Notes on Intercultural Communication

Posts Tagged ‘asian thinking

Individualism-Collectivism and Accountability

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Individualism – Collectivism and Accountability in Intergroup Negotiations



However, for those who place a high emphasis on collectivism, cooperative behavior and harmony with others, especially with persons with whom one is similar, is normative and is likely to ensure positive evaluations in accountable negotiations.


In the low-accountability condition, those who had high levels of collectivism reported less cooperative intentions and behavior, and achieved lower outcomes, as compared to representatives with low levels of collectivism.


However, the current research suggests that negotiators’ behavior depends both on the nature of the negotiation situation, as well as on negotiators’ collectivism. Applying this to cross-cultural investigations, this suggests that broad generalizations about the negotiation styles of cultural groups, which does not take situations into account, are likely to be inappropriate.

Read the full essay online or download as pdf.

Michele J. Gelfand / University of Maryland at College Park
Anu Realo / University of Tartu, Estonia
Journal of Applied Psychology , 1999, Vol. 84, No. 5, 721-736 – retrieved 08.12.2011 from



Cultural Aspects of Information Management in China

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Cultural Aspects of Information Management in China (Abstract)

Collectivistic Background

Chinese culture is a collectivist culture which stresses the interdependence and long-term mutual obligations between individuals and organizations. People are expected to follow group values and initiatives. As found in the study of western ecommerce diffusion in China, Chinese people prefer small group based operations with emphasis on long-term relationship, interorganizational collaboration and re-negotiation. Another ecommerce study also indicates that collectivist features like clubs, chat rooms and family themes have a higher percentage occurrence on Chinese websites than on US domestic websites.

Chinese collectivism, however, differs substantially from those prevailing in other Asian countries. They are individualistic collectivism where small group or family value is emphasized, rather than society oriented. In contrast to Japanese society, which may be considered as a block of granite, the Chinese resembles a tray of loose sand, where every grain is a family.

This opinion is consistent with the finding of Martinsons and Westwood (1997) that the Chinese power structure is perhaps best represented by a series of concentric circles or “family” with the patriarch in the center. The traditional family values are emphasized in this circle. The Chinese collectivism can be either an inhibitor or enabler of IS practices. Most information is gathered and processed in Chinese environment is intended to support the top managers of various small circles, which results in many independent systems and data that are hard to integrate or share. Such behaviors actually make Chinese collectivism a negative factor in ERP implementation. From above analysis, Chinese collectivism may be seen as individualistic collectivism.

Hierarchical Power Structure

Chinese management philosophy is characterized by centralized authorities as well as directive and hierarchical structures due to the long power distance and paternalistic tendency. The position of top management in Chinese business is overwhelming. No other champion is needed because such a champion would be seen as a challenge to the authority of top management, which often leads to power conflicts. And both top managers and lower level staffs are not comfortable with empowerment because they are accustomed to the practice that key decisions are made by top management. It is also natural that Chinese business leaders use their authorities to facilitate modifying subordinates behaviors in change management.

Unfortunately, Chinese top managers do not appear to realize the importance of IT and IT management. Consequently, they commit less on IT management. Problem arise when Chinese managers rarely accept knowledge input from their subordinates, and when the IT decisions by top management are seldom made with due consultation with end users This may be helpful to speed up IT decision and IT implementation, but such bureaucratic and arbitrary organizational culture is seen as one important cause of IT project failures.

The hierarchy management structure also helps to explain the correlation between power and information in China. Information control is one of the predominant sources of power in China. Critical information in China is selectively preserved instead of being distributed widely. Information is often treated as an individual property and critical information controlled by individual can be used to preserve discretionary power in Chinese organization. It is quite obvious in e-government practices in China where branches of government purposely hold back some information and obstruct large-scale information sharing in order to keep their power and interests.

Uncertainty Tolerance

Uncertainty tolerance is the extent a person feels comfortable in unstructured situations. It is commonly accepted that there are two different cultures, namely, uncertainty avoiding culture and uncertainty accepting culture.

The former tries to minimize uncertainly by taking strict laws and regulations, or risk control measures. The later tolerates ambiguous situation, and tries to live peacefully with it.

The majority of the studies, however, argue that the Chinese culture is uncertainty tolerant. Martinsons (1997) and Lam et al(2005) show that East Asians, especially Chinese people are more comfortable with unclear information. This corresponds with the informal communication path among Chinese that relies more on personal experience. They keep more information among themselves, rather than explicitly express it. It is common in China that you need to guess the “true” meaning of conversation beside the surface information, because Chinese people like to use allusion to tell something they think you should know and would understand.

