A little from Column A and a little from Column B.
As the day progressed, the fog got thicker and turned a sort of light yellow-ish brown colour. There is a slight hint of the reek of a Beijing dust storm, although not as pungent. Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to be your common or garden Wuxi haze.
Yesterday, because it was quite warm outside, I opened the windows to try and let some of the warmth in. But I noticed, as I never really have before, just how noisy this place is. I didn’t just let warm air in, but also the incessant sound of car horns, which are noticeable because up here on the 15th floor, they come from all directions. I suppose that when they test cars for use in China, the horn is the one thing which gets put through the proverbial ringer. It has to endure excessive and unnecessary use, and sound as irritating as possible.
Down at Walmart last night I arrived to find the finishing touches being put to some very formal promotional gig being held by Buick. Probably all the invited guests were the corrupt officials and businessmen who can afford to buy cars. If you only left the cars driven by honest men and women on the roads of this country (excluding taxi drivers), then there’d be very few cars left in private hands. That wouldn’t be a bad thing because people here are appallingly bad drivers as I’ve noted previously. Fewer motorists might also make 青石路 safer and more tolerable. That was up to its usual low standards again as I headed home after tea.
EFL teaching can be educational.
The listening book we use with the AS classes contains a series of short lectures on a diverse range of topics. The latest one, which I found quite interesting, was about Edward T. Hall’s division of cultures into high-context and low-context.
In a high-context culture, the whole group shares a common culture so that the content of messages may be more implicit than explicit because the culture supplies the omissions. In such cultures, your family background may be an important factor in your dealings with others, and a person’s word is their bond. Such cultures also have a strong sense of history and tradition (all part of that shared cultural background) and change little over time. Thus, innovation, even when it doesn’t have a major impact on society, may be rare, and the culture is all about knowing knowledge rather than using it in novel ways. In a high-context culture, custom is more important than the law.
In a low-context culture, messages are more explicit and business is all about guarantees in writing (i.e., contracts). There are rules and procedures to be followed, and people are individuals who are responsible for themselves. These are societies in which the rule of law is important. Presumably a low-context culture is more innovative not just because change may come more readily, but because new ideas are more readily accepted.
Although a society will fall somewhere on the continuum between high- and low-context cultures, there appear to be no absolutes. For example, Old Boy Network or Old School Tie cultures are high-context because a person is accepted without question on account of their background and what it implies about that person. Probably when a person is part of a specific group, they will be in a high-context situation, but if society in general is a low-context culture, they will switch codes. I suppose I’ve done that with phonology. With other phonologists I know what we’re talking about, but with outsiders, I need to be more explicit.
China is obviously a high-context culture, and now that I know a little about such cultural classifications, I can now understand why people behave as they do. I have been aware of aspects of high-context culture here such as the flouting of laws about, say, fireworks and spitting because these are customs which no legislation is ever going to stop. There were a couple of occasions when I forgot to take my wallet when I went to High Fly, but there was very little fuss about it because they knew me there. Of course, the same might be true for regular customers at restaurants in Western countries. The obsession with knowledge but the absence of any critical thinking is another element of a high-context culture. Similarly, the government’s paranoia about heterodox ideas and the blocking of large chunks of the Internet is another manifestation of high-context culture.
Although both types of cultures have their strengths and their weaknesses, I can’t help but suspect that high-context societies are more likely to have dictatorial governments or if they are democratic, a tendency for one party to be in power for decades (e.g. Japan). I hypothesise that a survey of high-context cultures would reveal that when there is a change of government, it comes through the violent removal of the previous regime, and that the only real change is the people in power not the system itself. In such societies, the opportunities for the abuse of power and corruption are rife because there’s no third party (i.e., the law) to impartially guarantee someone’s rights. That’s not to say that low-context cultures are free from such abuses, but these shortcomings are definitely a prevalent feature in China, not just today, but for much of the country’s history. I can’t see how China will ever be an advanced or developed nation by 2050 without some sort of cultural shift along the continuum away from the high-context end.