Intercultural Communication Between China
And the Rest of the World:
Beyond (Reverse) Essentialism and Culturalism?
“If one says: “You think like this and we think like that”, then we just stare at each other and “dialogue” stops here.”
Anne Cheng (2010)
In Europe and elsewhere, China is often described as a “monochrome forest” (Cheng, 2008) but at the same time as an imagined heterotopia in Foucault’s terms (i.e. a place of otherness par excellence). As such over 1 billion people (and the Chinese “diaspora” abroad) tend to be described and constructed in limited, static, and sometimes implicitly negative ways. For Alleton (2007), such ideas have been constructed since the Roman Empire based on the “fragmented information” brought back by merchants, travellers and missionaries who visited China. The Chinese themselves have also cultivated these elements by (re)inventing themselves and their culture, and reversing the representations that the so-called West has created. At the same time, however, the Chinese have also othered the “West.”
The field of intercultural communication, which has both attempted to prepare people from the “East” and the “West” to meet and to analyse such encounters, has contributed to essentialising and culturalising the Chinese. For many specialists of intercultural communication the Chinese are pragmatic, lack autonomy and are intellectually ‘immobile’ (Chemla, 2007). It is easy to see how ideological such qualities are. Yet increasing critical voices call for a change in the way intercultural communication between China and the rest of the world is conceptualised, constructed, analysed, and interpreted. As such an overemphasis on the concept of culture (as in “communicating with Chinese culture”), which is often a “substitute for a demonstration” (Bayart, 2005), is problematic as it avoids taking into consideration Chinese people’s multifaceted identities (gender, social class, generation, language, etc.). For Amartya Sen (2006): “invoking the magical power of some allegedly predominant identity… drowns other affiliations”.
Even worse is the fact that the issue of power is often ignored in such analyses. In his postmodern critical approach to intercultural communication and ideology, Holliday (2011) puts power at the center of his analysis of the intercultural. Amongst other things, he demonstrates clearly how culture and prejudice can work hand in hand in everyday life and how the former can lead “easily and sometimes innocently to the reduction of the foreign Other as culturally deficient” when one tries to describe and define a culture in opposition to another, even in research where such ideas can be presented as neutral and objective. His central analytical element is ideology, or rather “ideological imaginations of culture” which can lead to the “demonization of a particular foreign other”. Holliday also criticizes the “lack of belief that the non-Western Other can be complex and sophisticated just like us”. Again it is easy to see how much of this has been recycled in e.g. scholarly and media discourses about the Chinese.
Attitudes towards China have evolved throughout history, changing how its culture has been described and discussed. Throughout the centuries, one figure has been used more frequently than any other to construct Chinese culture in China and abroad: the philosopher Confucius. Even if Confucianism (a notion invented by the “West”) is said to be the basis of Chinese thinking, behaviour, and culture, Confucius has not always been revered in China and has witnessed ups and downs. Today, Confucius appears to be a “market” (Cheng, 2009), not only in China but also in Korea, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, and in overseas Chinese communities. Cheng (2009) goes as far as talking about the emergence of “Confucius Economicus” in the period of 1990-1997.
This interdisciplinary conference aims at analysing but also counter-attacking essentialist and culturalist analyses of intercultural communication between China and the rest of the world. Papers on any of the following topics may be submitted. The approach can be diachronic or synchronic and deal with any context of intercultural communication involving the Chinese (study abroad, online interaction, tourism, business, diplomacy, the media, etc.). Researchers in the fields of (amongst others) sinology, education and pedagogy, communication, sociology, linguistics, (social) psychology, cultural studies but also economics and management are invited to submit a proposal:
– Orientalism, Occidentalism and their reverse forms (imaginaries, stereotypes)
– Intercultural training/education
– Othering the Chinese; The Chinese othering ‘others’
– The use of culture as an alibi
– Explaining misunderstandings beyond culture as an excuse
– Analyzing ‘successful’ intercultural communication
– Beyond differentialist biases
– China’s intercultural communication beyond the ‘West’ (Africa, Asia, etc.)
– The use, misuse and abuse of Confucius to explain interculturality
– Non-verbality: alternative means of analysis
– Mélanges and mixing in Chinese ‘culture’
– Power relations and intercultural communication
– Identity ‘games’
– Responsibility of researchers, practitioners in othering the Chinese
Paper and colloquia proposals are invited.
Individual paper proposals (100-150 words; duration: 30 minutes including a twenty-minute presentation, with an additional ten minutes for discussion).
Colloquia proposals (200 words for the colloquium concept and 100-150 words on each paper, duration: 3 hours, max. 5 participants – conveners and discussant included)
Abstracts will be reviewed by the scientific committee for originality, significance, clarity and academic rigour.
Decisions about the submitted proposals: 1st February 2014
Questions should be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org