What are the main cultural differences between China and the USA?
Originally Answered: What are the key cultural differences between US and China?
That's such a huge question to ask that I don't even know what kind of answers you'll get.
I'll give you this answer which in my opinions is a foundational element in Chinese and US culture that are extremely different, and influence many of the other cultural differences. What I'm talking about is what is each culture primarily focused on and what does it value.
The US is a nation of immigrants who left their old countries and comrades behind to build a better life for themselves. As such, regardless of what ethnicity you hail from in the US, there tends to be a significant focus on the individual; in the US there is high value placed on individual achievement and standing out and building something for yourself. This is also why entrepreneurism and small businesses make up a significant portion of the US economy, as striking out on your own to build your own small empire is ingrained in the US psyche. We value and respect men like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg or Warren Buffet even though there were teams of people around those guys that helped make their companies successful.
China is an old nation with a very long history and a very turbulent one, beset by big wars with much death and destruction. As a result China has developed a culture that places value on stable and harmonious society and the social groups an individual finds themselves in above the individual; you see often in Chinese philosophy the concept of a "harmonious society". A harmonious society is seen as good above individual achievement, and individuals are valued in how they take care of their society and help provide stablity. This is seen in the Chinese business concept of guan xi.
Kayee Tong, Dual US/HK passport, proficient in Chinese.
A bit of background for context: I’m a dual citizen of Hong Kong (a SAR of China) and USA that can read, write, and speak Chinese proficiently. I’ve been to tier 1 cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen/Guangzhou (frequently) and do business there. I also had high school in Hong Kong. I think I’m in the perfect position to give my take on this comparison, as I’ve lived both worlds more than long enough for deep dives into both cultures across a spectrum.
Here’s the top 10 things I saw in Chinese society that isn’t generally practiced in the USA:
1.Filial piety and ancestor respects. You don’t usually throw your grandparents in a nursing home, they usually stay in the home and you support them financially. Even though savings rates are much higher, their kids are their pension/retirement fund, not the company. If you see an old homeless woman on the street picking up aluminium cans, it is generally assumed she has no next of kin or “dishonorable” kids.
2.Collectivism. The US is a lot more individualistic in several respects. I won’t get into detail as this one is way too lengthy. Many have already wrote about this.
3.Deference to authority and elder respect. Experts and old people are considered authoritative, often without question.
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4.Extreme importance of education, careers and rankings. If you aren’t educated with good grades, you may be looked down upon. Literally, the most popular guy and gal in my high school class were the highest scoring “nerds”. I was seen as more of a “slacker”, since I routinely barely passed a few classes (the lowest scores are posted for everyone to see as well the highest). Even though I eventually got top scores on the university entrance exams when I got my act together, remnants of the slacker image still floats around with my old classmates.
To give you an idea how different it is, relationships in high school are discouraged in school and there isn’t any prom. I pursued more than one extracurricular which was considered uncommon. I also sold high margin digital items I farmed with bots at the local Internet bar which got me in trouble with the school, since we were not allowed to go there. I wasn’t even doing anything “bad” by American standards! As for parents, they can be very aggressive towards getting the best education for their kids, often at all costs. I’ve seen some even throw tons of money into private schools. Others will get their kids overseas “at all costs”. This seems very impractical to me in some cases.
5.Different views of what is private. Chinese people openly talk about their age, income, and martial status. As mentioned earlier, grades can be disclosed in high schools. This can seem too intrusive to many Americans.
6.The importance of “face”. Some people will buy a Porsche smartphone just because iPhones are not “expensive enough”. Many people will fight over paying an expensive restaurant tab to show off how “rich” they are. Seems idiotic to Americans, but it’s not to Chinese.
7.Early marriage for women is expected. Women are considered literally not figuratively “leftover” at 30 y/o. Families will do more than just nudge a woman in her 20s. When she’s married, they will push her to have children to continue the family line. Surname is put first in your legal name and there is a saying “full of sons in the home”, which shows how important continuation of the family name is.
8.Humility is considered a strong virtue. Achievements are downplayed heavily. It may be considered rude to speak up to your superior. This won’t necessarily help you advance your career in the USA. You need more social skills, reasonable negotiation skills, speak up, and actively ask for more responsibility to advance in the US.
