Blog Entries

“Zhong Yong”

The Moderate Way


Because westerners tend to see the world in more black-and-white terms, one of the most frustrating aspects of living and working in China is the fact that so much of life is lived in the grey zone. The lines that separate what is permissible from what is not are often blurred and movable. Getting a direct answer to even simple questions (at least to us) can be challenging.

The fourth cultural element that Huo Shui highlights in his article “Living Wisely in China” is zhong yong, or “being moderate, which helps us understand what’s going on in these situations.

Zhong Yong, or “being moderate,” is the most essential principle for living in China and the primary principle that the Chinese subscribe to. What does it mean to “be moderate” in the Chinese context?

Put simply, it means never going to extremes, never confirming things absolutely (always leave some margin or wiggle room), never pushing ahead to be first—yet avoiding being left behind. People may say they see things in black and white, but in reality they favor gray. Gray seems less risky and allows flexibility.

Huo Shui concludes his article by reminding us of the importance of trying to do things the Chinese way:

Five thousand years of Chinese tradition defies anyone who tries to fully understand it. While one need not fully grasp the meaning of these traditions, these four seemingly simple principles discussed above should be taken seriously. It is wise to deal with the Chinese in the Chinese way. If you are not convinced, try it your way—and see what happens!

Hint: it probably won’t work out too well.

Image credit: Reflexology Path, by alantangkenghoe, via Flickr

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio


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