Historically, the Chinese connected to each other through personal face-to-face networking, guanxi (relationships), and payments to those who arranged meetings. Today, technology is changing how people connect with each other. According to Internet World Stats, in mid-2010 China has nearly 350 million broadband Internet connections with more than 385 million users, far more than any other country in the world.
Information in this article has been gleaned from the lives of several dozen expats and hundreds of students living in mid-sized cities in Henan. This province is in the center of China, heavily populated, with many highly industrialized cities. Pollution is a major problem. Economic and population growth are expanding exponentially.
Cell Phones Allow Everyone to Stay Connected
In 2008, the rescue of young students who were trapped in collapsed schools but had cell phones after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan resulted almost immediately in an increase in phone use by children. Today, nearly everyone between the ages of 8 and 60 seems to have cell phones. They are used primarily for text messaging although this is starting to change as affluence increases and time parameters decrease.
College student cell phone use is so prevalent and stealthy, many universities use electronic jammers to prevent any cell phone use on campuses when major, standardized tests are being administered. The jammers are not always able to isolate the areas that should have service disrupted so neighboring communities sometimes have service disabled also.
In American films, when a man asks a woman for her phone number, there is an expectation he will call her to go out. In China, such expectations are nearly non-existent. Men and women exchange phone numbers with no hidden agendas for follow up dates. Strangers often ask expats for their phone numbers more for bragging rights with their friends than actual use.
Answering Machines and Voice Mail are Not Popular
Due to the limited number of phone calls, answering machines are not commonly used. Although available as an option with cell service, voice mail is not common for the same reason. Custom dictates that if someone calls and the call is not completed, the receiver should call back when it is convenient. Even though cell phone usage costs are dirt cheap compared to other countries, using the phone to chat without an urgent topic goes against China etiquette and is not appreciated by those who are on a strict budget.
Internet Use is a Community Event
Today, for most people under 40, the Internet is an information superhighway that provides access to community. Although schools have computer labs and more affluent homes have home computers, the bulk of users prefer the anonymity afforded by a large, dark room or the camaraderie of surfing the net or popular games with friends in a net bar. Internet bars sometimes contain hundreds of computers, each outfitted with headphones, a camera, microphone and easy chair.
WiFi areas are becoming more popular as laptop sales increase and cell phones are capable of accessing the Internet via computer lines. Shopping, games, social networking sites like QQ, and MSN are popular online pastimes. Websites, like Facebook and YouTube, which are banned in China, are easily accessed by anyone with a modicum of computer savvy. Chinese schools and companies have private networks which provide more control over members’ usage but nerdy users are still able to get around some of the restrictions.
Government Oversight of Expat Communications and Travel
Foreigners living in or visiting China should expect to have all communications – phone, Internet and hard-copy – reviewed by government officials. Technology has replaced the need for physically following foreigners because security cameras with digitalized photos can track anyone from place to place. Hotels are required to submit passport information on foreign guests. Although some police stations in large cities have reportedly not complied, when a foreigner stays in a private home overnight, he or she must register with the nearest police station within 24 hours.
It’s All Chinese to Me
After living, working and studying in the Republic of China for eight years Pierre Ostrowski and Gwen Penner experienced first hand the gaps in understanding between Western and Chinese cultures and peoples. They wrote this book, which Gwen Penner also illustrated, to help bridge some of these gaps and to demystify Chinese culture. Though perhaps not part of their initial impetus in writing their book, and if this book is made available in China, it may also help to demystify Western culture for the Chinese.
The generalization that this book covers all Asian countries cannot be made. It’s All Chinese to Me is just that, China specific. The book gives a brief overview of Chinese history, politics, religious and philosophical beliefs as they relate to the Republic of China today. They bravely attempt to cover all events contributing to the formation of present day Chinese culture, from the four great inventions of ancient China, to Confucian hierarchy, to the importance the modern-day Chinese place on scholarship. The insight into the Chinese view of scholarship and university life is invaluable for anyone who either teaches, works with or hosts students from China.
Understanding Chinese People
No one likes to be embarrassed and disrespected. This includes the people of China. The crucial concepts of gaining Face and losing Face are eloquently explained, along with the stages of culture shock which nearly all visitors to a foreign country experience. To a foreigner Chinese superstitions and habits may seem rather peculiar, but Western habits may seem just as foreign to the Chinese. The authors highlight several habits which are perceived as rude in China, but are viewed as well mannered in North America. Etiquette for everyday behaviors is provided, including blowing ones nose, proper use of a toothpick, and how to give as well as receive a compliment.
Chinese Business Culture
Though definitely not a definitive guide to doing business in China, business basics are covered in this book, substantiated with a great bibliography of where to garner further knowledge. Ostrowski and Penner can’t stress enough the dire consequences when social blunders are committed during a business deal in China. Their advice to Westerners is to read and learn as much as possible about Chinese culture, business practices and negotiation tactics before entering the realm of commerce in China.
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