Based on authors’ own understanding about uncertainty tolerance as native Chinese, the uncertainty avoidance mentioned in the literature is mainly because of the importance of information for the power, rather than unable to tolerate the uncertainty. So the idea that Chinese culture is uncertainty tolerant is supported. Contrary to the traditional thinking that Chinese people are more conservative in regard to change, the literature demonstrates that Chinese people’s attitude seems to be more positive toward change and towards new technology when they come to experience it.

Both Collis (1995) and Brown et al(1998) conclude that people from China hold more positive attitudes on change and new technologies than those from countries that they compare, namely, UK, US and Japan.

Intuitive Decision Making

The way that Chinese people make decisions or solve problems is relatively unstructured compared with westerners “the Chinese’s decisions are comparatively implicit, relying on analogical and correlative thinking, rather than on rational and analytic thinking”. Although Chinese managers refer to information or data to support decision making process, only a few data analysis is used even when deciding the most important issues.

The entrepreneurial model of strategy making that relies on personal knowledge and intuition rather than objective criteria or formal and quantitative method is dominant in Chinese decision making. Therefore, “the decision making process usually involves few people and takes short time to make”.

The decision making of Chinese people is also characterized to be highly contextual. Regulation and rules may play important role in directing the decision, but in most situations, Chinese people like to adopt “the individual-policy-for-individual-issue approach”, which means that the executors of rules usually can find some room for themselves to make flexible decisions.

Cultural Aspects of IS in China
Xiang-Hua Lu / School of Management, Fudan University
Michael S H Heng / National University of Singapore

Download the full pdf here.

The PACIS (Pacific Asia Conference on IT Systems) has tons of other interesting material and is worth a visit.


The I Ging – structure in East Asian Collectives (Natural Order)

This Matrix defines the Relationship Layer (Ranking/Relation) and the Appeal Layer (Distance/Approach). Still many Asian companies follow this structure.


Download an introduction to Hofstede`s theories as pdf here.


Mapping the Global Muslim Population

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(…) A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that there are 1.57 billion Muslims of all ages living in the world today, representing 23% of an estimated 2009 world population of 6.8 billion. While Muslims are found on all five inhabited continents, more than 60% of the global Muslim population is in Asia and about 20% is in the Middle East and North Africa. However, the Middle East-North Africa region has the highest percentage of Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, more than half of the 20 countries and territories1 in that region have populations that are approximately 95% Muslim or greater. More than 300 million Muslims, or one-fifth of the world’s Muslim population, live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion. These minority Muslim populations are often quite large. India, for example, has the third-largest population of Muslims worldwide. China has more Muslims than Syria, while Russia is home to more Muslims than Jordan and Libya combined.

Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq. (…)


PEW- Forum:

Or click here.

Laotse and Confucius – Fundamental Traits in Asian Thinking

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(…) Nor can it be said truly that a pure-blooded Chinese could ever quite disagree with Chuangtse’s ideas. Taoism is not a school of thought in China, it is a deep, fundamental trait of Chinese thinking, and of the Chinese attitude toward life and toward society. It has depth, while Confucianism has only a practical sense of proportions; it enriches Chinese poetry and imagination in an immeasurable manner, and it gives a philosophic sanction to whatever is in the idle, freedom- loving, poetic, vagabond Chinese soul. It provides the only safe, romantic release from the severe Confucian classic restraint, and humanizes the very humanists themselves; therefore when a Chinese succeeds, he is always a Confucianist, and when he fails, he is always a Taoist. As more people fail than succeed in this world, and as all who succeed know that they succeed but in a lame and halting manner when they examine themselves in the dark hours of the night, I believe Taoist ideas are more often at work than Confucianism. Even a Confucianist succeeds only when he knows he never really succeeds, that is, by following Taoist wisdom. (…)

With special thanks to Milanda: The Chuang Tzu, translated by Yutang Lin at

Gabor Terebess runs a nice online database with many relevant works about the Tao wich is definitely worth a visit.

Download the Chuang Tzu as pdf here.

Download the The Analects of Confucius 論語 as pdf here or read online at


(reviewed 02.10.2013)

History of Chinese Music

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Richard Wilhelm (* 10. Mai 1873; † 02.03. 1930)  described Chinese music as a band, which unites the society and delights even the immaterial world. The beauty of the music attracted Gods, ancestors or any divine creatures. Even enemies to the Chinese empire surrendered  because of the beauty of the music.

The History of Chinese Music (by Liang, M. Y. 1985)

“Yin Yueh” (music) was traditionally considered to be one of the four fundamental societal functions together with morals, law and politics.  Primarily because of this emphasis, every fedual state, dynasty and republic throughout history had established an official music organization or bureau of music.

Shang (ca.16th-11th centuries B.C.), Zhou (1075-221B.C.)
According to literary documents, the Zhouperiod music had always been regarded as the foundation and crystallization of Chinese music for later dynasties.  The complete model of court and ritual ceremonial music, music education system, the variety of musical styles, the grand music offices, and instrumentation were seeds of music for the subsequent dynasties.

