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Observations from the community. Chinese state of mind

Wiktoria Wilk, Lancaster University

I heard once from one of the students that ‘to understand the Chinese culture, you need to understand the Chinese mind.’ The experience in the country, beyond any doubt, let me comprehend it better. The society working as a group and for the group. Independent and creative ideas? The initiative? Hardly seen in China.


For the past four months, I have observed the Chinese community in their daily life while teaching and studying at the same time. I was working with my age-mates at Xi’an International University, in the ancient capital of the country. During my stay, I couldn't help but notice the peculiar differences between some aspects of the community from the Western countries. Undoubtedly, one of the most noticeable aspects of the Republic of China is collectivism, seen deeply in people's distinctive mentality. 

Following the rules and obedience is inherent in social behaviour. Collectivist societies are, therefore, durable. The country’s long history influenced the attitude shaping people’s values. Naturally, what I'm commenting on here are just my own observations, sometimes generalised. I don't refer to the country's population as a whole, and even though China is considered as the collectivist country, I don't think it’s impossible to encounter people believing in individualism.

The main aspects of collectivistic societies are concluded in relationships and the attitude towards them. They last. It seems like the personal emotions and the feelings are not as important as the necessary calculations about the potential partner. If the future husband/wife candidate fulfils some expectations, then the relationship will last regardless of emotions and some changes in lives. The relationship, even a fresh one, is already being perceived as the future marriage. It's also time-consuming, two halves like to spend all their time with each other. I’ve seen it primarily between couples where one of the partners was a foreigner. Westerners are not fully used to being in such a relationship, and the marriage is not the main thing they think about. But after all, it is love, a very strong and desirable feeling that everyone, despite a nation, is looking for. Yet, what was also intriguing for me was that the Chinese are equally quite shy and excited about it. 'What would be your perfect boyfriend/girlfriend type?' I used to encourage my 20-year-old students to initiate conversations during the classes. The giggling, moving their gaze away suggested that students weren't extremely confident talking about it. Messing around, laughing at other people’s relationship status, commenting on sexuality were behaviours quite common to see. 

According to ‘Individualism and Collectivism’' by Harry C. Triandis, everyone commences their life with a collectivistic mentality. At some point individuals grow to be original, express their own ideas, they develop their own path. While living in the West, I see on a daily base people creating ideas and seeking their own path, their own direction. And whilst being born in Poland, having lived in the USA and the UK, personally I'd say it's important and meaningful to be different, not plain and traditional. 

I didn't expect it would be so effortless to note how the families and communities occupy a central role in the ordinary life of Chinese. Attachment to the relatives is intense and durable. Giving an example of what young university students like to do over a typical weekend or during the holiday break is interesting. They choose to come back to their hometown, spend time with their families and celebrate holidays together with them. They don't seek experiences, and they are not excited about the adventures and stories to talk about later on. Once I set my students homework to write me a piece regarding their past weekend. Using simple grammar, simple structures and vocabulary I was very curious about two things - the English writing level and, in fact, their free time. The results clearly showed that students find a lot of satisfaction in spending time with their best friends, doing what they are familiar with, in their comfort zone. The weekend typically spent in their hometown, with all family members and their dog while eating the delicious food is the perfect one.

However, what's even more important is another personal observation, namely the desires that people undoubtedly have. While travelling, getting to know people and observing behaviours I started to notice, that even though the culture is completely unique, the place seems to be a different world, the language is so complicated and the history so long and rich, people still look for the same - the happiness, love, and care. That is what everyone needs. Despite the politics, economy, language or skin colour, everyone seeks those in their own way. It doesn't matter if the society believes in the group power or would rather live as the individual, the common desires make all visible differences vanish, there's no more distinction. Once you notice it, the whole world starts to seem united. 

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