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Some Key Differences between China and the West

These are some of the major psychological differences between people in China and people in the West. Understanding these differences is key if you want to be happy in China.

China The West
Historical Context  
Very populous country. Low/middle population density
Frontiers open but dangerous (northern barbarians) or closed (seas, mountains) Frontier open and ready for exploration/conquest
Need to protect existing land from invasion or natural disaster. Need to create or improve land.
Need for vast armies or project teams. Rush for land, or prosperity, created by initiative of innovative individuals.
Need for hierarchy: armies or project teams must be controlled centrally. Hierarchies get in the way.
Small controlling elite, plus large, undifferentiated peasant/soldier/worker masses - lao bai xing Market society develops: class structure more subtle, with all sorts of people at different levels.
Simple class-based analysis (Mao Zedong Thought) resonated. Simple class-based analysis is ridiculous.
Strong ideology of social harmony. Strong ideology of perpetual progress.
Change seen as cyclical: Yin becomes Yang, reverts back to Yin. Change has a direction.
Authority  
Respect for authority per se. Authority must earn respect, or it is invalid.
Respect for age and experience. Cult of youth.
Teachers are venerable. Teachers are "ladders to be discarded".
Individuality  
Individual is meaningless on their own (the Daoist escape route for loners). Individuality is essential, the point of life. Alternatives are inauthentic, "flight from freedom".
People need protection. Make your own definition and find your own protection.
Family  
Family - Jiaren - is at the heart of your identity. Family of origin can be a burden which needs to be escaped.
Includes extended family. Extended family is broken up and of variable importance.
Family held together by duty. Nuclear family held together by love (until divorce...).
Friendship  
Friendship - zijiren, shuren - second line of defense. Close, long-term, trust-based. Friendship important, but not as important as in China. No clear definition of what 'friendship' is.
Rules of friendship clear. Rules of friendship undefined.
Lifelong exchange of favors (including borrowing or lending money). Exchange of favors unimportant (and sometimes frowned upon, e.g. borrowing money from a friend).
Friendship based on time and 'good maintenance'. Friendship based on affection.
Webs of interconnected people are delicate and must not be disturbed. Rolodexes change frequently, especially Americans.
Conflict  
Strong distaste for personal conflict. Conflict lets off steam.
When there is conflict, it is massive. Small conflicts are routine.
Personal honor or 'face' - guanxi is on the line and will be strongly defended. Personal honor isn't involved in most conflicts.
Conflicts must have a clear winner. A tie or truce is often acceptable.
Character  
Displays of emotion discouraged, denote lack of discipline. Emotional repression regarded as inauthentic, even dishonest.
Expectation that people will read subtle signals. Value of honesty and openness.
It's your fault if you don't interpret me properly. It's my fault if I don't communicate properly.
'Hidden depth' What you see is what you get.
Lin Daiyu. Madonna.
Business Practice  
Trust based. Contract or deal based.
Relationship develops over time. One-off deals are fine.
Negotiations are slow. Reach an agreement ASAP.
Negotiations are formal. Informality is seen as threatening or insincere. Informality is a sign of progress.
Deception is an acceptable part of strategy. Deception is unacceptable, a sign that someone is fundamentally untrustworthy.
Contracts are 'gestures of trust' which remain negotiable. Contracts are a fixed point of certainty.
Time  
Slow - what's a year in a man's life? Fast - Time is money.
Cyclical - rise and fall of dynasties. Progressive - continuous improvement through history.
Lumpy - Zen-Daoist cultivation of special enlightened moments. Atomic - clock time, to be divided as efficiently as possible.
Duty  
Duty to other people, to specific individuals (or at least to individuals in a specific group). Duty to abstract principles.

If you have other insights to add, by all means let me know.

Note:This came from the text of a photocopy of a photocopy… I have no idea where it came from initially. I apologize to the original author, wherever you are.

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