Qin (221 B.C.-207 B.C.) and Han Dynasties (206 B.C.-A.D. 220)
During this period, therefore were significant inter-and cross-cultural musical influences. among the diverse sub-cultures of Chinese empire, and also between China and its geographic-economic affliates.  In addition to the native court musical instruments, that is, the zithers, panpipes, transverse flutes, vessel flutes, and a variety of barrel-shaped, stick membranophones, bells and lithophones, there were several new instruments introduced during this period.  The were derived from regional and foreign sources.  The most significant regional instrument to be introduced to the imperial court was the oblong bridged zither, the zheng, which was a native instrument of the former Qin kingdom.  With the unification of China under Qin ruler and foundation of the Qin dynasty, the zheng soon became nationally popular, especially within the different types of urban music.  Besides, during this period many foreign instruments were introduced China, most important of which were the end-blown di flute with four holes, the cylindrical double-reed jiao oboe, the shukongbou standing harp, and the plucked pipa lute.
In actual practice, three modes are know as the most important ones.

Three Kingdom (220-265), Jin (260-420). and the Northern-Southern Dynasty
From 220-589 A.D., China was no longer a unified empire and in its place reigned a number contending kingdoms and states, the majority of which hardly ruled for more than fifty years before being overthrown by another faction.  The most significant musical historical events were importation and assimilation of nonindigenous music, expansion of Han musical style into southern China, new instruments, recognition of solo performance, earliest survival notation, maturity of music aesthetics by Xi Kang, and new conception of tonal systems.

Sui (581-618), Tang (618-907), and Five Dynasties (907-960)
After almost four centuries as a divided nation, China was once again re-united in Sui dynasty.  The followed Tang dynasty had a long period of economic, political and cultural growth.  Traders, official delegates, cultural and religious missions from Central Asia, Vietnam, Japan, India and Korea were drawn to its brilliant capital center and contributed a cosmopolitan sophistication to Tang China.  Foreign musicians resided at the court not only to give performances, but also to provide musical instruction.  The huge music bureau of the court, such as Jiaofang, was know to have in its employment thousands of musicians and dancers for daily performing duties.  The first music academy, Liyuan (“Pear Garden”), was instituted for performance and training of professional young musicians.  Poems by some of the most famous literati of China were set into songs which were almost instantly popular.  This body of ageless poetry was celebrated even in subsequent history, in China and abroad.

The banquet music tradition for aristocracy known as yanyue had already been in practice during the ancient zhou dynasty.  This music nevertheless, was overshadowed by the court ritual-ceremonial music, which was subquently reconstructed during the Han dynasty and called yanyue or “elsgant and refined music”.  It was not untile the Sui and Tang dynasties that uanyue or “banquet music” became the major court musical genre for the first time.  Yanyue was a court musical performance for the nobles and gentries during a state function and during days of festivity.

The program of banquet music consisted of music of native and national minority Chinese as well as the music of neighboring nations.  The foreign music, for example, the music of Samarkand, Bukhara, Fu ran (South Asia), India, and Korea.  These seven non-native styles plus the native styles resulted in a total of ten musical divisions by the early Tang dynasty called the shibu ji or “ten performing divisions”.  However, the division of music was no longer organized by regional and international styles later, but by “standing music” and “sitting music” performance divisions.  The standing division performed mostly outdoors, had a standard repertory, and included from sixty to one-hundred and eighty musicians and dancers.  The sitting division had more of an ensemble quality, and included from three to twelve musicians and dancers.

This change from divisions of stylistic regions to standing and sitting organization indicated that the sinicization of previously imported style had occured by the early 8th century, and that a national high art form of dance-music genre had been created.  Newly composed music took the place of imported musical genres.  Although none of the yanyue repertory survived, except by name along, perhepts a trace of the sitting division style might be seen in the gagaku music of Japanese court.

Music of the Northern Song (960-1127), Southern Song (1127-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) Dynasties

The emergence of industry (iron, textile, for example) and increasing commerce caused a growing bourgeoisie population and a society that was more mobile.  The printing of books made knowledge more accessible and broad literacy to a briader level.  Changes in the arts and literature of this periodled to a new tradition in drama, music, fiction and impressionistic painting that dominated the development in the remaining periods of modern China.  The creation of a new style in popular music, dram and literature were mostly important.  The scholar-officials, who were versatile in poetry, painting and music making, found an expanded audience for their song and word production.  There were for major vocal genres: the poetic ci song, the art song, narrtive music, the zaju variety musical drama.  During this period, qin solo repertory also developed into a grand style.

