Enough of the Bad Cultural Baggage, says Chinese Scholars
For many people, knowledge of foreign nations they have never visited before are largely come from friends or stories by travel writers. Sometimes their writings may lead to misconceptions in readers about a foreign country.
For instance, Asians may have a misconception of Canada as new and modern country with little history. Likewise, Western people may have some inaccurate view of China as a dark and exotic country, based on reports from Western travel writers.
“These preconceptions are wrong. Canada does have history, and China is not such a dark or exotic place as being projected by the western travel writers,” says LeiLei Chen, a researcher in the University of Alberta’s Department of English and Film Studies.
“The reality is that backwardness still exists in China, but there are other aspect of the country that goes beyond the described negative reality … The country is much more complicated than that,” says Chen.
Chen’s book“Translating New China: Travel Writing and Cross-Cultural Understanding” will soon be published. According to a news release from University of Alberta, in her book, Chen explores travel writings about China by Western writers in the past 50 years, and has concluded that their opinions about China are often too negative and lack balance.
While Chen does not deny the existence of the dark side of China, her research focuses on why Western writers set their negative story tones by choosing to report some facts instead of others.
Chen told Chinese News that she is “disappointed” about the book “Beijing Confidential” by Jan Wong – a Western trained writer. In her opinion, in this book, Wong was using “friendship betrayal” – where she “betrayed” a friend in Beijing during her first trip to China in 1970s -- as a storyline to portray China.
Compared with Wong’s first book “Red China Blue”, Chen says that Wong expressed an improved outlook towards China in her second book that describes her revisit of Beijing in 2007. But in her opinion, “it’s still not good enough”.
Chen thinks that the negative mentality that Western writers have can be largely traced back to a nation that lost its sovereignty and lagged far behind the West economically and socially nearly a century ago.
But today’s Westerners still maintain an old, colonial mentality, seeing China as inferior to Western countries, says Chen.
“They still hold on to an old image about China, questioning how such a third world country can stand up on an equal footing with the US and other Western countries. They consider China a rising threat to Western dominance.”
Chen was born in 1970s when China was still under an isolated communist regime. She grew up in the middle of the country’s growth trajectory that brought China from a meager country into one of the world’s economic superpowers.
“I witnessed tremendous economical growth in China as I grew up,” says Chen.”China is in an age of globalization, a historical moment that sees people’s living standard improved dramatically.”
In a rapidly evolving global economy, China has emerged as one of the world’s leading economic superpowers. While it is hard for the West to accept China’s inevitable rise, it is a time to suggest that the Western travel writers drop the negative cultural baggage when visiting China, says Chen.
“Travel literature provides a major source of information on people and the culture in a foreign country, and plays a key role in bridging gaps between different countries,” says Chen. “Canadians should not see China through a distorted cultural lens”.
“Seeing only from the angle that we’re familiar or comfortable with is not beneficial to Canadians” says Chen.” I hope that Western travel writers drop their cultural biases, at least temporarily, and open their minds towards China.”
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