A provocative and important study of the different ideas Easterners and Westerners have about the self and society and what this means for current debates in art, education, geopolitics, and business.
Never have East and West come as close as they are today, yet we are still baffled by one another. Is our mantra "To thine own self be true"? Or do we believe we belong to something larger than ourselves--a family, a religion, a troop--that claims our first allegiance? Gish Jen--drawing on a treasure trove of stories and personal anecdotes, as well as cutting-edge research in cultural psychology--reveals how this difference shapes what we perceive and remember, what we say and do and make--how it shapes everything from our ideas about copying and talking in class to the difference between Apple and Alibaba. As engaging as it is illuminating, this is a book that stands to profoundly enrich our understanding of ourselves and of our world.
Novelist Jen (Typical American) gleans insight from the field of cultural psychology and her own experiences as an American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants to explore the nature of cultural divide between Eastern and Western societies. She argues that the culture gap "stems from a difference between the conception of self that dominates the West and the conception of self that dominate the East." She explores the notion of the Western construct as "individualist, independent" and Eastern as "interdependent" and "collectivistic" through a variety of prisms such as education, business, art, and relationships and unpacks tough subjects, such as racism and prejudice in America, with sophisticated insight. Her examples are rooted in her own experience as a first generation Chinese-American, so the book focuses a lot on China and America, specifically describing the experiences of more affluent city-dwelling Americans. Jen is most compelling when she draws attention to the blended constructs of those who straddle both cultures, such as Taiwanese-American director Ang Lee or Chinese-American artist Maya Lin. She articulates the complexities of culture with a novelist's command of language in this rich exploration of the East-West culture gap.