Tuesday, 28 July 2009

I Suppose I'd Better Give This a Title: Cultural Confusion

Sisters and their pet dog in the market, Shijiazhuang
Reading Esther Garvi’s post about the misconceptions that many people have about Africa, immediately brought to mind some of common misconceptions many foreigners have about China , and the ones I came across talking to my Chinese students and friends.

About China:

1) The biggest misconception has to be the one child policy. Whilst everyone I met in their twenties was an only child, most of my teenage students had one, and occasionally two, siblings. Parents would have to pay a fine, and the child wouldn’t get free education and healthcare , which in any case was more or less nonexistent. The only people that seemed to have to adhere to the policy were soldiers, who would get dismissed if they didn’t.

2) Chinese people don’t like pets. Well, despite pets being described in my Mandarin course book as ‘an unwelcome bourgeois habit’ (want to come round and tell that to my cat?), pets are incredibly popular, and often devotedly cared for. My students told me that most Chinese people treat their pets like children.

3) A whole family living in one room, even if they were reasonably well off. Perhaps 30 years ago, but it doesn’t happen now, at least not in Shijiazhuang, unless you are a migrant family on the bottom few rungs of society.

4) And how can I not mention the dog eating? When I told my senior students that a common image of China is people chowing down on a Chow, there were gasps of horror and I was told in no uncertain terms that it was very cruel to eat dogs, and that it was something only done by the Cantonese.

About the UK:

1) Men don’t wear bowler hats and carry umbrellas.

2) London is not foggy.

3) British people don’t hate Chinese people and think they are ‘less’ than British or white people. I was astounded when I realised that in Shijiazhuang, students are actually taught this. That I clearly didn’t hate my students caused quite a few of them a certain amount of angst as they had to try and process the fact that the reality of what they were experiencing differed considerably from what they had been told and unconditionally accepted.

I did have to agree that we British are obsessed with talking about the weather though!

I also made friends with various people who served in the military in various Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries, which made me realise what an absolute crock of shite the media peddles about non Western countries.


  1. sweet shot of the girls and their darling pup.
    and so enjoyed your post.

  2. Very interesting, and a great photo . I was guilty of some of the misconceptions you mentioned, particularly the 1 child family. Good to hear it's not true.

  3. Thanks so much for debunking myths, J.

  4. I too thought the one child policy was the norm, I was quite surprised to see families with two children and hear my students talking about their brothers and sisters at first!

  5. What a brilliant post. I thought Chinese could only have one child too. We have found a lot of misconceptions about Americans as we have traveled around the world so try to be good ambassadors.

  6. Great post... and I love that sweet picture!

  7. I'm also one who thought the Chinese government was still enforcing the one-child-per-family policy. I first heard of that policy in the 1980s, and hadn't heard that it wasn't being enforced much at all any more. Thanks for enlightening me!

  8. I think it probably depends on which part of China you live in too...