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Foreigners lack basic understanding of Chinese culture


Beijing: Most foreigners, especially in the West, lack a basic understanding of the Chinese culture with the panda being the country’s most widely recognised cultural symbol followed by green tea, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted by Beijing Normal University, in the UK, France, the US, Japan, Australia and South Korea showed that about 74 per cent of people there have little knowledge about Chinese culture as a whole.

The respondents were asked about what they know about Chinese culture in terms of historical icons, philosophies, arts, natural resources, lifestyle and humanistic resources.

Respondents recognised specific cultural symbols such as panda and green tea but were unfamiliar with more abstract ones like Chinese philosophies and the arts, said the survey.

Respondents from the US showed greatest familiarity with Chinese culture, followed by Japan and South Korea. While those from France and Australia were less familiar with the culture, state-run Global Times reported.

“Japan and South Korea differed in their impression and interest in Chinese culture, with South Koreans being more positive while the Japanese more negative, and that might be related to bilateral relations and their nationals’ mindset,” said Yu Dan, a professor at the university who led the survey.

The survey, conducted from October to December last year, polled 2,407 respondents aged between 18 and 65.

“People in the West know about China’s past glory more than its contemporary achievements,” John Ross, senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, told the paper.

“It will take some years for greater awareness of these achievements.”

The Japanese and South Koreans are familiar with Chinese culture because they share certain cultural traditions, while the US studies China because it thinks China will be the next great power, Ross explained.

Researchers selected 18 symbols of Chinese culture, including Confucius, the panda, Peking opera and kung fu.

Most cultures are founded on a religion but Confucianism dominated Chinese culture. It is in some way easier for Europeans to understand a religious framework, said Ross.

The survey said the respondents showed a strong willingness to know about Chinese culture, but most of them were hesitant to see them in a positive way.

“As China becomes more powerful and prosperous, interest¬† in China will rise. Even if its soft power projection is very¬† skillful, it cannot change foreigners’ perception as much as China’s hard power,” said Ross.

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