I lived in Beijing from 2007 to 2016. The answer is, its complicated! In 2007 I loved Beijing and thought I was moving to China to experience China’s liberalization. Back then foreigners had nearly free reign to do whatever they wanted and the city had a sense of vibrant freedom where anything was possible.
Then they banned Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Gmail, Google search and even IMDB… then New York Times and the list goes on and on. Now in these recent months/years the Beijing government closed down most of the cool bars and ruined the main bar area. But living there I got to understand that life in China occurs in cycles.
There would be yearly or bi-annual random restaurant/concert/bar/event closings or enforcements of various types of laws (drunk driving, pollution, noise, smoking, food safety, road safety, building safety, general “security”, motorcycle license plates, internet, etc) for periods of times (sometimes politically related), and then things would revert to how they were before the enforcements, soon after. In other words, when the government is watching, people follow the rules. But there are simply too many people to watch and the government doesn’t really want to watch that much, so its kind of a game. The one thing that stuck is the no smoking law in restaurants, which is awesome! They were really serious about that one!
The government pretends to govern and the people pretend to be governed. This is one important and cool thing about Chinese people, they have adapted to the randomness of what the government wants and they understand how to ebb and flow with changing rules that may have important reasons or no reasons at all.
A majority of the most outrageous China news we read in the west doesn’t affect most people. Chinese people who want to know real information use VPN’s. The vast majority Chinese people aren’t interested in outside information; it doesn’t have any application in their lives. For those who find it important, a VPN is easily accessible for $5 a month. This strategy is a great idea for the government, making sure that people who need to know can know, and those who the government wants to keep a bit in the dark, are kept that way.
A German friend at a party recently complained to me how “not free” Chinese people are because of their government and then I asked him: When was the last time you complained about a German political party on Facebook? He said never. I asked him if he wants to start his own political party. He said no. I said well there you have it, that’s how it is for Chinese people, they can do everything except for those 2 things and like you, they mostly aren’t interested.
That conversation was before the new law came into effect regarding the emperor which is an unfortunate development on many levels. But like everything else in China, it is a cycle that may last longer than people would like.
The best thing about my decade in China is that I never once felt bored. I met great people there and even met my wife. China will always be in my heart, but unfortunately also in my liver, my kidneys, and my blood. This is a photo of my IQ Air filter after only a few months:
But I don’t want to end on a negative note, here are a few of my favorite China moments:
Back when foreigners could do whatever they wanted, I drove around this death trap of a little electric car that was normally for old people or the disabled.
I’ve witnessed thousands of people taking selfies for no reason at all. Not like, oh we’re at this crazy mountain lets capture the moment. More like we’re sitting on this bench lets take 100 photos of ourselves and post them to Wechat to see how many likes we get:
I met Steven Seagal once at the Beijing airport in the line to enter the country. He wasn’t that happy.
And most importantly, I found my business partners who make the Autoblow for me, and without them my life wouldn’t be the same. Dongguan is not what it used to be though.
I’ll always miss the mysteriousness of the abandoned villages you could find driving 1–2 hours away from the center of Beijing…
And the feeling of discovering disused machinery from an earlier era
I guess I come from the unique perspective of having been to all the East Asian countries (China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea) and my feelings about China has changed because of this. Roughly 30% of my friends are Chinese and 40% Korean.
Before I lived in Korea, I was in China for a few months, visiting such places as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou, Hangzhou.
My impressions are that North China has really bad air.. and although Beijing has lots of history, it just wasn’t as interesting to me as Central and South China were. In contrast, Shanghai was probably the most modern city in China, and Suzhou and Hangzhou had some of the most beautiful natural scenery I’ve experienced.
I had lots of (mainland) Chinese friends in university, and also met Chinese people in China of course.
I feel that my feelings for Chinese people changed a lot after I met Japanese, Koreans and Taiwanese after I graduated university and started working and traveling to other Asian countries.
After having visited Japan and Taiwan and living in Korea for 2 years, here’s my observations:
-China is a great place for traveling and still has some of the most naturally beautiful places in the world.
-China is a massively diverse country full of different races and cultures
-Chinese food is very different from American Chinese food
-Chinese people are very blunt; For example they do not hesitate to mince words on anything really. Korea/Taiwan/Japan tend to soften their words in order not to offend people too much, but Chinese just straight up say whatever is on their mind. This is often taken as ‘harshness’ or ‘rude’ by other countries but I think this is just their culture.
-China has way better gender equality than any of its surrounding countries. And the women act very different from Korean/Japanese/Taiwanese women. They are less traditionally feminine, more assertive, more ambitious, and in a lot of cases can actually be more dominant than the men. It’s almost a role reversal compared to other countries, lol. It’s better in China to be a girl. Everything is paid for by the guys. The guys are pretty subservient to their gfs. The groom’s family pays for the wedding, not the bride. And because of the skewed gender ratio, girls have the pick of the litter. Pretty big contrast to Korea/Japan where its pretty much the opposite. Heres a nice graphic that is based on the stereotypes:
-Chinese people are very prideful about their country, and more uniquely is how prideful they are about the specific region where they are from. A lot of times I would hear not’ Chinese ___ is the best’ but rather ‘Sichuan ___ is the best’ or ‘Beijing ___ is the best’ or ‘Shanghai __ is the best’. They like to boast a lot, and its not hard to see that they are biased in favor of China and their region on a lot of issues. It’s not so different from USA where Americans boast about their country too, but it is different from Taiwan/Japan/Korea where I don’t really hear them boasting about their country that often. Chinese people are not really aware of the culture differences between their country and Japan/Korea/Taiwan either, but that’s a forgivable point I suppose considering most Chinese have not been outside their country before.
