fascinating blend of Chinese culture and western influence -- and what
each culture accepts from the other
of the most fascinating aspects of traveling abroad as an American is to
see first hand the influence of American culture in those places.
first overseas trip was Germany 3 years ago, where I turned on the TV
and saw Danny DeVito overdubbed with a tepid, completely mismatched
voice. In Brazil, half the
content on TV and movies was American programming in English with
were moderately surprising to me, mostly because I just hadn't thought
about it before. But it
certainly is no stretch to expect a great deal of cross-cultural
influence between North America and Europe and South America.
Asia is completely on the other side of the world. And whereas huge portions of North and South American culture
come from Europe, and much of Europe speaks fluent English and the same
alphabet, the east is a different animal.
China is home to the oldest culture on earth, so I was not
prepared for the pervasive westernization of Chinese culture, even in a
rural farm community. Western
influence is visible everywhere in China.
the West imports from the East:
working university students
the East imports from the West:
Music and Hollywood (mostly pirated)
stars (ie Celene Dion and Lionel Ritchie)
fashions / styles
so interesting is what passes between the two cultures with little
resistance. I think the key
to understanding why is in how things are packaged.
China, people buy bottled water because tap water makes you sick.
the states, tap water won't make you sick.
So why do people pay money for bottled water anyway?
the packaging. if it's
packaged the same way as all the other $1 soft drinks, it must be worth
$1. It becomes just another
soft drink choice.
think American culture sells in China because it's attractively
in a family and community oriented culture, individualism has strong
appeal. 50 years ago
chinese citizens wore government issue Mao uniforms; Saturday night in
Shigo, at a gathering of locals in a tiny rural farm community, two
people there sported Nike jackets.
rythms of western pop, the rebellion of rock & roll, and the romance
of the silver screen all appeal to fundamental human desires, especially
when packaged in cellophane and presented as a fantasy which may
actually exist in that faraway land, the United States.
Now I’m going to criticize some aspects of both cultures – how each is vulnerable to the others’ ills. I promise to be equally candid with both sides. (If anyone is offended by this, you’re too sensitive!)
it’s difficult for Asians watching American movies that Hollywood is,
in reality, a battlefield of unmitigated greed and the carcases of
failed relationships. While
movies portray stories of happily-ever-after, the same actors and
actresses are notorious for their inability to find satisfying love, as
the tabloids illustrate every day.
Hollywood will do nothing to preserve the loyal bonds of the
Asian family, nor will it bring them happiness.
during the last 20 years, America has been remarkably open to the
ingress of eastern religion. Americans
cynically doubt the historicity and sincerity of its own religious
belief systems, and eagerly point out evils which have been perpetrated
“in the name of God.” Conversely,
many westerners, without question, rational analysis, or criticism,
accept eastern mysticism.
an example: A few years
ago, Dr. Deepak Chopra, the well known author and speaker, was featured
by PBS public television during their fund raising drive, and anyone who
donated $150 or more received complimentary Deepak Chopra tapes from
Mr. Chopra is an Eastern Mysticism Televangelist who emphasizes health,
wealth, and personal fulfillment.
a WESTERN televangelist – i.e. Jim & Tammy Bakker, Robert Schuller
or Jimmy Swaggart been featured, they would have been laughed off the
show, and PBS would have received truckloads of hate mail and irate
phone calls. Chopra was
the east healthier, wealthier or more personally fulfilled than the
West? Did Mr. Chopra
demonstrate that his teachings are more logical, more provable, or more
validated by modern medicine?
doubt it. In fact, to be
frank, some of the teachings of Hinduism are directly attributable to
the hundreds of millions of “untouchables,” who are sentenced to a
lifetime of poverty and disease under India’s caste system.
PBS audience accepted Mr. Chopra just as readily as the Chinese make
pirated copies of American films.
how does Mr. Chopra package his health, wealth, and personal fulfillment
with eastern religion? How
does he make it acceptable to Americans?
remember that all Americans have been exposed to western religion and
televangelists. Even if
they have never investigated it in any depth, they at least know what it
religion is new. It’s
half a world away. It’s
just as exotic as a rural farm country in Yunnan province, China is to
me. By its very nature, it defies normal western analysis, at
least on the surface. And
for the person who has tried everything in pursuit of health, wealth and
personal fulfillment, it offers a refreshing alternative.
Mysticism DOES sell in an analytical world.
Chopra does not package himself as a “Televangelist,” even though
that is essentially what he is. He
packages himself as a doctor, a motivational and inspirational speaker,
as an advocate of inner peace and alternative medicine.
while Americans have been slowly banishing cigarette smoking from public
life, smoking is in full force in China, population 1.2 billion.
Nearly every Chinese man I met was a smoker , and a s a matter of
fact, smoking is just as “in” in China as it is “out” in
America. It is rare to sit
down for a conversation or meal and not be offered a cigarette.
are cigarettes packaged? I
will defer to Dr. Knoll, the best professor I ever had in college, for
the answer to this question. He
stood in front of a room of 100 university freshmen and held up a
Marlboro ad in a magazine.
is this ad selling?” he asked the class.
one student replied.
That’s not what they’re selling.”
is this ad selling?” he repeated.
ad is not selling cigarettes,” Dr. Knoll explained. “This ad is selling the wild west.”
of course it was true. It
was selling adventure, manhood, independence and blazing sunsets. And what you got was an over priced, addictive cancer stick.
I was in Hong Kong, I was invited to lunch by three ladies from Kowloon
City – Kwan, Bobo and Yanica – and subsequently invited to visit
service was in Cantonese, including the hymns – which were familiar
American hymns but with Chinese words.
In this case, packaging is working against the culture, not with
it – the church was established with not only a new belief system, but
a new music and culture as well.
my humble opinion, Christianity is counter-cultural enough without the
added burden of changing neutral elements within the culture at the same
I were starting a church in a foreign culture, I would find as many
elements within that culture that I could harmonize with. If I did not directly borrow existing melodies, I would at
least draw from familiar chord structures and cadences. Changing the core of someone’s belief system is remarkably
difficult, and any help you can get from the existing structure is
Whatever it is that you sell, you need to identify the elements which harmonize with the culture of your audience, the elements which work against it, and those which are neutral – and which can be brought to your advantage with sufficient care.
|My trip to Asia - the whole story|