What China gets right about relationships
When Westerners come to Shanghai, their first impression is often that Chinese people are assholes. Passengers crowd around the subway doors to board first. Cars speed through crosswalks on red lights. Public urination is common.
There are many theories for this rudeness. Shanghai natives blame migrant laborers from the countryside, while Westerners blame “Chinese culture” — although the “Chinese” in Taiwan and Hong Kong are more polite. But there’s a deeper psychological reason: in-group / out-group effects are stronger in China. If you are my friend, I will empty my bank account for you; if you are a stranger, I will cut you in line. Rudeness to strangers is the flipside of deep bonds with loved ones.
Of course, none of what I say can describe 1.4 billion unique human beings, whom we crudely label “China.” My conclusions come from a few friends I met in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Boston. But whether they’re a representative sample or not, I’ve learned a lot from them. So what can a Westerner, especially a Northeastern American like me, learn from the Chinese about relationships?