EBS Documentary: The East and the West
EBS The East and the West production team & Kim Myungjin, Wisdomhouse Publishing Co., Ltd., 2008, 240p
ISBN 978-89-5913-322-2 03300
A popular, controversial Korean documentary has been published
as a book.
The book examines the differences between Eastern and Western cultures through
experiments and surveys conducted on over 200 participants.
This book contains materials from an EBS (a Korean TV
station) documentary series of the same title. The producers
of the series travelled around various countries including
Korea, the United States, Canada, and Japan, interviewing
20 experts, and conducting surveys and tests on over
200 individuals from these countries. A great deal of
their material was contributed by the East-West Comparative
Culture and Psychology researchers from the University
of Michigan, the University of Illinois, and Stanford
University. The documentary series gained popularity
among viewers, and is now available at local bookstores.
According to this book, even when offering someone more tea, Westerners and Easterners
take different approaches.
In the East, one asks a verb-centered question, “drink more?” while in the West,
one says, “more tea?” – a noun-centered question. The verb “to drink” describes
the relationship between the tea and the person. In the East, people tend to
use a great deal of verb-centered expressions because thoughts are built around
the relationship between things. On the other hand, Westerners believe that “person”
and “tea” are individual entities, and therefore express the question
using the noun.
When shown a picture of a screaming
man and asked why the man is screaming, Easterners and Westerners answer differently.
First, the Easterner says, “The atmosphere is eerie. It looks like the two people
behind him have done something to him.” The Westerner says, “The person is in
a state of panic. He’s feeling fear deep inside him. He seems mentally unstable.”
Easterners tended to relate the state of the person to the surrounding atmosphere
whereas the Westerners tended to find explanations in the person’s emotional
and psychological state. In other words, Easterners look at the environment
and context for clues that lead to a person’s emotional state, while Westerners
search inside the person for answers.
The experiment on Western individualism
and Eastern group mentality shows interesting results. Subjects from the East
and West were given five pens – one white and four blue – to choose from. Easterners
had a tendency to choose blue while Westerners tended to choose white. In the
second round of pen experiments, the subjects were once again given five pens
– one blue and four white – to choose from. The Easterners generally chose white
while the Westerners chose blue. The experiment
spoke to the Westerners’ general desire to be distinct from others, and to make
a decision that may be considered unusual.
Eastern and Western societies expect opposites from each other. While humility
is a virtue in the East, the West admires the confident. The word assertive
is meant to be a positive word in the Western context, but it can be perceived
as negative in the East. An assertive
character in the Western context is someone trustworthy who has great self-confidence
whereas an Easterner may view such a person as rude and self-centered.
The book reveals differences between the East and West through such interesting
experiments, which will help readers gain a better understanding of “the other.”
By Pyo Jeonghun