What is cultural clash? The other day, I was talking about this question with my American friend Michael while walking down the street when all of a sudden a bike crashed into me and knocked me down. The cyclist was scared. He apologized again and again and asked me how I felt. I just smiled and said, “I’m fine, don’t worry”. And then we waved goodbye.
After he left, Michael looked confused. “I don’t understand. You’re just gonna let him walk away? In America, I would sue him.” I explained, “Well, in Chinese culture, forgiving is the golden rule. Confucius told us 2000 years ago that we should restrain ourselves and reflect on our own faults. I wasn’t being careful, so I can’t blame him.” Michael thought for a while and said: “In our culture, we focus more on justice and truth, not virtues. But I think your Chinese way can work better sometimes. It solves problems in a soft way. I’ve learned something from you, master shifu.”
The sudden bicycle crash revealed a cultural clash, but through communication, our disagreement ended up in peaceful coexistence. We agreed because we disagreed. In this time of globalization, the cultural clashes between China and the west reveal themselves everywhere—in transnational companies, during overseas study, or on the headline of newspapers. Different languages can lead to miscommunication, different values can lead to misinterpretation, and different customs can lead to misunderstanding.
Cultural clashes are inevitable, but they are not necessarily harmful. They sharpen our sense of identity; they make us think about who we are and how we got here. They keep our culture alive and fresh, giving sparks to Chinese culture by absorbing new elements.
In fact, what matters is not how to avoid cultural clash, but how do we react to it. History has already taught us a lesson. Passively resisting western culture made us fall behind the rest of the world. In turn, isolation made us vulnerable; and Chinese culture went into crisis after cutting itself out. Segregation led to distrust and even resentment, and finally exemplified the tension in 19th and 20th century. Trying to eliminate differences will ruin cultural diversity. And therefore, facing the cultural clash is the only way out.
The clash of cultures is not the end of a conversation, but the beginning of more effective communication. After a culture clash, the hidden differences and conflicts become visible. We should seize the chance to truly communicate, dialogue through the differences, gain mutual understanding, and finally achieve cultural coexistence.
Three months later, I’ll be studying in Australia as an exchange student. I will be on the frontline of many cultural clashes. Only this time; I’ll be the confused foreigner immersing myself in a very different culture. But I’m sure when a clash happens; I will try to understand it and seek a better way to communicate, and finally make two cultures coexist peacefully. One day, when my friend shows me how to solve a problem better, in a western way, I will gladly say, “I’ve learned something from you, mate!”