Navigating the “Dark Side” of Chinese Culture

This list of issues comes from a Quora post about “the dark side of Chinese culture.” (Each point goes into a little detail on the original post; I’m just listing the points and the Chinese synopsis provided for each.) This list may come across as a bit extreme in its criticisms, but there is some truth to each claim.

Goodbye to the Dark Side

  1. Child abuse [referring largely to psychological abuse]. 打是亲,骂是爱
  2. Disrespect for individualism, due to the “big family” culture. 大家庭绑架个人自由
  3. Parents push their kids too hard. 望子成龙,望女成凤
  4. Mammonism. 拜金主义
  5. Social Darwinism. 成者为王,败者为寇
  6. Banqueting alcohol-enforcement culture. 强迫劝酒文化
  7. Lack of sympathy. 事不关己,高高挂起
  8. Sinocentrism. 中国中心主义

This list is a double-edged sword for non-Chinese learners of the language. On the one hand, Chinese people can be quite sensitive to perceived criticism from foreigners. Just reading out this whole list with an innocent “this is interesting, don’t you think?” is unlikely to get a neutral response because the list as a whole feels prettying damning of Chinese culture.

On the other hand, tons of Chinese people are concerned about these issues themselves (usually presented in less extreme ways), and presenting some of these issues individually and delicately could lead to some enlightening discussions.

One way to “test the waters” with a friend is to just present the viewpoint (just one of those Chinese sentences, individually) without any of your own commentary, and ask a friend what they think. If the friend gets immediately defensive, just nod in acceptance and consider the conversation over (no need for rebuttal). More likely you’ll get a tempered response, which leaves room for discussion. In this situation, I find a good strategy is to play “devil’s advocate” and argue the totally unnuanced, pro-China propaganda stance. (It’s not hard to play a convincing wide-eyed, naive foreigner.) Since very few Chinese people swallow propaganda whole, you are likely to get a sincere elaboration in response (“其实……“).

Perhaps learning to exercise a little cultural sensitivity while discussing real issues which touch on the “dark side” of Chinese culture is the way to avoid turning to the “dark side” of Chinese learning?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. this is not interesting for a chinese because this is so typical of western type of reports in their major medias, for example the 1st one打是亲骂是爱was referring to couple or boy and girl closer beyond ‘friend zone’area messing around, expressing their fondness of each other by getting ‘handy’ on each other, how this can be turned into ‘chinese cultures justfication for child abuse’ is beyond ridiculous.
    the 2nd one is clearly saying in mandarin in a negative way on the influnce of big family on self individualism, how does this have anything to do with chinese culture?? and unlike the 1st its not even a frequently used phrase or “proverb”, its literally a normal mandarin sentence saying the same thing as the english,, etc etc,,, come on man ive been follwoing this rss feed for a while now and this post really made me doubt that ive stepped into the wrong thread, your mandarin is better than this

    • I see your point, but nowhere did I say these bits of Chinese were all proverbs. I called them a “Chinese synopsis” because it’s kind of a mixed bag of sayings and sentences. Some are translations of the English and some are not, but each is relevant to the topic and could be a starting point for a conversation.

      It is also true that one of these phrases is good study material for beginners, but the topics themselves are obviously pretty high level.

      For you advanced learners, looking up these phrases yourself can be quite educational, such as this 百度百科 article on 打是亲骂是爱.

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