The ci, often called “long and short verse”, generally two stanza in length, was the new type of poetry developed and perfected by poets of the Song dynasty.  Unlike the popular shi poetic form of the Tang dynasty, which had a uniform number of words per line, the ci was in irregular meter.  Besides, the ci was correlated to music.  The text of a ci was created by fitting words to an existing tune, which was of folk or popular origin and perhaps was also from foreign music that came from Central Asia during the Tang period.  A ci poem therefore was the “filling in” of words to a given musical modal sequence and rhythm scheme in irregular meter.  The practice of using an existing tune in early ci writing was gradually replaced by newly composed melodies by ci poets.  In spite of the popularity of ci songs, only a few of the by Jiang Kuei survived.

The textual content of ci is essentially lyric and sentimental.  It expresses emotions of love, sorrow and the joy of freeing oneself from the mundane, as well as deep feelings of nature.  There are sensuous thoughts of lovely maindens, mournful and longing.  Such are the sentiment of ci songs.

The Art Songs
There are two major types of art songs in this period, the xiaoling “short song” and the changzhuan “drum song”.   The first type of short song is characteristic of 12th- to 13th- century vocal music.  It is brief, uses pre-existing tunes and is textually based on the qu form.  Qu poetry differs from the previously mentioned shi and ci poetry in that qu is generally written in vernacular Chinese; it is popular poetry written by educated poets.  The qu poem usually has rhymed line ending and is largely based on pastoral, seasonal or Taoiststic themes.   An important distinction, however, is that individual xiaoling songs were sometimes were performed by a solo singer to the accompaniment of a wooden clapper.

The changzhuan “drum song” was developed during the Northern Song period.  It was known for its instrumental accompaniment, which included the single-framed stick drum, wooden clapper and transverse flute. It was also distinguished by two kinds of unique formal structures:(1) the changling from which was “introduction, A, A, B, B, C, C, and finale”; and (2) the changda from which was “introduction, A, B, A, B”.  Although none of the actual music of this vocal genre survived, the accompanying instruments were known to have alternated between metered and free rhythmic sections, thereby increasing the dramatization of the text.

The Narrative Songs
During this period there were many types of narrative songs which the zhugongdiao or “melody in multi-modes” was most significant.  This form of narrative song was said to have been introduced by a professional narrative singer, Wang Sanquan, to the Northern Song capital of Kaifeng, sometime between 1068 and 1094.  A lengthy historical or romantic tale was told through the alternation of narration and song, which was accompanied by an instrumentation similar to that of the drum songs, that is, single-frameed drum, wooden clapper, transverse flute and occasionally adding the pipa lute.

The Zaju ” Variety Musical Drama”
Ever science the Tang period (618-906) there had been a distinct direction toward an amalgamation of the speech, music, and gesturing/dancing performing arts.  From the 11th to 13th centuries, we begin to see a culminating fusion between folk songs, drama, narrative music, juggling and acrobatics to form a stage dramatic art.  The zaju ” variety musical drama” was derived from the fact that various stage arts, from singing to satirical comedy and dramatic recitations, made up zaju.

In large cities, so called ” title districts” or amusement centers sprang up where pleasure seekers of different backgrounds could purchase food, amusement, and other novelties.  For example, in the Northern Song capital Bianliang (present-day Kaifeng) between 1102 and 1111, there were some fifty theaters located in these amusement centers.  Performances were held daily, regardless of the weather, and there were always crowds of spectators.  There were different types of entertainment offered: the variety musical dramas which seemed to be the most important feature in the “title districts”, storytelling, martial arts, puppetry, and so on.

The zaju variety musical dramas contained four acts, including an introductory prologue which was usually comical and made up Act One.  Acts Two and Three were the main body and Act Four was the epilogue.  There were five characters involved: (a) a leading male role who was the sole singer in the cast, (b) a supporting male role, (c) a painted face, comic role, (d) an official, and (e) a musician who provided simple instrumental accompaniment on flute and drum.  Apart from the singing role, other characters in the drama had narrating or acting ( including dancing) parts.

The subject of the zaju dramas covered a wide range of topics.  As recorded in the 1398 publication ” The Supreme Tone of Universal Harmony” ( Taihe zhengyin pu) by the playwright Zhu Quan (sixteenth son of the first emperor of the Ming dynasty), some of the zaju subjects were: enlightenment and immortality, kings and ministers, valiant warriors, traitors, advocates of filial piety or integrity, exiled officials, separation, reunion, and romance.

