Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other CountriesMethodology used to study the past

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Cultural awareness: to stereotype or not?

Emotion & innovation

Group vs individual

Tradition & change

Cults of multiculturalism

Warden & Convicts

Failed revolutionaries

Thinkers and Drinkers

Immigration and emmigration

Colonial masters

India Cultural Differences Between Australia and India
Convicts and Maharajas

Samurai & Convicts

New Zealand
Convicts vs Do gooders

Papua New Guinea
Chiefs and Elites

East or west?

South Africa
Kaffirs and Convicts

South Korea
The middle-powers

"Australians appear very naive to the newly-arrived Japanese. They speak the same way with everyone."
Hiro Mukai - Japanese

"I can personally affirm that to stand before an audience of beaming Australians and make even the mildest quip about a convict past is to feel the feel the air conditioning immediately elevated."Bill Bryson - American

"You have no need to feel iffy about a country where "relaxation is the aim". There's nothing to be worried about if "no worries" is your mantra. People have killed for less."
Soumya Bhattacharya - Indian

" What sort or peculiar capitalist country is this in which the workers' representatives predominate in the upper house....and yet the capitalist system is in no danger?"
Vladimir Lenin- Russian

"You feel free in Australia. There is great relief in the atmosphere - a relief from tension, from pressure, an absence of control of will or form. The skies open above you and the areas open around you"
D.H Lawrence - English

" The Australian, who are the men our troops have had opposite them so far, are extraordinarily tough fighters. The German is more active in the attack, but the enemy stakes his life in the defence and fights to the last with extreme cunning."
Major Ballerstedt - German

"New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQ of both countries."
Robert Muldoon - New Zealander


Lake Mungo - Walls of China

Cultural Differences between Australia and China


Population 1,330,044,605 (July 2008 est.) 20,600,856 (July 2008 est.)
GDP per capita ($US) $5,300 (2007 est.) $36,300 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 11.3%
industry: 48.6%
services: 40.1% (2007 est.)
agriculture: 3%
industry: 26.4%
services: 70.6% (2007 est.)
Public debt 18.4% of GDP (2007 est.) 15.4% of GDP
Racial groups Han Chinese 91.5%, Zhuang, Manchu, Hui, Miao, Uyghur, Tujia, Yi, Mongol, Tibetan, Buyi, Dong, Yao, Korean, and other nationalities 8.5% (2000 census) White 92%, Asian 7%, Aboriginal and other 1%
Export partners US 21%, Hong Kong 16%, Japan 9.5%, South Korea 4.6%, Germany 4.2% (2006) Japan 19.6%, China 12.3%, South Korea 7.5%, US 6.2%, India 5.5%, NZ 5.5%, UK 5% (2006)

From CIA World Fact Book


Nomadic hominids roamed China for around 850,000 years. Around 10,000 years ago, agriculture developed between the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers of northern China. The first dynasty (the Xia) has been traced to around 2070 BCE, when a group of people reduced the damage to crops caused by flooding, which in turn led to greater agricultural output and more power. Around 1600 BCE in the Shang dynasty, descendants of the Xia invented bronze metal working and developed a writing system. The improvements in technology further increased their power and in turn resulted in an expansion of territory. Territory expanded even further in the subsequent Zhou dynasty on the back hydraulic engineering and iron casting.

Chinese dynasties

The Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties increased territory on the back of innovation in metal work and irrigation.

An invasion by Mongols in 260BC from the north caused the break up of the Zhou dynasty into different warring states. The wars came to an end when the Qin emperor invaded neighboring kingdoms, unified the country, standardised the writing system, and built the first Great Wall. Althugh the Qin dynasty was short lived, it gave China its contemporary name and many of the symbolic elements that are used by Chinese today (such as the Terracotta Warriors.)

The millennia following the fall of the Qin is generally regarded as the high point of the Chinese civilisation relative to the rest of the world. It was a time of technological progress, engagement with the outside world, intellectual discussion and overall prosperity.

 In the 13th century, northern China came under attack from Mongolian nomads and eventually succumbed to them giving rise to the Yuan Dynasty. Han Chinese regained control of China under the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, but the new rulers were far more insular than those who had gone before. To prevent further invasions from the north, they built 8,850 km of wall. Furthermore, in the early 15th century, China was the leading naval power in the world by a considerable margin. For unknown reasons, the Ming emperor ordered that the fleet be destroyed.

With such inward thinking, it was inevitable that China would fall again. This occurred in the 17th century when the Machus (Qing) from the north bribed a general to let them through the wall and they quickly defeated Ming forces. The new rulers were governed by the same insularity, which in turn stifled progress and innovation. In the 19th century, European powers and Japan started invading to carve up Chinese territory for themselves.

In 1911, the last emperor of China fell. In the chaos of the subsequent years, provinces such as Tibet and Xijiang declared independence and Japan increased its control over northern China. Disharmony gave rise to a Communist rebellion that joined with the Nationalists to expel the Japanese. After expelling the Japanese, the Communists defeated the Nationalists. For the first time in almost 500 years, the majority Han people were again in control of China.

In 1958, the Communist Party Chairman, Mao Zedong, decided that China should be transformed from an agricultural society to an industrial collective in what he referred to as the Great Leap Forward. The decline in agricultural production led to an estimated 40 million Chinese dying in famine. With China in chaos and members of the Communist Party wanting his head, in 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. This aimed to purge China of its dissidents, its old ideas, its elitist elements and most important of all, Mao's enemies. It left China in ruins.

Mao died in 1976. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, was also his enemy. Rather than defame Mao's memory, Deng blamed Mao’s wife and three of her associates for Mao’s actions. Two were executed and two were sentenced to life in prison. As for Mao, Deng undid his policies by opening up China to the world; however, to prevent an endless cycle of retribution, the party adopted the position that Mao was 70% good and 30% bad. This allowed Mao to remain a symbol of China standing up to foreign invaders without denying the damage his policies caused China.

