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Lesson Transcript

Amber: Hey everybody. Welcome back to the All About Chinese series. I'm Amber.
Victor: 大家好 (dàjiā hǎo), I’m Victor.
Amber: And today we’re going to talk about Chinese society.
Victor: Yes.
Amber: The top five things you need to know.
Victor: Yes, and you have two very qualified people to do that. At least we like to think that.
Amber: Yeah, we qualified ourselves since there’s no official qualification for this. So we’re going to tell you more about life in China today.
Victor: So now China is a very diverse country. There are many aspects to society.
Amber: So many. I don’t even know where we should begin, Victor.

Lesson focus

Victor: To start off, I guess, there are 56 different ethnic groups with different languages, different customs, they live in different areas of the country, with the Han being the majority. And I think in our other lesson that we talked about 40% of the Chinese population actually live in urban areas. So why don’t we just start with city life?
Amber: Yeah, that sounds good. And, true, most of us, what we know is life in the cities in China. Right, Victor? I never lived in the countryside. How about you?
Victor: No, mostly in the city. And even small cities in China would be considered very big cities elsewhere.
Amber: That’s true. Sometimes people in China will talk about their town that they came from, but really they’re, “How many people are there?” “Oh, 5 million.”
Victor: Yeah, my town is a medium sized, towards the smaller side and has about three million people.
Amber: Wow. So every city in China, because the population is so huge, every city has its own culture, often its own dialect, its own food, and even personality.
Victor: Yeah. So how about we start with your hometown, Amber, in China. Your Chinese hometown.
Amber: Yes, my hometown. The small, little town of Shanghai. So yeah, I think shanghai is a pretty good place to start. Pretty representative of the New China.
Victor: I think Shanghai is a city full of contrasts, and also very representative, the modern era in China.
Amber: It’s true. And Shanghai itself has changed so quickly. Sometimes you could just see a high rise practically go up overnight. They’re building night and day.
Victor: And it’s the largest city in China in terms of the population.
Amber: Yeah, it’s one of the largest cities in the world with over 20 million people. Did you know that, Victor? Even New York City has only 8 million.
Victor: Almost three times as New York.
Amber: Yeah, Shanghai’s population is almost as big as Canada’s, all of Canada.
Victor: That’s crazy.
Amber: Yeah.
Victor: The interesting thing about Shanghai is that it was only small fishing village. It started as a small village, and it grew kind of under Western influences and businesses. So even old buildings in Shanghai are of Western style.
Amber: Yeah, it’s very interesting. My old neighborhood was entirely built by the French. It feels kind of like Europe with Chinese flavor.
Victor: Exactly. So it’s very different in Shanghai and on the other hand, Beijing, which is my favorite, perfectly combines Chinese and Western culture…
Amber: It feels a lot more Chinese to me. And that’s where all of the cultural relics are. The Great Wall is nearby, the Ming Tomb, the Forbidden City, that’s where you really, to me, feel like you’re in the real China.
Victor: And the Beijing dock, of course.
Amber: Of course. How can we not mention the food. So Beijing is also evolving, the Olympics changed a lot. A lot of the old allies, the hutong are sort of disappearing, but you can still find them now.
Victor: Yeah, during the Olympics, the Chinese government put a lot of effort into presenting Beijing in the best light they can to welcome the world.
Amber: That’s right.
Victor: Beijing has a lot of really nice parks, and there’s one really famous one called 景山公园 (Jǐngshān gōngyuán) and I like it best because it’s right behind the Forbidden City. And what they did is basically they used the dirt, they dug out a river around the Forbidden City…
Amber: Oh, like a moat.
Victor: Right. So the dirt, they just pile it up behind the Forbidden City and became a hill. And that’s why it’s called, 景山 (Jǐngshān), literally the hill. So once you go to that park, you get an overview of the forbidden city.
Amber: And because Beijing is so flat, that hill is sort of like a mountain, and you can see miles around every direction.
Victor: You can see all the roof tops of the Forbidden City and all the golden roofs and it’s definitely really nice.
Amber: Definitely a good spot to go to. Now, another spot that people like to go to another city is Xi’an. That’s where the Terracotta Army is. Have you been, Victor?
Victor: I have. The city has about 300000 years of history, and Xi’an was the Eastern terminus of the Silk Road.
Amber: And that Terracotta Army that people go see it’s spectacular. There’s more than 8,000 soldiers. Plus, there’s chariots and horses, all made from clay.
Victor: Yeah, with color still, when they come out. And they kind of disappear instantly because they’ve been in the dirt for so long. That’s a very interesting story.
Amber: Now, Hong Kong, also very unique amongst Chinese cities. I think it’s very different, of course, due to different influences that it’s had through its history. Definitely the most capitalist city in China. Very lively, crowded…
Victor: Yeah, Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997. I still remember when it was returned to China, it was a very emotional time for the Chinese. So it has a very unique mixture of the east and the west.
Amber: Now, speaking of Chinese cities, there is one thing you should know about life in Chinese cities that we could bring up is that a lot of them are very polluted.
Victor: Yes. Air pollution, I guess, it’s really no new to people, but it definitely have raise the level of awareness of people in China and it’s slowly and gradually making progress.
