Personal Space is all about how close someone is in proximity to you. Are they making direct eye contact with you? Which way are they facing when they are talking to you: side by side, directly facing? What is the degree of contact with that person; are they touching your arm or shoulder? And how loud or soft is the volume of their voice?

The Concept of Personal Space in CHinese CUlture

Personal space in China is different therefore the level of discomfort is different too. You might find that if you take a step back, they will take a step closer to you. The Chinese population is the first thing that most people notice when they come to China. The population density in China has a great effect on what personal space means to people here.  In China, living space is close. Sometimes entire generations of families will be living together, eating, sleeping, working, and playing all in the same one room. These type of living conditions are not exclusive to China, but also other Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and various tribal regions. Through the years, as these close family communities migrated from field to city, the closeness of community togetherness and habits also moved to the cities. Perhaps differences in the concept of personal space also has to do with China’s communist and socialist influence.  Socialist history often revolves around a culture where space, work, basic functions of living and belongings are shared.  The socialist concepts based on the collective versus individual also have an influence on this topic.  In Asia there’s a much more collective and often family approach to doing thing, while in the US, there is a highly promoted individualistic culture.  Down time, alone time, and in your own space/place in the US is respected and expected.

Difference in China And America

In America, our personal boundaries are large.  In terms of distance, our idea of personal space roughly encompasses a radius of approximately 2.4 feet.  When people step into our space, we notice and start to feel uncomfortable unless it’s someone that we’ve invited into our space like a close friend. We are very aware of things that go on near us. Chinese people grow up in small houses, and study in crowded rooms. Their dorm rooms have 6-8 people in a space that usually fits 1-2 Americans.   To an American, this is a completely different world. There is not the same priority that Americans place on having our own space in between self and stranger.  Walking down the street, sitting on the bus, you are shoulder to shoulder with mass groups of people. In summary, Chinese people are more comfortable with up-close and personal interaction. Cultural practice changes take a long time to adjust to. This is the feeling of uneasiness that people from the suburbs feel when they walk into the crowded streets of the city, and coming to China multiplies this feeling tenfold. It’s incredibly interesting to see the differences in behavior that stems from simple proximity.

Are you engaged in or planning to do business in China? Universal Consensus will help you to succeed there and our Strategic Alliance Member at High Street Partners will help you get there. View this webinar for further insight into how to successfully do business in China.

By Jessica Chang, Universal Consensus


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