The life of a Chinese
Confucius asked the Chinese to try their best to make full contributions to their family and the state; Taoists told the Chinese to let it be; and Buddhist preached that the life is recycling process. Influenced by Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, many Chinese people like to believe that life is a recycling process and this process can be highlighted on two occasions: wedding and, especially in the old times, succeeding in the official examinations. In case of failure, people comfort themselves by believing that it is their fate. So the following occasions are supposed to be important to a Chinese during his or her life and after death.
Birth ---The moment of birth is thought to be an important time for an individual's life span, as it is fixed by heaven. Traditionally the Chinese people believed that the particular combination of Heavenly Stems (Tian Gan) and Earthly Branhes (Di Zhi) that define the year, month, day and hour of birth formed the Eight Cyclical Characters of the newly born baby. These Eight Characters determine a baby's fate and the f ate was immutable. But optimistically enough, the Chinese also believed that the time of birth was not the only factor influencing the course of a person's life. Some other things such as right partner for marriage, right time for opening a business, right place for family's graveyard and things like this an individual could control would benefit a person by the way of chance. Chance is variable. A good example is that if a person was born in a poor family, people say, his fate may not be good. But if he knew how to arrange things mentioned above, he could succeed in society through his effort. In this sense we can see Confucianism and Taoism go hand in hand influencing the attitude of the Chinese towards life. Although many people nowadays think that this belief is not scientific, yet parents still care about the baby's time of birth and the hospitals provide special gifts for the babies and the parents, the coins on which the babies' birth data are carved. The Chinese give each year a name of an animal, which is called Zodiac animal year. Being one of the main elements of a person's Eight Cyclical Characters, there are twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac. Every Chinese has his or her zodiac animal name among rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. According to statistics, in China the birth rate of the dragon year in 1989 and 1991 were the highest compared with the other animal years because many people still hold the old belief that the dragon year will be the good year for the baby's promising future.
The Third Day after Birth ---The third day after birth is the announcement day of the new life. The family will give boiled eggs colored in red when they report the baby's coming to the relatives around for good luck. If it is a baby boy, the number of the eggs is odd; if it is a baby girl, the number is even. In a few places, the parents bathe the baby and give it a formal name as well.
One Full Month Ceremony ---One full month ceremony is a celebration one month after the birth of the child. On that day relatives and friends are supposed to come with gifts for congratulations. The new mother has finished her Mother's Month off, too. The family people bathe the infant for blessing. After bathing the infant, people shave its head and in some places collect its hair. Now in many cities it is a good business to make writing brush with infant-hair for the parent to keep for memory. On that day ¡°Full Month Banquet¡± is held to celebrate the infant's fitness.
100 th -Day Celebration ---100 th -day celebration is a ceremony to bless the infant to be fit and strong 100 days after the birth. Some people choose the 99 th day after the birth for the lucky figure of double nine. The relatives and friends get together for a dinner, and gifts like sliver or gold decorations around the neck and wrinkles are given to the infant for best wishes, especially in rural areas.
One Full Year Ceremony ---One full year ceremony is called the second birthday, as the child is said to have reached a ¡°full year¡±. The relatives and friends come over to get together to dinner for celebration. And in a couple of places, the family enjoys the test of the infant's inclination. The family prepare a lot of things on the table such as books, pens, needles and threads, official documents and papers, fruits and candies, lipsticks and so on and so forth. The infant is put in the middle of the table. All the people are eager to see which object the infant grabs first. This is a folk practice to predict a child's temperament, inclination and prospects. If it is a baby boy, the parent is embarrassed to see it grab the lipstick first because lipstick is meant for the lady. Books and pens are supposed to be the best to choose by the baby.
After one full year, or longer, the child is usually taken care of by its grandparents either on its mother's side or on its father's side, and would be taken care of by the kindergarten whenever necessary, usually after the kid is over one or two years of age.
Birthdays ---Birthdays are celebrated, although city dwellers do so more frequently than their country cousins, and children and old people more than young and middle-aged people. No special ceremony is occasioned by a birthday. Many people like to eat ¡°longevity noodles¡±, symbol of long life inspired by the noodle's shape. Nowadays, many city dwellers choose to eat Western-style birthday cakes instead of noodles.
