice, ethical behavior, wisdom and goodness. From this the three social duties – loyalty, filial piety and the preservation of rites – derive.
President Xi Jinping is a great advocate of Confucianism. He supports the establishment of Confucius Institutes. There are now over 500 in more than 120 nations, which is already three times more cultural institutions than the German Goethe-Instituts.
Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism together make up the Three Teachings. A Chinese proverb says that “A Chinese Confucian is good for him, he is a Dao if he is in a bad mood, and he is a Buddhist in the face of death.” In China, religion is probably seen more loosely than in the West.
The holidays are not religiously motivated, but are based on the lunar calendar. In this there is 春節 – chūnjié – the spring or New Year festival, where the evil spirits are driven away with a firework. In addition, the Day of Death, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Moon Festival are celebrated. However, the most important holiday is the 1st of October – the founding day of the People’s Republic and the beginning of the week off “Golden Week”.
Ethnicities and minorities
There are 1.4 billion people in China and about 90% of them are Han Chinese. There are also 56 minorities, which together total around 100 million people. The following map shows the distribution of different ethnic groups. The Han live mainly in the economically strong and densely populated coastal regions (beige). The Tibetans live in the south-western mountainous country (orange) and the Mongols in the north of the country (moss-green). In addition, there are still the predominantly Muslim Uighurs in western China (light green).
Map of Chinese ethnic groups – photographed in the China National Museum in Beijing.
The official language of China is Mandarin. Some locals also speak Tibetan, Uighur, Manchurian or Mongolian. In Hong Kong, one also speaks Cantonese.
Regarding the ethnic groups, unfortunately, one has to mention that the Chinese government is strongly suppressing some minorities in their religious freedom. There are often clashes, both in Buddhist Tibet and in the Xinjiang Muslim Autonomous Region of the Uighurs. The Uighurs allegedly detained up to 1.5 million Muslims in so-called “re-education camps”.
The Middle Kingdom is also not an immigration country. The proportion of foreigners in the total population is only 0.05-0.1% and thus China is the country with the lowest percentage of international population groups worldwide (comparison: Germany 14.9%, USA 14.5%).
Customs and behaviors
Personal respect and honor are especially important in China. While criticism in the West is demanded especially at work, publicly criticized criticism in China is a personal offense.
It has also been my experience that Chinese people are reluctant to admit that they do not know something. If you ask someone in China for the way, then you should rather consult two more people. If all answers agree, then one can assume that the described route is really correct.
Taking care of 關係 – guānxi – the personal network and doing a “favor” in this context is part of the social order in China. An often bought gift is the rather expensive Zhonghua cigarettes. A Chinese proverb puts guanxi in a nutshell. “People who buy Zhonghua do not smoke it. People who smoke Zhonghua do not buy it.“
What you should avoid, however, is the gift of watches – these symbolize death. However, I can imagine that the recipient would not be sad in spite of all meaningfulness of Chinese culture in a brand new Rolex. Status symbols are now widely used in China, though this is not entirely compatible with Confucian modesty.
Chinese people cultivate an indirect communication approach in business relationships – the largest part of a meeting is spent chatting, before the actual topic is finally discussed and decided in the last 5 minutes.
As already indicated, almost everything in China has meaning. The number 4 stands for death, the number 8 for luck. The color white is associated with funeral, red is the color of good destiny and is worn by the bride to the wedding.
In China, it is also uncommon to leave some room in the queue. Every free inch of privacy is a waste. The Chinese seem to love bathing in the crowd, body contact is not felt to be bad.
Crowds – a common sight, especially in major Chinese cities.
Basically, the Chinese have a much more pronounced group thinking and behavior. This is also expressed in the product names. While Apple prefixes its highly successful products with the “i” for “me” (iPhone, iPad, etc.), in China it is the “we” for “we” in Internet services such as WeChat or WeGame.
Above all, this feeling of belonging is very strong in the family, which plays a major role in China. If you ask Chinese people where they come from, they usually do not answer with the name of their place of residence, but with their parents’ ancestral house – even if they have never been there before. There are about 100 names for kinship grades that have no German equivalent.
For most Chinese, it would never be possible to accommodate their frail parents in a retirement home. Highest respect for the age is self-evident in China. Many families live in an apartment or house for three generations and share the household.
However, outside of their clan, Chinese can be extremely selfish, ruthless, and competitive. As is then sometimes like jostling and trying to get even the smallest advantage.
Basically, the Chinese society is very competitive. Presumably, it is simply because you have to prove from childhood under tens of millions of other Chinese. Already in elementary school, the students are trimmed for performance. Simply learning the complex Chinese language with about 8000 characters is a first challenge of memorizing. In the spare time, many parents send their children to piano lessons. Motivation is not about praise, but about blame. Obedience to teachers and professors is self-evident. Self-fulfillment means fulfilling the duties towards the parents of most young Chinese people.
