Conflict between nations in the past is always due to the pursuit of markets for natural resources and for wealth. However, due to globalization, nations become wealthier and more civilized thus reasons for conflicts evolve as well. Globalization has economic roots and political consequences, but it also has brought into focus the power of culture in this global environment. When we belong to a large majority cultural group in our community or nation, we are less likely to be conscious of the content of the messages they are trying to influence us. Cultures shared by dominant or powerful groups often seem to be "natural," "normal" and "the way things are done." We only notice the effect of cultures that are different from our own, attending to behaviours that we label out of the ordinary or strange (David Rothkopf, 1997). Therefore, when cultural imperialism takes place and one nation does not conform to the dominate culture; they will be shut out by other countries in term of economical or political trade and conflicts occur. The main culprit for this cultural imperialism is the United State of America. Many countries believed that the influx of American culture through television was a form of cultural imperialism and that their culture was being threatened by TV. Therefore, this is a very critical issue if conflicts between nations is not resolve promptly and correctly as it might escalated into a global problem and in the worst case scenarios, a third world war might broke out.
The purpose of this research paper is to explore how relations between nations are being affected by cultural imperialism. I will be looking in three case studies which will highlight how cultural imperialism causes conflict between nations.
What is cultural imperialism?
Cultural imperialism is the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture or language of on nation to another. Usually cultural imperialism involves one larger more dominant nation and one smaller nation susceptible to the larger nation. Usually the term 'cultural imperialism' is used when a call for rejection of foreign influence is undertaken. This theory of cultural imperialism has lately been challenged and has been said to be a form of globalisation rather then cultural imperialism. (Chalaby, J. 2006). Cultural imperialism had in one way or another taken place during the past five hundred years. European countries colonized southern countries in the name of spreading their beliefs, as well as attaining resources and labours for economical production (Gaëlle Sévenier, 2004). Presently, it is the Americans who are the mastermind behind the spreading of the American culture (Americanization) throughout the world.
The spread of cultural imperialism.
American entertainment (music, movies, and television programs) is distributed around the world. Consider the worldwide popularity and influence of MTV, which originally began and aired only in the US but slowly over time, has channels in every corner of the world. The music video is commonly recognized to be mostly an American 'thing'. Think about the values that are depicted in these music channels, from the way that women, men, minorities, old, and young people are portrayed in these videos. Think of the subject matter of the music, from gangsta-rap filled with explicit and violence lyrics to discrimination message in songs. If people from different cultures see these videos, will they be affected by them? Do they begin to like different genre of music? Do they begin to dress in a different way and speak in a different tone? Do they begin to treat women, old people or minorities group etc. differently?
Culture on Capitalism and communism
North and South Korea have been separated for more than fifty years and this trend will seems to continue for a long time. The sole reason behind the long standing off is due to the different political and economical views. North Korea is a dictator led Communist State supported by the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union while South Korea is Republic with a vibrant economy and a strong Capitalistic structure supported by the United Nation.
Capitalism is the social system which now exists in all countries of the world due to America practicing and popularizing it. Under this system, the means for producing and distributing goods (the land, factories, technology, transport system etc) are owned by a small minority of people. We refer to this group of people as the capitalist class. The majority of people then must sell their ability to work in return for a wage or salary that we refer to as the working class. The working class is paid to produce goods and services which are then sold for a profit. The profit is gained by the capitalist class because they can make more money selling what we have produced than we cost to buy on the labor market. In this sense, the working class is exploited by the capitalist class. The capitalists live off the profits they obtain from exploiting the working class whilst reinvesting some of their profits for the further accumulation of wealth.
