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Scholar confronts stereotypes

| Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Saint Mary’s Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) hosted Fulbright Chinese teaching assistant Zhenman Ye to present a discourse on the cultural differences and stereotypes of the East and West on Monday.

Ye said when she was initially asked to give a presentation, she had many ideas she wanted to bring to light because China is such a diverse nation.

“There are so many aspects that interest people about Chinese culture such as calligraphy, painting, music, dance, art, Chinese food and well, Chinese everything,” Ye said.

Much of her discourse was inspired by illustrations from the infographic portrait book, “East Meets West,” by Yang Liu.

“[Liu] drew pictures to show the cultural differences between East and West,” Ye said. “I’m showing [these] pictures now because they involve every aspect of our differing lives.

“In each picture she tries to express or show an idea.”

Ye displayed illustrations from Liu’s book and asked the audience what they thought Liu was trying to portray. The first illustration showed a thin straight line on the west side and a jumbled up and complex line on the east side.

“This is how we express ideas. The western way is more direct or straightforward when it comes to communication, whereas the eastern way has many other aspects involved,” she said.

“For example every time my friend and I go to the dining hall, I ask her if wants something to drink, ice cream or dessert. My asking her shows that I am the one who actually wants it.”

Ye said this is a way for her to be polite and humble by putting others needs before her own.

“Being direct can sometimes be good, but most of the time [it] is offensive,” she said.

The next illustration Ye showed was a single person on the west side and a group of people on the east. She said this represented the individualism western cultures have and the collectivism the Chinese have.

“We are very group-oriented people [in China],” Ye said. “We value collectivism and group work very much.”

Another illustration Ye used represented the differing authoritative roles between east and west.
“Since westerners value individualism, they often like to be the center of attention, but since easterners so much value collectivism, we try to minimize ourselves,” she said.

Another aspect Ye finds unique to the west is the dynamic between students and teachers.

“At first, I was shocked by the interaction [between] students and their teacher. Students challenge the teacher, whereas in China, students are submissive because they want to show respect to the teacher,” she said.

Other cultural differences Ye brought to light were the significance of the weather on peoples’ moods in the west, and the amount of noise westerners enjoy while eating.

“Our fancy restaurants [in China] are very noisy, [but] it is the opposite in America,” she said.

Ye also noted how many easterners view beauty much differently than westerners.

“In China, we have the opposite notion of beauty,” she said. “We think the paler your skin is, the more beautiful you are. You will find self-whitening products instead of self-tanning.”

The major thing Ye will miss about living in America is the fresh air and enthusiasm for environmentalism. Although many people may judge others based on these stereotypes, it is important to be compassionate towards all cultures and aspects of humanity.

“You need to show your respect and understanding of different cultures,” she said.

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