SARASOTA, Fla. (Feb. 17, 2016) – Kun Shi, director of the Confucius Institute at USF Tampa, says a common misconception about China is that it’s largely homogenous, but in reality cultural differences vary by region and even language and dialects can differ.
“Most people don’t understand the Chinese culture as being diverse,” says Shi, who grew up in western China and came to the United States in 1989 to pursue an anthropology degree. “Even if the language is written the same, it can be pronounced differently. Words can be pronounced differently so that people saying the same word may not be able to understand each other.”
Shi says the institute works to dispel misconceptions about Chinese culture. A partnership between USF and Qingdao University in eastern China, the institute opened its doors in 2008 to support Chinese language programs and customs and provide training to teachers from USF and public schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
On Monday, Feb. 22, from noon to 1 p.m., Shi will present a lecture, “Understanding the Diversity of Chinese Cultures,” at USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Selby auditorium, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
The talk, free and open to the general public, resulted from a collaboration involving the Confucius Institute, USF World and USFSM’s Global Engagement Office (GEO). This will be Shi’s first visit to USF Sarasota-Manatee.
“We appreciate Director Shi’s willingness to share his knowledge and expertise on this topic and look forward to an informative presentation,” said Amela Malkic, director of the GEO, who met Shi a few months ago.
Shi said that although national pride and advances in transportation and communications have gradually chipped away at cultural boundaries, some differences persist.
For one, Mandarin remains the national language, but some pockets, including Hong Kong, stubbornly cling to Cantonese, with regional dialects emerging in isolated, rural areas or among older Chinese.
In addition to linguistic variations, Chinese customs, food and religion can differ widely. The distinctions are inherent even in the people themselves, with some more animated than others, depending on their origins.
Tensions brought about by these and other differences have tested leaders as they’ve sought to build consensus among the populace. “This has always been a constant struggle throughout China’s history, even today,” Shi said.