Cultural values are commonly regarded as the guiding principles for people’s beliefs, thoughts and actions in a given society. As part of social behaviors, consuming behavior and communication style of people are also greatly affected by the culture to which they belong. Consequently, cultural values do not only play an important role in individual's purchasing decision-making and actions, but also strongly influence the comprehension and interpretation of messages carried by advertisements since individuals all grow up in a particular culture and have already been accustomed to that culture’s indigenous value system, beliefs, and perception processes. As a result, individuals, exposed to an advertisement corresponding with their own culture values, are likely to comprehend it better and possibly to empathize it in turn. And such comprehension and empathy probably will lead to persuasion, then finally to the decision of purchasing the product.
It is evident now that there is a close tie between advertisements and cultural values. Obviously, advertisements reflect cultural values. In fact, they do not only reflect them, but also transmit and reinforce them. Such reflection, transmission and reinforcement of cultural values are usually achieved by the association of what are being advertised with what are regarded as "good", "desirable" within a society, or by the use of imagery in the reinforcement of direct comparisons, or by the presentation of products and users in their contiguous relations with idealized values.
1. 1 Language and Culture
In the broad sense, language is the symbolic representation of a people, and comprises their historical and cultural backgrounds as well as their ways of living and thinking. Culture is learned, transmitted and reflected through language, and language changes and develops along with culture. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis indicates that language shapes or reflects a person’s perception and worldview. In the same way, our language exerts a strong influence on culture that consists of all the shared products of human society. Meanwhile, our language is very much a product of our culture.
Ge yinling uses a metaphor to illustrate the relationship between language and culture from a philosophical view: language + culture = a living organism.(Ge yinling, 2013:28) It implies that language is flesh and culture is blood. Without culture, language is dead; without language, culture would have no shape. In a word, language is influenced and shaped by culture. It reflects culture. Culture and language are closely related to each other and can’t be separated from each other. In terms of foreign language learning, just as Brown points out, “the acquisition of a second or foreign language is also the acquisition of a second or foreign culture.” It also holds true to language teaching. However, language teachers, with rare exception, often overlook (or leave to interculturalists) the task of developing intercultural abilities, just as inter-cultural overlook (or leave to language teachers) the task of developing language competence, despite wide acknowledgment that language and culture are dimensions of each other, interrelated and inseparable.
1.2. Definition of Cosmetic Advertising Language
For purpose of study, Hu panpan define cosmetics advertising language as follows, combined with the previous definitions of advertising and cosmetics: "As a special one type of advertising, cosmetics advertising language can be a non-personal communication of information between the advertisers (cosmetic enterprises) and the potential consumers(especially women), which includes the title and contents of cosmetic advertising and aims to make their cosmetic brand, products and service known to all and urge the consumers to buy their products through certain media.”(Hu panpan, 2012:54)
Generally speaking, the cosmetic advertising language has four functions: Competitive Function, Advisory Function, Social Function and Promoting Function. ( Fries, 2011:254) The main functions at least include conveying in formation and persuasion. More specifically, the basic functions are to present some information about goods, services or ideas to the public, and to influence and persuade people to make choices and at last take some actions, especially to buy certain products.
III. Causes of Differences between Chinese and American Cultural Values
The comparison between Chinese and American public service advertising from the perspective of cultural values has been made in detail in the previous chapter. For a deep understanding in it, it is necessary to discuss what lead to the differences between Chinese and American cultural values.
2.1 Historical Factors
Chinese civilization has been built on agriculture for approximately five thousand years and generations lived and worked on land. The agrarian lifestyle does help explain plenty of Chinese cultural values such as collectivism determined by long period of living and working together. The relatively static living pattern helps form Chinese great concern for family and kinship, thus further explaining Chinese filial piety. Furthermore, China’s long history of geographical and cultural isolation and separation resulted in the formation of Chinese conservative and non-aggressive humble character. They believe in harmony and never look for confrontation.
Since China’s reform and opening up in 1978, China has made a fantastic change of cultural values, which can be seen in the advertising industry including public service advertising under discussion, exhibiting some new trends. However, the deep rooted cultural values are still stable.
When mentioning American history, it can never be separated from immigrants who landed first on the new continent. They believe in practicality, freedom, hard work, improvement, responsibility, equality and individuality.(Han xiaolan, 2013) Combining some English values, the newly-settled residents are featured by the lack of formality, efficient use of time and individualism compelled by the severe living environment for survival. American history is full of wars and violence because their longing for the freedom and independence. What’s more, the inevitability to face the challenge of developing a sparsely populated land has helped shape a culture addicted in change, progress and innovation. Therefore, it is a nation welcoming new things and open-minded on the whole.