Amber: That’s right.
Victor: And another thing is, of course, life in China is super crowded and super busy.
Amber: Yeah, and interestingly there’s a word in Chinese that we don’t really even have an equivalent for in English, which is 热闹 (rènào). And that means, basically…
Victor: A lot of bustling…
Amber: Bustling, noisy, busy, crowded, but in a good way. It’s a positive word. A lot of Chinese people, when they emigrate, they move to the west, they’ll often complain that the cities are 不热闹 (bù rènào).
Victor: Quiet.
Amber: “I don’t like it here, it’s so boring. 不热闹 (bù rènào)”
Victor: Yeah, so some people complain about the west being 不热闹 (bù rènào), not 热闹 (rènào). But it’s different, I guess, different city cultures. Ok, so any time during the day, in China, you can really find food and find people out who visit people, and whatnot.
Amber: Yeah, very lively. That’s what 热闹 (rènào) is all about. Because of the crowds, of course, I can also say from experience that there also comes conflict. And sometimes, in china, you might encounter certain cultural phenomenon. One of which is noisy street arguments. Have you not noticed that, Victor? I’ve seen a lot of street arguments.
Victor: Definitely.
Amber: In fact, once, I was in a street argument.
Victor: Oh, really?
Amber: I’m so ashamed.
Victor: Using Chinese, that’s pretty impressive.
Amber: It’s cause a woman threw my bike over onto the ground. Cause she didn’t like where I parked. You would argue too, wouldn’t you? But anyways, it’s all part of the culture of a Chinese people. So many people together, sometimes conflict arises. Everyone’s so crowded in to this small space. But one thing I really appreciate about Chinese cities is that they are so safe, in general. Personal safety, I feel, is not really… I’ve never felt threatened, no matter what time of night I walked home. That sort of thing.
Victor: That’s really good. And I think sometimes, though, you have to watch out for pickpockets.
Amber: Yeah, it think the only crime that is very evident is pick pocketing. I mean, I definitely have to say I lost a few cellphones and iPods that way, but as far as personal safety goes, I never felt nervous.
Victor: That’s good, that’s good to know.
Amber: Ok now, something else about Chinese cities we mentioned is that every area in China seems to have its own dialect, Victor. Even different cities and towns, right?
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: So you’re from…?
Victor: I’m from Liaoning province, in the north east, so the general area would be called Dongbei, literally just “north-east”.
Amber: Ok, now, do you have a dialect?
Victor: Sort of, sort of.
Amber: Sort of? Ok, so what we want you to do is say something in your dialect. You’re like a circus trick right now.
Victor: Ok, I guess it’s more like the way you say it. So in the north-east, people very… passionate, so very forceful, so the way you speak is very intense, it’s like… Even asking small questions like “What are you doing?” 干啥 (gàn shà) That kind of force.
Amber: And the thing is, even if you’re in, say, a southern city, you can generally hear dialects from all over, because there’s so many migrant workers that come from all over China to work in the cities.
Victor: Yeah, and sometimes it’s hard on people, sometimes, because they have to leave their families and homes.
Amber: Yeah and that’s kind of another aspect of life in Chinese society today, the family life. The Chinese are very family centered, right Victor?
Victor: Yeah.
Amber: So now, puts a lot of pressures on families, because, for example, people generally have one child, the child goes off to the city to work. And the parents are left behind, right? So it puts a lot of pressure on that traditional Chinese family unit, doesn’t it?
Victor: It’s true. Most of the holiday sets around family gatherings and meals. And Filial Piety is still very important and still valid part of Chinese society.
Amber: Yeah, and you can see that every holiday, Chinese kids that are working in the cities are always returned back to their hometown and spend the holiday with their family.
Victor: And of course, one very characteristic thing in China is the one child policy. And yours truly here is a product of that policy. I am the one child, yes. And because Chinese are very close with their extended families, often we refer to our cousins as brothers and sisters. The interesting about the one child policy is that sometimes the parents only have one child and two pairs of grandparents. So it’s like three families focused on one child.
Amber: And the Chinese love their children.
Victor: Right. And a few years ago there was this phenomenon called “the little empress” or “little princesses” or whatnot.
Amber: Spoiled, maybe?
Victor: Right. Cause all their attention of the family is focused on them, and so a lot of kids grow up to be quite spoiled.
Amber: Yeah, I think even that phenomenon… imagine that many kids, this generation growing up now, since, when, 1980s, they’re all, basically, almost all only children. That alone might change society.
Victor: Yeah, definitely.
Amber: But you know what’s interesting, Victor, is that when I was in China, I always thought that every family would only have one child, but I met tons of people that ha brothers and sisters. In fact, my best friend in china, she’s from the countryside in Jiangsu province, and they were six kids in their family.
Victor: In the countryside it’s a little bit different. Especially if their first child is a girl, they’re allowed to have more children.
Amber: Nowadays, they’ve changed the laws a bit, but actually her family, they would just have the kids and pay the fine.
Victor: Right, there’s a fine attached to that.
