Intercultural Communication

Course Website for Tunghai FLLD Seminar

Ethnicity and “American” and “Chinese” Communication Styles

Posted by thuicc on October 16, 2004

One thing that I wanted you to see after reading the “Communication Patterns and Assumptions” article was the difference between how the author(s) of American Ways depict “American” communication styles and how “Communication Patterns” can lead us to understand that there isn’t necessarily one “communication style” that we can characterize as “American,” unless we’re willing to ignore a lot of people (such as Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, …).

This might (or it should) lead you to ask, “Why do people often equate European American communication styles and American communication styles?” Or, to put it less politely, why do the Americans described in American Ways sound so “white”? Any thoughts about this?

And how can we apply this situation or these insights about ethnicity to our discussions of “Chinese” communication styles? Are there ethnic groups with different communication styles in Taiwan, too?


7 Responses to “Ethnicity and “American” and “Chinese” Communication Styles”

  1. Lydia said

    Does it mean that when it comes to Taiwan culture, we should also take different cultures of ethnic groups in Taiwan into considerations? For example, Taiwan culture could be separated into Hakka culture, aboriginal culture,and Taiwanese culture. As a consequence, when others see Taiwan culture as one unit culture, but basically Taiwan culture is a combination of different small cultural groups.
    Here, i have a question.Is the definition of the “ethnic group” necessarily based on races? Could it also based on age since sometimes Taiwan culture is discussed according to cultures of different age groups?(culture of strawberry generation, culture of 6th grade, culture of 5th grade, and so on.)

  2. I don’t think different generations would usually be considered different “ethnic groups”, Lydia (although I did read once about a village in which everyone claimed Han Chinese identity but admitted that an elder to whom everyone was related was the ‘last aborigine’ in their village–ask me about this in class). But I do agree that there are probably big cultural differences between generations. (I was just thinking today about the Freshman English class I’m teaching this year and how different these freshmen are from the freshmen I taught here 11 years ago.) So perhaps intercultural communication should also concern intergenerational communication as well as interethnic communication.

    As to the other part of your post–I think one question I have is whether “Taiwan culture is a combination of different small cultural groups” or is a *mixture* of different groups. By using “mixture” instead of combination, I’m trying to describe how cultural practices or communication styles might cross ethnic lines for a variety of reasons. For instance, perhaps a group of Hakka people adopt some cultural practices of Southern Min people, or something like that. (My example is a little vague because I’m not sure I have a solid example. Maybe someone can help me with this.)

    At any rate, interesting post, Lydia. We should raise some of these ideas in class on Thursday.

  3. Chrisyo said

    From this question, at first, I think they don’t mean to do that. What they do is to put things clearly. They also focus on the time aspect. I think that’s because they are a little self-centred. They focus on themselves more. So other ethnic groups will feel the “white” people always act like that.
    Second, Chinese communication style is a little bit like the Asian styles mentioned in this article, including shy and indirect. Sometimes,there will be situations like what we mentioned about “white.” People who is not aboriginal will sometimes show less respect on the aboriginal. This may not often happen in urbanside. But in the countryside we could see this situation more often. People even in Taiwan will do it.

  4. Michelle said

    After reading the two articles, I found some differences, especially the aspect of eye contact.

    In American Ways, it says that Americans don’t usually look in the eye to whom they are not familiar with.

    However, In Communication Patterns Assumptions, there are two different kinds of descriptions toward the eye contact. It says that European Americans think that direct eye contact is regarded as a sign of honesty and sincerity. Therefore, they should look other in the eye while talking. On the contrary, Indian Americans and Latin Americans think that direct eye contact is considered to be rudeness and invasions and disrespectfulness. Thus, they don’t look other people’s eye while talking.

    In my opinion, Taiwanese culture is more close to European Americans’. We are always told to pay attention to others when other people are talking. If the listeners don’t do so, the speakers may feel that what they say are not very important. So, in a way, looking in the eye also shows our attentions and respects to other people.

    Probably when we go to USA in the future, we should know what Kind of person he/she is first. (European Americans or African Americans…) That will be better since there are so many different cultures and so many different roles in Americans. :p

  5. It’s interesting that you feel Taiwanese are more like the European Americans in terms of eye contact, Michelle. When the “Communication Patterns” article describes Asian Americans’ eye contact, it says: “Japan and China are overtly hierarchical societies in which it is always important to know one’s status relative to the person one is speaking with, so the proper forms of language and nonverbal communication can be used. Direct eye contact lasting longer than a second or two is avoided, especially with those superior to oneself in the hierarchy or with elders. To behave otherwise would be disrespectful.”

    I would have thought Taiwanese culture would be like the Asian American culture, but maybe it’s not. Maybe there have been some changes in Taiwanese culture that didn’t occur in Asian American cultures. (Or maybe the article is not quite accurate about Asian American culture?)

  6. Anonymous said

    I think that Taiwanese don’t really have some kind of patterns while communicate, except for someone asking “have you eaten yet?” However, I think nowadays young generations seldom use this kind of communication style to greet someone. I think that different ethnic groups don’t have various communication styles, but have different impression of each kind of ethnic groups. For example, we often see aboriginals as like drinking, and see Hakka people as thrifty.
    I think white American writers sometimes forget to observe things from different perspectives and might lead other ethnic groups of people having some misunderstanding of other’s culture.

    Evonne Wang

  7. Joce said

    The very reason that we often see European and American as the same is we can’t distinguish from the appearance. Moreover, most of the American immigrants are from Europe,especially the leading class, so Europe has a very profound effect on America. Taiwan is also the same case. Taiwan used to be governed by Chinese and Portuguese and Japanese. It is less than a hundred year since the day Taiwan seperated from China. In my opinion, although we always want the right to be independent, yet we cannot deny the influence of these culture.


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