East vs West
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Cultural Differences: The Red Line Personality

The Red Line is a new series of conversations between myself and Chinese people.

The Red Line Personality

Tonight on the walk home from Chebei (车陂) metro station, I opened up a topic on how I believe Chinese people have a psychological problem.

I said, “I know a girl whose dad told her not to talk to any boys while in high school or university.  And because she listened to what her father said, she became a virgin at twenty five years old.  That became a psychological problem with males because she was told to fear men.”

“Traditional Chinese families – happy to be closed-off from the rest of the world  – have said the same things about foreigners.  Do not talk to foreigners, they are bad people, they will cheat you, they will try to play with you.”

“So, when a girl who has never been approached by a foreigner before suddenly is approached by a nice foreigner who says hello, and is polite, and talks to her, then she has this red line personality.”

“The red line personality is like a psychological red line in her mind, that she puts in front of her, to stop her from viewing the thing in front of her in any rational way.”

“So, when a foreigner says hello to her, even if he is extremely polite and nice to her, she is thinking, ‘When is this foreigner going to cheat me?  He is too nice to me.  What bad things is he really trying to do?'”

“The psychological problem that the parents and society put in her mind now makes her look at all foreigners with superstition, all because she has this red line.”

An Illustration Of The Red Line Personality

When I come across Chinese people, I see a visual in my mind, of a red line drawn in front of and to the side of the feet of a Chinese girl.  The camera looks from behind to the left of her, towards a red line drawn in front of her.  On the right side of the picture stands a foreigner facing her.

This image epitomizes my thousands of encounters with Chinese people.

The foreigner is not limited, and can do whatever he wants.  However, this Chinese girl already has a red line in terms of “I am not going to let this person into my life”.

So, even if the foreigner goes up and talks to her, in her mind she has already decided, “No.  I am not going to do anything with this person other than to be polite, because he is a foreigner.”

Characteristics Of The “Red Line” Personality

In my study of China, a majority of Chinese people have this “red line” personality, where they will be happy to smile at and talk to a foreigner, and have a proclivity for superficial gestures.  I call it the conservative effect (保守).

For example, I encountered two girls on the train.

I stood beside them, and overheard them speak in Chinese, “We should try to speak English with this foreigner.”  I broke the ice and said hello to them in English.  They looked like deer in headlights.  When I offered my WeChat to provide them an English-speaking friend, they ultimately replied, “Sorry.  I don’t want to make friends with you.”

I knew these two females were rural villagers in Guangzhou working in a low-paid job.  I knew from past experience they would be one of the 99% of Chinese I am turned down by because I am foreign.

In this case, given their desire to speak English, their behavior did not make rational sense, other than to say they have this “red line”.

The Origins Of The “Red Line” Personality

In terms of Chinese people with the “red line” personality, that condition becomes a psychological problem that prevents them from realizing a certain action.  It could go back into their childhood.

For example, there are Chinese people I have met whose parents have instructed them never to talk to boys when they go to university, so they never talked to boys, and they remained a virgin as a consequence.  This is a psychological issue in their mind that creates this red line to boys.

I know a lot of people in China have traditional parents who have told them, “Never talk to a foreigner because foreigners are bad people.”   In Chinese history, it was even forbidden to talk to foreigners.

Chinese people are conditioned from youth, constantly hearing the same negative views from family, relatives, colleagues, friends, society, social circles, and the news.  Suddenly, when one of those foreigners turns up in front of their face, and says, “I am a good person,”  it is hard with one encounter to undo years, and sometimes decades of daily conditioning.  Chinese people are conditioned to flee.

So, when they talk to me, in their mind they have this psychological prejudice against me, that even though I am being a nice person, offering presents and gifts, still, in their mind they have this “red line” personality that thinks, “But he is a bad guy.”

Psychologically they are trying to convince themselves, “No.  This guy still looks suspicious.  He is not nice.  He is pretending to be nice.”

Forbidding Oneself To Cross The Red Line

Chinese people therefore, while inside the comforts of their “red line” will be able to maintain their certain personality.

When they see a foreigner they are really excited and want to talk to you.  But they can’t jump out of their comfort zone.

