Six Brilliant Illustrations of Chinese and Western Cultural Differences

The Chinese-born German artist Yang Lin explores how her two cultures part ways in a series of clever images.

A Westerner who first moves to China—a country that developed in isolation for much of its history—faces two major challenges. The first is understanding the Chinese language, often regarded as one of the world's most difficult to master. But the second is possibly even more vexing: cultural differences. Some are obvious, but others can be so insidious that it can require years to understand. And while the term is overused (A friend in Beijing tried to explain away the city's crooked taxi drivers as a “cultural difference.” I didn't buy it.) there are any number of legitimate differences in the ways Chinese people and Westerners go about their lives.

In lieu of verbal explanations, Yang Liu, a Chinese-born artist who has lived in Germany since she was 14, expressed these differences through ingenious illustrations first put together for an art installation five years ago. Juxtaposing Chinese cultural practices in red with German ones in blue—though the “German” norms are actually common throughout Western countries—the images are simple, evocative, and accurate. Here's a handful of the best ones, accompanied by captions underneath. (The full selection can be found here.)

Traveling and recording memories

How to stand in line

Ideal of beauty

The boss

Elderly in day-to-day life

Noise level inside a restaurant

These days in China, it isn't hard to find quiet restaurants, young women who like tan skin, independent travelers, and bosses who don't lord over their workers, so perhaps over time these differences might erode. But for now, these illustrations neatly encapsulate some of habits, customs, and expectations for which most Chinese people part ways with Westerners.



Matt Schiavenza is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He is a former global-affairs writer for the International Business Times and Atlantic senior associate editor.

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