culture shock in china

chinese culture

If you just arrive to work or travel in China, you are very likely to be in for a MAJOR culture shock. China evoke a response even from the meekest of us; either you love China or hate her on first impression! We share some usual first shocks you will encounter upon first landing in China and how you can respond to it.


Experiencing the Chinese cultural shock

First off, I would like to apologize to any Mainland Chinese that may be reading this page. I am one of many foreigners who have lived in China for many years and have come to love China. However, China does have it's bad side and the culture shock that a new comer to China will encounter can be quite major and shocking. I will elaborate on some of these bad cultural habits and how a foreigner to China may feel on first arriving in China. Hopefully, this article will ease some of your initial culture shock if you happen to be reading this article before you first arrive to work or live in China.

However, I am confident that China is improving all the time. I am sure, over time, many of such bad behavior will disappear and a new cultured China will appear. For someone who will be landing to work or live long term in China, do get a copy of this China eBook. It will help you tremendously in easing your way into the Chinese way of life. For others, read on...

Endless crowds and rude, boorish behavior in the streets

On first arrival to China, the human wave will probably shock you. Everywhere you go; airport, public malls, tourist sites, restaurants, railway stations, bus stations; you will see nothing but waves and waves of people. China can be so crowded that you hardly have private space of your own once you are out of your hotel room or house.

And people tend to push. And stare. And spit. And talk loudly.

China does have an extremely large population. Unfortunately, due to many years of civil strife, a good proportion of people did not have a good education. Many old Chinese habits such as spitting and talking loudly continue to be part of their way of life and while rude and unbecoming to a foreigner, is part and parcel of the Chinese people.

However, it is good to know that the young population is getting more and more polite and considerate by the year.

Indifferent Chinese Public servants

Another major frustration about living or working in China is the indifferent attitude shown by public servants such as bank officers, police officers, civil servants, immigration officers etc. Many continue to adopt the attitude from the iron bowl communist era and show a indifferent or superior attitude when attending to members of the public. This behaviour is most obvious in the smaller towns and cities.

Poor working attitude

Depending on which part of China that you are at, you may get workers with very poor working attitude. Work is filled with long tea breaks, chatting sessions, poor sense of work quality, indifferent response to instructions etc. This is very likely as you get away further from the Chinese coastal cities.

Again, there is always exception to the rule but from what is a general consensus from businessmen, chances are, work attitude gets poorer the further you get from the big cities.

However, having said that, you are also likely to get loyal, faithful, hardworking and intelligent workers. This is very likely in the bigger coastal Chinese cities, where tough job competition and continual education has resulted in workers' attitude improving by leaps and bounds.

Dirt behind the scene

Many of the larger Chinese cities are beautiful facades of glass and steel in their quest for modernisation. Beautiful plants lined the streets and road sweepers are hard at work every morning.

However, step into any side street or visit any of the smaller towns and you will be surprised at the amount of litter lining the streets. Chinese tend to spit and litter without regard for their fellow citizen.

Chinese public toilets are infamous for their lack of privacy and horrific smell. Plumbing continue to be erratic and toilet behavior need to improve tremendously. If need to, ease yourself at home, in the hotel or a large public mall before hitting the streets. You wouldn't want to touch a public toilet in China as far as possible!

Unchecked pollution in China

For many decades, there has been great neglect for the environment as China rush to catch up with the rest of the world. Many pristine mountains, lakes and ocean has been dugged, dynamited and polluted in order to rush out new power plants, factories, roads and other industrial infrastructure.

Factories, power plants and automobile continue to pump out pollutants everyday making some Chinese cities perpetually gray and smoggy and causing illness amongst the young and elderly. In some badly hit Chinese cities, people having to wear a facial mask as part of their normal clothes.

Measures has been introduced and local government are cleaning up their act. We hope that clean air and a green earth will become part of China very soon. A good advice is to check the pollution level of the city that you may be heading for especially if you know that it is a large city with an industrial background.

Cheats and touts in China

Cheats are always on the prowl for someone new to a particular area. From raising prices in food menu to conspiring to cheat in currency exchange, there are always people trying to take advantage of foreigners or even Chinese new to an area so much so that any help from a genuinely-concerned Chinese to a foreigner is likely to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Dishonesty is also common and many such acts are downright disgusting. Newspapers often report about fake medication, fake mineral water, fake food products that are likely to cause suffering or even death in their quest for money. Do be very careful if something does not smell or taste right especially if you had bought the item from a small shop or a road side stall.

Advice for first timer to China

I hope I have not discouraged you too much. Be open-minded about China. Sure, many Chinese way of life may be culturally shocking but always tell yourself that things have improved tremendously and will continue to improve.

You must always tell yourself that you have not been singled out. The pushing and spitting is not targetted at you; it is their way of life in a very long history of crowded population and many times, harsh environment and even many local Chinese feel insulted or disgusted at such boorish behavior as well, despite growing up in such an environment.

As long as you keep an open mind, there will always be a nice Chinese somewhere who will be prepared to help you even for nothing in return. Blend in smoothly with the local Chinese and if you do need some useful advice, please do not hesitate to read my eBook on living with the Chinese.


For more information about Chinese way of life and to prevent cultural shock, check out this interesting China Book. Or email us for further information.