Society - Culture
By: - at March 5, 2015

Top 15 Things You Didn't Know about Chinese Culture

Along with the countries of India, Egypt, and Babylon, China is considered as one of the four Ancient Civilizations. Its geographic topography covers over 3,500 years of history, including a culture that is truly profound. The culture of the Chinese people offers other people an insight into one-of-a-kind herbal remedies, religious practices, and beliefs. Indeed, the culture is an important facet of the country, which holds the largest population worldwide. Over 1.2 billion people, or one out of five people, live in China worldwide.

Major Chinese Cities:
major chinese cities

The worlds’ second most populated country currently is India, which, according to researchers, will one day outrank China in this respect. Because English is now a part of Chinese curriculums, the people are pursuing educational and work opportunities in the U.S., Canada and Western Europe. This migration is causing a reduction in the population to some extent.

Downtown Shanghai:
Downtown Shanghai

15)  Pilgrimages to Honor Confucius
When Westerners think of Chinese religious beliefs, they often think of Buddhism or the tenets of Confucius. However, most Chinese people are either agnostics or atheists as the Communists, who run the government, do not endorse a belief system of any kind. However, in the present day and age, rulers in the government are advocating more religious tolerance in order to slow down an economy that is growing at a fast pace.


Currently, about 100 million people consider themselves to be Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, or Christians. About half that number are Christians. However, that statistic is based on the government’s findings and may actually be much higher. While the government now says that it endorses, to some degree, freedom of belief, rights groups in China state that tough controls are enforced, especially on Muslims and Christians, and Buddhists in Tibet.

With that being said, both Buddhism and the doctrines of Confucius still strongly play a role among those who practice these beliefs. While some people may consider Buddhism and Confucianism to be one and the same, they indeed are different and feature differing philosophies.

Gautama Buddha:
Gautama Buddha

The founder of the Buddhist faith was Gautama Buddha, who was born Prince Siddhartha, in Nepal, India. Confucius, on the other hand, was born in China and was also known as Kong Qiu at the time. The concept of a deity is different among the two religions as Buddhism advocates beliefs in celestial beings, known as devas. However, followers of Confucius believe in one God.

Buddhists practice their religion learning the tenets of concentration, wisdom and morality. In Confucianism, believers pay tribute to Ti’en (Heaven or God), practicing jing zuo, or quiet sitting, in temples. Buddhism is practiced in monasteries, pagodas and temples while followers of Confucius practice their faith in temples.

The goal of Buddhism is to receive enlightenment, or to be released from the continuing cycle of reincarnation. On the other hand, followers of Confucius practice their faith to experience structure in society.

While no gender bias exists in Buddhism, women and men are still expected to undertake specific responsibilities. In Confucianism, women are considered inferior to men.

Confucius, who is considered a great teacher and philosopher, is honored each year on September 28. Pilgrimages are made to the birth city of Confucius located in Shandong. Followers visit the temple and grave of the religious leader in Qufu to pay their respects.

Mount Tai Located in Shandong, China:
Mount Tai Located in Shandong, China

Taoism also plays an influential role in the Chinese culture. Also known as Daoism, Taoism has been practiced for over 2,000 years. The religion, which is deeply engrained in Chinese customs and culture, strives to establish a harmonious relationship between Dao, or the principle of the universe, and Taoist followers.

14)  Dragons Are a Sign of Good Fortune
While Westerners typically think of dragons as large and frightening creatures, the Chinese think of the “monsters” as kindly and magical. The dragon is considered as a symbol of good luck in the Chinese culture, who also possesses unexplained mystical powers. In ancient times, dragons were believed to control the weather and were also included as one of the animals in the Chinese Zodiac.

Birth Years According to Chinese Zodiac:
Birth Years According to Chinese Zodiac

“Years of birth for “dragon people are 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, and 1988. People born during the new millennium, or 2000, as well as in 2012 are also considered to be “dragons” by birth.

This fifth animal of the Chinese Zodiac is considered the most powerful of any of the 12 animals, some of which include the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, snake, horse, and dog. People born under this sign are said to be blessed with long, happy lives.

The dragon is also represented by the lucky number nine, which is symbolized by the number of scales on a dragon’s body, or the number of the animal’s various kinds of body parts – a snake-like frame, the horns of a goat, the mane of a lion, etc. Needless, to say, the large lizard-like creature, in many ways, is more like a chimera.

chinese dragon

Because the dragon is a symbol of good luck, it plays a prominent role in the Chinese New Year. Dancers, during the celebration, use a dragon puppet, built on poles, to bring good luck into the New Year. Dragons are also included in much of the artwork and ornamentation of the Chinese, and thus is a significant symbol on buildings, in sculptures, and on architectural decor.

