China is the largest Asian nation and the largest population in the world with almost 1.5 billion people. It is regarded as one of the great cradles of civilization. Chinese people also come from other countries, including Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. China has more than 4,000 years of recorded history. Despite the political and social upheavals that have frequently ravaged the country, China is unique among nations in its longevity and resilience as a discrete politico-cultural unit.
Colours often symbolise important aspects of life. Red is a symbol of joy and good luck and is found everywhere during Chinese New Year and other celebrations. White is often associated with death and mourning, gold or yellow is the colour of the emperor, and black is considered a neutral colour.
Numbers are also significant. The number 4 has bad luck connotations, like the number 13 in the west. The number 8, however is considered very lucky and brings good fortune.
Approximately 46 million ethnic Chinese live outside China, including Australia. The first Chinese people arrived in Australia with the gold rush in the mid 1800’s, generally from the Pearl River delta area. Since the 1970’s Chinese migration has increased, particularly from the mainland, with approximately half of Australian residents born in China arriving here since 2008. Two out of every five Australian residents born in China (44 per cent) live in the Greater Sydney area. University students make up 22 per cent of all Chinese-born people in Australia.
Chinese families put a lot of importance on honouring parents and obedience is expected from the children. Parents, in turn, will do all they can to give their children the best education and opportunities for success. Once they are married, grown up children, particularly the first-born child, will look after their parents. Surnames are first and their given name is usually one or two characters.
Although there are many different spoken dialects, the main language is Mandarin, the “common language,” although there are still significant numbers of Cantonese speakers among newer arrivals. The written simplified Chinese script is universally used in China, and is written from top to bottom and read from left to right. However, the traditional script is still used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
More than half of people with Chinese ancestry (54 per cent) reported that they had no religion in the 2016 census. Although 25 per cent declared they were Christian, many Chinese tend to be indifferent to Christianity, which is seen as a foreign religion. Buddhism was practised by 15 per cent of people with Chinese ancestry. Buddhism covers a wide range of beliefs and practices, including traditional ancestor worship, which is part of many Chinese families.
Chinese people strive to succeed and their culture celebrates those who have made achievements. Many Chinese are extremely respectful of teachers and people with titles. Volunteering is not common and considered to be a strange thing. It is also considered rude to say “no” or “I don’t understand” to anyone in authority, so ask questions and get them to repeat or summarise what you have said. Australians can easily misunderstand the more subtle and indirect communications of a Chinese person. It is often thought inappropriate to show your true feelings, whether they are happy or sad. Keeping a straight face is part of the Chinese desire to avoid embarrassing others, keep your reputation and to maintain apparent harmony.
Chinese culture values silence as showing thoughtfulness and respect. Rather than disagree in public with someone, a Chinese person may use silence and remain quiet. Be humble and use diplomatic words rather than being direct. Chinese people will not accept praise readily nor openly show pride in the achievement of others, even family. Whilst Australians expect people to look you in the eye, it can be more respectful for the Chinese to look downwards.
Chinese people do not like physical contact, and don’t kiss socially.
Food is very important culturally and Chinese people are very hospitable. If you are invited, arrive punctually, take off your shoes at the door, bring a small gift and enjoy the food! If your hosts are from the north you can expect noodles on the menu, and if they are from the south there will be rice. Playing a game after the meal is not uncommon.