The differences of politeness in East and West.

Chinese always call ourselves as the country of politeness, which is actually incorrect, because there are quite a difference between rites and politeness.

We are a country of rites and rituals. Rites and rituals are vertical, it’s like a pyramid or a stair case, it demands that whoever at the lower rank has to be submissive and be obedient to the higher rank without questioning, otherwise you  will be accused as insubordinate , unruly , impolite etc.

The  emperor  never has to say please to anyone, the boss never say please to his employees, the teacher never say thanks or please to his students, neither the parents to the children, to do so would be consider incorrect behavior. On the other hand, three kneels and nine kowtows ( head touching ground) must be performed when one sees the king , how low to bow depends on how important and how much senior in rank is the person we meet, and there’s a whole different vocabulary for talking to different levels of people, to properly address the other becomes extremely complicated, there’s no plane level words such  as hello and hi.

As for close friends, because we are in the same level of social standing,  there’s no need to stand on ceremony, so we don’t have to say thanks or please  to the others, rites don’t apply here. And if you treat your friend with rites, then it means you are not treating him as close friend.

On the other hand, western politeness means there is no class distinctions, you treat everyone as your equal horizontally, hi and hello are common and acceptable greetings, you don’t have to bow and kowtow to your prime minster, and you use the same words and manner no matter who you talk to. The boss always says please to the employees, the teacher and parents thank  the students and children, and friends say thanks and please to the others.

So from the western point of view,  Chinese are actually very impolite.

Democracy cannot flourish if we cannot treat everyone equally, that’s why true democracy can never take root in Japan, Korea and Vietnam that have strong Chinese cultural and ritual influences. True democracy can only happen when  we can treat everyone as equal not only in politics but also in daily life behavior.

Lap Lam


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