13)  The Complications of Giving and Receiving Gifts
In the Chinese culture, gift giving and receiving can be complicated. Because a strict set of rules concerning the etiquette is enforced, you must be careful, especially if you are a Westerner, in how you are perceived.

For instance, if you give money as a gift, you need to be cognizant of the person’s age. Giving more money to a younger person is often denoted as a sign of disrespect. People who are older should always be given the better gifts. Plus, you don’t want to be too generous or reserved in this regard. Otherwise, you may be considered conceited or stingy.

If you are receiving a package then, you don’t want to accept the gift all too readily, particularly if you don’t want to be thought of as greedy. Still, that being said, the gift-giver will still try to shove the gift towards you and insist that you take it. Therefore, you have to balance the protests you make with the acceptance of the present.

One hard and fast rule that you should always follow is to never give anyone a clock or watch. In China, such a gift means that you are counting the minutes or hours until the recipient dies.

How Would the Chinese React to Receiving a Rolex?
How Would the Chinese React to Receiving a Rolex

12)  Smelly Business
Some of the jobs in China can be quite unique, if not rather unconventional. For example, people are hired to stand in line for other people. Or, workers may be hired to play online games and take on menial tasks for others. Then there are the “poop” collectors - a job that is as gross as the reason for its existence.

Waiting in Line for $:
Waiting in Line for $

While cow and horse manure are often used in the U.S. to fertilize fields, the number of these animals are in short supply in China. Therefore, the “poop” collectors in the country collect fecal matter from homes and public restrooms for fertilizing crops. China doesn't have enough arable land to produce enough food to feed all of its hungry mouths nor enough animals to fertilize the ground.

11)  Not All Medicine Has to Taste Bitter – The Art of Drinking Tea
Chinese medicine is defined by teas and infusions and various herbal remedies. The main types of tea are categorized as green tea (the most well-known), red or black tea, white tea, reprocessed tea, and yellow tea. To obtain the maximum benefits, the Chinese advocate that tea drinkers consume the beverage when it is hot.

Green Tea (from left to right) Infused Leaves, Dry Leaves, and Green Tea Liquor:
Green Tea (from left to right) Infused Leaves, Dry Leaves, and Green Tea Liquor

Drinking too much strong tea is not advised as it can upset the stomach and cause sleeplessness. The best time to drink the substance is between meals. Don’t drink tea right after or before a meal as it will cause indigestion.

Also, tea should not be drunk with a medication as the tannin in the substance can interfere with the medicine. However, tea can be drunk a couple hours after the medicine is taken.

Green tea is the best choice for people who work in offices as the catechins in the beverage supplement the water content in the body and reduce radiation exposure from computers.

Oolong Tea LEaves Steeping in a Zhong (type of tea cup):
Oolong Tea LEaves Steeping in a Zhong (type of tea cup)
By Wikimol via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the main medical techniques that are used effectively in Chinese medicine include acupuncture (which involves inserting needles for curing pain and illness), cupping (a form of acupressure that uses cups instead of needles, and which is advised for such conditions as bronchitis, and heat-related exposure), herbal medicine (practiced to restore the balance of yin and yang), massage therapy, and qigong (meditation).

Bi Luo Chun Tea From Jiangsu Province in China:
Bi Luo Chun Tea From Jiangsu Province in China
By Verylikerice via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, medicinal alcohol is also legitimate in China. The concoction, which is made by mashing up herbs and grinding the ingredients into a fermentation, is rubbed onto the skin of afflicted body parts. However, many people also drink the substance, which is said to revitalize one’s health and strength. Suddenly, those bottles of lizard liquor that are sold in Chinese grocers seem to make a lot more sense.

10)  Light It Up
The Chinese paper lantern is well-revered in the country as it is not only cheap but decorative and festive. Used all over the world, the lantern provides a soft, warm light in various settings. However, the lantern is more than just a décor. Originally, the lantern was used by the Chinese to light up their houses and front doors, and as a way for people to see their way in the dark.

Chinese Lantern Festival:
Chinese Lantern Festival

In fact, it was said that the modern street lamp was created after the Europeans saw Chinese lanterns in use. As time progressed, the Chinese began designing even fancier and prettier lighting until the lantern, when featured at the front door, became a symbol of status and wealth. Lanterns also figure prominently into the Chinese culture at the end of the New Year, when a lantern festival is held at the end of the celebration. Lanterns are mentioned in ancestral stories as well.

