Koreans are noisy, Japanese keep to themselves

There are three words that strike fear into my heart like no others:


I hear wang li zou – “move inwards” – every morning on bus 307 from my flat to my school at Tsinghua. It’s the anthem of the bus attendants – typically middle-aged woman – whose job it is to ensure everyone swipes their card to pay for the ride and moves inwards to allow space for the next batch.

So why so fearsome? Because my flat is, so to speak, ‘the wrong side of the tracks’: to get to Tsinghua I have to cross, at rush hour, the railway tracks at Wudaokou – front-runner in my books for the title of ‘most poorly thought-out intersection in China’. Schizophrenic traffic lights, endless tides of pedestrians, and death-wish drivers combine in a perfect storm.

My company during this half hour traffic bottleneck? A fresh elbow at every turn. Five minutes before my stop, I have to start shouting xia che! xia che! – “I’m getting off!” – and jostle through a crowd viscous enough to make Marmite jealous. I have actual bruises from the bus doors closing on me. If an electric clock displays 3:07, I start shaking uncontrollably.

Wudaokou is the centre of Beijing’s student district. As such, it has representatives of every corner of the world: Europe, Latin America, the Slavic world, the US of A – Beijing has attracted young graduates from them all, come to be immersed in a new language and culture. The result, of course, is that if you choose to live in noisy Wudaokou, you end up learning more about international than Chinese culture.

Another result is that for the Chinese student population of the area – students at Beida and Tsinghua, for instance – impressions of certain nationalities invariably form. As a Brit, I strike lucky: it’s common knowledge in China that all English are perfectly mannered gentlemen, refined and polite if a little aloof – in short, Hugh Grant.

Koreans are less fortunate. Even if – or so I’m informed – Chinese girls think Korean guys are ‘cool’, the main impression seems to run: Koreans are noisy, boisterous, drink too much and generally piss Chinese off. It’s certainly true that every Korean guy in a two mile vicinity of Wudaokou intersection wears the same affectedly bended baseball cap and drives the same ‘look at me’ electric bike.

Over dinner with Tony, William and Leonidas the other night, I heard another one which doesn’t come as too big a surprise either: Japanese all keep to themselves. The Japanese student population of Beijing, it seems, are reticent to the point of hermeticism – fixing a stereotype of their nation in this particular corner of China. And here’s another gem from Tony: “all students from a country ending in -stan claim they are a Prince.”

The list goes on – but I won’t, as my laptop is going to run out of battery at any moment. I’ll return to this theme later – if you’re a foreign student in Beijing and have come across the same first response to your nationality time and time again, please post a comment.


  1. I can’t speak for Beijing, but as a German in Nanjing I have more than once come across the disturbing sentiment “Germans are a good race.” We are just a tick sensitive about the r-word, you know? Anyways, I can imagine Germans are particularly popular in Nanjing, they’ve had a presence here with Bosch and Siemens long before WWII (and then there’s the whole story with John Rabe and the international safety zone – which, funnily enough, nobody in Germany ever hears about. We’re not so big on the “good” Nazis. If it wasn’t for Steven Spielberg, most of us wouldn’t have heard of Oskar Schindler either).

    Japanese – for obvious reasons not so much. Supposedly Germans did a much better job apologizing for their atrocities. My safety strategy is to tell people I’m from Canada (where I’m a permanent resident)… never leads to any complications. At best we talk about how cold it is there :)

  2. what about indians?

  3. Among the business men that I know Koreans are known to be untrustworthy. Every Chinese business person I’ve talked to will do anything to avoid dealing with Koreans.

    They’ll gladly deal with Japanese though. Much more trustworthy, even though they hate them for historical reasons.

    That’s also why Japanese keep to themselves in China. It’s not hard for them to get dragged into a fight just because they’re Japanese.

  4. I didn’t study in Beijing, but the response I’ve come across all over China is “Ah? You’re American? But you don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes…Are you sure?”

    Happens to me the most as an ABC, but I’ve heard it happens sometimes to my friends as well, who are just unfortunately brown-eyed brunetttes.

    Also, it’s funny, when I was studying in Dalian the impression of the Koreans I got were that they were pretty quiet and extremely studious, but hilarious with a drink. All the girls I knew at my uni wanted to date a Korean boy because they were ridiculously handsome. Maybe there’s something to those baseball hats.

  5. Also a Briton here, but haven’t had any particular comments on the UK from Chinese people.

    When I lived in Japan, I was invariably asked if all Englishmen actually are gentlemen. I also had one Japanese woman in her thirties ask what language we speak in England.

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