Cultural peculiarities of the Chinese – what can surprise foreigners in China

What to be surprised in China to the tourist, and what is not surprising

Many tourists in China experience a real shock, and there are many reasons for that. The way of life and traditions of the Chinese people are very different from our everyday life. We will tell you in this article about what you will see in China that is surprising, and what you should not be surprised at.

Metal detectors in the subway

It is unlikely that you have heard at least once in the news about terrorist attacks in Beijing or Shanghai. China is considered to be a safe country in this respect. However, as soon as you enter the subway in Beijing or Shanghai, you will immediately encounter the need to pass through a metal detector frame.

A metal detector in the subway in China

Every passenger is required to go through a metal detector before entering. It’s a full-fledged check, just like in airports. You have to go through the frame yourself, and your luggage goes through the x-ray machine (pictured right). It’s serious.

Surprisingly, this control system works very quickly and smoothly in China. Even at peak hours, there are no queues at the entrance to the subway.

Many tourists are surprised: who are the Chinese to be afraid of, they seem to have no internal and interethnic conflicts in their country? Of course, there are problems, but they try not to advertise them.

First of all, in 1950 the Chinese army entered Tibet. It is difficult to assess this event from a legal point of view. On the one hand, Tibet had become an independent state, but on the other, no one recognized it.

Immediately after the entry of troops, a resistance movement arose in Tibet. In 1959, the first major uprising occurred and was crushed. The freedom movement still functions today and organizes various actions. The activities of the freedom fighters rarely go beyond Tibet itself, but they are still feared in China.

Surprisingly, Buddhist monks, who are generally forbidden to harm living beings and hardly even eat meat, are active in the movement.

The second “hot spot” on the map of China is the Xinjiang-Uygur region in the northwest of the country, with Urumqi as its capital. Terrorist attacks occur all the time here. They are carried out by Muslim extremists. They are the most feared in China, hence the metal detectors in the subway.

Road conditions and traffic rules

The behavior of drivers in China surprises many foreigners. Red at traffic lights is perceived not as “not allowed”, but as “undesirable”. It is especially scary for foreigners to drive a cab in China, many cab cars are in a deplorable condition.

Accidents on the road happen often.

We have already written about this in the article “What tourists should not do in China”. Be vigilant on the streets of Chinese cities, especially when crossing the road.

If you’re in Beijing, you can relax, it’s an exemplary city, here the traffic rules are enforced, as drivers are stopped by large fines. In other cities, the situation is deplorable.

Even if you’re walking on the sidewalk, you have to keep your eyes open. You can be hit by a cyclist or scooter driver.

There are a lot of small stores, benches, and cafes in China.

In many areas of the cities, the first floors of buildings are completely devoted to cafes, stores, and stores. On the first floors of residential buildings you can find tire repair shops, beauty salons, massage parlors, and we even saw a sewer manhole store in the city of Wuhan. There’s a lot to do there.

A street in a Chinese city.

In China, they are very loyal to small businesses, and let people take the initiative in the economy. This is one of the keys to the country’s dizzying economic growth.

Small stores in China are not subject to extortion, as often happens in Russia. Accounting and taxation procedures are simplified for them, and they are not “slaves to accounting services. They do not try to make a “cash cow” out of small business.

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This abundance of retail outlets anywhere in the city amazes many foreigners. Large shopping malls in China boast entire floors of food courts and gigantic sizes of buildings. Consider the Xidan shopping district in Beijing.

The way the Chinese behave in the street

The Chinese are one of the noisiest nations in the world. This is especially evident in their social interactions. Once in the market or in a restaurant, you will understand it, the buzz of their voices never ceases, and many Europeans are very annoyed by it.

Noise protection

For noise-sensitive tourists there is only one way out of the situation – stock up on an object similar to the one in the photo on the left. We haven’t come up with any other solution yet.

If there is a conflict between the Chinese, their ability to make loud noises is at its best.

We once saw an amazing scene on a street in Shanghai. While crossing the street, one Chinese man accidentally bumped into another. They stopped right in the middle of the crosswalk and started arguing loudly with each other. At the same time, they prevented cars from passing.

When a crowd gathered around them after a couple of minutes, they started pouncing on each other, and those around them, of course, held them back. Immediately I remembered the saying, “six of you hold me, five of you can’t hold me. After five minutes they peacefully drifted apart.

Of course, this was rather an extreme case of a street fight in China, all other conflicts we observed were more modest. The attitude to foreigners in China is more cultural. The Chinese will be happy to quarrel with each other, but they are always polite to tourists. That’s the mentality.