Buddha statues in Datong with drill holes. Tour guides say the holes were drilled so special chemicals could be put in the rock to strengthen it. A cynic would say that perhaps the holes were drilled during the Cultural Revolution and designed to hold a less-than-constructive explosive.

Although Australia's history is quite different to China's, it has produced some modern day commonalities. For 50,000 years, nomadic humans roamed Australia. They probably never built cities because Australia lacked a high yield agricultural crop to build a civilisation around.

Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, Indonesian and Spanish reached Australia, took a look at the barren landscape populated by nomads and then kept sailing. In the 18th century, the English arrived, took a look around and decided Australia would make a great place to punish criminals. For the next 80 years, England dumped its Convicts in Australia.

The type of criminals dumped in Australia were very similar to the type of people that supported Chairman Mao in the Communist uprising. They were political rebels and the poor who lacked food to eat. They also found themselves alienated from an elitist class that treated them with contempt. Just as they did in China, the left-wingers of Australia responded by championing progressive ideals in the belief that equality could only be achieved via the destruction of the past. However, they were never able to fully enforce their ideals because the British had implemented a parliamentary system that diversified power and forced community consultation. The result was a system of government that addressed some of the problems that led to communist rebellions without suffering the damage caused by communist rebellions. This unique mix was noted by Vladimir Lenin, the father of the Russian revolution, who said of Australia:

" What sort or peculiar capitalist country is this in which the workers' representatives predominate in the upper house....and yet the capitalist system is in no danger?"

Worker domination in parliament resulted in the Australian economy evolving under an ideology of protectionism and socialism. The protectionist policies ensured Australia's unions would not be undermined by companies importing foreign labour and that Australian industries would not be subjected to competition from foreign produce. The socialist policies ensured that governments would have a monopoly on education, transport, telecommunication, banking and power generation. Commencing in the 1980s, the protectionist and socialist policies were dismantled in favour of economic liberalism.


Religion in China never had the same political control over emperors or the people the way that religion had in Europe, America or the Middle-east. Perhaps this was because China’s religions were not monotheistic, therefore, they were more open to plurality of views and could be complimented by philosophical thought.

The Xia Dynasty had a form of animal worship. This was followed by ancestral worship in the Shang. Philosophical thought in the form of Confucianism emerged in the Zhou dynasty and this acted as a kind of religion. Also in the Zhou Dynasty emerged a conception of heaven and a belief that heaven would reward a just ruler and punish an unjust ruler. Known as the Mandate of Heaven, it was evoked when one dynasty overthrew another.

Daoism/Taosim emerged in the warring states period. It proposed a set of practices on how an individual could lead a happy and peaceful life. A philosophy known as Legalism emerged in the Qin Dynasty. This proposed that, instead of leading by example (as was promoted by Confucianism), the emperor should pass strict laws and rule with an iron fist. As well as rejecting the need to set the example, Legalism also rejected Confucian beliefs that the people should be given education. Instead, it proposed that people should be made to grow crops and fight for the emperor.
Legalism proved to be unpopular with everyone except the emperor. The subsequent Han dynasty embraced versions of Buddhism that were seen to share commonalities with Confucianism and Taoism.

The three teachings remained dominant in China until the Communist Revolution in 1949. The new Communist rulers viewed religion as hierarchical and/or a threat to the revolution. Temples were destroyed, monks executed and religious teaching banned. Like Qin Shihuang, Communist leader Chairman Mao seemed to like Legalism and ruled with aspects of it.

After China’s opening up under the leadership of Den Xiaoping, religion made another public emergence. This caused some concern amongst the Communist leadership that continued to see it as a threat to the revolution. In 1992, Falun Gong, based on Daoist beliefs, was publically introduced. Its rapid growth in popularity along with its politician edge soon saw it being banned. Buddhism continues to be treated with suspicion due to separatist movements in Tibet elevating the Dalia Lama as their leader. Islam is a point of friction as the religion of choice for Uighur separatists in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. In addition, a great deal of relationship building in China revolves around the consumption of pork and alcohol, which causes friction with Muslims. Catholicism is treated with suspicion as it elevates the Vatican as the head of the religion and requires Vatican approval for the appointment of Bishops. (The Communist Party would like a say in the appointment of Bishops.) Confucianism seems to have returned to popularity amongst the ranks of the Communist Party. Evidence comes in the form of the Confucius Institutes (the organisations that proliferate Chinese culture around the world as a form of soft power diplomacy.)

Hang Monastry China

Built more than 1500 years ago into the side of a cliff, China’s Hanging Monastery stored Confucian, Buddhist and Daoism teachings in a model of religious co-operation.

In Australia, Christianity is the dominant religion but Australian Christianity doesn’t seem to have the same political aspirations or political currency as it does in many countries. In the words of cultural critic Robert Hughes,

"Any political candidate who declared God was on his side would be laughed off the podium as an idiot or a wowser (prude, intrusive bluenose)." 

The rejection of political Christianity can probably be traced to the penal era. For example, Governor Hunter was a morals crusader who frequently ordered Convicts be flogged for petty crimes. Although the Convicts were able to put up with the floggings, they were pushed to breaking point when they were ordered to attend Church on Sundays. They responded by burning the Church to the ground.  More anti-institutional sentiment could be seen in the scorn for Samuel Marsden – a reverend of the colonial era. In New Zealand, Marsden is celebrated as a great man who brought the gospel to the Maori. In Australia, he is remembered as the "flogging parson". The Convict men said of him:

"He prays for our souls on Sunday, and takes it out of bodies during the rest of the week."



