Harsh, but true?

Someone lent me the book The Chinese Have a Word for It: The Complete Guide to Chinese Thought and Culture. It takes you through a few hundred Chinese characters and explains the meaning of each and its cultural concept. It's a very interesting book, and is not meant to be read from cover to cover, but to be used as a resource if you want to know about China.

I saw an entry called "Personal Loyalty First" about the character "cheng," which starts out with a seemingly harsh description: "Generally speaking, the Chinese are inherently incapable of trusting people they don't know and do not have close personal ties with."

To say that a group of people are "inherently" unable to trust others is to almost deny that they're human, because we're malleable and can adapt to different situations. But when I asked some Chinese people about it, they basically agreed that Chinese people have problems with trusting people they don't know. Someone told me that it could be rooted in the ancient emperor system, when there was a lot of fighting and chaos. I suspect there are also some modern reasons for that type of distrust, but it seems that they're more willing to talk about ancient history.

The point of the "cheng" section is to give advice to foreigners who need to make important contacts and deals there: "...since the Chinese have been conditioned to put their trust only in individuals--not in institutions, including governments--it is especially difficult for the Chinese to deal effectively with large foreign corporations and foreign governments...There is nothing mysterious or subtle about the process of establishing cheng (chung) or personal bonds with Chinese, but it requires more time, care and investment than what is customary among Westerners."

I'd say that's an Asian thing, since it takes time to form relationships in various cultures. At least that's what I noticed in Japan, and what I've read, seen, and heard about in other Asian countries.

No comments: