So, are Chinese people boring, or what?

The photos are unedited images taken right near where I live in the early evening. The quality is the internet’s fault, not mine. Blame the internet.
Despite the borderline prosecutable title, this post is addressing a serious point about how Chinese people and westerners interact. This is me using my prodigious lack of tact for the greater good. Quite simply, I used to think Chinese people were boring, then I realised that they aren’t. I’m sure that many Brits have made the first stage and not progressed to the second, so I’m going to stick my oar in and waggle it about.
Going back to when I first arrived in China, years ago, I was struck by how people didn’t tell many jokes or try to be funny, or tell jokes that were funny, or have involved facial expressions or hobbies. Anyone who wants to argue is cordially invited to tell me why 90% of Chinese students at my university had no local friends and why I had a Chinese guy asked me if it’s true that British people are racist towards Chinese people. Or you can tell me who your favourite Chinese comedian is, or tell me why Chinatowns have always existed. We take it for granted, but Indian migrants have never felt the same compulsion to congregate like that. A bit of shared culture goes a long way, and unlike Chinese, English and Indian languages have a shared origin. My big point here is that Chinese people speaking English were boring. I didn’t understand Chinese at that point, so was in the dark.

The Chinese language is so different from ours that it has no word for ‘the’ or ‘yes’ or the number ‘one million’ and also has no tenses or varying word endings whatsoever. Could you be funny in Chinese? I can only do it with very simple puns and word play, and more often slapstick. You know how if you need to explain a joke, it’s better just to give up? Translation has a more corrosive effect on a joke than explanation. Sometimes you’ll say “I can imagine that would’ve been very funny if I’d understood” like Dr Spok. Some Chinese jokes depend on words having the same tone, but a different syllable. Is that a pun? I don’t know what you’d call it. They can be very funny, but someone who uses them a lot in conversation is gonna sound sharp talking to Chinese people and be mute when they’re in the middle of some English pub banter.
I’ve met lots of funny people here more recently as I’m able to communicate better, and people seem to be getting better at having fun as they get wealthier. It’s only just occurred to millionaires here to get yachts, and only ten years ago no one but foreigners was even buying hiking gear. Chinese people were a little mystified as to why you’d want to go and scramble around on rocks and sleep outside. They were too busy working and trying to get further out of the countryside. Supposedly people in Britain fell in love with the countryside off the back of landscape painters like Constable, and before that it was just seen as dirty and backwards. I’d believe that based on what you see here.
People are doing all sorts of creative and cool stuff now. One guy was a lowly restaurant cook and he’d just ridden his bike (not motorbike) from Shanghai to Guangzhou. It took him a month. Respect! Other people I know have posted their bikes to a tropical island (Hainan) and then driven there and ridden a lap around the island, camping out.
People also have a lot of humour and spend  lot of time telling jokes and laughing and smiling. The sterotypical po-faced Chinese person does exist, but they are typically people who’ve grown up in a rough place or a harder time, when you couldn’t afford to clown around. People here often carry big weights around on their shoulders. Parents who need financial support, needing to buy a house so they can get married despite ever-increasing prices. It’s not easy. You don’t meet many people here who will make a fuss about not wanting to do something fun with their friends. Someone wants to go swimming? Let’ go. Someone wants to go to a movie? Okay, let’s go, and we’ll have fun. And they do. Put some music on? Okay, let’s do it. And no one will complain about the choice of music. They just have fun. Some of my Chinese friends are always texting jokes to each other and forwarding emails that they think are funny. They often aren’t, but that’s universal, isn’t it?
Last summer I went rafting out in Guangdong, and it was very good fun. Developers had built a mountain road (blasted out of the mountain side) more than ten miles long, just so that they could put in a visitors’ centre next to a river and charge people to white water raft down it. Boring? No. It was two people to a raft, and some parts of the trip down had almost two metre vertical drops. At a couple of points the stream was chanelled into a very narrow space to make the water faster, and one part even had a twenty metre long slide put in, made of concrete. It looked like the exit ramp from a multi-storey car park, except that it didn’t reach the bottom and you fell off the end. There’s added excitement to this because you don’t entirely trust things to be safe here, and the scenery was rainforest with some creepers and a lot of greenery. What more can you ask for than a potentially deadly raft-ride through a rainforest? We also had thunder and lightening and pouring rain for the later part of the run down, but it was 25c, so we kept warm and could just enjoy the experience. In the end, I thought it was great, and the local that shared the boat told me he hoped it’d be faster.
Robert McNamara (US defense secretary during the Vietnam war) made a documentary called ‘The fog of war’, where he talked about lessons that he’d learned during his career. Number one was about undersdtanding your enemy. The US US didn’t want a communist Vietnam uniting with a communist China. The Vietnamese had history with China and were primarily concerned with independence from Chinese and French interference. I think he said that they interpreted the US as having the same colonial interest that France had. 58,000 Americans and a lot more Vietnamese died over that misunderstanding, and I think that as China becomes an ever-bigger player in the world, this issues of mutual bafflement is gonna come back. There are more than people are aware going on as we speak. Peace out, people.


