Archive for August, 2012

Chinese Foundational Saying: “Clothes, Eating, House, Traveling”

One of my better Chinese students in the communications course she took this summer wrote about the above saying. I need to find out more about the “Clothes, Eating, House, Traveling,” maybe those are safe topics to talk on. The 38 Chinese students I taught are already into their second week of classes at the liberal arts university they are enrolled in. Some are giving mixed reviews about what they are learning.  One girl student asked on Facebook what she should give a speech on concerning fingernails which would be of interest to her audience.  What a topic! I mentioned she could talk about torture. Turns out this 19 year old Chinese didn’t know what I meant by that.  Just as well.  Some other American friend mentioned that she should talk about the art of fingernail painting, that might get the girls enthused.  Despite the squeamish topic of torture, I think the guys might prefer hearing about that.  The following is more about the differences in communication between cultures:

There are huge differences between the American and Chinese cultures, which directly affects the way people say things and what they talk about. In China, people are taught to be inconspicuous, to not draw too much attention on themselves. So, they will always “give faces” to other people who cannot handle their own situation perfectly; they won’t give a very extreme or straight answer to anyone for fear that they may stand out among the crowd. While Americans are taught to behave in a more direct way, they pretend to be more outstanding than others. They do things to make them better than common people, performing more actively in the group, thinking alone to be a success. The following are examples which shows the situation according to culture.

One example is that if Chinese want to refuse someone who wants to date them, they may not really say “no”, but they will talk with them for a long time, use different kinds of excuses; saying they are quite busy, feel sorry about not dating with them. All in all, they will always “give face” to anyone else (except they are angry about the people who they are talking with). Meanwhile, for Americans, they may feel reluctant to refuse someone directly for fear of making the person feel unwelcome or discriminated again. They will often try to convey their willingness indirectly by saying “it’s not convenient now” or by repeatedly postponing an agreed-upon time for doing something together. (“American Ways” p.26)

Another example is that Chinese people will not say what they really think about, they will never show their heart to a stranger. So, even if Chinese people are desperate for something, they will use words or other ways that make the owner give the thing to them instead of asking for it directly. However, Americans will ask directly if they want it very much, they will not hold back their opinions. Because Americans prefer to get straight to the point rather than do things in a round about way.

When Chinese people meet each other, they may say “Have you eaten?”  They do not actually want to take you to a restaurant if you say “no”, it’s just a beginning to start a conversation. For two Chinese people who know each other they will start the conversation with “Where is good food?” or “When should we eat together?” The reason why Chinese people will start with such topic is that Chinese people consider “eating” is very important thing in their daily life. Here is the saying that conclude the foundational things that Chinese people agree on,” Clothes”, “Eating”,” House”, ” Travelling”.

However, when Americans first meet someone, they will engage in a kind of conversation they call small talk. The most common topic of small talk is the weather. Because it’s the least personal topics they will talk about. (“Americans Ways” p.28). So Americans don’t want to talk too much about their person life. Therefore, it’s important to know the culture of people who you are talking with especially if you want to make friends with that person. Americans do not care about how others look at them, so they are trying to show their own character to others. In conclusion, the way Chinese people talk is really different from Americans.

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China’s “Kaoshan” Could Mean “Your Ship Has Come In”

The following excerpt is the last I’ll write about guanxi. I’m not sure if Kazakhstan has something similar to this concept.  Another word I recall when I lived in China was “homer” which essentially means getting things done through the back door. That might be familiar with Kazakhs who need to accomplish some arduous paperwork like getting a title for their car or trying to leave the country or get things out of customs.  A new vocabulary word I learned from my Chinese student was kaoshan.”   Here’s what a male student wrote about something like “your ship has come in:”

“People from other cultures will act differently when they meet up in various situations. This is because they have received different education or cultural training. They are in different thinking mode when they are in different situations, they will act adversely.

The ‘first come, first served’ is related to the ‘line up’ rule. The general notion is that the person who arrives first gets attention first. Alternative notions such as giving priority to the elderly or the wealthy do not normally occur to equality-minded Americans. Unlike Chinese, they will, however, give priority to people with an obvious physical disability—people in wheelchairs, for example, or on crutches.’ “People who do not go to the end of the line to wait their turn but instead go to the head of the line and try to push their way in front of others will usually evoke a hostile reaction”(p204 American ways)

American people have always been taught they must to obey  the “line up “and they do not to cut in line. Americans are sick of people who cut in line. But people in China always ignore this rule in public and they don’t mind people who cut in line. Even though people from America and China both have been taught to not cut in line,but from different culture they reflect their reactions in different ways.

