Skip to main content

Confrontation, Pressure, Expectation - Interpersonal Relationships in Chinese Culture (Part I)


Thanks to the economic growth of East Asia and China's opening up in the Deng Xiaoping era, from the 1980's onward the relationship between the Western world and East Asia has fundamentally changed. As a consequence, the contact between Western and Asian people has been steadily intensifying. Business people, students, professionals, tourists are among the protagonists of this new era of exchange, which is more and more 'democratic', in the sense that while in the past the movement was mostly from East to West, now the opposite case is not a rarity any more. The 2008 financial crisis even prompted a new wave of expatriation of Westerners towards Asia, in search for jobs that the troubled Western economies seem unable to offer to their young population. 

Traditionally, economic power has attracted the interest of Westerners more than culture. When Japan was growing at a pace the West had never dreamt of, media were obsessed with Japan. When the Japanese economy collapsed,  however, the interest in Japan in many respects collapsed, too. Nowadays there are by no means as many best-selling books or documentaries about this country as one could find back in the years of the Japanese economic miracle. In the last decade, China has taken its place. 

This phenomenon shows that the focus of the knowledge Westerners are desirous to acquire about East Asia is mainly of economic and political nature.  

But what about culture? What do we really know about these countries except for how much they grow per year or whether they are Western-style democracies? It is not surprising that, for example, most Westerners know very little about Japanese mentality and society, despite more than a hundred years of intense contact and a lot of books and articles written about it. Main-stream media are more likely to focus on economy, politics, some surface characteristics like food or things that appear different and strange to the average Westerner, thus creating a misleading image of those countries. 

One reason why this happens is that talking about culture is way more strenuous than talking about economics or politics. In fact, culture is one of the most difficult things to describe. In view of the fact that every country has millions of people with different experiences, opinions and personality, it is hard not to generalize and oversimplify. 

When I talk with people who want to know more about my home country, Italy, for example, they seem to assume that I have the authority to say something in the name of all Italians. But if they talk with other Italians, they will soon find out that people from the same country often contradict each other. Not even nationals of the same country can have a 100% agreement on their own culture and identity. 

Nevertheless, even though it's impossible to analyze the culture of a country in a 'scientific' way, that is, in a way that leaves no space for disagreement and criticism, there are indeed interpretations that can help us deal with a foreign culture. 

An example of successful attempt at cultural analysis is The Chrysanthemum and the Sword by Ruth Benedict, one of my favourite books and in my opinion one of the most enlightening works on Japanese culture ever written. Reading this book is like being guided by someone to put together the pieces of a puzzle. 

I certainly don't have either the knowledge, the talent or the time to write an analysis as deep as Ruth Benedict's. Yet after one year in Asia I think I can at least attempt to explain some of the conclusions I have drawn from my observations so far, in the hope they might be interesting or useful to you. Starting with the next post, I will examine the phenomena of social pressure and expectation in Chinese culture.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Rumours About Chinese Actress Fan Bingbing's Arrest Spread Online

Rumours about the arrest of Chinese model and actress Fan Bingbing on charges of tax evasion have spread on Chinese media.
As Apple Daily reports, celebrity Fan Bingbing and her younger brother Fan Chengcheng have allegedly been detained for taking part in a tax evasion scheme alongside her manager, Mu Xiaoguang.
Mu has also allegedly been charged with destroying incriminating evidence.

On May 28 TV anchor Cui Yongyuan posted on Weibo a contract that showed Fan Bingbing being paid $1.56 million (RMB10 million) for four days’ work on director Feng Xiaogang's film “Cell Phone 2.” 

Later Cui released another contract worth $7.8 million (RMB50 million) for the same work. He alleged that Fan had declared to tax authorities only the first contract, thus avoiding to pay taxes on the second, larger amount. 

Double-contracts for the purpose of tax evasion are known in China as "yin-yang contracts". 

Although the Chinese government censored Cui's posts, in early June China's t…

Why Liberals Should Embrace Fair Trade, Debate Role Of Tariffs

On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver made fun of Donald Trump's tariffs and mocked him for not understanding how free trade works.  
Oliver noted that tariffs are paid by importers and typically passed along to US consumers, leading to higher prices. Tariffs could cost the US hundreds of thousands of jobs, Oliver argued. 
Trade deficits "aren't actually always bad, and many economists believe, for very complex reasons involving savings rates and the dollar's special status as the world's reserve currency, that America's trade balance might be more or less where it should be," he said.
Oliver argued that "the overwhelming consensus among economists is that trade between countries generally speaking can create jobs, lower costs, and be a net benefit to both nations." 
But is John Oliver right?

We shall argue that although Trump's tariffs lack a clear strategy and are therefore not the right path for the US, tariffs…

Chinese Dissidents Found Shanghai Independence Party, Oppose Communist Rule

A group of Chinese dissidents has founded a new party that challenges the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and advocates Shanghai independence. 
Since Xi Jinping took office in 2012, the Chinese government has tightened its grip on civil society and the media, cracking down on free speech, hardening its stance towards Taiwan and launching an all-out assault on Uighur society. However, the Party's increasingly oppressive policies are causing a backlash. 
In the United States a group of Chinese dissidents have formed the Shanghai National Party (上海民族黨), also called Humindang (滬民黨), from the character Hu (滬), the short name for Shanghai. 
「上海民族黨」在紐約成立 反共並要求上海獨立 https://t.co/KQEzGIEDqgpic.twitter.com/IHOwIeuUKe — RFI 華語 - 法國國際廣播電台 (@RFI_TradCn) August 12, 2018

The party, registered on July 18 in New York, United States, promotes the overthrow of the Communist regime and the independence of Shanghai. The slogan of the party is: "Leave China, return to Europe, compreh…