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Fear & Loathing in China

Featured Fear & Loathing in China

Today is gorgeous; crisp air brushes my face as I don my first sweater in what has felt like a very long time. I make my way over to the bus station and take a seat to wait.

I can feel a little old lady sat next to me. From my peripheral vision, she seems so small, so delicate. I can feel her interest in me; I feel her looking me up and down. I look at her and a wide smile stretches across her face as she stares up at me, I smile back; her eyes burn with inquiry but alas she remains silent, because she is afraid I will not understand. And so we sit, eventually her interest fades and it is just us, two women, from opposite sides of the globe, sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus.

While we wait, I think of all the things I want to ask her; all the experiences she has had in her life. I feel the urge to be instilled with her wealth of knowledge, her wisdom and advice. But in turn, I am too shy and so I just sit, wondering. After she got on the bus and I watched her head away, I wondered what it was she was thinking when she looked at me so closely, what went through her head when she smiled. Was she interested in me? Was she judging me? Did she want to know about me too? She smiled; that is all I will ever know.

Along with your commitments, socialising and travel, you have probably spent a good deal of your time in China judging the Chinese people. Don’t worry, everyone has, it is only natural. At some point during your time here, you have probably sat bickering, wondering or analysing the Chinese.

Trying to understand a culture that is over 5,000 years old, and for most of us, without the ability to connect through language, will ultimately result in an analysis of behaviour through direct observation.

For most of us living here, our psychological understanding of the Chinese comes from the select few who can speak English and what we see on a daily basis. It becomes a guessing game, and usually results in asking why?

Is it bad translation or a lack of English vocabulary? Do they mean “fake” or do they mean “counterfeit”? Do they mean “cannot” or do they mean “may not be permitted”? Or are our judgments in uenced by nervous laughter, pointing and staring? It is most probably a mixture of the two and the hundreds of other confusing experiences we have day in day out.

“They are mute for about six months before they start talking...they watch all the other kids, they watch how they behave, and when they really want something, that’s when they start talking”. I was once told this from an international prep school teacher. The mute kids to whom she were referring were the ones from non-English speaking countries, who were placed in a class full of English speakers.

Why does it only take a child six months to start talking and interacting fluently in another language that is not their own? The answer is that children have some- thing that we lose as we grow; pre-conceived judgement has not set in, cultural values are not important to the child, neither are colour, manners and pride. What is important is communication; the child just wants to play like the others, with that toy, in that space, and that is the main goal. If we could just shed that skin we have, that layer of ego and fear, then would it not be so much easier for us to get serious about playing with the Chinese, with that toy, in this space?

“What are Chinese People Afraid of?”

A Foreigner’s Perspective


  • Foreign men
  • Speaking in English
  • Authority
  • Ghosts
  • Speaking directly
  • Losing face
  • Parting from video games
  • Resilient women
  • Leisure


  • Fruit skin
  • The sun
  • Alcohol
  • Their boss
  • In-laws
  • Being fat
  • Wrinkles
  • Cooking
  • Perfume
  • Coffee
  • European women
  • Failure


  • Anything cold
  • Pollution
  • Fake products
  • Marriageless children
  • Salad
  • The sea
  • “hurt” old people / disabled people
  • Walking on pavements / pedestrians
  • Being single
  • Being fat
  • Western medicine
  • The opposite sex
  • Solo travel / living abroad
  • Ill / mental health
  • Eating after 7 pm
  • Missing public transport

Now before you get your knickers in a twist over the above list, this is not an attempt to throw a blanket over all Chinese people; by no means. This is simply a list of what is spoken of among circles of foreigners regarding general observations of the public.

It is no wonder couples councilors instill us with the importance of spoken “communication”, because making assumptions about what is going on inside someone else’s head is dangerous work and should be avoided at all costs. The reason for this is because we can and do get it so totally wrong.

While we remain aware that the personal lives of the Chinese people are just as complicated and frightening as the rest of us, due to our communication disability, one can only ever wonder, for we can never know for sure.

[Below] In 2013 Baidu released a search engine report entitled “What are Chinese people afraid of?” The report focuses mainly on the differences between what young, modern Chinese men and women are afraid of, based on data from real world Internet searches performed on Baidu. It helps give us a small insight into what truly happens in that head, behind that smiling face.

2013 Baidu Search Engine Report


  • Loss of money
  • Extra-martial affairs
  • Being single
  • Losing face
  • Losing everything
  • Low sex drive
  • Taking sides between rival management
  • Faulty computer as a result of adult material therein
  • Being judged by others
  • Beer belly, bald head and impotency
  • Work related alcohol
  • Pressure put on making money


  • Getting old
  • Sexual satisfaction
  • Mistresses
  • Being single
  • Ghosts
  • Weak children
  • Bedroom performance
  • Sexual harassment by management at work
  • Personal information potentially leaked online
  • Physical, psychological, emotional and economical security
  • Saggy breasts, wrinkles and getting fat

Females are 40 percent more afraid of getting married than males

More in this category: « The Psychology of Avarice




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