Friday, November 12, 2010

Universal Values and China

The class discussion on Liu Xiaolo is such a perfect example of just how complex cross-cultural communication can be. The question becomes one of deep seeded beliefs and ways of life, often ones that we are blind to. I know that before in this class we have questioned the idea of “individualism” versus “collectivism”, saying that people love to boil the west v. east cultural struggle to these opposites often too easily. But it is worth questioning the idea of whether or not we are too quick to assume that there are “universal values” everyone can agree with. Read about this debate in China here.

Are there such things as universal values? Is it our right to question China from afar? Saudi women’s rights? The Indian caste system? Are we going to take on one culture at a time for not adhering to our system of values?

Here is an interesting quote from the Economist:
Mr Liu writes positively about the growth of civil society in China. But he is scathing about the willingness of the Chinese public to bend to party authority, so long as the party continues to provide opportunities (no matter how underhand) to get rich. Mr Liu is despondent about the prospects for a public push for change in China’s authoritarian system. “The repression by the dictatorial authorities is, admittedly, one of the reasons, but the indifference of the populace is an even greater cause,” he says. -The Economist

Is the “indifference of the populace” enough to clue us in to the will of the people? At least the majority? Isn’t that a democracy?

Would love to know your thoughts.


  1. This is something I've always thought about as well. I don't really think that there are "universal values." I think there are predominant Western ones that though the use of media, economics, and globalization that are portrayed as the so called universal ones. As much as I don't necessarily agree with, for example, the human rights issue in China or the treatment of Iraqi women, it's not my place to judge an entire culture for being so different from mine. This brings my thoughts to missionaries. Sure missionaries do SOME good work, but overall enforcing their typically westernized culture on others is quite disgusting in my opinion. Why can't these other cultures exist on their own? And yes, I do acknowledge that as the world becomes globalized this does affect Americans, for example, American businesses like Nike with the sweatshop issues, etc. I just think that we can't judge other cultures in adherence to ours.

  2. I think that what probably needs to be taken into account with China is not just "collectivist" spirit but of the formation of a culture within a certain context. China is doing well and in the context of an economically thriving environment, collectivism and belief in state works. I am sure, speaking with my roommates from different regions of China that once outside the context see things differently or at least provide different insight into why the greater good of the state is important. Truthfully, as stated by Hall in his book "Beyond Culture", one can't understand ones own culture until they leave it.
    Also I don't believe there is a concept of "universal values", just as I believe we can't judge individuals outside of our value system by using our own values as the ruler. In the case of class that seems to be just what occurred, though I'm going to chalk it up to the topic at hand and that they took it from a non-Chinese view point or at the very least never took into consideration the culture.