Amber: Yeah. And the problem for her parents, I guess, they felt it was a problem, is that they kept having girls. They had five girls, and finally, when they got the boy, they stopped.
Victor: That’s a very traditional… gender values. And also, sometimes, it kind of… it’s related to farming as well, because a lot of farming is still done with manual labor. So having a son presumably means you have more labor in the field.
Amber: Yeah. And with modern society too, the family definitely is changing. For example, divorce was basically unheard of probably 20 years ago, right Victor? But nowadays it’s becoming more common among the younger generation.
Victor: Yeah, that with divorce and also with people who live in the city are more educated, they’re either delaying having children or just having one child.
Amber: Yeah, they’re not even getting married till much later.
Victor: Right, and government really teaches people about gender equality and importance of publish and control. So a lot of changes happening right now.
Amber: Yeah. And that brings to another related thing which is interesting, which is dating in China. The thing is, like you say, the younger people are marrying later, but the parents, I know my friends, their parents are constantly putting pressure on them when they’re only 25 years old. “You’re too old, you’re not going to find a husband.”
Victor: Yeah, it happens all the time.
Amber: Yeah, so there’s kind of a bit of a difference that way. And sometimes even the parents will go and get a matchmaker and try and set up their child, even sometimes against the child’s will, right?
Victor: Yeah, it was a lot more common before, in the past, but it still happens right now. And sometimes even your peers will kind of talk about these sort of things.
Amber: It’s true. Try and set each together up. In Shanghai there’s a park, the main park, on Sunday’s there’s sort of a matchmaking event, and parents will go and make a big plank card with the information about their child, and then the other parents will come and they’ll have a picture, what their job is, what they make, and they’ll try and match up their sons and daughters. It’s quite cute.
Victor: Kind of embarrassing, no?
Amber: I’m sure the kids probably don’t even know, they’re probably mortified.
Victor: Some people may say, especially Western visitors through China, they say that the dating scene is not very developed in China. And, again, my observation is that the Chinese culture traditionally puts a lot of emphasis on commitment and settling down. So it’s not like you go out and date and have multiple girlfriends and boyfriends. They don’t do that. And it’s more about you meet someone, hopefully it’ll work out and then you can just settle down. So it’s more about settling down than browsing.
Amber: They’re not serial daters. Well, that’s kind of nice. Ok, so that’s some social changes. China is changing so quickly. Economically there’s been a lot of changes as well. I mean, China’s economy is now ranked number three in the world, and as we’ve talked about before, they only change to a market based economy in 1978, so it’s pretty amazing fleet.
Victor: About 30 years ago.
Amber: So on the economy though, I think we should mention a little bit about business, how it’s done in China. It’s quite interesting, right?
Victor: Yeah. Very important aspect of business in China is the word called 关系 (guānxì) in Chinese.
Amber: Yeah, which means kind of like “relationships”.
Victor: … connections. Right.
Amber: And Chinese people… I don’t know, correct me if I'm wrong, Victor, but it seems like they’ll only do business with people they have some sort of connection with.
Victor: What I think is it has a lot to do with trust. It’s kind of like if I know you or if we’re kind of relates somehow, the assumption is that you can be trusted more. So I think in American senses it’s more like your social network. But its Chinese version of that is the 关系 (guānxì), but it’s very important and the success of your business sometimes can be dependents to the large degree on the power or the scope of your network.
Amber: Who you know.
Victor: Kind of the same in the US in certain aspects, right?
Amber: Yeah, but one difference I think is that maybe because everything is through someone you know, business meetings are really different than they are in the west. Business deals are not settled in board rooms. Ok, sure, there might be a board room, but where the deal gets done is only after much eating, drinking, K-TV singing, camaraderie drunkenness.
Victor: The fun way to do business in China.
Amber: I was like, man, how different would the deals be if people weren’t drunk when they made them. It probably helps, like lubricates the transaction or something. Because they get pretty drunk.
Victor: Yeah and 白酒 (báijiǔ). Yeah, 白酒 (báijiǔ) is another thing that we should talk about. It’s the Chinese rice wine, and as you can tell, probably, neither Amber and I are big fans of this 白酒 (báijiǔ).
Amber: Maybe that’s why we’re not successful businessmen, Victor. We’re here, doing these podcasts. Anyway, the 白酒 (báijiǔ) definitely lubricates the transaction.
Victor: Yeah. So because China has been changing so fast in the past 30 years, a clash between tradition and modern influences is also very noticeable in purchasing habits, career pursuits and daily interactions between children and others.
Amber: Yes, I think that’s very true. In fact, a lot of my Chinese friends would tell me about different conflicts they’d have with their parents. One of them being “how much of your salary you should save”. Kids nowadays they want to buy clothes, buy a nice car maybe, and the parents are still sort of back in the old sort of thinking. Chinese are great savers.
Victor: Yeah, definitely. The older generation usually believes in saving at least 40% if not half of your income. I guess it has to do a lot with the background they grew up in, and it’s kind of like the grandparents here who grew up under the Great Depression, have trouble trusting banks and things like that.
Amber: Exactly. Rightfully so.
Victor: Especially this economy, today.


Amber: Well, that was our glimpse into to the China today.