Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural
Communication Between Chinese and American
Following China’s entry to the WTO, the relationship between nations will become much more closely. There will be more chances for intercultural communications. Because every country does not have the same culture, negative cultural transfer will occur in the processes of intercultural communication. Time perspective is a deep cultural factor in culture. It influences the people’s thoughts and behaviors. In The Silent Language, Hall
lays more emphasis on the voices of time. “Time talks. It speaks more plainly than words.
The message it conveys comes through loud and clear. Because it is manipulated less consciously, it is subject to less distortion than the spoken language. It can shout the truth
). where words lie ”(59
So, the study of time perspective plays a quite significant role in intercultural communication. If we know the different time perspective of different countries, we will avoid some misunderstandings and the failures which caused by this. This paper will first discuss the differences of time perspective and its causes, then use some cases to show the negative cultural transfer in intercultural communications, and finally show some solutions.
2. The Different Time Perspectives and Their Causes Between Chinese and American
Between Chinese and American, there are many differences in the time perspective. The reason is that Chinese people and American people have the different cultures. Now, I will discuss the differences of the time perspective and its causes between Chinese and American.
2.1 The Differences of Time Perspective Between Chinese and American
In the time perspective of Chinese, people are the host of time. They can control the time and even can enjoy it. To Chinese people, time is not so precise. Chinese people pay more attention to the change of surroundings. They believe that everything should be considered carefully before making decision. So Chinese people speak high of patience. A saying of “more hast, less speed”(孔子166) can express this thought well. In China, people
emphasize the relationship between people, and they can change their schedules for some unexpected things. It is common seen that two or more Chinese people spend several hours or even longer just chatting without any aim, especially in the countryside in China, and they take it for granted.
But in America, people emphasize time very much. There is even a saying “slaves to
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American nothing but the clock” can express this thought well. To American, time is very precise. They dislike the people who waste other’s time. In the thought of American, patience is not very
important. American people like doing things in hurry. To most of American people, the relationship is not important. They pay more attention to the achievement of work rather than the process of contacting. And punctual is very important for American people. Even only later for few minutes, you also must to give the reason and apology. 2.2 The Causes of Different Time Perspective Between Chinese and American
There are many causes of time perspective. I will discuss it from religious belief, cultural values to thinking patterns. In intercultural communication, belief is an influential factor. It is the core of our thoughts, and actions and affects the minds of people. Cultural values also can guide our perceptions and communicative behaviors. Similar to belief and values, thinking patterns play a vital role. Due to cultural differences of thought patterns, communicative failures may arise. Now, I will discuss these factors respectively. 2.2.1 The Difference of Religious Belief
In America, 86 percent of the U.S. population is Christian (Crystal 343). Christianity permeates every corner of Americans’ life. It also influences their perceptions and guides
their behaviors. Christianity believes God and regards God as the host of everything. Thomas Baima summarizes it as follows: There is one God who is almighty. God is the creator of heaven and earth.
According to Bible, it is God who create the ancestor of human, Adam and Eve.
Because they stole the fruit from the tree of knowledge that broke the order of God, God chased Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden. From then on, according to Christian teaching, all human beings have been born with “original sin”. Only God can save them
from evil. In order to change their evil nature into good nature, they must try their best to repent and make efforts to surpass the present world to change themselves. Through those behaviors, they expect they can reach the beautiful land of the Heaven. Therefore, Americans pay more attention to the future, for they think turning back to the past means turning to “original sin”. So American people all cherish time very much. They think only making good use of time can change them for a nicer and splendid future.
But in China, the “tranquility of mind” of Buddhism, the “nonaction” of Taoism and
the ethics of Confucius influenced the thoughts and behaviors of Chinese people together. Both of the Buddhism and the Taoism teach Chinese people to have as few desires as they can, they believe everything have their own circles. So Chinese people inclined to do something according to the surroundings, everything cannot be exacted. Because in the conception of Confucius, men were born with pure and good nature. As they growing older, they begin to change toward different directions. This standpoint that human nature is good
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American makes Chinese people prefer to looking back, because looking back means the return of human nature towards goodness. For this reason, Chinese people prefer past to future, this can be reflected in a Chinese proverb, “considering the past and you will know the
2.2.2 The Difference of Cultural Values
Chinese people hold the belief that human beings are subjected to nature and they believe that the most powerful forces of life are out of their control, people cannot conquer them. So people affirm that man should do their best to live in harmony with nature and reach the “oneness” with the world. But American emphasizes the dividedness between man and nature. They think that everything can be controlled. Time is the most important thing and it should be made good use of. So if you work hard, you will success.
