earliest days in China, I began to notice that many customs in China
were just the opposite of the same actions in the United States. I have come to jokingly say it is because our two countries are on
opposite sides of the globe, and we have become mirror images of one
another. I’m sure that has nothing to do with it, but over the years, I
have collected a list of things that we and the Chinese do in an opposite
way. I decided to put that list on the website and add to it as I discover
new additions. Maybe you would be interested in my findings.
The first one, of course, is
the way we write our names.
China: The family name goes first,
so that forms never have to say, “Last name first.”
Chinese are not an informal people; the only ones who call a person
by his or her given name are family members and close friends. So, if you
want to use a person’s name, you must use the whole name, family name
and given name, such as “Yang Zhu Lin.”
America: Of course, Americans put the
given names first and second, with the family name last, giving rise to
the use of: first, middle, and last name. That phrase would
have no meaning in China.
Another opposite regarding
names, is that of titles. In China, the title follows the name instead of preceding it as it does in
English. For instance, use “Wang xiansheng,” for Mr. Wang, or “Liu
tai tai,” for Mrs. Liu. A pastor is called with the title, “Pastor",
or mushi as it is in Chinese,
such as, Lin mushi, for someone named Pastor Lin. Chinese also have a term of
respect for teachers for which there is no equivalent in English, and that
is formed in this way: “Yang laoshi,” which means, literally, Teacher
Chinese do have one set of
titles that come before the name. These are informal titles that are used
instead of the first name but are less formal than using a person's entire
name. These two titles are: "xiao," or young (literally 'small')
and "lao," or respected (literally 'old.') For the surname,
Yang, he could be called 'xiao Yang,' or 'lao Yang.'
Addressing an envelope:
Another custom I noticed
early, is that in addressing an envelope, the Chinese custom is opposite
: In China, an address would be placed on the envelope so that it begins in the
upper left corner, with the ZIP code. The other lines follow, in
descending order, with the name of the recipient being last. The return
address is in the lower right corner.
: Of course, Americans start
with the name of the recipient first, placed in the center of the
envelope, and other lines placed in ascending order until the ZIP code is
placed last, with the return address in the upper left corner.
I believe that the American practice
is based on the importance our culture places on the individual, whereas
the Chinese practice could be based on the fact that they are a
group-oriented society, or it could just be practicality, placing the
items needed by postal authorities in the order in which they are needed.
The recipient is last because that is the last piece of information
needed. In this photo, you can tell that the upper left of the label
contains the postal code, followed by the recipient's address and name.
The return information is in the lower right.
addresses and street signs:
In any listing of addresses or
on street signs, a further opposite is the way of writing it:
China: The Chinese write an address
with the city first, then the street name, followed
by the direction, and then the numerical digits next, followed by the
character that stands for “number.” Like this:
, Beijing West Road, 77 Number
: In America,
we would write that same address this way:
77 West Beijing Road, Nanjing,
also reflect that style: Street name, direction, and then the word for
directions, we are also opposite in the way we write those.
Eastsouth, Eastnorth, Westsouth, and Westnorth
America: Southeast, Northeast,
Southwest, and Northwest
I think you would get to your
destination just as well, either way.
Signs at the Shanghai railway station illustrate this
point. The lower sign, in Chinese, says "West South Exit."
While it’s not an opposite, I think it’s interesting that when
the Chinese name all four points of the compass, they start with the East,
as in East, South, West, North, whereas I would say North, South, East,
West. But, that may not be true for everyone.
Did you know
the Chinese invented the compass? When the Chinese invented the compass,
they called it the “South-pointing needle.” Yep, you guessed it, the
Chinese compass points South, and the American compass points North.
The result is the same, but it’s an opposite way of looking at it.
Perhaps you can see in the photo that the Chinese compass needle is
pointed red on the south end, whereas the American compass points north.
South is an important direction in Chinese culture; south is the direction
in which the emperor faced, and in older times, the main guest at a meal
was placed facing south.
As an aside,
you might also not know that Chinese invented gunpowder, paper, and books.
These are called the four great inventions, but they are not, by any
means, all. In fact, scientist Joseph Needham spent much of his long and
distinguished career documenting the hundreds of scientific principles
first discovered in
loves a bargain:
opposite in which the result is the same is that of stating that an item
is on sale, at a discount. The Chinese say that something is 80% of the
original price. Americans say, “20% off,” meaning off of the original
price. The result, again, is the same, simply expressed in opposite ways.
They will often give discounts such as 2.5%, or 12.4%, whereas we usually
use more whole numbers, such as 10% or 25%.
The "Tomorrow Book Store" is offering the newest
books at 20% to 30% off, and specially priced books at 70% to 80% off.
many Americans would consider China
to be at opposite poles. This has the interesting result that in China, conservatives are left-leaning, and in America, conservatives are right-leaning.
is busy reforming everything, including education. I find it interesting
that in China, “Education Reform” refers to moving away from so many examinations,
America, these days, it seems to refer to moving toward more examinations. Having taught
teachers in China
these past few years, and understanding the burden of the examination
culture is to both students and teachers, I do not favor this trend in
America, and hope the pendulum will soon swing back.
In China, the color YELLOW is a royal color. In the days of the emperors, only the
emperor could wear yellow or use yellow for any decoration. In the West,
PURPLE is associated with royalty, due to the difficulty of producing the
dye, which made purple articles very expensive, so that only royalty could
afford purple clothing. Have you noticed that, in a color wheel, Yellow is
always shown at the center top of the circle, because it is the lightest
color on a gray scale, and that the opposite color, formed by equal parts
of red and blue, and centered at the bottom, is Purple, which is the
darkest color on a gray scale.
cultural practice in which our two countries have opposite traditions: Who
pays for the wedding? In America
, the bride’s parents traditionally pay for the wedding, while in
China, it’s the groom’s family who must pay. In China
, it is logical for the groom’s father to pay, because traditionally a
bride leaves her family and becomes a part of her husband’s family. The
tradition is that the generations live together, with sons continuing to
live in their father’s home even after they marry, while daughters go
out. In modern days, the young couples often live in their own flats
rather than with the husband’s family, but the basic tradition remains.
So strong is the tradition of the bride belonging to the husband’s
family that the word for outside, “wai” is the first character in the
titles for many of the bride’s family members. A child’s grandmother
on his mother’s side is his “waipo,” and his grandfather is “waigong.”
And on it goes for other family members on the wife’s side.