On a much grander scale of getting ahead is the following quote from “China, Culture Shock.” “The second way to get ahead is to know someone who can help provide a better opportunity for yourself was to know someone in a position of power willing to help you. This is called guanxi and is a very important concept.” (p63)

It is a very Chinese way to be successful. People in China would like to find “the person”  to help them to provide a better chance. “Kaoshan” it is very Chinese word. This is a common word in China, it means “thee person”  or also means “a ship of benefit.” Though, in China, a student always has been taught they need to fight on their own and try their best to make their life go better, still the adults tell their kids the theory of “guanxi”.  However, American children have been taught the same idea about success as the children in China but differently. Their parents and families also teach their American children that if they want to be a success, they must work hard on their own in order to improve for future success. That is different from the Chinese culture.

 “International visitors are often surprised to see how many American teenagers have jobs. The teenagers earn their own money for entertainment, clothes or a car by working in a fast food restaurant, clerking in a shop…from [American] parents’ viewpoint, having a job allows their children to gain valuable training in acting independently.”

This would never appear in China because the Chinese think parents should pay for the fees of their child, it is a natural phenomenon. It is difficult to explain, it has a long reason of history. The ancient Chinese would do this. The modern Chinese just follows the last generation’s way according to their different culture and religion. However, Americans do it their way.”

 

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More examples of “Guanxi” in China

 

Guanxi is an important word in China. It includes a lot of information for history, culture and relationships among people. The Chinese think guanxi is so powerful that it can help them to get a lot of unfinished things accomplished. First of all, a definition of “guanxi” according to Eagan and Weiner (2007) is the following: “…a way to get ahead is to know someone who can help provide a better opportunity…to know someone in a position of power willing to help you.” (p. 63) Perhaps Americans hold to a similar concept of “networking” where we try to meet as many people as possible to maybe help land a job. Maybe for the more outgoing and gregarious, Americans like to have many acquaintances and “friends.”

Over twenty-five years ago, as an unsuspecting American, I had never experienced the power of the word “guanxi.” After living in China in the late 1980s, it was interesting for me to learn more about it.  I believe most westerners may have an idea about what it is like, perhaps akin to “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.”  However, as I learned from my living and teaching in China for two years that it was much more powerful a concept than a random scratch to an occasional itch.  I will provide several examples of when guanxi was used in my experience and how maybe we as Americans might have something similar in principle or practice while being totally unaware of it.

At the time, I did not know why Carolyn (her English name) who was one of my Chinese students, knitted a beautiful green, cabled wool sweater for me. I bought the sufficient amount of skeins of yarn at the store and she did the rest.  Harbin, in the northeastern part of China is known to be very cold and she knew I needed to wear something warm for the oncoming winter.  I do not know that I did anything for her except have her over to practice English.  Later I found out that perhaps I was supposed to help her gain entrance to a university in the U.S.  I wonder about Carolyn these many years later. Every time I had put on that sweater I thought good thoughts about her.

Another instance of how guanxi was used in my case was when Stephen (English name) wanted to practice doing an oil painting portrait of me.  I still have the painting today but I don’t recall doing anything for Stephen except sitting and posing for him for several hours. He told me through his friend that he wanted to practice painting western noses (Dai Baize = BIG nose)  Stephen, as an artist, had been sent out to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and so he had not learned how to speak English. He had been penalized for his talent. Fortunately we were able to communicate through his Chinese friend who was one of my engineering students.  So maybe Stephen wanted to be close to the power structure of my university at Ha Gong Da.  I also still wonder why Stephen went to Dalian with me and my sister and another student to help transport my 3 meter by 4 meter carpet for me that was put in a crate that was about the size of a coffin.  I was never able to repay Stephen for his service mentality of helping me. I never got him a job or found him other people he could paint for profit.

My young Chinese friends, Carolyn and Stephen’s expectations were that I help improve their lives in some way.  According to what Eagan and Weiner (2011), they claim with the beginning of communism, people of authority may not have been paid much in high salaries, but they had prestige and authority given them.  With these privileges of helping others, the senior ranking government officials could amass more power by gaining respect and trust of others under them.

I believe that Americans may be confused by this concept of “guanxi” because we have a different value orientation in place where westerners may do acts of kindness for others without any expectation of it being reciprocated. The following anecdote is what one of my Chinese students wrote about his experiences in China concerning this:

“I have seen many examples of how Chinese depend totally on “GUAN XI”. I have a friend who hadn’t high enough scores to study in high school. And his father found an officer who is a manager in education. Now my friend studies in a famous high school. Also I met a businessman who was ready to apply for a project but he had many opponents. He had a friend who is in the management for this project. Obviously, he got this project at the end.”

 

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“Guanxi” and Chinese Communication at the Dinner Table

I’ve known about this enigmatic concept of “guanxi” since I taught English in Harbin, China back in 1986-88.  I haven’t thought much about this term while teaching English in Ukraine and Kazakhstan and elsewhere since my China experience.  However, this word came up again this summer in the textbooks our Chinese students were using as they oriented to American university life in a communications class. The following is a laudable paper written by an 18 year old female Chinese student explaining what guanxi really is.

Chinese communication of the social dinner

“Communication is an important part of the human life, especially in modern society. Through it, people have a chance to express themselves and get the information they want. It is a normal social activity and communication can happen everywhere. But it still has some important differences in China and the most remarkable condition happens at the dining table.

In Chinese adult society, people can solve many problems at the dinner table. Sometimes in China, the relationship can be even more important than the rule. The demand of solving problems are too difficult to settle by one’s own power, people need to show their deepest respect to someone who is in the authority of position or someone they trust can help them. Therefore, they may have the chance to get help from these powerful people.

So the dinner is not as easy as we take into consideration what is “normal” when there are essential people for you. The words you use should be more impersonal so that you do not say anything that will make others feel displeased, such as, you must address others respectfully. And the pleasant intonation and the smooth speed of talking are also not to be neglected. You need to find the topic you can join in and let your decent speech and demeanor be noticed by others, especially that one rule is the most important. In the meantime, you should also take care of others’ feelings so that you make a whole good impression. A perfect impression is a huge wealth for interpersonal activities, because it will let people trust you and let that important man believe you are a person who is worthy to receive his help.

Non-verbal communication is a very important part in China, because Chinese are always veiled so that they need some unspoken Chinese to express their mind. Showing the good Chinese table manners is an effective way to evince your respect. Another rule is the seat which is the farthest from the door is considered the most honorable place. You should let the most important person sit there. When food comes, you should let that person get the food first and you always need to drink much wine to show your sincerity. During the dinner time, you need to let that person feel good about you from beginning to end. It demands you to be very careful and polite to treat others, because “non-verbal cues in China are often more subtle than in the West.” (Eagan & Weiner, 2007, p. 218)

The appearance of these situations in China is known as GUANXI. Guanxi is “the way to get ahead is to know someone who can help provide a better opportunity. Through the advent of Communism, the best way to create an opportunity for yourself was to know someone in a position of power willing to help you (Eagan & Weiner, 2007, p.63)”.  This is a very important keyword for Chinese because they need to build the guanxi when they are in contact with others. It’s different from American values about individualism, which is “a key European, American (and Canadian and Australian) value, places importance on the individual rather than the family or work team or other group (Nakayama Martin, 2011, p.15-16)”. Because primarily guanxi reflects that Chinese always think more about gregariousness and cooperation.

In conclusion, a dinner party has special meaning in China because it is a channel for people to find effective help in a relaxing environment. This kind of social intercourse is based on Chinese cultural background, because of Chinese cautious character but also the favorable opinion of guanxi. Through your cultivated style of conversation and behavior, you can leave a nice impression on the person who can potentially help you. Build the relationship with him and let it become the social resource for you, so that you can get the help from him. And it also means you obtain the success on the table today.”

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Another Take on Differences of Education between China and U.S.

My former 38 Chinese students continue to amaze me.  One was recently having trouble with Amazon.com, she claimed she HATED it. What she thought she ordered was a brand new book but it had a broken spine and obviously used.  She ranted to me by instant messaging, “I’m not blind, I can tell this is not a new book.”  I advised her to write to the seller at Amazon and register her complaint.  She should get her money back but I told her she has to be assertive and proactive.  This happened within two months of their arrival to the U.S., she will learn she has to take action.

Here is another student’s thoughts on the differences between education in China and the U.S. Read yesterday’s blog that is similar:

Professor-Student Relationships

“Becoming an International students in US university,I am really concerned about how to have good performance in my academic career. It seems like there are many things I should pay attention to, and one of the most important point is the Professor-Student relationships in an American university.

As my small research through my high school classmates who study abroad, many of them are confused about how to have good relationships with their professors. Gary Althen(2011) answered the question that why this relationship complicated with the following analysis, “Differing ideas about formality and respect frequently complicate relationships between American professors and students from abroad, especially Asian students (and most especially female Asian students).” International students’ confusion can focus on one behavior, that is, showing respect.