As we all know, China is a country deeply marked by collectivism. Collectivism means greater emphasis on the views, needs and goals of the in-group (relatives, clans, organizations) rather than oneself; social norms and duty defined by the in-group rather than behavior to get pleasure; beliefs share with the in-group rather than beliefs that distinguish self from in-group; great readiness to cooperate with in-group members (Triandis 52). There is a saying that shows the Chinese collective thought well, that is, “if
one wants to establish himself, he should help others to establish themselves at first.” With
this thought, Chinese people place more value on good social relationships and regard time relatively freely. Compare to Chinese, American are obviously marked by individualism. Individualistic cultures, put more emphasis on achievement than on affiliation. They desire success and strongly believe that time is just money and every minute must be cherished. Many proverbs that demonstrate individualism are embraced by Americans. For instance, “Every man is the architect of his own fortune.”
In China, people are always seeking for stability in their lives. For thousands of years, Confucianism has been emphasizing the stability of society, because only stability could promise the happiness of all families and clans. So stability is the most important thing for Chinese. Many Chinese people have no desire to explore, because they think it will destroy their present stable and peaceful life. Moreover, their seeking of stability make them tend to consider and do things discreetly. They always say, “Please give me some time to
consider this matter or issue” or “we have to further discuss this issue and please wait our
notification.” But for American, they are always seeking for change in their lives. In the minds of American, the whole world is eventually changing. Americans take great delight in breaking the old rules and orders and making new creations by sweeping any difficulties away in front of them, because change means development, improvement, progress and a beautiful future for them. Americans believe that they can make achievement only if they
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American make good use of every minute to get things changed. It is not possible for them to wait for the approach of good chance quietly, they do not think that chance can suddenly appear in front of them without any efforts.
2.2.3 The Difference of Thinking Patterns
To Chinese people, they prefer to begin with the whole picture to measure things and then move to the details. They possess synthetic thinking patterns. People do things according to the surroundings and opportunities. With this thought, people tend to do several things at one time. They prefer to consider the whole situations and stress involvement of people and completion of transactions rather than adherence to present schedules. But to American, they tend to have analytic thinking patterns. They prefer to separate entirety things into parts and then do deep analysis to each part. They used to do one thing at a time, so it requires some kinds of scheduling, either implicit or explicit. And calendar, schedule, diary, annual, accounting, ledger and so on are make the important effort in America.
Vagueness is a common characteristic of ancient Chinese people’s thinking patterns.
There is a saying that may prove it best, that is, “The meaning is implied but cannot be
told”. For thousands of years, Chinese people only use the place of sun to judge the time. So in the thought of Chinese, time is vague. Chinese people lack tightly logical rules and precision. For example, in oral Chinese, there are existing expressions such as “time for a
meal”. And Chinese people make an appointment usually use the vague time, such as “We’ll meet at Sunday afternoon.” In contrast to Chinese, for America is an industrial
country, they are strict to the time. Precision is one of the main features in the western thinking patterns. It stresses analysis, accurate and calculations. This thinking patterns influences Americans’ perception, which make them value accuracy of time in
communication. When Americans make appointment, they usually tell the exact time, such as “We’ll meet at 3 o’clock at Sunday afternoon.”
3. Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American
In the intercultural communication between Chinese and American, Chinese people always do things according to their fixed time perspective. For this reason, there will be many negative cultural transfers which may lead to misunderstandings or failures. First, I will introduce the negative cultural transfer. Next, I will discuss some cases that occur in intercultural communication.
3.1 The Concept of the Negative Cultural Transfer
Negative cultural transfer refers to the cultural interference caused by cultural differences, which shows that people subconsciously use their cultural norms and values
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American not only to guide their words, behaviors and thoughts but also to judge other’s words,
behaviors and thought (戴炜栋and张红玲 78). Negative cultural transfer often results in
communicative difficulties, misunderstandings and even hatred. So the negative cultural transfer learning is very important to the intercultural communication.
