Are the Chinese introverts?

By David Drakeford Source:Global Times Published: 2012-9-9 19:25:03

In her recent best-selling book Quiet, author Susan Cain reveals "the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking." Though such a world might sound like the snack shops and street corners of noisy China, a whole chapter is dedicated to extolling the sage-like silence of a pantheon of Asian philosophers and their modern-day counterparts - the studious, stay-at-home youths who garner sky-high grades at university.

While it's true that Chinese students stick to the Asian stereotype of excellence in science and maths, has this author not made a serious misjudgement of the true character of the Chinese?

According to psychological research cited in the book, Chinese high school students look for friends who are "humble" and "hard-working," contrasted with American students' taste for the "enthusiastic" and "cheerful." That doesn't sound like China's highly sociable restaurants full of large groups of noisy diners. Nor is it what springs to mind amid the throngs of Beijing's pushy pedestrians jostling for right of way against the horn-blasting ranks of motor vehicles.

The introvert's natural distaste for small talk is also often hard to detect in China. Outside Beijing's bubble of cosmopolitanism, where foreigners are less of a novelty, it is almost impossible for me to eat a meal alone or take a train ride with just a good book for company without someone interrupting to have a chat.

I decided to talk things over with an undeniably introverted Chinese person I know, Wang Ge, a music and film journalist. Via an instant messenger chat (social media is purpose-made for introverts), Wang opined that many people in modern China do indeed feel that extroversion is the path to career success and riches.

Perhaps the nation is aspiring to the same extrovert ideal that Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, helped spark in the US of the turn of the 20th century, when urbanization forced people to come out of their parochial shells and exploit the power of the masses.

Even after some pushing in the other direction, however, Wang concluded that Chinese people were, despite some empirical evidence, largely introverted.

Having read Cain's 300-page discourse I was starting to see some clues that perhaps she was right. For everyone blowhard loudly chatting at a Chinese restaurant table are four or five diners who seem happy enough to sit quietly. Though Beijing's streets are often full of people, I have started to notice that many are just silently playing chess or exercising.

Frenetic networking and building guanxi might come easily to extroverted types, but there's no reason for introverts to pack up and leave China. Chinese philosopher Laozi wrote, "Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know." So try keeping quiet. If you're lucky it will be mistaken for wisdom.


Posted in: Twocents-Opinion

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