As one of the world’s largest countries, both in terms of sheer size and population, China is home to a wide range of rich, interesting cultures that are sure to captivate and interest foreign retirees and expatriates alike. From the hardworking coastal cities that now form the sales force of China’s new economy to the beautiful temples of the southern provinces, China is home to a variety of cultures.
Boasting a population in excess of one billion people, it’s fair to say that there’s no single culture in most of China. Different ethnic groups, tribal communities, and ancient cultures have an individual flair and outlook, making different parts of China often seem like different countries to expatriates and retirees that are unfamiliar with China’s greater communal culture.
Despite this, China is a unique country with its own distinct culture. From its incredible food to its national philosophical thoughts, life in China is unique and specific – a culture and lifestyle that’s impossible to simulate or imitate in any other country. Because of this, China is a country that can quickly become addictive to expatriates who are interested in the rich, interesting local culture.
Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by its religious history, primarily the Confucianism movement. A powerful set of social and philosophical principles that guide everything from old wisdom to modern political advances, Confucianism forms the backbone of much of China’s top literary pieces, making it an essential part of modern China’s inward-focused national psyche.
While many forms of Chinese art were repressed during the notorious Cultural Revolution, art is now growing in popularity throughout China. Traditional Chinese artwork, particularly the nation’s film and performance communities, now hold considerable influence in China, with television and cinema major forms of entertainment for many Chinese people.
Chinese culture is relatively collective, making it a potentially tough adjustment for Western retirees and expatriates accustomed to the deeply individualistic culture of the West. Families often reside in close proximity to one-another, with several generations often sharing a house. The idea of family is very important to most Chinese people, who hold their family members in very high regard.
This form of collectivist thought flows down into many of China’s institutions and businesses. Jobs are often given out to family members and close connections instead of outside hires, and many of China’s top businesses are run not by elected boards and shareholders, but by families. As a result, forming relations – particularly close relationships – in China, can be difficult for many expatriates.
The concept of ‘face’ is also a major element of Chinese culture, particularly in business dealings between Chinese companies and Western expatriates. Expatriates are occasionally guilty of one of the most serious social faux-pas in China: causing a co-worker or businessperson to ‘lose face.’ In simple terms, Chinese people value their public appearance – and public authority – very highly.
Because of this, many conversations in China consist of skirting around unpleasant details to stick with polite discussion. Politeness, particularly with regard to traditions and social customs, is one of the most important aspects of Chinese life. Over time, many expatriates and retirees grow familiar with the Chinese ideas of politeness and respect, and start taking them on as natural behaviors.
Finally, food and drinks are an important part of Chinese culture, and eating is one of the favorite activities of many Chinese families. Business is often conducted over food, and important family dealings are often carried out over drinks. Eating customs are important in Chinese culture, and a part of life in China that expatriates and retirees will, again, gradually adjust to quite naturally.
From the importance of religion in society to the fine details of eating etiquette, the value of ‘face’ to the importance of family, Chinese culture is very different to Western culture in many ways. Despite this, Chinese people are calm, friendly, and forgiving, and will help you adjust to their culture over the course of your retirement or career in their country.