The zaju script provided an opportunity for social commentary and in many ways the variety musical dramas characterized the philosophical and social attitudes of 13th-14th century China.  Taoist religiophilosophical themes and morality were reflected in the variety dramas.  The quest for a simple life, one in harmony with the fundamental law of nature, was seen as a worthy goal in contrast to the vain delusions of wordly fame and material wealth. It must be historically recalled that 14th century China under Mongol rule offered limited and miserable opportunities for the educated Chinese (Han Chinese) class as a whole.  Many of the gentry intellectuals turned toward dramatic endeavors, which created an abundance of playwrights during this period. Writing became not only a livelihood, but more importantly, a way to escape the political and social upheaval.  Taoism and its advocacy of a simple life in nature as the path to obtaining immortality severed as a means to justify one’s own existence in the face of a hopeless socio-political environment.

Ming-Quing Dynasties
The Ming-Qing period was highly productive musically, resulting in developments that are important not only in this period but as high-lights in the whole continuum of Chinese music.  Kun and Peking operas, the art of qin, and regional instrumental music are some of the substanatial areas that warrant more detailed coverage and thus are included as special topics in the second part of this book. Other prominent developments of the period include the areas of theory and musical literature, which will be introduced below.

The Ming-Qing period represents a highly cultivated time and a growing literate society.  Among the class of literati officials, the arts of prose-poetry writing, qin zither playing, calligraphy, and chess playing became the highest goals.  Regrettably, by the 19th century, creativity was replaced by cliche, imitation and conservatism; the arts of this time are generaly criticized as becoming lifeless and stagnant.  However , a great scholarly contribution of this period was the printing of large collections, anthologies and encyclopedic works, many of which have been preserved until our time.  An example of a comprehensive publication for the qin zither is the Yongle qinshu jicheng (” A Collection of Qin Essays”) printed in twenty volumes. Itscontents embody the history, music, theory, tuing methods and poetry on the qin.  One of the most significant qin manuscript-notation collections in existenxe is the Shenqi mipu (“Mysterious and Secret Notations”) published in 1425 by Zhu Quan (the sixteenth son of the first Ming emperor).  Subsequently, there were over a hundred more qin manuscript-notational handbooks printed in the Ming-Qing period.  Another substanrial notational collection is the 1746 publication of 81 volumes, the Jiugong dacheng nanbeici gongpu (“Nations of Northern and Southern Songs in Nine musical Keys”), that was complied by Zhou Xiangyu under imperial auspices.

In addition to the practice of music and literature, a samll group of literati-gentry scholars were also preoccupied with the acoustical principles of music especially related to their investigations in mathematics and numerology.  Among these was a distinguished prince, Zhu Zaiyu(1536-ca.1610), who was an eminent musicologist, mathematican and astronomer in Chinese history, perhaps better known in the later two fields than in music. Prince Zhu is credited with the development of the equal-tempered scale of twelve pitches.

Prince Zhu’s theory for an equal-tempered scale was not implemented into music practices in China.

Besides the prodigious publications and dissemination of qin music and practices, signficant musical developments of this period occurred in the area of urban centers such as Peking and Suyang (Suzhou and Yangzhou ) were entertainment in nature.  The source of this entertainment music was usually folk dervied, that is, from the farms and villages, but which was polished for city/urban consumption.

In Peking the important forms of urban music included the narrative genres such as tanci (not to be confused with southern tanchi), lianhualao (“The Falling Lotus”), and bajiaogu (“Eight-cornered Drum Song”). These were performed outdoors in the open areas of the marketplaces usually by travelling performing troupes. Their earnings were donations from by-standers.  These performances of musical instruments.  Loud instrumentation, such as the shifan ten varieties of gong and drum ensemble of the fengyang flower drum dance, was not popular in the open air.  In many instances these presentations were not for purely musical reasons, but to gain the attention of passers-by for the sale of herbal medication or other products.

The outdoor performances catered to the commoners, meanwhile the indoor performances catered to an audience made up of genry-officials and wealthy merchants.  The performing hall would be set up with tables and chairs to allow the audience to partake of tea and delicacies while enjoing the production.  The presentation was usually operatic: Kun opera and other regional operas.

During this period the influx of folk songs into cultural centers and their subsequent stylizations led to the growth of many forms of provincially (or regionally) indentified operas.  Operatic genres such as the Han opera of Hubei province, Chuan opera of Sichuan province, Xiang opera of Hunan province, Min opera of Fujian province, Qinqiang of Shaanxi province, and Lu opera of Shandong province, to name some primary forms, had their formation sometime during the mid-16th century but did not reach the height of their development until the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Of these operatic genres two styles became so widely appreciated that they can be characterized as national dramatic genres. These were the Kun opera, which flourished especially in the Ming dynasty, and the Peking opera, which reached its zenith in the Qing dynasty.

Liang, M. Y. (1985). Music of the billion: An introduction to Chinese musical culture. NY: Heinrichshofen.  Scales & scores scanned from pp. 85, 205.
Image scanned from Lu, C.-K. (1996). Traditional music of Taiwan, (pp. 76, 97). Taipei, Dung-Hua Book Store.