4 thoughts on “So, are Chinese people boring, or what?

  1. Hmmm.
    I have never ever gotten involved in an internet post before, i don’t care for doing so usually, it’s just not me. But, i have an overwhelming need to express my thoughts to someone who possibly has or has had like minded thoughts, and then get their feedback.

    So please reply and give me more food for thought…

    Me and my girlfriend argue very regularly. She is from a chinese town called 仙桃 and we both live in 武汉。When i am angry with her i perhaps vent some of this anger against Chinese ideas, beliefs, mindsets, habits, traditions and personalities as a whole. Whats more, i know i shouldnt do this, and i do have very many contradictory thoughts, as in good vs. bad thoughts.

    Before i begin with what i would like to say, i will also make it clear to you that, when i first came here 3 and a bkit years ago i rapidly started learning Chinese and during this whole time i fell head over heels in love with China, possibly sensed a few minor things i didnt like, but nothing whatsoever really stuck with me. The excitement and buzz i got from learning Chinese (which lasted for a long time, a year and half or more) only began to subside when i reallised ‘this is life now, i’m not just traveling, but i have a girlfriend who will inevitably become my wife’.

    The last thing i want to say before finally beginning my actual point is, there is a difference between seeing something and having a impusive reaction to it, and to understanding the reason behind something. I understand the reasons or potential reasons behind a lot of these things, but i obviously continue to feel this way.

    So, there are some things i don’t like, and i can break them down into conceptual and ‘things on the face of it’ i guess….

    Face of it…

    1- the hocking a spitting, from resteraunts to public transport
    2- the urinating in public
    3- the littering
    4- the lack of attention payed when driving along
    5- the uncaring/cold attitude shown by some towards animals (i’ve picked up knocked over or injured animals from the side of the road and either taken them to the vet or taken them to the riverside for a peaceful ‘goodbye’)
    6- the barbarity and bluntness towards many things (in the markets they still chop the fish up and shred it’s sclaes of etc while it’s still alive and writhing about in pain)
    7- the bad manners in general
    8- the ‘hellooo’ that people shout to you and thereafter laugh with their friends or girlfriend and expect their girlfriend to love them all the more for being crazy and quirky and shouting hello to the foriegner, or expect their friends to high five and back slap them for being so badass and funny.
    9- the way so many grown people are still scared of dogs and run from them like they are monsters
    10- the way people react to the slightest rain and think that every blinking thing will cause a cold, and a cold would mean the end of the world. ahhhhhhhh! same with clothes, its hot a sunny and people are puzzled as to why you would wear shorts, ‘oh, you’ll get a cold’
    11- the way people talk about you infront of your face but not to you, and comment on the simpilist things “Dog, you have a dog”. (i went to my girlfriends house one time and her dad, her bloody dad, invited me to his room to talk about things, then continued talking about me with someone else, and when i tried to say a word or two, he said, ‘be quiet, you don’t need to talk’