Tea Markets

This side of Chinese tradition and culture is amazing, but in a good way. In China you will find huge markets or multi-story malls that sell only tea and tea paraphernalia.

A store in a tea market

We’ve talked at length about the famous tea market on Beijing’s Malindao Street. Read this review, now we will not elaborate on the description of the markets themselves.

Tea for the Chinese is not just a drink, but an important element of culture. Most gifts in China are tea or tea accessories. The Chinese take great pleasure in giving each other tables, teapots, cups, and even scales for weighing tea.

If you find yourself in China, be sure to find the nearest tea market. It’s a great tourist attraction, and completely free. Tea is the most common gift from China, don’t miss your chance to buy it at bargain prices, choosing from thousands of varieties.

Don’t forget that it is always customary in markets in China to haggle. The price can be brought down by 20-30%. Chinese traders behave culturally, no one at the market will grab your hands, as it happens in Arab countries. Only the tourist market near the YuYuan Garden in Shanghai can be called a sad exception.

Lions at the entrance of the buildings

Even in the first hours of your stay in China, you will notice pairs of stone lions at the entrances to hotels, restaurants, banks, and government offices.

Lion Shi in Forbidden City.

The most famous of these lions are in the Forbidden City in Beijing; they guarded the peace of the Ming and Qing emperors (pictured left). The tradition of their installation in front of house doors dates back to the Han dynasty, which means it is already 2200 years old.

The Chinese themselves call these lions by the word “shi”, and Europeans traditionally use the expression “fu dog”. Russians do not call them anything, we are much less familiar with Chinese culture than the rest of Europe.

In the past, such lions were a symbol of the wealth of the inhabitants of a house. They were expensive, and not every family could afford one. Now their number in China has increased dramatically due to mass production. Lions are believed to protect the inhabitants of the house from evil spirits and keep the good ones inside.

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Massive pastimes

Walking down the street of a Chinese city, you can observe the Chinese massively doing some kind of exercise, dancing or reading something out loud with choir.

Such pastimes are especially popular in Hong Kong. There’s a very high percentage of retirees there, and they often gather in parks and do breathing exercises. This is less common in mainland China.

In the video below you see just such a case. The video was shot in Beijing near Malindao Street.

At first we thought about the hidden meaning of this action, as people are dancing right in front of the entrance to Chinese McDonalds. But it was explained to us that this action has no propaganda background.

How the Chinese bathe in the sea

This process is very striking for visitors to the Sanya resort on Hainan Island. We love to splash around in the sea and swim, but the Chinese don’t. They go knee-deep in the sea and just stand there. And they go into the sea with their clothes on.

Russians are not shocked by this behavior, but for us it looks ridiculous.

Fast-brewed noodles.

We are used to perceive instant noodles as an unhealthy food and an attribute of poverty. This is not the case in China.

Love noodles from the young.

Noodles in China are an everyday food of both the poor and the rich. If you count the number of brands of this product in Russia, you will not find more than 10. There are thousands of brands of such noodles in China, from ultra-cheap to very expensive.

The quality of Chinese instant noodles is “a head above” Russian Doshiraks and Roltons. Many types are all-natural without flavorings, dyes or preservatives. We even dedicated a separate article to one interesting type of noodles on our website, “Hubei dry noodles.

In many stalls and small stores, vendors specially keep a kettle to brew noodles for their customers. You could say that hot food in China is on every corner, in the truest sense of the expression.

Chinese Alcohol

Liquor in China is shocking to Europeans, including Russians. Chinese beer does not arouse any negative feelings. But rice vodka and wine is already shocking by its smell. Read the main article “alcohol in China.

Chinese food and feasting traditions

In fact, there is no Chinese cuisine at all. There are cuisines of different provinces. They differ so much that it’s a thankless task to combine them into something uniform.

Mao's red pork is a colorful dish.

China is an absolute record-breaker in variety of dishes. Nobody ever tried to count them, and it’s better not to try. There are millions of them. Russians know only a fraction of this variety: Peking duck, meat in sweet and sour sauce, different kinds of rice, fruit in caramel.

Some dishes shock or surprise tourists. For example, “stinky tofu” makes some Russians faint just by its smell.

Russians are just as surprised by the fact that the Chinese eat with chopsticks. Our tourists find this instrument extremely inconvenient, and the Chinese think the same about forks and spoons.

Many nations, influenced by European culture, have become accustomed to forks and spoons, but not the Chinese. Many cafes don’t even have European cutlery available, so we always recommend taking forks with you to China.

Also, the Chinese are reluctant to get accustomed to European foods – milk and bread. It is difficult to find these food products in China. Of course, there are bakeries here, and milk can sometimes be found in supermarkets. But we recommend not to be surprised if you do not find them, it’s a matter of luck.

