Untitled-2

Differences Between China and Korea

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Now that I’m only a few weeks away from going back to Korea to visit my boyfriend Jeongsu, I started thinking about some major differences between China and South Korea. Even though they are both Asian countries and located pretty close to each other, you would think the two countries must be pretty similar. Indeed, China and Korea do have a lot in common and my Chinese friends who had been to Korea told me that they did not experience a “culture shock” of any sort and that “Korea and China are pretty much the same.” But is that really true? From an outsider’s point of view, I can definitely tell you, no it’s not.

trazy.com

Note: The experiences I have made are all personal and my opinions. Now, I live in a smaller Chinese city in Hunan so experiences from expats living in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou etc. may vary.

Food and How to Eat It

China is a country of food enthusiasts and food is as embedded in culture as language and customs. Korea is just the same. Food is incredibly important in Korea and just as varied as Chinese cuisine. However, there are some major differences between Chinese and Korean cuisine as well as food etiquette.

Banchan – Korean Side Dishes

Both China and Korea value the concept of eating “family style” which means having lots of different dishes on the table everybody can choose from. However, there is one distinct difference between Chinese and Korean food: banchan.

These are various Korean side dishes that are obligatory on a Korean table. They are not whole dishes, but rather small pieces of food on small tables that are used to enhance flavor of the main dishes. The most famous banchan is Kimchi, fermented vegetables seasoned with chili peppers and salt.

In China, people usually order several main dishes but there are no side dishes like banchan in Korea.

Bulgogi and different banchan

Bulgogi and different banchan

Chopsticks

Even though chopsticks are used in both countries, there is one main difference between Chinese and Korean chopsticks. Koreans tend to use metal chopsticks whereas you find them rather rarely in China.

Another distinct difference is that Korean chopsticks don’t have round shape but almost flat. Korean chopstick have flat side and the tip form square. When looking at Chinese chopsticks, you will see that they do have a round shape or even square but they definitely aren’t flat.

Chinese vs. Korean Chopsticks

Chinese vs. Korean Chopsticks

Korean Sang Table

DSC_0667

Jeongsu and his father preparing dinner

Another distinct difference is the way Koreans actually eat at home and in some restaurants. In Korea it is pretty common to eat sitting around a small folding table, called sang 상, without chairs. In China, this is certainly not a custom.

Usually the sang table is stowed away after the meal to make more room in an apartment. Korean usually do not have a “dining room” with table and chairs.

Polite Manners

I think this is probably a big difference and I am not saying that Chinese people do not have manners but they are just perceived differently. In Korea, people are extremely polite especially to elders. In China, this is the moral rule but might not be adapted as much anymore. Bowing to show respect is also very common in Korea, whereas in China, the bow gesture is not really used anymore.

You can also see this when looking at the two languages themselves. In Korean, there actually is a “polite form” to use when talking to people that are older than you. There is no such thing in Chinese.

What sometimes makes me really annoyed in China is when I am on the bus to get to work or home from work and people are just careless and push their elbows into my spine or similar things. In Korea, this is rather uncommon.

koreachina

“Pali-pali” vs. “Kuài diǎn!”

One thing I find mostly amusing in China is how people are always in a hurry, at least mostly. Especially in the mornings when going to work it seems like they would do anything just to get on that bus which is already full of people like a clown car. I just stand back and laugh a little. Is it worth it?

Koreans also do have the stereotype of being in a rush at all times, which is called “Pali-Pali” (빨리빨리) in Korean. However, I must say that while I was in Korea everything seemed a lot more relaxed and people weren’t as much in a rush as they seem to be in China. Especially at metro or bus station, people in Korea walked a little too slow for my taste sometimes haha.

Crowds of People

DSC_0801

Cheongju, Korea

China is infamous for its mega-cities and masses of people living in one place. Korea is a very small country compared to China, so big cities like Seoul and Busan are crowded just as much. However, I must say that when I was in Seoul, there were times when Jeongsu and I were the only people walking in a street or next to a major sight. It was so silent that it actually freaked me out.

This could never happen in China. It’s loud and vivid and you are never alone. Never.

trazy.com

Korean Fashion vs. “Whatever they wear in China”

One thing that really stuck out to me in Korea is how most people, especially young people, are extremely fashionably dressed. You certainly see this in Beijing/Shanghai as well, but the majority of Chinese people, also a lot of young people, do certainly have “their own style”/Chinese style.

Korea is famous for Kpop and Hallyu is swapping over the borders into many other countries in this world. Plastic surgery and co. are very common and not frowned upon. Fashion and style are very important in Korea to both women and men. It sometimes takes more time for Jeongsu to get ready than me… just saying.

All the places I have been to in Korea, from Seoul to a rather small city like Cheongju, people were extremely fashionably dressed. The Korean fashion style in general seems to be very popular globally at the moment. 

An easy way to distinguish a Korean from a Chinese: just look at their clothes! 

Korean Fashion

Korean Fashion

Have you been to both China and Korea? What do you think?
How are the both countries different and how are they the same?
Leave a comment below 🙂

Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

24 Comments

  1. Ray H on September 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    I think in general, when it comes to politeness and culture, China is different than other Asian countries because it seems more wild here. Perhaps because of the various revolutions, the kind of cultural rules you read about in Culture Shock books don’t apply very strictly and it’s more like anything goes. South Korea takes its societal rules very seriously, while China is Confucian-filial in theory but people shove each other all the time etc.

    Korea sounds fun. Do you think it’s almost too fashionable though? The whole mainstreamization of plastic surgery thing is a bit disturbing to me.

    • lindalindsch on September 8, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      thanks Ray! I think Koreas is just super superficial and looks is very important but I think it’s all the media. when i was there I was never judged or nothing. And it’s not like EVERYBODY gets plastic surgery either. they just have an open mind towards it and think it’s ok to change yourself if you think it makes you prettier.

  2. ninjaitis on September 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    This was a great post!! Japan is also a lot different than either one. I might compare Korea/Japan sometime ^^ Does your boyfriend live in Cheongju? Mine is in Daejeon, which is really close!

    • lindalindsch on September 8, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      oh cool! we are planning on going to Daejeon in October!

      • ninjaitis on September 8, 2014 at 8:55 pm

        Ah nice but I won’t be there till December… Anyway have fun!! It’s a great city!

  3. realgunners on September 8, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    I suppose most people in Korea work either in the shops or the offices, that’s why the streets can seem to be empty.
    I have a Korean colleague to has been living in Malaysia for more than 10 years, he said back in Korea, if you work in the offices, it is customary for you to greet all everyone higher ranked than you “Good Morning”. If you are the lowest ranked employee, then tough luck to you. Also the politics culture is very strong. It is customary for new hires to quickly choose a faction and remain loyal to that faction. If the leader gets fired, that whole faction will immediately be out of jobs.
    it certainly deterred me from thinking about maybe migrating to Korea :/

    • lindalindsch on September 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm

      hm i see. it is definitely true that newcomers in a company sort of have the lowest rank. but that if the leader gets fired, all the others get fired too seems a little far fetched.

    • lindalindsch on September 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      hm i see. it is definitely true that newcomers in a company sort of have the lowest rank. but that if the leader gets fired, all the others get fired too seems a little too harsh to be true. havent heard about this.

  4. emmawomble on September 8, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    I suppose perhaps we view these countries as being similar in the way that an Asian might regard countries such as Italy and France as being the same. Whereas anyone from those countries would see more differences.

    I really want to visit Korea but my few friends that have been there have all disliked it compared to the other Asian countries they visited. Still, got to find out these things for oneself!

    • lindalindsch on September 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

      yeah that is a good comparison!

  5. myhongkonghusband on September 8, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I would think they have more in common due to their history, but I was wrong 🙂 thank you for that great post! you can compare even more in future :D!

    • lindalindsch on September 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

      thanks Lina! Glad to enlighten you 🙂 haha

  6. Gisele on September 8, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    Hi Linda,
    I love reading your posts because they are well written and structured, and contain a lot of interesting information about these two countries. I visited China ( Beijing only) and Korea in 2013. Learning about Chinese culture and history has been a passion of mine for many years, and I am studying mandarin with the help of my Taiwanese friends. I knew very little about Korea before going there, but when I got there, it was love at first sight. The Korean culture and traditions are fascinating and Koreans are very friendly and helpful. I noticed all of the differences that you mentionned. Also, what struck me the most in Korea is how everything is hi-tech , much more than in Canada where I live, and more than Beijing. And in Korea the Ahjumma style of dressing with big hats and clothes with bold colors and prints is striking. I was impressed by the fact that women in Korea, and men also, protect themselves from the sun when they go out for walks by covering every inch of skin except for the eyes, even if it is very hot outside.
    Finally, I must mention toilets. In Korea, I discovered the bidet which is a modern toilet with a fancy seat with push buttons for heating the seat and the water, and adjusting the water jet. I was impressed by this hi-tech pampering. I saw this in most of the homes, restaurants and public rest rooms that I went to.
    I won’t describe the toilets in Beijing!

    • lindalindsch on September 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

      haha thanks for sharing your thoughts Gisele! I am glad you like the two countries just as much as I do! Where are you at the moment? back in Canada?

      • Gisele on September 15, 2014 at 10:16 am

        Yes, back in Canada, but hoping to visit Korea again one day.

        • lindalindsch on September 15, 2014 at 11:01 am

          i see! if you do, maybe we can meet up, if I am there too 🙂

  7. CrazyChineseFamily on September 9, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Basically China is pretty wild compared to other countries. Don’t you just love the non existing Chinese fashion? Those ladies you see daily running around in the pajamas or the nice man rolling up their shirt over their man-boobs to show everyone their stomachs 😀
    I hope to see korea at so me point but then again I want to visit so many countries, I don’t believe that I will ever see them all in he his life time

    • lindalindsch on September 15, 2014 at 9:20 am

      haha yeah Chinese “fashion” is definitely something interesting 😀

  8. deep blue on September 10, 2014 at 5:00 am

    the communist party have turned them into soviets

  9. Korea on April 30, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Good article. I was surprised when I visited China last year. It was very different from Korea.

  10. FreeSpeech101 on July 12, 2016 at 10:49 am

    I know korean drama. 🙂

  11. tewkewl on September 17, 2016 at 4:13 am

    100% true. China was dirty, with loads of poorly dressed, rude, and ugly people. which is basically the opposite of what i found in korea.

    • Tae tae on March 19, 2017 at 3:54 am

      I thought China was way cleaner. What part of China were you in? I have traveled all of China everyone was nice and dressed well. I have been to Korea. I was in Seoul and the restaurants were disgusting? nah de mak lian! Plus the people were always giving me weird looks in Korea, how rude!!!!!!!! I don’t see the point because in China all little ones respected there elders.

    • 이유비 on December 14, 2017 at 8:57 pm

      Oppsss ~You must hate china !How can you make a comment like this~

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

That's Me

Follow Me

Where I am now

world-map-globe-sketch-new
Best Asian Expat Blogs 2019