My initial frame of reference for Chinese culture was my travel in Japan. I’ve been there 3 or 4 times (twice for a couple weeks at a time, traveling around), have some Japanese friends, and know a bit about their pop culture, so it was by far the Asian country I was most familiar with. Coming to China, I was struck almost immediately by the difference.
The Chinese are really friendly.
The Japanese are often more polite, but rather more reserved. The Chinese may not be as polite, but they seem more genuinely approachable and gregarious. Strikingly so. It seems to me that they are both more polite and more friendly than Americans in general, too. They are helpful and just seem to smile more, and the kids especially are quick to shyly say “hello”. The parents also seem very indulgent of their kids, for what that’s worth, but they kids seem well-behaved nonetheless.
They are also rather taken with M, no doubt because of her fair skin, height, and (if I may say so) beauty. They want to take pictures of her, and with her, quite frequently.
A slightly less wholesome side of this lightness of spirit is the ease with which I’ve seen people here slip into defense or praise of their government, and what might be a complacence about political matters. The propaganda in China, in tourist papers and on TV (and especially regarding the Olympics), is as thick as the air; I need a knife and fork to breathe here sometimes.