2.2 Environmental Factors
Owning to different geographic locations, Chinese and Americans live in quite distinguishable environments. In general, public service advertising on environment is created for two major reasons; one is aimed at calling for the environment protection, while the other is for appealing the public for the aid to areas and people suffering from natural disasters. Faced with the same problem of environment deterioration, both China and America apply PSA to ask for the collectivist efforts to protect environments. The differences only lie in the diversity of contents, for example, the flood and typhoon in China while the hurricane in America.(Liu dandan, 2007) On the other hand, the abominable living environment forced the first group of American immigrants to fight against nature, thus helping form mastery over nature cultural value, whereas the comparatively peaceful living condition aided the shaping of Chinese harmony with nature cultural value.
2.3 Religious Factors
As a matter of fact, not so many Chinese believe in certain religion as that in America. However, the impact of Confucianism on Chinese cannot be neglected though it is more a school of philosophy than a religion. Its focus is on social harmony and unity rather than aggressiveness and individualism, with the consideration that proper human relationships are the basis of society involving such things as the protection of face, dignity, self-respect, reputation, honor and prestige.
Buddhism came first to China in Han dynasty. It is a religion aiding people to find the happiness and contentment we seek. Buddhist practices like meditation are means of changing oneself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness and wisdom, thus stressing being instead of doing.(Liu jiayan, 2012:46) Buddhism in Chinese culture has greatly encouraged the Chinese people to avoid extremes and take eclectic attitudes and try to be humble, meek and mild. Chinese people’s ethical values have been shaped thereof.
The notion that Christianity discovered the individual can be partially linked to individualism. For instance, salvation is achieved by their own efforts alone and there is a tendency for deeds to count more than prayers. Asserting that Bible, the carrier of Christianity, is the most important book in western countries is not exaggeration. The Gospels are replete with scenes in which Jesus works one by one, healing the woman’s sickness, forgiving the man’s sins and calling for personal conversion. (Wang hongling, 2012)
Additionally, much of the American doing orientation can be found in the life of Jesus. One of his disciples, Peter, once said, “He went about doing good.” This example set by Jesus was translated into action. The Christians would like to take an active role and try to nurse the sick. The Bible is full of accounts of how he traveled from place to place healing the sick and counseling the misfits and ordinary people. In a word, activity and Christianity are bound together.
IV. Cultural Analysis of Business Translation in Cosmetic Advertisements
3.1. Cosmetic Advertising and Culture
3.1.1 Cosmetic Advertising as the Mirror of Culture
Like any other kind of advertisements, cosmetic advertisement also plays a critical role in informing and influencing consumers. Meanwhile, it has the same important function in mirroring the culture. So we can easily find some cultural factors widely reflected in cosmetic advertisements.
Speaking of the cultural factors in cosmetic advertisements, we believe the reflection of these elements is not an isolated phenomenon; it works not only to spread the commodity information, but also to offer consumers culture enjoyments.
As we all know, each nation has its own unique historical background which definitely exerts its influences on the people who are nurtured and educated in it. Take China for example, China is one of the nations with the longest history in the world that is, with a history of more than five thousand years. During the past five thousand years, Confucianism has greatly influenced the Chinese thought. Confucianism is a philosophy of human nature that considers proper human relationships as the basis of society (June Ock Yum, 1999, pp.6). Confucianism sets forth five principles: ren (仁),yi(义),li (礼) zhi (志),and xin(信).Among the principles, li(礼)means propriety, rite, and respect for social norms. Social norms involve power, the elder and the young. Confucius highly values filial duties. He thinks that filial duties are essential for a person; only if he is dutiful to his parents, he will be loyal to his friends, and even to his country. Therefore, the respect for the elderly is believed to be a virtue by Chinese. In China, people have positive attitudes toward vertical relationships (Wanglu, 2015:29), for example, mother and daughter. People have high respect for parents, and this is also reflected in cosmetic advertisements.
In these advertisements, we can observe that the filial piety is an important appeal to the consumer. Consumers are easily moved by such feelings. In China, filial piety is a virtue. Chinese people feel that it is their family obligations to support their parents. Those who do not support their parents will be criticized even tied by law.
Cosmetic advertising is a cultural product. Culture surrounds its creation, transmission, reception and interpretation. Every designing and general acceptance of cosmetic advertising can be varying dramatically between cultures. Meanwhile, cosmetic advertising is one of the most active elements in human culture. It not only reflects culture, but also plays a very important role in its own development.
