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浙江师范大学非洲研究院

Blackface on the Chinese New Year Gala- A Classic example of Cross-Cultural Misunderstanding(附中文译文)

There’s a famous saying by Clifton Fadiman that says “when you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable”.

When people from different backgrounds and different nationalities communicate or interact with one another according to their own norms and values, sometimes their messages may be interpreted in ways different than those intended, due to cultural differences. In cross-cultural communications, this is called cross-cultural misunderstanding. Cross-cultural misunderstandings also happen when words, gestures and social contexts have different meanings in different cultures.

Duringthe 2018 Chinese Lunar New Year Gala event broadcasted on the Chinese National Television to millions of viewers worldwide, a sketch titled “Happy Together” performed by a mixed cast of both Chinese and African actors and actresses has caused an uproar worldwide for displaying signs of racism towards Africans. Whenin reality, the Chinese national TV was attempting to showcase the close “familial-like” ties between the people of China and Africa as the actors repeated the phrase “中非人民一家亲People of Africa and China are as close as one Family”.

In a previous interview for the BBC late 2017, I was asked whether or not as an African I had faced racism in China. As I explained to the reporter, racism is a concept emanating from a different corner of the planet, and what exists in China, in most cases, is ignorance to issues of race and cultural sensitivity rather than intentional racist behavior. Showing a blackface Chinese actress on the most important Chinese media event of the year does not show how racist china is, it rather shows the extent of the ignorance that exists in China towards these historically and geographically distant concepts.

The messages communicated through this sketch within a Chinese linguistic, historical and cultural context are completely different from those understood within a different linguistic, historical or cultural context. In China, there was never a culture of blackface in Chinese media, and at the same time, animal figures in literature and art always have auspicious connotations rather than offensive ones. Take Sun Wukong also known as Monkey King as an example, a mythological figure who features in a body of legends dating as far as the Song Dynasty that appears as the main character in the 16th century classic novelJourney to the West. in this story, a monkey born from a stone possesses supernatural powers, immense strength and is a skilled fighter who fights for righteous ideals. Sun Wukong is one of the most enduring Chinese literary characters, and if put to comparison to western animal figures in literature such asKing Kong, we can grasp the vast differences between Chinese and western artistic and literary cultures.  

In any instance of cross-cultural communications, there is always a need to be wary of judging another’s behavior according to one’s own historically and culturally influenced norms. instead, more effort should be spent on learning more about each other’s history and culture while maintaining an attitude of tolerance and understanding.

As the world increasingly becomes a small village, physical and geographic distances are dissolving at a faster rate than our knowledge of the world that surrounds us can catch up with. And as our connections bring us closer and closer, there lays a global responsibility to be aware of the differences that exist, and the need to be better informed about the cultural and historical specificities of civilizations other than our own.

In China, more effort should be done to inform and educate Chinese decision makers, and most importantly Chinese media practitioners on global issues of race. There is also an imminent need for training on diversity, and cultural sensitivity for different sectors of the population in order to ensure the sustainability of the “harmonious global family” president Xi Jinping aspires to create. At the same time, the global community, and African countries should not judge China with borrowed lenses, but instead spend more effort in understanding more about the country, its culture and history. Without a mutual effort to break down barriers, instances of cross-cultural misunderstandings may never seize to exist.

On a final note, the sketch “Happy Together”, must be commended for its effort to inform the millions of Chinese audiences glued to their TV sets on new year’s eve on the unique relationship China has with African countries. A relationship that is based on mutual respect and appreciation. The sketch attempted to showcase some of the gains of China-Africa engagements and the sentiments propelling them. Adding the sketch to the program of the New Year gala – one of the most important media events in the country- actually shows the importance China attaches to its relations with African countries. It is an important step towards better representation of the realities surrounding this relationship in media. Instead of deterring future efforts, “Happy Together” will serve as a valuable lesson to ensure better and more informed communication practices in the future.

 

Dr. Hodan Osman Abdi

Executive Director, Center for East African Studies

Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University

(本文作者: Hodan Osman Abdi,浙江师范大学非洲研究院东非区域国别研究中心执行主任

  

也谈春晚的跨文化交流——和丹文、和丹、王新译.docx  

 

作者:和丹

发表时间:2018-02-18

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