Nine Years with Compulsory Education ---after being taken are of by its grandparents or the kindergarten, at the age of six or seven, the child goes to primary school for education for 6 years which lays some knowledge foundation for the growth of the kids. In China , all the kids are supposed to have nine years of compulsory education. In most urban areas, pupils spend six years, for primary schooling and move on to middle school to study for three years; and in most rural places, pupils have five years in primary schools and four years in middle schools.
Three Years in Senior High School ---Three years in senior high school starts at the age of 15 or 16 for the teenager. It is not that every kid has this opportunity, but those with good examination results and those with less family burden. Some children fail in the entrance examination, failing to go to senior high school, but some of them could choose to go to vocational high schools for further education. High school education is not yet compulsory education in China at the moment.
Two, Three, Four or Five Years in College or University ---Two, three, four or five years in college or university is an opportunity for further education for graduates from senior high school if he or she is successful in the national college entrance examination. Those who fail in the examinations have opportunities for a two or three year program of vocational education in universities or colleges or vocational colleges. Some students who have an economic backup can have a chance to go abroad for further study. The number of Chinese overseas students now is one of the biggest compared with that of other countries in the world.
Taking a Job ---Taking a job is a landmark of every Chinese individual. In urban areas, most of those who fail in the examination for senior high school can go to technique school at the age of 15 or 16. In rural areas, some of the failed students help parents in farming or may migrate to the urban area, joining the labor force there, especially in recent years. Considering the fact that the illiterate rate of the whole population now is around 7% in China , the quality of the Chinese work force is not so satisfactory. Those who fail in the examination of college or university enter into the work force at the age of around 18. A college or university students enter into the work force around the age from 20 to 22. The work force aged from 15 to 64 is about 72% of the whole Chinese population.
Marriage ---Marriage is a happy occasion. According to the Marriage Law, the minimum legal age of marriage is 20 for the female and 22 for the male, and they should register marriage at the marriage registration office. At present, the average age for marriage is from 20 to 25. A wedding ceremony is not a necessary legal procedure for marriage, but only a way for congratulation and best wishes. Generally speaking, those who live in the rural areas marry earlier and those who do not have higher education marry earlier as well. There is a tendency among the educated to marry late, or, in some cases, keep single. The newlyweds will offer ¡°wedding candies¡± to their colleagues and friends. In return, their colleagues and friends will present the newlyweds with gifts. As the attitude towards the marriage of the young people changes, the attitude towards divorce also changes. In the year 1980, the divorce rate was only 0.7%, but now the rate is about 2%.
The Age of Thirty ¡ªThe Chinese think that it is time to establish one's career, especially for a man, at the age of 30, and that is a Confucian idea. If he could not have a regular job at the age of 30, he is thought to be an anxiety for all the family members, especially the parents. In that case, there will be few parents who would like to marry their daughter to him. So there is a strong competition for the young people to hold positions.
The Age of Forty ---The age of 40 is thought to be the age of full confidence and handling things confidently according to Confucius. Especially for a man, he must play some role in his work; otherwise he can not be considered a successful man. It is not an easy time for the people aged forty, because they have a heavier burden in the work and in family life as well. They have to take care of their aged parents, their young children and their younger sisters and brothers while they work and struggle for career and success. And at the same time, it is still harder to keep on holding the position they have obtained. The people most burdened in China are those aged around forty.
The Age of Fifty ---The age of 50 is said to be the age of knowing fate. Influenced by Confucian ideas, most Chinese people accept the condition they have reached in their life whether good or bad. That may be the reason that Taoism has a chance to come into being. It is a comfort for those who have tried but failed to have a peaceful feeling believing in ¡°let it be¡± philosophy. In China , the age of retirement is fifty for the female and fifty-five for the male if they work in the enterprises or business field. The female working in the public institution retires at the age of fifty-five, and the male at the age of sixty.
The Age of Sixty ---The age of 60 is the age for people to accept and forgive everything around, according to Confucius. Influenced by Confucius, most people are happy with what they have. Now, the number of the people at the age of 65 is about 7% of the whole population. China is entering an aged society.
