Chinese social relations

Chinese social relations are typified by a reciprocal social network. Often social obligations within the network are characterized in familial terms. The individual link within the social network is known by guanxi (关系/關係) and the feeling within the link is known by the term ganqing (感情). An important concept within Chinese social relations is the concept of face, as in many other Asian cultures. A Buddhist-related concept is yuanfen (缘分/緣分).

As articulated in the sociological works of leading Chinese academic Fei Xiaotong, the Chinese—in contrast to other societies—tend to see social relations in terms of networks rather than boxes. Hence, people are perceived as being "near" or "far" rather than "in" or "out".

See also

Chinese marriage

Traditional Chinese marriage (Chinese: 婚姻; pinyin: hūnyīn), as opposed to marriage in modern China, is a ceremonial ritual within Chinese societies that involve a union between spouses, sometimes established by pre-arrangement between families. Within Chinese culture, romantic love and monogamy was the norm for most citizens. Wedding rituals and customs often varied by region because of China's extensive and rich history and because of the numerous different cultures and ethno-linguistic groups that have been subsumed into modern Chinese culture.

Chinese tea culture

Chinese tea culture refers to how tea is prepared as well as the occasions when people consume tea in China. Tea culture in China differs from that in European countries like Britain and other Asian countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam in preparation, taste, and occasion when it is consumed. Tea is still consumed regularly, both on casual and formal occasions. In addition to being a popular beverage, it is used in traditional Chinese medicine as well as in Chinese cuisine.

Face (sociological concept)

Face is a class of behaviors and customs operating (active) in different countries and cultures, associated with the morality, honor, and authority of an individual (or group of individuals), and its image in social groups.

Fei Xiaotong

Fei Xiaotong or Fei Hsiao-Tung (November 2, 1910 – April 24, 2005) was a Chinese anthropologist and sociologist. He was a pioneering researcher and professor of sociology and anthropology; he was also noted for his studies in the study of China's ethnic groups as well as a social activist. One of China's finest sociologists and anthropologists, his works on these subjects were instrumental in laying a solid foundation for the development of sociological and anthropological studies in China, as well as in introducing social and cultural phenomena of China to the international community. His last post before his death in 2005 was as Professor of Sociology at Peking University.


Guanxi (simplified Chinese: 关系; traditional Chinese: 關係; pinyin: guānxi) defines the fundamental dynamic in personalized social networks of power (which can be best described as the relationships individuals cultivate with other individuals) and is a crucial system of beliefs in Chinese culture. In Western media, the pinyin romanization of this Chinese word is becoming more widely used instead of the two common translations of it—"connections" and "relationships"—as neither of those terms sufficiently reflects the wide cultural implications that guanxi describes.Guanxi plays a fundamental role within the Confucian doctrine, which sees the individual as part of a community and a set of family, hierarchical and friendly relationships. In particular, there is a focus on tacit mutual commitments, reciprocity, and trust, which are the grounds of guanxi and guanxi networks.Guanxi also has a major influence on the management of businesses based in Mainland China, and businesses owned by Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia (the latter is known as the bamboo network).Closely related concepts include that of ganqing, a measure which reflects the depth of feeling within an interpersonal relationship, renqing (人情 rénqíng/jen-ch'ing), the moral obligation to maintain a relationship, and the idea of "face" (面子, miànzi/mien-tzu), which refers to social status, propriety, prestige, or a combination of all three. Other related concepts include wu-lune, which supports the idea of a long term, developing relationship between a business and its client, and yi-ren and ren, which respectively support reciprocity and empathy.

Index of China-related articles (0–L)

The following is a breakdown of the list of China-related topics.


Kowtow, which is borrowed from kau tau in Cantonese (ketou in Mandarin Chinese), is the act of deep respect shown by prostration, that is, kneeling and bowing so low as to have one's head touching the ground. An alternative Chinese term is ketou; however, the meaning is somewhat altered: kou (叩) has the general meaning of knock, whereas ke (磕) has the general meaning of "touch upon (a surface)", tou (頭) meaning head. The date of this custom's origin is probably sometime between the Spring and Autumn period, or the Warring States period of China's history because it is already known to have been a custom by the time of the Qin dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC).In East Asian culture, the kowtow is the highest sign of reverence. It was widely used to show reverence for one's elders, superiors, and especially the Emperor, as well as for religious and cultural objects of worship. In modern times, usage of the kowtow has become reduced.


Laotong (Chinese: 老同; pinyin: lǎotóng; literally: 'old sames') is a type of relationship in Chinese culture formerly practised in Hunan that bonded two girls together for eternity as kindred sisters.

There two cultural practises in Hunan in past centuries, Laotong and Laotang, acknowledged women's social bonds.

Chinese women commonly refer to each other as "Sisters". This is a recognition of the importance of women's supportive relationships, which help them endure hardships over their lives. Preparation for marriage might involve a Laotang relationship between several young women; the sisterhood would be dissolved upon marriage. After marriage, new sisterhoods could be formed later between married or widowed women.For Chinese women, the Laotong or "old-sames" relationship was the strongest and most precious bond of female friendship. This was a more rare and formal relationship between women. A woman could only have one Laotong, and the intensely unbreakable bond was for life.

Often a Laotong relationship would be formed when a marriage was contracted between families who were expecting babies. This was done before the babies were born. If both children turned out female against the hopes of their families, the daughters could be brought together as Laotong. An intermediary, in some places a matchmaker, would form a Laotong relationship between two girls, similar to an arranged marriage. The Chinese astrological profiles of the girls were considered during the matching process. It was unusual for a Laotong relationship to be broken.The relationship was made formal by the signing of a contract, which would be done much like a legal contract, using a seal. Laotong would frequently develop a language to use to communicate between them that only they could understand (a type of Nu shu), allowing them to send messages back and forth to one another.