North Korea was a communist country under the leadership of Kim II Sung. North Korea today has emerged as the world's most isolated country as it actively discourages visits by foreigners and forbids foreign investment, thus rejecting globalisation. Kim II Sung remained in control until the time of this death, after which his son Kim Jong II was named leader and continued implementing the same philosophies and policies as those of his father's. Since the ideologies were kept the same since Kim Jong II's father, the idea of globalisation is still rejected till today seeing as it was never accepted in the first place. (Alexandra barany, 2010)
We can see that the figures provided by the Ministry of Unification, on every aspect e.g. GDP per capita, total trade and agicultural. South Korea economical and social development is so much better than their counterpart. This shows that capitalism economy performs better than a communist controlled nation. One example is the type of production. South Korea is one of the world's fastest growing and most vibrant industrialised economies, whereas North Korea experiences severe shortages of power, manufactured goods and even food. South Korea's main exports are hi-tech electronics and manufactured goods while North Korea's main exports are weapons and drugs which are widely not in approval of many capitalism nations. Yet North Korea refuses to conform to the Capitalism culture due to their fear of being controlled and dictate by foreign country and losing their history and culture if globalisation takes place.
Due to cultural imperialism, most of the world are rule under capitalism thus when country like North Korea which refuse to conform, wars broke out constantly in the past between the two countries with their respective allies, the Americans coming to the aid of South Korea while the People's Republic of China (PRC) for North Korea during the cold war. Both countries' intention is to conquer the other, unify the country as one and developing it in their own ideology, the capitalism or communism. Relationship is still hostile along the border as both countries stand by their ideology.
Culture on high and low cultural context
China hit back at U.S. criticism of Internet censorship and hacking on Friday, warning that relations between the two global heavyweights were being hurt by a feud centred on web giant Google (Doug Palmer and Ralph Jennings, 2010). Recently, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state criticises of China censorship level and wants to promote on-line freedom. This conflict occurs due to the difference in cultural context between the two nations. The American practise low cultural context whereas the Chinese practise high cultural context. According to definition (Jennifer E. Beer, 2003), High context refers to societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behaviour are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of interaction with each other. Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behaviour and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.
China, being an Asian country places lots of emphasis on their cultures and values and are noted for their determination in preservation of certain cultural characteristics. They are very conservative in theirs philosophy. The Americans on the other hand, are very liberal in their thinking and values due to their low cultural context where there is a freedom of speech, expression and moral elements. Thus conflict arises during interaction between high and low context peoples. The Chinese will find the westerners to be offensively blunt with their languages while westerners will find the Chinese to be secretive and unforthcoming with information.
We can see the massive effort the China government is trying to do to restrict their 340 million Chinese internet users from western influences that they deem as morally and socially unacceptable or wrong through the internet. For example, China has step up its censorship as an attempt to maintain public decency. It recently accused Google of allowing the spread of pornography on its search engine, which is second to local search provider Baidu (Sean Poulter, 2010). Laws and punishments are actually belted out to users who post views and comments that are not in favour of the government stand. Furthermore with all the increase in monitoring of internet using and measures to make internet surfing more transparent and to ensure social order, uproar have been stir by internet users due to the lack of freedom.
When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton challenged China and their authoritarian governments on to end Internet censorship and place themselves in the company of Iran, Saudi Arabia and others as leading suppressors of on-line freedom (Doug Palmer and Ralph Jennings, 2010), China see this as an attempt to disrupt their culture. This current issue is set to further strain the relational ties between the two nations after the two nations have previously accumulated disputes issues ranging from climate change to the Chinese currency-which the US believes to be under-valued. Thus China's foreign ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu hopes both nations will be able to handle this issue correctly so as to ensure a healthy and stable development between China and the US (Tania Branigan, 2010).
Culture on human rights law
The Michael Fay incident drew lots of controversies and coverage due to him being the first American to receive flogging in Singapore and also involved then-president of US, Bill Clinton in pleading leniency for him.
