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Facts About China: Taboo Subjects and Getting Jobs Done

Author Katie Lawles Published on Oct 11, 2012 in General, Life in China, Special Interest

There are many facts about China that take some getting used to. Two aspects of Chinese culture that are good to know when working with the Chinese are: the way jobs get done in China and the taboo subjects.

While growing up in America, children are often taught to be as helpful as they can and to go the extra mile. However, in China this can be extremely bad when someone does more than they were supposed to. Because of the cultural aspect of “saving face” there is a catch-22 for going the extra mile in China. If an employee does a job they were not told to do and it turns out bad they will lose face and possibly be fired, and if it goes well the manager could lose face for not being the one to have thought of it, or to have done it. Therefore, employees in China do what they are told to do; nothing more, nothing less. This cultural difference has on many occasions frustrated westerners when trying to get something done. If someone is out of the office, no matter how simple their job is, in China no one else can do what they do, because it is not their job. Aspects like this take lots of time to rework in your brain, while living in China.

Every country has their taboo subjects which are generally best to stay away from, and China is no different. The main subjects that are touchy are referred to as The Three T’s: Taiwan, Tiananmen Square and Tebet. For obvious reasons, China has cut off anything that tells the truth about what happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989. I would say that this T is the most stressed. Unless you are simply talking about the place or how to get there, it is best to not ever talk about it. Taiwan and Tebet are not quite as sensitive, but still better to stay away from. Being critical at all towards Mao Zedong or anything he did would not be taken well. Just like Tiananmen Square, the bad effects of Mao’s choices have been hidden, and many of the older generation see him as the man who brought development to China.

In general, subjects of politics, voting or government are tense. Also recently, air pollution has become a peevish subject, simply because it is an issue that needs to be taken care of but isn’t. Homosexuality is neither discriminated against nor protected. In fact, it is hardly mentioned in Chinese law at all, only that it cannot be represented by the media. There are legal gay clubs in China, charities that help LBGT groups etc. but the subject is mostly ignored and not brought up in conversation. Even sex in general is not openly talked about or used like it is in the West; the movies in China are still very conservative in that manner. Human and animal rights are also conversations which would hardly be understood, much less a good dialogue. Lastly, drugs and the use of them in China, is not an enjoyable topic to talk about when with Chinese people.