The School of Music / University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

You can also get the .pdf here.

Written by NoToes

08/03/2010 at 13:59

Arrow, Circle, Spiral and Cylinder – Different Conceptions of Time and History

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The Arrow

Jürgen Kuhlmann wrote an interesting article about the different concepts of history from a theologist`s point of view (Kreis oder Pfeil, 1982). He noticed, that Christianity (Western thinking) mainly focuses on linear conceptions of time (and history), while Eastern philosophy mainly focuses on concentric structures.

Jürgen Kuhlmann: born 1936 in Swinemünde, 1962 Priest in Rome, 1965 Promotion to Dr. theol. At the University Gregoriana in Rome, 1965-1972 Kaplan in Naila and Nürnberg, 1972 Marriage, 1973 Laisierung.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Norbert Lohfink is a specialist for the exegesis of the Old Testament. He explained the development of a linear construction of history in the „Priestly Source“. Around 600-500 BC the Jews were enslaved by the Babylonian empire and lived under hard circumstances in the „Babylonian Exile“. The consignees of their scriptures should see, that the loss of their motherland would only be a temporary state. In this dynamic, the world seems to be stable (if no human misbehaviour would interfere). (Orientierung 1977,147 f).

In “Messianism in linear and cyclical contexts” Jan A.B. Jongeneel writes: Although scholars write about messianic figures and movements in cyclical contexts, they cannot ignore the matter of fact that not one of the holy books of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, or Shinto, but the Bible has given birth to the concept of the Messiah. Since that time the Messiah is really at home in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as linear belief-systems. However, it is questionable whether each of these three monotheistic religions can be labeled as a “messianic religion.” All these three religions are indeed “prophetic,” but merely the Jesus movement, known as Christianity, seems to be “messianic.” Neither Moses as the founder of the Jewish religion nor Muhammad as the founder of Islam is proclaimed as the Messiah. But Christians continuously proclaim Jesus of Nazareth, ardent adherent and renovator of the linear view of time and history in the Hebrew Bible, as the Messiah of Israel and the gentile nations. As such Jesus has axial significance in world history. Asian and African Christians take the lead in the dialogue with the adherents of the cyclical view of time and history. They try to harmonize, speaking about the spiral as a bridge of the cycle and the line. M.M. Thomas does not want to value the cyclical view of time and history negatively. He merely wants to add a dimension which is lacking wherever the cycle prevails: “The Christian understanding of historical and cosmic process need not deny the reality of the cycles of nature and life. But it stands or falls with the doctrine of the ultimate divine purpose of that process”. That doctrine culminates in proclaiming the return of Jesus as the Messiah at the end of the times. (Read his article online here or get the pdf here.)

Annotation of the editor: at the same time the idea of the “Natural Philosophy” spread in Greece, which fits perfectly to the model of the arrow: an individual shoots throughout the time like an arrow. The implementation of the circular model  is the eternal life after death, like the arrival in the Promised Land.

This picture hangs in my home since I can think. It is called “Der breite und der schmale Weg – The Broad And The Narrow Way”. It is a good example for the linear conception of time in Christian cultures. You get this funny picture in 500kb at Luzius Schneider . Also hard copies are available there.


Bible, Jesaja 43

16 This is what the Lord says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 18Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.


The Circle

Laotzi lived at the same time as the Jews suffered from the Babylonian Exile about 500 years ago. That time China was suffering from never-ending civil wars and a decay of culture. As the leading intellectual of his time, he surely was aware of the great past of his country and searched for the reasons for this cultural decay.  According to the changes in nature following different rhythms (moon, seasons, day and night, …) he developed the Dao (Tao) aka The Way, meaning to follow the natural order of nature. This natural order also includes a magic order of numbers. Like day and night, the seasons or the Chinese dynasties, all is due to a permanent change: up & down, raise & fall. Laotzi described those rhythms as circles in the Taoteking (tao te king),which is probably the main Asian contribution to human culture.

The Buddhist Samsara, the Wheel of Life is a model of human life. The devil holds this wheel, biting into the outer ring, representing the direct influence of the evil on daily life. The inner axle is formed by three animals, representing the deep human inner drives.

Taoism and Buddhism both have in common a circular perception of life. Both form the circular model of Chinese / Asian thinking.

See a nice Samsara here ( – broken link)

Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.

The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.

So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.

Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.

[dt. v. Richard Wilhelm ,Jena 1921, Nr. 29 and edited by Dan Baruth)

For applications of circular vs. linear thinking please click here.


