Boyé Lafayette De Mente
Most Westerners think of culture (when they think of it at all) in terms of the arts, literature and music, but these elements are only a small part of culture. Culture covers the way people think, talk and behave as well as the way they work and what they create.
The various mental constructs that people have of their own existence, of life in all of its forms and of the universe at large, is a product of their own cultures. In other words, people are programmed by their culture to view and react to their world in certain ways, and it is this programming that makes them different.
Despite the attempts by Mao Zedung and his Communist regime to destroy all vestiges of China’s traditional culture from 1966 to 1976, and despite the inroads made by Western cultures since then, most of the core values and basic behavioral patterns of the Chinese that have been in existence for more than two thousand years are still very much in evidence throughout the country.
In fact, the traditional culture of China is one of the most enduring and powerful ever to have been developed, and since it is the force that motivates and guides such a large number of people it is obviously one of the world’s most important cultures.
Wenhua (win-wha), the Chinese term for culture, can be translated as “patterns of thought and behavior,” and it is so powerful that Chinese whose families have lived abroad for several generations are still culturally identifiable as “Chinese.”
The Chinese have traditionally viewed China more as a cultural entity than as a landmass, and in the past some writers have suggested that the country should be called Zhong Hua (Chong Whah) or “Central Cultural Essence” instead of Zhong Guo (Chong Gwoh) or “Central Kingdom.”
Present-day Chinese remain especially sensitive to their characteristic ways, and they appreciate it when foreigners make an effort to learn something about their culture and follow some of its customs and etiquette.
Without being insidious or cynical about it, foreigners can use this factor in their relationships in China to build goodwill and cooperation. It goes without saying that showing respect for the cultural beliefs and feelings of the Chinese will get you a lot further than a belittlingly or critical approach.
Copyright © 2007 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente
For more comprehensive insights into Chinese culture, see the author’s book, The Chinese Have a Word for It! (McGraw-Hill), which consists of definitive explanations of more than 300 of China’s “cultural code words.” To see a full list of his 60-plus cultural-insight books on China, Japan, Korea and Mexico see his personal website at: http://www.phoenixbookspublishers.com/.