The first thing we discussed in my Asian Ethics course this week was general East-West cultural differences. Some of these are legendary: different notions of the self, respect for authority, drinking hot as opposed to cold water (I just can’t get myself to do that one), ways of viewing the elderly, and so on. To highlight some of these differences, I used the artwork of Yang Liu, a Beijing artist (click here to see it). In discussing Yang Liu’s work in an online discussion forum I use for my class, one of my students (who happens to be a Chinese national) noted that she disagreed with one of the “differences” the artwork purported to express.
My student claimed that she found no truth in the difference Yang Liu points to on “punctuality.” Here’s the art panel meant to express it:
The point here is obvious: Westerners and anal-retentive about punctuality, whereas Easterners are not, seen by the more generalized “red” streak that shows what it means to a Easterner for it to be “twelve o’clock” (it actually has a wider fifteen minute reference class). So being a bit early or a bit more late is fine, as it’s still “twelve” during that span.
Admittedly, I don’t have enough of a sense of current Chinese culture to take a position on my student’s argument here against the representation — ahe thinks that Easterners are very much like Westerners here – so that both are represented by the blue. I simply haven’t been to China for enough time to have a sense of this. I will admit, though, that in my dealings with the Chinese in general, the art seems to play out, but this is anecdotal and based on a very small sample.
Does anyone out there have any opinion on this? I realize that some of you who read regularly are in China, and some of you have been there many times, so I’d be interested in hearing your take on this. Of course, I’m also interested in hearing from anyone else out there without that experience but who just has something to add to this interesting question!