Travel To Grow

Understanding The World Through Travel

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Jun '10

Being Different in China

In China people can be extremely judgmental about people who are different. In big cities like Beijing and Shanghai it’s not much of an issue, but in almost all the rest of China being different can have pretty bad consequences. People who stand out for some reason, maybe they dye their hair funky colors or dress with a strange fashion, or have different ideas or act spontaneous and outgoing are often thought of as a little bit crazy, they can have trouble making friends, and generally are ridiculed by others.

My friend one had the perfect explanation for the reason behind this. He told me that in western countries people are generally valued for their differences… the things that make them unique, or special… while in China people are valued by their similarities, how well they fit the mold of the ideal citizen.

The above reasoning seem completely true from what I’ve seen, and it causes loads of problems for people who like to think outside the box, or live by their own rules or just simply want to be different.


In China parents have a massive amount of control over their children when compared to Western culture. In China it seems the idea is that one’s parents are experienced and wise and therefore should make the decisions for their children’s lives, where in Western society the idea is to allow kids to make their own decisions and make their own mistakes so they can learn to take care of themselves and become independent adults.

My friend Neil is a really nice guy. He’s a really caring person who would go out of his way to help someone and he’s completely in love and committed to his Chinese girlfriend. He’s even told me he will stay in China indefinitely as long as they are together. The only problem is, Neil is a foreigner… and therefore different, and his girlfriends parents won’t accept him. They consider their daughter dating Neil even worse than if she was dating a beggar and have told her this. They refuse to even meet him and completely forbid their daughter to be with him. The father even went far enough as to say he would kill himself if they didn’t break up. It’s a tragic situation for a really great and loving couple…

My Teaching Assistant Phoebe has another story. She told me how she doesn’t really want to get married because it would mean she would have to have children. I was a little confused by this and told her it’s okay to get married and NOT have children… just find a husband who also doesn’t want children. She sadly told me that was impossible because either her parents or her husband’s parents wouldn’t accept it… they would want them to have children and so they would have to. If they didn’t do what their parents wanted it would be incredibly selfish.


Although the younger generation is a little more open minded they still buy into the idea of fitting into a certain role and tend to ridicule anyone who is different. There has been a few times when I thought someone I had met was really interesting, only to hear other Chinese friends making fun of them for being crazy and talking about how they don’t like them. My friend Sukie who lived in Holland for a year has a difficult time accepting how judgmental people can be towards her for any differences. She misses the freedom and open-mindedness of Holland.

I find this desire to fit in can make people really boring. The lives of some of the people I know around me are slightly more uneventful than watching grass grow, yet when someone different does something interesting they are quick to judge them. The combination of trying to be normal and needing to save face in social situations can really remove the spontaneity and excitement from someone’s life turning it into a never ending predictable routine.

Exceptions to the rule

When I find a Chinese person who doesn’t fit the above descriptions it’s so refreshing and fun to hang out with them. Like my girlfriend Jen who is an awesomely outgoing, spontaneous and adventurous person who loves to be unique here in China.



We have a lot of fun together and I think she’s incredible and respect her so much for her uniqueness here in China.

I also want to point out here that this article is a generalization and China is full of tons of people with tons of different personalities, so please don’t take this description as fact! I have met a lot of unforgettable Chinese friends in my time here that are great people and are also a lot of fun.

Final thoughts

Living in a small town here in China with a lot of limited mindsets and some fairly judgmental people is a really good reminder to me that I don’t want to be a normal person. I can’t wait for my contract to be finished so I can move to Beijing and have a blast with big city people!

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