Culture consists of “the shared ways in which groups of people understand and interpret the world.”– Fons Trompenaars from Riding the Waves of Culture
Here we share a basic overview of China’s rich history and some of the cultural values that it is helpful to know if you plan to live in China, work with Chinese colleagues or delve into the Chinese language.
Chinese Culture’s Deep Historical Roots
The “Middle Kingdom” has deep roots with over 4,000 years of civilization and a strong sense of history. In the past, it was ruled by a dynastic political system and there was great diversity in the regions, with many spoken dialects (though unified under one written language) and specific cultural practices.
Did you know that even today there are still many different dialects spoken (Cantonese, Shanghainese, etc. and many local variations within the major groups) along with all the separate languages spoken by different minority groups in China?
The dynastic system declined and the modern era is sometimes termed “a period of humiliation”. This time period includes: the first opium war with Britain (1842) and period of Western imperialism; the Taiping Rebellion (1850); fall of the Qing Dynasty (1911); KMT unification under Chiang Kaishek (1928); the Japanese invasion (1931); Civil War (1945). In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was formed, but of course more challenges would come, such as the Cultural Revolution in the mid 1960s.
Modern Chinese History and Today’s Landscape
The period of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” began in the late 1970s as led by Deng Xiaoping. During this period, China experienced three decades of 10%+ growth via its planned economy and an increasing dependence on foreign investment/exports. Some of the challenges have included corruption and growing regional/socioeconomic inequality. Today’s Chinese population is not only diverse in ethnicity and socioeconomic levels, but there are also distinct cohorts. Those in their 50s and 60s today come from the time of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese in their 30s-40s grew up under this period of Reform and Opening and the younger generations have experienced rapid change, increasing Western influence and technology as part of their everyday lives.
Today, China faces numerous opportunities and challenges. Some of the challenges and unresolved issues include political stability, economic disparities, rural/urban divide and migration, corruption, environmental degradation, population issues (family planning policy and needs of a growing aging population), regional concerns (Tibet, Xinjiang) and Asian/world relationships.
These are all issues that you might find interesting to learn more about along with your study of Chinese language, as it gives a unique perspective and perhaps deeper understanding of today’s China. Our Miracle Mandarin teachers love sharing cultural and current events information along with teaching you language, so you have a rich learning experience.
Core Chinese Cultural Values
• Confucianism: the social, moral and political underpinning of Chinese society which is based on the need to maintain order; roles, ritual and protocol; responsibilities of individuals to each other; filial piety and personal loyalty; harmony; meritocracy; hierarchy; relationships (“guanxi”); group orientation.
• The concept of Face is related to these values of Confucianism. Face forms the basis of a person’s prestige and social status; it is a “public persona”.
So, saving face means preventing embarrassment, avoiding conflict, agreeing to compromises. Losing Face is to cause embarrassment, criticize others, or have weaknesses exposed in public. Giving Face entails showing proper respect, treating people according to title or seniority, giving compliments.
Some of the important behavioral implications of this include: concern for “public persona”, deference based on hierarchy, saying the “appropriate” thing, behaving according to position, the use of compliments, saying “no” indirectly, clarification by context/nonverbal cues, and criticism in private.
Related to “face”, credibility is established by delivering what is promised, allowing time for social interaction and personal connections and giving/saving face. Face may be more important than truth.
• “Gaunxi”/relationships are the building block of society. This defines boundaries (there’s a distinct in-group/out-group) and implies obligation. Relationships are calculated and there is a blurring of personal and professional. Trust and relationships are fundamental to being effective in China.
This is simply a brief overview of a long history and deep culture; the subtle ways culture manifests are highly situational. Culture and language are so intertwined, so understanding more about the history and values when learning a new language can deepen your understanding. We will share more on this blog about specific aspects of culture and language so make sure to check back or follow us on social media to learn more.
Miracle Mandarin offers cross-cultural training, for individuals and groups in China (or via our online learning program). These programs help foreigners doing business in China, companies working with Chinese partners and anyone moving to or traveling in China. Our Cultural Training experts can tailor a program to meet your organization’s needs.
“Every country has its way of saying things. The importance is that which lies behind people’s words.”- Freya Stark