3.2 The Negative Cultural Transfer in Intercultural Communication
For the differences of time perspective, there are many misunderstandings that lead to ineffective communications. With these misunderstandings, we may have difficult and even conflict in communicating with each other. So avoiding misunderstanding is very important to us. Next, I will introduce some typical cases of negative cultural transfer in social contact and business that may give a warning to the intercultural communicators to avoid these kinds of situations.
3.2.1 Negative Cultural Transfer in Social Contact
When you get along with Americans, the negative cultural transfer in social contact is very common. So avoid this negative cultural transfer is very important. With negative cultural transfer, we may have many misunderstandings and fail to build good friendships with American people. Now, I will show some situations that usually have negative cultural transfer.
Due to the different religious beliefs of Chinese and American, Sunday is different to Chinese and American. In America, people believe that God spends six days in creating everything in the world and stops working in the seventh day. God also grants blessing for this day and make it as Sabbath. In this day, All of American people stop their work and go to church to make religious service. So Sunday in America are not arranged to work. But Sunday has no religious meaning in China. With this reason, Chinese people think that working on Monday or Sunday has no differences and it is acceptable to work on Sunday. But if you want American people also to work on Sunday, they will feel surprised, unhappy and even protest: “Why work on Sunday?”
With the influence of the Confucius’ moral principles, Chinese people prefer to arrive
earlier than the arranged time, especially meeting with the elder generations or the leaders. It can show your respect to them. But in America, there is no such a custom. So misunderstandings usually occur. For instance, one Chinese scholar went to visit a university of the United States. The president of the University would receive him during his visit. This Chinese scholar had admired the president for a long time and wanted to have a long talk with him. Therefore, he arrived at the president’s office half an hour
earlier than the scheduled time. However, he was rejected at the door because the president had another appointment. The scholar had to wait for half an hour to be received. When the receiving time was coming to end according to schedule, the president stood up and said
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American good-bye to him. The Chinese scholar felt so sorrowful and regretful (秦弓132) . For
Chinese, meeting has no end time, people can talk on and on until you finish. But for American, everything has its fixed time and people cannot go beyond of this. For this difference, misunderstanding occurs in above example.
Because of the “original sin” of American and the “good by nature” of Chinese,
people have the different opinions about the “old”. Chinese people respect the age and
experience, because they are the symbol of knowledge and honor. The word “Lao” in
China used to show respect to those who are more experienced and usually older, like “Lao
Li”, “Lao Wang”. But this appellation cannot be used in America, because if you call them like this, they think you mean they are no longer valuable and become useless. Therefore, the old people in America dislike people to say they are old. And the word “old” is taboo to
them. So if it is really to call an old people, we should use the “Respected „” or
“Senior„”. If we do not know this difference, negative cultural transfer will happen. For example, an American teacher in her fifties was invited to the home of a young Chinese colleague for dinner. When she arrived, the 4-years-old daughter of the hostess was presented to her. “Hello, auntie”, the little girl chirped in English. This was how her mother had taught her to greet adult women. “No, no, not Auntie” the mother hurriedly corrected,
“Say Granny!” The American teacher said at once, “No, not granny, please. Just call me
Auntie.” “But that’s not polite. You’re so much older than I am,” the mother answered. The
American teacher’s face flushed a second, then she smiled and said, “Just have her call me
Auntie; I’d prefer that.”(邓炎昌and刘润清86) In this case, the Chinese teacher
transferred the Chinese understanding of “old” to the communicative situation with
American teacher and then resulted in the embarrassment of the American teacher. So when we communicate with American, we must pay attention on this.
For the different ideas about collectivism and individualism, Chinese and American have many misunderstandings. Such as, with the influence of individualism, American uses the order of day, month and year to write the date, not the order of year, month and day. So as the address of a letter, the first one is street, then the town, the city, the province and the last is the nation. But with the influence of collectivism, we always put the nation firstly. We cannot image that a letter do not come to a nation firstly, how it can go to a province, a city, at last come to a person. So if you come to America, please remember that the first of address is the town not the country and remember the order of American’s address.
