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The Basis of Cultural Differences

The First Words We Learned to Read

In Australia we were given a book written by an ex-patriot Chinese, "Mao's Last Dancer" by Li Cunxin.  It's a fascinating story of a poor peasant boy who grew up during the cultural revolution, was chosen to train in Madame Mao's Dance Academy, and defected to the West after Nixon visited China.  One thing that impressed me, of many, was his account of going to school in the 1960's and the first sentence he learned to read:  "I love Chairman Mao".  "Mao's Last Dancer"  by Li Cunxin.  A great read.
     I asked my students last week what the first sentences they learned were.  One response: "I am a Chinese.  I love my country."  Another was "My mother loves me.  My father loves me. I love my mother and father."

  From the Dick and Jane reading primer.  See Dick run.     A page from the Dick and Jane primer.

Contrast this with the first sentences we learned to read.  "See Dick.  See Dick run."  Our primer emphasized independent action,  not emotion or connections.  The connections were there and implied, but not expressed.  Our culture is all about individual actions, with or without others involved.  The Chinese culture is all about community, connection to family and country.
    
I'm not making a judgment here.  Frankly, I prefer my culture.  Western people tend to find emotional expressions of love for family or community a bit embarrassing, even cloying, except on special occasions like weddings and funerals.  It's stating the obvious.  I think my family connections were intense enough without my primary school education re-enforcing them.  But it is interesting to note the difference between my culture and the Chinese culture.  Maybe this is why we find our students such sweet people.

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