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Peter lived for nearly a half-decade in China, including two as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is the author of Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice and the (Chinese) Way. It is the intention of his blog to foster the sort of intercultural understanding necessary for long term relationships.
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Chinese Love Languages:A Follow Up    

By Peter V
410 Views | 4 Comments | 2/17/2019 11:10:01 AM

This article is a follow up on the previous blogpost. If you haven’t read the previous article, don’t worry. I’ll summarize. For an English class, my wife, Yong, had the assignment to take a survey from a book “Five Love Languages” (5 lovelanguages.com). The premise of the book is that there are five basic ways couples communicate with each other. These five ways are: (1) Acts of service; (2) Quality Time; (3) Physical touch; (4) Giving Gifts; (5) Words of affirmation. A happy relationship is premised on knowing your partner’s main communication styles and working with them.

 

I left the reader with a cultural challenge to determine how a typical Chinese woman might rank these. What follows is my own ranking based on my experience in China and my familiarity with the literature on intercultural relationships, some of which I will mention below. I will also discuss how Yong actually came down on this issue.

 

The first thing the research tells us is that (3) physical touch will be low on the list of the ways Chinese communicate love. The research is overwhelming and unanimous on this point, and correlates as well with my own experience of a half decade living in China. As Hiew (2015) puts it, “People of European ancestry endorse standards for the romantic demonstration of love… more strongly than people of Chinese ancestry.” Or as another researcher more bluntly put it: “in contrast to the relative value of expressing affect in Western culture, open expressions of affection are discouraged in Chinese society” (Tsai, 2006). Having lived in China for five years, I didn’t need the research to tell me this. One of my wife’s Chinese friends recently visited and went on a camping trip with us. As we were driving, Yong would reach out and touch me, causing her friend to later ask her, “why are you bothering him?” Now, Yong is one of the more physical Chinese women I have met, but even for her physical touch came dead last on the list. I suspect she does it because she knows intuitively that physical touch is important to an Italian and so adjusts her behavior accordingly.

 

Even clearer in the research is the role that words of affirmation in a Chinese woman’s list of communication strategies. As Gao and Ting-Toomey put it in their book Communicating Effectively with the Chinese: “Chinese cultural belief that feelings should be sensed, rather than imposed on others through overt expression (1998). Another article contrasted one European woman’s claim that, “It’s important to remind your partner that you love them quite consistently, not just every once in a while” with a Chinese woman’s statement that, “The traditional Chinese way of show love is keeping it silent in your heart” (Hiew, 2015).  Overall, “Asians did not feel the need to verbalize their emotions; instead , they wanted their spouses to perceive their needs and desires when expressed nonverbally” (Till and Barker, 2015). Which is why it was not a surprise when “words of affirmation” ranked next to last for Yong.

 

What ranked highest? Here again the literature, my experience, and Yong’s preferences all coincided in putting “acts of service” first.  In “The Chinese–Western Intercultural Couple Standards Scale,” Hiew et al (2015) were surprised to find that Chinese endorsed demonstration of caring more strongly than Westerners. They explained this variation from their original hypothesis by stating that “the demonstration of caring standard contains items describing practical demonstrations of caring (e.g., “regularly do work for each other,” “regularly do work together”), which has been reported to be a culturally sanctioned way for Chinese couples to express affection (Wong & Goodwin, 2009).

 

Gift giving presented me with a challenge. Gifts are all about face in China, and face is king.  Chinese love to give gifts. The first time my wife returned to China, half of her luggage was gifts. This is where I think that not every cultural generalization will apply. Yong is one of the least materialistic Chinese I know. So while gift giving is important to her, it is not a way she communicates love to me, and it is not a way she would want love to be communicated with her. However, I will say that, because gift giving is so important to Chinese culture, I know that when she raises the topic I had better take it very seriously.

The concept of “Quality time” also presented a conundrum.  Chinese and Westerners operate on competing conceptions of time. The Western conception is said to be “monochronic.” Time is linear and limited. People need to adjust themselves to the demands of time, and an emphasis is placed on schedules and punctuality. Anyone spending time in China will know that a much more flexible attitude toward time exists, dubbed "polychronic." Chinese will rarely, say, plan a dinner with you a week out because they don’t know what they will be doing in a week. Instead, expect to get a call that night about whether you want to go to dinner. But do Chinese want or even understand the concept of quality time? Of this I am uncertain. For a polychronic conception, it seems all time is equally important. In any case, Yong needed the concept explained to her.

