Okay, brace yourselves, another incredibly random blog coming your way. So ‘off the wall’ I had to seek special permission from my boss (CSA David) to even be allowed to write it.
So what’s this week’s topic of madness? Well, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the cultural differences between China and the West in my China FAQ blog. All these comparisons triggered a memory about a TV show I used to watch many moons ago by the name of ‘Firefly’. For those who don’t know or don’t remember what Firefly was, it was Fox Network TV series starring Nathan Fillion set in the future about a renegade set of war veterans (on the losing side) who had become lowly paid mercenaries flying around the galaxy on an aging, but unique spaceship called ‘Serenity’.
So how does this have anything to do with China?
Firefly fans will note that in order to keep its early slot on American TV, yet retain its adult humour and wit, the cast of Firefly often spoke Chinese to each other in poor American accents, especially when they wanted to insult someone or something. The series delved a little deeper into this apparent ‘joke use’ of Chinese, revealing that a future Earth in 500 – 1000 years time would only have two remaining sovereign countries. Those of course being the USA and China, thus the spacefaring human race would have a perfect hybrid of Western (American) and Eastern (Chinese) culture and linguistics.
So why is this blog worthy then? Well, the topic got me wondering, if in the not to distance future, a Firefly-esc scenario were to unfold and Chinese & Western cultures were to collide and merge for sake of human advancement, what aspects of each would you want carried over to a new era of humanity? After all, as China continues to grow both economically and politically, this clash of cultures will one day be a reality. Some will even go one step further and suggest its already begun.
Just like the China FAQ article, I’m going to break down each culture into several sections, analyse both, then suggest how the cultures could successfully merge, or if too different, which would prevail over the other one. You, the reader are of course not duty bound to agree with me seeing as the premise for my argument is based entirely on ‘what if’s’, but then, that’s totally up to you. Lets get started shall we?
Straightaway a very contentious issues which sharply divides Westerners and Chinese alike. It’s potatoes versus rice, pasta versus noodles and coffee versus milk tea (奶茶 – nǎi chá).
| Western Strengths
|| Chinese Strengths
|| Great vegetable dishes
| Desserts i.e. Ice Cream
||Snacks and street food
|Meat i.e. steaks / burgers
|| Fusion flavours
Its fair to say the Chinese do staple foods very well, Chinese cuisine is full of interesting flavours and methods of cooking that blow their Western equivalents out of the water in most cases. Even some of the best Western foods (Italian) are based on recipes taken from the Chinese. What Chinese food lacks however is food discipline. Go to a Chinese restaurant and you will eat a sweet dish immediately followed by a salty one, then back to a sweet one. All your food will also arrive at once, as opposed to in courses. The concept of a savoury starter and main, followed by a sweet dessert is alien to Chinese traditionalists, why save some room in your stomach for a high sugar treat at the end when you can just eat a bigger main course and save on the extra work?
In the world of Firefly – If it were up to me, I’d say the majority of Chinese food trumps its Western equivalent in both taste and nutrition, successfully incorporate Western desserts and beverages into that though I would say you have the optimal mix.
Education & Work
Another interesting topic with both the West and China using very different methods to achieve results. While its true to say that China has internationalised its economy in the last 30 years, switching from a chaotic collectivised system used under Mao, to roaring capitalism brought into effect by one Deng Xiao Ping, significant differences still remain when it comes to education and work ethic.
In China, it’s very common for students to work incredibly hard while they are in education yet slack off a bit once they get into a job. Before I am accused of ‘tarring everyone with the same brush’, I do not mean all Chinese people as there is some reasoning behind my rash statement. Chinese education is all about results, how or what you learn is of a lesser significance as long as you get good grades and a shiny degree certificate to help you progress in life. Western education on the other hand puts more focus into learning methods and aims not just their outcomes.
Once the graduation ceremonies are done and dusted however, there is a bit of shift in the two systems. While many Chinese people do go on to good well-paid jobs, there simply aren’t enough good jobs to go round; in order to stretch out the employment as much as possible, companies and organisations will often hire someone (on a low wage) to do simple, easy, repetitive tasks. With such a soul crushing job and with so little money to show for it, its common to see lots of unskilled Chinese workers just standing around doing very little, quite frankly, I don’t blame them.
