Cherry blossom tree photographed by the author in Qingdao, Shandong, China.

5 Common Misconceptions about China

America has a love-hate relationship with China and the other way around. While the US media consists heavily of happenings within China, it does little to cover the layperson and culture behind the Middle Kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, China talks about the US non-stop as well, and neither country paints a great picture of the other.

When I moved to China at the beginning of 2020 one of my biggest motivations was to see what the average person was truly like. These propaganda machines backed by governments typically only cover powerful political parties and don’t grant a look into the daily life in said country.

I had a ton of misconceptions that I gained from listening to the news, reading articles from “China experts”, and even preparing for the move. Through my two years in China, I’ve been granted a firsthand look into what the news and writers won’t talk about, or just have flat out wrong.

To paint a better picture of these easy-to-nix misconceptions, I’ve gathered five of the biggest fables I heard before coming to China.

All Chinese Hate America

I feel as if I need to address this first as it’s rather obvious, but people I know really believe that all Chinese mainlanders hate Americans. If you believe this I honestly feel kind of bad for you. Please take offense.

Generalizing an entire nationality of people into one belief group of “fuck the US” is unfounded and ultimately an uneducated person’s copium to be racist to an entire country. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are bad apples who hate my guts when I walk past them, but it’s absolutely unreasonable to believe that ALL Chinese people think the same way.

In my personal experience, I’ve met more amazing people than I could ever count. This includes people from high-ranking Chinese Communist Party members to street vendors. We have such different backgrounds and cultural identities yet we can get together and share a good time.

Some of my friends and I have such a large language barrier we only talk through the translators on our phones. Admittedly awkward to begin with, we both gain one-of-a-kind experience which gives us insight into the other’s culture even if we’re talking through Baidu translate.

So in conclusion, if you believe ALL 1,400,000,000+ people in China hate America just admit you’re a racist and go fuck yourself.

China isn’t a safe place to live

Every country has different takes on security. Before I left for China I was bombarded by caring friends and family (thank you for your concern) that it wasn’t safe in China.

This is unbelievably far from the truth. The most apparent reason for this is the abundance of CCTV and security cameras scattered throughout China.

According to the website Comparitech, there are as many as 415.8 million CCTV throughout all of China. This comprises more than 54 percent of all CCTV cameras in the world. When I’m walking I see them everywhere, and the best part, so do the bad apples. Street crime in China is catastrophically lower than in the United States.

America is ranked 45th highest general crime rate in the world, while China is ranked 115th. I can personally account how safe it feels as I’ve walked through some not-so-nice looking areas near blackout drunk (sorry Mom n Dad) and have never even had an inclination to feel unsafe. I’ve never had a package stolen, I’ve only been punched once (that’s another story I’ll write about soon), and never even been talked to by police.

Of course, others may have different experiences or views, but I personally feel very safe in China when it comes to street crime. There are the odd occurrences that make the rounds on the news or WeChat moments, but there are “bad people” no matter where you go.

Some people will comment on how the amount of surveillance actually makes them feel unsafe. To that I say, if you’re not doing anything wrong, why worry?

Chinese CCTV cameras near Tienanmen Square, Beijing. Photo via Fortune.com

Nightlife

The nightlife in China has really taken me by surprise. Many of my friends told me that China’s bars and clubs will be ‘boring’ compared to back home. To be completely honest, they’re not the same, but definitely not as bad as people have made them out to be.

Club and bar quality definitely depends on where you are in China. A club in Shanghai is almost guaranteed to be more fun than one in a small town like Yantai. Perhaps my favorite part about the nightlife in China isn’t the drinking establishments, but the food you can find outside.

Restaurants and street vendors stay open late into the night. After drinking for a few hours, it’s relatively easy to find a stall or restaurant at 1 in the morning to start your hangover recovery early. I personally recommend cold fried noodles (烤冷面), a spicy mixture of thick noodles, sausage, and onion that is cooked right in front of your face.

Whatever your taste you can find it if you look hard enough. Foreigner-centered dive bars, EDM clubs, or whiskey bars, there’s something for everyone.

Cold fried noodles (烤冷面) photo via @__kelvinwong__ on Instagram

The Water is Unsafe

This is one of the weirdest misconceptions I had before coming to China. I read on various Reddit posts to only drink one specific brand of water as it was ‘the only safe one’.

I have no idea where this came from, but my ignorant ass stood by it. When I mentioned it to my best friend he roasted me and proceeded to drink his water from one of the ‘unsafe’ brands as an example.

Although I look back at it and laugh now, I really believed it when I came here! Although bottled water is good to go, there ARE some cautions you need to take with water from China.

It should go without saying, but DO NOT drink the tap water. There are no regulations to clean tap water pipes, so who knows what nastiness there is inside them. When buying water from stands make sure it’s sealed well. The last caution to take is to be wary of street food stall ice. They are much less regulated than restaurants, and you have no idea what water they made that ice from.

Nongfu Spring brand water. Photo via Daxue Consulting.

No one speaks English

Let me say this plainly, a TON of Chinese people speak English. The frequency depends on which city you live in, but even in a village, you’ll find at least one person.

Most Chinese students learn English as early as kindergarten, even in public school. Their English curriculum continues all the way through university. Factor this in with young people attending English training centers, having private tutors, and many parents that speak English and there are a ton of opportunities to meet someone you can speak with.

Of course, their language ability is on a person-to-person basis, but most people you meet will have a base-level understanding.

My first town, Yantai, is considered very small by Chinese standards. It was relatively difficult to find people who spoke on a daily basis, but definitely possible. Now, in Qingdao, I can have a conversation with a person on the street at least once a day.

On the other hand, expats living in China should take the time to learn the Chinese language. If we are living in another country, we should at the very least attempt to speak the language of the people!

Overall

Things like this are one of the main reasons I decided to come to China. Instead of listening to the news and ‘China experts’ I wanted to experience the country and people myself.

Just like I had misconceptions of China, I guarantee the Chinese have many misconceptions of America. That’s why taking the risk and opportunity to experience these things yourself is so exciting.

Living in another country or by making friends with someone from different background we can build bridges across borders, at least on a personal level.

That’s absolutely beautiful to me. So I wanted to share these small 5 misconceptions that I had with you. All of these come from my personal experiences that I would have never had without moving to China.

So what should you do? I invite you to let even the slightest thought of going abroad cross your mind. No matter the country, think about if it’s for you. I’m sure as hell glad I did.

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Detailing Chinese and East Asia culture through art, food, music, and more. Currently residing in Qingdao, China. IG: @kademaijala Portfolio: kademaijala.com

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Kade "Kuma" Maijala

Kade "Kuma" Maijala

Detailing Chinese and East Asia culture through art, food, music, and more. Currently residing in Qingdao, China. IG: @kademaijala Portfolio: kademaijala.com

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