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The Effects of Westernization

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My whole life has revolved around two distinct cultures: Chinese and American. These two cultures have worked in perfect harmony to shape the way I live. Throughout my life, I have come to recognize both the distinctions that set the two cultures apart as well as the crossroads at which the two cultures cross. The first time I experienced a cultural crossroads was when I went to China. While I was there, I remember seeing shirts with English words written on them and wondering why that was the case since Chinese people wouldn’t know what the words meant. Little did I know, this was one of the many examples of westernization that had taken root in China and many other countries. The western culture had not only permeated the culture of fashion and language, but also food, economics, and music. The streets of China were filled with countless McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Subways, KFCs, and many more American fast food chain restaurants. In stores, western music was being played by well-known artists such as Taylor Swift.

Grocery stores have an American section filled with familiar foods in shiny packages such as Pringles, Twinkies, Oreos, and more. Now that I think about it, westernization has had such a long history in China that there are even words in Chinese that are borrowed from the English language such as pizza, soda, and chocolate. To learn more about westernization, I went to my mother who experienced westernization firsthand. She told me that the biggest change was from a communist economy to a market-capitalist economy. This increased her family’s income, which impacted her life in more ways she could imagine. As my mother thinks back to when she was still a small child living in China, she recalls the time that everyone was too poor to even buy meat and dairy products, so much so that my grandmother’s dream was to be able to eat chicken once a month.

After the change of economy, my grandmother’s dream not only came true but was more than what she could have ever imagined. She was now able to buy unnecessary goods such as hamburgers, fried chicken, and french fries, the staple of an American diet. Another drastic change that occurred was the introduction of pop culture to society. Before westernization, my mother listened to traditional Chinese songs such as the national anthem, and the variety was very little. All songs were controlled by the government. After the westernization, Chinese artists started producing pop songs that mimicked American music at the time. For example, my mother’s favorite artists to listen to were Xiao Hu Dui, which emulated the style of the Beatles. The last important change that my mother observed was the increase in tourism both to and from China.

Before, people were not allowed to visit China from other countries. After the westernization, many people traveled from all over the world to visit. My mother witnessed this change first hand, as she lived in the capital city Beijing, which harbored many tourist attractions. When she first saw foreigners, my mother was very curious about them because she had never seen a one before. This was just the beginning for her, as she later chose to immigrate to America, which was allowed by China because of the westernization that took place during the time. According to Merriam-Webster, westernization is the process by which a country adopts western traditions, ideals, or techniques; the countries that are considered “western” are those in North America, Europe, and Australia. The question that westernization raises is whether countries should embrace it or shun it. Many opponents of westernization believe that by allowing it, countries lose their traditions and values.

However, this is not the case: Although westernization has negative effects, countries should allow the flow of western ideas in order to culturally advance their societies. To further expand on this idea, westernization will be examined in the countries of China, South Korea, and Japan. Westernization in ChinaIn China, many people are appreciative of what westernization has brought, but they are wary of what it may bring. One positive change that westernization has brought to China is television. According to Eric Fish who is a writer at Asia Society, Hollywood themes of spontaneity, nonconformity, and self-realization particularly resonated with young Chinese fans of American TV (Fish). American TV shows and the ideas portrayed through them are becoming increasingly popular with the Chinese youths. The most appealing aspect is authenticity. This fascination is coinciding with the rise of the new ‘golden age’ of quality television in America, with complex characters and unconventional storytelling. By comparison, Chinese TV can feel uninspired with relatively predictable plotlines and unambiguous characters. Heroes are heroes and villains are villains. But this appreciation for western culture is not felt by everyone in China.

For instance, Chinese students almost unanimously stated that they thought Western democracy was unsuited for China (Fish). This unanimous decision reflects Chinese dissatisfaction with the American foreign policy, as they have experienced and seen how America treats other countries and are unhappy about it. Although Chinese people may be uncertain or divided about westernization, numbers do not lie. According to Kate Williams, China’s FDI (foreign direct investment) in September 2013 rose 8.8 billion dollars (Williams). The FDI of a country measures how much foreign investment is put into another country.

Because China has such a large FDI, this means that other countries, particularly those in the west, are pouring money into China in the form of investment in companies and e-commerce. As a result of this increased amount of western investment in China, China’s economy has prospered, as it has played an important role in China’s economic development and export success. Overall, China has experienced many positive effects of westernization in the past decades in the form of more variety in media and television and an increased FDI which has led to economic prosperity. Ultimately, the opinion of western influence in China is mixed: many will express negative feelings towards American foreign policy, but at the same time, are more appreciative of changes that have occurred as a result of westernization. But unlike the mixed opinions that China harbors, South Korea expresses a different attitude towards westernization. Westernization in South Korean South Korea, the US is regarded as a symbol of urbanization, modernization, and freedom. According to Seong Won Park, many Korean women aspire to go to America because they want to run away from Korean patriarchal society” (Park 59). This is an example of indirect Americanization.

Although Korea did not fully adopt the (mostly) equal society in terms of gender in America, the idea still penetrated society. This is evident in the many Korean women immigrating to America to escape the patriarchal society of Korea. This also shows the appeal of American culture that has traveled all the way to Korea. But westernization has a hidden negative side that people may not realize or overlook. In South Korea, looks are heavily stressed in society and many young girls can feel the pressure put on them to look a certain way: Psychiatrist Ryu In-Kyun examined how many Korean college girls received plastic surgery in 2007. 52.5% received plastic surgery and 82.1% wanted to receive cosmetic surgery (Park 55). Koreans’ excessive preferences for US values lead Korean people to devalue their culture, especially their bodies, which is a negative effect of American influence in Korea. The reason behind the drastic amount of college girls receiving plastic surgery is the belief that “western” faces are more attractive, with western physical traits such as double eyelids, pale skin, and a V-shaped chin. The effects of westernization can also be seen through everyday speech and writing: Konglish is a cultural fusion of English words such as “ice cream” or “camera” into the Korean language (Rhodes). The incorporation of English words into the Korean language is an obvious effect of westernization. But the real question is whether this symbolizes a loss or deviation away from the native Korean culture. Konglish uses English words but twists the pronunciation to fit Hangul (Korean language), and the Konglish words, when written, are distinctly Korean, so it still retains its original culture while using these half-English words.