The Spiral

Swiss journalist Lily Abegg, developed the model of the spiral. She writes according to the limited English skills of the editor: World history is similar to a unique, irreversible process, in which all cultures and individuals swings in a spiral. (…) Eastasians only see the concentric structures and do not see, that the spiral opens. We (i.e. Western people) mostly focus on distances and steps, skipping the concentric structures until the perspective looks linear.

(Ostasien denkt anders (Zürich 1949), 403 f)


The Cylinder

In “Social Change and Modernity” Hans Haferkamp and Neil J. Smelser noted: The original Judaeo-Christian eschatology still conceives history within the bounds of a model based on the action period. By virtue of its covenant with a mighty God and the intervention of his Son, a people remembers and experiences its history as the path toward a salvation that, to begin with, was understood in quite earthly terms. This ultimately magical pattern of interpretation was not so much based on the separation of different temporal levels as on the topological difference between the chosen people and the heathens. It was not until after it became obvious that the return of the Redeemer could not be expected within a single lifetime that—under the influence of classical philosophy—the time horizon and the topological difference between life on earth and the hereafter, between God and the world, between the immortal soul and mortal flesh, and between the terrestrial and heavenly realms were expanded and thus diverted attention away from the division between the chosen people and the heathens. There was an added topological difference between the individual and the world historical levels of explanation. The individual was able to make progress along the path to salvation; the world, via the sequence of the three realms (paradise, life after the fall, and salvation), carried out God’s promise of deliverance. Another development of momentous significance was the new form taken on by the process model for change in the secular sphere. The cyclical view of the rise and fall of empires was supplemented by the perspective of the unilinear and irreversible development of the world and progress toward salvation.

Moreover, for history to be seen as the history of salvation, it was also necessary for humankind to be active in its approach and to strive for salvation. Redemption and the reconciliation of earthly life with the hereafter were not solely the work of God but involved humanity as well. This eschatological dualism introduced a comprehensive, positive moment of tension into historical change. No longer was change merely short-term unrest without underlying hope. It now had as its goal and ultimate end the perfection and redemption of the world. The beginning and end of history were in turn determined by the timelessness of paradise, past and future. Naturally, the eschatological process at first remained completely within the bounds of action-theoretical notions: the world has been created by a personal God who issued commandments, and if humanity followed these it would ensure its own progress to salvation. (Get the whole article as pdf here or read it online at The Center For Sociological Research And Development Studies Of China)

Quran: Al-Fatiha

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful (1)

Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, (2) The Beneficent, the Merciful. (3) Owner of the Day of Judgment, (4) Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help. (5) Show us the straight path, (6) The path of those whom Thou hast favoured. Not (the path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray. (7)

Quran Explorer


Additional Material


Mental Representations of Time in Chinese Language (Mandarin)


Examples of spatiotemporal metaphors in Mandarin


The immediate and chronic influence of spatio-temporal metaphors on the mental representations of time in English, Mandarin, and Mandarin-English speakers by Vicky Tzuyin Lai (Neurobiology of Language Department, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, Netherlands) and Lera Boroditsky (Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, US) – Front. Psychol., 09 April 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00142

Read the full .pdf online here or here.

(retrieved 31.10.2013 at


J. Gabriell and T. Hedden “How culture influences Brain”

Asians and Westeners had to answer questions about absolute quantities (is, is not, how many?) or relative qualities (bigger than, higher than, more red than,…)

It became obvious, that Western people have to spend more energy to render relative judgments (bigger than, lower than, …) than Asians. Vice versa it showed, that Asians needed more energy rendering absolute judgments (is or is not).


J. Gabriell and T. Hedden from Mc Govern Institute in TechTalk by MIT (Mass. Institute for Technology), volume 52, No. 14 (30.01.2008)

Download the full pdf here, the article is on page 4 below.


Michael Heeney: Spiral Staircases and Cylindrical Pools: The Implosion of “Circular” and “Linear” Gestalts

In modern German psychology, there is a concept called the gestalt which is useful for this discussion. In it, human beings are viewed as open systems in active interaction with their environment. People naturally organize their perceptions according to certain patterns, which have similar structural properties that influence concepts across the spectrum of human thought. It is essential to use this term when discussing “circular” and “linear” structures of thought, since these seemingly simple terms will come to represent their own individual gestalts, encapsulating multiple binary concepts subsumed and ordered under their respective structuring principles. The author Virginia Woolf provides an ideal springboard to expound upon this, since her novels attempt to encapsulate a fusion of the two structures into a singular, universal gestalt, or structuring principle. In many of her novels, particularly Orlando for the sake of this discussion, the goal of this is a synthesis between two different kinds of minds, the rational masculine and the subjective feminine, to produce the harmonized androgynous. This process is created through the synthesis of two different conceptions of time, the linear historical and circular subjective. Finally, the entire new gestalt is illustrated by how the dialectic of circles and lines combine to synthesize a cylinder, a spatial idea which symbolizes how the new androgynous mind articulates itself through time which respectively, as Kant has said, is merely the form of inner sense. (…)

It appears that in this case, the duality between male and female does have biological origins, but those of cognition, not those of gender. (…)

© by Serendip 1994­ 2010 ­ Last Modified: Monday, 25­Apr­2005 11:31:11 EDT

Read the full essay online at or download as pdf here.


