One Common Life
My favorite class so far has been Managing Enterprises in China. It is a very interactive and relaxed class. There are only four of us in the class, so it is very intimate. And the professor, Professor Keng, is very funny, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. In just two classes I feel like I have already learned a lot. He likes to sit down with us and have a conversation, he asks us questions and enjoys it when we ask him questions.
Last class, I had one of my first aha moments since being here in China. He explained Chinese culture in a new way I had never heard before, and it allowed me to really understand it in a deeper way.
As many people know, family is very important in Chinese culture. Not only is family the main unit in a person’s life, in Chinese people’s eyes, they share the same life. My professor nonchalantly claimed “I am not afraid of dying, I know I will not die, because my daughter will continue living, and continue our family life when she has her own children.” He believes that the members of his family share One Common Life. This is why they deeply value their ancestors, as well as their offspring. Once they have kids, they ensure the continuation of their life.
Furthermore, my professor used a Ripple Model to explain Chinese people’s perspective on their relationships. The innermost ripple is the family. They are your parents, grandparents, close relatives. They are the people you would never say no to, and the people you fully trust and respect. The second ripple represents your relatives, other more distant family members, and friends. And although you are close and respect them, your relationship is based upon the idea of “reciprocity.” You do favors for them, give them gifts, with the expectation to receive the same treatment back. Finally, the farthest ripple are strangers, people you do not know. They are not important. Unlike western culture, they are not taught a standard of respect towards strangers. This explains why they feel comfortable pushing people out of the way, spitting on the street, and completely disregard personal space. These three ripples explain how they approach their relationships, and it is a framework for the entire culture.
Also, their reverence and respect for their ancestors and the elderly, is a major factor for the late modernization of China. My professor explained that since they turn to the elderly for advice and to make decisions, the country has been falling back on tradition and conservative views for most of its history, rather than pursuing an innovative, young perspective. China’s modernization only started taking place about 30 years ago, around 1980, when they finally decided to open the doors to the rest of the world. Before that, they were “held-back,” in a way, by their traditional views and conventional perspectives. The family structure is not only at the core of their lives, but also represents the structure of their political system.
In the Western world, we value the individual, each person’s accomplishments and actions. In China, every action is a reflection of your family. This fundamental difference has opened my eyes to better understand the Chinese people’s perspectives and family culture. And I am looking forward to having more experiences that will deepen my understanding!