“Lying” isn’t just a cross-cultural communication pot-hole between Chinese and Euro-Americans, it’s a crater. Conflicting communication styles result in Westerners sometimes thinking their Chinese counterparts are lying even when they actually have no intention of deceiving anyone. The Americans get the (long-standing) impression that the Chinese are devious and deceptive, while the Chinese, who weren’t intending to deceive anyone and were merely being polite and gracious, are annoyed to no end at the simplistic and judgmental Americans.
But there’s another side to Mainland Chinese society, where ethics are simply a non-factor in decision making. Mainland Chinese lie and deceive reflexively in many aspects of their daily lives and relationships; it’s routine, accepted, expected and generally considered unavoidable. If you’re straight, honest and genuine, people will think you’re simple, naive and stupid. Corruption is endemic in every layer of society, and it is common for it to taint thesis papers, resumes and job applications, personal ads, and communication between spouses, parents and children, employees and employers, clients and suppliers, etc.
This is the China revealed Factory Girls: the post-Communist, unapologetically amoral, full-on materialistic free-for-all China. It’s a social world where everyone seems to automatically, reflexively lie all the time about everything to everyone else, including parents, boyfriends, coworkers, bosses, clients, employees and potential spouses. This is deliberate deception, not mere non-literal communication. Here’s one of many examples:
Married men who pretended not to be were the number-one dating hazard of Dongguan… In a place where people lied reflexively for work, deception naturally seeped into personal relationships. Lying was often the pragmatic choice because it got you what you wanted. Eventually your lies might catch up with you, but few people thought that far ahead.
Chunming had her own rules for such affairs. No one should get hurt, and neither side should make demands. “Of course, I’d like to find the right person and get married,” she told me. “But since I haven’t, it’s fine to be with someone you don’t love. You can still enjoy your time together. You can still rest your head on his shoulder when you’re tired and feel a sense of security.” [p.350]
So Mainland China presents outsiders with a cross-cultural communication double-whammy: a relatively high reliance on nonverbal, “high-context” communication, and generations of people raised in a corruption-saturated society in which deception is routine. You can find both aspects of Chinese “lying” in the posts below:
- Caging a Monster (by Murong Xuecun)
“In my country, there is a strange system that rewards liars, and with the passage of time, people have become accustomed to lying. People lie as naturally as they breathe, to the point that lying has become a virtue.
“In this system, people only care about short-term profits. In this system, not following the rules is the rule, and unscrupulous means are the only means in government and business so only the dirtiest players emerge victorious. In this system, everyone is a criminal so no one needs to repent.”
- Chinese “Lies That Bind” (Frog in a Well)
“because they live in closer and longer lived groups, Chinese are more focused on the social consequences of a statement than its literal truth. […] these differences cut two ways. To be “free” or “independent” can also be “irresponsible,” “lonely,” or “selfish.” What Chinese call “harmony” can be “conformity” or “repression.” American “straight talk” can be childish, reckless, or self-righteous, and Chinese “sweet talk” can cover up realities until they fester.”
- Do the Chinese Lie? That Depends… (The Lingua Franca)
“In short, for most Chinese people, lying is not really lying. What we in the West would consider to be a bald-faced lie, a person in greater China might think of as a courtesy, a convenience, or a smart tactic, none of which are immoral. In fact, lying to achieve some business or social aim, and getting away with it, is considered to be a sign of intelligence and social skill among many Chinese.”
- Dumb Americans (Seeing Red in China)
To many Chinese, Americans don’t have xin-yan (心眼, meaning, literally, eyes of the mind; or figuratively, calculating, wily), they trust what you say, and they believe you are doing what you say you are doing. For that, they are dumb.
…to speak your mind straightforwardly, to defend your position forcefully, and to uphold what you believe without compromise, are all signs of childishness. A lot of Americans, alas, fill that bill.
- Chinese people like it when you “lie” to them? (China Hope Live)
“Interpersonal communication ‘with Chinese characteristics’: A little understanding goes a long way when feelings get hurt by Chinese/Expat miscommunication”
- To “lie” or not to “lie” (China Hope Live)
“If you stop to think about it, there a tons of common situations in English where we use words to mean what they don’t actually literally say, but to us it’s “obvious” in those situations what the intended meaning really is. Our delivery, the context, and our non-verbals all speak quite loudly and quite clearly, so clearly that we would never think of such instances as “lies.” Sarcasm is only one kind of example.”
- Free Advice – for you and your Chinese friends (China Hope Live)
“If you’re a Westerner with Chinese friends, or a Chinese person with Western friends, you probably ought to read this. It’s from the end of Communicating Effectively with the Chinese, which is co-authored by a Chinese and a Western scholar and easily the single best-all-around book I’ve read on the subject so far. They should force-feed it to all China-bound Westerners, in my opinion.”