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换个角度看文化

如果用几个字来概括外国人对中国的印象,那么“古老神秘的东方大国”最合适不过了。中国历史悠久,地域辽阔,但是为什么要用“神秘”二字来形容呢?在作者看来,这种神秘感的形成在于我们看待文化的方式。人们通常把文化看成一个名词,但作者却认为文化是个动词,是关于一个既定群体如何谈论、思考和看待本国以及这个世界。在拥有同样语言、传统、历史、教育的大背景下,哪怕是从小我身上也能看到整个民族文化的共性。

 

 

换个角度看文化

 

By Charlotte Chen 王博 注

 

 

I lived in the Round Square House during its first year as a Chinese and the only international student whose first language is not English. Since one of the six ideals of the house is internationalism, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to represent the hearts and minds of 1 billion Chinese people and five thousand years of Chinese history.

One night during tea we somehow started a conversation about favorite childhood TV shows. Just as it was always the case in conversations like this, I sat quietly in the corner of the room and listened, trying hard to understand what’s going on but did not have a clue. Perhaps because I was quieter than usual that night, Gemma noticed my awkward silence, and made the group to pay its attention.

“Let’s hear what Charlotte wants to say. She looks like she has something to share.”

“Well,” I said, “I think it is kind of difficult for me to be part of the conversation because I watched Chinese animation and TV shows when I was little. It is not because that I don’t want to speak—it is just that Chinese culture is very different from American culture.”

The group went silent for a while.

“Well, that makes sense.” A girl finally broke the silence, “But you should not lock yourself up. If you want us to learn and understand your culture, you should speak up more and share it with us.”

She was right. I was too quiet and shy to be a helpful messenger of my culture. However, even though I agreed with her suggestion, I also wanted to reject it simultaneously. It was really a strange frustration and bafflement that I could neither understand nor explain at that time.

What exactly is my culture? I asked myself.

The first answer that came to my mind was a picture of the Great Wall. Then I thought about the Tiananmen Square—the Chinese equivalent of the National Mall —and the Chinese National Flag. All of these are symbols that visually represent Chinese culture, but here’s the thing: They are relevant to me, but they are not so to someone who is unfamiliar with China. In order to engage my audience, I need something more tangible and interesting, something that could create empathy regardless of cultural differences. That object, as I came to realize much later, is, in fact, my life.

Answering the same question, “What exactly is my culture?” through the lens of my life, I came up with some better answers. My culture can mean sitting by a round table and sharing 15 dishes with family members. It can be the voice of the anchor of the national evening news broadcast or my Red Tie that I proudly wore as a member of the Young Pioneers. It can be the mixed smell of cigarette, sweat, green onions and cup noodles in a crowded train station before and after Chinese New Year when millions of people hopped on trains to head back homes. It can be a beautiful poem written in ancient Chinese from 2,000 years ago that I recite again and again even to this day.

Of course these are biased answers. However, coming from my own perspective, they are more effective to reflect something quite interesting but often subtle about China and its culture, because even though my story is only one out of 1.3 billion, it has been shaped and modeled and polished just like that of other Chinese people by the same language, the same history, the same political system, the same education and the same traditions. I now understand why I felt so rejected and baffled by the girl’s suggestion, that I should “open up and share my culture” with others. Culture is not a noun. Culture is a verb. It is how a specific group of people talk, think and see the world. However, like the girl, I saw my culture as a mere concept rather than how I engage with it. I was not frustrated with her suggestion. Rather, I was frustrated with the fact it is simply impossible for me to condense the years I spent growing up in China into a big box, hand it to people and tell them, “hey, this is my culture.” There is no better way to spread my culture than to simply tell you about my stories and my opinions. Ask me about China and I will give you an answer. It might not be close to the truth, but it is authentic and credible in that sense. A “wrong answer” could be revealing and thought-provoking as well. There will be differences and disagreements among us, but that’s totally OK. The first step towards understanding a culture is to have the empathy and curiosity for the spectrum of human experiences that comprises, legitimizes and enriches that culture.