The Age of Seventy ---The age of 70, according to Confucius, is supposed to be a free age for people to do whatever they like and not to break social rules. After so many ups and downs in society, the people aged 70 have experienced a lot and realized the truth of life. So they would enjoy the rest of their life with a free mind, but they will not do anything wrong because their behavior has been already fixed by long years of social rules and practices. The image of a respectful elder person is that of kindness, peacefulness and wisdom. At the moment, the average life expectancy for women is 73 and 69 for men. China is a country where seniors are always respected.
Funeral Ceremony ---Funeral ceremonies vary in China . Usually, a memorial ceremony is held to pay last respects to the deceased and allow the living to express their grief. Cremation is the rule I cities, and interment in rural areas. White is the traditional color of mourning, but city people nowadays usually wear black gauze armbands for mourning.
The funeral in China is considered a very important occasion. It is called happy death if one is over 70 years of age at death. And for the Buddhists, life is a recycling process. Death is also a start for another life cycle. In real practice, there seems to have been two understandings about life after death. One holds that the deceased be dressed in clothes made of 100% pure natural material, such as cotton or linen, to help the deceased to come back to this world in the next life by transmigration easily. The other holds that the family prepares a lot of material things for the deceased to have a good life in the underworld. All the things are made of paper to copy the real world material such as color TV, house, cell phone, and even paper-made ¡°golden boy¡± and ¡°jade girl¡± at service in the underworld. In rural areas, this practice is common and sometimes paper-made luxury car and paper money in imitation are prepared for the deceased.
The funeral has become a more and more money-spending occasion in the rural area. Even though there is the encouragement of the government for all the deceased to be burnt, the ashes of some deceased are buried again at a home graveyard in the rural area. In the urban area, the ashes of the deceased are put in a special building provided by the government for a small fee. But now public graveyards with high fees are provided. It is a false belief that the more money the family spend on the deceased, the more respect and deeper mourning the family shows to the deceased.
Dos and Don'ts in Chinese Society
As many other countries, China has her own customary practices in social life and the business world. The Chinese have some taboos in doing things, too. But great changes have taken place since the reform from 1978 and dynamic China shows her difference and uniqueness to the outside world. We just put some points here for foreign friends' attention and for their reference in communications with the Chinese people. But we remind you of having these remarks in mind when communicating with people from another culture: ¡° That's not right, that's not wrong, that's just different! ¡±
Meeting with Chinese people
As many other countries, China has her own customary practices in social life and the business world. The Chinese have some taboos in doing things, too. But great changes have taken place since the reform from 1978 and dynamic China shows her difference and uniqueness to the outside world. It is important thing for peoples form different cultures to meet each other, which creates foundations for understanding and mutual understanding. In China , it is common to extend right hand to shake hands with people when being introduced, but being a male, wait for the woman to extend hand first. It is considered awkward to hold a woman's hand long and strong or cover a woman's hand with two hands.
It is a common practice to offer business card while meeting people for the first time, especially meeting people for official or business purposes. Therefore, you had better prepare some name cards for yourself when coming to China . When you hand over your card to others, you had better present it with both of you hands, holding the two corners of the card in a position that the receiver can easily read it. It will be appreciated to prepare the card printed both in Chinese and your native language, but is will also do in only your own language. It is polite to receive the business card with both hands and pronounce it carefully in the face of the person presenting the card to you, especially the name of the person. It is OK to ask for a business card from those you want to keep in contact with by only saying: ¡°May I have a business card from you in case I need your help?¡± or ¡°Could you give me your card to have your instruction in the future?¡± The person you ask a card from will feel important and respected by your asking.
It is polite to stand up when somebody approaches you or somebody is being introduced to you while your are sitting there. More attention and respect should be paid to the elderly and the higher ranking people by offering them to enter the room first or allowing them to be seated first. It will be practical, useful or welcome and appreciated to memorize some simple greetings in the Chinese language such as ni hao (hello) and xiexie (thanks), and practice them often in meeting Chinese, which will make your stay a more convenient and pleasant one. But do not feel bothered by these frequent questions such as: Where are you from? Is it the first time you come to China ? How long will you stay in China ? How do you like China ? Have you ever been to Beijing ? Have you visited the Great Wall? Do you like Chinese food? These questions are by no means of offensive, but just like the weather topic between people in western cultures.