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Feasting in China

Table traditions in China surprise Russians. We are used to the fact that at the table in a restaurant everyone is served his own dish. In China it is not customary, all dishes are shared, except for a portion of rice and noodles. It is customary to put a rotating circle in the center of the table so that everyone can easily try any dish (see picture on the left).

The idea of a Chinese feast is to try as many dishes as possible. It is the enjoyment of the variety of tastes and smells that is at the center of it all.

The Chinese don’t like to eat alone. As we said before, they are more social than we are. It’s customary to have dinner with the whole family or with friends. Dinner is about socializing and having a good time.

Chinese trains.

This surprise is very pleasant. We have only one high-speed train – the Sapsan. It is our railroad pride. High-speed trains in China run between all the major cities. Agree, it’s nice to get from Beijing to Shanghai at 350 kilometers per hour in just 5 hours.

There’s a lot more to see and do in China. Read our articles about this country (links below).

Chinese customs, manners and etiquette

It will not be easy for any European coming to China to get used to Chinese manners and formalities, especially because Chinese customs differ not only from European, but also from those existing in other Asian countries. Some people mistakenly believe that the Chinese and Japanese have the same customs. But the two countries are so different that a Chinese person may be offended if it is said that their culture is similar to Japanese culture.

Greetings and farewells in China

In China it is considered rude to call someone by their first name unless you have known that person since childhood. At work, people call each other by their title, such as “Teacher Wang.” Socially, people call each other by their first and last names, or they address each other as Mr. and Mrs., such as “Mr. Zhang. At home, the household members address each other by a nickname, or by the degree of kinship.

In Chinese there is a clear distinction in the names of relatives, for example, the grandfather by mom and by dad have different names.

In Chinese, there is a clear distinction in the names of relatives, for example, grandfather by mother and grandfather by father have different names.

The Chinese also use kinship designations for those close to them who are not related. For example, young people may address older people with the words “elder brother,” “uncle,” or “grandfather.

The Chinese do not smile at or greet strangers.

When Chinese people say goodbye, they bow and nod as a sign of respect. Beijingers often say “zhu-yi,” which means “take care of yourself” or “be careful. In general, according to Chinese tradition, when they wish well to a person, they advise to do everything slowly. For example, to the departing guest they usually say “man-man zou”, which literally translates as “walk slowly” and means “take your time”, “walk carefully”. At dinner, they wish a pleasant appetite with the words “man-man chi,” which translates to “eat slowly.

Bowing, touching, applauding, and shaking hands in China

Unlike the Japanese, the Chinese do not bow to greet or say goodbye. With the Chinese, bowing is a sign of respect, especially important at various ceremonies and festivals. The deeper the bow, the greater the degree of respect they want to show.

It is also customary to bow at formal meetings.

In official meetings it is also customary to bow

In dynastic times, guests who came to see the emperor had to fall to the floor and bang their heads nine times as a sign of respect. Such gestures are still used in temples to worship the statue of Buddha. Such bowing is a powerful gesture of reverence for the dead or respect for the temple. During the Cultural Revolution, it was a tool to humiliate those who had committed political crimes.

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Traditionally, the Chinese did not usually shake hands when they met, but lately it has become part of their practice. According to many foreigners, they take too long and too soft a handshake. A soft handshake with the Chinese is considered a gesture of humility and respect.

When interacting with the Chinese, avoid hugs, patting the back, and touching other than a handshake. Sometimes when entering a school, meeting, or banquet, the Chinese clap their hands in greeting. In that case, it is customary to clap back.

Respect for elders in China

Chinese young people treat their elders with respect: they give them a place, let them speak first, sit down after them, and do not argue. When offering a book or newspaper to someone who is older, it is necessary to pass the object with both hands. In a crowded subway or bus, they give way to older people. A flattering comment about age can sometimes be taken as an insult. The New York Times described the case of one businessman. In a meeting with a high-ranking official, he said this compliment: “Perhaps you are too young to remember.” The comment was meant as a compliment to show that the official looked young for his age. But it was taken as an insult. The official was not old enough to be treated with respect for that reason.

For the Chinese, elders are the keepers of wisdom.

Old people to the Chinese are the keepers of wisdom.

Gestures in China.

The Chinese do not gesture much, especially avoiding excessive hand waving. Winking and whistling are considered rude. Looking directly into the eyes is not allowed. Two thumbs up means praise, pointing with your little finger at a person means that he or she is not doing well. In China, you can’t call a person out with your index finger. To get a person’s attention and to call them out, you pat your hand on the nearest object and then wave in your direction. This gesture is usually used with children, cab drivers and waiters. And it would be considered rude to do so to an older person. The most polite way to get the attention of elders is to catch the eye and lean in a little.