-Japan is Tang Chinese culture, Korea is Ming Chinese culture, Taiwan is ROC culture, and China is its own culture. I find China the most westernized in culture out of all of them. For example, China is the least traditionally Confucist out of those countries, they have mostly done away with traditional ceremonies, religion, outfits (Chinese rarely wear Qipao compared to Japan’s Kimono or Korea’s Hanbok), and their fashion style is more similar to Westerners (i.e casual style) than to Koreans or Japanese. Perhaps this isn’t surprising since China underwent massive revolutions compared to those other countries.
-Most Chinese are clean, nice and polite, but perhaps not to the same extent as Taiwan, Korea or Japan. My ranking of cleanliness / politeness in general is Japanese (TOO polite to a fault) > Taiwan > Korea > China.
-Censorship. This is more of a problem for foreigners than native residents, but just be aware that unlike Japan/Korea/Taiwan, you need to use a VPN to use most sites in China, and they censor violent/sexual content. Too much so, IMO.
-Cost of living. Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo are in the top tier of expensive cities to live in the world. In smaller Chinese cities, it is much cheaper. Seoul is a tier cheaper than those cities, and Taipei has the lowest cost of living amongst all the major capitals.
-China has the most job opportunities, and the best place to start a company, by far. Shenzhen and Beijing are economic powerhouses for IT. Korea’s job market is too competitive (there’s a reason why they have #1 suicide rate), Japan’s economy is stagnant and Taiwan’s economy is also stagnant. If you are looking for work as a foreigner, China is the best.
– Safety wise, all East Asian countries are safer than America. No comparison really. Very few mass shootings and gun murders if at all. In China you do have to be more careful of scams and thieves but its still relatively safe. In terms of safety I rank like this: Japan (zero gun deaths a year. seriously.) > Korea/Taiwan > China
-Technology. Again, ALL of these countries have great technology. Japan is famous for its tech companies, robots and micro electronics (Sony, Canon, Fujitsu, Toshiba, Panasonic, Nintendo, etc too many to list). Taiwan is the #1 maker of computer hardware with such names as Asus, Acer, HTC, Gigabyte, MSI etc. Korea is home to electronic giants Samsung and LG. China doesn’t have the brand cache of those other companies but they are improving! Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi, ZTE are some of the companies that are rapidly catching up to Japan and Korea!
-Religion wise, because of China’s communist past, religion is pretty much banned, most Chinese are atheist. Taiwan and Japan are mostly Buddhist. Korea is uniquely a Christian country, perhaps relating to how socially conservative they are.
In general I think it really depends what you want but China has its pros and cons. I did a comparison between China and other East Asian countries because I feel that this is a unique perspective I can contribute to, if others are interested. I would say work opportunity, diversity and natural beauty China is #1. Japan for the super polite / clean culture with a unique flavor. Korea is a mix of Japan and China but is also the most socially conservative and traditionally Confucist out of all them. Taiwan is much smaller than any of those countries but is a mix of Japanese and Chinese culture. I almost want to say they are Chinese people but with the manners of Japanese people.
Let me know in the comments if I am missing any comparison.
Edit: I have a lot of mainlanders commenting about the status of Taiwan. Taiwan is not controlled by the PRC. I don’t care if you think its a province or not or it belongs to China it is NOT controlled by PRC. The government of Taiwan is the ROC. Whether the UN recognizes it as a country or not doesn’t matter here. Xi Jinping is not Taiwan’s leader. Taiwanese elect their government and receive different education from mainland. These are facts and NOT up for debate. I do not tolerate ignorance and misinformation so I disabled the comments.
In large cities, civil planners have implemented a system in the sidewalks to help the visually disabled. In the center of the sidewalk lay a series of slabs that have grooves that run in the direction of the sidewalk that can be felt when walked upon. This guides the blind persons feet so they are able to stay on the sidewalk. At an intersection or direction change, the grooves transition into a series of dots indicating a change is coming up. The person can then feel around with a foot or cane to identify the transition.
However, feeling about China is certainly going to have it’s difficulties when you’re fighting the onslaught of the common man during rush hour. If you feel around by yourself in a situation like this, you’re bound to come away with a few scuffs and scrapes. This is where opening your eyes comes in handy or relying upon somebody who can see.
This is a great place to trust your nose. Move in a direction away from things that have an unpleasant odor. At times this may leave you with no where to go. In such an instance, try to seek out the closest exit or move towards the area that smells less bad. Don’t randomly stick out your hands, because you’ll never know what you might touch.
In closing, feeling about China is not recommended and should only be attempted out of necessity (i.e. visually impared) or for well documented amusement that should later be posted on Youtube (after you’ve bought a VPN).
As a Chinese residence, I hold complicated emotions towards my motherland.
Needless to say, I love my country and I am grateful for my life here. I love China’s long history of with broad and profound culture. I love the spirits and beliefs of harmony, humbleness and manner. I love the diligence and dedication of Chinese people. There’s mountains of treasures of China I can show you.
However, I am concerned about China as time goes by. The huge country seems to malfuction sometimes. These years we experienced severe turbulence in stock market, we also face huge problems like domestic pollution, resource depletion, rising apathy and moral deterioration throughout society. I am sad when looking at some astonishing news nowadays. I wonder what’s wrong with my beloved country.
But I still believe in exceptionalism in China, although we are facing inevitable and unpredictable problems, Chinese people are figuring out some new ways, which is different from the one westerners followed. I hope my country would grow strong in its own style. I also hope to see a harmonious and peaceful world where diversity exists.