Great insight into Chinese culture and way of thinking

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, November 4, 2011
Adjust font size:

As East and West become more and more interlinked and China's position in the global economy advances, cultural understanding is becoming more of a prevalent issue. Yang Liu's depiction of cultural differences in "East meets West" demonstrates, through a series of graphics, the major differences in thought, behavior and image between the two sides of the world. Having lived for many years in Germany, Yang Liu takes her experience of the German culture and psyche and compares it with that of her native China. What results is an evocative and easily-digestible pocket book which, for anyone who has experience of these two contrasting cultures, is amusingly accurate. Although a book of limited words, "East meets West" is thoughtprovoking in its seeming simplicity. The book doesn't target one culture as being "different" but instead shows attitudes of both and allows the viewer to form an opinion. A personal favorite is the section entitled "waiting in a queue" which shows an orderly line of dots on the blue German page and a large unorganized cluster on the red Chinese page; it is simple and yet, in my experience, culturally astute.

Over the past 25 years, China's influence on the world, particularly in the context of business, has grown considerably. It is becoming increasingly important to understand the cultural nuances of the Chinese people. One of the biggest factors ingrained within Chinese culture and history, dating back to before the age of Confucius, is the concept of mianzi - the preservation of face. This is of paramount importance in every single aspect of Chinese life and is a crucial factor when building relationships with the Chinese, whether it's on a business, personal or base level. As a Chinese proverb states, "A person needs a face like a tree needs bark." To lose face is to lose social status and respect, yet it is something that is misunderstood or completely overlooked by many foreigners who come into contact with the Chinese.

Saving face in China

I recently had the privilege of interviewing author and journalist Anne-Laure Monfret about her first book, "Saving Face in China," which has recently been translated from French into English. The first of its kind, "Saving Face in China" deals with the complexities of mianzi with the aim of building more of an "understanding, respect and openness toward those who do not necessarily work or think the same way you do, or share the same values," Monfret said.

Monfret lived in Shanghai for eight years and her love for China could not be more evident. When asked to summarize what she feels she's learned from her time in China, she states: "I really feel attached to China and the people, China is really a big part of my life. If I see someone losing patience or getting angry I see it as a sign of weakness. I wasn't like that before."

This concept is a resonating theme of the book, which teaches through a series of amusing encounters, interviews and commentaries, that the biggest factor in mianzi is mutual respect. "This is a universal concept," Monfret says. "No one likes to be disrespected or criticized in public, but in China it's so much more important."

Indeed, while reading the book, I often found myself thinking about the complicated and heavily interwoven concept of mianzi. "Saving Face in China" covers all of the main areas of importance and these areas span a surprisingly large breadth - some examples being truth, gift giving and respecting hierarchy.

The book is very well researched, consisting of interviews with a variety of nationalities and professions, conducted over a series of years. In addition to being informative, it is an uplifting book to read as it provides a level of context to situations that all foreigners living in China have experienced at one point or another.

It allows you to "reflect upon the experience of others," Monfret states, "to learn from it and, last but not least, to have a great read."

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from