Sick of China?
Culture shock, language barriers and high levels of pollution can, among other things, make people sometimes negative about China. Here are five things I really like about the country.
I found it strange that when speaking in public Chinese audiences will actually clap when the speaker messes up. They often clap ecstatically before the speaker speaks and they clap when the speaker does badly. There seems to be no correlation between the audience clapping and whether or not the speaker is doing well.
Similarly, as a Chinese language learner I found that in the early stages Chinese people would constantly complement me for speaking Chinese so well. The thing is they would always say “your Chinese is so good!” in English, so clearly they didn’t think my Chinese was good enough to understand if they spoke to me in Chinese. Again there seems to be no correlation between someone saying your Chinese is good and whether or not your Chinese is actually good. It seemed at best to be patronising and at worst mocking. But that’s just because I’m a cynical Brit. Later I saw it for what it was – encouragement.
Despite living in a culture where “face” is important and the education system and parents put so much pressure on children to succeed it seems almost surprising that when someone fails terribly, like in the middle of a university English speech competition, people respond not with embarrassment but with encouragement. That’s why Chinese people can sing karaoke whilst completely sober. If you sing like a strangled cat everyone will still clap and say you did great.
When I write “energy bills” I don’t mean I like China because the electricity is cheap. Although the state does regulate energy prices, which is one of the reasons why it’s difficult for Chinese energy companies to move away from the cheap but polluting coal fired power stations. That said China is also the largest producer of hydroelectricity (which I do like, despite the many critics of the three gorges dam.)
But this isn’t a debate about how China produces its energy. What I like is how the average Chinese person isn’t very wasteful. I’m yet to meet a Chinese person who leaves their air conditioner on when they go out. In fact, I’ve met a huge number that go without air conditioning or heating even when it’s nearly 40 degrees in summer and close to freezing in winter. I can’t say the same for my friends and family back home in Britain and I certainly can’t say the same for the average expat in China (particularly if they have energy bills included in their housing allowance.)
You can say what you want about the pollution in China but one thing’s for sure, the average Chinese person is a lot more frugal with energy than the average European or American. Maybe the pollution is actually caused by factories making things for Europeans and Americans.
Use of Public Space
In the cities I’ve been to in China there is a shocking lack of public space. Maybe that’s why table tennis is so popular, there isn’t enough space to play anything else. Often when there is a nice park with open space you actually need to pay to use it.
So far this doesn’t sound like something I should like about China but if you go to the free public spaces available in large Chinese cities you’ll find something amazing – people actually using them. All the time. In Britain there might be a bunch of “chavs” drinking down the park at night. In China you’ll find nothing more threatening than a bunch of middle aged women dancing with fans and old men doing kung fu. If you see a small crowd gathering they won’t be delinquent youths up to no good, they’ll be men intensely fixated on a game of Chinese chess.
In some ways it might seem like Chinese people don’t respect public space, the common complaints being that they spit and litter. But these are not conscious acts of anti-social behaviour. By contrast it is difficult to walk through a housing estate in Britain without seeing graffiti and vandalism. In China I’ve never seen a bus shelter or park bench that has been smashed up for the fun of it. I’ve rarely, if ever, seen evidence of any conscious acts of vandalism. Chinese people use and respect public space.
The Words The Language Doesn’t Have
One interesting thing about the Chinese language is that it doesn’t have any insults that mean “homosexual”. If you’re the type of bigot that would call someone a “faggot” “puff” or “queer” and want to translate it into Chinese the best you could manage would be “person who loves people of the same sex” (tóng xìng liàn zhě) which doesn’t quite have the same punch to it.
That’s not to say there are no homophobes in China or that homosexuality is completely socially acceptable, but when homosexuality is objected to it is usually because the parents object to their child not getting married and having kids of their own by the age of thirty (which is a completely different social problem.) Parents don’t want gay kids because they have a self-centred desire for grandchildren, not because homosexuality is in itself considered wrong. China, like ancient Greece, actually has an interesting history of homosexuality if you look into it, but that history doesn’t extend to insulting people.
Kids are kids
In America sex sells. It’s used to sell everything from fast food to fast cars. China is a much less sexualised society. Some might even say it’s sexually repressed, and the fact there is no public sex education in schools (and the fact Kate Winslet’s boobs were censored from Titanic) does suggest this might be the case.
But on the plus side China does have few teen pregnancies and the movie American Pie just wouldn’t work in a Chinese setting. Generally speaking, Chinese high school boys don’t suffer immense social pressure to get laid in order to be seen as men. Young Chinese teenage girls also don’t seem to have much, if any, pressure to dress in a sexualised way. In China kids are kids, at least until their mid-twenties, and they they’re expected to immediately get married and have kids of their own.