My Chinese friend, April, a student in College of William and Mary, made a “joke” these days. She contacted with her professor through E-mail and one day her professor told her that she can be more relaxed in communication with him. She felt perplexed. After showing me the E-mails, I found that she wrote “Thank you very much, professor” eleven times in just one E-mail! April said she really want to show her respect and thankfulness to the professor, but maybe professor thought it could be a little strange.

Actually, according to my 2-week-experience in my Communication, Media, and Rhetoric class, it could be quite different of relationship of professors and students between China and America. I think this may result from learning styles and teaching styles which was explained by Martin(2011) that,” The culture clash over learning styles (the different ways that students learn in different cultures) and teaching styles (the styles that instructors use to teach) is common as students increasingly travel to study in other cultures.” In China, learning and teaching style is more inflexible that students often need to sit quietly and receive knowledge which instructors give without asking or challenging the material and professor may become uncomfortable because of students’ interruption so the relationship between professor and students is likely to be unequal in class. That means, a professor gets power and a student should have high regard for professor. But in America, as I know, there is a style that students and professor can be put at the same position to have a discussion in every class about the topic. It is welcome for students to have objections and other opinions and this style leads to a more friendly relationship in which professors can be regarded as an old and intelligent friend.

Many Chinese students are afraid of being impolite and disrespectful maybe because of the relationship they have experienced in China. But, their behavior is not a good way to improve the relationship between them and their American professor. They feel odd to call professor’s first name instead of Doctor and his or her last name (Some professors may not want their students to do that, it depends on the American.) or to raise your hand to show your different view in class, and even to shout out the answer the professor needs. Effectively, these are behaviors many professors are glad to see their students show.

Finally, I would like to point out that I did surveys of my friends who are older than me and have been studying for several years in American universities. I appreciated seeing that most of them can adapt to their new environment, be confident and active in classes, and keep a good relationship of their professors.”

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Differences of education between China and America

One of our more astute students in this summer’s orientation program for 38 Chinese students spelled out the differences he saw in education:

“Every country has has its own style of education. In China students study many kinds of subjects from primary school,they study for passing the tests and graduate from school and finding a job. In China, the most important exam is the university entrance exam. It will decide which university you can enter and it will effect your job in the future. “Anybody can get into college in the USA” which was said by Malaysians. It is true and if you want to graduate from the university of USA you should get enough credits, so you must study if you want to graduate. In China,it is hard to enter the college,but it is easier to graduate than the universities of USA.

Students’ reaction in the class are also different between China and America.I have studied in the university for 1 week now and I have found American students are more active than Chinese students. Maybe Chinese students come to a strange situation may be one reason why they are silent in the class. But as being a Chinese student for 14 years, i think it is not the focal point. Because in China when teachers ask a question there will be few students who will answer the question actively. Most students will be silent, just sit there and look at the teacher. Not like the American students will stand up quickly and call out excitedly, “Pick me, pick me.” This kind of situation only appears in Chinese primary school. I think it is because Chinese education focus more on the exam than the students’ ability at ordinary time.

In the USA professors may put more emphasis on the students’ ordinary ability and I feel that American students get on with professors well,they just like friends.They can call professors’ name like we can call Dr._________ only common name of “Tony!” In China there is a estrangement between professors or teachers and students.We are asked to call teacher DR.*** or sir/madam.Maybe this is a reason why Chinese students keep silence in the class,not because of “Silence is golden.”

In China students are always studying in the classroom,there is few social practice and the subjects in senior high school there will be only 4 at last, so it is boring when you always learn these 4 subjects all the day. Students become inanimate, they only know how to pass the exam.It is the disadvantage of Chinese education.

Many rich men like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs….they succeeded in their enterprise but they had not finished their academic studies in college. And it has many examples in USA, but there are few in China. In China people regard degree as more important than one’s real ability, so it is hard to appear a talent who can carve out without graduating from high degree. It will bury many talents and it is a kind of outflow of talents. In USA,there is more free space to learn, that is one reason why many people in China want to study in USA.

It is just my opinion about the difference of education between China and America.And there are many other ways to know the difference between the Chinese and American culture, not only from the education,but also the other culture like food or language.”

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More Chinese Students’ Impressions (Part III)

The last of the bunch, our 38 Chinese students traveled to the Twin Cities in order to experience the American “fine arts.”

