Let Chi­nese not be livid at cul­tural gaffes

Global Times - - VIEWPOINT - By Lilly Wang

It is hard to say whether 40 years of re­form and open­ing-up have changed the Chi­nese peo­ple’s at­ti­tude to­ward for­eign­ers.

China has a huge pop­u­la­tion. The un­der­stand­ing of an alien cul­ture de­pends on in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ence and how much one has been ex­posed to cir­cum­stances that show the orig­i­nal side of for­eign cul­ture. Peo­ple gen­er­ally like to stereo­type which could lead to mis­un­der­stand­ing.

In met­ro­pol­i­tan cities, there are some Chi­nese who re­gard or­di­nary Western­ers as su­per­stars to have a photo with, as well as look up to Chi­nese who pre­vi­ously lived over­seas and speak many lan­guages. Their flat­ter­ing at­ti­tude to­ward for­eign­ers spans a wide range.

Un­like the US or Aus­tralia, China is not a coun­try built on im­mi­gra­tion. The rules and laws here have been framed largely for Chi­nese with a sim­i­lar cul­tural back­ground. Some reg­u­la­tions have not yet been up­dated to match the fast pace of de­vel­op­ment of an in­ter­na­tional metro city. There­fore, for­eign­ers are treated dif­fer­ently.

China’s huge mar­ket and in­creas­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties have at­tracted more and more for­eign­ers to come here to work, study and live. It con­trib­utes to en­rich­ing Chi­nese peo­ple’s life­style and en­cour­ages more cul­tural ex­change. How­ever, the mix of cul­tural shock and pa­tri­o­tism in re­ac­tion to mis­takes by a global brand has trig­gered an in­ter­na­tional con­tro­versy. It is still ques­tion­able whether cross­cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tions have im­proved af­ter these in­ci­dents re­ceived in­tense me­dia at­ten­tion.

Chi­nese should be all for mu­tual re­spect and cul­tural recog­ni­tion, but an “apol­ogy” un­der pres­sure may only tem­po­rar­ily con­sole our feel­ings, but not nec­es­sar­ily help win the re­spect we want.

We have to ac­cept there are many in the world with lit­tle knowl­edge about China or a su­per­fi­cial im­pres­sion of Chi­nese cul­ture, even though the news about China’s rise is all over for­eign me­dia.

Dur­ing my over­seas travel, I met a lo­cal Scot who thought Tokyo was in China, and an Amer­i­can who kept call­ing me Korean af­ter I said I was from Bei­jing. I knew they cer­tainly had no in­ten­tion to in­sult me. Should I get of­fended be­cause they were not well ed­u­cated and lacked ba­sic knowl­edge?

If Western fash­ion de­sign­ers pre­fer tra­di­tional clothes from the Tang Dy­nasty or the Han Dy­nasty in­stead of the Qing Dy­nasty, would we be less an­gry with them? They are all part of Chi­nese his­tory. Why should we crit­i­cize Western de­sign­ers who take el­e­ments from Qing Dy­nasty when drama about the dy­nasty on Chi­nese TV has cap­tured hearts?

If we are an­gry that Western women do not wear the Chi­nese qi­pao in the way we do, should Western­ers feel in­sulted at Chi­nese brides in Western wed­ding dress not get­ting mar­ried in the church?

A suc­cess­ful com­pany would not put their busi­ness at risk by de­lib­er­ately in­sult­ing its big­gest cus­tomer group.

Be­fore we get mad at for­eign­ers who made mis­takes de­pict­ing our cul­ture, we should un­der­stand why the er­rors were made. It could prob­a­bly be stereo­typ­ing. Some­what like many Chi­nese be­lieve in clichés like bull­fight­ing rep­re­sents Spain, all French are ro­man­tic, or all English are gen­tle­men. It is cul­tural mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion un­der dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments. If for­eign­ers make mis­takes re­lated to our cul­ture, we should laugh over them and in­vite them to China.

If the Chi­nese truly want an apol­ogy, it should be a sin­cere one and must be based on mu­tual un­der­stand­ing. We need to work on how to de­velop more Chi­nese cul­tural in­flu­ences, how to en­gage in bet­ter cul­tural ex­change with other coun­tries and how to de­velop our soft power through cul­ture.

More im­por­tantly, the Chi­nese need to have more con­fi­dence in their cul­ture. China is a big coun­try with gen­eros­ity and tol­er­ance and the Chi­nese should not stoop to the level of those who lack knowl­edge about a new China.

We need pa­tri­o­tism to unite ev­ery­one to­gether and make our coun­try stronger, but we do not need ex­treme pa­tri­o­tism to sep­a­rate us from the world. When pa­tri­o­tism goes too far, it may be­come racism.

Chi­nese value gen­tle­ness, friend­li­ness and mod­esty. They need to un­der­stand that there are many for­eign­ers who also master the use of chop­sticks, and their cul­ture is equally im­por­tant to us. We need to re­spect their cul­ture in China as a good start.

The au­thor is a Bei­jing-based jour­nal­ist. She lived in Syd­ney from 2014 to 2016. opin­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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