China’s Public Display of Affection

Within the first 72 hours, we were ready to explore what Shanghai’s nightlife had in store.  Yet, we patiently waited for our “much needed” lecture on how to properly behave and conduct ourselves before hitting the scene. 

After days of avoiding the impending talk, we finally got Fuji to address what needed to be addressed. Besides the typical shpeal on being safe and watching out for each other, he further elaborated on the delicate nature of Chinese relationships. Emphasizing the cultural difference between the American and the Chinese notion of affairs, we were warned to stay clear of such interactions.  In other words, no hook ups. Fine by me. Given I already have a loving boyfriend, this definitely was not going to be an issue. And while I had no interest in hooking up in Shanghai, the discussion on Chinese relationships was fascinating nonetheless.

Due to the culturally embedded belief that one’s behavior is a reflection of one’s family, proper conduct is necessary to avoid “losing face.” By understanding that one’s reputation is at stake, it easy to comprehend why relationships are regarded with such seriousness. Additionally, there is a well-received perception that Chinese students have no time for nonsense. Busy studying and not finagling love interests, Chinese students are definitely presumed to be more studious and focused than us American students.

And yet, since the “talk,” what I have observed has intriguingly challenged such angelic perceptions. Everyday I am made increasingly aware of the apparent clash between the conventional attitudes and the actual behavior of today’s couples. After discussions with Fuji, Dr. Shen, and Wei Laoshi, it made it seem as if Chinese couples were extremely modest and did not indulge in any forms of public displays of affection…. FALSE.

While such projections may be the result of China’s deep-rooted desire to impose a picture perfect image of its citizens, there is nothing wrong with showing a little bit of love (‘course that maybe the Western in me speaking). Although PDA largely remains to be a foreign concept, there is a clear divergence from its traditional concept of “proper” relationship etiquette. From the simplest form of actions such as holding hands and coordinating outfits, to the more overt act of full on groping, I have seen it all. Evidently the combination of Western influences and the rise of a new generation have opened doors to new means of expression and behavior. Simply observing the sheer mass availability of condoms and hyper-sexualized advertisements and may attest to China’s increasing acceptance of Public Displays of Affection.