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Characteristics of the Chinese Culture

1.  Culture Has Many Dimensions: Political, Legal, Religion, Medicine, Food, etc.

Political discussion is always sensitive but it is always important to understand the politics in a cultural context because politics are very cultural. By discussing politics culturally, it is not politics anymore. We do not have to agree with others but we do need to understand so that we know how to better influence others if we want to.

One of the most "socially transmitted behavior patterns" of the Chinese people in the modern politics is the independence of Tibet and Taiwan. Chinese people are against it because the old Chinese international law concept is LAND centered and the modern one is PEOPLE centered. The old concept is in the Chinese dramas, legends, modern laws and regulations that govern their daily lives. As an agricultural society for thousands of years, LAND is a term for life or death. It is so dear in people's heart that you make enemies out of anybody on the street by telling them Taiwan should be independent.

Chinese people do not talk to lawyers and they do not like to sue each other. It is a good example for another dimension of culture: legal. For thousand of years, the Chinese society depended on the morality and family (kinship) system to maintain order and it developed a fairly penetrating system to mediate and resolve the disputes over land, arguments, money, family relations, etc. China had the most advanced criminal system for thousands of years and the court system mostly handled criminal cases. Being sued, to many Chinese people, is considered as serious as killing and stealing.

Religion is another important dimension of culture. China is often labeled as Atheist in the sense that Confucianism is in no way a religion, but a set of philosophical beliefs of the ruling class. The basic beliefs are: Humans are born good and innocent; All humans are educable; Of the ways of lives, Harmony is Nature's way and is the best way. The only way to reach Harmony is education. All people should learn about the set of values and virtues and follow the moral standards. Law is important but it is secondary with regard to maintaining the social order. For thousands of years, the schools in China have been teaching Confucianism, including the ones under the Nationalist party and the Communist party. It is about the case studies for historical events to explain and explore the definitions for the set of virtues: Benevolence, Righteousness, Propriety, Wisdom, and Fidelity.

Confucianism took the leading position through the school system hundreds of years before Buddhism and Islam came to China. I do not know if it is the reason that these religions did not become leading beliefs in the Chinese culture. Confucianism looked down upon on religions but is acceptable to all beliefs because its position is not threatened. Here we come to a very important concept: Folk Religions. It is the term for the beliefs of the Ruled Class. It includes Christian, Buddhism, Islam, Polytheism, Totemism, Deism, many gods and goddesses with specific functions, and, ancestor worship. There are three features in the folk religions. 1. All the folk religions are somewhat "Confucianized;" 2. There is no religious figure who has overall and absolute spiritual power; 3. They are practiced mostly on a personal level and there are no institutional systems to interpret their teachings. When these three above mentioned principles are violated, issues of beliefs become issues of politics.

In many folk religions, the God and Goddess carry out all classic Confucius values and virtues. The figures are well known to people so there is no particular threat of unknown to people. King of the Nether World loves beautiful names so don't give your children ugly names. The ghosts act just like you and me: sensitive, caring, and lovely. When talking to the God of Stove, only say good things! People do not share the beliefs at times but we all love those figures and even feel appreciative of other people's beliefs. The Chinese culture is tolerant and inclusive. It is strong because of its inclusiveness: Mongolian and Manchurian conquered whole China but they all adopted the Han governmental system, language and customs - which were so established and structured as management tools. They even named their dynasties in the traditional Chinese system. In fact, the China territory expanded under these two dynasties in a way that no Han emperors could ever imagine. Mongolian had their religions but they did not even impose their beliefs in the country.

Chinese language is the element that holds the culture all together. The first Chinese Emperor Qin adopted one standard for language, measurements, and governmental systems. People in different provinces can speak different dialects but it is all from same written characters. Also, the Chinese language is a pictographic language that developed for thousands of years in the agricultural society: We have poems, stories, legends where we give souls to almost all natural items. Almost all characters could intrigue good feelings in Chinese people just by looking at them. I guess that is why we could use most of them for our children's names.

Chinese medicine, as one of the scientific bases for the Chinese culture, has three features in its way of thinking. 1. The human body is part of whole nature so the change in nature could cause a change in body; 2, A symptom of illness indicates the problem with whole body; 3. Each person is different so the treatment should be individual. There are two features in its practice: it is preventive, and the basics are easy to learn. I dare to say that two thirds of China's city population has knowledge on the Chinese medicines and treat many illnesses at home. How do the Chinese people view western medicine: Tests and surgery are great but there are too many drugs and excessive treatment.

How could we forget cooking? Eating is so important to Chinese people! The fact is, while it boasts eight food systems, FRYING is the basic method in Chinese cooking. Why? As an agricultural society, fuel was a problem for thousands of years. Frying was the most energy efficient way of cooking. Yes, we do have many ancient terms for cooking but they were for banquets, emperors and religious events. So, frying is the only thing you need to learn about Chinese cooking (simple!)

There are many other aspects in culture: Education, family, gender, etc. I will not touch them in this short paper.


Phrases for Meeting People

Quick Lesson Tips: Chinese has four basic tones. Initally, do not worrry about them. Learn your vocabulary first. Once you learn the words, go back and practice with the tones.

Common Phrases for Meeting People

hello:  nínhăo  (neen-how)

good bye:  zàijiàn  (zi-jee-ahn)

good morning:  nín zăo  (neen)(zow)

good night:  wăn ān  (wahn)(an)

please:  qíng  (cheeng)

thank you:  xièxie  (ssee-eh-ssee-eh)

you’re welcome:  bú xiè  (boo)(ssee-eh)

How are you?  Nĭ hăo ma?  (nee)(how)(mah)

Well, thank you.  Hăo xièxie  (how)(ssee-eh-ssee-eh)