More Chinese Lanterns:
More Chinese Lanterns
By epSos via Wikimedia Commons

9)  Poor Fido and Fifi
While an urban legend exists that the Chinese serve dog or cat meat in restaurants and pass it off as beef, that is not true. Instead, a Chinese waiter will look you straight in the eye and tell you the meat you are eating is either from a cat or dog.

Chinese Meat Market in Shanghai:
Chinese Meat Market in Shanghai

Fortunately, for dogs and cat lovers and dogs and cats too, the tradition is slowly dying. Dogs, especially, are gaining popularity as companion animals, fewer and fewer Chinese are serving them at meal time. Nowadays, a pet dog is a statement of one’s social status. The trend has gained so much momentum in fact that one report revealed that a Chinese millionaire bought a dog for a couple thousand of dollars.

Traditional Chinese Chow Mein With Pork and Shrimp:
Traditional Chinese Chow Mein With Pork and Shrimp

8)  A Hangover Cure
Speaking of food, if you ever go to China, you are going to find some cuisine that is questionable. Take, for example, the famous preserved eggs. They often are called century eggs, millennium eggs, or thousand-year eggs - names which cause the diner to ask just what is meant by the description.

Century Egg:
Century Egg
By irrational_cat via Wikimedia Commons

In actuality, the eggs are usually a few weeks or months old and are prepared by burying them in ash, salt, or another substance until they turn black or green. Smelling like sulfur and ammonia, the eggs can cause you to believe that the Devil himself concocted the recipe. Interestingly, many people who have tried the “preserved” food have found it to be tasty and a good cure for a hangover.

Century Eggs for Sale in Hong Kong:
Century Eggs for Sale in Hong Kong
By tracyhunter via Wikimedia Commons

7)  Feng Shui for Everything
While most Westerners think Feng Shui is a Chinese decorating practice that tells people where to place their furniture for good luck, the art can also be applied to life’s other aspects. Feng Shui, as a whole, is a philosophy that assists the user in picking the right fabrics and colors (as in fashion), and gives him an insight as to what stones to choose when selecting jewelry. It is also used for cooking and business activities.

Feng Shui Color Wheel:
Feng Shui Color Wheel

That’s because Feng Shui is based of the flow of qi, or the natural energy source that affects balance in the world. Therefore, qi can be optimized in health as well, all which assists the practitioner to enjoy more energy, lose weight, and feel more peaceful and calm. For those interested in learning more about this fascinating practice, I highly recommend checking out Feng Shui secrets eBook, which I have used myself with much success.

Earth Elements Arranged According to Feng Shui:
Earth Elements Arranged According to Feng Shui

6)  Marco Polo the Politician
The 14th century explorer, Marco Polo, shared many Chinese discoveries with Europeans. For example, he introduced fellow Italians to pasta, which inspired them to invent spaghetti, as well as paper (presumably so they could write down a recipe).

Marco Polo:
Marco Polo

As soon as Marco and his relatives arrived in China, he made good friends with the ruling Prince, Kublai Khan as well. The ruler was so impressed with how fast Marco learned Chinese and immersed himself in the culture that he immediately made him his advisor for establishing merchant routes. The explorer was also designated as a special envoy so he could travel and survey other Asian lands. Indeed, Marco was so favored by Khan that he was eventually given his own city to rule.

Travels of Marco Polo:
Travels of Marco Polo
By Travels_of_Marco_Polo via Wikimedia Commons

5)  The Number “Four”
Every country and culture has its superstitions about numbers. China is no exception. While people in the U.S. may try to avoid the number 13, the Chinese do not like the number four. That’s because, in the Chinese language, the number, four, sounds like the word for “death.” For this reason, the number, you could say, is avoided like the plague. As a result, most buildings do not have a fourth floor or even a fourteenth floor. Any number with “4” in it is considered bad luck.

Chinese Elevator "Missing" Buttons for 4 and 14:
Chinese Elevator "Missing" Buttons for 4 and 14

4)  A Crunchy Snack
Food is a big part of the culture of China, although it often seems to be made up of food items that non-Chinese people do like or want to eat. Even though the practice is not all that common in more populated parts, there are still some people who will eat insects or creepy crawlies, such as centipedes, scorpions, grasshoppers, or spiders.

Grasshoppers Make Great Street Fare:
Grasshoppers Make Great Street Fare

Also, bee pupae are often served in fine restaurants in more populated locales. Baby bees are fried, steamed, or added to recipes as a delicacy. Apparently, the insects are similar to prawns, albeit very tiny prawns.