Furthermore, westernization of South Korea has prompted the vast majority of South Koreans to think of English language ability as the most important element to promote careers (Park 53). English is especially important for obtaining sought-after competitive jobs in Korean large firms like Samsung, Hyundai, and LG, as well as high-paying jobs in international companies. People seeking personal economic improvement; therefore, tend to attribute western characteristics by learning English, and Korean students generally prefer the United States as a place to learn the language. But acquiring proficiency in any foreign language is made up of much more than speaking and writing. It embodies the cultural values that the language shapes, and, in this sense, many Korean students are assuming western values. Along with language being westernized, South Korea’s music has also been highly influenced by western ideas. One of the biggest pop culture industries in South Korea is the famous K-pop industry. With trendy songs, complex dances, and beautiful faces, K-pop is the epitome of where Korean and Western cultures unite.

According to Jessica Oak and Park Young Woong, “Their combination of Western and Eastern sounds… have all helped K-pop stand out among other genres” (Oak and Woong). Many K-pop songs incorporate different western styles in them such as EDM (electronic dance music), rap, and R&B. K-pop music videos also exhibit the western trend of focusing on telling a story through the music video rather than performing or dancing. Although this wasn’t’ the style of older generation kpop, it is slowly changing due to the western influence. Because of the cultural fusion between the two, K-pop is successful in appealing to both Westerners and Asians in their music and performances. Although K-pop is successful in appealing to the South Koreans with their western infused pop, the same cannot be said about K-pop’s influence in North America. According to Dal Yong Jin and Woonjae Ryoo, some westerners view K-pop as a diluted version of the Western music, making it hard for Korean musicians to find acceptance in the mainstream western pop industry (Jin and Ryoo). This harsher view of K-pop reflects the views that westerners hold of westernization. They are pleased that other countries find western ideas, or in this case, music style to be appealing, but are hesitant to accept the westernized products from other countries because they believe the new products are lesser versions of the actual western product. Thus, for this reason, K-pop has had a hard time finding western audiences that are not previously affiliated with the K-pop genre. Although Westerners may not be very accepting of “diluted” versions of western products, those in Japan are very welcoming of western ideas. Westernization in JapanConsidered to be fairly western, Japan has embraced westernization, which is reflected in their diet, fashion, and education system. First, we can see the effects of westernization through the changes in the Japanese diet throughout time.

According to Zenjiro Watanabe, Westernization caused the introduction of dining out in Japan (Watanabe). This change was caused by the diversification in lifestyle that took place in the post World War II period. Urbanization, the social advancement of women, and changes in labor conditions led to a gradual decrease in the traditional scene of the family gathered around the table at mealtime. This new lifestyle demanded increased individualization and simplicity and led to the development of the foodservice industry and instant foods. Thus, as a result of westernization, Japan gained a new style of dining: fast food. But westernization did not cause all positive changes with regard to the Japanese diet. After the surge of western influence in Japan in 1964, Japanese people started eating more than 300% more animal fat, protein, and fat in general (Watanabe). The explanation for this drastic change in the Japanese people’s’ diets can be explained by westernization. During the 1950-1960s, Japan adopted more and more western customs and ideas, such as the first supermarket, which opened in 1963, the introduction of propane, and the use of electricity and gas. These changes also brought about western foods into the Japanese diet. Because westerners promoted the importance of milk and animal proteins in their diet, these trends carried over to the Japanese diet. Moreover, the increase in fast food also contributed to the increase in fat intake, which demonstrates how an initially positive change can result in a negative consequence. Not only is westernization able to be seen in diet trends, it can also be seen through the style and clothing changes across Japan.

According to Yuniya Kawamura, During the Taisho period (1912-1926), wearing Western clothing was a symbol of sophistication and an expression of modernity (Kawamura). Because western culture had such a great impact on Japan during the Meiji restoration, the Japanese were very appreciative of western “luxuries,” and wearing western clothes was a way to show a higher class. Workers, especially men, started wearing business suits, and kimonos eventually started disappearing from casual life. Although some may argue that because of westernization, Japan lost its traditional values and culture through the disappearance of the kimono, that is not the case. Instead, the kimono is worn on special occasions such as weddings or coming-of-age ceremonies. This makes the event even more special and allows the Japanese to keep their traditional way of dress. In addition to the change in dress, westernization also impacted Japan’s education system. It had greatly changed the educational system in Japan by creating a new system for compulsory schooling in 1871” (“Western Effects on Japanese Culture During the Meiji Period”).

The educational system in Japan was based on the European system which provided proper education for not just Japanese men, but also for women and children. By the time the educational system had become universal in 1908, most of the Japanese children were able to read and write. Overall, many countries all over the world have experienced many effects of westernization. The western culture has specifically permeated the cultures of China, South Korea, and Japan with regards to the diet, fashion, pop culture, language, and much more. Life in these countries went from watching mundane Chinese shows to humorous western shows, listening to traditional Korean music to K-pop infused with western music styles and English lyrics in South Korea, and from wearing traditional kimonos to business suits in Japan. This just goes to show how every action that we take here in a western country is able to send a ripple to the rest of the world, whether it be a new fashion trend or a way of eating, the ideas from western countries are able to positively or negatively impact non-western countries.

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