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香港大学戴乐天:Cultural clashes vs Coexistence between China and the West: My Personal Perspective
日期: 2012-04-20





Honorable judges, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.  Today I would like to express my thoughts on how to strike a balance between avoiding cultural clashes whilst promoting cross-cultural coexistence between China and the West.  But first of all, I would like to share with you a joke which my English teacher told me in the past.  A British man one says, “I had to go to my granddad's funeral last week.” A Chinese replies, “I’m sorry to hear that.” Then the Brit tells the Chinese, “Don’t be.  It was the first time he ever paid for the drinks.”

From the lack of laughter from the audience, I am sure that you all feel the embarrassment I had when I first heard the joke and did not understand it.  To many of us, we find it rude and rather outrageous to make such disrespectful comments on one’s loss of family member; but we do not understand the Brit is actually trying to bury and conceal his emotions and grief with humor.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is one perfect example of a cultural clash.  Cultural clashes arise when the values and practices of two or more cultures disagree, contradict or repel with each other.  Sometimes it results in jokes, misunderstandings and discomfort, but in serious cases, disputes and conflicts may occur.  The joke I have just mentioned is only the tip of the iceberg of cultural clashes between China and the western world. Kissing on the cheek and hugging as ways to greet people are the common practice among friends in the West, but are not widely accepted in Chinese society, and are considered intrusive and over intimate. Whereas Chinese traditional culture encourages humility and modesty, self-deprecation in the West, especially in the United Kingdom, is more often used for humor.

Ladies and gentlemen, cultural clashes also occur when Westerners have certain misconceptions about Chinese culture. Take for example, bird’s nest is a Chinese delicacy made primarily of swifts’ saliva, but do you know that this delicious, protein-rich dessert is sometimes called bird spit in the West and they consider it as a disgusting food?  In formal business occasions, Western values reject the Chinese way of relying on personal relations and connections to do business and will usually insist on having black and white contracts.

So dear audience, with such distinctive cultural differences between China and the West, how can we avoid these cultural clashes?  Should we simply ignore them or prevent them from happening at the initial stage?  My answer is no.  Cultural clashes are inevitable if we want to maintain cross-cultural interactions and communications.  In fact what is the harm in having cultural clashes?  Through experiencing cultural clashes, we learn a lot more about the uniqueness and charm of another culture at the cost of just a few seconds of embarrassment or discomfort.  The most important of all is our attitudes.  Both sides should not hold hostile opinions against the other’s culture, but be friendly and have faith in cultural coexistence.  Only through interaction and cultural coexistence can we further mitigate the chances of cultural clashes in the future, and only through reducing cultural clashes can we build a harmonious and prosperous global village.

Thank you.

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