The Olive Way E-Newsletter 

July 2010


America in the Eyes of Chinese 


Knowing how others perceive us and our culture helps us better understand others as well as ourselves.  In business, that understanding makes it so much easier to build relationships, to conduct successful negotiations, and to gain business.  How do I know it?  Simple, it has benefited me tremendously in my international business career.  That is why I remain an avid reader of books that contribute to that kind of understanding.  This month, I will share with you some excerpts from my review of the following book in the 1991 summer issue of The Canadian Review of American Studies.        



R. David Arkush and Leo O. Lee, trans. and eds.  Land Without Ghosts: Chinese Impressions of America from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.  ix + 309 pp.   ____________________________________________________________


Since the “gold rush” in the middle of the last century, Chinese have been coming to America as sojourners, visitors, students and, more recently, as immigrants.  America, if not so much of a mystery to the Chinese as China is to the Americans, remains for the Chinese a strange land.  The sense of strangeness is particularly strong for newcomers.  This book, a collection of thirty-seven essays by thirty-five authors covering almost all aspects of American life, deals with strangeness, differences and even with similarities.  It serves many purposes.


Land Without Ghosts is readable and full of interest; one is immediately attracted by the several illustrations depicting the Western social customs and behaviour that intrigued the Chinese visitors: a female doctor removing a tumor on a woman’s chest, or nineteen-century Grand Minister Li Hongzhang’s curiosity and fascination with a beautiful young woman on a unicycle.  One might not remember everything one reads in this book, but few would forget Zhao Ning’s cartoon of Chinese students posing in front of a billboard of a half-nude woman, their frustration at ballroom lights going dark, their response to being invited to dinner, and their nostalgic memories of a noodle stand when they have to get their food from a vending machine.  Ye Qianyu’s 1940s satirical cartoon on the Chinese “free port” experience, descriptions of a skyscraper, the size of fruits, a self-service newsstand, parking problems, consumption and Chinese restaurants in the United States make a long-lasting impression on the reader. 


The essays themselves are of reasonable length.  The accounts of America come from writers in various occupations, including government officials, diplomats, journalists, essayists, sociologists, novelists and so on, and they cover a wide range of topics, from presidential elections to women’s issues, from education to science and technology, from professors to students, from the upper-class to the lower-class, from value concepts to American life-styles and eating habits.  Depending on when it was written and where in China the writer came, each article falls into one of six categories of description: exotic America, menacing America, model America, flawed America, familiar America and America rediscovered.  This is the kind of book one can pick up and read without feeling pressure, but which is hard to let go without finishing.


This book provides cultural rather than physical orientations (if I may use the word) to American society.  “Strange Customs,” “How to Cope with Western Dinner Parties,” “Eating in America” and “Six Don’ts for Chinese Students in America,” regardless of the time they were written, all offer help to those unfamiliar with American culture, preparing them to accept the many differences, and lessening the kind of culture shock they would otherwise experience.


This book also provides an interesting study of how the Chinese have viewed Americans.  One sees how Chinese impressions of America were formed and how they have changed over the years.  It is, therefore, among other things, a valuable account of Chinese intellectual history.



Letters to the Editor


Re “The Green Hat Lesson”, November 2008


Great article!     —Patricia Fripp, San Francisco, USA


Jacqueline, I just read the “Green Hat” article, and I feel it’s excellent!

—Bonnie Mattick, Phoenix, USA


Jacqueline, I read your article—wow it’s a terrifically written piece and it clearly outlines the MAJOR business mistakes people can make.

—Robin Ryan, Newcastle, USA


The article is eloquent and valuable.    —Joanne McDowall, Winnipeg, Canada


Great article...                                                             —Elaine Froese, Boissevain, Canada





“Expand Globally—Avoid the Leading Cause for Failure”, an adaptation of “The Green Hat Lesson”, was published by the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers in the July/August 2010 Issue of “So to Speak”.



Have a comment?  Want to share your thoughts and stories with me or our readers?  Please send your email to us.  We look forward to hearing from you!


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