Notes on China: The People


One of the first things I noticed in mainland China was the diversity of the people. Not “diversity” in the sense we use it in the United States — I saw precisely two black people on my entire trip, both in Hong Kong, and zero who we’d categorize as “Latino” — but in the range of body types, faces, and colorations that all were distinctly “Chinese.” This is unlike Japan or Korea, where the physical appearance, to Western eyes, is far more homogeneous.

So you had tall Chinese and short Chinese, fat Chinese and skinny Chinese, wide faces and long faces, you name it. Now, the bell curves were centered differently. A “tall” Chinese man might be 5’10”, although I saw a few who appeared to be six-footers. (Interestingly, all of the tall people — male and female — were teenagers or in their twenties. There were no tall old people. Demographic changes in diet?)

And “short” has a whole different meaning there… that end of the bell curve is occupied by 4-foot-tall men and women, mostly from the older generation. Not misshapen, not bent with age, just tiny.

No one looked like they were starving. We were raised to feel guilty about “starving children in China.” In a billion people, everything happens on a big scale… but I didn’t see any large-scale poverty in Hunan Province.

Shopping in Changsha

And although a lot of the Chinese people had a few convex curves, there’s nothing like the awesome poundage you’d see in any mall in the United States. Although I wonder how much of the weight gain is due to the ubiquity of motor scooters (and, now, automobiles) compared to the bicycles of twenty years ago.

It’s commonplace to note that Hollywood has conquered the world with movies, TV, and pop music — even if a country has its own entertainment industry (as China does), its an imitation of Hollywood. That’s true, but there’s an even more fundamental way in which the West has conquered the world… so ubiquitous that no one even notices.


Everyone dresses like an American. Everyone. Polo shirts and slacks for adults. T-shirts and shorts for teenagers. Knockoff running shoes on everybody. The only “traditional” Chinese clothing I saw, even in the most rural areas, was in tourist districts where pretty girls were dressed up in historical costumes in the hope that you’d take a picture with them for 10 yuan ($1.50).

And, as I said earlier, Chinese are smarter than Charlestonians or Savannahians, so they dress more appropriately for the heat and humidity… no long-sleeve shirts, no coats, no ties.


Maybe it’s to block the heat, maybe it’s to prevent suntan/sunburn, maybe it’s both, but many Chinese women carried umbrellas in the heat. Surreal, to see a whole crowd of umbrellas walking down the street (if the Chinese do anything well, it’s crowds!) without a cloud in the sky.

I didn’t see any males carrying parasols/umbrellas. Although they had really nifty ones mounted on their motorscooters that I think you could sell here in the United States.

Scooter Umbrella


Chinese women must have cleavage. I mean, they must, right? But you certainly don’t see it in Hunan province. (Hong Kong was different, and I suspect Shanghai is different as well.) A polo shirt with a single button buttoned was the height of provocative dress. T-shirts had high round collars. And, speaking of T-shirts:


T-shirts are cheap and ubiquitous. And, like in Japan, people apparently really like wearing T-shirts with English words on them, even if they don’t precisely know what those words mean.

For a while, I kept a list of phrases on T-shirts (almost always on females) until I got overwhelmed and gave up. But this will give you a flavor — all typos on originals:

Their is my good friend
Hokey Fashion 95
Erotic of Midsummer
Dawn Sing Dream
Oalvin Klein (yes, spelled that way)
Laekrs (ditto)
Close to Me
Snoopy Chocolate League
Rough Trade
Mystic Holy Area
Black Chocolate College
My Paddling Experience
Soul of Love Myself

And a very attractive pink T-shirt that just said “Helvetica”… in the Helvetica typeface! Nicely done. (This may have been from the movie.)

There were hundreds — thousands — more. Probably a doctoral dissertation in there somewhere.

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