The Chinese cuisine
The menu of a German Chinese restaurant has about as much in common with local Chinese cuisine as a supermarket-ready pizza with a restaurant visit to its favorite Italian.
I do not want to destroy your world view, but if you thought that Chinese eat rice everywhere and everywhere, then unfortunately I have to tell you that this assumption is wrong. Of course, a lot of rice comes on the table, but the Chinese eat mostly pasta in a variety of variants.
The prejudice that dogs, cats and mice are everywhere on the plates is, of course, complete nonsense. It is true, however, that eating a dog in particular in the country is a great honor to the guest.
A traditional Chinese dish is e.g. Dumplings or 包子 – Bāozi – stuffed dumplings. The interior consists of meat, vegetables or vegetarian pastes.
Also 火鍋 – Huǒguō – Hot Pot / Fire Pot is a local specialty, also known as Chinese fondue. A pot of hot water is placed on the table and various ingredients are cooked in it.
In addition, there are countless soup variations and rice dishes, baked goods and candied fruits.
Basically, the Chinese eat relatively much meat – chicken, beef, pork is everywhere. The Peking Duck is made of very tender, fat-free meat, in which the skin is carved and served on a separate plate – no comparison to the “German version”.
The food culture is very different from the European one. Loud smacking, slurping and even burping is allowed at the table – the nose, on the other hand, is frowned upon. The host sits in the middle of the table and the guests frame him in descending order of rank.
The plate should not be eaten completely empty, because this symbolizes that the guest did not get full and the host is probably too stingy.
Tea is often served with food, e.g. Oolong or green tea. The drinking water is usually served hot, probably comes from a time in which germs had to be killed. In the big cities it is not a problem to order cool water from the plastic bottle. Otherwise, there is also all sorts of local alcohol. Well-known beers are Tsingtao, Yanjing or Jinxing. There are various sorts of 白酒 – Báijiǔ – liquor / “white alcohol” and other types of alcohol.
Traditional tea house in Suzhou – west of Shanghai.
My personal impression of the Chinese
At this point I would like to incorporate my subjective impressions. I experienced the Chinese as mostly very friendly and outgoing. Sometimes she overcomes a childish curiosity. This comes to light in particular when one mixes as 老外 – Lǎowài – “good old foreigner” among the people. Since then you will be addressed to the completely untypical full beard in China, the height or the blond hair. I also often laughed together with Chinese people about funny everyday situations, especially when we tried to communicate with our hands and feet. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Chinese do not speak English.
The parks of the big cities are teeming with happy, dancing and singing people in the evening. The elders are also active outdoors, practicing Tai-Chi and playing 毽子 – Jianzi – Shuttlecock. This sport is allegedly operated since the Han dynasty – so since 200 BC. Chr.!
Really getting used to and sometimes uncomfortable, is the noisy whining and subsequent spitting out of the mucus. Maybe the Chinese just have a lot of slime due to the smog.
In Beijing, Hutongs (traditional Chinese residential areas) are often used by people in pajamas or fine ribbed shirts to walk the streets.
Traditional Chinese residential areas are referred to as Hutongs. Characteristic are the narrow streets and small houses.
A curiosity found especially among older men is the “Peking Bikini”. For this, the t-shirt is pulled up so far that the magnificent belly of the wearer comes to light.
The government is now going so far as to punish bad behavior. Anyone spitting on the street or presenting the “Peking Bikini” to the public must expect a fine.
Basically, I had the feeling that especially the younger Chinese are very well educated. Bad behavior patterns, I experienced more in the elderly. Presumably, these patterns date back to the Mao era, where “hard” manners were expressions of physical labor and thus should express the affiliation to the ruling working class.
National consciousness is strong in China and is promoted by the government. The national flag is also everywhere present in propaganda videos about national achievements such as the “Three Gorges Dam”, the new capital airport Daixing [read more] or the high-speed rail line.
Conclusion: The Chinese culture and society differs significantly from the German. The diversity of China in a single blog post is not possible. Nevertheless, I wanted to give you a brief insight, since Chinese culture in the West is often foreign and misunderstood. I hope that you can now get a better idea of the nature and life of the Chinese.
I’m really curious if there will be some cultural influences coming to Europe with the rise of the Middle Kingdom, just as American culture has spread since the 1950s.
Sources and Links:
Book “The Chinese – Psychogram of a World Power”, Stefan Baron, Guangyan Yin-Baron.
Book Konrad Seitz – “China – a world power returns”.
Book Yi Ellis, Bryan Ellis – 101 stories for foreigners to understand Chinese.
Christian community in Beijing – about religions in China.
China Tours – Religion in China.
Erlebe-China.de – about Chinas history.
Federal Agency for Civic Education – on the proportion of foreigners in China and the world.
Handelsblatt – on the suppression of the Uighurs.