3)  Notable Inventions
Four thousand years of history and culture can't go by without a few world-changing inventions. Gunpowder is a well-known creation of the Chinese, although how it was invented is a little less recognized.


It all began when an alchemist was looking for a potion to grant eternal life, as per order of his emperor, when he had the “brilliant” notion to mix sulfur and pewter and heat them up. After the scientist singed his beard and eyebrows when making the discovery, the ingredients were consigned to the Chinese army for cannons and weaponry. The powder was eventually used for fireworks too. Needless to say, the invention did not do anything to extend one’s life.

The Chinese are also credited with inventing the first spinning wheel, made in the 1100s.

The wheels, which were used for turning wool and plant fibers into yarn, were a welcome invention, especially in a world where textiles were created by hand. Before the spinning wheel was invented, the only way to create fabrics from yarn was to twist the thread, an inch at a time, on a small spindle. Therefore, the spinning wheel allowed production to be conducted on a grander scale. European spinning wheels were not used until the 1200s. As a result, China's production of materials far surpassed most other civilizations during the time period.

Modern Chinese Textile Plant:
Modern Chinese Textile Plant

The Chinese are also credited with the making of paper (made of hemp at the time), the navigational compass, and the printing press (the Gutenberg press was not the first in this respect.) The press was created centuries earlier by the Chinese – all the way back to the 11th century.

Page from Diamond Sutra, Printed During Tang Dynasty (About 868 AD):
Page from Diamond Sutra, Printed During Tang Dynasty (About 868 AD)

2)  Acupuncture - A Magic Cure-all
Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese art, is recognized officially by U.S. health organizations in treating such illnesses or conditions as stroke, infertility, cancer, chronic pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. It is also recommended for addictions such as smoking. In fact, the Chinese therapy has become so widely accepted, many health insurance policies now cover acupuncture in their treatment plans.

Acupuncture Chart from the Ming Dynasty:
Acupuncture Chart from the Ming Dynasty

The medical therapy is supported by the practice of Feng Shui and the concept of qi. According to the Chinese, all ailments result from a poor flow of qi in the body. By inserting needles at specific meridian points, one can unclog the system and improve the flow of qi. Therefore, everything is put back into an acceptable balance.

Acupuncture Needle:
Acupuncture Needle
By Xhienne via Wikimedia Commons

The needles used in acupuncture are extremely fine, or about the width of needles used for a flu vaccine. When done properly by a licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture does not cause any pain for the patient. Instead, one usually feels refreshed and energized after therapy. If you currently smoke, you may want to consider this kind of remedy.

Fire Cupping is Another Part of Acupuncture Therapy:
Fire Cupping is Another Part of Acupuncture Therapy

1)  Marrying the Dead
Ghost marriages are also practiced in China, although the practice is not limited to the country. Ghost marriages also take place in the Sudan.

Qing Dynasty Wedding - Bride Wearing Blue Headpiece Presenting Tea to her Mother-in-law, Groom Wearing Sash Forming "X":
Qing Dynasty Wedding - Bride Wearing Blue Headpiece Presenting Tea to her Mother-in-law, Groom Wearing Sash Forming "X"

While the practice may seem practical to the Chinese, it is downright unusual to Westerners. For example, if an older brother dies, it is considered a sign of great disrespect for the younger sibling to marry after the older brother’s demise. So, the ghost of the older brother is married to a bride.

Marrying a ghost is also an option for a single woman who can’t find a suitable mate.

chinese bride

Ghost marriages take place when one member of a couple dies before a ceremony as well. The marriage still takes place as it gives the widow or widower full access to all the benefits and rights of the deceased mate.

Ghost marriages result from the belief that the spirit of a person who never marries needs a significant other to accompany him or her to the afterlife, and therefore prevents any upset or bad luck. For example, if the spirit of a single person is lonely, it may cause a family misfortune. However, the bad luck will stop if the poltergeist is married off and allowed to rest in peace.

The above listing is only a small sampling of some of the interesting facts and lore that contribute to China’s unique cultural character. Besides traditional Chinese medicine and food, Chinese festivals, the Zodiac, and the country’s art and history also add flavor to the country’s demeanor as well.

While some of the facts and traditions may sound a bit “outside the box,” the customs and practices, when better understood, lend to a better appreciation of the Chinese culture and lead the learner to delve deeper into the country’s history.

By understanding cultural differences, one can better appreciate the similarities as well. As Confucius once said, "You cannot open a book without learning something." Hopefully, the above listing will open up a book for you that will give you a better insight into Chinese culture and history.





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