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Chinese People Touch Each Other

Image: David Castillo Dominici,

Chinese people touch each other… and they touch me too.

Of all the ways I thought culture would be different here in China it is the touching that keeps catching me off guard.

  • The food – learning to like it
  • The driving – starting to understand it
  • The sanitation – getting used to it

… but the touching, still seems odd to me.

I am not sure what this tells me about Chinese people, but I know this tells me a lot about myself.

I am sure there are other cultures that touch even more than people here in China.  I always thought China was a formal society, that it was high on expectations and success, and that it was less caught up in relationships.

Since arriving here, I have learned that China is indeed a formal society and it is a very driven society (their high school students can be in school from 7 am – 10 pm all week and still have school both days of the weekend) but these people are touching each other all the time.

This isn’t romantic touching.  Rarely do you see couples holding hands. Instead this is all friendly ‘non-romantic’ touch.

… what does this say for my culture?

For example:

  • In class it is common for a girl to rest her arm around her friend
  • Big, cool boys in the back of the classroom can be seen with an arm around a friend on each side
  • Both genders can walk down the street holding hands
  • When walking they hang onto each other or bump each other a lot
  • They even are hitting each other all the time… hard, but it is joking and in fun

I am from a culture where touch isn’t common, and where any kind of touch is seen as suggestive.   I don’t think I realized it before, but as a culture we cut out almost all touch.   If we see people touching we assume a romantic relationship.  So much so, that touch is illegal in the workplace and schools.

But we are used to our cultural rules and don’t even really notice them.

However, I am noticing them in China.  When walking with friends I feel run off the road.  When I judged an English competition the judge beside me had upper arm contact with me.  People are touching my children and patting their heads before I even know who they are.

In my head, I know this is all fine.  I am okay with it.  Mentally, I know there is nothing wrong or inappropriate with the action.  It is my cultural habits that send off alarms ‘they are touching you, this is weird‘.

The truth is I love touch and I need touch.  

I would have never thought it would stand out as something so foreign to me.

The Crazy

A few weeks ago I ran across a news article about a lady who is a professional snuggler.  She gets paid (very well) to cuddle with people.  This isn’t about anything romantic, and if you can get past the ‘very weirdness’ of it, the idea of cuddling and having touch sounds good.  … sounds so good to some people they will pay big money for a stranger to do it.

Now, I belong to a culture that needs touch, allows almost no touch except for romantic relationships (which are falling apart all the time) and now actually has a market for buying ‘non-romantic’ touch.

That’s a bit messed up 🙂

Maybe if our culture allowed more ‘non-romantic’ touch we wouldn’t feel such a need to run from relationship to relationship?  Maybe we would be healthier?  Maybe it is just something that is different with different cultures?  I am not sure what it says.  What I know is that it is more different than I thought it would be.

I am sure there are many people who are reading this article from more ‘contact’ oriented cultures and think I am crazy.  This is a look into a mind of a crazy westerner.   I don’t mean to say anything against any culture, more about myself and how I am learning more about myself as I experience this new culture.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Lorilee, I loved reading your thoughts about touch. I was born in the U.S. and have lived here all of my life. I am one that loves to show God’s love through touch and hugging. I will start a conversation with a stranger in the grocery store, and many times pat them on the shoulder as a gesture to show them that they are important. Sometimes, I can tell it makes people uncomfortable. So I am very considerate not to step across anyone’s boundary. But most times, I can tell that my touch brings joy to the lives of others.

    There is so much healing that comes through healthy touch.

    Love and hugs to you!! 🙂

  2. I completely understand what you mean. When I was studying Spanish I became friends with many hispanics and I loved their culture. Such close knit families who weren’t afraid of expressing themselves. It was so different than the culture I was used to and it was a part of their culture I wished to adapt. Enjoy your experience there in China. It sounds wonderful.

  3. Hi Lorilee, I loved reading this. As an Asian American living in the States with extended family in Thailand, I totally understand both sides of the coin. You learn to deal with lack of personal space in China. Ride the Beijing metro, you’ll see 🙂 The one thing I really never got over in China was the constant throat clearing and spitting. Let me know how that goes for ya!

    • oh yeah… that is another thing… not cool.

  4. I am pne pf those people whose love language is touch. I loved reading this post. Being from th US, i think I would have a hard time ( especially with strangers touching my kids). I cone froma family who is not touchy at all, they get weirded out when I hug them. It is so interestng to learn about these cultural differences we do not even think of.
    Thanks for sharing.


  5. I wonder if that’s why we in the US need our pets so much. We need that touch, and while we don’t sit touching a friend, we will easily sit with a dog or cat by our side.

    By the way, I really enjoy your blog. It is fun to me to read about your story as it unfolds.

    • you may really be onto something there. I love having an animal to be touching me sleeping or sitting… interesting

  6. I came across your blog while researching simple living. I am an American born Chinese. When i visited China one of the most predominant cultural differences that stuck out for me was how people walked arm in arm. Unlike immigrant Chinese in the USA, Chinese in China had this endearingly close proximity to each other. I think it made me happy to see that in China but also a bit sad about home. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Nancy Nancy

    Great thoughts. We North Americans are touch deprived and could learn from other cultures the benefits of healthy non sexual touch. I think I need a hug. Hugs to you Lorilee! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and adventures.

  8. Wai Leng Wai Leng

    whenever I visit China or Hong Kong tourist attraction especially theme parks where the waiting line us long, the Chinese from mainland China will spot a gap in the line and conveniently wiggle in and stay put there. When I confronted them , they do not budge and acted as if they had been in the line all this while. This behavior really piss me off.

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