Sense of order – when East meets West

Have you ever heard people say that Chinese and English do things the other way round? 

  • If you were asked for today’s date, in most parts of Europeyou go by date, month then year 
  • Let’s say you address an envelope: in English, you start by declaring receiver, followed by the flat, the number, the street… and end with the country of destination

Each culture has its own way of organising data and informationInterestingly enough, the way Chinese approach logic and informational hierarchies is indeed quite often complete opposite to Anglo-Saxons. 

Let’s take a look at various ways in which data is organised in China, and at how it may be different than what you are accustomed to. 

Dates

The date format in China, as well as in other East Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, follows the YMD format: year/month/day. The pre-printed format is ______. 

This differs from in the US, where the MDY (month/day/year) format is used, or even in Europe, where the DMY (day/month/year) is the custom. 

Understanding this difference in notation is particularly important to avoid confusion when making plans! 

Discounts

Everyone loves a good discount, and being able to calculate them quickly in stores or on the spot is an important skill. The Chinese seem to be especially quick in calculating discounts. Why? Because in Chineseinstead of telling you the magnitude of the discount, we use the exact percentage of the original price you will pay. Stores will write “XX折 – this means that you pay XX percent of the original price. 

For instance, if a $100 product was 6”, you would pay $60 (60 per cent of $100)For the same deal in the US or Europe, stores would tell you that there was a “40% discount. In order to figure out how much you need to pay, you need to do an extra subtraction.  

Addresses

When writing addresses, Chinese will organize the information from the largest to the smallest unit

country > city > street > building > floor > unit > receiver

This is especially practical when managing post because logically, the letter or parcel should first arrive at the correct country, followed by the province/state, city, street, etc. and finally the individual receiver. 

See below examples of how to address an envelop in China and in Hong Kong. Click on the image to enlarge.

For China:

For Hong Kong (there is no postal code in Hong Kong):

Social vs Personal Hierarchy

There exists two “contradictory” hierarchies when it comes to the importance of people and nature. 

There is a hierarchy for the notable positions of authority in the world

天、地、君、親、師 – the most important entity in the world is Heaven, then Earth, followed by the Emperor (country), our parents, and our teachers.

This is an example of how hierarchies and organisation of information also makes its way into personal philosophy and impacts the way people live their lives. From a young age, people understand that these are the entities /individuals who must be shown utmost respect, and in this order. 

However, when it comes to personal development, this hierarchy is turned the other way round. We were told

修身、齊家、治國、平天下. We must first focus on improving and cultivating ourselves, before we can manage our family, then govern our country, and finally bring harmony to the world.
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