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Things I’ve learned about China

At an end? I don’t prefer to think of it that way. It’s a time of transition. A time of change. A good time for some reflection.


After two years of living in China I feel like I’ve got a pretty strong grasp on the major differences between the states and China. There are lots of things that come to mind, but there’s one key idea that I feel is most important. Americans are individuals first and foremost. Chinese are part of a collective first and foremost. Yes, a giant broad generalization, but it’s the major underlying difference that’s behind everything else. We talk a strong game in the states, but when it comes time to do what’s best for society Americans will hold onto what’s theirs with a death grip. Watch the TV show Yellowstone and think about that. People here are generally fine with having a bit less if it means that society as a whole has more. Its communism. Go figure.



In China they have a shared experience that’s different than in the states. Participation in holidays and rituals here in China is shared by everyone. People don’t opt out. The combination of no diversity and a shared history leads to a collective experience that we don’t have in the states. In China they all participate in Tomb Sweeping Day. They all have traditions they observe for Chinese New Year. They all celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival. There’s a sort of group think here in China that’s very different than the states. Americans pride themselves on their uniqueness. Chinese citizens find comfort in the shared experience of an entire nation. This comes from Confucius; a strong sense of family, a deep respect for heirarchy, and an appreciation for harmony over conflict.



On the surface there are a few things that visitors notice right away.


  • In the large cities the streets are clean and safe.

  • Homelessness isn’t a thing here.

  • There are electric cars all over the place.

  • The polution is nowhere near as bad as reports. I believe this has changed significantly in the last few years.

  • There are cameras everywhere.

  • Transportation is cheap, clean, and convenient.

  • Your cell phone is super important. This is largely a cashless society. Money is exchanged using apps on your phone and QR codes.

  • Just like homelessness, crime isn’t a thing here. Packages are delivered and left oustide for pick up all the time.

  • There are crowds of people here like I’ve never thought possible. The sardine feeling is real.

  • The architecture and lighting in Chinese cities is awesome. Most of the large buildings are giant works of art.

  • The Chinese take great pride in their history. The four great inventions (paper, printing, gunpowder, and compass) are mentioned often. 4000 years of recorded history. That’s sixteen times more than we have in the states.

  • There’s some great food, and some scary food. Scary? Yeah, I’m never getting used to seeing my food looking back at me. If you’re getting some form of meat, there’s a good chance the head is coming with it. :puke: Actually, I’ve really enjoyed the food. My favorites here have been the duck and lamb, but there’s no way I’m eating chicken feet.

  • Chinese society doesn’t have hang ups about alcohol. The kids will drink a little and get in trouble, but they don’t have the puritanical stigma associated with it.

  • If there’s an illegal drug trade in China, it’s rare and invisible.

  • Holidays here all revolve around the lunar calendar.


I can’t make the argument that one place is better than the other. There’s an apples and oranges dynamic here. The different histories, populations, and diversities make it unfair to really compare. For instance, China spent 100 solid years being raped** by other countries. In china they refer to this as the “Century of Humiliation”. It plays a big part their self identity as a nation. The older generations here have seen some seriously bad times; extreme famine, civil war, and utter destruction at the hands of Japan. Stuff Americans haven’t had to deal with in their lifetimes.


** I don’t use this term loosely. The Dutch East India Company, the Opium Wars, and the Japanese invasion in the 1930s. If you want to have a good cry learn more about what China has gone through. It’s pretty ugly. The more you learn about it the easier it is to see why China as a nation keeps every other nation at arms length. They’ve been conditioned.



I’ve loved learning about a new country and a new culture. I walked into this adventure having a strong bias that people are just people. They aren’t good or bad. We are all born tabla rasa waiting to be imprinted with experiences. Nothing during my time here has dissuaded me in this line of thinking. I’ve seen Chinese people display rudeness and arrogance. I’ve seen kindness and humility. Just people being people responding to their own personal experience. I find that if I do my best to give people I meet a positive and happy experience I tend to receive the like in kind.


Next up? What I’ve learned about me.

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Such an awesome experience for you! Wishing you you a “just right” transition and year at MHS—hopefully sans smartphones.

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Thanks, Paige. Appreciate you always and thanks for following my adventure. :)

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