We can be quite amazed at how welcoming Chinese people are when receiving foreigners, be it business partners or friendly acquaintances. We like to repeat that the Chinese are good hosts (中国人好客!) and this is not just a cliché. I was working with a French company in the South of France and on their first visit to theirChinese partner in Wuhan, the owner said to me: “We’ll have to make sure our welcome in France will be up to Chinese standards!”. The Chinese had prepared a welcoming arrival worthy of a president, from the airport all the way to the hotel. The businessman had spent three royal days! An art in its own right! I never delved into the origins of such habits, I settled for the rather simple explanation from a teacher, who linked this attitude to Confucianism and the famous exclamation in the Analects : “有朋自远方来，不亦乐乎? Isn’t it a joy to receive a friend who comes from afar？?” This is certainly part of the explanation.
This is certainly part of the explanation. I am sharing below the story of a friend who had a beautiful experience on a train. Quite an amazing story!
3 days, 3 years!
July-August 1992, I have to spend a month in China for research on a thesis about an unlikely subject, the immigration of Russian Orthodox in China.
On the 3rd day in Beijing, I was supposed to take a train to Xinjiang and find my way back to Europe, but on that 3rd day, I met my wife. So I didn’t stay 3 days in Beijing, but 3 years.
Beijing-Wuhan: Food, drink, a hairdresser!
I was a student and I had a student budget, so I had to find a job. My visa had already been granted a few short extensions and in October, I had to go to Hong Kong to get a new visa and, at the same time, hope to find a French company that wanted to open an office in Beijing.
I couldn’t afford the plane, so I decided to go by train. It was impossible to buy a direct ticket from Beijing to Hong Kong/Guangzhou. The train station employee told me: “First buy a one-way ticket to Wuhan and once you arrive there, you have 30 minutes to buy the Wuhan-Canton ticket. Then from Canton, you can take a train to Shenzhen”.
The first Beijing-Wuhan part of the trip goes well in 2nd class (with “hard beds”) where everyone offers me food and drink. The hairdresser on the bed below mine would have liked to have a foreign boyfriend. A “capitalist” explained to me that he had just bought his first car in Wuhan and that I was invited to the house; “Now foreigners can be received in Chinese homes, it’s opening up!”
Wuhan-Canton with two Cantonese and a hoarse accent
The train arrives on time in Wuhan and I buy my ticket to Canton, first class this time. I find my cabin with 4 comfortable beds, which I shared with two other men.
After the courtesies, they tell me about their life, they are fruit farmers in the countryside, about 60 miles from Canton. The one with the big smile, toothless, is the most talkative. But they have an hoarse accent and I remember the saying “I fear neither heaven nor earth but only a Cantonese who speaks Mandarin, 天不怕，地不怕，只怕广东人说 普通话”. When the ticket inspector comes, I feel much more relaxed and restful with her standard mandarin accent. But they are so nice that I enjoy talking to them even if, after an hour, I feel that I have spent all my energy on understanding this terrifying accent. It’s the first time they’ve had a conversation with a stranger and they’re eager to know a little more about the outside world. I can’t remember how long the trip took; 12- 15 hours probably. Fortunately, we slept a little. Before dawn, a music wakes us up and we resume the conversation.
One card, no cash
I hope to arrive in Hong Kong as soon as possible because the person I need to see leaves his office around noon for the airport and before that I have to drop off my stuff at a French friend’s house, take a shower and “get cleaned up”. I couldn’t take enough cash and the cost of the first class ticket in Wuhan didn’t leave me many yuans. Arriving around 6:30 am, I had to wait for the opening of the Bank of China to withdraw with my French card, which compromised my appointment. I asked my new friends if there is an ATM that accepts a foreign card at the station. They don’t think and ask me what my problem is. I explain to them. The big one makes a small smile, looks in his pocket his wallet takes out big bills (500 HK$, I think). He says to me: “I have only 2000 HK$. It can help you. At first, I refuse. He insists several times with the usual, “we are friends, 我们是朋友”, “you will give them back to me when you get your new job, I’ll give you my address, my account number. ” I’m thinking, that will save me some time and I’ll be able to give it back to him in a few days. So I take the money, thank him ten thousand times and we split up on arrival.
Thank you very much.
The HK$ saved me a lot of time, I was able to redo my visa, I didn’t get the job, but everything went well afterwards.
Extraordinary experience for me, a stranger lends me the equivalent of several months of average Chinese wages at the time to help me. I told myself, it’s completely impossible in France. I don’t know if this story influenced me, but when Chinese people ask me for information in France or elsewhere, I do my utmost and I remain eternally grateful to this very sympathetic Cantonese. »
A testimony is better than a long theory to describe some Chinese cultural habits.
Several articles on the subject:
Subtlety in China
At home, you rely on your parents, outside on your friends
Sentiment, relationship and money
26 May 2020