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Getting to know China and the Chinese

Updated on March 4, 2014

China in the past and now

Officially, China is called " The United Republic of China" and it is the most densely-populated country in the world.

Historically speaking, China has one of the oldest civilisations/dynasties in the world with a history dating back to many centuries. In the 19th century, important discoveries have been done in both science and techology such as the paper printing, the compass and gun powder.

The Chinese wall
The famous Chinese wall was also built in this century and the wall stretches out up to 4000 miles long. Up until this day it draws thousands of visitors a day. Climbing the wall is not for the faint at heart (especially on a hot day) as it takes long and it is quite a climb, but the view is amazing. Luckily for the faint at heart: they are building a cable cart to take you to the top aswell.

After a long period of take-overs and civil wars, government was taken over by Mao in 1949. With Mao as president, China became a communistic republic.

Modern day China
The China we know now shows eminent signs of the past in both bulture as in appearance, but at the same time you will see a developed and modern country aswell. Just notice the big expensive shopping malls next to the traditionally build Chinese buildings and small restaurants. You could easily compare the bigger cities with those in the western countries, but in the country side you can still clearly see the differences between rich and poor.

The Chinese language

The main language in China is as you would expect Chinese. There are however varieties in the language both in speaking and writing and often so difficult that they cannot understand each other, even though they are both speaking Chinese. The biggest part of China speaks Mandarin and in Hong Kong they speak Cantonese. Apart from that there are many regional dialects spoken aswell. It is said that you could learn to speak an adequate level of Chinese with an intensive study in about 1 to 2 years. Writing the language, however, will take you three times as long.

Chinese characters
The Chinese language does not have letters (as in western countries) but it has characters instead. These characters are the more developed version of the ancient hieroglyphs and every character has a certain meaning or part of a meaning. There are over 40.000 characters, but even a highly educated person could “only” recognize (and perhaps write) 6.000 characters. You will need to recognize around 3.000 characters to read a newspaper.

Zodiac signs

The Chinese calendar and New Year celebrations

The Chinese calendar does not have months, like the western calendar, nor does the year there end in December. The Chinese assign a certain animal (e.g. horse, rabbit, pig, rat, etc.) to a certain year. Your sign in this case would then be dependent on the year that you are born.
To give you a few examples see the pictures on the right side for an overview.

The New Year celebration
The most important and festive day for the Chinese is the New Years celebration. The New Year in China is depending on the lunar cycle and generally takes place round end of January/beginning of February. The night before the family will reunite (often coming from far) and have an extensive meal together. A lot of attention and effort is put in preparing this meal. At midnight you will hear lots of noisy fireworks, as they believe that this noise will chase away the evil spirits. The next morning children will go to their parents and grandparents to wish them a happy and healthy New Year. They will then receive a red small envelope with some money in there. The colour red brings luck and fortune in the Chinese culture.

Chinese Food

Each region in China has its own specialities. In the middle and in the west of China the dishes are warm and often spicy. In the south and in the north the dishes are also served cold and are milder of taste. The dining tables ar most often round (especially in restaurants). The reason for this is that this way you have a good overview of your dining guests and you can equally engage in conversation.

Chopsticks and habits
Don’t be surprised if you do not find any cutlery on the table. Instead you will find chopsticks, which is the only cutlery Chinese use for eating. Eating with chopsticks takes some skill, so if you plan to go to China it does not hurt to start practicing beforehand. In the bigger cities and restaurants you might be lucky when asking for cutlery and they will have it. In smaller restaurants and in the smaller cities you will often not be that lucky. The host of the dinner will order several dishes which will be placed in the middle of the table. You can then take a bit and put it in your bowl. Don’t be greedy and take too much, this is seen as impolite. If you are invited to a dinner, it can also happen that the host will be the one serving you the food. Therefore politely wait until you are told to take food or until the host serves you the food. A dinner invitation is seen as an expression of politeness and hospitability. Also, in China it is considered normal to slurp your food and spit out any excess bones or seeds on to a plate.

Culture and character

There are a number of things yu should know about the chinese; what they think, feel and how they interact with other people.

For the Chinese, status and respect is very important and it will reflect in every aspect in their lives. It is important for them to treat other persons, whether they are friends, family, co-workers, boss or even strangers with respect, so they are respectful to them. This means also that losing face and honor to any other person is a great insult. Therefore, be very careful that you do not disrespect or make fun of them in front of other people which causes them to lose face, even if they do not know that person. .

Important events and how to behave
An example of showing respect and show off status is shown in the case of important events, such as weddings, receptions, birthdays and funerals. In these events a lot of money and attention is spent in presents, the organization and making things comfortable for guests. If a gift is given, the receiver will make sure to top that gift when it is his/her turn to give a gift.

An important sign of status is not only showing your wealth by wearing brand clothing, but also having good relationships with family, friends and especially co-workers and your boss. You will find many big shopping malls that sell brand clothing. It is quite common to invite your boss or important co-workers to any events that you organize (such as weddings, receptions, etc. ), this shows respect towards your boss / co-workers and improves the relationship (and status). Know that most business is done during dinner and a drink after work rather than at work to improve networks and relationships that are work or career related.

For Chinese it is quite common to ask personal questions when you first meet someone. They could be questions such as your age, education or income. Don’t be shocked when they do so. Between friends and family you never have to say “thank you”, as you are always thankful to one and another without actually having to say it. It shows again the respect between them. Silence in a conversation is not seen as a weakness or something negative, because often that what you don’t say is much more important than what you do say. In an official meeting only the important people will speak, which also means that all questions should be reffered to these persons aswell.

Taking all this into consideration, you will be able to understand the Chinese and their surroundings a bit, which is useful to make friendships, relationships and good business meetings.

10 minutes about China

Travelling to China? You will need this one!


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