CHAN Kwok Bun (Hong Kong Baptist University), Both Sides, Now: A Sociologist Meditates on Culture Contact, Hybridization, and Cosmopolitanism, English/38 pages, April 2002.


What happens when two cultures meet? While assimilation continues to be a dominant discourse, this essay argues there are indeed several other possibilities such as alternation, hybridization, and innovation. Three narratives of cultural hybridization and innovation are constructed to provide the empirical as well as conceptual substance for an exploration into the cosmopolitanism idea: the importation of Buddhism from India into China; China's social history when read as moments and sites of culture contact as a result of massive migrations and population dispersal; and, in the contemporary era, the syncretism of wedding and burial rituals among the Chinese of Thailand. In all three narratives, the analytical gaze is at the unspectacular, practical, everyday life fusion and hybridization that happens when groups share a neighbourhood, a history and memory based on simply living together and collectively solving the practical problems of living that requires a transcendence of group loyalties. As it happens, one culture sort of "slips into" another culture, half forgetting and remembering itself, and half changing the other. One is allowing oneself to be inhabited by the other, while still recognizing oneself and the other as different. Anyone can be a cosmopolitan, anyone; but one must labour against habits of "mental blindness", through self-cultivation. Dialectically, one is then no less than one, but more than a sum total of two because something new, something novel, is produced. But it should also be pointed out the cosmopolitan has his/her moments of nervousness - the so-called dark side of cosmopolitanism.