Globalization in China: convergence or divergence?

Sanne van Oosten

Within scholarly debates on globalization there are two main schools of thought. First off, the convergence-theory, postulating that the rise of global markets will make the world look more and more alike. Secondly, the divergence-theory, contending the exact opposite: the rise of global markets will make the world look more and more different. Most people adhere to the convergence school of thought, but our observations in China also make a strong case for the divergence school.

While traveling through China we’ve met many Chinese people with English names. These can be conventional names like John, Cathy, Lindsey, Susan and David. But we’ve also come across names like Candy or Cinderella. Don’t think they are called by these names by other Chinese people. No, their Chinese friends call them by their Chinese names and they make up English names for their contact with English speaking people. This way English-speaking people do not have to be subjugated to difficult tongue-twisters. This trend is a strong case for the convergence-theory.

But we’ve also come across another example. We met someone called Qian Qian who works at an international company. He told us that when he started his job his boss asked him what his English name was. He replied that this was his name and he was not going to change it. “My name is fine the way it is, even though it is not a conventional English name, I can explain to my English speaking contacts how to pronounce it and it will be just fine.” His boss resisted at first, but then decided it would be ok. Qian Qian went on in his professional life as Qian Qian.

This is a strong case for the divergence-theory. With China developing at an unprecedented speed, more and more Chinese people are becoming self-confident about their culture. They do not necessarily want to adjust to the Western culture to gain a sense of importance anymore. People become more and more proud of their heritage and will dare to share more of it to the outside world, even the Western world. Western people will just have to accept that they have names that are different from theirs and might be slightly difficult for them to pronounce.

This way the world’s cultures are becoming more and more different. People who are self-confident about their culture will dare to show this in more ways than what they call themselves. They will enjoy listening to their own music, they will proudly remember their own history and will let their wardrobe be influenced by the trends within their own culture. This has been going on in China for a long time, but this will also take place in other developing countries. As they develop they will no longer yearn to be like the dominant world power, but they will be proud of themselves. This will make the world a more varied place.

6 responses to “Globalization in China: convergence or divergence?”

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  4. Anonymous Tall Guy says :

    I knew a girl who changed her name from Shauna to Sanne when she moved to the Netherlands, because people couldn’t prounce it right. But her brother refused to change his name from Stephen to Steven. So his sort of convergence and divergence happens in the same family. Not to mention Tante Fré who started calling herself by the original Frisian “Freke” in her 80’s (out of principle, her mind is still good).

    • Sanne says :

      And then I know this other person who’s name is Jeanne in English and Ineke in Dutch, not those two names don’t even sound alike! What’s up with that?

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