No government on earth has ever elevated the importance of poetry to the extent of the Chinese dynasties once did. In the first century AD, candidates had to pass an exam in scholastic arts, arithmetic, writing, ceremonies and ritual in order to gain employment in the dynasty's civil service. In the Tang Dynasty, an additional requirement was that candidates compose original poetry.

At various times, officials debated the necessity of poetry to civil service. Some considered it to be irrelevant and briefly removed the requirement while others proposed that it encouraged careful writing. In hindsight, perhaps poetry also helped candidates identify historical patterns, analyse Confucian philosophy, develop abstract thought and articulate persuasive sentences. For example, Chairman Mao was a noted poet and he showed his persuasive power of language with expressions like, “Women hold up half the sky.” The simple sentence arguably did far more to persuade Chinese about the importance of gender equality that would any detailed report on gender equality backed up by research.

Traditional Chinese poetry blends environmental imagery with beautiful verse to create an emotional aesthetic. Consequently, when translated into English, the poems lose their emotional aesthetic in a way that often results in them sounding a bit silly. For example, the ancient poem:

Guan guan jiu he zhi zhou
Yao tiao shu nu jun zi hao qiu

translates to

Guan! Guan! Cry the fish hawks, on sandbars in the river.
A mild-mannered good girl, fine match for the gentleman.

In Australia, poetry has never been seen as of great importance by government; however, it has been very influential in shaping the Australian identity and like Chinese poetry, environmental imagery has been at the base of the poetry's emotional power. For example, in the 19th century, Banjo Patterson wrote the Man from Snowy River. It told the story of an underdog who, along with his horse, reflected the tough Australian landscape and thus showed that looks can be deceiving.

 Banjo Patterson's Man from Snowy River with footage from movie based on the poem

In the 20th century, Dorothea Mackellar wrote "My Country", in which she evoked the beauty, hardship, pain and disorder of the Australian landscape as a point of contrast with Europe but in a way that filled other Australians with pride.  A.D Hope's Australia was a particularly nuanced poem in that it used the Australian environment as a metaphor of Australia's cultural flaws; however, in that "Arabian desert of the human mind" Hope finds a spirit of a prophet to which he glady turns.

A. D. Hope

A Nation of trees, drab green and desolate grey
In the field uniform of modern wars,
Darkens her hills, those endless, outstretched paws
Of Sphinx demolished or stone lion worn away.

They call her a young country, but they lie:
She is the last of lands, the emptiest,
A woman beyond her change of life, a breast
Still tender but within the womb is dry.

Without songs, architecture, history:
The emotions and superstitions of younger lands,
Her rivers of water drown among inland sands,
The river of her immense stupidity

Floods her monotonous tribes from Cairns to Perth.
In them at last the ultimate men arrive
Whose boast is not: "we live" but "we survive",
A type who will inhabit the dying earth.

And her five cities, like five teeming sores,
Each drains her: a vast parasite robber-state
Where second hand Europeans pullulate
Timidly on the edge of alien shores.

Yet there are some like me turn gladly home
From the lush jungle of modern thought, to find
The Arabian desert of the human mind,
Hoping, if still from the deserts the prophets come,

Such savage and scarlet as no green hills dare
Springs in that waste, some spirit which escapes
The learned doubt, the chatter of cultured apes
Which is called civilization over there.


Rule followers and rule breakers

In Australia, Chinese are often stereotyped as people who are afraid to break rules. This stereotype can perhaps be traced to the Chinese on the Australian gold fields in the 19th century. The Qing dynasty that ruled the miners' homeland had a refined legal system that was 2,000 years in the making. This legal system was so effective at maintaining order that the Manchu (Qing) invaders were even able to force the Han Chinese to wear their hair in the Manchu style in Australia.

China Que

The shaved front head and braided poney tail was a haircut imposed on Chinese by the Manchu invaders. Although it was humilating, a culture of compliance created by a refined legal system enabled the imposition to occur.

Although Chinese were very compliant in the 19th century, after the Qing Dynasty fell at the start of the 20th century, the dynasty legal system was replaced with the German legal system. This was in turn replaced by a Communist legal system after World War 2 (War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression). The result of all the upheavals was a culture with an anarchist approach to rules. Today, the anarchists approach is seen on Chinese roads where cars ignore pedestrian crossings, double unbroken lines and even traffic lights. In business, building guanxi (social relationships) is seen as more important than obeying laws.

While Chinese are stereotyped as rule followers, Australians are stereotyped as rule breakers. This can partly be attributed to 80 years of Convict transportation in the 19th century that produced a culture that seemed to believe that rules were made to be broken. In the 20th, that culture made icons out of the likes of swimming legend Dawn Fraser and other larrikins (ruler breakers.) Despite the celebration of larrikins, Australians generally follow rules. On the streets, most cars stop for pedestrians at pedestrian crossings and it is extremely rare to see a car overtake on double unbroken lines. In general life, even the most powerful Australians probably realise that a good social relationship doesn’t mean they can break the law.

Ned Kelly

Sidney Nolan's The Trial seems to reflect a popular celebration of rule breaking from a culture that is generally very compliant.


Chinese are very proud of their record of inventiveness. Among hundreds of useful agricultural and industrial innovations are the four great Chinese inventions of gun powder, printing, the compass and paper making. Unfortunately, Chinese inventiveness seemed to have largely disappeared by the 13th century.