We are living in an increasingly divided world where peace seems nowhere to be found. The prevailing cynicism and pessimism seem to confirm Samuel Huntington’s thesis that the fundamental cause of conflict in the world after the Cold War is no longer differences in ideologies but rather differences in cultures. However, why can’t we see cultures in another way? Instead of having only one worldview, we now have many different ones because of cultural exchange. Instead of having only one solution for peace, we can now look to different traditions for more inspiration. Instead of letting cultures clash, we should have them talk to each other—and we are the ones who can make such communication happen.

Every single one of us on this planet has a piece of puzzle inscribed with our stories. If all of the pieces are collected and put together, we will have the picture of universal peace, love and understanding. We can choose to ignore the little piece we have and keep living in our small world, or we can make our piece count if we remain curious about the larger world, understand culture as the sum of human experiences and make an effort to learn the stories behind any argument that we might disagree with an open heart and an open mind. We are all interconnected. Our threads of fates are interwoven. I am ready to contribute my piece for peace. Are you?

作者:陈梅婷,美国寄宿女子高中Emma Willard School 2017届毕业生,爱好文学、历史、国际关系和文化交流,擅长用有温度的文字和相机镜头记录生活。曾在校担任模拟联合国社长及文艺杂志文学版主编,并获得过国际 学生英语奖。九月即将入读耶鲁大学。

Vocabulary

1. Round Square: 方圆组织,成立于1966年,是一个世界性的顶尖学校联盟,成员学校间共享教育教学资源,开展深度的校级师生互访,为更多拥有共同志向的孩子提供走出国门、走向世界的机会。

2. animation: 动画片。

3. messenger: 信使,通信员。

4. simultaneously: 同时地。

5. bafflement: 困惑,不解,下文出现的baffle为其动词原形。

6. National Mall: 华盛顿国家广场,一个开放型国家公园,从林肯纪念堂延伸到国会大厦,是美国国家庆典和仪式的首选场地。

7. engage: 吸引住(注意力、兴趣等);tangible: 摸得着的,有形的;empathy: 同感,共鸣。

8. lens: 镜头。

9. anchor: (电视、广播节目)主持人;Young Pioneers: 少年先锋队,其成员佩戴红领巾:。

10. biased: 有偏见的,片面的。

11. 然而我认为,思考中国和其文化中有趣但细微的部分会更有意义。虽然我的故事只占了十三亿分之一,但和其他中国人的经历一样,它经过塑造、成型、打磨的过程,因为我们说着同样的语言,有着共同的历史,生活在同样体制之下,接受着同样的教育,也继承着同样的传统。subtle: 不易察觉的,微妙的;polish: 修饰,润色。

12. condense: 压缩,精简。

13. authentic: 真正的,真实的;credible: 可信的。

14. revealing: 有启迪作用的,发人深省的;thought-provoking: 引人深思的,provoke意为“引起,激起”。

15. the/a spectrum of: 广泛的,一系列的,spectrum意为“范围,各层次”;comprises: 构成,组成;legitimize: 使合法,证明……有理。

16. 现下盛行的愤世嫉俗和悲观主义似乎印证了塞缪尔•亨廷顿的理论,即冷战后引发各地冲突的根本原因不再是意识形态的不同,而是各文化间的差异。prevailing: 普遍的,盛行的;cynicism: 愤世妒俗;pessimism: 悲观主义,悲观情绪;Samuel Huntington: 塞缪尔•亨廷顿(1927—2008),美国当代著名的国际政治理论家,曾任教于哈佛大学并供职于美国政府部门,著有《文明的冲突与世界秩序的重建》;ideology: 思想体系。

17. clash: 冲突,不相容。

18. inscribe: 写,刻

19. count: 有重要性,有影响。

20. interweave: 交织,交错。


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