On February 05, 1979, Premier Deng Xiao took a flight to US. This visit was soon after he succeeded Mao Zedong and prepared to built China as the world knows today. While in US, he met with then President Jimmy Karter and also window-shopped latest technologies in US such as oil-drilling equipment and space technology. 1979 marked an important year as it integrated the two historically conflicting parties – the state and business.
Today, China ranks as the world’s second largest economy with over 1.4 billion people, each one part of a family unit or Jiātíng dānwèi. The Chinese language is full of kinship terms such as didi (small brother) and gege (big brother). However, with the One Child policy in implemented from 1980’s until January 2016, many fear that such words, Jiātíng dānwèi and many traditional customs might get forgotten. With that background, we will learn a little more about some critical cultural aspects of the Chinese people.
“Jiātíng dānwèi” or Family Unit
The family unit is the most important part of the Chinese society. Children are idolized when they are small and the single children are often known as “little emperors” who exhibit perter-power (getting their parents to buy things for them). This love for the children comes partly from the belief in need for family continuity and also from the sheer joy that new life brings in a Chinese family, which has a high likelihood of a hard life. Although in the rural areas, the story is a little different – needs of many outweigh the needs of one.
The changing family values – due to regulations, increasing cost of living, ambitions and desire to improve living standards – are affecting lifestyles, housing and the way people find new jobs. While guanxi (sort of good networking karma) still helps young graduates to find jobs, the reduced corruption and increased social awareness ensures that more jobs are awarded on one’s skills and not necessarily connections. The state no longer funds the “work units” or danwei, which provided extensive support to the workers and their families. After the recession, many people realized that they had no job security.
“Lǐyí” or Chinese Etiquette
China takes prides in its centuries old manners and etiquette such as gifting, respect for elders, high-context culture and dislike for impatience (seen as a serious character flaw). If Chinese people are receive a gift or an invitation they offer it back at a suitable time. This is known as Li Shang Wang Lai. Red envelops with cash is a very common and readily acceptable form of gifts.
Many luxury watchmakers launch limited edition zodiac specific watches. Chopard, a luxury watch brand, launched a watch with golden pig on the dial (for the Year of the Pig), which was created using the highly sought after Japanese art called Urushi. Although gifting is very common (and expected), this watch, or any watch for that matter can only be bought for use, not as a gift. In fact, all clocks are bad luck. In Chinese, saying ‘giving a clock’ (送钟 sòng zhōng /song jong/) sounds exactly like the Chinese words for ‘attending a funeral ritual’ (送终 sòng zhōng) and thus it is bad luck to gift clocks or watches.
“Chun Jie” or Chinese New Year
The Chinese use a mixture of the Gregorian and lunisolar calendar based on precise calculations of sun’s position and moon’s phases. February 5, 2019 marked the beginning of the year of the Pig. The Pig is the 12th animal of the Chinese zodiac and is considered a symbol of wealth. Since the beginning of 2019, there was a lot of news about the Chinese New Year celebrations in US and overseas. Blogs, celebrities, news websites, shopping sites – everyone was talking about it. Needless to say, this is the biggest celebration in the Chinese culture and quite popular in US given a substantial Chinese population in the US (and long standing trade relations).
This time of the year is also considered auspicious. Interestingly, celebrating birthdays is not a thing in China, however, the seventh day of the new year is birthday for “everyone”. Also during this time, Chinese spend almost twice as much, burst more firecrackers than anywhere else in the world and account for the largest human migration (chunyun or Spring Vacation) in the world owing to their travels back home.
The changing government policies, declining population and fierce competition (domestic and global) means that the average Chinese worker will have less time for the social activities. The daily life of a Chinese person is quick paced, full of travel and often involves short resting periods after lunch (xiu xi). People would usually start their day early and “finish” their day late, leaving from work (or school) around 6 pm. On the way back, they usually buy groceries from the supermarkets or street markets. As the general user preferences and behavior changes, we will see a proliferation of innovative business ideas aimed at preserving (or restoring) the centuries traditions held so close to their hearts.