China can be a very mysterious country if you have never been there. Urban legends and misconceptions seems legit until you get to Mainland. Let’s have a closer look to 5 of the most common wrong ideas:
1. You won’t see the sky because of pollution
Actually, you will. And it’s blue. But it’s true that is happening mostly in summer. Cold winters leading to a mass coal consumption are one of the reasons off huge pollution smog appearing in most of the provinces. Air quality in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region can reach the “hazardous” PM2.5 level for several days. This coupled with heavy use of cars and energy by factories, the situation in China seems a bit scary.
But the country is aware of it. To lower pollution in the North, government has set up measures such as going after polluting firms, controlling coal use, and reducing industrial output. As a result, the region’s PM2.5 levels dropped 33%, and a fall of 54% for Beijing at the end of 2017, according to Greenpeace last report.
⇒ To learn more about pollution and the ways to prevent it in your everyday life, check this article (French).
2. Chinese people are rude and unfriendly
At first sight they could seem rude, yes. Because they speak loudly or may push you to get in the bus. But like in every other place in the world, you will find good or bad people. The 2 examples I quoted above are cultural. People talking in the street may look like arguing but there’s more chance that they are just telling some story. The public transport issue is true, but it’s not on purpose of hurting you, they just want the seat.
It might be complicated to meet a Chinese person, because of the language barrier. But once you got some words to say everything is easier. City life and countryside are a bit different though. In countryside it’s less usual to see a laowai (foreigner) around, so you can expect curious look and extremely kindness. This less happens in bigger cities, where contact could be a little more complicated. But once you meet friends, you become part of the family.
3. China is a communist country
Well, let’s say on the paper. China is led by the Chinese Communist Party, but China is capitalist. Very capitalist.
Living in China is quite similar to every other place, especially in large cities. But while Chinese people can get a passport and travel around the world, they have to deal with censorship. As a foreigner, you don’t really feel it (VPN is here to save your life).
For a local it’s more complicated. For example, criticizing the CCP on social media is not a good idea. Talking and defending LGBT community neither…
4. Chinese people can’t drive
It seems funny, and it’s totally true. Always look everywhere when you cross the road. Notice that cars can turn right when the traffic light is red. Get a good insurance. What is bigger goes first. Hold the bar in the bus. Sometimes your taxi driver will sleep while waiting for red light, that’s normal, just make sure to wake him up when driving. At the end it is just a matter of adaptation. We just don’t use the same driving laws.
In a more optimistic way, Chinese big cities tend to carry out a more controlled traffic and laws to avoid dangers, but it’s not for today.
5. Chinese people eat dogs
“Have you tried to eat dog?” “What do you eat besides rice?” “Do they eat cats too?” Classic questions. What to say about it?
First, the consumption of dog meat is pretty rare in China. And no, they don’t eat cats. You would be surprised to see that a lot of people own cat or dog as pet. They even dress them.
Second, food in China is good and wide as the country. All Chinese regions have a specialty. Cantonese, Sichuanese, Fujian, Shanghainese, Hunan, Beijing cuisine… Have you heard about Peking duck? Dim sum? Xiaolongbao? Hot pot? Mapo tofu? Sweet and sour pork? Dumplings? Lamian?
We are too far in Europe to get a proper taste of Asian food. Even for Taiwanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean… it’s hard to get a similar taste. To sum up, let’s say that Chinese people eat the same ingredients (local version of course), meat, vegetables, fruits as us, but in a different way.
Also, food is an important part of the culture. It’s gathering people. Time spent around a table eating and drinking is very valuable. This is how you get to know people, how you do business. Also, if a Chinese friend invite you to dinner, don’t expect to get a chance to pay the bill.