China is the most populous country in the world with over 1.3 billion citizens and it covers a land area of over 9.6 million kilometers squared, making it the 3rd largest country in the world after Russia and Canada. Although China is reported to have the world's 2nd largest economy (after the US), its per person income is below that of 90 much weaker countries. If you think that the new friend you have from China is rich, you will likely be wrong. Much more likely he/she is a member of the growing middle class.
China is considered one of the world's "mega-diverse" countries in terms of climate and geography, and newcomers from China may have lived in any of a variety of climates from desert to tropics to mountains.
Class and Hierarchy
In China, the social structure is quite formal and hierarchal; so many new students from China are shocked at young Canadians' casual references to their teachers, parents, and bosses.
Great respect is shown to elders and experts in China. It is better to say nothing at all than to disappoint a teacher with an answer that is poorly thought out or wrong. Teachers in China seldom engage in questioning and answering with students and, if they do, there is a 10-15 second pause before a student answers. You can imagine what a challenge it would be to adapt to the seemingly casual interactions in a Canadian classroom.
Religion and Government
China has one of the world's oldest civilizations and had political dynasties in place from before 2000 BCE until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party defeated the Chinese Nationalist Party. Until 1978, China had little interaction with Canada, but the last few decades have seen China's economy grow to the 2nd largest in the world with economic ties and immigration to Canada increasing yearly.
China (as with Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other East Asian countries) has a long connection with Confucianism, which places high value on virtue, ethics, obligations, and morals. The Communist Party did not allow religion and Confucianism itself does not have a God. Newcomers from China may not believe in God or they may belong to one of the many growing religious groups in China, including Christianity.
Be aware that China does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan or Tibet and considers them part of "One-China." Tread lightly in discussions and expect different opinions if your new friend is not from mainland China. In addition, it's important that you learn a bit about world history so that you know that China and Korea and Japan have at various times been at war.
Mandarin is the most-spoken language in China (and the world), but Cantonese is spoken in some of the southern regions of China, including Hong Kong. China is predicted to be a super-power and is one of the world's most visited countries, so many young Canadians are thinking about studying Mandarin. Most of the loan words from Mandarin came to English when traders brought new types of merchandise to England on the Silk Route (an ancient trade route connecting Africa, Asia and Europe). Some loan words include feng shui, ketchup, silk, tea, tofu, and tongs.
Social Interaction and Values
China is considered to be a collectivist culture, where community and relationships take precedence over individual aspirations.
Conflict is avoided wherever possible and, even in conversation, pushing to prove your point is not polite. Unlike in Canadian culture, the Chinese believe that each person is responsible for saving the "face" of the other, so causing someone to look silly is frowned upon and makes the doer look as bad as the subject. That said, the Chinese love to have fun, as long as no one person is ridiculed.
Chinese students are often surprised, when they have shared food several times in class, but then see a classmate eating something and not offering any. This is a huge lack of Guanxi. Guanxi means a "connection between people where trust exists." By being friendly, offering help, and providing support for a new Chinese friend, you can strengthen Guanxi. In turn, when you need help, your new friend will try to provide it. Interconnectedness is very important to the Chinese and a newcomer from China can feel truly lost without a set of strong social connections. In China, favours done for another are like storage of goodwill. If, even months or years later, you need a favor from a friend, you can ask, but be sure to be ready to offer help in return at some point.
Food is an important part of the day in a way which Canadians may find hard to understand. "Have you eaten yet?" is an everyday greeting in China, not a check of your possible hunger level. When eating in groups (which the Chinese prefer), lots of time can be taken in ordering large numbers of dishes which can then be shared. Splitting the bill will surprise a newcomer from China. If you are invited out by Chinese friend first, he or she will likely pay but you are expected to return the favor at some later date. This exchange is a very effective way to build your guanxi.
In China, people are expected to behave properly within their community. You may find a new Chinese friend striving to behave properly within the Canadian college classroom without having a solid idea of what constitutes successful student behavior here. For example, a Chinese student may seldom say anything in the classroom discussion because he/she feels that students should make only excellent contributions, whereas Canadian-raised students simply try to be part of the conversation.
Public speaking can be particularly nerve-wracking and boasting conflicts with the Chinese value for modesty, so it is challenging for Chinese students to talk proudly about themselves or their findings. You may need to help your new friend shine in a presentation or prepare for a job interview.
Family is extremely important in China, so don't be surprised if your new friend asks about your parents, brothers and sisters, whether you are married, and if you have any children. This is showing polite interest, not being nosy.
The way education is set up in China is much more formal than in Canada. Rao (2006) found Chinese education characterised by:
- Collectivism - Hard work and effort are expected and failures and successes are shared by the entire class. Being independent is not as highly valued as it is here.
- Socialization - Achievement is expected, failures are shameful to classmates and family.
- High acceptance of power and authority - The teacher, the text, and the final exam are the focus of most classes.
- Tried and true techniques - Repetition, reviewing and rote memory are emphasized. The classes are very detailed.
Chinese students are used to studying with the goal of memorizing large amounts of information and performing specific skill sets such as mathematical calculations in order to do well on exams. With large class sizes in China (35-50 in most high schools) and a traditional emphasis on university entrance exams, Chinese classrooms are typically not very interactive. Your new Chinese friend may need time and suggestions in order to figure out ways of participating in the quick give and take of classroom discussions. Understanding and consideration from classmates and professors will make them feel safer and more likely to participate.
Chinese students usually start English classes around the age of 10 but have no chance to practice their English until they arrive in Canada. They will need a period of adjusting to how English sounds and how idiomatic expressions are used. One of the most wonderful things you can do is to invite a new Chinese friend for tea, sit for a while, and offer to explain anything they are interested in about the way classes operate and assignments are done in college here.