Instead they can be very zealous and active (积极) inside their “red line” saying, “Wow, I am talking to a foreigner now, inside my red line.  I am super conservative (超保守).  I can still do this.  I can have a conversation with a foreigner.”

“But as soon as he asks me to go past my red line, no I forbid myself to do it.  As soon as he asks me to go out with him another time to explore another culture, no, I forbid myself to do it.”

They are trying to rationalize the superstitions in their mind.

That is why this “red line” personality continues to be in front of them.  It creates the barrier between making friendships with foreigners.

It is a shame, because this psychological problem is ubiquitous in China.  It is ever-present.  I encounter it all the time.

The Long-Term Friend With Red Line Personality

In my time in China since 2013, some friends I made always had that red line in front of them.

I was friends with a girl from Renhe (人和) for a year and a half.  We first met inside a metro station.  That same weekend she invited me to Renhe (人和) to a nightclub where she was together with her boyfriend and friends.  We met twice before I had to return to Australia.

While I was in Australia we maintained our friendship on WeChat.  She became single.  Upon return to China, we arranged more plans to meet up.

In China, she would feel awkward.  One time I asked, “Why?”  She replied, “I don’t want to hang out with you,” and explained it was weird to have a foreign friend.  In Chinese, she said it was “好奇怪.”

In the end, I understood that she too always had this red line, trying, but not knowing how to communicate (交流) and make genuine friendships with foreigners because of the obstacle in her head.

Eventually, we stopped the friendship because that kind of “red line” personality existed.

Solutions To The Perceived “Red Line”

And, so, going back to that conversation on walk home from Chebei (车陂) metro station, I continued, “How do you go about removing this red line?”

I continued in the conversation, “I guess, you have to expose a person like her to more and more foreigners, so that she can see for herself that actually, they are not bad people.  But even that will not guarantee anything, because some minds are so brainwashed with time and misinformation, that they become irrationally stubborn in their views.”

“That is where the discrimination towards me, and other foreigners, from Chinese people, comes from.  That is what I call the conservative effect (保守).”

“Also, in China, the foreign population can easily be avoided.  Chinese people who fear them do not need to approach them.  They can view them from a safe distance, and keep their prejudices, because society in China is not a melting pot.”

“There is no natural way for a country girl who works on a farm and a business man from The West with their language and cultural differences to come together on the one same project and bond.”

“Chinese will employ Chinese, foreigners will employ foreigners, and Chinese who speak English who have already been exposed to Western English teachers will work alongside Westerners in China, but the cultural and philosophical differences will still remain.”

She said back to this point, “You know, you are right to a point, but maybe the girl you talked to just did not like you in the first place.”

I said, “I talk to both girls and guys.  I am faced with the same problem despite gender.”

The Teachings Of Confucius (孔子)

She then explained “Confucius (孔子) wrote many guidelines to follow that Chinese still to this day follow.”

“One of those rules is to be nice to other people, or 礼貌.”

She basically explained that towards a foreigner or anyone else, they are taught to cultivate courtesy, and in essence, this means that Chinese people can come across as two-faced in Western society, which values honesty and truth rather than face (面子).

Chinese Who Are Open-Minded

In conclusion, there are several Chinese people I have met who do not have that red line.

These people include my three good friends who have many foreign friends between them, my girlfriend, and some other Chinese friends who have decided to open up.

One person I made friends with was a traditional Chinese girl, but she had decided in her mind, “This guy is a nice guy.  I am going to take away that red line and explore this, and see what happens.”

A few other friends who have me as their very first foreign friend have also removed the prejudice of the red line.

However, while some friends disregard that red line, such as the Renhe (人和) girl, I believe these types of Chinese people still harbor a red line personality.

They can be very friendly, and pretend to be friends, but when it comes to being equal with a foreigner, such as to introduce a foreigner to their greater friends circle, normally the “red line” personality closes their minds to those possibilities.

Because you are supposed to be a secret friend.

The Innate “Red Line” Measure

I believe the “red line” innate in most Chinese people is an important measure.

When Westerners are able to locate and distinguish the “red line” personality in certain Chinese people, it is easier for everyone to then not waste time with Chinese who have this discriminatory red line.

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