Traditional Chinese values

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Brian Hennessy. An Australian in China

In order to appreciate this ancient civilisation, we should understand a few of the traditional values which underpin it. They have endured for millennia and form the bedrock of Chinese society today. A few of these values are addressed briefly below. 


Understanding traditional Chinese values



Throughout its long history China has always been a Top-down society. Confucian ethics have supported this hierarchical approach to government and relationships. This strong cultural tradition has helped China to maintain stability in times of social chaos. Today, China remains a stratified society where power, rank, and the elderly are deferred to. Focus your attention on group leaders.


Chinese people identify as a group rather than as individuals. This comes from ancient times when village people cooperated to plant and harvest crops. Although the Reform and Opening-up process has encouraged individual enterprise, most Chinese people still draw strength from belonging to a group. A Chinese tour-group demonstrates this kind of behaviour. ‘No man is an island’ in China.

Harmonious relationships. 

Chinese people are relationship-oriented, and find Western peoples’ task-oriented approach to problem-solving difficult to contend with. Although being direct and assertive is OK in the West, it is not OK in China where personal assertiveness is branded as selfishness. Such behaviour is a threat to group harmony. It is better to express reservations in a round-about, face-saving, obliquely targeted way. If necessary, use an intermediary.


Westerners typically make group decisions based on a quick vote. However, Chinese groups tend to spend a lot of time discussing the issue as they try to establish a consensus of opinion. This is an example of the Confucian tradition of maintaining social harmony. For example: although a tour-guide remains the boss, a tour-group may sometimes behave in this democratic way. Expect the discussions to be noisy.

Friendship obligations. 

It is not difficult to form friendships with Chinese people. However, the Chinese person’s expectations of friendship may be much higher than ours. Thus, maintaining a friendship that is satisfactory for both parties may be difficult. For example; although a Chinese person typically has a limited number of friends, the relationship will usually last a lifetime. A lot of mutual dependence and responsibility is attached. Something to be aware of.


Do not feel mortified if you make a cultural error. Chinese people know that their culture is deep and mysterious to us, and will more likely see the funny side of any cultural bloopers. So fear of making a mistake should not inhibit us from engaging with them. 



Buy our eBook, Get China Ready: Understand Chinese culture. Manage cultural differences, from Amazon Kindle eBooks (download their free App for your computer, laptop or tablet). Authors: Hennessy & Li. $9.99



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