Are Highly Sensitive People More Accepted in Chinese Culture? One Study Says Yes

One of the fascinating things I learned from my husband when we began dating many years ago is this – that, as a more quiet and sensitive kind of guy who excelled at his studies, he was popular in school growing up in China.

This was the complete opposite of my own experience growing up in America. Being quiet and sensitive didn’t exactly help me rise in popularity among my peers, particularly in junior high and high school. Add to that the fact that I was a straight-A student near the top of the class, which led a number of kids to just write me off as another geek.

Over the years, I’ve found myself more at ease in China, and I would often attribute it to a number of things, including this sense that I felt my personality was more accepted in the culture. Imagine my surprise to read Elaine Aron’s The Highly Sensitive Person and discover a study that actually revealed that Chinese culture appears more welcoming to sensitive individuals:

If you remember only one thing from this book, it should be the following research study. Xinyin Chen and Kenneth Rubin of the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and Yuerong Sun of Shanghai Teachers University compared 480 schoolchildren in Shanghai to 296 in Canada to see what traits made children most popular. In China “shy” and “sensitive” children were among those most chosen by others to be friends or playmates. (In Mandarin, the word for shy or quiet means good or well-behaved; sensitive can be translated as “having understanding,” a term of praise.) In Canada, shy and sensitive children were among the least chosen. Chances are, this is the kind of attitude you faced growing up.

Think about the impact on you of not being the ideal for your culture. It has to affect you — not only how others have treated you but how you have come to treat yourself.

Reading this was like a revelation, an ah-ha moment that confirmed something I had understood for years – that my personality felt like a better fit in China compared to the US.

How about you? Are you a highly sensitive person who has lived in the East and the West? Have you also felt more at ease in a culture in the East, such as Chinese?

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9 Replies to “Are Highly Sensitive People More Accepted in Chinese Culture? One Study Says Yes”

  1. Your strategy may not originally have started intentionally , but later made sense as China’s culture coincidentally offers you a target-rich zone for shy and highly sensitive folks. Unfortunately in the western countries, the out going folks are more treasured, be it in the dating world or in climbing the corporate ladder. One often hear of singles seeking partners with “good personality”. All other considerations being equal, companies tend to promote out going employees as they tend to be able to wave their flags more prominently.
    In the dating scene, I knew of two shy and highly sensitive male friends ( one Los Angeles born Caucasian and one Hawaiian born Asian) remained life long bachelors because they were just too shy to pursue the ladies with sufficient aggression.

  2. This really hit home…thanks for Sharing! I think it’s connected to a culture that values academics vs a culture that values sports, at least during primary through high school years. Generally , athletes are confident and outgoing which is why they excel in sports, and humble and studious (aka quiet) students to excel in academics.

  3. Interesting, high achievers like Buffett and Rockefeller are quite shy (or introvert) too. The reason that Rockefeller refused to put his name on all those charitable projects like Peking Union Hospital, University of Chicago, was due to his shyness from publicity.

    Genghis Khan was also classic quiet introvert, shy away from personal confrontation, afraid of dog, easily cry. Khan was bullied as kid due to his omega personality. Mongols are introvert in general. They hate arrogant dominant personality (so called alpha personality).

    The Mongol troops that committed genocide at baghdad was also the same one conquered XianYang (襄阳)after much harder six years of bloody battle. But the surrendered Song troop and General were recruited and promoted in Mongol army instead of massacre. Most likely this was due to less arrogant personality of Han Chinese.

    Also introversion is associated with higher IQ.

  4. Jocelyn: I’ve only lived in the West. I had always suspected that what you write about here is why I often related to Asians (not all of course), especially those who grew up outside the U.S. I joked a few weeks ago that maybe I should move there. I’ve known a fair number of Koreans and they have been more extroverted perhaps, but still have a degree of reserved behavior.

  5. I’m a kind of shy, but here in China people all the time treats me like I’m a little.. Stupid maybe ? I always remember my Chinese co workers saying that I’m a “simple person” who doesn’t know how to manipulate others… Until now, I have no idea what a “simple person” is…

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