China is a country with 1.4 billion fantastic people. The country is literally packed with a huge variety of cultures, nature, and even languages.
The problem is that most people have already established a very clear thought about what China and Chinese people are. Dim Sum, bad air quality, cheap electronic products and a language no one else understands. However, these are just some of the stereotypes that people talk about when they discuss the biggest country in Central Asia.
As I have been living more than five years in China, I wanted to use this opportunity to cover some of the most prevalent stereotypes about the country and its people. It’s partly done because I want to debunk some misconceptions. However, I also tend to use this website to educate “people in the West” about the beautiful country of China.
I’m not saying that this post contains any objective information. This is MY personal view on the stereotypes that currently exist about China.
So let’s get to it.
PS! I did have a Chinese friend of mine read through the whole article before publishing it. She agreed that writing an article like this might help to fight racism and prejudice against Chinese people. However: if you agree with anything I write: feel free to leave a comment below the article.
How do Chinese people deal with stereotypes?
To be frank, most people in China are not very aware nor concerned about what people from other countries think or feel about them. That’s a fact.
The reason is simply because most Chinese people will never leave their country during their lifetime. In addition to that, there are very few foreigners in China (apart from in the big cities). So they are not at all hung up on what people in other countries think about China.
In addition to that, China has an authoritative regime that very often claims that “all foreigners must respect China”. So most Chinese people are either unaware or lied to about how foreigners see them.
However, you also have to understand that Chinese people are NOT a big fan of foreigners portraying their country in a bad light. Criticism of China is unheard of – ESPECIALLY if it comes from a foreigner. You will very often be met with a response saying that “you don’t really understand China” if you for example try to point out that it might not be very cool that 100,000s of Chinese people die from air pollution every year….
But that’s another discussion.
How is Chinese food culture? Cuisine stereotypes about China
“Most Chinese people eat dogs”
That’s not true. There is a food festival going on in Yulin every year where local people slaughter and eat dogs. Some people are provoked by that.
I am not. I see dogs as just another animal – and find it equally “cruel” that people eat cows, pigs or squirrels.
After living in China for about five years, I was only once invited to a restaurant that sold dog meat. That happened in Hangzhou – and I politely declined. In the city of Yulin, which holds the dog meat festival, a total of 72 % of all respondents in a big survey said that they do not eat dogs regularly.
In other parts of China, that number is significantly higher. Dogs are not a normal cuisine in China.
“Chinese people don’t drink alcohol”
That’s not true.
Chinese people don’t drink alcohol the same way that young people in the US or Europe drink alcohol. Most young people below the age of 25 stay mostly away from a large degree of alcohol consumption.
But oh lord – you try to join a business dinner in Shanghai, and I can guarantee you that you’ll be very, very drunk.
On the list of the 10 biggest beer brands in the world, 3 of them are Chinese:
- China Resources Snow Brewery
“Chinese food in China tastes different from what it does in my country”
Absolutely. It tastes very different. Some people like the Chinese food in China. I personally hated it.
It’s different raw materials, the meat quality isn’t as good – and the spices available are just not the same. So this stereotype is definitely correct.
If you’re sitting in a Chinese restaurant in New York and hear someone say: “Oh, this peking duck does not taste the same as it did in Beijing!” – then they are probably correct.
In New York, it’s much tastier. 😉
Culture, family & love – Personal and cultural relationship stereotypes about China
“China is culturally and racially homogeneous”
When I, a white man at 1,88 meters, walked down the streets of any tier 2 Chinese city, I was treated like a celebrity. People stared at me. And the most brave people stopped me to ask for a picture.
China has about 1,5 billion people. 92 % of them are so-called Han chinese. They have the same physical features and most of them also speak the same language.
You will struggle to find any place in the world that is more culturally and racially homogenous compared to China.
“Chinese people are all about their family”
Absolutely correct. I see myself as a very independent guy. I speak to my family members quite seldom and we will get in touch whenever it’s needed or when something big happens.