It is open to debate why China has been in a state of inventive stagnation for almost 800 years. Perhaps the Yuan Dynasty was not conducive to invention because Mongol invaders were chiefly concerned with war. After the Yuan, the Ming briefly had a world outlook but were soon burning their boats and building large walls to keep the foreigners out. Inward looking cultures tend to lose curiosity and lack the leadership that is receptive to ideas. Like the Yaun, the Qing were minority invaders so perhaps not open to domestic innovations. Finally, the Communist revolution in the 20th century was not particularly enlightened as it went burning books, vilifying critics and trying to make everyone think the same. Today, a lack of enforcement of intellectual property laws makes it more economic to simply steal foreign inventions than to devote resources to develop their own.

Great Wall Xibehe

The Great Wall commencing in Xibehe - The Great Wall was a great feat of engineering, but building it along mountain tops where no invader would ever tread was a waste of resources as was the whole strategy of building a wall to keep out invaders. It marked insular mindset that perhaps explained the lack of inventiveness in recent centuries.

Over the large 230 years, Australia has likewise built up an impressive array of inventions. Some of the inventions have been simple things like the notepad. Some of the more high tech inventions include hi-speed wifi, which is used in almost all mobile devices that connect to the internet, the Jindalee radar system, which made America’s invisible stealth bomber visible to radar, and the scram jet engine that may one day make it possible to fly from Sydney to London in 30 minutes.

Jindalee Radar System

In 1988, the US military announced to the world that it had developed the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter, which it believed could not be detected by radar. The stealth fighter had cost more than $11 billion to develop and had been in operation for seven years. Seeing a challenge, Australian scientists at the CSIRO speculated that if the plane could not be detected, perhaps the turbulence it made passing through air could be. $1.5 million later, the Jindalee Radar system had transformed the stealth bomber into nothing more than an unusual looking aircraft.

Nobel Prize winners

Chinese have a stereotype that they are smarter than other people around the world, which perhaps fuels a desire to win Nobel Prizes to affirm the stereotype. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 2012 that China had a laureate that they could accept.
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel peace prize in 1989. Even though Chinese consider Tibet to be part of China, they didn’t consider him to be a Chinese laureate. Perhaps this was because he was Tibetan so couldn’t affirm the stereotype of Chinese intelligence or perhaps it because many Chinese didn’t like what he had to say. Dissident Liu Xiaobo won China’s second peace prize in 2010. Unfortunately, he was in a Chinese jail at the time so the award was widely received as an insult. Arguably, the awarding of the peace prize to Liu Xiaobo was un-strategic by the committee as no nation cared as much about the prize as did China. Instead of rejoicing, official media suggested that seeking a Nobel Prize was not a worthy goal. Perhaps as a peace-building exercise, in 2012, China got a laureate that they could officially accept when Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for literature, the most subjective of categories. Some people in China, such as artist Ai Wei Wei, were still disappointed as they considered Mo Yan be a political choice as he had strong connections to the Communist Party.

In Australia, the Nobel Prize is close to a non-event. Perhaps this is because Chinese-style talk of intellectual superiority would be seen by many Australians as racist. Without a desire to seem intellectually superior to other nations, there is no need for a prize to affirm beliefs in superiority. (Athletic superiority is freely talked about in Australia and is not seen as racist. As a result, Olympic gold medals and World Cup wins are desired to affirm the beliefs.)

Despite the lack of acclaim, Australia has produced 10 Nobel laureates. Most have been in the fields of science and two have come from literature. Australia has never produced a peace prize laureate and probably never will. Peace prize winners tend to come from cultures that have a lot of conflict and Australia just doesn't have enough conflict.


It may be stereotypical to say but Chinese like stereotypes. They constitute a large part of their social identity and are frequently used in public persuasion campaigns. For example, the website describes Chinese people as:

"peaceful, hardworking and easily contented. They respect elders, love children and are patient with their fellows. Chinese in general are reserve and humble. They believe in harmony and never look for confrontation."

Although not all individual Chinese could be defined with these personality characteristics, almost all Chinese would be happy to be defined with these personality characteristics. Furthermore, if the stereotype were evoked in an international situation, almost all Chinese would temporarily conform to it to make it a reality. In these two regards, the stereotypes are an accurate reflection upon reality.

In Australia, there is more of a tendency to create a negative stereotype of the national character that will in turn cause Australians to recoil from. For example, the fictional movie Wolf Creek tells the story of a psychopath that tortures and murders foreign tourists. It also states that it is based on actual events, which are a conflation of some Australian serial killers and a perceived darkness in the Australian character. According to director Greg McClean:

"The Australian culture is bright sunny beaches, Crocodile Dundee and all that kind of shit, and the shadow side of that is xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, all that kind of stuff that we squash down but is alive and well".

In another example, Dr Tanja Dreher, UTS Shopfront Research Manager actively gone searching for examples of the Australia's fair go stereotype being accurate in order to deconstruct it. Subsequently, she released press-releases of the vein:

"There is in fact evidence of a serious gulf between the myth of 'a fair go' Australia and the reality. As a society we need to start taking responsibility for the intolerant and frequently ignorant nation we have become."


Guanxi is a Chinese word that refers to the benefits that can be derived from social relationships. In hospitals, patients give doctors “red packets” of money to gain good service. Criminals use social relationships to avoid being brought to justice. Idiots get jobs because of who they know. Although the same thing might happen in Australia, if the social favouritism is outside the law, the law wins. In China, guanxi overrides laws.

Aside from being more important than the law, another unique fact about Chinese guanxi is that it exists in all levels of Chinese society. For example, Chinese restaurant owners must maintain good relationships with police, health inspectors, fire inspectors as well as suppliers. This can be by supplying free food or offering jobs to relatives of influential people.The need to keep such people happy shows just how diversified power is in China. Even powerful Chinese figures are not always sure if the person they are dealing with has a good social network that could counter their power. Ironically, the lack of certainty about who has power can actually reduce conflict or increase the liklihood of giving face to others. No one with power wants conflict because the conflict weakens them, as does needing to call in favours to win the conflict.

