In fact, cultural differences between the West and China are so obvious that you might be surprised or even shocked the first time you come to China.
At the same time, the culture gap is quite expected.
The West and the East (China) are opposite sides of the world, and this is the first reason for their difference.
Historical aspect and ancient philosophies also contribute to cultural differences.
People in Western countries used to move from place to place often and conquer other areas while the Chinese nation lived a calm life within a close-knit community.
Thus, the two worlds have different values and ways of thinking, and you want to know the major ones if you’re a westerner going to live or work in China.
There’s no need to mention obvious things like different cuisines or flatware people use while having a meal in the West and China.
Instead, we’d like to tell you about the differences you might not know about before.
Check out our list below to learn more about cultural differences between the West and China.
Individualism and Collectivism
If you ask us, we would say, these are the two most crucial cultural differences that influence all other dissimilarities you can find between western and eastern cultures.
Individualism is a philosophy that predominates in western countries.
Westerners have always sought chances to stand out of the crowd.
In the western world, an individual is the most important unit in society.
Chinese philosophy is collectivism. A group is something that matters.
Consequently, a family, a class at school, a team at work, and the nation, in general, is what really matters.
It’s almost impossible for an average person to be different in China.
Moreover, Chinese people don’t try to stand out.
Perhaps, family relationships are one of the most obvious cultural differences between the West and China.
Western family is usually a nuclear family that wants to be independent.
As a rule, newlyweds in the Western world tend to live separately from their parents.
What is more, grown-up children also leave parents’ houses as soon as possible.
It’s normal to move to another town or even country to continue education, for example.
When it comes to starting a new family, westerners build an absolutely new unit with their own rules.
It often happens that they disagree with the elder generation and argue a lot.
In Chinese customs and traditions, a family is a strictly hierarchical unit.
Chinese family is an extended family where the oldest members are the most respected ones.
And although it isn’t necessary that all of its members live together, it’s unlikely that junior family members disobey parents and grandparents even if they reside in different places.
Attitude to work
All life spheres in China are highly influenced by its historical development, and work isn’t an exception.
Taking into account the fact that strict hierarchy is the main part of Chinese cultural values, one can imagine what a working process is like.
Junior workers in Chinese companies are supposed to do what seniors ask. That’s it. That’s how Chinese companies work.
What’s interesting, juniors don’t even ask any additional questions since it’s not accepted in China.
Chinese people start to imply this behavioral model when their children go to school.
It’s a common knowledge that there is a strict hierarchy in a Chinese classroom, where a teacher is the main person whose words and orders can’t be objected.
The situation is absolutely different in the West, however.
Although juniors still do the tasks their managers give them, it’s normal to ask questions.
Moreover, in many western companies employees are encouraged to offer improvements to the company’s development.
You can also notice the difference between the working hours in China and Western countries.
In America or Europe, people at office jobs work nine-to-five and usually go home as soon as it’s 5 p.m.
By contrast, Chinese employees can often stay longer at work to show their boss how dedicated to their work they are.
Money and the way of spending it
Money in Chinese culture and traditions is valued differently in comparison with the western countries (not surprising anymore, right?).
Of course, in both cultures, people earn money to satisfy basic needs such as food, housing, and clothes. But what do they do with the money left?
Westerners are likely to save up for journeys abroad and some luxurious possessions like cars.
However, some of them might not save up at all. Instead, they will spend more on everyday needs in order to feel comfortable.
For example, they can use taxis to go to work or have dinner in a restaurant rather than at home.
Westerners are quite a consumer society that tends to live the high life.
Chinese people are more modest. Money gives them a feeling of security and stability.
They are likely to save up some money just in case.
It might seem strange at first, but it is as it is.
People in China don’t mind asking personal questions. A lot of personal questions.
How much do you earn? How much do you save up? Why can’t you quit your job if you don’t like it? These are just a few examples.
In China, people don’t think it’s rude to ask such questions in a big circle of friends.
At the same time, Western people will hardly think about this possibility.
However, there is another example of privacy difference.
By this, we mean personal space. It’s a common thing in the Western world to kiss your friends or even mates on cheeks when you meet them. But not for Chinese people.
It’s quite strange and for some, even unacceptable, to kiss a person who isn’t your spouse or at least girlfriend/boyfriend.
Perhaps, the reason for this is the dense Chinese population.
One has seen a lot of examples of how crowded Chinese public transport can be in movies or elsewhere. It’s quite logical people want to keep distance and ensure some personal space.
Although holidays are common everywhere in the world, they imply different meanings and traditions in every culture.
Of course, every nation celebrates New Year’s Day, Christmas, and National holidays. But are they the same in the West and China?
Actually, the holiday that differs the most is New Year. Although the Chinese have their own Chinese New Year, they do have a holiday on the 1st of January.
However, Chinese New Year is a more important event for them.
It is celebrated in spring and it always has different dates because in Chinese traditions New Year starts on the first day of the first month according to the lunar calendar.
During this holiday, Chinese people have seven days off to see their family and have a good rest.
Once you come to China, you’ll also become a witness of other national holidays such as The Qingming Festival, The Dragon-Boat Festival, and The Moon Festival.
To share a meal…
…or not to share – that is the question.
Just like any cultural difference between the West and China, this one is rooted in the main philosophies of the two worlds.
Westerners are an individualistic society that encourages personal identity whereas Chinese culture focuses on group values.
But what does it have to do with having a meal?
Well, the relation is obvious. When having breakfast/dinner/lunch, Western people have their individual portions while Chinese family or group of friends will share a dish that is placed in the middle of the table.
This is one more thing you can notice when you sit at the table during lunch.
Have you ever heard a Westerner slurping when eating his/her soup? We doubt that.
Making slurping sounds at the table isn’t nice. Behaving this way shows that you lack good manners.
