General Question

Plone3000's avatar

Is it an insult in China to be called an old man and/or a monkey?

Asked by Plone3000 (668points) September 7th, 2011

A international student from China said I looked like a old man(I am only 19). When she told me this I was very upset, but she then explaned that in China being called a old man is a complement. She said it was a complement because old men are “cute, wise, and smart.” She is my friend, so she is nice and honest, but she is a tease. Is she just pulling my leg or is looking like a “old man” really a good thing?

The same girl has a friend who is also Chinese. This other girl thinks I look like a monkey. The girl who said I look like a monkey as opposed to the first girl, does not like me, I don’t think. Yet the girl who thinks I look like a old man assured me that “monkey” too, is a complement. So are they both complements, both insults, or somewhere in between?

Please do not answer this question unless you are Chinese or have a good understanding of chinese culture. I want acurate answers, Thanks!

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7 Answers

Coloma's avatar

It is true that the elderly are much more revered and respected in Chinese ( Asian ) culture and monkeys are seen as wise, sooo, I wouldn’t read too deeply into it.

I am fairly well versed in Asian culture, though I am a blonde american woman, I have traveled and spent time with Chinese and Taiwanese people and I would not overly obsess on this.

IF, you continue to feel “insulted” then, pay attention, but watch for your own insecurities to arise.

Plone3000's avatar

@Coloma, thank you very much. I do know that the elderly are respected, and I know of the great Chinese Epic “The Monkey King”. I like how you, as do I, enjoy Chinese culture(I have been there once) even though we are American! Perhaps you are right, maybe I am being too insecure.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Eyebrow hair is one example of how many Chinese approach the subject of age. Eyebrows get longer as most men age. In America, they trim them off, but in China, long eyebrows are seen as a byproduct of old age and thus distinguished. There was a famous director who took advantage of this and had his primary character’s eyebrow hair grow very long and capable of doing magical things.


Hmmm…..I’ve never heard those terms used as compliments ever before. I am very familiar with Chinese culture (my Dad is Chinese), and I grew up among a lot of Chinese people, but I’ve never heard someone use “old man” or “monkey” to compliment someone else.

I do know that in Chinese culture, the old are very well-respected. Being old means being “wise”, and that Confucian principles dictate filial piety and ancestor worship. Young people are expected to show the utmost respect to their elders. For example, when you hand something over to an older person, you’re suppose to hand it over with two hands, not one. If you meet your older Uncle or another older relative, you’re suppose to greet them right away with their name, and not expect the older person to greet you first.

But with the word “monkey”? In Chinese culture, it’s a term used to poke fun at someone, in a light-hearted manner. If I say “he’s a real monkey” in Chinese, I’m not poking fun of his looks, however. I’m describing how much of a “prankster” or mischievous person he is. It’s a term usually reserved for young males, to describe their impy behavior and personality, not their appearance.

The Chinese like to poke fun among themselves. It’s not really a big deal. One term that they use to compliment, which many people here in America would find offensive, is the term “fat boy”.

When I was young, I used to be on the chubby side. All the older Chinese used to see me and call me “fat boy”. Being born here, I was not aware that this was a compliment. I felt hurt at times. When I explained this to my Dad, he told me that being called fat boy is good. It means you are living a good life, and that you’re not impoverished and starving. It means you have money, because you got enough to eat, hence your fatness! Lol.

CaptainHarley's avatar


I had never heard the monkey thing used as a compliment either.

dreamwolf's avatar

I think she just meant mature. Would it tickle you if she thought you were cute like a 6 year old toddler? Exactly..

CaptainHarley's avatar

Six-year-olds are no longer “toddlers!” Heh!

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