In Australia, the enforcement of laws make social relationships less important. As a result, powerful people in Australia only try to maintain good relationships with government or the media. There is really no need to maintain good relations with the police or health inspectors like is the case in China.

Most Chinese dislike guanxi holding such importance. It is stressful to maintain the relationships, is not fair and harms China's development. Nevertheless, they must conform to its operation otherwise they lack power. They almost feel like an Adam-Smith-style invisable hand is contolling them, and there is nothing they can do to change the situation.

Government officials also recognise the problems caused by guanxi. They want China to develop and they appreciate that guanxi hinders development. Every now and then corrupt officials are executed to try to serve as a warning to others but changing the culture of 1.3 billion people is not so easy. Furthermore, people with good guanxi have a great deal of individual power that they do not want to give up.

Restaurant etiquette

In China, guanxi is often built via good restaurant etiquette. It is perfectly acceptable for diners to yell out something like, “Fuwyuan, wu yao cha” which translates as “waiter, I want tea.” In China, the customer has higher status than the waiter and the use of language reflects that status hierarchy. In Australia, such a phrasing would be considered extremely rude by other diners and the waiter. The polite Australian phrasing would be to use modal verbs like 'could', 'may' or 'can' instead of 'want' so as to indicate the customer's uncertainty about the waiter's desire or ability to provide tea. By using uncertain phrasing, the customer engages with the waiter under a myth of egalitarianism.

Generally, the person paying the bill will order everyone’s meals and these will be placed in the centre of the table to share. In an Australian Asian restaurant, each diner will order something and the meals shared. The bill will usually be split. Again, egalitarianism governs the Australian custom.

Drinking is a big part of the Chinese experience. Baijui (white spirit) is a favoured drink and is often used to demonstrate respect. Chinese will often say ‘gambai’, which translates as ‘bottoms up.’ Failure to gambai is a sign of disrespect. There will also be a tap of the glasses with people of inferior status showing deference to someone of superior status by tapping the lip of the glass below the corresponding lip of someon of higher status. When there is a significant number of high status people that don’t want to offend others, there can be a number of quick drops of the hand to ensure deference is shown. Unless the very expensive Maotai is being consumed, the drinking will continue until people are very drunk.Being a strong drinker that is able to hold alcohol is a status symbol.

In Australia, it is only university students or military personnel who skull their booze. Older Australians drink more slowly, mix in conversation with the drinking, and generally frown upon people who get very intoxicated. Australians will toast, but the toast only requires a little alcohol be drunk. (It doesn't require the whole glass be downed.) Furthermore, when glasses are tapped, no status is communicated by where the lips of the glasses are tapped.



Contrary to misconception, China is not run by a dictator. It is basically run by one huge public service. Like the Australian public service, promotions are awarded by pleasing those with more power, rather than achieving results or engaging with the general public. Like the Australian public service, complaints from the general public are useless because the public is irrelevant to the self-interests of the people within the bureaucracy. Like the Australian public service, a blind eye is often turned to corruption. Also like the public service, it is not able to deliver results. For example, in the 2008 Olympics, blue skies were promised to the international media but when the games arrived, the media found skies filled with smog. Likewise, upper echelons of the party issue instructions and allocate money only to find the instructions altered and money filtered away.

The Chinese Communist Party is basically what the Australian public service would be if it didn’t have to answer to a government that could change every three years.  In Australia, the change of government allows the public service to be subjected to some form of accountability, which limits the kind of problems that develop in all public services.

Small talk

A study of difficulties the Chinese born may find in Australian workplaces identified small talk as a particularly challenging obstacle. Specifically, the study found:

“that engaging in workplace small talk presents the most challenge to Chinese professionals, and this is because the nature and dynamics of small talk is new to their social experience. Often unexpected and ambiguous, encounters requiring small talk show the Chinese involved lack the sociolinguistic competence to accurately interpret the situation they are being placed in, as well as the linguistic repertoire needed to appropriately express an efficient and acceptable response. This situation is exacerbated by gaps in their local knowledge in a range of dimensions. Underlying these more explicit gaps and differences are evident mismatches in the deeply held beliefs and values of the two groups about the nature of personal identify and interpersonal relationships, and hence differences in their belief about how relationships beyond the intimate circle of family and close friends should be best managed. It is these mismatches which account at base for the Chinese lack of sociopragmatic competence to engage in small talk, and are the fundamental cause of dilemmas they experience when dealing with challenging situations.”

from Cui, X. (2012). Problematic Chinese-Australian social interactions at work. PhD thesis, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne.

Some of the difficulties can be traced to the Australian version of English. The use of diminutive words like arvo, pollie, journo and chrissy, idioms like, ‘have a crack’ and similes like ‘built like a brick shithouse’ even confuse foreigners for whom English is a first language, let alone Chinese for whom English may be a second, third language or fourth language. Furthermore, Australian phrasings like, "how did you get on at the beach?" and "how did you go at the beach?" (instead of "did you have a good time at the beach?") don't make much literal sense.

Some of the difficulties may be traced to differences in small talk topics. In China, small talk questions often include such things as “are you married?” and “how old are you?”, which would often be considered rude in Australia. Australian small talk often revolves around jobs, weekend activities or sport. If the sport being discussed wasn't soccer, basketball or ping pong, the Chinese probably couldn't participate.

Finally, the difficulties may be traced to the fact that, on average, Chinese are relatively poor communicators due to the nature of the Chinese education system. Because the Chinese education system is teacher centred, it doesn’t encourage the kind of class discussions or discussions between students that are common in Australian classrooms. Ironically, when Australian classrooms fail due to poor teacher pedagogy, the classes become noisy as a result of students talking because they are not engaged. Although students may not learn what they need to know about a battle in Hastings in 1066, at least their communication skills are getting a workout.

