Culture Question:

Compare University in China and the West

(posted: Apr 2010)


Chinese university students tend to have less life experience than students in the West. They have had such a focus on studying to get into university that they often have not had many hobbies, part-time jobs or boy/girl friends. Chinese university students, in general, are:

  • more respectful towards teachers and authority figures
  • quieter in class (they do not tend to offer answers to teacher questions).
  • less willing to make suggestions to the teacher if something is not right, or could be better (eg. name is wrong on the attendance list; teacher speaks too fast; lecture is unclear)

Western universities have a much higher proportion of adult students. These older students have either worked first and are now going to university, or are returning for additional study.

Teaching Methods:

My impression from things my students have said to me is that Chinese university teaching is often very lecture-oriented, the teacher speaks and the students listen.

Western universities tend to encourage more student involvement in classes. This is especially true in classes with a fair number of adult students. The theory is that we all have experiences to share and that we can learn from each other, not just the teacher.

Campus Life:

In Chinese Universities:

  • most students live on campus.
  • there are 4 to 8 students to a dorm
  • dorms have no hot water
  • dorms do not have bathing facilities in them
  • there are separate dorms for male and female students
  • there are many clubs and activities for students to get involved in

In Western Universities:

  • most students live off campus.
  • when students are in dorms:
    • many student dorms are for 1 or 2
    • dorms will have hot water
    • dorms on campus will have bathing facilities in the dorm buildings, shared by students
    • dorms may be co-ed (both male and female students in the same dorm building)
  • there are many clubs and activities for students to get involved in
  • drinking alcohol is a big part of university culture

Future Orientation:

Chinese education is very exam oriented. Chinese culture also has more of a focus on family and family duties. Students may look at the future as a series of exams to pass, certifications to acquire, milestones to reach (get a good job, marry, buy a house, have a child)

Though marks are important in the West, since employers in West look for more than a person’s marks when hiring, students also think about more than marks when preparing for their futures. Western culture is more independence focused. Students may look to have experiences in their lives and their futures. This may involve travel as well as work and relationships.

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Female student behind a stack of papers

Four students