By Prof. Yang Ganfu
I was happy to read an article “Chinese believe in favours – why should Namibians?” published in New Era on 20 July 2007, because it seems to me that Peter Schellshmidt, the author of the said article, is interested in Chinese culture and more importantly, his article provides me with a very fresh example which proves that being aware of the cultural values of communicators plays a pivotal role in avoiding intercultural miscommunication, which was in fact the only purpose of my article, nothing else.
I wish the author could have read my articles published before in Namibian media in this regard. There are quite some areas that I fail to understand him on. And I would like to share them with him.
It has long been established in intercultural communication theory that Chinese are collectivists and Europeans, individualists (please refer to the theories by famous scholars such as Clyne, M 1994; Gudykust, W B 2003: Guirdham, M 1999; Gao, G.1998 Ting Too-mey, S.1999; Hall, E. T. 1976; Hofstede, G.1984; Wierzbicka, A. 2003; to name just a few).
That I gave the ancient living styles of Chinese and Europeans was just to show that those lifestyles contribute to the cultural identities Chinese and Europeans carry. I never ever tried to “quickly arrive at the conclusion that Chinese are collectivists and Europeans, individualists” on the grounds of the ancient lifestyles of the two peoples only, because I, doing the intercultural research, am quite aware that it would be quite academically wrong and even stupid to say so.
That Chinese are collectivists and Europeans individualists doesn’t mean, however, that all Chinese are collectivists and all Europeans individualists, just as we all know that not all European countries are of marine cultures since some are landlocked countries (this is ABC knowledge).
My article just provided a general idea in this regard because it is not necessary for me to give a detailed account of each individual culture of Europe. Picking bones from eggs does not make sense here.
What one says and does reveals one’s cultural identity. The author is a German (if he is) because he is of German culture. He is supposed to be defined by his German culture, which is theoretically and practically right.
In my article, I said that the ancient Chinese way of life “could be” the reason to account for the business practice in China today.
My article clearly tells that Chinese are seeking mutual benefits in their business operations. They value the business relations with each other.
The example of intercultural miscommunication out of “a big order” cited in my article further conveys a message that the local company was supposed to repay, according to Chinese culture, the favour they received from the Chinese company since the Chinese company had given them the big order.
In view of this, I really don’t understand why Peter Schellshmidt put it: “But if business decisions are taken just because (italicized by Peter Schellshmidt) you were hosted to a meal, then you have crossed the line of corruption.”
That I am doing intercultural research in Namibia explains why I cited some examples I have collected, which also explains why “Namibia” is mentioned in my article.
The purpose of the brief account of the ancient Chinese culture and European culture was to demonstrate that these cultures dominate our current intercultural communication, with Chinese cultures representing the Eastern world and European culture, the Western world.
Many intercultural researchers I mentioned above have achieved outstanding achievements in theorizing the two cultures. They support and explain their theories with a variety of different cultures.
Namibia, like any other African nation, has its own indigenous cultures, European cultures and Asian cultures as well. As it is well known, many wars or regional conflicts arose because the parties concerned were lacking knowledge of the cultural values of each other.
The miscommunication between Chinese and Namibians, which I have observed and experienced, encouraged me to publish some ideas on Chinese cultures. The aim of this is to avoid unnecessary intercultural miscommunication between Chinese and Namibians, who have been friendly and supporting each other for a long time.
It is also my hope that more other nationals will be aware of the Chinese culture, and Chinese, be aware of the others’ cultures. I fail to see what it is wrong with it.
Shouldn’t Peter Schellshmidt also complain about Burns (1994) Goldman (1998) whose books published in Australia and America respectively dwell on the Chinese and American business cultures?
Also, by exploring and publishing some cultural identities of Namibians, I mean to explain to Chinese that some problematic communication arises out of intercultural miscommunication.
In my article, including the previously published ones, I have never ever conveyed any information to claim that Namibians should adjust themselves to Chinese culture or any other foreign cultures.
Given the above information, I failed again to see why Peter Schellshmidt wrote, “Is this African country seen as just an appendix of Europe?”
My question to him is: Do I or Chinese have any records of claiming any African countries as appendixes of Europe? All people across the African continent, inclusive of our Namibian friends, are quite aware that this question does not need to be answered.
Peter Schellshmidt, you are not supposed to assume (it seems to me you are assuming) that I want Namibians to familiarize themselves with Chinese business practices and culture as my intercultural knowledge teaches me that assuming and prejudice also lead to intercultural miscommunication as is the case between you and me. Assuming and prejudice are the enemies of intercultural communication.
Like Namibians, Chinese are peace-loving people, which is rooted in their culture. Seeking harmonious relations with others is a traditional virtue of Chinese culture.
Listening-centeredness and respect contribute to this cultural tradition of Chinese. As a Chinese and Chinese culture researcher, I have more knowledge in this regard. In fact, I have always been claiming that respect of each other in terms of culture, religion and politics results in harmonious relations.
With this I hope Peter Schellshmidt will find himself the answer to the question he asked me, “What is it that Prof. Yang Ganfu tries to get across?”
However, I still have to remind him not to sow conflict between Chinese and Namibians if that is the case. Any attempt in this regard is doomed to fail because Chinese and Namibians have long shared a friendship. They have supported and will continue to support each other.