Thoughts on Inter-cultural Communication


Recently, I visted a blog posted in Caijin online by a Chinese student.  While I agree with what she said, the crux of the matter  is not due to cultural misunderstanding, but blatant anti-China propaganda by the Western media. If it happened elsewhere, it will never be something newsworthy. They just have to had the mud thrown at China  and hoped some  will stick. Clearly past Olympic events and other major outdoor public events were not free from miming too (just too many things will go wrong in live situations if pre-recorded songs are not used). However, it is sad that many people (including friends or people I know) just swallowed such propaganda hook line and sinker.  

  I attended one of the forums chaired by the London Mayor Boris Johnson recently. The discussion touched on the Olympic game hosting in 2012 by London. The Mayor asked the audience to raise their hands if they thought that the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony would be better than the 2008 Beijing one. Less than 20% of the British audience raised their hands.   Some of those who did not raise their hands laughed with typical self-depreciating British sense of humour.
   This comes as an indication to me that the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony is one of the most successful events in enhancing the image of China in recent history. However, there are hiccups and difficulties.
   To start with, there was the media fiasco of the miming girl on the stage and the singing girl behind the scene.
   What surprised me is not that the Western media took a certain view.  It is the lack of responses from the Chinese intellectual circle and the cultural inferiority syndrome suffered by some Chinese media professionals that alarmed me the most. There was virtually no audible voice in objecting the judgemental view on this issue by the Western media from a Chinese prospective.  It even became fashionable for Chinese media people to follow the influence and start to criticise the director of the event for being artificial.
   One of the core values of Confucius philosophy is that people should be assigned to specific tasks that can best utilise a person’s talent.  The guests should be presented with the best things that a host can offer.  The little girl who was behind the scene might be slightly Camera-shy and the little girl who was miming might be considered more confident in front of a large audience.  After all, not everyone has a natural ability to appear to be at ease on stage. The director in making the decision might have been focusing on each individual child’s strength and the girls, by performing the task to their best ability, might have also been proud and focusing on their own talents and strengths. In any case, the little girl behind the scene might have been perfectly happy with the role that she had been assigned to, until of course, the journalists came along and started pointing fingers and emphasizing on the reason why the "poor girl" was not chosen to be the front face was because she was not considered pretty enough. The journalists applied their own obsession with the images to a different cultural setting.
   The last thing I heard was that the little singing girl now had a Chinese PR firm working for her to promote her in various shows in China. Is this the positive outcome of the Western media reportage? I am not entirely sure. I am slightly worried that an originally innocent little girl is now riding on the idea of endless self-promotion.
   While Western civilisation focuses more on individualism, Chinese culture emphasises, in relative terms, more on the spirit of individual being part of a community.  Mutual understanding is preferable than forcing one value system on the other.
   "You have invited your guests to a state banquet. Only to find out later that the guests turned around accusing you that the food you prepared was not Organic.  " Not an entirely appropriate analogy, I know. But I am sure that you’ve got the point.  Inter-cultural communication is an art which is sometimes full of regret. The world would become a more harmonious place if cross-cultural communication could be based on the understanding of the diverse nature of the cultural norms. 



About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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