Dinning with Chinese people
The Chinese people are considerate people, so you should not be surprised when seeing some strangers invited at the same time with you for a dinner. They may be the people the host thinks that you will work with in the near future, or that you may need help from or do business with in the future.
It would be nice if you could try to learn some phrases for practical purposes for the banquet: suiyi (at your will); bi eke qi (do not stand on so much formality, be at home); hao chi (delicious); chi bao le (I am full); and to find good topics is always welcome in the banquet. And it would be desirable to contribute to the good atmosphere of the banquet. If not, try not to be spoiling it.
You are not supposed to put your chopsticks straight on the rice of the bowl, because it is the way the Chinese lay for dead people in big festivals. You should observe the position the waitress starts serving the dishes. You are not supposed to pick up the dish before the principal host extends his chopsticks to the dish first, and do not drink before he invites you to drink, especially at the beginning of the banquet.
During the banquet, if you find some dish especially to your taste, you can turn the lazy Susan-rotary tray, but be sure not to interfere with other people picking up food. You are supposed to taste every dish on the table, especially if invited to a friend's home. But if there is something such as dog's meat or cat's meat, or some internal organs of animals or Chinese favorite tonic food, you can put them on the plates to avoid more coming in. But you should not eat too much at first even if there are some dishes to your taste, and you may leave some space for other delicious dishes to follow, for in Chinese banquet, cold dishes are served first in small plates, and then hot dishes in bigger plates.
After the toast of the host, the guests are supposed to give return toast, especially the main guests. You are supposed to do bottoms up sometimes with your warm Chinese partners, and to do that at least once to show your sincerity. But if you are not good at drinking, you can also avoid it by giving some excuses such as allergic to alcohol, digestion problem, liver problem and so on.
It is not considered bad manners to use hand to deal with crabs or chicken with bones. You can put shells or bones on the desk or your own plate. Sometimes a bowl of cleansing water is served for cleaning your hands before eating hard dealings as above-mentioned and after.
It is not considered bad manners either to put your elbow on the table or make sounds with the cups and chopsticks, laughing and talking among friends. As a matter of fact, the ordinary Chinese people like re nao (a good and cheerful atmosphere). But it is not true on official occasions. You should be more self-contained then.
Fish is the last course of the dishes. The host will ask the guests what kind of ¡°food¡± they prefer. Food here means white rice or Cantonese rice, Chinese noodle, Chinese dumpling or Chinese cake, etc. When the dessert comes, such as fruits, it suggests the end of the banquet. And before leaving the banquet, show your thanks and appreciation for the host's kindness and express your willingness to return the kindness or the hospitality when your host visits your home country.
Communicating with Chinese people
As we all know that the Chinese culture belongs to high-context culture in which people tend to be more aware of their surroundings and their environment and do not rely on verbal communication as their main information channel. So people from the opposite low-context culture will think the Chinese are indirect and not clear-cut in expressing ideas while the Chinese people think the westerns are so direct as to lead to conflicts easily in communication.
Hierarchy in China makes people ready to accept orders or tasks given from higher level authority, but reluctant to share information at the same level or with people under them, though this might not be the case with the economic development for the moment. In a high-context culture such as that in China , people expect their communication partner to ¡°read their minds¡±. So many westerns from low-context culture think that the Chinese are ambiguous and vague in communication. When exchanging information the Chinese tend to give others all the necessary information except the crucial piece, the most sensitive piece that my cause some unpleasantness for their present harmony. For instance, ¡°No¡± is considered impolite to the person rather than to his idea in the Chinese culture. The direct ¡°No¡± is rude and against the rule of Li (politeness) of Confucius in interpersonal relations. ¡°No¡± will be conveyed by following forms: ¡°We will think about it a bit'; ¡°We will discuss it before giving the answer¡±; ¡°We will report it to our boss¡±; ¡°That is a good question¡±; ¡°You can contact me later¡±; ¡°It will be done in the near future¡±; or ¡°We will consider your good suggestion¡±; etc. And sometimes behavior like smile, shaking hands or silence implies that the question goes beyond the speaker. A Chinese proverb says: you'd better say three times ¡°yes¡± than once ¡°No¡±. it suggests that a positive statement is considered more important than a negative one in Chinese communication.
