Readers' Submissions

Understanding The Chinese

  • Written by Anonymous
  • April 3rd, 2006
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Bay City Dude

Recently there have been inquiries by Dana (anecdotes 125); and Stickman himself in regards to understanding the Chinese or Thai-Chinese way of thinking. I myself am a first generation Chinese American so I would say I have some insight into that. Stickman made a mention of how it's known that most business deals in Thailand are made exclusively in Chinese, and how it is held discreetly or privately / secretly.

One good way to understand the Chinese way of thought, and way of doing business is to read the novel Romance of Three Kingdoms. This is classic Chinese literature, that it is recited by Chinese all around the world at a very young age (first grade and onwards). This tale recounts the saga of how the Chinese country folk suffered through various invasions and corrupt governments during the 14th-16th century, yet the key to succeeding against these evils was a pact where the generals or the novel's heroes swore in at a garden to stick together as brothers in order to save the country. This meant that regardless of who the government leader was, and what other people they met or worked for in the future, they would stick together as brothers whenever they needed each other. In essence it is a tale of brotherhood, loyalty to group and loyalty to country all written in a poetic / prose style which allows it to be recited at a very early age regardless of education or a child's wealth. It is in the TV, comics, everywhere, and it is basically engrained in Chinese culture.

Why do Chinese stick together as a group and do business mostly within their community? It is actually a matter of survival instinct. The Chinese know that they can be easily spotted from afar, and thus be easily discriminated against everywhere they go. So, in order to survive both economically and socially, it is best to stick together as a group. Individualism is generally not encouraged in Chinese culture. I asked a Chinese Vietnamese friend to explain why he always hung around in a group, and he said that the Chinese think that collective power is more potent than separate single individuals doing their own thinking. Having grown up in the US, it is very suffocating to follow the Chinese group thinking. In fact, I personally have given up in this 'group' thinking, since I am very independent, and just cannot conform to how the group thinks because at times I feel the decisions become watered down or mainstreamed. Nonetheless, one cannot dismiss the collective power that a group provides. Here in the States, the Jewish are very powerful politically and economically because they stick together, and they have a high percentage of voting despite being a minority group. This means that American politicians must appease the Jewish American vote in order to get elected. The Chinese understand very well this group phenomenon. A small number of people can have greater influence in society than a larger number of people who are fragmented and loose banded.

While individualism reigns in the US, it is shunned in China and most of Asia. One good way to understand how Chinese (and most East Asians like Japanese and Koreans) look at individual's role in society, is to take a look at a classic Chinese painting. Most of the time you will see a large landscape with mountains, rivers, and trees. On the river, you might see a little boat with a tiny fisherman; or you might see a cow roaming the fields with a tiny herdsman guiding it. In essence that is how the individual is seen in Chinese and East Asian culture: you the individual are a small part of a bigger picture and you therefore should adhere to codes of behavior in order to be in harmony with everything else. So this means that the individual should avoid 'rocking the boat', and thus be low profile, modest and don't be noticed in a crowd. This stands in contrast to what you might see at a painting in Europe like the Mona Lisa. There you will see the individual standing tall, proud, looking beautiful / handsome and showing his / her personal prowess in wealth, rank, looks, charms and looking straight at you.

Going back to the 'group' thinking, and the diminishing role of the individual, a westerner would say: well, that really means that Chinese live a really boring life. Where does the adventure and excitement in life come from, if all you are doing is following what the group does and say? I have seen that the excitement comes from learning to follow the role assigned to you within the group. You can learn to become one of the leaders in the group, and that by itself becomes interesting and challenging. Group thinking is also another reason to explain why karaoke is so popular in East Asia; it's a group thing you do with your friends, and business partners (in company with some pretty young things you can in many places hire).

A couple of other aspects of Chinese culture to understand, is that the Chinese know that their history goes back 5,000 years and that explains why the Chinese are not so keen on making sudden / rapid changes like we in the US do. If you are going to make a change, do it gradually over a long period of time so that you can adapt to the change well. This to the westerner will look like being a conformist, but to the Chinese this is normal. In essence, they understand that Rome was not built in a day. Another interesting look at the Chinese perspective, is that of what happened during Tiananmen Square in 1989. At that time, the university students were calling for a more Democratic China. They were saying 'down with the suppression by the Chinese government policies. This initially was tolerated by the Chinese government. But then, all of sudden in the latter days of the manifestation and rallies, the students were saying: "Down with the Prime Minister!'' This was a huge mistake, because they failed to understand that although China may be ruled by Communists, it is still has the tradition of Imperial China, meaning that the Prime Minister is actually looked upon as the Emperor of China without the robes. So, in Imperial China the worst thing anybody can do is criticize the Emperor, and that is why it was suddenly 'ok' to quash the protesters once they started making these remarks against the prime minister.

A final aspect is the question of how Chinese are the Chinese in China; and those outside China. In some ways, the Chinese in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia are more 'Chinese' than the ones in Mainland China. This is because mainland China underwent the Cultural Revolution where the government quashed scholars, religious leaders, intellectuals, and artists. So, a lot of the old Chinese culture was really either done away with, or suppressed as these teachers were done away with or brainwashed. The suppression, killings or brainwashing of teachers was very critical because Chinese culture; and most of Asian

culture hands knowledge or traditions to the younger generation through master-pupil relationships. So, if you do away with the master, you do away with the pupils as well. Now if you want to see folks who really practice Chinese culture and religion you may have to go to southern Vietnam in Saigon, or visit the Chinese living in the countryside of Malaysia, or Thailand, etc since the Chinese there generally still practice the old traditions of Chinese culture.

There are other important aspects of Chinese culture such as ancestor worship, the role of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism which would require many other submissions in other to make sense of. However, I think reading the Romance of Three Kingdoms would be a good start for anyone interested in understanding Chinese culture.

Stickman's thoughts:

An excellent explanation and for someone who is admittedly ignorant of the Chinese ways (and how they exist in part in Thailand), this was a nice little lesson.