Culture Shock China! So what are the differences?

Noise level in a restaurant
Noise level in a restaurant

I recently came across some brilliant illustrations by designer Yang Liu. She has been living in Germany since 1990. When she moved over to Germany she was just 12 years. Old enough to have grown up with Chinese culture and young enough to absorb a new culture. So what are the differences between a Western and Eastern culture?

Well, let’s go through step by step.

assertivenessAssertiveness (or ME!!!) might be the biggest difference. Whereas western societies are  self-centred, Eastern societies take the group as more important. As a consequence you (as a single person) are less important. I have the impression though that this is changing rapidly. Due to the one-child policy in China, children are brought up and massively spoiled by two parents and four grandparents. They’re even referred to as “Little Emperors”.

childrenSo it’s not surprise that children are the absolute centre point in Chinese families. All activities are planned around the child. Questions such as “Is it good for the child? What can the child do if we visit, say, a museum? Do they have stuff available for children?”, need to be positively answered prior an activity is agreed on. In Germany, children aren’t that lucky. They’re just dragged along with the grown-ups. I hated the time my mother took me to boring museums. But looking back, I have to admit, she was right.

beautyBeauty concepts is another topic and actually deserves a post on it’s own. Walk in a drug store in Germany and look for a sun lotion. You’ll mostly see sun lotions that claims to lead to a nice, brown skin. That’s anathema to Chinese. Brown skin? Are you crazy? Of course, it needs to be white. It’s no surprise therefore that most beauty products claim to give you a nice, white and soft skin.

lifestyleLifestyle and how to take memories are also different. Whereas western lifestyle is self-centred, Chineselife-style is very group focused. You always meet up in large groups, go to restaurants together and plan activities. And those of you who’ve seen Chinese tour groups also understand that Chinese normally travel together (although that is changing and there are more and more individual travellers).


If you’ve seen a Chinese tour group (or basically any Southeast Asian tour group) you will also have realised the importance of taking photos.

An average day will result in at least 400 to 500 photos in various poses with different family members. To the western, especially German, eye, this is just looking ridiculous.


Punctuality and the concept of time is one thing which I required a lot of time getting used to. Especially to us Germans, if you meet at two o’clock it’s two o’clock. It’s not 2:10 or 2:15 it’s just two. And if you’re late, write a message or give me a ring. It’s not that difficult given that we all carry mini computers in our pockets. However, for some reason, here it seems to be a challenge to notify the other party that you’re running late.

streets on sunday

How does a street in downtown Germany look like on Sundays? Chances are high you won’t find anyone. Why? Because in Germany you can’t open a shop on Sundays. You’re supposed to to go church and pray. How a government in a free country restricts shop owners from opening their shops at a time of their choosing remains a puzzle to me. But alas that’s how it is.


Differences in voicing your opinions must be the most fundamental between Western and Eastern societies. Germans are the extreme in Western societies. Always direct and straight to the point. I was told that Japanese are even more going around in circles compared to Chinese. Thai are also very indirect. It is considered as very impolite to voice your opinion, especially if the person you’re talking to is a “person of respect”. “Respect” in this sense just means that he’s higher up in the social ladder compared to you. And that means either shut up or wrap your opinion so he can understand it but won’t be offended. Sounds complicated? It hell is!


And that leads to the next topic. The role of the boss! Having grown up in Europe, the role of a boss was quite a shock to me. Germans normally don’t address the boss by his/her first name as done in Anglophone countries (also that’s changing). But we also don’t treat him/her like royalty the way it’s done here in China. The boss is always right and he can’t be criticised. At least so it seems to me. That might sound great if you’re the boss, but there’s a downside. If your staff doesn’t talk to you, you’ll also be unaware of what’s going on in the company. Also, your top people won’t ask you for a raise if they want one. They just look for another job.

I highly recommend buying the book which you can order here.

Below, you find all photos I found on the internet.

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2 thoughts on “Culture Shock China! So what are the differences?

Add yours

  1. I used them in a class, and had the students explain to me what they meant. They nailed it!

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