A Contrastive Analysis of Body Language in Between Chinese and American Culture

A Contrastive Analysis of Body Language in Between Chinese and American Culture  1

1.Introduction. 2

People communicate with each other not only by verbal means, but also by nonverbal. Non-verbal communication mainly expresses real emotion and attitude through facial expression, gesture, eye behavior, clothes, sound, etc. For instance, waving hand is to show farewell; offering our hand with a slight smile to others means welcome. When listening to a report, people lean against the chair, which suggests that they are not interested in the report. 2

  1. The differences of body language in between Chinese and American culture. 3

2.1 Eye contact 3

2.2 Touch. 5

2.3 Facial expression. 8

2.4 Gestures. 10

2.4.1 The same gestures with different meanings in the two cultures. 11

2.4.2 Different gestures with the same meanings in the two cultures. 11

2.4.3 Gestures with certain meanings in one culture, no equivalent in the other culture. 12

2.5 Postures. 13

Postures are usually classified into three categories: stance, bent-knee position (which includes sitting, squatting, and kneeling) and lying. 13

There are many similarities between Chinese and American people in stance and sitting position. Still, there exist differences which may confuse both parties. In China, a slouching posture is a sign of poor manner on many occasions, for Chinese value proper stance and sitting position. However, Americans often fall into chairs or slouch when they stand, because being casual and friendly is valued in America. There are also cultural differences as far as gait is concerned. Chinese people may reproach Americans for being arrogant because of their long strides. On the other hand, Chinese people’s gait may be thought as shy and timid. The differences are caused by the simple reason that Americans need more space than Chinese do. Besides, there is another underlying reason: Chinese culture stresses modesty, so it is improper to swagger. Standing with arms akimbo is common in America with neutral meaning. Such a posture may be adopted both by men and women. Women adopt this posture to show their impatience. However, such a posture is regarded as a threat in China. 13

Sitting posture is a constant source of cultural misunderstandings. For example: Americans feel very relaxed at home and in their private offices. They may sometimes sit on the carpeted floor or the ground. This is taken as a dirty habit in China. When Chinese have to sit on the floor or the ground, they invariably spread a handkerchief or a newspaper. Americans in turn would interpret this to be a dirty habit because to them, handkerchiefs should not be used to mop the floor, nor should newspapers be littered here and there. When American teachers sit on the desk in class to create a light atmosphere, Chinese students are often shocked by that. Besides, an American in his private office may lean far back in his chair or even put his legs up on desk when talking on the phone or to other people. To them, it is a sign of being relaxed. A male leader may put his legs up on the desk to show his amicability and friendliness. Nevertheless, such a posture is extremely offensive to Chinese. 14

From these differences, we may note the values, norms, and beliefs of Chinese and American of culture, which is reflected in the nonverbal codes. In the United States, the emphasis is upon informality, but Chinese emphasize the good manner reflected in standing or sitting. A well-known saying may prove it: (we should) stand as straight as a pine and sit as upright as a bell. 15

2.6 Distance. 15

  1. The similarities of body language in between Chinese and American culture. 16
  2. Conclusion. 17


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