People around the world, not just the Chinese, love their money. But the Chinese culture has a stronger fixation on money than perhaps other cultures. This belief is so popular that it is stereotyped in modern culture today. Stereotypes like the frugal Asian parents you see on tv are one of them. Some comedians, like Ronny Chieng, also mentioned money-obsessed practices in his comedy show.
Talking about money may come across as being too bold, intrusive, and even disrespectful in some cultures. Talking about money, however, is very normal and common in Chinese culture. The topic is so normal that the top 3 questions you get asked are always “Where are you from?”, “What do you do?” and “how much you make”. People asking you these questions are not just families and relatives, but can also be strangers you met on the bus. These questions are often used to determine a person’s reputation and credibility.
Cultural practices done during the Chinese New Year are one of the examples of the money-obsessed things you can notice. The simple greeting of 恭喜发财 (gong xi fa cai) is a must said phrase during Chinese New Year. This phrase literally means “I hope you get rich”. Additionally, there are traditions of giving red envelopes filled with money during Chinese New Year. This is to wish the receiver (most of the time kids) good luck at the beginning of the year.
The Mindset of Happiness: Money CAN Buy You Happiness
I dare say that in Chinese culture money is very important, closely similar to the phrase “Money is everything”. Countering this is the phrase “money can’t buy happiness”. There are many things money can buy but there are also other things that it can’t. Money surely can’t buy happiness but when asking people who were raised in Chinese culture, they would probably disagree. Their thoughts once hearing the statement “Money can’t buy happiness” is that “No! Money CAN buy you happiness!”.
Money can buy you a fancy house, a car and provide you with luxury vacations all on your single command. You would be happy when you can own the things you want and do the things you want to do! However, they would probably agree that even with all the money in the world, you can never buy true love. Love is another sensitive topic that we can discuss in another article.
Stability is very important in Chinese culture. Having money can buy you certain forms of happiness though not all forms. One should really be thinking at this point, where does such a mindset come from?
Centuries-Old Cultural Practice
It is said that this particular obsession with money could be influenced by centuries-old cultural practices. The Buddhism religion that helped build the society in China taught about the concept of karma. Karma means that whatever you do will come back to you. If you do good things, then good things will come back to you. If you do bad things, then bad things will come back to you. If you are born in a rich family, it’s because you were a good person in your previous life. Your good deed in the previous life has rewarded you with good luck and prosperity in this life with karma. Money is a symbol of luck and fortune in the culture. Money is also one of the rewards of Karma you can get in Chinese culture.
The Taoism belief also contributes to the concept of fortune and money in society. Taoism introduces gods and goddesses that can help you if you pray and worship them in return. One of the most worshipped, however, is possibly the god of wealth or money 财神(chai shen). By praying to the god of wealth, it is believed that you can gain more money or luck for your business.
Another cultural practice that you might find most familiar is perhaps the fish tank. In Feng Shui, the Chinese cultural belief of the flow of energy, fish, and water symbolizes good fortune, prosperity, and wealth. Thus, putting a fish tank in the living room is believed to bring fortune to your house. Chinese restaurants around the world also often did this practice. You can also call a Feng Shui expert to determine the best flow of energy in your house or establishment. He can help you decide in which room should you put the fish tank. This is so you can retrieve the maximum amount of prosperity by putting the fish tank strategically.
Another possibility that affects the importance of money in Chinese culture can also be the political history of China. This factor might just be the most important factor to influence the Chinese view of money. During the reign of general Mao, he enforced cultural reform as a means to eradicate capitalism in China. However, this change in system sent the country to the worst poverty recorded in history. During this period ⅓ of the country’s population went below the poverty line and starvation was everywhere. After the death of general Mao in 1976, Deng Xiaoping rose to replace his position. He made reforms to the economy and made China rise to wealth in one generation. One of the quotes he infamously said was, “To be rich is glorious”. After China rose from the poverty line, they have continued to be one of the strongest economies we see today.
Imagine that when you are 7 years old, your house was small and food was hard to come by. Fast forward to when you were 17, you moved to live in a mansion and live in luxury. You see your family change for the better and gain the connection between money and happiness. The parents can also see that money has brought them better lives for their children and their needs. The things that they cannot do before, they can do now because they have money. The stability and safety that money provides are strongly ingrained in people’s heads during this time. That’s why many Asian parents encourage their children on certain career paths like doctors and lawyers. This is because these jobs are stable with a great reputation and bring great income in the long term.
China’s Trade History
The earliest record of trade in China dates back to the Qin dynasty in 2000 BC. China has been handling trade as a business ever since then and created a monetary system to support it. At this point in time, the rest of the world’s civilization is nowhere near what China was doing. Later they created the silk road during the Han dynasty which brought merchants from all around the world. The creation of the Silk road has made China a center for trade centuries before the existence of modern technology. Paper money was later invented along with a system of depositing. This system was very similar to the modern banking system that we know, minus the machines and internet.
For centuries that Chinese culture has understood the concept of doing business, trading, investing, and saving. Talking about money is as common in daily life now as it was 2000 years ago.
China is now the second country in the world with the most number of billionaires. Their average billionaire’s age is 37, one of the youngest averages in the world. However, with such high pressure and competition to make money, it has become unbearable for some. The cities have more job opportunities to make money compared to the rural area. This has made income disparity a problem in China. To make ends meet, many parents left for the city leaving their children and family behind. They had to leave their children behind as moving the whole family to the city would be too expensive. This led to the common situation for many families to only meet once a year during the Chinese New year. They have gone so far from their home country to make ends meet for their families back home.
Despite the crucial importance of money in society, there have been significant cultural shifts that focus more on finding happiness. Money will still remain a crucial part of the Chinese culture, but the growing importance of happiness might just match that of money. How does your culture view money? Let us know in the comments below!