Berlin-based graphic artist Yang Liu moved with his family from Beijing to Berlin in 1990, at the age of 13. Drawing on his own childhood and adult experiences, he created a graphic series about the differences, customs, lifestyle and behavior of Eastern and Western culture East meets West with title. Liu, who was able to absorb the Eastern way of life and thinking by the age of 13, clearly sees the differences between the two cultures. It is also worth taking a look at his drawings and marveling at how a Japanese and a Hungarian stand in line, how the Chinese and the Americans deal with problems. But what can these differences come from? Can history, geography or culture change the way we think and see?
Is there any difference at all?
Oswald Spengler In the twilight of the west he wrote about the connections between civilizations and history:
The entire content of human history can be condensed into the fate of individual cultures that follow one another, grow up side by side, come into contact with each other, recolor and oppress each other.
The 20th century metaphysician and philosopher René Guénon believed that there is an obvious spiritual difference between the West and the East, which is the difference between the modern and the traditional spirit. Since he voted for tradition, and his work laid the foundation for the traditional way of life, he moved from France to Egypt.
According to Samuel P. Huntington, the main civilizations of the present are Chinese, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Orthodox, Western, Latin American, African, but he rejects the East-West distinction, which he considers to be only a myth, instead the distinction “the West and the rest” recommends. It is true that Eastern cultures (such as Japanese and Chinese) are fundamentally different from each other in terms of society, faith, and values. However, many people have remained with the long-established division and are trying to find out the reasons for the differences based on this.
Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia with colleagues in a psychological study investigated Eastern and Western thought. According to their research, Western people are more individualistic, that is, they consider personal success more important than common success, they have greater self-esteem and self-confidence, and they strive more strongly for personal happiness. Eastern people tend to underestimate their abilities, and their personal freedom is less important.
With a simple “triple test” it is easy to determine whether someone thinks holistically or in an individualistic way: which two elements are more closely connected train, bus, track of words. Western thinking usually connects the bus and the train as vehicles, the Eastern thinking the train and the track, focusing on their functional relationship. But let’s note that if someone grows up next to Keleti pályaudvar, it is certain that they will associate it more with the East.
It doesn’t matter where and what you eat
The USA is the most individualistic of the Western countries, perhaps because, as the historian Frederick Jackson Turner says,
westward expansion and discovery required an independent spirit, one had to fight with the wilderness and with each other.
Recent psychological studies have shown that residents of border states (such as Montanans) think more individually than residents of central states.
In Japan, the way of thinking is more collectivist and holistic, but it is also possible to differentiate here according to regions: the migration to the northern areas and the boosted agriculture with the help of the Americans changed the way of thinking. Shinobu Kitayama, a researcher at the University of Michigan, says:
People in Hokkaido value independence and personal achievement more than Japanese people from other islands.
Thomas Talhelm, from the University of Chicago, recently studied 28 different provinces in China and found that thinking and outlook on life may also depend on the region’s local agriculture. In Beijing, in the north, people are friendlier, in the south, for example, in Guangzhou, they are more distant.
Talhelm examined the only significant difference between the areas, and that was the type of plant species grown.
Rice is typically grown in the southern areas, and wheat in the north. The cultivation of rice requires labor-intensive, collective work, and the people living here showed a more holistic and collectivist way of thinking. Wheat, on the other hand, does not need much care, success depends on rainfall and not on cooperation or irrigation, so the local people have an individualistic attitude.
It seems that the characteristics and traditions of regional units also shape our thinking. But due to the past and present relations between Eastern and Western countries, it is still not possible to sharply differentiate between the ways of thinking, at most we can talk about the dominance of one or the other. In addition, age and social class also affect the outlook on life.