Empathy for strangers does not exist in China

A couple weeks ago my husband and I were walking down the street and there was an old woman lying in the middle of the sidewalk. People were just bustling past her as if they didn’t even see her. We stopped and tried to see what we could do for her but she didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand her. When others saw us helping her they stopped too. Soon someone had called the police to come and help the woman.

Before that I had seen two guys riding a motorbike get hit by a car. They were both thrown off the bike and we left lying in the middle of the road. The cars just drove around them. I headed over there but before I go there they were up and riding off.

3 months ago a tourist fainted on a subway in Beijing and everyone on the train simply ignored him and left him lying there while they exited the train.

1 year ago a woman got her head stuck in a railing. People passed by her all day. Stopping to stare. Taking pictures with their cell phones. She died.

1 year ago a 2 year old little girl was hit by a car. A security camera shows over 15 people walking past the child lying in the road. Eventually a 2nd car hit her body and killed her.

The stories go on and on. Why is this? How can people be so cruel?  Those are shocking stories but there are the tiny almost mundane ones too like if a little old lady drops her bag of groceries in a crowd not one person will stop to help her gather them (but me).

I’ve been researching this for a few days now and it seems to stem from Taoism.  Apparently Laozi’s utopia was described as “Let your community be small, with only a few people. He said that “to do nothing is actually to do everything.”Laozi_002

So there we go. They have a 3,000 year old tradition of not caring for their neighbor. Only have a few people in your community and don’t ever help anyone with anything. It’s tribalism to the extreme.

In the lobby of my friend’s apartment building there is a sign that reads:

Look on and Do Nothing.

That about sums up life here.

It’s not as if Chinese people are not capable of empathy. They are very friendly to people they consider part of their group as in their family and their small circle of friends but anyone outside of that may as well not exist. It’s as if in Chinese culture there are two distinct, completely separate castes: my circle and the untouchables. They don’t separate themselves by class or rank or anything like that it’s just me, my family, my friends, and then the untouchables.

Then everyone lives in their little worlds like that. There are millions and millions of microcosms in China. Millions of groups of 20 or so people that are wonderfully sweet and helpful to each other that never intermingle with other groups and wouldn’t lift a finger to help the other even if a life were at stake.

For anyone interested there is a Chinese professor at UCLA writing a book on the topic. I have emailed him to learn more.



I still haven’t gotten used to this

In China baby’s pants have a slit in the middle and when they have to go to the bathroom the parent just stops where ever they are and baby pees or poops. In the middle of the sidewalk? Yes. Inside a store? Yes. On the steps outside your apartment building? Yes.

Grown adults will drop their pants and take a poo on the sidewalk too.  I’m not kidding.

The really weird thing? Pets are not terribly popular but some people do have dogs they walk on leashes. I have seen several people clean up their dog’s poop. Yep. They clean up dog poop but leave the baby poop in the middle of the sidewalk. They don’t even move off to the side. They literally stop what they’re doing and squat for the baby to poop or pee where ever they are.

9 weeks in – adjusting to China.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Adjusting to my new life in China has been quite interesting. For the first time ever I was completely and I mean COMPLETELY out of my element.  Sure I’ve spent several months back packing Latin America but you can almost always find someone that speaks English somewhere and often times signs are in both English and Spanish. It’s not like that here and if a sign is in English it may as well be in German because the translation is so poor most of the time I have no idea what it supposed to say anyway.

First off let me say that most Western people stick to Shanghai or Beijing and if they do get to my city at all it’s only for a day or two to see the terra cotta warriors.  I live in Xi’an. It’s a city of 9 million people and on any given day the total number of foreigners is less than 300. That’s including foreigners living here like myself, my family, and my husband’s co-workers along with tourists. So 300/9,000,000 means there aren’t a whole lot of people around here that look like me or can talk to me.

And yes I did say 9 MILLION. I’ve had several people message me and ask me what’s the closest big city to where you live? I only assume they ask because the only place in China they know if is Beijing. Well, I’m over 1,000 miles from there but I think 9,000,000 constitutes a big city.

Chinese people do study English in school but the quality of their English education is about as good as foreign language education in the US. If the student is highly motivated they can learn a bit of English but most just breeze on through only learning the basics.

I know a couple Americans on Facebook living in Beijing or Shanghai and when we talk about what it’s like living in China they may as well be living in different world compared to my experiences. There is no vibrant ex-pat community here. I don’t ever walk down the road and happen to meet someone that speaks English. It just doesn’t happen. It’s a very surreal thing living here.

I have finally made some local friends. There is a section of society that does speak English fairly well. The poor people don’t and the extremely wealthy don’t but the upper class do. When I say upper class let me put it into perspective: $433 USD a month is a very respectable wage here.

So in a nutshell there are 9,000,000 people in my city and I’d say maybe 2,000 that I can talk to until my Chinese gets better. I’m working on finding them but the going is slow.