GUEST POST: How Research can Mitigate Culture Shock when Moving to Rural China

GUEST POST: How Research can Mitigate Culture Shock when Moving to Rural China

Today’s guest post is from Mike Sannitti who writes about all aspects of moving for and its sister site When moving to a different country, especially a place like China, you will most likely experiencing a culture shock. Find out how to mitigate this shock.



Moving to a new country? Be prepared for culture shock. China specifically has a lot of cultural idiosyncrasies that may seem strange to westerners. When moving to any country, researching the culture can help prepare you for these cultural differences. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that every part of a country as big as China is the same.

That is one of the most common mistakes that many international travelers make when preparing to move overseas. They consider a whole country culturally uniform, when in reality different regions of any country, especially China, can seem completely foreign to each other.

That isn’t to say that general information about China is not applicable to you if you are moving to a rural area. Broad trends and statistics can be helpful and there are some fundamentally Chinese cultural trends that can apply to all of the country.

For example, learning the local language is a good way to prepare yourself for a new culture. However, if you’re moving to a small village, you will likely encounter a dialect of Chinese that is quite different than the standard Mandarin or Cantonese that is taught in western schools. Take a look at this dialect map to see just how many different versions of Chinese are spread throughout the country. This is just one example why you’re going to need to find information more specific to where you plan on living if you want to avoid culture shock.

The subtleties of culture, like social taboos and political ideologies, can vary depending on where in China you are moving. While the safe strategy conversing with locals is to avoid the subjects of politics and religion, knowing what values and beliefs your neighbors will have can help you understand your new culture and the motivations for why average people do what they do.

Most people contemplating a move to China know that censorship, Tibet, and communism are not something the average Chinese person wants to hear an outsider talk about. However, depending on the region, the political sentiment can vary. Just think about your own country. Does everyone in your country share the same social and political views? As an American, I can tell you that the way people think, act, believe, and even talk in rural Georgia is quite different from how they do it in New York City. You shouldn’t expect a foreign country to be any different. There is no one national culture.

General ways rural China differs from its big cities

So what should you do to research your destination if general country information is too vague? Well, even though generalizing is part of the problem, you can make some assumptions about rural life in China.

  • English is less used and understood the further you get from large cities.
  • Older traditions that respect ancestors are more commonly practiced in rural areas.
  • Enforcement of national laws is less common in rural areas.
  • Foreigners stick out and get stared at everywhere, but they are less shocking to locals in the big cities.

Myths about Chinese culture

While researching and considering general trends remember to avoid stereotyping. There are some ideas about China that are just not true whether you are looking at rural or urban areas.

Myth 1: They are very communist

Despite affiliation to the communist party, the actual economy of China functions like capitalism. Wealth is not evenly distributed and the biggest businesses are very successful while rural areas are often quite poor.

Myth 2. The Chinese hate outsiders

This is false in most cases. In the country’s cities, you are more likely to be treated as a celebrity as a foreigner. A friend of mine is a white male who is over six feet tall. He was given things in his time in the cities for just being a tall Caucasian.

If you move to a rural area in China, you may get locals honestly asking you, “Why are you here?” That is not them being rude, they just honestly don’t know. Chinese people may seem rude or cold to westerners, but really that is just a cultural difference that indicates no personal disrespect. The western culture of (over)politeness is not how they were raised. Chinese people were raised to keep to be respectful of their elders, but they won’t hesitate to ask questions of their peers that may seem blunt to foreigners.

Myth 3: They eat dogs

The cases where this is true are pretty rare. There are certain areas that serve dog in China. However, the vast majority of the country does not eat them, and it is illegal in some areas. Dogs are common pets in China, although they are not treated with the reverence that westerners usually have for their pets. Still, the dog eating stereotype is not accurate most of the time.

How do you get specific information?

So if information on China as a whole is too vague, how can you find more specific information to prepare for your move to a rural part of China?

If you know the exact name of the town or village you expect to move to, you can do a general search online. Unfortunately there are many English spellings of most proper Chinese words, so the search can be imprecise. Also, some areas are small enough that there is little to no information on them online.

Your best bet is to look for expat blogs and boards from people who spent time somewhere other than the big cities in China. There is plenty of invaluable cultural information right here on LostPanda from someone who experiences rural China as an outsider first hand. You may not find a blogger or poster who is living in the exact area you will move to, but if your location is similarly sized or in the same region, you can gain valuable insight on what it will be like to live there.

Remember to note the previous culture of the expat, as well. You will get more insight on how things will be for you if your background is similar to the person telling their stories about the foreign culture. Remember that culture is relative, though. As an American, I can easily identify with this blog’s author, Anna, who is a German. In the context of looking at rural China, American and German culture suddenly becomes very similar. It’s an interesting thing to think about how exploring something different makes us all seem more alike.

Of course, the best way to know about the local culture is to visit the area before you move there. If you are moving from overseas, this may not be feasible if you can’t travel that freely. But if you can visit your prospective neighborhood at least once, you can see what the culture is really like right where you are going to live. Explore the area, talk to neighbors, and see where you may want or need to go. Observing a day in the life of the locals who live in your new neighborhood should tell you everything you need to know about the area before you move there.

Finally, the best way to prepare for culture shock is to calm down and embrace it. No amount of preparation can make the transition into a foreign culture totally shock-free. That is okay because you are probably more adaptable and resilient than you think. You’ll be surprised at what you can adjust to and how quickly you can do it.




Mike Sannitti writes about all aspects of moving for and its sister site

He has also written for,, and

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

3 thoughts on “GUEST POST: How Research can Mitigate Culture Shock when Moving to Rural China

  1. Too bad the map about the different dialects is so small, cant really read it.
    Anyways, when it comes to dialects it is not just straight “northern mandarin” etc as each region and even city has its alterations. Through this my wife from Xi’an for example has troubles understanding people from northern Shaanxi when they switch into their dialect mode

    • Yes, you are totally right. The same here. There is no simple Northern Anhui dialect. People in Bozhou here speak differently, from the people in neighbouring cities and villages. Luckily I finally managed to get a hang of that dialect. Though if very old people talk to me I still have trouble understanding, and than they always start screaming as if speaking louder would change anything -.-

  2. I believe that everywhere around the world the people who live in the rural areas are nicer, more hospitable and friendly that the ones who live in the big cities! I find China fascinating and I am going there for a year! Thanks for the information!

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