When ask a favor of a Chinese, you had better leave a space for the Chinese to react. Try to ask in a way to make the Chinese easily convey the ¡°No¡± in the answer. For example: A person who needs help is conveying his message to a potential helper: ¡°Are you very busy these days? I am busy with a meeting,, I think maybe somebody is needed to take care of my baby a few hours a day.¡± The expected positive answer: ¡°I am free, why not let me take care of your baby!¡± The expected negative answer: ¡°Oh, I am very busy these days with my family visiting me and I cook for them and show them around.¡± The ¡°No¡± is aired without embarrassment. Sometimes, subjunctive mood is used in asking for help: ¡°If only I can find somebody who likes to help me¡¡± or ¡°I would be luckier to have somebody here to take care of my baby.¡±
Harmony is one of the primary principles in communication in China . If the message can affect the harmony or make the person lose face, then transmission of the message will be delayed or even deleted. The third party or middleman is often used between two parties to avoid direct conflicts. And finally, Qingke (invitation to dinner) is the usual way to help further communication, and is used among friends, colleagues, partners or authorities.
Complementing Chinese people
Harmony for interpersonal relationship is so important in China that people developed system of rules to enforce it. One way, which is easy and at low cost, is to give compliment. The Chinese compliment can cover almost all aspects or everything, complexion, hairstyle, new promotion and so on. And it eventually develops into a fine art of polishing interpersonal relationship. If you give compliment again and again to the Chinese on one thing such as painting or craft, you will find it your farewell gift; the Chinese like to read others' mind as they expect others to read theirs.
The Chinese like very much to give compliment to others because that will give enough ¡° face¡± (honor) to people at any time. The Chinese like compliment so much that criticism finds it hard to make its way out. In all business settings, compliment is seldom deleted from its main part of the occasions such as opening ceremony, closing ceremony, daily report, weekly meeting and so on. In China , you have to build strong sense of judgment to tell true compliment from false ones. A critical view is very useful in receiving lots of compliments. In attending a ceremony or and event, do not forget to tell the host you appreciate the arrangement. After attending a banquet, do not forget to give compliment to the dishes, although they are not so delicious as you think.
When you are given compliment by the Chinese, you should not be so frustrated by the overstated compliment and you had better show your ¡°modesty¡± by saying in Chinese: ¡°na li na li (not so good); ¡°ma ma hu hu (just so so). When a Chinese is trying to point out something wrong with you, he will probably start from your good points in one way or another and lastly he will give you some hint to let you figure it out by your self.
Keeping in contact with Chinese
The Chinese like an established relationship to remain a long time. So the Chinese people try to contact each other from time to time by making phone calls, visiting each other or by dining with each other, though some changes have taken place, due to the ever increasing activities in life and work. The Chinese think that relationship is reciprocal, and do not like those who come when they need help and vanish when they are needed for help. The Chinese reciprocation can be found in every aspect of social activities. For example, a friend you once helped may pay your favor back by taking part in a celebration of your father's birthday with a gift. The Chinese can not be at ease if owing somebody a favor for too long.
Gifts play an important role in social activities of Chinese life. The value of the gift can suggest the intention of the gift giver. If it is high-valued, it means the gift giver will ask a favor from the gift receiver. If it is a small gift, it just shows the intention of greasing the relationship. It will make the Chinese lose face if the gift is declined. Most often gifts of similar value will be exchanged between the gift giver and receiver. It is considered bribery to receive high-valued gift such as gold, cash or brand products from business partners. Gift exchange is a common activity in Chinese social life for relatives, friends and business partners. But now it is a fashion to use small things as gifts to avoid inconvenience for both gift giver and receiver. Almost anything can be chosen as a gift now in China but you had better not choose a clock. ¡°Give a clock¡± in Chinese is the same as saying the Chinese with the meaning of attending somebody's funeral! In the past, ¡°give somebody a knife¡± has meant bad feelings for cutting relationship with somebody. But nowadays, it is a fashion to give Swiss knife as a gift because it is famous for its good quality.