I often ask (OK, complain to) my husband about the habits of Chinese people that I just don’t understand, and he always tries his best to explain the logic behind them (he’s Chinese, you see). Sometimes I come away with more understanding, and sometimes I just end up more perplexed than I was before.
One of the things that really gets to me here is the lack of heat. People here seem to have something against being warm. The building heat is government-controlled, so in my city it is turned on November 15 and turned off March 15, regardless of the weather. The buildings have no insulation; they are basically just cement boxes. And in my experience, it’s rare that anyone turns the heat on in their car. Add to all this the fact that I am a natural ice cube, and it’s a wonder I survive here between November and April each year!
But the thing that drives me the craziest, the habit that makes me want to scream, the “cherry on top” is this: they persist in opening the windows, even in the dead of winter.
And I’m not talking just a crack. I mean full-on, flung open windows in February.
So I asked my husband one day, “Why?” (Truthfully, it was much more colourfully-worded than that, but my mom reads this blog!)
He said the short explanation was that Chinese people believe that they need to “change” the air in a room or house, and that it is healthier. I protested, “How can making me nearly freeze to death be healthy for me?” He told me that it lets out the dirty air and allows fresh air to come in.
I guess there is some logic to this, and I conceded that if a room smelled stale or musty that I would probably crack a window too, but only a bit. I said I saw no need to fully open the windows for the duration of every day (I may have also mentioned that even when closed, my windows don’t fully “close” so it’s not as if my house or classroom is an impenetrable fortress or anything).
Then he brought out the phrase I hate hearing more than anything else (and if you’ve spent any time here, you know that most explanations of anything in China begin with this statement, so you know what’s coming).
“Well, you see, China has a very long history…” (ARGH!)
He went on to explain that long ago in China, people lived in small mud shacks, caves, and other such dwellings, and those places often smelled and needed to be aired out and thus, Chinese people developed this habit. But, I countered, we don’t live in one, and many people in China don’t anymore either, so it’s an unnecessary habit for a lot of people.
He told me that Chinese people don’t like to change their ways (understatement of the century). I pushed on, saying that China is like that in a lot more areas than this, and that if they want to be taken seriously on the world stage, they need to update their thinking and consider changing some of their outdated habits (Ed. Note: This is my opinion and you are free to have your own, but please don’t write me angry, lecturing comments about this – just enjoy the story!).
“But if China changes, then it will become like Russia and our country doesn’t want to end up like them,” he stated. My mouth dropped open and I had no response.
So there you have it, the real reason Chinese people open windows in the winter: it’s a matter of national stability.