But it’s absolutely different in China. Doing like this when you taste the first course of your meal means the food is very delicious.
By the way, the Chinese have an absolutely different relation to having a meal in general.
While Western people consider having a meal like an everyday need to have the energy to power their body and brain, the Chinese have an eating culture.
Having a meal is an art, and it should be not only delicious but beautiful as well. So Chinese people like spending time eating out and enjoying themselves.
You can notice a tremendous difference once you analyze the way people in the Western world and China express their emotions.
People of Western countries are often cheerful and open-minded. They make friends easily, they feel no timidity when talking to foreigners. They are sociable and willing to extend their circle of mates.
In contrast to Westerners, Chinese people usually trust their closest people like family and friends.
Thus, they are likely to keep their distance from someone new or someone they don’t know well.
With that said, Westerners feel free to express their emotions, be it joy or sadness, in front of other people while Chinese people hide their emotions and don’t let them out.
However, there are always exceptions. You can meet a closed American or European as well as an outgoing Chinese, and it’s normal.
Who doesn’t like it when other people praise him/her and point out some outstanding qualities a person possess?
Well, there are people who aren’t used to taking compliments easily.
Have you guessed who these people are? Yes, they are the Chinese.
Taking into account the things we’ve already mentioned about Chinese privacy, personal space, and the way of expressing emotions, it becomes clear why it is difficult for Chinese people to accept compliments.
Chinese philosophy is more focused on group values rather than personal ones.
That’s why it’s unacceptable for Chinese people to stand out of the crowd. However, they perceive the individuality of others easily and can even compliment others.
As for the Western people, paying and taking compliments is a usual part of their daily life.
Although this difference between Chinese and Western culture is obvious, we still feel the need to say a couple of words about this aspect.
Since language is the most important means of communication, you want to be aware of what to expect when you speak to (or are going to teach) Chinese people.
English and Chinese belong to different language families so the differences are fundamental. The most obvious ones are the following:
- The English language has an alphabet while the Chinese use graphic symbols to express their thoughts in writing.
- In English, you can find a separate definition for every word while in Chinese, they use notions. Thus, it might be a real challenge to translate something from one language to another without the loss of meaning.
- The phonetic system varies, too. Chinese don’t use some sounds in their speech. As a result, they often face difficulties when it comes to pronouncing words that include [ð], [r], or final consonants in words.
These are just a few differences. There are much more concerning verbs, tenses, intonations, vocabulary, etc.
In China, all relations, including business ones, highly depend on socializing.
If you come to the country for a business trip in order to sign a contract or something, be ready to spend some time in an informal atmosphere.
Chinese businessmen need to find out about you as much as possible before moving directly to the business.
The situation in the US, for example, is completely different. Americans go straight to business.
There might be a couple of business dinners planned, but only as a part of business traditions.
The way people negotiate differs a lot, too. In the USA offers and decisions are stated clearly. ‘Yes’ means ‘yes’, ‘no’ means ‘no’, and ‘3000$’ mean ‘3000$’.
Thus, western people come to negotiations to discuss the main points and get the result right away.
In China, negotiators come to business meetings to negotiate.
They always wait for this chance and are happy when they manage to bring down the price offered by another side or win more beneficial conditions.
By the way, negotiations are an important part of everyday life, too. For example, it’s normal to negotiate rent price when you’re in China.
Keep these cultural differences between the West and China when you plan a business meeting.
Although neither Western nor Chinese societies have a distinct separation between social layers (in comparison with India, for example), there are always the poor, the rich, and the average.
How do people feel about this unspoken division?
The Chinese are the ones who stay on the definite level of social ladder for a long time.
The poor and the rich, or even the average and the rich, are unlikely to meet in the same place.
However, Chinese people have a strong will to improve their lives. That’s why they try hard to break the cycle and move higher on the social ladder.
Westerners don’t care much.
They are where they are, and more often than not, it’s OK for them.
At the same time, open-minded western society gives a lot of chances for those who want to change something.
A person can be a great IT consultant in a company, move up the top of his/her career ladder, decide he/she wants more, and change the company to the one with better conditions, including salary.
Thus, step by step, it’s possible to move between social strata in the West while Chinese people should work hard for centuries so that one family can get a better status.
Attitude to education
Attitude to education in China is determined by the desire of Chinese people to become better.
From the very first days at school, children are told that education is extremely important.
Parents demand them to study hard in order not to ‘lose face’ that is unacceptable for a Chinese person.
The older schoolchildren are, the more pressure they feel.
The thing is that at the end of school, they pass a very difficult exam that can’t be failed. Otherwise, it’s a shame not only for a student but for all his/her family.
The attitude to education is a great deal more laid-back in western countries.
Marks at school don’t always determine human fate. An extremely talented or skillful person can build a great career even if he/she didn’t study well enough at school.
And of course, you’ll never hear a Chinese parent offering his/her child to miss school in order to spend a day together, as it can happen somewhere in the West.
The last but not the least cultural difference between the West and China we’d like to mention is readiness for new.
You wouldn’t be surprised if we say that Western countries are more open-minded than China.
One can see it on the example of giving more rights to people as well as accepting any technological and cultural innovations.
For example, people in the West are more understanding when it comes to same-sex marriage.
They are also open to mostly any information content until it threatens national security.
As for China, it is more conservative and closed. Although Chinese people are making huge steps towards learning new cultures, they are still cautious in relation to numerous spheres.
By this, we mean they’re ready to exchange cultural experience and broaden the horizons by inviting Western ESL teachers to China.
However, they have plenty of restrictions as for media content. Thus, you even aren’t able to use Facebook or YouTube in China.
Here’s what foreigners say about cultural differences between the Western and Chinese cultures:
And what do you think of the differences between the West and China? Share in comments!