3.1.2 Cosmetic Advertising as a Means of Promoting Culture
Cosmetic advertising is so potent that it is by no means only a mirror of culture. What also deserves our attention in cosmetic advertising is that it is also a means of promoting culture. It has always been affecting all aspects of culture. It is invisible to those who are immersed in it. Why does cosmetic advertising have such a great influence on social life, or on culture?
Every cosmetic advertisement uses art. It in itself is actually a practical art, which is inevitably under the influence of other forms of art and takes its share in reflecting the achievement of traditional art and the development of modern art.(Wenjie, 2012) Traditional art techniques are frequently employ in modern cosmetic advertisements and they prove to work wonders in impressing the targeted audiences.
Calligraphy, the soul of Chinese traditional art, is the beautifying of handwriting. Although, nowadays, few nations in the world have calligraphy as a form of art like China, calligraphy with a long history is very popular with the Chinese people. So it has maintained a close relationship with Chinese cultural development. Calligraphy, as a constructive art, provides a tool for the calligrapher who can create his work with his handling of the ink and the writing brush.(Song weixi, 2012) The black strokes and white space on the paper can create a sense of beauty.
This picture is an advertisement for a shampoo. In the middle of the advertisement, there is only one un-simplified Chinese character Fa (发),which means hair. It looks like long tresses swaying in the wind. This is what the advertisement ensures you-once you use this product, your hair will look like the swaying Chinese character, black and elegant. The use of Chinese calligraphy vividly describes the effect that the product will bring to and arouses the curiosity of the consumers, thus producing deep impression on the potential consumers.
Like any other forms of culture, art progresses with the rapid development of society. The two world wars vibrated traditional western art. Visual art has also been undergoing a series of creative revolutions. The traditional perspectives have been smashed. In the 20th century, many schools of painting exerted direct influence on visual expression (Xie jinjin, 2012). Modern advertisements impress audiences with more effectiveness by employing modern technologies and skills, such as abstract image and three-diversions. The following is a concrete example:
Example 6:(Ella Bache body saver)
This picture is an advertisement for a body saver. Item ploys the image of ice cream, which give the consumer an impression that the model's skin is good enough to eat because she has been using this product. It just looks like a box of ice cream, tasty and beautiful. It expresses much more than only a picture of lady does. To keep skin looking delicious, more consumers could remember this cosmetic advertisement.
No one can deny the effect that art exerts on cosmetic advertising. Art not only beautifies advertising, making it more forceful in appealing, but also beautifies our life and improves aesthetic standards of the audience.
3.2. Cultural Differences in Cosmetic Advertisements
As we known, cosmetic advertising is a special type of communication. It is a communication between enterprises and people of different nationalities, various ages, education backgrounds, occupations, with different needs and wants, purchase attitudes and power. They are people with different cultural backgrounds, hence having notable differences in their modes of thinking, values, morals, aesthetic standards and social psychology. Therefore, an investigation of cultural differences in cosmetic advertisements will be worthwhile and fruitful.
3.2.1 Differences of Thinking Mode Collective Orientation vs. Individual Orientation
Traditional Chinese culture maintains that individualism is a derogative word associated with self-centeredness and superciliousness. On the contrary, collectivism is considered a virtue. The depreciation of individualism gets its foothold in Confucianism, which requires people to sacrifice personal interest and pleasure for the harmony of the whole society. Today, the heartbeat of Confucianism can still be strongly felt in social values. As a Chinese saying goes, "the bird which takes the lead gets shot first" (A New Century Chinese-English Dictionary, 2004, pp.1282). Chinese people are reluctant to be different but ready to comply with convention and follow suit so as to avoid the possible conflicts and maintain concord. Therefore, in China, the idea of following the populace is very common. One fundamental way that we decide what to do in a situation is to look up what others are doing or have done before. If many individuals have decided in favor of particular idea, we are more likely to follow it, because we perceive that idea to be correct and valid. With this kind of knowledge, advertisers in Chinese cosmetic advertisements will take advantage of such social orientation, and emphasize the group behavior in their advertisements.(Zhu yongsheng, 2014:258) Examples gathered go as follows:
The phrases“绝大多数女性”,“大家”,or“我们”are used in the above advertisements, giving consumers a hint that the products advertised are very popular among the masses. Since the products are popular and favored, their quality must be quite good. The advertisers emphasize the group behavior and succeed in persuading potential consumers to buy the products advertised.
