Certainly a whole nation of people cannot be put into a mold. Not all Americans are fat. Not all politicians are liars. Not all Irish are Catholics. And yet many characteristics are more or less strongly represented in different nations. Many factors combine together to create an environment in which certain character traits are more likely to occur are acceptable or praised. Some of these factors include religion, culture, the education system, etc.
I have lived in China for twelve years. My wife is Chinese and my two boys are half-Chinese. During my time in China I have noticed several positive character traits that Chinese people are to be commended for. Not every person has these or all of these, but they are common and represent strengths of the Chinese culture.
Positive Character Trait #1: Diligence – In general, Chinese people are very diligent. Students take their education very seriously. School is not primarily a place to socialize, but a place of study. Even during summer months, they enroll in various tutoring programs and special camps to study more. Hours after school are spent on homework. Workers are expected to work tens of hours of overtime a week without compensation. I’ve seen middle-aged ladies hefting around bags of concrete on their backs working for construction companies. The work force is swarmed with new workers each year. People outnumber jobs. This dynamic has forced people to be incredibly diligent just to survive. In truth, this is probably a trait of many emerging nations where opportunities are not as prevalent as they are in the West.
Positive Character Trait #2: Respect for elders – Another positive trait is the near universal respect for the elderly. Unfortunately this trait is slowly eroding, but it still counts as a cultural strength. Elderly people boarding buses are generally given a seat. Children send money to their parents or ask their parents to live with them. Children may work extremely long and arduous hours to pay for their parents medical care or to have a nicer home, and they do this without complaint or thought of return. It is simply what they should do. This mindset was popularized by Confucius, who taught that filial piety was one of the most important characteristics to follow.
Positive Character Trait #3: Ambition – Chinese are currently trying to imitate the American dream of the 1900s. It is a land of vast opportunity. There is freedom to pursue one’s own dreams as never before. Universities are exploding as evidenced by the vast Mega-University City near where I live, which boasts hundreds of thousands of students attending nearly twenty universities which are grouped together forming an academic “city.” The basic mantra for students is that if they can pass the next test to go further in their education, they will go further in their education. The idea is to keep going as far as the train will take them. Young workers face a similar goal of hoping to move up the ranks, changing jobs like they are going out of style, until they find one with a decent salary and chance of promotion. Ambition pushes them to better themselves and the process their society. Imagine matching that ambition with a biblical worldview!
Positive Character Trait #4: Little desire to look cool – Admittedly, this is not something we often think in relation to character traits, but it is something that I have noticed again and again. In Chinese schools a strict dress code is adhered to with each student required to wear the school uniform. Whether this is the symptom or the cause of the society’s disdain of individualism, I don’t know. While on the streets, you will seldom see anyone with wildly colored hair, flamboyant tattoos, or multiple piercings. In various parties I have held, it is easy for Chinese to join in crazy and “un-cool” games such as charades, silly relay races, skits and dramas, etc. In similar parties in the US, many would stand aloof and refuse to participate since it might hurt their image. No need to worry about that here.
Positive Character Trait #5: Prioritize long-term relationships – It never ceases to amaze me how well Chinese keep up with their classmates and colleagues from years before. In addition to using social media such as QQ or WeChat to keep up, they routinely get together for class reunions (including primary school, middle school, high school, and college) which could be a meal or a night of karaoke. In Chinese there are special words used to address different types of classmates. For example there is a special term for a female classmate of the same major who is older than you (see how clunky that is to say in English?) This relationship is just not that important to merit a special word to Westerners, but to Chinese, they should show their respect and appreciation to each classmate by addressing them with the proper term.
It’s easy to complain and look at people’s weaknesses, but next time you are in China, think about all of their positive character traits and about what good qualities you can learn.