A blog's got nothing these days if it ain't got infographics. What's that all about then, eh? Good old-fashioned words not cutting it anymore? Anyway, not one to be left behind a trend that's probably already démodé if I know about it, I remembered we were shown some neat little representations of the differences between eastern and western cultures by a Vietnamese sociologist during our orientation program. Back in 2009, before infographics were cool. Just saying.
By no means am I the first person to write about this series by Chinese-German artist Yang Liu and it seems on many other blogs that have done so before me, the comments turn into a frothing racist free-for-all. So I'd just like to say that these are obviously very generalised representations and reflect the artist's personal experiences living in both China and Germany. Even though China and Vietnam, and Germany and Australia, are very different countries, many of the artist's observations are still applicable.
Enough with all the words, already! Show us the pictures! Germany/generalised western society is in blue, and China/generalised eastern society is in red.
(Warning: More words do appear after the pictures. Avert your eyes, if necessary.)
The elderly in everyday life
In a restaurant
There is so much in these which ring true for me, and I've thought back to them often. The first time I went to a Vietnamese party I remember realising that the representation of guests sitting in a circle was not just symbolic, but an actual and accurate depiction of how party-goers arrange themselves. Similarly, Vietnamese children are so often literally the centre of all adult attention, dozens of hands attending to them all at once, and any westerner who has been in Vietnam for five minutes can attest to the accuracy of the difference in noise levels, and not just "in a restaurant".
The ones I've thought about the most, though, are the ones showing the connectedness of eastern societies. I'm in awe at the ease with which Vietnamese people (generally!) manage their connections with so many more people than we do in the west, and with much greater flexibility. Social proximity and interdependence seem to be much more highly valued, maybe just by virtue of living so close together with so many other humans. By comparison, people like me, always banging on about my independence and autonomy and "me time", just look kind of... alone.
This brings me to the one graphic which I'm not sure about:
I think the idea of "ego" is just so culturally different between eastern and western cultures that you can't even represent it on the same graph, let alone compare it. Apples, oranges etc. I know western society is (generally!) rampagingly individualist, but it's hard to think of a tiny little ego like that sitting inside one of the increasing numbers of Bentleys and Rolls Royces clogging the streets of Hanoi. Maybe it just goes to show that in any culture, being individualist is a luxury.
An English friend of ours who works in conservation here got into an argument with a Vietnamese colleague who accused him of being selfish because instead of working in a high-paying job and starting a family, he was doing low-paying but personally satisfying, meaningful work to try to prevent species extinction in Vietnam. I think this fundamental difference in the perception of what is "selfish", or even "the self", is so complex and interesting and challenging, it couldn't be pictorially represented if all the infographics on the internet, even the ones about rainbow unicorns, were combined into one.