I recently wrote an article on China’s morals which, needless to say, was quite “edgy.” The senior editor of the English magazine I wrote it for, requested I soften it up a bit. I rewrote the entire article from a foreigner’s point of view. Hope you enjoy it.

For most foreigners, arriving in China for the first time is nothing less than an adrenaline rush. Culture shock skips gears and settles into high as our curiosity works overtime. Wherever we go, whatever we see, we witness something new: people trampling over one another to get through a line; construction sites where only women carry heavy materials up flights of stairs; families boarding small motor scooters, and perhaps cuddling a newborn. Our impressions are faced with a new reality – things we’ve only seen in a film, or have read about. We are in the midst of a new world order, behind the great wall of China.


Foreigners visit China for various reasons and length of times. Our preparation consists of obtaining our visa, researching cities, tourist sites, cost of living, jobs, and wishing farewell to our friends and loved ones. We visualize obstacles, and how we’re going to cope with the communication gap. Trading the comfort zone of our home country isn’t an easy decision, but we convince ourselves, “Hey, what the heck, it’ll be a new adventure.”


Most foreigners I’ve come into contact with planned on staying for only a short term. Most of those foreigners decided to remain here… indefinitely. What changed their minds? Was it the exquisite cuisine? Was it the discovery of 101 uses of toilet tissue? Was it the challenge of dodging taxis? Or was it the people and their culture? Whatever the reason, it’s apparent China has the magnetic capability of keeping a person here.


For some of us, it’s an introduction to what freedom is all about. I know where I’m from, every step made is accompanied by a look over the shoulder to see if there’s a waiting policeman ready to pounce on the most petty of actions, especially when it’s nearing the end of the month when their quotas have to be met. In most parts of China, people pretty much do what they want, without fearing consequences. As a foreigner, this is a new revelation.


China revels in thousands of years of traditions and customs. In some parts of China, the standards of moral behavior remain in less educated ancient times. Foreigners who witness some aspect of immoral behavior may be shocked at first, but as time elapses, our shock turns into simple acknowledgment – not giving it a second thought. For some of us, I don’t think we’ll learn to approve immoral behavior, but we do need to learn to live with it if we are to remain in China.


Confucius visualized a utopian society exhibiting great harmony, made up with rational individuals displaying the values of etiquette and benevolence as its nation’s moral benchmarks. His theory extended to society acting in a manner acceptable to the norm. I don’t think we should forget our morals, but we should respect the existing levels of morals which are “acceptable to the norm.” To borrow a cliche’, it’s just something we must agree to disagree with.


Most people in China agree that China lacks the morals and manners of western civilizations. Several students and high positioned authorities in China were asked their opinions for their country’s lack of morals. Their answers were unanimous, lack of education. An intuitive fourteen-year-old student from Dongguan, Harry Ylin Liu, believes that morals should be taught in school, and enforced at home. Perhaps a required reading of Emily Post is necessary? Whatever direction taken, I agree with Harry that education is important to fuel acceptable behavior, especially if a student plans on attending a university abroad.


In extreme cases, when lack of morals become life threatening to another, some people believe it’s time for legislature to intercede with appropriate laws. In a recent catastrophic event, people stood by and witnessed a hit and run accident, and did nothing. Chinese legislature is now considering a law similar to America, referred to as, “The Good Samaritan Law.” Nie Lize, an associate professor at Sun Yat-sen University, is in favor, “It is necessary to legislate because the morals of Chinese people are getting lower.”


Most of us foreigners were raised being taught proper manners and morals. We have been taught to be polite and benevolent towards others. Our moral standards are at a high level, knowing the difference between right and wrong, not because it was the law, but because it was instilled in us and an early age – manners that assured us we wouldn’t disrespect or offend others, and necessary if we were to succeed in life. Our moral upbringing and manner bearing behavior became instinctive habits – never having to give them a second thought. China makes us review what we’ve learned, and discover examples why we were taught them.


Everyday is a sightseeing day for foreigners. We discover new places that have always existed just around the corner; we meet new people wherever we go; and we’re always soaking in new knowledge, or a new Chinese word. Venturing out of our protective caves we call home, we often witness some kind of moral faux pas taking place on the streets. We’re almost tempted to whip out our camera phones and take a snapshot, but we were raised to respect other peoples customs. Besides, chances are we’ll see the behavior again sometime.


One of the things that appeals to many foreigners is the fact they are never judged or ridiculed for their behavior or looks – a newfound freedom to be who they are. China is an opportunity to express ourselves in ways that perhaps were not acceptable, for one reason or another, in our home country. Being a foreigner in most parts of China must be how celebrities feel, always the center of attention. That being said, I believe we have a certain standard to uphold, to set an example with our behavior. What’s defined as acceptable morals in one country, may not be considered acceptable in another. As we are not judged, so shall we not judge others. Sound familiar?


Enamored by the way of Chinese life, many foreigners want to “fit in” with the populous. In America we have a TV show called, “Girls Gone Wild,” which could easily be translated to, “Foreigners Gone Wild.” There is no shortage of nightclubs, parks, bars, and other foreigner frequented fares. During the day, we’re respectable and knowledgable, teachers or business people; at night, our inner demons are released and encouraged to come out and play. Every night in China is a Saturday night, and a foreigner is never alone. We toss immoral behavior aside, and blend in with the others. Gotta love China!


On the other hand, there are some foreigners who believe it is their responsibility to act as saviors, and preach the importance of morals. They use their positions as soap boxes to grandstand their righteous beliefs. As tempting and commendable their intentions, they border on displaying a superiority complex, which Chinese people have a tact for recognizing. Unless a foreigner’s job specifically designates, humanitarian efforts are highly recommended to be shelved until such time they are requested.


I first arrived in China at the tail end of the coldest winter in thirty years. My first stroll down a street was more of an exploration, acquainting myself with my immediate surroundings. Although my new home was a far cry from even a three-star neighborhood, I was surprised to see how many doctors lived in my area. There were more people than not, donning surgical masks. Pretty strange, especially since there was no hospital nearby. I soon found out that they were worn to help prevent the spreading of ones germs. That’s something I’d never see in my country. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a foreigner in China wearing a surgical mask. Maybe there’s something we can learn from this? I’m sure if we probe further, there are many explanations that would reveal the logic as to why certain behaviors are acceptable. Allow me to digress, although I’ve been explained the reason for painfully pinching oneself to take the place of over the counter medicine, I still have a difficult time trusting its effectiveness.


For some foreigners, China is a giant playground full of freedoms we couldn’t enjoy in our home country. As time goes on, and people continue to be more educated, and legislature enacts laws, the emerging superpower of China will eventually raise the bar on its moral standards. For now, we go with the flow, and be careful not to chip away at the great wall of China.