Between September and October of 1993, several expensive cars in Singapore were found pelted with eggs and spray painted. The police eventually captured and arrested a 16-year old suspect, Shui Chi Ho, from Hong Kong. After questioning Shui, the police had several expatriates students from Singapore American School, including Michael Fay, questioned and then charged them with vandalism. Fay pleaded guilty for vandalizing the car in addition to stealing road signs. Under the 1966 Vandalism Act, which was originally passed to curb the spread of communist graffiti in Singapore, he was sentenced to four months in jail, a US$2,233 fine, and six lashes on the cane. (Shui, who pleaded not guilty, was sentenced to eight months in prison and twelve strokes of the cane.). Then-president Bill Clinton asked for leniency or clemency and Fay's sentence was reduced however he still received 4 strokes (Economic expert.com).
Conflict arises due to the different culture in punishment. Singapore support corporal punishment while the US practises its penal system of capital punishment. When both nations have different set of culture in punishment, their view and culture on human rights differ as well. The US sees the punishment of caning to be extreme for a teenager committing a nonviolent crime and deem it to be as abusing of human rights. The Singaporean government however did not appreciate the US government for interfering with the way Singapore carried out punishments within their law.
The Singaporean public also felt that compared to the seemingly lax penal system in the United States, their harsh penal system made their country very safe and almost crime free (Economic expert.com).
Yet there are still Americans who are upset and oppose to the practice of corporal punishment. New York Times columnist William Satire equates caning as a form of torture. "Torture" he wrote: is an act of savagery as old as civilization. In our century, the Nazis delighted in finding new scientific methods for the infliction of pain, while "tiger cages" were an Asian contribution. Today, it is not permitted by the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but the government of Singapore (along with Malaysia and Trinidad and Tobago) stands aloof from the universal condemnation (Hodson, Joel, 2003).
Cultural imperialism may seems to bring about a universal values and human rights but there will bound to be nations that stand by their principles which will result in conflicting norms. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to solving conflicts, since culture is always a factor. One need to recognize and act respectfully from the knowledge that communication, approaches to identities and roles vary across cultures.
- David Rothkopf http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/protected/rothkopf.html
- Chalaby, J (2006). American cultural primacy in a new media order; A European perspective. The International Communication Gazette, 68(1), 33-51.
- Gaëlle Sévenier (2004). American Cultural Imperialism: Gift or Threat? Retrieved on 4th April 2010 from http://gsevenier.online.fr/culturalImperialism.html
- Alexandra barany (2010). North Korea and anti-globalization. Retrieved on 4th April 2010 from http://socyberty.com/issues/north-korea-and-anti-globalization/
- Doug Palmer and Ralph Jennings (2010). Reuters, WRAPUP 7-China, U.S. spar over Internet censorship. Retrieved on 4th April 2010 from http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTOE60K0B620100122
- Jennifer E. Beer (2003). Culture at work. Communicating across culture. Retrieved on 4th April 2010 from http://www.culture-at-work.com/highlow.html
- Comparison of North and South Korea (2007). Online image retrieved on 4th April 2010 from http://www.oecd.org/document/39/0,3343,en_33873108_33873555_41832743_1_1_1_1,00.html
- Internet censorship in China (2009). Online image retrieved on 4th April 2010 from http://www.ngonlinenews.com/news/internet-regulations/
- Sean Poulter (2010, 13th January). Mail Online. US and China on diplomatic collision course over Google internet censorship row. Retrieved on 5th April 2010 from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1242927/Google-US-China-diplomatic-collision-course-internet-censorship-row.html
- Tania Branigan (2010, 22nd January). Guardian. China hits back at US over internet censorship. Retrieved on 5th April 2010 from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/22/china-warns-us-internet-freedom
- Michael Fay (2009). Online image retrieved on 5th April 2010 from http://www.complex.com/blogs/2009/12/10/politickin-with-john-brown-when-americans-get-locked-up-abroad/
- Economic expert.com. Retrieved on 5th April 2010 from http://www.economicexpert.com/a/Michael:P:Fay.htm
- Hodson, Joel (2003, 1st October). HighBeam Research. Article: A case for American studies: the Michael Fay affair, Singapore-US relations, and American studies in Singapore. Retrieved on 5th April 2010 from http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-110809254.html