    Conceptual things…

    1- the marriage and house buying thing. love and therefore marriage is such a deliberate and objective thing in china, still. my girlfriends dad (because this is the tradition and ius still how a lot of chinese do things) put money demands down, then time demands down, in a cold and business deal like manner.
    2- the marriage thing where there is a mad rush get it done as early as possible oftne ends, from what i have seen, in marriages that are not seemingly for love but for stability and convieniance; and when the couple get older there is no passion or yearning to be seen whatsoever.
    3- there seems to be a big big almost buisness trade that exists in china for chinese men to go get massages and then sleep with other girls. now this seems to almost exist at a delibeate leve, because there is a big market of customers to cater to, because it seems to be an almost accepted thing that a lot of husbands will do these things behind their wife’s back.
    4- there is much more attention to the house and family here, and putting others before yourself, but this seems to have prevailed at the expense of i.imagination ii. independance iii.variety of life. there seems to be a negative correlation that exists between ‘stability of life’ and ‘excitement and variety in life’. Chinese people on the whole rush head first to get to the situation of marriage,house,baby,car and then once these things are in place, proceed to do nothing of much note and having day to day generaly the same lives untill the end of their lives. my girlfriends mother stayed with us for a few days and it angered me a little because i know full well her and her husband are going to set about pushing and urging and raving about how we need to do so and so (we have already bought a house bcause of her fathers ‘pushing’), but why? she has done all this, yes? what is the result? when she stayed with us she did nothing apart from cook, clean clothes, play farming games on the computer. now i myself have survived a brain tumor and due in part to this reason i value life very much, believe it to be a wonderful and special oppertunity, and when i see people content to do do NOTHING all day, it feels like a laugh at that thing called life which i am so lucky to still have. you had to go through no strife, and how do you show your appreciation? by doing jack all untill the day you die.
    5- there seems to be no realisation of the negative environmental effects of things, mainly cars. This city has terrible traffic problems, horrible pollution. everyday i overtake many many people on their scooters or in their cars (i am riding my bike) and yet they continue to worship the car, cherish it and think everyone must have one, they are brilliant, the more expensive the better, and they are without fault. there is no mind to, oh yes maybe they do have a downside in terms of pollution. if i was harsh and a littlew unfair, i could maybe some this point up with the word ‘iggnorance’.

    i know that actually the Chinese are kind and caring of their neighbours (although there way of expressing this is culturaly different to ours [they never say i love you, but they will probably show it by making you food}), they are very kind and would not hurt anyone, i certainly feel safe here in China. but these things combine, added with the thought that previously i loved China so much, and it makes me want to come out with hateful ‘small minded………..people’ type comments.

    • It’ll take me a while to reply to all of that, but I think the key points are that people living here need to adapt and actively try to find reasons for things and ways to rationalise stuff. Not quite lying to yourself, but finding a reason for things that explains it in a positive light, recognising that there’s always a positive and negative reason for everything. The most basic one is always that everything happens for a reason, stupid or otherwise. Spitting is one example. People here think it’s healthy to spit stuff out, and it’s habit forming. On top of that, I knew foreigners in Beijing that started spitting because the air pollution clogged their sinuses up. It was hard to be judgemental about it after that.

    • Very succinctly expressed! And I agree wholeheartedly with what you’ve said. It’s only because I had a “EX” girlfriend whom was Chinese that I know all of these things you’ve described. I personally cannot stand Chinese people anymore for the exact reasons you’ve described above. I feel an almost violent reaction in my stomach just thinking about it.

      • My point was more that communication between Chinese people and westerners is clumsy and only really takes off when both of you know a good chunk of the others’ language, culture and history. If you have that kind of reaction it just means it isn’t the right place for you. There are a ton of unhappy Chinese people in the west who should never have gone there, and many westerners who’d be happier back home. We have a choice, so people should just come and check it out, and go home if it goes badly. When people ask me how long I’ll stay I tell them I’ll stay until I want to go home. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s