Updated: Nov 18, 2020
There are a lot of misconceptions about China. The truth is, you'll never really know what life in China is like until you experience it yourself. Once you get the chance to live in China, you'll come to understand that most things you've heard about the most populous country are not true. Today, we will shed light on common misconceptions about daily life in China. We spoke with different people about the biggest misconceptions they've heard about China before living here.
Chris Burgess, USA, currently living in Beijing
EASE OF ONLINE SHOPPING
I did not expect online shopping to be so big here in China. I thought things would be a lot more traditional, with only tiny shops around. I thought things would be a lot more inconvenient when shopping and having access to items. I did not know about apps here like Taobao and JD. It's incredible being able to buy anything I need and so easily.
Dr. Norman Hart, USA, currently living in Beijing
CARING TOWARDS FOREIGNERS
One of the things people told me before coming to China was that people here are very selfish. I would hear that people in China don't accept foreigners and only cared about their own culture. After living in China, I've seen this is entirely not true. People here are very welcoming and receiving. I've never had any issues about feeling out of place. Chinese people are incredibly caring, too. When it comes to finding what to eat, finding a place to live, and just every day things— everyone is willing to help. The community is all very sharing. There's a general sense of feeling accepted. I've learned that it's best to go places with an open mind.
Aaron, Poland, currently living in Beijing
PARTYING AND ENJOYING LIFE IN CHINA
Before I came to China, I always heard that Chinese people didn't party. I was convinced that life here was closely supervised by the government and not very exciting. I thought people would go to work and then go home. My perspective has changed since then. Once I got to know more Chinese people, I started learning more about their lives and lifestyle. By hearing about how they live and their experiences, I realized their lifestyle is no different from any one's life in other places in the world. My perspective has changed since then.
Gerard Broussard, USA, currently living in Beijing
INCLUSION AND CLEANLINESS IN CHINA
I knew just a bit about Chinese culture before coming to live here. I've learned that if you smile while speaking or before speaking, it changes everything. Also, when they find out you are a teacher, people here treat you like royalty. Whole attitudes change when they find out I'm a teacher.
Surprisingly, most of my misconceptions about China didn't come from the US; they came out of Japan. Most people in the US don't have any idea about what it's like in China. I lived in Japan for a few years before China. People would tell me that the Chinese were mean, the country wasn't clean, there's lots of racism, and foreigners are often alienated.
When I came here, I realized it was not true; for instance, I thought I would be on my own, and people would not speak any English. Once I got here, everyone wanted to help. If you ever need help with something, people genuinely want to help you. Then you have people here cleaning up the streets at 5 am. I didn't know that existed. We don't have that in the US. This was an eye-opening experience. Watching this gave me a sense of community; to want to help and do my part. I have a very elderly couple who live next to me. I started to help them by taking out their trash. They are so appreciative. As a result, anytime they cooked, she would make sure I'd try some. Everyone back home is too busy and only care about themselves. The sense of community makes you appreciate where you are.
Joshua Wayne, USA, currently living in Beijing
FOOD IN CHINA IS NORMAL, AND LEARNING CHINESE IS POSSIBLE
Everything I knew about China was basically from taking Chinese classes in college. I asked my dad, and he would say it's still the same as the 1970s in Beijing. If you're not living in China, you don't know what life is like here because the news gives you a different idea.
I didn't know too many Chinese people back home in the US. I would hear Chinese people eat bizarre stuff, but it's honestly not much different from the food I'm used to.
Also, learning Chinese is possible by just hearing other people speak. It's not easy, but it's very intuitive. You can pack a lot of information in a sentence. A few words go a long way.
Gerrit, South Africa, currently living in Beijing
BEIJING IS A MODERN CITY
One of the biggest misconceptions I heard before living in China was that it was all rural. Beijing is very modern, and you will find all the international brands here. Everything you want and need is readily available in Beijing.
You will also hear people say it's going to be hard to get around in Beijing. However, that is not the case. The technology here is advanced, and getting around is easy. It doesn't even matter if you don't speak Chinese. Transportation is made easy for all people here, whether through a Didi, subway, or shared bikes.
It's possible to communicate with people back home. It's not true that you won't be able to stay in touch with the outside world.
Also, a big concern I've heard was about sending money back home. It's not difficult at all. The banking systems in China are efficient, and it's not a problem transferring money. The transfer system here is normal and the same as any other country.
Michiel, South Africa, currently living in Beijing
CONTROL OVER PEOPLE / AUTHORITARIAN
Before living in China, I would hear my friends talk about how controlling it was here. They would say things like China is a police state, and police are always harassing all the people. In reality, everyone here nice and respectful. I haven't experienced any issues with harassment from the authorities here in China. Everyone is generally harmonious, ordered, a friendly.
Christelle, South Africa, currently living in Beijing
ADJUSTING TO LIFE IN BEIJING
I'm always surprised how easy it is to adjust to life here in Beijing. We've had trouble in other countries adjusting to life and people being prejudiced. Life is very easy in Beijing. In fact, I am getting a DiDi (China's version of Uber) back home with my whole family, as we are expecting our dinner to be delivered at home. The people here are also so helpful. They will help translate whenever there's any confusion, which helps a lot. Everything is so convenient. I never want to leave.
Here's some extra:
SAFETY AND SECURITY IN BEIJING
One thing I'd heard a lot before living in Beijing was that it isn't safe. In reality, living in Beijing feels safer than any place I've lived in. For instance, if a courier left your packages by your apartment door even for a week, you will still find them there untouched. In other cities worldwide, people would be a lot more concerned about theft than here in Beijing. It's also generally more safe on the roads with the cameras around. You can walk around the streets at 3 am and not ever fear for your safety. I can't say that for a lot of other cities around the world.
I often hear people talk about how China is so terrible for the environment. There's a lot of pollution, but it's getting better every year. There are also big waste sorting standards here, so recycling is essential in China. Additionally, most of the scooters people drive on the road are electric! China is making significant advancements in the electric car industry and is currently the fastest-growing market for electric vehicles.
WOMEN ARE NOT SUBSERVIENT
I have heard a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the power women have in China. Women have equal power to men in China. They are highly educated and hold influential positions in the workforce. I'm always surprised to see many more women bosses than back home in the states. Women also generally call the shots when it comes to money manners in the household. So, it's safe to say it's not entirely true women are subservient.
IMPOSSIBLE TO BE VEGETARIAN IN CHINA
Good news to all vegetarians and vegans! It's possible to stay away from animal products and eat fantastic food in China. Chinese cuisine in China is a lot different from the usual 'take out' from back home. There's a huge emphasis on vegetables in Chinese cuisine, along with the best noodles, dumplings, buns, tofu, and veggie alternatives. It's 100% possible to live meat-free, happy, and FULL while living in China.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about China. Ultimately, you won't truly know what it's like until you see it for yourself. So, start packing and leaving the misconceptions at bay. See you in China!