Home to more than a billion people, the Chinese society is rich and extremely diverse. The Chinese culture is one of the oldest in the world, and in time, many influences have contributed to its development, and many different systems of thinking have influenced the people of this country. However, the Chinese are linked together by a unique and extremely vivid culture that differentiates them by all other cultures. While the behavior, social norms and psychology of the Chinese are fascinating for non-Asian people, it is also extremely difficult to begin and maintain a harmonious relationship with a Chinese person, in lack of a thorough understanding of the Chinese culture, and of the differences that exist between the western and the Chinese culture. The present paper will look at the origin of China’s cultural uniqueness, in an attempt to explain the behavior, social norms and psychological patterns of this amazing people.
One of the most important influences in Chinese culture is Confucianism. According to Leung (2010), Confucianism has influenced both the psychology and the social beliefs of the Chinese people. In what psychology is concerned, Confucianism has inspired the Chinese belief that people are essentially benevolent, which in turn, has had a major impact on the structure of the society. In addition, the Confucian belief in self-perfection has inspired the emphasis that the Chinese put on education, regardless of social status, as they believe that all people have the potential to develop. Moreover, the same belief is guiding parents’ attitude towards children’s education and determines mothers to be very strict when it comes to school. On the other hand, in what personal relationships are concerned, the respect for elders is a very important aspect of the Chinese culture. There is a very strict hierarchy within the family structure, and children are thought since very young to respect the elders. Children are expected to take care of their parents when they get old.
In what societal attitudes is concerned, Confucianism is linked to Chinese’s value of self-control. Leung explains that, “the social and political organization of traditional Chinese societies is primarily based on this belief, which emphasizes individual morality and diminishes the role of legal regulations” (p.222). For this reason traditionally, the Chinese people resist strict rules, and Chinese institutions are less likely to have strict rules and regulations, as the belief in people’s power to control their own actions, and the trust in people’s morality have priority in front of it. Other influences on Chinese psychology and social beliefs are Buddhism and Taoism. Buddhism, for example, emphasizes desire as the source of unhappiness, which leads the Chinese people to be less materialism than Westerners.
In what social behavior is concerned, this aspect of culture is dominated by three major concepts, namely guanxi, mianxi and li (Millet 2003). Guanxi is a concept that refers to the relationship between individuals in the society. Mianxi refers to face, and the preservation of face is one of the most important aspect in a relationship. Finally, Li, refers to the etiquette, or rules of polite conduct in the society (Zhuo & Guang 2007). For a foreigner, it is extremely difficult to maintain a harmonious relationship with a Chinese person, if he or she has no knowledge of the Chinese expectations in what relationships are concerned.
Thus, for example, at the beginning of a relationship, Chinese people try to find a common ground by asking personal questions, related for example or family (Millet 2003). However, they do not feel comfortable with extremely friendly behavior, or with the foreigner invading their space, with a tap on the shoulder, for example. Also related to social behavior and politeness is Chinese people’s avoidance of a negative answer. As Millet (2003,) explains, Chinese people will give answers such as, “it will be taken into consideration” (n.p.), rather than a direct “no” This strategy has the purpose of preserving the so-called surface harmony, or li, a very important concept in Chinese culture.
The same concern for the surface harmony may represent the basis for the proverbial calm of the Chinese people. Although they are very concerned with polite behavior, and norms, in the same time, the emphasize which is placed on self-control and surface harmony, stop them from getting angry , or losing their patience, when they face difficulty or discomfort in public spaces, particularly because of other people. Thus, as Voskuil (2012) explains, people in China seem to be like water, in that they do not allow small social discomfort to disturb them. Thus, when confronting with people smoking next to them, moving too slowly, taking their seat in public transportation, and other such behavior, Chinese people maintain their calm and seem not to be affected by these acts. Voskuil (2012) compares this behavior to that of Westerners, and explains that, because they are much more individualist and self-centered, Westerners have little tolerance and do not accept any disturbance of their comfort.
As this paper showed, the social norms, behavior and psychological patterns of the Chinese people are determined to a great extent by cultural influences, and by the predominant religious and philosophical thought. These aspects of culture not only determine how people think, but also how they behave in public. In addition, as it was shown in this paper, this also impacts the society functions, in general. The most important aspect in what relationships are concerned is the preservation of surface harmony between people, which make direct confrontations scarce. The Chinese culture is predominated by ideas such as self-perfection, self-control, and respect for the elders, all of which contribute to the creation of a unique and special culture, that is more oriented towards the community, than towards the self.
- Millet, J.,(2003). Introduction to Chinese culture, protocol &etiquette. Retrieved from: http://extranet.uv.khs.dk/
- Leung, K., (2010). Beliefs in Chinese culture. In Michael Harris Bond (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Psychology (pp. 221-240). New York: Oxford University Press.
- Voskuil, C. (2012). Water or wood: social behavior in China. Retrieved from: http://laowaiblog.com/water-or-wood-social-behavior-in-china.