East vs. West

April 4, 2011

The following series of picture compares culture of the east and the west. They may look eurocentric to some, but the objectivity of these comparisons is substantiate by the background of the artist who created them – Yang Liu, born and raised in Beijing, moved to Germany and has been living their since her 20s.

Expressing Opinion (Blue: west; Red: east)


Problem Solving

(See the rest of the collection here)

There is no tendency in her works whatsoever about the superiority of either culture, and it is perfectly okay for not doing so. Nevertheless, for the audience, it is instinctive that we would fall for one (either the east or the west) over another, not necessarily because we think one is better than the other, but in doing so we give meaning to the art and ourselves, which, after all, it is ultimate purpose of art.

Being born and raised in Hong Kong, a city that takes pride in its east-meets-west cultural identity, I am instantly connected to Liu’s works as soon as soon as I laid eyes on them. But what I’m interested is not writing a “oh-yeah-this-is-so-true” kinda opinion about her art pieces. I am more into thinking about the “why” of her work. Why is there such a difference between between the east and the west? I have come up with several explanations.

To explain the difference in culture, one could never ignore the history of the people who embodied that culture, in this case – the Chinese people. However, due to my limited knowledge in history and the limited attention-span of blog readers (thank you for bearing with me), I am just gonna use my experience and understanding of the eastern society today to explain.

1. Personal space

Unlike in Europe and America, most cities in Asia are densely populated. While most of the people in the west live in spacious 2- to 10-storey houses or apartments, the majority of people in the east, most notably Hong Kong, live in apartments on 20th floor of crowded residential condos. This means that eastern people, in general, have less personal space compare to their western counterparts. The lack of personal space alone is responsible for many of the differences we saw in Liu’s work.

Having less personal space means that “me” often takes a back seat because “me” is constantly under surveillance. The expression of “me” that does not conform with the family’s values, tradition or culture is both consciously and subconsciously suppressed.  That’s why the eastern people tends to have small egos. This limitation in the modern living environment has also reinforced the preference for collectivism over individualism deeply rooted in eastern philosophy.

This lack of person space tend to spawn conflicts between family members, for obvious reasons. However, the concept of piety has long been preached by many Chinese philosophers and it is still considered as one of the most important features of the Chinese culture. Challenging your own family members, especially when they are your seniors (and even more especially when they are your mom and dad) is declared a taboo in the face of moral imperatives of piety and family integrity. Again, the thoughts and emotions of “me” take a back seat. Easterners will do everything they could to avoid confrontation with the family, and in doing so, undermines one’s ability to express him/herself. To extrapolate this philosophy into problem-solving ability in everyday life, we could easily explain why easterners tend to work around a problem but not face it head-on.

All these just because of the lack of personal space….

(to be continued)


7 Responses to “East vs. West”

  1. y Says:

    “Challenging your own family members, especially when they are your seniors (and even more especially when they are your mom and dad) is declared a taboo in the face of moral imperatives of piety and family integrity.”

    Don’t think it was a taboo in confucianism but as time passed it became. I think fundamentally wt the chinese philosophy is about balance and respect. It’s all about how you present your criticism.

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