Part I Basic Concepts
Chapter 1 Culture
When you think of the word “culture”, what enters your mind? Perhaps music, architecture, the arts. Many people associate these areas with culture. Others may think of philosophy, history, and literature. Still others may think of beliefs, customs, values, and worldview.
Perhaps the earliest formal definition of culture, put forward by E. B. Tylor in 1871, is also one of the best known. He conceived of culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (Tylor, 1871) Since Tylor’s definition, more than 500 different versions have emerged, but still no consensus has been reached up to the present. Defining culture is difficult mainly because scholars have different understandings of it. One definition, for example, treats culture as everything that is human-made. Another scholar, however, has proposed that “culture is communication and communication is culture” (Hall, 1976).
The authors of this book agree with most anthropologists’ view that culture refers to the total way of living of particular groups of people. It includes everything that a group of people think, say, do, and make. Traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese Gongfu, Peking Opera and Chinese Cuisines are among the most frequently mentioned symbols of Chinese culture. Besides, examples of culture can also be found in every aspect of our life. These include the customs we observe for naming our children, the way we address our family members, our mode of entertaining our guests, the way we spend our money, how we take our vacation, the way we raise our children, as well as the table manners we expect, the clothes we wear, the vehicles we drive, the utensils we use for meals, and so on. In a word, culture is a whole collection of our living patterns and behaviors.
Metaphors of culture
As a large and pervasive concept, culture is often compared to an iceberg, suggesting that only a small part of it is visible while most of it lies concealed. Our customs, habits and the artifacts made and used by humans lie atop the iceberg, easy to discover. The hidden dimension, however, is mainly composed of the underlying worldview, value systems, ways of thinking, national character and any other deep concepts of our mind that serve as the foundation of the visible part and that account for our customs, habits and artifacts. In China, for instance, we often greet each other by asking “Where are you going?” and give a general answer to it when greeted. The strong emphasis on social relationships and the heavy interdependence between Chinese people are some underlying reasons that account for this habit. To an American, this same sentence may be interpreted as an intrusion into one’s privacy. The underlying individual-oriented relationship is the invisible part of the iceberg.
Culture is also compared to the “software of our mind” (Hofstede, 1991) and the grammar of our behavior. Levi Strauss once said, “All societies construct their own realities in accordance with mental or psychological principles… We thus invent the world we inhabit.” (Hawkes,2003) The society around us is not an entirely objective reality, for every one of us helps to construct our world. Culture is this shared set of mental and psychological principles that exist in people’s minds. This collective agreement then governs people’s behavior and gives people guidelines about what things mean, what is important, and what should or should not be done. Chinese people are well known for their modesty. Confucian teachings, which originated in the group-oriented cultures, are the guidelines that help shape their behavior.
Another popular metaphor for culture is to compare it to the rules of the game everybody is playing in any particular society although we generally are not highly aware of the rules at any given moment. These...
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