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Cross Cultural Viewpoint

I've posted a comment in response to Tim O'Reilly's blog entry The Other Side of China. It has summarized some of my viewpoint about cross cultural issue. So I think I will repost it here.

Right now the West have two opposing view of China. One is China as an enemy, an oppressive government full of hidden agendas to exploit the world and a threat to welfare that the West enjoyed historically. On the other side are people who are fascinated by the long and glorious history of China and are bullish that the industrious people will propel themselves to the center stage of the world. Obviously both side has elements of truth and neither of them have a complete picture. While I don't hold the negative view, I'd say there is merit on those views. Nor do I think people should idealize China because someday they will be disillusioned when they finally see China's limitation.

Having straddle different cultures myself I have formed some theory regarding these cross-cultural interaction. The opinion people make is often a reflection of themselves. A cynical person focus more on negative issues. An optimists focus more on the positive ones. I think the readers of Radar tend more to be optimists and thus will express more positive opinion than the general public.

An universalist see common value among people despite the outward difference. That's why Tim said "The Chinese are very like us". When one find such insight it can often strike a deep chord. I was so moved by Satyajit Ray's film Aparajito. As an urban kid, my life is as different from previous century's Bengali villagers as it can be. Yet I can totally connect the characters, especially with the scene when the mother reluctantly sent the boy off to city for education. There is a kind of love that is universal and transcend above superficial difference.

A discriminator (a poor term perhaps, I use it without any negative connotation) can sense a small difference between different cultures, like the motorcyclist's remark about "family vs. government". They often express frustrations because of the mismatch in people's thinking and expectation. But being discriminatory is not always a bad thing. Something the contrast leads to better self understanding. For example, this person may now realize in his culture the family plays a bigger role than the government, which is not necessary true in other country. This may never crossed his mind if not for this interaction.

These general ideas aside, I think it is extremely interesting to engage with China today because it is one culture undergoing a massive transformation, from impoverished to prosperity, from rural to urban, from isolated to connected. Not all thing in this transformation will be rosy. Nevertheless many new ideas will emerge and countless stories will need narration. I think this is an very interesting time in history.




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