 

This brings up one shortcoming with the whole project of “5 love languages” for intercultural relationships in that it comes from a Western perspective. Yet research shows that some values that are obvious to a Westerner will make no sense to a Chinese woman and vice versa. In interviewing couples on what is important, one group of researchers found the value of “relations with relatives” came up time and again with Chinese couples but did not ever arise in interviews with Western couples (Hiew, 2015).  My hope is to construct some version of "5 love languages" for intercultural relationships, in particular, Chinese women and Western men.

 

This will require working through the academic literature on the topic, as you have seen me start to do here. Although personal experience is a great teacher, it’s inevitably biased. My experience with Chinese women may not be someone else’s experience. The research is intended to take that personal bias out and present a more objective look at the issue. I hope to use this blog to motivate me to work through the literature. My goal at the end of all this is to condense the literature out there in a readable fashion and combine it with personal anecdotes from those in actual intercultural relationships and present it in a way that is useful to those seeking to initiate or improve their intercultural relationships.

 

But be warned: Many future blogs, i.e., those dealing with the academic literature on intercultural relationships, will be akin to watching sausage get made. Although some people (myself incuded) enjoy witnessing the process, it is not for everyone. I will put some sort of a warning up front if a blog is headed in this direction and ask your forbearance and tolerance knowing that I hope some greater good arises from all this effort.

 

For the sausage makers among you, here are the articles referenced in this blogpost.

 

Gao, G., & Ting-Toomry, S. Communicating Effectively with the Chinese. Sage Publications, 1998.

Hiew, D., et al. “The Chinese-Western Intercultural Couple Standards Scale,” Psychological Assessment, 2015, Vol 27, No 3, 816-826.

Till, T & Barker, G. “Communication in Intercultural Marriages: Managing Cultural Differences and Conflicts,” Southern Communication Journal, July-August, 2015, pp. 189-201.

Tsai, J., et al. “Cultural and Temperamental Variation in Emotional Response,” Emotion, 2006 Aug;6(3):484-97.

Wong, S., & Goodwin, R. “Experiencing marital satisfaction across three cultures: A qualitative study,” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2009.

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(Showing 1 to 4 of 4) 1
#2019-02-17 11:09:44 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

I think I can tune into the future blogs, but count me out on the watching of sausage getting made. I am pretty sure that would leave me looking for somewhere to upchuck my cookies. However that maybe because all day today I have already been feeling a little like I may need to upchuck my cookies anyway, so when I read the phrase "watching sausage get made" I came very close to doing just that.

My wife is born and raised Chinese but has now spent almost half of her life in Western Countries. I think this has affected her thinking in many ways, but she remains Chinese. For example, while I'm pretty sure that when it comes to physical touch and quality time she considers them to be important ways for me to express my love to her, there is no doubt that acts of service ranks as #1.

I would say that she considers gift giving to be more important between friends and family than she does between us and I suspect that is because "face" does not apply to our relationship but it does apply to those other relationships.

Words of affirmation carry some weight during making up from a long dispute, but in day to day life they don't count for much.    

I hope our men are reading these blogs. They are very meaningful if you want to understand your Chinese woman.

 

#2019-02-17 18:59:31 by melcyan @melcyan

 The number one language of love for a Chinese woman – Acts of service. If you can get your head around this important piece of information then you are in the running for establishing a lifelong loving relationship with a Chinese woman.

#2019-04-04 16:53:13 by melcyan @melcyan

 @woaizhongguo

 

Belatedly I have come to the amazing conclusion that this is the single most important blog ever written on CLM. Amazing because at the time of writing this comment your blog has received only 208 views.

 

John Abbot’s last comment on my “Decluttering Is All About Love Part 1” blog pushed me to read this blog again. I thought I understood the idea of “acts of service” before I first joined CLM in early 2012. However, it is only now that the full impact of “acts of service” is starting to hit me.

 

I am very much loved by my Chinese partner’s family. I would like to think it is my good looks, charm, and wit. Looking back, it all relates to “acts of service” again and again and again. If friends asked me what is the single most important thing that I have learned on CLM, I would answer that when it comes to a relationship between a Chinese woman and a Western man, “acts of service” rule!

 

 

#2019-04-08 13:44:58 by melcyan @melcyan

This blog and the one before it are based on Gary Chapman's book on "Five Love Languages.  "Acts of Service" rule when it comes to establishing a lifelong loving relationship with a Chinese woman. However, it is also evident that your chance of building a successful relationship is zero if you do not love yourself first. Psychologist Joyce Mater has written an article using the five love languages described by Gary Chapman to explore the concept of Self-Love. I found it interesting to note that "Acts of service" are not only vital for us to give to our Chinese partner, they also form an essential component of our own Self-Love. Her article on self-love and five love languages is definitely worth reading. It can be found in the following forum thread 

Learning to love yourself

https://blog.chinalovematch.net/forum/post/Learning-to-love-yourself

 

 

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