Traditional Chinese society is hierarchical and to a large extent modern China is as well. Chinese society is still largely influenced by the teachings of Confucianism. Confucianism is a complex system of social and political ethics based on concepts such as filial piety, kinship, loyalty, and rightness. In keeping with these Confucian ethos, Chinese society values hierarchy, group orientation, respect for age and tradition.
In short, Confucius was primarily concerned with preserving social order and harmony. It was believed that man would be in harmony with the universe if everyone understood their proper position and rank in society and that the stability and security of society was threatened when someone acted outside of their proper place. Therefore, even today, much attention is paid to social hierarchy in most social settings.
For example, at a dinner table, seating arrangements are very important and are done according to social rank. Generally speaking, the seat facing the door is the most honored host seat. On the right side is the most honored guest seat and the left side is the second most honored guest. In meetings, the most senior individual will speak first, even if his role is only ceremonial in nature. You may notice when attending a meeting, seminar or discussion that Chinese people are not as interactive as their American counterparts. This is because they are most likely waiting for someone of higher rank to speak first. Keep in mind that hierarchy can be overruled by kinship and friendship. A son of a high official may not have a high social position, but he has a greater advantage than his own social position allows him because of his father’s ranking.
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