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    Iran
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    Bangladesh
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    This vast country has a culture that spans past and present... a nomadic life shifting to a modern & sedentary society. Begin Your Journey!

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    The mountains, including the Tian Shan Mountains (pictured), give Kyrgyzstan a unique culture, partially formed from this isolation from the mountains. Go Now!

Social Life in China

Behavior

The Chinese are somewhat conservative in most aspects of their lives partially due to their past Buddhist faith, which preaches modesty and partially due to their government. However, they are well aware of the world around them as well as the differences in opinions and behaviors. Because of this they are quite understanding of various cultures and foreigners so odd behaviors are generally accepted, but are also looked at oddly and at times looked down upon.

The Chinese people are very proud people and insulting them or putting a person down in anyway can be very offensive as the person will feel "shamed." In much the same way, the Chinese will rarely give you critical advice or insult you in fear of "shaming" you. This is especially true in business. Turning down a business offer in the wrong way may, unknowingly be an insult and could force your contact to feel so shamed that he will actually quit his job; if all hope is lost on a deal, allow your Chinese counterpart to gracefully exit the situation so he can save "face." However, the opposite is also becoming more common and if you do (intentionally or unintentionally) insult another, that person may defend his honor by insulting you and will pursue a shouting match. Fortunately, this is more common among locals arguing over driving etiquette.

Additionally, avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, religion, and business unless initiated by your local counterpart. The most important of these is obviously politics and the Chinese government as these topics can get you or the locals you are speaking with into trouble, or even jail. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, showing off wealth, or getting noticeably drunk in public.

Dress

Chinese Culture - Pilgrim in Lhasa
Pilgrim in Lhasa, Tibet

The dress in China is very diverse and over time has changed in thousands of ways. The huge country is home to hundreds of ethnic groups, each of which has their own traditional clothing and over time political changes have also altered how people dress. In the times of Imperial China prior to 1912 many Han Chinese wore long braids and traditional clothing, which was often times quite colorful and consisted of more traditional clothing, such as the woman's qipao. The qipao is an outfit that is somewhat tight-fitting and covers nearly a woman's entire body.

Since the introduction of communism in the early 1900s the traditional dress has been all, but replaced with modern clothing, including the now common zhongshan suit, which is the simple shirt and pants worn by many communist leaders. At this same time the common outfit for women became the cheongsam, which is similar to the qipao, but the style and look changed significantly. However, with the Cultural Revolution the dress again changed as anything the government didn't approve of was banished, including western-styled clothing and traditional Chinese clothing.

In more recent years the dress restrictions have relaxed and there is a wide variety of clothing styles worn in the country today. In fact, western-styled clothing is popular in the country and many people wear this clothing on a regular basis. However, there are other variations on the dress, some of which incorporate more traditional aspects of the culture.

As a visitor to China, there are few dress restrictions. The most important thing to note is to avoid anything the government will see as provocative, like "Free Tibet" shirts, the Tibetan flag, or anti-communist slogans on shirts. Another point to note is that, although few locals wear shorts, especially men, there is no discourtesy involved in wearing them. The lack of shorts is more of a cultural trait rather than being religiously or politically motivated, so wearing shorts is odd, but not offensive in most situations. Of course in temples, government buildings (including Mao's mausoleum), and in business settings, long pants and long-sleeved shirts are required. Additionally, unlike many beaches in Europe, sunbathing naked is rarely permitted; check with locals before doing so.

This page was last updated: November, 2013