Express Feelings

Emotions

How do Chinese people Express Feelings? A personal perspective about expressing feelings in China

While I was getting off the train in Langfang, Hebei, I noticed a young girl being waved off by her mother. The mother was telling her young child (who appeared to be approximately 10 years of age) to take care of herself. As the young girl and I were walking side by side on the platform towards the exit, she suddenly broke into tears. She had just parted ways from her mother and was very sad. This situation was especially peculiar and difficult for me, because the mother did not offer her child a hug, a kiss goodbye or any other form of human contact. She simply said “你慢走“ – A greeting in Chinese which means to take care of oneself when parting ways.

It seems that Chinese people (and people from other Asian nations) do not express feelings the same way westerners do. In China, it is not common to see people hugging, kissing or even shaking hands. Emotions are rather expressed in actions and in deeds which are aimed towards certain individuals or towards society as a whole.

In her book China’s Peasants: The Anthropology of a Revolution (1988), the author Sulamith Potter tackles the importance of emotions in Chinese social life, through her anthropologist experience in rural Chinese villages in Dongguan (东莞) county, Guangdong. Potter concludes that individualism in China is in fact based on one’s social status, family members and personal deeds that are aimed towards society. When people Express Feelings, it is often considered meaningless and irrelevant.

In the western world, it is common to express feelings by human contact. In Israel, for example, it is acceptable for men to shake hands with business partners and for women to kiss hello once on the cheek. In certain European countries, it is customary to kiss once on each cheek when meeting an acquaintance or a friend. In China, on the other hand, it is customary to exchange business cards when meeting with business partners and to wave from a short distance when departing from friends, co-workers and even close family members. A more intimate level of expressing emotions, in the forms of human contact, is rarely expressed among co-workers and friends in China. However,  young couples and, at times, family members, can be observed engaging in more intimate social interactions.

Can we conclude that Chinese people purposely choose to suppress their emotions? No. It is my impression that Chinese people are simply unaware of human contact as a form of social interaction. Human contact, in the eyes of Chinese people, is culturally connected to intimacy, thus such contact is acceptable in an intimate relationship between husband and wife or young lovers, yet it is unacceptable among friends or business partners. Nevertheless, hugging and other forms of human contact typically imply of closeness and invoke happiness. To Express Feelings in the form of human contact releases social inhibitions, allowing people in a society to be more open and warmer towards one another.

Do you think that Chinese people are less happy than their western counterparts because of the way they express feelings? How does this difference impact China as a society?

Share your thoughts!

Happy New Year of the Rabbit! 祝大家春节快乐!

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About the Author

Lior Paritzky is the Editor in Chief and Manager of Laowaiblog, an internet platform that provides opinion and views about social phenomena in modern China. Look for Lior on Twitter: Liorpari