Chinese and American pursue different things, their ways of living is different. Chinese people like choosing one place for their home. If they have chose, they will stay there for many years and do not move to another place. Similar to home, Chinese people like having a stable work which usually do not change. But the lives of Americans are all
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American in change. They like moving one place to another that will give them the fresh feeling. The relationship between people is changeable. They do not want to stay with their relatives forever and also do not want to have only one kind of work in their lives. American people think that they should make good use of every minute to change, for this, they will have chances to achieve success. So the Chinese’s values of stability may get proof in
decision-making procedure of many Chinese government departments. Americans often complain that it takes them more time to finish some necessary procedures dealt with by the Chinese government in China than in America. For instance, Charles, a film producer from America, plans to establish a film company in Haerbin, in China. He had thought that it would not take him much time to apply for the establishment of his company to the relevant Chinese government. However, the case is not like in America, and he is so shocked that the procedure is so complicated and need so much time. Here, the Chinese people’s value of seeking for stability works, for which they always keep prudence in their minds when they make decisions, especially to make some vital decisions. Therefore, they will spend relatively more time considering issues. After subordinates dealing with those issues, they will be sent to superiors for future consideration. Charles encounters time shock in China just because the interference of his American culture, and he treats the things as they are in America.
The difference of the synthesis and analysis between Chinese and American make people have some awkward situations. Chinese people can interact with more than one person at one time, which can explain why there is more interruption in conversations carried by Chinese. However, within the America, people always make appointments as iron-clad commitments. Many Americans are often annoyed when they have made an appointment with a Chinese person, because they find a lot of other things going on at the same time. Look at the following example: Katherine came from America. She found a job as an English teacher in a foreign language institute of Beijing. For some problems in teaching, Katherine made an appointment with the Director, Prof. Wang, and they agreed to meet at ten o’clock on Thursday morning. Thursday came and she arrived at the Director’s
office at the exact time of their appointment when she found that Prof. Wang was talking with another teacher. Seeing that she had come, Prof. Wang smiled and gestured a seat and asked her to sit down. She got herself seated, and the professor excused himself and carried on the talk with that teacher. About five minutes later, he concluded his talk and made a profound apology before he beginning to talk with Katherine. The Professor showed great concern and asked her what the problem it was. Just as she was specifying her problem, another Chinese teacher came in, with a form that apparently needed the signature of the Director. The professor smiled and apologized to Katherine again and turned to talk with
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American that teacher. Katherine became impatient, wondering why their talk should be interrupted since they had already made an appointment. Although their talk continued later, she was apparently unhappy about what had happened (汪福祥and马登阁180) . It is obvious that
Katherine applied her analytic thinking pattern to the situation of conversation in China, which led to misunderstandings.
And also for the different thinking patterns of vagueness and precision, it usually has some difficult. Such as, one Chinese student invited the foreign teacher to have a meal one day. When leave, in order to show polite, this foreign teacher said, “I shall invite you to
lunch one day.” But a semester had passed, this foreign teacher still did not invite him. So this student thought that the foreigners had no sincere. For another example, Jack is an American student who is studying politics in a university in China. One afternoon, he came across Professor Du, one of his teachers on the campus. They greeted each other and had a small talk. As they parted, Professor Du wanted to invite Jake to his home for dinner that evening. So he said, “If you are free tonight, you are welcome to my home for dinner.”
Jack answered, “Thank you.” Then they said good-bye. Professor Du had thought that Jack
had agreed to come to his home that night, so he made some preparation for dinner. However, Jack did not show up at all that night. Professor Du felt confused and a little angry. The misunderstanding happened then. In fact, some words like: “We’ll keep in
touch” or “I’ll see you one day” which have not made the exact time and place show that it
is just the polite reply. But Chinese people are used to this vague expression and always
think it is true.
3.2.2 Negative Cultural Transfer in Business
Because an apology can compensate your fault, maybe you think that the negative cultural transfer in social contact is not so important. But for business, it cannot be so easy. Sometime, even you apologize for many times, you cannot compensate the fault you made and you will lose the good chances. So we muse pay more attention on the negative cultural transfer in business.