But different from Chinese culture, western culture pays much attention to individuals. Individualism is highly admired in western countries as a positive philosophy of life. Therefore, they are encouraged to challenge the tradition and take pride in individuality and creativity. We could also find the foothold in the literature of the western countries. During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), the Florentine artist, claimed that only people who create or interpret between human beings and nature could be called men. Francis Bacon (1561-1626), an English philosopher called on people to do away with the prejudices from races and individuals and get rid of blind authority and tradition worshiping. He encouraged people to put forward freely one's own opinions in the field of science. Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) held that all human beings were doubtful, and only "I think that I am being." (Zhang bojiang, 2012)
This social trend of individualism is reflected not only in popular society such as "God helps those who help themselves", but also in cosmetic advertisements. The western cosmetic advertisements often introduce the peculiarities and good points of the products advertised to prospective consumers, or hint that the consumers will feel out of the ordinary and promisingly successful if they own these products. So wise advertisers often use individuality, personal independence and privacy as appeals and topics. Take the following four advertisements as examples:
Example 11. Create your own Manga style hair.(GARNITER hair gel)
Example 12. A fragrance collection, as individual as you are.
(MAX FACTOR lipstick)
Example 13. Which evoke girl are you? Find your true self with Evoke.
Example 14. The show is yours with a strikingly even complexion.
(NIVEA body lotion)
These advertisements use "your own", “only”, “your true self” ...to emphasize the uniqueness of these products and make potential buyers feel special from the ordinary ones. All of them are appealing through promising buyers certain individuality.
3.2.2 Differences of Aesthetic Standards in Cosmetic Advertisements
"Beauty is all around us in things both natural and artificial. All sorts of human beings in all varieties of cultures enjoy beauty. But despite the efforts of thousands of years, the idea of beauty has not yet been understood."( Katan, 2014:158) What is beauty? The following are some information regarding the definition of beauty from some dictionaries. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (New Edition) (1987, pp.79) defines beauty like this:
1. the quality in someone or something that gives pleasure to the senses or lift up the mind or spirit;
2. someone (usu. female) or something beautiful;
3. (infml) someone or something very good (or bad); a perfect example;
4. the advantage (of something); a particularly good quality that makes something special or valuable;
And Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1993, pp.194) defines beauty as:
1.(a): extreme physical attractiveness and loveliness: perfect combination of characteristics pleasurable to see;
(b): a characteristic or combination of characteristics affording great sensory pleasure;
(c):one notably marked by beauty; the aggregate of those marked by beauty;
(d): a particular grace, adornment, or excellence; a singly characteristic or attitude marked by beauty;
(e): a trait or combination of traits calling forth admiration, praise, or respect;
(f): a brilliant, extreme, or egregious example or instance;
(g): most cogent feature; characteristic insuring effectiveness; climactic detail;
2. (a): perfection that excites admiration or delight for itself rather than fir its uses: a quality in a consummate thing that induces immediate and disinterested pleasure: something that is beautiful sensation, moral exaltation, or reverie;
(b): the characteristic value of beautiful thing apart from any effect it produces: perfection of form attained through the flawless sensible manifestation of an artist's conception or by an independent self- subsistent product of creative imagination;
(c): the absolute perfection of works of art; the ideal itself apprehended through the medium of a beautiful thing.
Apart from these dictionary compliers, some famous Chinese and western philosophers also paid much attention to it and gave their own opinions about beauty. For a judgment to be truly "aesthetic", rather than merely idiosyncratic, the person making the judgment must be adamant that their opinions be consensus. "A person who describes something as beautiful insists that everyone ought to give the object in question his approval and follow suit." (Cook, 2013:58)
Confucius, Mencius and Xuncius, the sages in ancient China, all advocate that the beauty exists in the relationship between aesthetic phenomena and civilization phenomena of a society. But Taoists and Lao-tse believe that beauty exists in nature. So it is evident that different people define beauty differently, even though there is much in common in the irrespective definitions.
Nowadays, advertisements reflect radical changes in technology, media, social and economic relations. In spite of this cultural factors are still the essential elements that underlie them. It is cultural factors that provide insights into the nature of such changes and prepare people for further changes to come.
In this thesis, a contrastive study of American and Chinese cosmetic advertisements is made from the cultural perspective. The result indicates that there are both similarities and differences in cultural values between English and Chinese cosmetic advertisements.
Differences in cultural values are deep rooted in different historical, economic and political backgrounds, diverse thought patterns and attitudes toward the nature of the east and west. This provides the foundation for the present study, for the researches on the cultural differences from various perspectives.
However, as time goes by, along with the increasing global communication, cultural differences are gradually fading away. In order to march into the Chinese market, more and more western cosmic advertisements are changing to cater to the Chinese cultural values. Meanwhile, benefiting from the opening policy, more and more Chinese get in touch with, understand and adopt cultures of English speaking countries. It is a good sign of cultural integration and globalization.
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