Kelvin Smith Library
The author and characters of The Fortunes represent a Chinese American perspective, which speaks to one aspect of Asian American identity. However, like any ethnic group, the broader Asian American community cannot be reduced to one set of experiences. As a region, Asia includes diverse people groups, and though its people have banded together at times (such as during the aftermath of Vincent Chen's death), the community is not a monolith. That said, several differences between eastern and western cultures can be generally understood, particularly in terms of individual versus collective values. Check out the Hofstede Insights Country Comparison tool below to learn how different values manifest across both eastern and western cultures.
Perhaps the most fundamental way Asian-American cultures differ from western cultures is the emphasis given to group identity. While individuals are highly valued, the corporate good is elevated to a higher level. Decision making places significant weight on what is in the best interest of a group versus the individual. Communal activities and considerations are very important.
Filial duty, or filial piety, is referenced several times throughout The Fortunes. Similar to the Judeo-Christian principle to honor one’s father and mother, respect toward and provision for one’s elders is a tie that binds families together. Likewise, ancestor worship is also common in eastern cultures. Yet, familial ties can be harder to maintain as individuals seek their own destinies, as we see in the lives of Ah Ling and Anna May Wong. Even so, the universal need to belong is common to all humans. One of the ways both eastern and western cultures foster a sense of belonging and create group identity is through communities of worship. Multiple places of worship can be found within University Circle as well as the greater Cleveland area (see sidebar).
A key component of life in China (and other places in East Asia) is "face" -- a type of honor and respect. Emotional intelligence is highly important in East Asian cultures, and includes understanding when you've been given face or not. You try to maintain your own face, can give others face, and can even "have no face" if you're a bad person. For example, Anna May Wong equates fame with face, telling her father "I'll make you proud" (p.121). If someone does not give you face, you can lose your social standing and the respect of others. If you forget or neglect to give someone face, this can also cause social consequences. As related earlier, group identity is very important. Your 'in group' keeps you safe, helps you in times of trouble, and seeks your help, as well.
Preparation of this page was aided by insights shared from several CWRU faculty and staff: Dr. John Chae (School of Medicine), Dr. Michael Fu (School of Engineering), and Ms. Elizabeth Miller (Office of International Student Services).
Image credit: John Petkovic, The Plain Dealer