Stop saying China is becoming “Western”

Stop saying China is becoming “Western” May 16, 2018


By Takeaway – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Here are a few phrases I’ve grown tired of.


China is so “Western” now.

X-city isn’t “real China.”

I feel like I don’t live in China anymore.

Why do people lament like this? What exactly do they call “Western”?

Who are you calling “Western”?

Time and again, they refer to various technological advances and conveniences found all around China. Everyone and their clothed dogs own a cell phone, maybe two. Buildings exceeding 20, 30, even 40 floors are commonplace. The increased number of subways make life convenient. But even this is nothing compared to the existence of TaoBao, DiDi (the Chinese version of Uber), and paying for everything with one’s phone (via Alipay, WeChat Pay, etc.)

“Remember when guys with donkeys pulling their carts would be on the road?” someone will then reminisce.

Another person says, “It was nice to be in ‘real China’ again,” after a weekend in a rural village. “Everything is so Western now.”

Public Domain

Comments like these, in essence, label something “Western” simply because it uses modern technology or makes life as convenient for Chinese as for Westerners. What makes advanced technology and industry distinctly “Western”? One ought to recall that Japan has long been a leader in the field of technology. Yes, I know, some people will reply, “But Japan is so Westernized now!”

What do these statements seem to imply? It sounds as if only “Western” countries can be technologically advanced whereas non-Western cultures must remain backward lest they forsake their culture. Thus, some people unwittingly speak as though lack of development were an inherent aspect of non-Western cultures.

Now that’s imperialist thinking.

Are these comments oblivious & offensive?

One writer asks, “Why does China have this great desire to become Westernized at the expense of its own identity?” Another one I’ve heard many times is, “I’m so sad China is losing its culture.”

This remark often carries a critical, condemning tone as if expressing outrage on behalf of Chinese people. From this perspective, every tall building and iPhone is indirect proof of America colonizing China through its cultural might.

Credit: hanfulove CC 2.0

The absurdity of this view is exceeded only its offensiveness. Can Asia countries not want to have the lifestyle long enjoyed by Westerners? Are they somehow incapable of developing technologies or adopting fashions? It is quite conceivable that Chinese women prefer wearing pants or skirts instead of a Qi Pao.

What about a “Mao Suit” (Zhongshan suit), which only become vogue in the 1900s? That apparel was popularized by Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan), who helped overthrow the last feudal Qing Dynasty. Does that make the “the father of the nation” less Chinese because he rejected feudalism and sought to modernize China?

By way of quick reminder ––

Alibaba is Chinese.

Samsung is Korean.

Toyota and Sony are Japanese.

The tallest building in the world is in Dubai.

HDFC Bank is the brainchild of an Indian businessman.

Even Chinese culture changes

One publication offers a contrasting view in an article titled “China Is Becoming Modern, Not Western.” Modern perhaps is a better word.

But what people need to remember is this. As people from different cultures interact, those cultures change. A few millennia ago, “Westerners” were polytheists. Then, a Palestinian religion spread monotheism throughout Europe. No one complains that Western cultures were “Near Easternized.” Nowadays, many people call Christianity a “Western” religion?

Do I deny the influence of Western culture? Of course not. Among younger generations, we see increased individualism. But a collectivistic, face-oriented culture still prevails. Levels of individualism tend to rise where economic conditions free people from traditional means of sustenance. Does anyone suggest that Chinese people should not seek a better quality of life than their ancestors?


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