The average Chinese person I knew would speak to their mum at least once per day. Family is EVERYTHING in China.
You have to understand that the Chinese society does not necessarily take care of you if something goes wrong. The hospital bills are sometimes very expensive. So your family members work as a very efficient network of support in case something goes wrong.
“Asian culture is the same as Chinese culture”
Not at all.
Let me give you an example. I had lived in China for 3 years before I ever took a trip to Taiwan. In my head, I was 100 % sure that Taipei would be very equal to China.
It turned out to be totally different. The behavior of the Taiwanese people, the food, the noise in the streets, the way things worked…it was all SUPER different.
And I had the same feeling when I went to Korea. Many non-Asians do somehow believe that Japanese, Korean and Chinese culture are similar to each other. They are not.
“Chinese parents decide who their daughter can marry”
I will be very careful about saying whether or not this is true. But I got a couple of examples.
One of the girls I studied together with found a super nice guy. They wanted to get married. They were from the same hometown, spoke the same local dialect and everything turned out great for them.
But they couldn’t get married. The reason was that she had a master’s degree and he was…working in a music shop. Her parents strictly refused her to marry someone with a lower university degree than herself.
Unfortunately, there are also many girls in China who are under severe pressure to get married early. Old traditions in China say that girls should get married before they are 25 years old. If not, they would get labelled “Sheng Nu”, which is a term to describe a “leftover woman”.
Video: Marriage pressure in China
In order to understand that concept better, I would strongly recommend this Youtube video. I know it’s long, but it’s really worth the time as it goes into the core of what young Chinese men and women struggle with in regards to love and marriage.
How do they behave and look? Stereotypes about the general behavior and physical attributes of Chinese people
“Most Chinese people are shy to foreigners”
Yes, this is true. As a foreigner in China, most people will stay away from you (unless they’re asking for a picture).
It also takes time to get to know them very well. I had coworkers that I worked together with in Shanghai for three years that barely dared to say “Hello” to me. It’s a thing that you have to get used to, I guess.
When it comes to why they don’t open up too much to foreigners, it can also partly be due to a language issue. If you are not comfortable that you will be understood, speaking out could mean that you’re losing face.
And if it’s one thing Chinese people try to avoid, it’s losing face.
“Chinese people are skinny”
That’s also correct. Chinese people have a very low BMI compared to many other countries.
You very seldom see very fat people in China. Unfortunately, this is something that is fading away slowly. Due to several reasons, Chinese kids are now almost as obese as American kids (Source: WSJ.com).
Video: Why are Asians so skinny?
In order to understand WHY Asian people are skinny, the video below contains of great information.
“More and more Chinese perform plastic surgery”
Unfortunately, this is also true.
When I took that plane to Korea, me and my friends were sitting next to two Chinese girls. On the flight back to Shanghai, they had bandages all over their heads as they had just had a big nose job. A lot of Chinese people go abroad to get “fixed” by the absolute best plastic surgeons in the world.
Chinese people also frequently use white cream to have a white skin – in addition to using an umbrella for the SUN more frequently than the rain.
“Chinese like to stick together in big groups when they are abroad”
I’m sure you’ve seen these big Asian tourist groups where everyone wears the same hat? They’re most likely Chinese.
The comfort of traveling among other people with the same culture as you is something most elderly Chinese people prefer. The younger generation is a bit bolder, but grouping together is still something they do a lot.
When I studied at my university in Denmark, you always saw the Chinese students going together – and they would very seldom mingle with people from other nationalities.
So do you now agree that looking into stereotypes is a perfect way of learning more about China and the Chinese people? I also hope it helps you to get a little more interested in the Chinese culture. Believe me: it’s awesome to get to know a culture that’s so extremely different from most cultures in the West!
If you agree or disagree with any of what I wrote: feel free to drop a comment below. I’m very eager to hear your feedback.
Other China related articles
I have written a lot of other articles related to China. You might find some of these interesting: