Why did my Chinese “friend” say “just buy another one” when he found out my dog had recently died? Is it uncommon to feel empathy for animals in Chinese culture?
Tom McGregor, I lived in Beijing since Oct. 2010
Answered Nov 6
I have lived in China for almost 10 years and have gotten so accustomed to residing here and being around regular Chinese people that it took me a few seconds to wonder even why this question was asked and another minute to engage in logical thinking to see how such a comment can be viewed as negative.
At first glance, I saw nothing wrong with the phrase “just buy another one.” A few years ago, my wife, Zhou Yawei, a Chinese native, had visited my parents in Texas with our young son, Peter. My mother really loved her pet dog and held numerous conversations with us about it. At one point, my mother mentioned that she worried that if this dog dies later, she would feel heartbroken about that.
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It was either my wife or I, who said, “so, you can get another dog,” but my mother said she had a lifetime of family pets and vowed this would be her last dog for the rest of her life. So we spent the next hour discussing whether this is a good or bad idea, analyzing all angles, weighing the outcomes, as well as the pros and cons about this decision.
The point being here that the Chinese have pragmatic hearts always in search of solutions. If you got a problem, go ahead and fix it. Your dog died, so go get a new one. Living among the Chinese, I consider that brilliant and no longer a thought that lacks empathy. Besides, if you live in China and believe the Chinese are cold-hearted for saying, “just buy another one,” I have some strong advice for you. Either forget about it or you will have a long and difficult stay in China as you take offense to every so-called slight. Just start packing your bags and go back to your home country, because you will need emotional strength to succeed in China.
I have met a number of expats with a super sensitive nature who for some reason or another came to China. In most instances, they do not last more than a year here and in many cases they leave the country without giving their employers warning. One day you see them at the office, working quietly and the next day they vanish - never to be seen in China again.
It’s no big deal if you can’t survive here. I myself had lived in South Korea for sevenyears, which is like boot camp for ‘Culture Shock’ expats, and returned to my native country for three years after that. I started my life in China in 2010. Any time, I face difficulties, I just remind myself, “If I could survive South Korea, I can do alright in China.”
I believe that had I never undergone the rigorous mental toughness training in South Korea, I would likely have failed in China too, worrying over every little problem that occurs each and every day of my life. There’s truth to the age-old adage, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”
So you may not like the truth I’m telling the person who lost his pet dog. But, people and pets die, which is just a fact of life. Criticizing the Chinese because you believe they lack empathy is not the right solution for you to overcome your apparent grief. When we become adults, we are expected to act like adults. You can either go get another dog or just move on with your life.
Robert Ferrer, Some of my favorite housemates have been dogs
Updated May 23
I’m inclined to say that your friend’s comment has less to do with him being Chinese and more to do with—and I’m just guessing here—your friend never having a pet.
Once, a friend from college had mentioned that his dog had died. I met his yappy Boston terrier once or twice, so it didn’t really mean much to me when I offered my superficial condolences.
But then years later, I got a dog myself. For 13 years Ripley was my daily companion. She was with me through good and bad times. Then one day we found a tumor in her mouth, and a month later I had to say good-bye to her.
Ripley, never happier than when her feet were muddy
Friends and family knew we were close, so they offered their comfort, of course, to which I was appreciative—but when I told a colleague in passing, he dropped what he was doing, looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry to hear that, Bob. I lost my dog a few years ago and it still hurts to think about it.”
The look on his face told me everything. He was back in that room when he had to put his dog to sleep, just as I am now as I write this, holding Ripley in her last moments.
For a person who has never had a pet, this sort of connection with an animal can be difficult to understand.
I’m sorry your dog died. I remember how I felt when mine died. Cut your friend some slack. You just happened to join a very unfortunate, exclusive club.
ateusz Kempiński, Mytho-Maniac, scientist, musician, owner of mythoblogy.com
Answered May 20
What your friend suggested is actually the best way to ease your pain after losing a beloved pet...
This has nothing to do with empathy towards your dog (as in fact no one in the whole world cares for other people’s pets) and has everything to do with empathy towards YOU.