The West in contrast has a slightly different ethic. While laziness can also be a common sight in a Western workplace, generally speaking it’s a much more intensive working environment with one employee expected to be working at his or her optimal efficiency 100% of the time, thus receiving a much higher wage as a reward. Were a Western manger to come to China, they would probably end up firing half their subordinates in the first week.
In the world of Firefly – Once again, despite the differences, there is scope for a perfect merger between both cultures. While I personally believe having a degree certificate doesn’t make you automatically qualified to ‘do something’ until you’ve actually done it in the flesh, the Chinese system does get results. In the very least the work effort of sitting down and doing 6-8 hours of hardcore study (on top of lectures and classes) is something I can only aspire to be able to do when it comes to learning Chinese. However, the idea of working in a Chinese office is not something that appeals to me in the long term due to its low wages and alternative attempts at employee motivation. The ideal world of tomorrow, would be a heavily tweaked Chinese education system providing jobs for a Western-based business environment is probably the way forward.
Social life and relationships
Westerners, rightly or wrongly, frequently like to stereotype Chinese people by the way they live their lives and interact with other people, but do they really have much ground to judge them?
Traditional Chinese life and culture holds family relationships to be very sacred indeed. So much so that younger generations of Chinese kids often complain about crushing pressure from overbearing parents commenting on every aspect of their life. Younger Chinese generations are expected to plan their life and take decisions, which benefit the family as a whole as opposed to the individual. In return, their parents (who rubber stamp the decision) will often fund their child’s aspirations and social development.
In recently years, this lifestyle has come under threat. Firstly, the fall out from the One Child Policy has meant lots of aging parents, but not enough children to adequately look after them when they’re old. Secondly, rising quality of life has left younger generations yearning for an international lifestyle, a far cry from what their parents were used to at their age.
When it comes to a social life, China is slowly Westernising too. Ten years ago a respectable Chinese person of society would not be seen dead in a bar. Now the streets of San li Tun and Wu Dao Kou are bustling with Chinese partygoers even if they probably don’t tell their parents.
The West on the other hand takes it to the other extreme with post adulthood dependence on parents often frowned upon more than ever. Also, the shocking neglect many old people face once they are too old to look after themselves. How would the two systems merge then?
In the world of Firefly – They probably wouldn’t have to, the reality is that there is a real clash in mindsets going on in China right now between the younger generations who want to travel, and work and be free and independent verses their parents who want them to marry, settle down and get ready for their parents to move in with them. Sadly for the older generations, it’s a battle they are losing. Within the next 100 years I can genuinely see China being no different from any other Western country with regards to its family relationships. This is not entirely a cause for celebration though. The stereotypical overbearing Chinese parents aren’t as common as people think, in reality, many Chinese parents only push for greater family values because they care about their children and want them to succeed in life, most get the balance perfectly right, its only the minority which stifle their child’s development through apparent conservative attitudes.
Communication & Social Media
Some people reading this blog will accuse me of bias towards Western culture, that’s understandable, I am a Westerner, but let it be known when it comes to communication and social media, I am in camp China the whole way.
Currently, the Chinese use several major forms of social networking in order to communicate. The first is QQ, which is their equivalent of Skype or MSN Messenger. The second is Sina Weibo, which is the Chinese version of Twitter. I must confess, these are nothing to really brag about having only dabbled briefly in both of them. But alas, these pale into total insignificance compared to the one and only ‘Wechat’. Essentially a blend of Whatsapp, Facebook, Snapchat and Tinder with additional ‘crazy’ added on for good measure. Wechat is hands down the most useful app I’ve ever used, not just in China, I really mean… ever!
If calibrated properly, I can do all my shopping, banking, socialising and financial forecasting using this app, as well as look at cute cat pictures and have a conference call with my friends all at the same time. If I want to book a holiday, I can do that, plus book the flights to get me there. Infact, why even stop there? I can order a taxi to take me to the airport, job done!
So yeah… In the world of Firefly I would hope that wechat has long since prevailed other its Western competitors and as a result, every man, women and child would be found using ‘We-shake’ and sending ‘drift bottles’ in their spare time. If you have no idea what those are but want to find out, consider getting yourself out to China as soon as possible.
Written By Andrew Cole - CSA Intern Spring 2015
We have no idea what Andrew has been putting in his coffee these past days, but whatever it is... we want some of it.