Under the influence of the thought of “oneness between man and nature”, Chinese
people tend to pursue the wholeness in their thought and behavior, they can consider things depend on the surrounding. Being late for some especial reason is acceptable. But Americans believe that time is the most important thing, we should obey the arranged time for meeting. If you are late for it, there is no excuse. For example, a Chinese businessman does business with an American. At first several negotiations, both sides show their great desire to cooperate. The relationship between the negotiators is very good. The last negotiation which about the currency of payment is arranged at the hotel that American business live. Due to the terrible traffic jam, Chinese businessmen are late 35 minutes for
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American the arranged time. Although they explain and apologize it for several times, the American businessman rejects them firmly and stops the negotiation. For he cannot stand that negotiators are late for such important negotiation. In his mind, either Chinese negotiators do not take enough attention on this or do not consider the change of environment correctly. And either of them will affect the cooperation in future. Because the cooperation in future will have many new problem, which may possibly become the excuse. At last, Chinese negotiators lose this chance. For Chinese, this is difficult to understand. But to American, it is a common. In their minds, if you cannot control time well, you will lose chance.
In business circle, the Chinese businessmen are well known for their emphasis on harmonious negotiation atmosphere. The idiom of “harmony followed by money” is valued
by Chinese businessmen, because they think that good relations can guarantee trust as well as predict further cooperation and money can be earned only if good relations are established first. Therefore, before entering formal negotiations, they always spend some time aiming to create a harmonious atmosphere and show their warm concern to negotiators by saying and doing something irrelevant to the negotiation. In the process of negotiation, Chinese businessmen also spend time trying to maintain harmonious atmosphere. In contrast, under the influence of individualism, American businessmen stress the value of time, and equal interpersonal relationship and seem more direct in the whole process of negotiation. Unlike Chinese businessmen, they do not like putting their time on harmonious relationship but on efficiency. They prefer to get down to business as quickly as possible. American businessmen believe trust is established in the process of negotiation. It is not necessary for them to wasted time in those useless trivia. With this difference, the barrier occurs. For example, an American company wants to do business in China. They find a Chinese company and want to cooperate with it. So they come to China to make negotiation with this company. When they come, Chinese part shows their great warm concern and arranges them to relax themselves. But about the negotiation, Chinese part does not do anything. So they fell puzzling, and think that Chinese part has no sincerity to cooperate with them. Consider this, they prepare to go back. At this time, Chinese part begins to arrange negotiation, but they reject it. At last, although Chinese part takes this chance seriously, they lose it. Because in Chinese businessmen’s mind, they
think before the negotiation they should build the good relationship with American negotiators. With good relationship, everything will be easy. But they ignore that American businessmen emphasis on time not good relationship. So they finally fail. 4. Conclusion
With the detailed illustration above, we know that for different time perspectives in different countries, we will have some misunderstandings when we have intercultural
Negative Cultural Transfer of Time Perspective in Intercultural Communication Between Chinese and American communication. But only to know the negative cultural transfer in time perspective is not enough, we should give out the solutions to this problem. Next we will talk about my own solutions to this problem.
Firstly, I think we should understand the altitude of time perspective in different cultures and the methods of how to control the using time. To strengthen the consciousness of intercultural communication and make the misunderstandings and unhappiness which come from the differences of time perspective to the lowest level. Secondly, when we find that our time perspective have some difference with other people’s who come from other
countries, we should not evaluate which is good, which is bad, but evaluate it objectively. We should respect the other kind of time perspective. Sometimes the time perspective may become a barrier in intercultural communication. When we cannot and are inconvenient to eliminate this barrier, we can avoid it and get the same result. Thirdly, the process of intercultural communication is the process of understanding other cultures. So only depending on one part to tolerate the other is not the good method to solve this problem. When we adapt to the time perspective of other countries, we also should explain our time perspective to let other people know our feelings. Just as: The foreigners who are arranged to work on Sundays completely can explain to the Chinese people that in their country the Sundays cannot be arranged for working. And when American invite Chinese to have a meal at 7:00, they can add that depending on their culture, this mean the guest should come at the period about 6:55 to 7:15.
The time perspective is a deep element of culture, it hide in the deep part of thought. It cannot be seen and touched, but it influences everyone’s thoughts and behaviors strongly.
And after the detailed analysis of the negative cultural transfer and also the solutions to this problem, I think we can successfully avoid some unnecessary misunderstandings in the intercultural communication. With this, the communication between Chinese and American will carry on successfully and the friendship between two these countries will become more firm and closer.
Brieger, Nick and Andy Jackson. Advanced International English. Great Britain: The Bath
Crystal, D. The Cambridge Factfinder. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.