In Dongguan’s bustling international community, foreign couples and Chinese couples behave differently in terms of public display of affection, or PDA.
While foreign couples are likely to hold hands on the streets, most Chinese couples walk side by side without any PDA indication. Simply put, the act of sharing emotions is non-apparent for a majority of Chinese couples since it is not a habit that is rooted in cultural tradition. Other reasons for this behavior can be loss of face, awkwardness, fear of dismissal, or sensitivity to one’s public image. Due to conservative upbringings, Chinese couples often overlook the significance of saying “I love you” or engaging intimately with one another. In public settings, PDA is generally frowned upon.
This begs the question: how do Asian couples show their appreciation and love for one another if not public displays of affection?
Growing up in a Taiwanese family, I have only seen my parents kiss once (this was on Chinese New Year). When I approached my mother about the topic of PDA, she explained that Chinese couples do not find the necessity or urge to show their affection publicly to others. It was pointless to parade one’s relationship in front of other people. Plus, this affectionate behavior can make others feel left out or even appalled.
Instead of PDA, many Chinese couples—regardless of age—use cryptic signs to express their emotions. For instance, my grandmother would often buy a bag of fresh fruits from the market for my grandfather due to his obsession with fruit bowls. This action indicated her dedication and love towards him, which is more potent than articulating loving words. According to South China Morning Post, Chinese couples view PDA as an artificial or fake expression of love. To truly show deep affection for the other person, Chinese couples demonstrate love through non-verbal communication, such as meaningful yet straightforward actions.
Another note to consider is the ironic display of what they deem to be “affection.” Whether it is fighting over the check after dinner or blaming others for buying expensive gifts, Chinese couples can show love through their immense generosity and graciousness.
However, Chinese couples’ behaviors may seem strange to foreign couples. The cultural difference between the two parties is evident. Foreigners are not shy about PDA and are accustomed to a certain degree of holding hands, hugging and kissing in public. Chinese couples do not even consider engaging in these affectionate actions—it’s merely not wired into their behavioral systems.
It is essential to understand that Chinese couples subtly demonstrate love. In their culture, affection does not have to be shown through verbal communication nor in a public setting. Cultural differences and diverse upbringings shape the way in which an individual perceives PDA. Be mindful of each other’s differences and find your own way to show affection.