When the Communist Party took control of China, they tried to purge most of its culture, deeming it “backward” and an “impedimen”’ to social progress. This resulted in the destruction of a 5,000-year old continuous tradition. So people traveling to China after watching numerous period movies should keep in mind that the China shown in such movies is long dead. What you will encounter is mostly a mix of modern, individualistic lifestyle mixed with bits and pieces of old traditions.
Being a communist nation, the Chinese administration has a very negative view of religion. However, Chinese history is replete with numerous wise people who have propounded Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism all across the vast region. The majority follow Buddhism and Chinese folk religions. Christianity is also on the rise. The government has placed strict restrictions on public demonstrations of religion. So, if you are a preacher planning to visit China, things likely won’t go the way you want.
As long as you keep your religion confined within the privacy of your living quarters, you won’t face much of an issue. Law enforcement tracks down “underground” churches (those that are not registered with the government) and persecutes its adherents. As such, if someone invites you to their church and you are not sure whether it is an approved religious institution, you might never know when the authorities could barge in and detain you.
In China, showing respect to elders is highly admired, and even deemed necessary in some cases. While you might have simply given a handshake to a 90-year-old person in the West, remember to bow down before a similarly aged Chinese person.
When visiting any home, remove your shoes. Avoid writing anyone’s name in red since red is often associated with blood and considered a very bad omen. Quite the contrary with communism, which often portrays blood as something great.
If you are dining out with locals and they pass you some food, try to refuse it two or three times. This might feel a bit awkward and silly, but it will help project the idea that you are humble and modest. Eating whatever is offered will give off the impression that you are greedy. And always remember to serve food to those around you before serving yourself.
Family and gender roles
The overall view of the male/female dynamics in society still follow traditional thought where men and women are considered equal but different. It is considered a man’s duty to earn for the family, while women are expected to look after the household chores. This does not mean that women are not allowed to work outside. It is just that their primary duty is expected to be the upkeep of their family. This has allowed China to modernize itself without sacrificing the family structure. This is in sharp contrast to the West where an excessive focus on individuality has led to the rapid destruction of families, resulting in fewer marriages and far more single mother homes than ever before.
You will observe different class structures operating in China depending on the place you visit. Generally, businessmen and government workers hold the top spot in the Chinese social structure. In urban areas, you will find people who mimic Western lifestyles, with live-in relationships and such. Here, wealth and materialism determine the status of a person.
But in deep rural areas, a highly conservative lifestyle is still followed, with traditional customs remaining prominent. People tend to be clannish in their attitudes, working to advance the status of their tribe. The idea of “community above individual” is still strong in these regions. Marriages tend to be the norm and very few people engage in live-in relationships. Since these places tend to be poorer than the cities, materialistic tendencies are much less. Respect for elders is more strictly followed in such communities.