The difference in pedagogy is in turn reflected in social life. When Chinese socialise, it is more common to engage in an activity than have a conversation. For example, Chinese may go to a restaurant and get blind drunk, go to Ktv and sing, sit on the street and play cards, or go to a bar and play dice games. When Australians socialise, there is lots of talking. They will talk in a pub, talk at a dinner party, talk at a café and even talk at the cricket.


Art – painting

Traditional Chinese painting uses ink on paper, which leaves no room for error. A nearly complete painting may be ruined in a matter of seconds by an excess application of ink that runs and blurs. When such a mistake occurs, there is no way of painting over the top to remedy the error.

Because the use of Chinese ink requires great mastery of brush use, it is quite easy to understand why Chinese art changed little over the centuries. Once the apprentice had learned from the master, the brush was passed on and the tradition continued. Wu Chen’s paintings completed in the 13th century would not look out of place in an exhibition of contemporary ink artists.

Although many modern Chinese painters still use ink, others use oils. While the medium has changed, they show the influence of their tradition by maintaining very advanced skills in the use of brush strokes and colour mixing.

Yue Minjun is arguably China’s most famous contemporary artist. Based in Beijing, Yue paints himself with a happy face in a variety of incongruent situations, such as Tiananmen Square 1989. For his western customers, Yue is a dissident who expresses his dissent via sarcastic conformity. By "fooling" China's rulers, Yue can protest without being taken away and shot.


Yue Minjun - Execution - While westerners see him as a dissident, most Chinese see Yue as a clever man who has made a lot of money by giving westerners what they want.

Yao Lu takes photos of rubbish tips and building sites and uses photoshop to make them resemble a traditional Chinese painting.


John Spooner - Kevin Rudd's intervention in Aboriginal communities

Australia’s newspaper cartoonists create art that has some similar elements to the contemporary Chinese artists. They take a political issue and either demonstrate the inconsistencies in a visual manner or try to represent the issue in visual manner. The intention is to mock the issue, provoke thought on the issue, or help readers understand the issue.

In regards to painting, contemporary Australian art is quite different to contemporary Chinese art in that most of the successful Australian artists since World War 2 never went to art school. These artists include Albert Tucker, Pro Hart, Arthur Boyd, Clifford Possum, Russel Drysdale, Clifford Possum, Albert Namatjira, Sidney Nolan, and Anatjari Tjakamarra among many others. Landscape and identity seems to be one of the most favoured topics.



Chinese classrooms are teacher focussed while Australian classrooms are more student focussed. In more simple terms, a Chinese teacher is more likely to deliver the answer whereas an Australian teacher is more likely to give students some basic knowledge and subsequently expect them to do something with it. Furthermore, whereas Chinese classes don't have a great deal of interaction between students, Australian classes do.

Although the teaching styles are expressed in all classes, it is the physical education classes where the differences are most salient. In China, it is common to have a teacher standing in front of students demonstrating a skill. The students then copy it. In Australia; however, teachers usually aren't involved in the activity itself. Like a coach of a football team, they design exercises that develop skills and subsequently tell students to do them. Students learn by doing, by interacting with other students, and by their own initiative. The teacher is more of a facilitator than an instructor.

Arguably, the differences in teaching styles originate from language differences. The pictorial writing systems of China can only be taught via teacher instruction followed by student repetition. On the other hand, Australian students only need to learn the 26 characters of the alphabet. Once they are mastered, teachers need to instruct students in grammar.

There are strengths and weaknesses of each approach. The Chinese approach encourages people to learn from others. This approach can cause problems when others say silly things, such as the myth that the Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon. In such circumstances, silly ideas can be written in textbooks, taught by teachers and accepted without question by students. The students then make a fool of themselves by telling foreigners the Great Wall of China can be seen from the moon. The Australian approach encourages individuals to express their ideas even if they are in contradiction to established thought. The main problem is that it often means Australians kids are constantly expected to keep reinventing the wheel rather than learning how cogs work so that they can invent machines.


Social activism

The Chinese government is concerned that social activism could lead to the break up of China or civil conflict that would decrease the quality of life for all Chinese. To reduce the risk, the Chinese education system discourages independent thinking or a plurality of views. The Chinese believe that an absence of intellectual diversity and a love of China will keep Chinese united. Government can then rely on reasoned experts to form policy direction.

The goal for intellectual unity has led to a few problems. The first problem is that it has increased the chances of the very social disharmony that it aims to avoid. Because Chinese are socially conditioned to follow, when an unsanctioned activist campaign breaks out, many Chinese follow it without any scrutiny of its goals or the logic behind it. For example, in 2008, Chinese reacted to seeing some French protesting the Olympic Torch in Paris by protesting the French supermarket chain of Carrefour in China. Also in 2008, after a Chinese woman was found dead following "associations" with three South Koreans, Chinese commenced a campaign against South Korea as a whole. Although a police investigation concluded that the woman had committed suicide, this explanation was not believed once the activism campaign had begun. In 2009, a rumour developed amongst Han Chinese in the province of Xinjiang that Uigurs had raped Han Chinese women. The rumour spread without question and led to Han attacks on Uigurs, who retaliated, which in turn led to a government crackdown. Each year, China suffers thousands of protests that spontaneously break out and are supported without scrutiny.

The second problem of top-down intellectual unity is that it discourages individual Chinese from taking the initiative to solve some of the problems in the immediate world around them. While Chinese support protests, they don't feel empowered to solve problems. For example, if a Chinese person sees all his neighbours throwing rubbish on the ground, he or she is unlikely to take the lead and try to educate his neighbours to change their ways. Instead, he or she will wait for the government to act. If the government has other priorities, nothing gets done. Even if the government acts, top-down activism often fails to generate the sense of grassroot ownership that increases the chances of success.

