August 24, 2010 // By: Manfred Buchner
A round of golf, a visit to an art auction, or a foot massage at a health club are hardly important between business partners in the Western world when it comes to winding up a business deal. Not so in China. Here, close personal attention, mutual understanding, and harmony are as vital in business dealings as they are in personal life.
On the professional level, different mentalities and modes of behavior can easily lead to misunderstandings between Chinese and Westerners. The confusion is apt to begin during introductions: The Chinese say their family name and then their personal name; Westerners do it the other way around. In her pictograph series, Ost trifft West (East Meets West), graphic designer Yang Liu provides an intercultural guide to avoiding such blunders.
Born in Beijing in 1976, the German-Chinese artist moved with her family to Paderborn in northwest Germany at the age of 13 and later to Berlin. She returned to this city five years ago after years spent abroad in Singapore, England, and the United States. In her pictographs, Liu – whose works are exhibited in museums all over the world – compares different mentalities and modes of behavior in Chinese and German culture. Dots, dashes, and lines depict opinions, ways of interacting, values, and mutual prejudices. The aspects of professional and private life covered are familiar and widely varied, ranging from your self-image, your boss, leisure time, eating habits, and noise to opinions, restaurants, and transport.
The pictograph entitled “The Self” (Figure 1) provides a key to the differences in mentality between East and West. It shows a large person against a blue background next to a small person against a red background. Blue is the German perception; red the Chinese counterpart. The message of “The Self” is clear: The individual plays a far more important role in German culture than it does in Chinese culture. This aspect emerges in many other pictographs in the East meets West series, such as the comparison entitled “Ways of Living” (Figure 2). While a single person is in the blue field, a whole row of people holding hands is in the red field. Community and solidarity, the image tells us, have absolute priority in China.