Chinese Myths and Other Stories

When people ask all kinds of bizarre questions about China, just how weird can they get?


Chinese individuals of the less worldly type are often guilty of asking foreigners some very odd questions. A couple of teenagers on a bus in Changsha once excitedly asked me if there was rice in England. I guess not an entirely stupid question, but they then quickly followed it up by asking if there were trees in England—now, that’s an entirely stupid question.

For those of us that have been out here a while, it is not just na?ve Chinese villagers that ask tiresome questions. Our friends and family back home that have little clue about the country where we live are just as guilty, and sometimes even more so.

A recent blog doing the rounds among China expats looked pointedly at the topic: “Things expats are sick to death of hearing when they go back home,” which outlined some of those same, old questions that your gran is likely to ask you when you go back.

Arriving in Dongguan, I expected it to be full of aging rice farmers that would wear those conical, straw hats, which I had only ever seen in Vietnamese films. It turns out there are not too many of those guys in Dynacity mall.

“What is China like?” A huge question, but usually pitched to you as if you could bat off a satisfactory answer in a quick sentence or two.

“Well, Grandma, it is a mysterious country. Everyone is good at math, but they eat dogs and torture white people.”


“No, I was joking.”

Other questions are equally bland, but you are bound to hear them.

“Can you use chopsticks?” Yes

“Do you like Chinese girls?” Yes.

“Can you speak Chinese?” No.

It was over the phone a few years back when my mother showed just how little she knew about my stay in Asia.

“All right, Carlos, how’s Japan?”

“I wouldn’t really know.”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“Well, I have never been.”

“But you been out there for years.”

“Mum, I live in China, not Japan.”

“What? But … isn’t it a bit the same, though?”

And so, the conversation continued with my mother going on to ask if everybody uses chopsticks or if it was just something special done only in restaurants.

My youngest brother was a mere teenager when I left and his China chat was not much more sophisticated than my mother’s offerings. After ensuring him, yet again, that I didn’t know kung fu nor knew many people that did, conversation quickly moved to something he was far more interested in discussing.

“What about spliffs?” he asked.

“What about them?”

“You smoke a spliff in China, you can get executed, right?”

“I’m not too sure, so I generally tend not to risk it these days.”

“Nice one bruv, you were always smart.”

“Thanks bruv.”

These are, but two of the odd conversations about my adopted country that I have had with my family; indeed, there have been many others. Certainly, HERE! readers will have had many more bizarre chats about the Middle Kingdom with their own friends and family back home. All things considered, it is fair game.

Before you go somewhere, you rarely know anything insightful about the place. Arriving in Dongguan, I expected it to be full of aging rice farmers that would wear those conical, straw hats, which I had only ever seen in Vietnamese films. It turns out there are not too many of those guys in Dynacity mall.

As a lefty, I was also excited about “seeing communism in action.” Again, there is not much observable communism going down at Dynacity mall.

With such thoughts in mind, it is easy to see how my family were not so far off in their assumptions. Honestly, Japan is not that far from China, and there are more than a few cultural overlaps, despite their shared animosity. Kung Fu is Chinese, though most people don’t practice the sport. People out here have received some very hard sentences for taking some very soft drugs.

In an age where fact and fiction are not always distinct, such assumptions are far from the worst you will hear. Apparently, we now live in a post-truth world where alternative facts are about to become the norm. We ought to prepare ourselves for ever stranger fiction. Over the next few years, I suspect the myths—therefore, the questions—we’ll hear about China will wax even more outlandish.

If you dare google “crazy Chinese myths,” it’ll only take a few moments to get balls-deep into some, let’s say, out there, material. Don’t do it!

When assaulted by such whimsy from people who do not know better, the job of the expat is to stay calm and instead, become a temporary foreign ambassador for the country. Kindly help your people unwind the myth from the reality. If you are lucky, a few people might just believe you.