In Australia, a diversity of opinions has made it very unlikely that Australia could ever break up. It is just impossible to imagine an Australian standing before a crowd and rallying the majority of the population behind them. Even becoming a republic has proved problematic. In 1999, polls showed that 90 per cent of Australians were in favour of a republic. However, proponents of the republic just couldn’t get agreement on the model and the no vote prevailed. Ironically, failure to persuade the wider community has made many social activists work through government to forcibly implement their activism goals on a unwilling community.

Encouraging a diversity of views has also resulted in Australians having more initiative to solve problems. Sometimes, the initiatives lead to improvements in Australian society, such as Clean Up Australia Day. At other times, the initiatives are ill conceived, stupid and quickly labelled as such. The ill-conceived campaigns then die out before they can lead to the same kind of damage seen in China's ill-conceived campaigns such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Chinese embassy Canberra

Although few Chinese want to disrespect their country or be inconsiderate, most don't consider throwing rubbish to be a signs of disrespect or inconsideration. The Chinese embassy in Canberra is the only embassy that has had to put a bin at its front gate to encourage its citizens to put rubbish where it should go.  


National identity

Chinese national identity tends to be more rigid than the Australian identity. These differences were seen in 2008 when the Chinese government arrested Chinese born Australian citizen Stern Hu, Rio Tinto’s head of iron ore marketing in China. As far as the Chinese media was concerned, Stern Hu was Chinese. His Australian passport meant nothing. As a consequence, Chinese bloggers referred to Stern Hu as a traitor for putting the interests of his employer, Rio Tinto, over the interests of Chinese steel makers. As far as the Australian media was concerned, Stern Hu was an Australian and the arrest of an Australian was a cause of serious concern.

The different reactions illustrated that the Chinese media views race as more important in identity than does the Australian media, which generally promotes a doctrine of egalitarianism in regards to national identity. In Australia, a migrant can be seen as equally Australian to the native born. In China, a migrant will always be a foreigner.


Although both Chinese and Australians define their respective countries as multicultural, the word means something different in each. In China, multiculturalism refers to the 56 different groups that have distinct cultures anchored in a region. These groups may speak different languages, wear different clothes, and be of different racial groups. The cultural integrity of the ethnic groups is supported by the central government; however, the ethnic groups are required to learn Mandarin Chinese as a common language.

In Australia, multiculturalism used to mean a form of cultural apathied. Now it basically means lots of people with different coloured faces living together.



In China, it is important to show consideration for others. Typical shows of consideration include sending a getwell text message when a friend is sick, giving some health advice, or helping an elderly person down the stairs.  

While the Chinese show consideration to their friends and acquaintances, public consideration is a bit lacking. For example, Chinese spit in swimming pools, on the street, and sometimes even inside buildings. Chinese people also casually throw rubbish on the street, and men frequently urinate on the street.

Australians are less likely to show consideration on an individual level. The general idea is that a person is able to take care of themselves and doesn't need well wishes or help. Receiving help, when it hasn't be asked for, is usually seen as annoying. Australians are; however, more likely than Chinese to show public consideration. Few Australians throw rubbish on the street and most would never spit in a swimming pool. Occasionally drunk men urinate in public; however, etiquette stipulates that they should at least seek out a tree to prevent a urine smell from lingering.

Family values

Because Australia is populated by migrants and decendants of migrants, Australians don't have extended families as large as in China. This changes the approach to family relationships.

Aside from having smaller extended families, the nuclear family in Australia operates in a different fashion to China. In Australia, each generation tends to be independent. Parents will support children until they are around 18, and then they concentrate on saving for their own retirement. Parents will then live independently until they are unable to care for themselves. When that occurs, their children will be put them in a old-age home, or convince their parents to live with them.

In China, parents will almost bankrupt themselves giving their children every possibility in life. Huge loans may be taken out to fund the child getting an international education, or buying a home for the boys in the family. In return, the parents will move into their children's home once they get married. The living situation is not ideal for everyone. Chinese men, like men all around the world, are not always fans of their mother-in-laws.

Because parents share a very significant part of their child's adult lives, they naturally want to take part in the selection of their child's spouse. In China this is particularly important as the one-child policy may result in one man supporting 7 people (two sets of parents, wife, child and himself) and naturally parents would like a son-in-law or daughter-in-law with a good income and a prestigious family that doesn't require a lot of supporting themselves.


Until 2001, Chinese psychiatrists officially categorised homosexuality as a mental illness and used drugs to treat it. Even though their sexual desires are no longer defined as signs of a mental illness, homosexuals are not widely accepted. Under the one-child policy, parents fear that a homosexual child means the end of their evolutionary line. Consequently, homosexuals probably get into sham marriages and keep their homosexuality a secret.

Homosexuals in Australia have had a prominent role since the various Australian states decriminalised the act between the 1972 and 1997. For example, Australia has had a gay prime minister, a gay high court judge, numerous gay MPs, and most of Australia's famous male actors have played the role of a gay man. Australia also has a gay and lesbian street party that culiminates in a homosexual orgy known as the Sleeze Ball. The street party and orgy receive congratulations and financial support from governments.

Even though homosexuality is more widely accepted in Australia than in China, Australians are more motivated to reject behaviour seen as gay than are Chinese. For example, straight Chinese women walk down the street holding hands with each other and Chinese men walk down the street with arms on each others shoulders. Such actions in Australia would signal homosexuality. Furthermore, many Chinese men embrace artistic appreciation in a manner that Australians would consider to be signs of homosexuality.   

