Understanding Chinese People and Culture

Understanding Chinese People and Culture
By Nicholas Osborne

When visiting or learning about China, you may begin to notice that there are many differences in your daily life in your hometown than a normal Chinese person. There are many factors that make China’s society and culture different. However, different is not bad.

Looking at daily life in China, you may start to notice differences in the ways of thinking, family life, language, and popular culture. While these differences may come as a surprise to you at first, you will slowly start to understand how each cultural significance comes together to make up each Chinese person, them, you will really start to appreciate and understand China’s culture.

Belief Systems and Philosophical Structure


China has a history dating over 3000 years ago. As the country grew, so did the ideas. In ancient China, philosophies and new ideas were being generated all the time. With the involvement of literature, China’s great philosophical ideas began to form. There are three major camps of thought in China, derived from three long-studied ideas: Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.


Taoism is belief of nature and many of the natural processes of life. Finding a path for an ever-changing existence is a key feature of Taoism. Searching for the meaning of life or purpose is the goal of Taoism, but life is dynamic, so the purpose will be changing all the time. Developing to meet those changes is the key aspect of Taoist practices.


Buddhism is a combination of deeply-ingrained religious beliefs tied with philosophies from the founder, Buddha. Buddhism became widely followed within China due to the aspects that are relevant to daily life. The link to the healing properties of nature ties to Taoism, but further philosophy is derived from Buddhism. Meditation and linking ones-self to the nature around them is a way to gain valuable insight and improve as a person. Buddhism also influences societal structure through karma. Maintaining the balance of good and bad karma is a system that works as a code of laws or moral guidelines.



While there are some religious aspects of life in Taoism, Confucianism is a form of social order and general practices, almost like a philosophical code of laws. The teachings of Confucianism derive from heritage and ancestor respect. While people need to pay respect to their elders and superiors, there is a fine line between respect and worship.

Each of these philosophical teachings are essential parts of Chinese heritage, playing an important role in the family life, businesses, and general society. This is only a very small introduction of two immensely sophisticated ways of life and practice. As you observe and study about China, think about some more features of Chinese society that may be influenced by Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.

These ancient teachings derived in the East may seem different than the philosophies or religions of Western countries. Some of the moral guidelines or values of right and wrong overlap between Eastern and Western values. The philosophical and religious base found in China links the people to nature and those that surround them.

Paying respect and learning more about these religions prior to your visit to China will ensure that you can appreciate even the smallest cultural aspects of the country.

Family Life in China

family life in China

There are a variety of reasons to express the differences of family life in China. Religious and cultural practices, mentioned above, have developed a family structure that relies heavy on respect and communication.

The unique feature of family life in China is the three generation households, where grandparents, parents, and children all live under one roof. This is particularly beneficial in modern China due to the expensive costs of living. In many families, both the mother and father are required to work, and the grandparents can take good care of the grandchildren.

These multi-generation households bring a strong family bond among many Chinese families. In Western countries, family bonds may still be tight, but multiple generations may live under different roofs. It is common for children to move out of the house once they reach a certain age to live independently from their parents or grandparents.

How to Communicate and Understand Chinese People When Traveling in China

traveling in China

As a traveler in China, you may be surprised to find how many people can speak English with you. This is because the Chinese school systems require English proficiency in the modern age. China is an international hub of culture and people, offering exposure to many different foods, languages, and more to tourists.

While there are people that are able to communicate in English, it is also important to remember that you are a guest in their country. If they are unable to understand you or communicate with you, do not get angry or upset, the Chinese people are trying to accommodate you. If you want to enjoy your Chinese travel experience even more, then think about learning some basic phrases to get you through the day!

There are some easy ways to communicate with local Chinese people. If you have trouble speaking or understanding, use a translation app. These apps can almost always help you out in any situation. Another option is to show a photo or gesture that helps you get your point across. If you are looking for a monument or landmark, find a photo and show it to someone, and they can point you in the right direction.

In many of the major cities you will find signs, posters, or guides that can direct you with English.

Dealing with Culture Shock in China

tourist attraction in normal day

When visiting China, you may experience a common feeling of culture shock. This feeling is where you see something or experience some difference that is foreign to your daily life or ideas. Do not feel discouraged or upset, as this feeling of culture shock is common for people visiting foreign countries anywhere in the world.

You may find that as a foreigner, Chinese people may enjoy taking photos of you or your family, sometimes without asking permission first. Do not be alarmed by this or offended, these Chinese people are happy to see the international intrigue in their homeland, and they will probably have a great story to share with their friends.

Another major shock that may come to visitors in China is the amount of people. China has the largest population on the Earth, with cities that reach record populations and densities. When visiting popular destinations, be ready for large amounts of people everywhere.

The standard of social distance or personal space is much smaller in China due to the large population. You may experience close physical contact with other people, which may come at a surprise to you, but this is something that is quite common in the lives of a Chinese citizen.

Modern China: Technology, Economy, and Popular Culture

modern china

China has become one of the top two economies in the world at a surprisingly fast rate of growth. Under the detailed structure of the economy, China has received a lot or growing wealth and success. This has contributed to large-scale plans of modernization and technology research. Marveling at the many technological feats of the country is just one of the many enjoyable activities to participate in when traveling to China.

While technology on a larger scale has developed rapidly, there are also many breakthroughs in Chinese consumer technology. When visiting a mall or doing some online shopping, you may notice a variety of useful household technology that you have never seen before.

The expanding use of smartphones in China has developed an immense popularity of social media APPs and mobile gaming. You will often see people on the train or bus browsing the popular Twitter-like APP, Weibo, or playing an exciting mobile game on their phone. There are also a variety of content streaming sites in China such as Youku or Bilibili that offer a range of TV, movies and videos. These sites are similar to Netflix or YouTube.


While daily life in China may seem new to you when first learning about or travelling to China, you will quickly come to understand and value each aspect that makes Chinese society so special. From religion and philosophy to mobile games, there is something unique about anything you can think of in China. That is one of the main reasons that exploring China and its people and culture is one of the greatest experiences to be had.

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