Mewtwo – On July 28th, we went to Minnesota Institute of Art. This is a great place that we can see many Asian arts including arts from China, Japan and Korea. I’m impressed that both Japanese and Korean arts come from China. For example, there are many Chinese characters in them and I can even understand what’s the meaning of the arts and the thoughts of the artists! It is really an amazing experience because I didn’t go to an institute when I was in China! There is a Chinese ancient library in the institute and I just felt I went back to ancient China. These fine arts give us full of knowledge and tell us what is like before. By the way, nearly all of the Chinese have a Tang Dynasty dream. Not only Tang Dynasty is very powerful, but also it is such a peaceful dynasty that makes most people have time to concentrate on literature and arts. Seeing these arts, I think we should continue creating great arts and take good care of them at present. I’m sure that people will be amazed by these arts thousand years later and they will see what it is like today.

Shawn – It is a perfect weekend in the twin cities. Actually, it was my first time to carefully see, know and feel the American cities. I have a lot of words in my mind.

To see the Minneapolis from faraway, it looks like an island where the middle part is made up of tall buildings. The Mississippi flows through the two city. It makes the city more alive. Besides, many people love riding bikes what makes me feel the city’s vitality.

It was very enjoyable about the trip to Minneapolis institute of art. Because, I saw lots of familiar things which came from China. The Jade Mountain is my favorite boulder in the museum. It comes from Shaoxing in China. One part of the stone is engraved the Lan T’ing Pavilion which is a very beautiful poem. Another amazing thing is the Sun In The Mist created by Monet. He is my favorite impressionist painter.

After that, I went to the theater to watch the show “Noises off”. I love the theater. I looks like the same one what I have seen one in the film. Many old people sat there and the red curtain made a strong sense of esthetic. Although the fast words are hard to understand, I knew the meaning of show. The performances are very humorous. Their expressions are very plentiful.

Flora – This weekend, we went to the Twin Cities to explore the fine art of this state. Our first destination is the art museum. I did not have the chance to see all of the valuable arts, but what made me so excited was the Chinese work of art. Such as the painting of Tibet, the sculpture of Lan Ting Su, the ancient house in China and the pottery figurine. Although I am familiar with all of them, I cannot tell what the truth within them. I am proud to these arts that are cherished in other land. In the past, I can only hear these introduction in Chinese. This is so special for me to hear what the foreigners think about China.

In the afternoon we went to the theater to watch the sunshine boys. It was a living theatre with the real props. We can see them as it happens in our real life. In China, the drama is played by different voices and special gestures to present different feelings. They are totally different

Angela – Experience in Twin cities – This weekend, we went to the twin cities, which is a very beautiful city. The first day, we visited the Art Museum. There are various kinds of art from different countries. Jade-ware and calligraphy are from China, some painting about middle-time in Europe from Europe, some traditional things from Japan, etc. The person who explained cultural relics to us explained the STORAGE BOTTLE with 6,000 old first. It was used to be full of water. The second was DEEP JAR, which was used to cooking, is 4500 years old. From Japan, the docent told us the STEM CUP, which is beautiful with 3000 years old. Because of the limit of time, we knew a bit about our own culture.

Iris – We came to Minneapolis for three days, that was so clean and prosperous here.

About the art museum, the docent led us to see many kinds of culture, such as China, Japan, Europe and so on. Actually, I saw some different things of China in this museum from I had seen before. For example, ceremonial stem cup is I haven’t see it before, which is made for sacrifice between 3000-2000B.C. It was made from soil but looks like metal, that is amazing. Another things were also amazed us, dress of middle century Europe, statue, Lan Ting Su on the Nephrite etc.

We saw the play “Noises off” that was unexpected. When I saw act one, I thought I can’t understand what they wanted to show, but in act two and three, I knew what their means, it was depends on the actor and actress wonderfully performance.

Kevin – Today I have watched a living theatre called ‘The Sunshine Boy’. I felt very excited to watch such a funny play. What gives me a good experience that not only the funny story line, but also the difference between the American arts and Chinese fine arts.

Although it was the first time I watched a living theatre in a theatre and no experience about Chinese fine arts in a living show, I also feel the difference on the way that the actors and the actresses show the story lines and characters’ personality. The way that American actors show is very flexible. They create and design their own actions with their own life experience. So I think that American arts are closer to the real life and make audiences enjoy the show. On the other hand, the way that Chinese actors show is very rigid and traditional. Actually most of these kinds of actors have their own master. They have studied a kind of Chinese fine arts when they are very young. The styles of arts what they show has been rooted. So the arts what they show are nearly the same as others. The other reason what l think is that most of these Chinese fine arts’ fans want to recall the memory they have. So we can understand the phenomenon that only the old man go to the theatre to watch a show.

To sum up, different cultures make different styles of arts. All we need to do is just that show your respect and enjoy it .

 

 

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