This masculine nature of the Australian male's identity probably developed in the harshness of colonial life. In order to deal with the anguish of being torn from social network in Britain and subsequently being sent to hell in Australia, the Convict men closed down their emotional realm. Not only would this have made the harshness of Australian life less painful, it would have also decreased their chances of being raped by their fellow Convicts. In prisons today, it is those emotionally weak men that are usually targeted by male rapists. In the 80 years that Convicts were sent to Australia, a similar fear of male rapists would have acted as an incentive not to appear emotionally weak.


Freedom can be difficult to define. Every government on earth imposes restrictions on individuals to protect other individuals. For example, Singapore restricts the freedom of the individual to chew gum in order to protect the freedom of people who want to walk down the street without stepping on used gum.

The Australian government is very bureaucratic and imposes many restrictions on its people that Asian governments do not. For example, Australians can not smoke inside, drink alcohol in many public areas, ride a bicycle without a helmet, or defame public figures. Furthermore, Australians may lose up to 47 per cent of their income in taxes, which is far more than the 10-20 per cent in China. The Australian government uses this income tax revenue to alter the natural balance of social society. Although the altering of the balance may help Australia, governments have an uncanny habit of getting things wrong, or using revenue for their own agendas. In the process, the individual Australian is denied freedom.

While Chinese have more freedom from government than Australians, they lack freedom in their social sphere. Because they have very strong cultures, a great deal of social pressure is exerted upon the individual in almost every facet of his or her lives. This pressure can be likened to a form of political correctness that constrains the individual when they choose a marriage partner, career, clothes to wear, values to hold, or morals to support. If the individual's desires and values are in conformity with the cultural norms, then the individual feels a sense of belonging. If they are incongruent; however, then they can suffer the same kind of stress that is suffered by Australians when they feel that politically correct values or concepts are stifling their free expression.

If individuals break the cultural taboo by exerting their individual values, they are not going to be taken away and shot anymore than Australians would be taken away and shot for getting a swastika tattooed on their foreheads. However, they will find that their friendships, job opportunities and family prestige will all suffer.

Because Australia lacks a strong culture, individuals can free themselves of a great deal of conformity pressures. Admittedly, Australia has subcultures that exert conformity pressures on the individual, but it is relatively easy for the individual to simply leave the subculture and join another one. Consequently, the subculture can never be too strict. The same can't be said of China. For Chinese who feel constrained by social pressure, the only real option available to them is to migrate to a foreign country.

Insults as terms of endearment

In personal relationship, the Chinese are prone to use insults as terms of endearment. For example, a girlfriend may constantly refer to her boyfriend as fat or stupid. Likewise, a boyfriend, or good friend, may refer to a woman as a fatty or someone with bad taste in clothes.

Australians also are prone to use insults as terms as endearment, but generally refrain from referring to a woman as a fatty or a man as stupid. Instead, the insults tend to be more generic such as bastard or dickhead.


For the Chinese, face is very important, not only for themselves, but also for their dealings with others. Often they refrain from expressing their true feelings because they do not want to strip someone of their dignity. This makes China a very friendly place to visit. Chinese tend to be very complimentary towards the visitors, and want the visitor to leave with a good impression of their country. Even if the visitor is rude and obnoxious, the Chinese will usually refrain from expressing their true feelings and pretend to be respectful.

For historical reasons, face is not important for Australians. For the first 80 years of its urban existence, Australia was a penal colony. This naturally elicited ridicule from foreigners, migrants and Australian civic leaders. That ridicule has never really gone away. Consequently, Australia remains a place where people freely criticise others and are criticised themselves. This makes Australians quite thick skinned, and not very sensitive to causing offence in others. For example, when former Prime Minister Paul Keating referred to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed, as a "recalcitrant", he didn't really have any idea that his remark would cause problems. However, rather than ignore the comment, Mahathir Mohamed viewed Keating's remark as indicative of the country he came from and subsequently said:

"We can't do anything. If people have no manners, I mean children we can smack them I think that a whole nation, or there generally is one nation who have no manners. It's very difficult, who resort to personal vilification and all that."

Compared to Chinese, Australians don't really care what foreigners think of their country because they are so accustomed to hearing negative things about it anyway. So much so, Australians will even join with the foreigners in criticising it. Even when they want to give a compliment, Australians might mask it as an insult.

Sexual morality

Men and women all over the world share similar sexual desires that they disguise with different types of morality. In China, sex is generally a taboo topic for conversations, and a virgin woman is valued for marriage. In Australia, sexual topics are quite openly discussed and not many men seek a virgin woman for marriage. As a result, most Australian men and women are very sexually experienced by the time they get married.

In the eyes of most older Chinese, Australians are very immoral for engaging in promiscuous sex. Chinese; however, have numerous practices that are quite immoral for Australians. Because Chinese often have little sexual experience before marriage, they often find themselves in sexually unfulfilling marriages. Because a lack of sexual fulfilment is so common, it is relatively acceptable for married men in China to visit prostitutes or to have a mistress. In Australia, there is far less tolerance of married men visiting prostitutes or taking a mistress.

As a general rule, Chinese uphold their morality before marriage and then they have their fun. Australians have their fun before marriage, then accept the morality associated with the ball and chain. (Younger generations of Chinese are becoming more like Australians.)

Aside from having different morals in regards to virginity in women, Chinese and Australians have different morality in regards to what constitutes negative sexualisation of women. For Chinese, the practice of Australian women topless sunbaking is quite immoral. For Australians, the sexualisation of school girls in Taiwan is immoral. (Mainland China does not sexualise school girls like Taiwan. The Communist Party tends to crack down quite harshly on any form of sexualisation of Chinese women.)





"Australia's culture has always been characterised by someone trying to make rules to live by, and someone else trying to break them."