Rolling In the Deep: Chinese Society and Money
The Chinese society has been shaped over the years by Confucianism and then communism and now by making money. Status (Diwali) is the new all-important thing in China. But hey, China is a quite diverse society and the Chinese are such a diverse group of people. The value, attitude and feeling vary from group to group, region to region and individual to individual are hence pretty hard to make generalizations. The Chinese society has undergone metamorphosis through the years with rapid changes in the daily and economic life, especially in the past decade.
China is the largest society and second largest economy in the world, and it’s united by a set of institutions and values that cut across the vast linguistic, sub-cultural and environmental diversity. Residents of the northern and southern regions enjoy making a living from each other’s land. They enjoy each other’s favorite foods despite not understanding each other’s language. Although they at times describe each other with derogatory stereotype they understand that they are the same society and quite different from Koreans or even Vietnamese.
Since the twentieth Century, the Chinese society has been a subject of a revolution intended to change it in significant ways. During its more radical phase including the Great Leap forward in 1958-60 and the Cultural Revolution in1966-79, it focused more on transforming everything from family life to medicine practice and higher education. The Chinese leaders and intellectuals were not yet satisfied and in the 80s they had more intention of transforming it further into a modernized country.
Conformity and Individualism
Conformity is such a strong force in China and going against the grain is gravely discouraged and to be labeled differently can be quite insulting. Many Chinese people fear exclusion from society or group. They have developed a high sense of an “in-group” or “out-group” and are more likely to do things with friends rather than strangers, unlike westerners. They can be quite rude to people they are not acquainted with. In China, it’s more about maintenance of appearance rather a self expression.
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China is a collective society and stresses more on contexts and relations. Unlike westerners who would prefer their privacy, the Chinese put more value on their importance and skills in a group. The do value their roots in Confucianism, which puts more emphasis on propriety and harmony. They would argue that relationships are the key to happiness and most people with social networks and friends easily find success in their lives and people with less or zero social bonds tend to face depression and even contemplate suicide.
The Chinese society is quite mistrusting due to the immaturity of the market economy and its reiteration on making just money above anything else, the Cultural Revolution and other political and social upheavals which undermined the traditional moral codes, relationship, and Confucian bonds and also a lack of religion and a fair justice system. Since the transformation of the market economy, China has become very competitive, and people would do anything to get the edge. For instance people with connections can easily ignore the rules or skirt them and those without are easily trampled upon.
Rarely would you find the Chinese alone, they walk in crowds, enjoy traveling in groups and keep their home doors very open. They prefer living in proximity to their neighbors without facing significant friction. It is hard to find personal space in China and the privacy concept is more of a state of mind than a condition of being alone. They do not understand the desire of some westerners to be alone and easily interpret it as being arrogant. They were taught by communists to share everything and to eschew secretes. The adaptation of privacy is just a new concept borrowed from the West.
Chinese Economic Society
In China, the conversations majorly focus on what they can do to “upgrade and the GDP. In the past, the GDP was kept stable to a large extent by the strength in “made in China” exports. With the progressing industrial society and the opening of their market, they are moving towards developing service-led economy although it still heavily relies on physical labor and infrastructure and people love to work in China.
China is also technologically transforming, and it’s now a more technologically connected society than before. There has been such a rapid growth of mobile purchases from almost non-existent in 2009 to commonplace in 2015.China faces the challenge of intellectual property and as a signatory of WTO they are obliged to manage violation of IP and digital providers such as Tencent, Sina and Netease have been asked to take down pirated content since international collaboration and investment largely depends on observing the rules.
Digital technologies have substantially transformed the relationship between creativity, innovation, and culture with companies such as Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent taking center-stage. These technologies are changing the people’s way of interaction with information and also the Chinese society and culture.
The Chinese Way of Money
In the Chinese culture, saving money is just as important as saving face. The Chinese have such a profound saving culture than they Western counterparts. Most of the Chinese appear to be born with the saving culture since children are encouraged from their early ages to put their pocket money in their piggy banks. They grow up with principles such as:
1. Being frugal is a virtue
Frugality never started with as a communist propaganda but a concept that has been taught for thousands of years. Dao De Jing, the classic Chinese text states that the three greatest treasures one can ever have are generosity, love and frugality. Frugality is quite an integral part of Chinese culture.
2. Save as much as possible.
According to a 2006 CNN article, the personal saving of Chinese household is 30% while their American counterparts dipped into their savings. They Chinese have a significant saving culture, and they save up to 50-60% of their income which is quite normal. They give the impression that they are always living for the future.
3. Pay for things in Cash
Credit cards are a fairly new thing in China and most people prefer to pay in cash. The Chinese people are wary of debt and they even pay for huge purchases such as houses in cash. The issue of mortgage in China is just trying to pick up.
4. Bargaining is a must.
In China, haggling is the way of life. You always have to ask for at least 50% off the asked price. The Chinese people haggle till it hurts and that behavior earned the cheapskate stereotype.
5. Your salary is not a secret
Discussing one’s salary isn’t prying into somebody’s personal space or even show off but a way of knowing one another. The conversation turns out to be of great help since you might get more advice on how to secure more, invest or save.
6. Cash gifts are just perfect
The Chinese people love money and giving them cash gift is a savior since they will just have more to save. Unlike the Westerners, who consider cashing a less common or less appreciated gift, the Chinese love cash gifts even with the Red envelopes being the standard gifts in China.
China has had quite dramatic changes in the last three decades economically, culturally, politically, technologically and even socially. The society has evolved, adapted some western practices and the modern culture has become quite materialistic, putting more value on money than before. It is more of a “money defines you” kind of scenario. In the Chinese society, they truly worship two things: tradition and money. The two are mutually reinforcing paradigms in the Chinese world, and they live and die by them.