These elements of the Laotong practise are shown in Lisa See's novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which was made into a 2011 movie directed by Wayne Wang.

Nine familial exterminations

The nine familial exterminations or nine kinship exterminations (simplified Chinese: 株连九族; traditional Chinese: 株連九族; pinyin: zhū lián jiǔ zú; literally: 'guilt by association of nine of a group/clan'; also known as zú zhū (族誅), literally "family execution" and miè zú (灭族/滅族), literally "family extermination" or "execution of nine relations") was the most serious punishment for a capital offense in Ancient China. A collective punishment typically associated with offenses such as treason, the punishment involved the execution of all relatives of an individual, which were categorized into nine groups. Nine exterminations were often done by slow slicing. The occurrence of this punishment was somewhat rare, with relatively few sentences recorded throughout history. There were also variants of the punishment found in ancient Korea and Vietnam (the most prominent example being the execution of most of the family members of Nguyễn Trãi).

Red envelope

In Chinese and other East Asian and Southeast Asian societies, a red envelope or a red packet is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or special occasions such as weddings, graduation or the birth of a baby.

Outside of China, similar customs have been adopted across parts of Southeast Asia and many other countries with a sizable ethnic Chinese population.

Religion in China

The government of China officially espouses state atheism, though Chinese civilization has historically long been a cradle and host to a variety of the most enduring religio-philosophical traditions of the world. Confucianism and Taoism (Daoism), later joined by Buddhism, constitute the "three teachings" that have shaped Chinese culture. There are no clear boundaries between these intertwined religious systems, which do not claim to be exclusive, and elements of each enrich popular or folk religion. The emperors of China claimed the Mandate of Heaven and participated in Chinese religious practices. In the early 20th century, reform-minded officials and intellectuals attacked all religions as "superstitious", and since 1949, China has been governed by the Communist Party of China, an atheist institution that prohibits party members from practicing religion while in office. In the culmination of a series of atheistic and anti-religious campaigns already underway since the late 19th century, the Cultural Revolution against old habits, ideas, customs and culture, lasting from 1966 to 1976, destroyed or forced them underground. Under following leaders, religious organisations were given more autonomy. The government formally recognizes five religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam (though the Chinese Catholic Church is independent of the Catholic Church in Rome). In the early twenty-first century there has been increasing official recognition of Confucianism and Chinese folk religion as part of China's cultural inheritance.

Folk or popular religion, the most widespread system of beliefs and practices, has evolved and adapted since at least the Shang and Zhou dynasties in the second millennium BCE. Fundamental elements of a theology and spiritual explanation for the nature of the universe harken back to this period and were further elaborated in the Axial Age. Basically, Chinese religion involves allegiance to the shen, often translated as "spirits", defining a variety of gods and immortals. These may be deities of the natural environment or ancestral principles of human groups, concepts of civility, culture heroes, many of whom feature in Chinese mythology and history. Confucian philosophy and religious practice began their long evolution during the later Zhou; Taoist institutionalized religions developed by the Han dynasty; Chinese Buddhism became widely popular by the Tang dynasty, and in response Confucian thinkers developed Neo-Confucian philosophies; and popular movements of salvation and local cults thrived.

Christianity and Islam arrived in China in the 7th century. Christianity did not take root until it was reintroduced in the 16th century by Jesuit missionaries. In the early 20th century Christian communities grew, but after 1949, foreign missionaries were expelled, and churches brought under government-controlled institutions. After the late 1970s, religious freedoms for Christians improved and new Chinese groups emerged. Islam has been practiced in Chinese society for 1,400 years. Currently, Muslims are a minority group in China, representing between 0.45% to 1.8% of the total population according to the latest estimates. Though Hui Muslims are the most numerous group, the greatest concentration of Muslims is in Xinjiang, with a significant Uyghur population. China is also often considered a home to humanist and secularist, this-worldly thought beginning in the time of Confucius.

Because many, perhaps most, Han Chinese do not consider their spiritual beliefs and practices to be a "religion" and in any case do not feel that they must practise any one of them exclusively, it is difficult to gather clear and reliable statistics. According to scholarly opinion, "the great majority of China's population of 1.4 billion" takes part in Chinese cosmological religion, its rituals and festivals of the lunar calendar, without belonging to any institutional teaching. National surveys conducted in the early 21st century estimated that some 80% of the population of China, which is more than a billion people, practise some kind of Chinese folk religion; 10–16% are Buddhists; 10% are Taoist; 2.53% are Christians; and 0.4% are Muslims. Folk religious movements of salvation constitute 2–3% to 13% of the population, while many in the intellectual class adhere to Confucianism as a religious identity. In addition, ethnic minority groups practise distinctive religions, including Tibetan Buddhism, and Islam among the Hui and Uyghur peoples.


Yuán (simplified Chinese: 缘; traditional Chinese: 緣; pinyin: yuán) or Yuanfen (simplified Chinese: 缘分; traditional Chinese: 緣分; pinyin: yuánfèn; Vietnamese: duyên phận), "fateful coincidence," is a concept in Chinese and Vietnamese societies describing good and bad chances and potential relationships. It can also be translated as "destiny, luck as conditioned by one's past," or "natural affinity among friends." It is comparable to the concept of karma in Buddhism, but yuanfen is interactive rather than individual. The driving forces and causes behind yuánfèn are said to be actions done in previous incarnations.

Scholars Yang Kuo-shu and David Ho have analysed the psychological advantages of this belief: by assigning causality of negative events to yuanfen beyond personal control, people tend to maintain good relationships, avoid conflict, and promote social harmony; likewise, when positive events are seen as result of yuanfen, personal credit is not directly assigned, which reduces pride on one side of the relationship and envy and resentment on the other.


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