Public displays of affection between people of the opposite sex in China, such as kissing, hugging, holding hands, are considered rude. But holding hands and hugging people of the same sex is acceptable.

Social habits in China

In China it is considered rude to look straight in the eyes, to cross your arms or legs, to keep your hands in your pockets when talking to someone. The Chinese try to focus their gaze on the neck of the interlocutor, stand close and try to avoid staring. The Chinese do not like it when Europeans point at people, use a lot of perfume, sit on tables, boast, easily express their opinions, want immediate answers and do not show the slightest bit of patience.

The Chinese are very punctual. They are never late for ceremonial occasions, often catching their hosts at home unprepared. It is also rude not to be patient with those who, for good reason, are late. In rural areas, these rules are less strict, as people are less time-bound.

The Chinese rarely pay compliments, which should be answered with “oh, well, that’s not about me” denial or self-deprecation.

The Chinese are very time-conscious.

The Chinese value time very much.

In conversation with the Chinese.

The Chinese often ask foreigners a lot of personal questions, especially about family and marriage. If you are over 30 and don’t have a family, you better lie, or the Chinese will start feeling sorry for you. It is believed that only an unhappy person does not have a wife and children. Sometimes the Chinese are overly frank in their statements. Commenting on one’s appearance or making a comment about a big nose is a common thing for a Chinese person.

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It is better for foreigners to avoid talking about politics with the Chinese, and it is also better to refrain from comments about China, which can be interpreted negatively. China in a foreigner’s speech should sound like a people’s republic, and on no account should it be confused with Taiwan or suggest that Taiwan is not part of China. Tibet is also a sensitive issue for the Chinese. Nor should any remarks be made about Chinese traditions. Innocent observations can be taken in a negative way. Safe topics of conversation are conversations about food and family, and a harmonious atmosphere is the way to create perfect communication.

If you want to make a Chinese person like you, talk to him about food

If you want to win over a Chinese person, talk to him or her about food

People of the Celestial Empire are not inherently straightforward.

The Chinese will do anything to save their reputation and make foreign guests happy, even if they have to lie.

It is not often that you hear a straight refusal from a Chinese person. They often say “maybe,” “I’m busy,” or even “yes,” dodging a clear answer. This behavior often leads to confusion among Europeans.

The Chinese consider any display of straightforward refusal to be rude.

The most common refusal when applying for a job in China is the “we’ll call you back” form.

The tradition of giving gifts

The Chinese are not as generous with gifts as the Japanese. Nevertheless, giving a small and inexpensive item such as a pen or a picture of your country or city is a sign of respect.

Nothing of green color should be given as a gift. Green is a symbol of treason in China. You should not give a clock as a gift. To the Chinese, it is a symbol of death or the end of a relationship. A gift in the form of a clock for a resident of the Celestial Empire has an implicit meaning – “to see someone for the last time”.

The recipient of the gift should show gratitude and accept it with a smile. It is not customary to open the gift immediately, unless invited to do so.

When visiting a Chinese person, one should not praise the surrounding items too much, or the host will feel obliged to give it to the guest.

Gift wrapping also plays an important role.

Gift wrapping also plays an important role

Women’s traditions in China

Many Chinese women cover their mouths when they laugh. Traditionally, a woman who laughed loudly and with her mouth open was considered rude.

Many Chinese men look at women who smoke with disgust, and view smoking as something that is not appropriate for women.

China is the most smoking country

China is the Most Smoking Country

Domestic Traditions in China

Unlike the Japanese and Koreans, the Chinese do not take off their shoes when they enter a house. Recently, though, there are more and more Chinese who leave their shoes in front of the door, Japanese style.

The Chinese prefer to sit on chairs rather than the floor. The first Chinese who sat in chairs were noblemen who wanted to be taller than their subjects. The custom of sitting on chairs among the Chinese appeared at the same time as the habit of wearing shoes in the house.

Chairs in ancient Chinese style

Chairs in the ancient Chinese style.

Most Chinese are very hospitable. To guests they are willing to give their best food and drink. Those, in turn, should bring a small gift. It can be a bottle of imported whiskey, wine or a dinner treat.

Knowledge of traditions is the key to success in China

Despite technological advances, the Chinese are very superstitious and deeply adhere to tradition. The Chinese mentality and way of life are very different from European mentality, which leads to misunderstanding. Recently, the West has increasingly seeped into Chinese culture (for example, the red wedding dress has been replaced by a white one), but this is nothing more than a temporary fashion trend.

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