Time as the Action Period

(…) An analysis of this kind starts out from an interpretational pattern that makes no distinction between processes of social action, on the one hand, and processes of social order and social change, on the other hand. There is no recognizable social order standing out above processes of interaction within the framework of this interpretational pattern. The perception of change and temporal alteration is limited to the time-period one has lived through and remembered, to the durée of social action.[7] Hence the “narrative” logic by which action is recounted both frames and structures the logic underlying the passage of time.[8] The “stories” recalled are kept in motion by interaction among a number of actors, and the stories’ beginnings and ends are determined by how the theme of interaction is dealt with.[9]

Both the change experienced in the world during the course of action and the change experienced in the subjects themselves that they remember as they consider own personal experience of getting old are of course limited as long as there is no social structure differentiating among time periods. Aging processes take place synchronously and therefore hardly give cause for the social differentiation of periods of time or of temporal levels. Beyond the period of action and the lifetime as directly experienced the world is experienced as something timeless and ultimately chaotic.

Primitive classifications, which by definition are not systematized by any superordinate principle, clearly show the unordered complexity of the world. They barely offer a topological “toehold” for identifying time that reaches beyond one’s own lifetime or beyond the actions of the present (Lévi-Strauss 1962). The only way in which primitive classification allows a number of lifetimes to be linked together is via the kinship link of conception and birth; this pushes the temporal horizon back into the past and creates an awareness of continuity and change independent of the experience of the present. Evidently, the extension of such a genealogical model of time marks out a line of development running from the action-period notion of time to the socially differentiated notion of time.


Apart from the extension of historical space in Voltaire’s philosophy of history, the natural sciences’ concept of time in the eighteenth century also broke through the barriers of the hierarchical model of temporal levels. The concept of an objective measurable passage of time determined and moved by the laws of nature gradually asserted itself as a point of reference. Against it, historical time appears limited, imprecise, and inconstant. The temporality of the world, on the one hand, and that of the passage of history and experience, on the other hand, are hence ever more sharply delineated by different process models. “Objective” time moves according to the eternal laws of nature, whereas historical time is kept in motion by the progress of the human race (Elias 1984).


An analogous paradigmatic switch occurred in biology when the Linnean classification of natural processes was succeeded by the Darwinian theory of evolution. Darwin’s theory of the origin of the species by natural selection, which was to prove extraordinarily momentous for the theory of society that followed, brings out, in its very name, the temporalization of order. A number of observers have noted that Darwinian theory itself took as its model certain economic theories of the day. (…)

The Temporalization of Social Order : Some Theoretical Remarks on the Change in ‘Change’ by Bernhard Giesen; Publ. 1992 in: Social change and modernity / ed. by Hans Haferkamp … Berkeley : Univ. of California Press, 1992, pp. 294-319

Read the except online here or download .pdf here.


See also A Geography of Time


(reviewed 12.07.2013)

Written by NoToes

15/01/2010 at 20:18

Posted in All Articles, Buddhism, China, Christianity, Collectivism and Individualism, Islam, Religion & Philosophy, Time in Different Cultures

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Slanted Eyes – Cartoon about Slanted Eyes and other Stereotypes

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(…) Meanwhile, Ling-Ling is trying to get his driver’s license. He aces the written portion of the exam, but fails miserably at the driving test. Wooldoor explains that Ling-Ling is a bad driver because he is Asian (playing off a well-known stereotype), and decides to help Ling-Ling pass by making him more American—namely, by Scotch-taping his eyes so that they are round instead of slanted.

In addition to gaining the ability to speak perfect English, Ling-Ling now sees the world as everyone else does, and aces his driving test. By doing so, he inspires all Asians everywhere to do the same. The NAAYP even wishes to present Ling-Ling with an award for opening up everyone’s eyes. However, at the award ceremony, Godzilla calls Ling-Ling out and accuses him of turning his back on his culture. Ling-Ling resists the notion, but finally comes to agree. He makes a speech to everyone present at the ceremony that they should just be themselves, and not to forget who they are. He removes the Scotch tape from his eyes and begins speaking his normal language again. All of the Asians in attendance listen to his words and do the same. Unfortunately, after leaving the ceremony, they all promptly crash their cars into the auditorium. (….) Source

Stream this video here or click on the pictures.


reviewed 06.03.2014