9.The beauty standard for Chinese women is to be “pale-skinned”. Notably, this practice was there even before white people discovered China as it is assumed that tan-skinned women work in the sun and are from lower class. For men, the standard is tall and rich. Overt heightism is particularly notable, as you can sometimes see job listings on newspapers requiring a minimum height even when it has nothing to do with the job. Luckily, I won the genetic lottery on height, but I can tell life can suck for short men who are encumbered financially.
For particularly women, if you are overweight or “a bit extra”, you are going to be body-shamed in public by others, and even your own family. It seems to work as morbid obesity rates are very low even in tier 1 urban cities (which should be considered equivalent to developed countries in their own respect). We only had one overweight kid in our class of 50+ and he was considered an anomaly. (Other classes didn’t have one!) Part of the reason besides the psychological one is people inadvertently walk more, and there are a lot of vegetables in traditional cuisine - more boiled prep, no coke refills, far less sugar in diet and desserts due to general consumer tastes.
10.Laws may be subject to change quickly and are not “hard” rules as they seem. In the US, it’s a lot more “hard” and straightforward when precedents are established. US law is based on UK common law (precedents). Chinese law is essentially a mix of European civil law and old Chinese law.
There are many but here are a few.
Often in China when people eat together there are many dishes and people eat from the same dishes using their chopsticks to move food to a bowl. In America we have our own plate and don’t put our silverware in community food. We use serving spoons.
In China people often eat with their mouth open and make a smacking sound and have no problem slurping up noodles. In America we are taught from a very young age to eat with our mouth closed and not to talk with food in our mouth.
Most people in china go to the market every day and eat fresh food. An example of this is you most often buy your food alive and it is killed there in front of you. This is changing some but still very common. In america we buy food weekly or even monthly and refrigerate it or store it in pantry’s.
In China people like to drink hot water. This is because the water is polluted and if it is hot it most likely has been boiled and you will not get sick from it. In America we most often like cold drinks and do not worry about getting sick from the water. ( I was corrected on this the reason being for hot water is that in Chinese Medicine they believe hot water is good for you and cold water is not) Thanks for the correction.
In China if someone invites you to a restaurant that means they are paying. In America if someone invites you to a restaurant you will most likely pay for your food.
In China old people are very respected and treated well. In America children are more appreciated and old people often neglected.
In China people do not speak directly about many topics. In America we often are direct and to the point.
China is crowded and people often stand very close to each other. In America we like to have some space between us.
In China people will often go several days without bathing or changing their clothes. In America most people bath at least once a day & change their clothes as well.
This is a few of the differences there are many.
Edward Conway, lives in The United States of America (1980-present)
Disclaimer: I haven't been to China, so some of this is based off of what I have heard of China, and interactions with Chinese people.
In the US, the emphasis is placed on the individual as distinct from the group. In manners in the US, it is polite to acknowledge and greet someone, and failing to do so can be viewed as an insult, as a statement that the other person is beneath notice. I've had visitors from China remark how different this is from etiquette in China.
Beyond this, American culture and society idealizes the independent, strong willed, and principled person who makes a loud and firm statement of where they stand. The emphasis is on "This is what I stand for, this is me".
In contrast, China appears to idealize the quiet person who moves behind the scenes, respecting other people, and building a consensus. Great care and energy is spent on building good working relationships, and smoothing over differences.
I would love to hear from others with more experience with China.
There are awfully a lot of those:
1.In China people position themselves differently in the society and the world: they are much more often mere observers, rather then active participants, partly because they feel themselves unimportant, partly because by being a bystander they get a chance to earn more revenue from a situation if they catch a right moment
2.They are not straightforward at all. There are often some hidden meanings in their messages.
3.They never show they are upset. Keeping cool face is very important.
4.They understand colors differently. E.g. red is not a color of attention, it's a color of happiness... And you shall never ever wear a green hat in China
5.They clearly prefer boys to girls as children. May be 1 in 10 Chinese wants to have a baby girl...
6.The traditional Chinese always have to pay for their guests in the restaurants. If you try to pay yourself instead you might offend the inviting party.
There are many more differences...