Glimpses of Chinese Culture through Film – Week 58

I have watched nearly 300 hours of authentic video in Mandarin[1]. While just over 10% of that has been dubbed Disney movies, the vast majority of my viewing time has been devoted to Chinese movies and cartoons for kids.

I believe those 270 hours have given me a preliminary glimpse into Chinese culture.

Now, let me be clear. My 36 years have been split mostly between the United States and Brazil. I am a citizen of both countries, have deep family roots, and speak English and Portuguese as a native speaker. Yet, I do not claim to truly grasp American or Brazilian culture. A nation’s culture is just too complex and variegated a phenomenon for one person ever to fully comprehend.

Obviously, then, anything I say about the culture of China—a country I have never even visited, where I have no ties, and whose language I do not speak—is far worse than a simplistic generalization; it is brazenly superficial guesswork.

Nevertheless, one inevitably receives impressions and begins to construct conceptions. As long as they are not crystallized into false certainties or stereotypes, that is a natural and positive part of contacting a foreign culture through the language acquisition process. As I often argue, becoming familiar with a culture is an inherent and enjoyable part of a successful language acquisition process.

Here are a few observations that come to mind. I will add to them later, probably creating a specific page.

I will love to get your comments, even if you disagree completely!

Confirmed my previous conceptions

  • The Chinese value education and hard work very highly.
  • Violence, suffering, and pain are taken with more acceptance or stoicism than in the West.
  • Chinese views and traditions are deeply rooted in history, including ancient history.
  • There is great respect for elders.

Changed my previous conceptions

  • The Chinese value individual heroism and exceptionalism as much as they do submission of one’s will to a common purpose.
  • Contemporary Chinese culture is even more highly capitalistic and money-oriented than I previously imagined.
  • Conversely, a communist viewpoint is entirely absent from any of the movies or shows I’ve seen.
  • Ancestor worship continues to be prevalent in China, alongside Buddhism.
  • It’s not just Mulan: women are represented as being fighters, warriors, and protagonists in Chinese history, perhaps more so than in the West[2].
  • Chinese fathers seem as committed as mothers: they love playing and interacting with their kids and are deeply committed to their education and well-being.
  • There is a lot of collaboration with and admiration of Japan (I’m sure this coexists with deep animosity as well, but I’ve been surprised to see the positive side).
  • Similarly, in daily life, collaboration and interaction between societies in mainland China and Taiwan predominate over whatever animosities surely exist.
  • Bath house traditions in general.

Trivial observations

  • Eating is more collective than in the West. It’s common, for instance, for everyone to take vegetables from dishes in the middle of the table directly with their chopsticks, while they eat. It also seems to be rather common to take something from someone else’s plate.
  • Unlike Westerners, the Chinese conceive that when people die violent deaths, blood tends to spurt out their mouths.
  • Whereas Westerners find anything coming out of one’s nose just gross, the Chinese find it either funny or commonplace. I say that because I have seen snot or blood coming out of noses in all sorts of Chinese movies and especially cartoons.
  • Related to the last point: a way of representing sleep in Chinese cartoons is to show the rhythmical breathing by having a snot bubble coming in and out.
  • The Chinese love noodles. (They slurp them down so tastily that I am now constantly hankering for them.)

[1] More recently, that includes a bit of music.

[2] Contemporary Western society has of course changed drastically in this regard, so I’m comparing pre-20th century societies.