Transform the Boundaries:
Intercultural Communication in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Chen Sheng
Wesleyan College


In this research, I intend to reveal the Eastern cultural elements of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, use ideological criticism and intercultural communication theory to analyze the rhetorical meanings of those elements, discover the strategies that Maya Lin used to make Eastern cultural elements appealing to the predominantly Western audience, and discuss the contribution of this research to rhetorical theory.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial attracts and moves many visitors of various backgrounds and with different experiences related to the Vietnam War. The designer of the memorial, Maya Lin, managed to appeal to virtually all audiences through this initially controversial design. A first-generation Chinese American, Lin’s cultural identity became part of the controversy—yet, it also largely contributed to the success of the memorial. Three features of this memorial are identified that make Eastern cultural elements appealing to a Western society: (a) It invites visitors to think through the change of time and space; (b) It reflects the polarization of life and death with subtle connections between the two; (c) It provides space for visitors to mourn as individuals but also focuses on the feelings that they share as a group. Such characteristics enable Eastern culture to be appealing to Western mainstream culture; they also suggest that intercultural communication enriches the meanings of a visual image not only aesthetically but also rhetorically.

KEY CONCEPTS Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Intercultural Communication, Eastern and Western Cultures, Structure of Consciousness


I still clearly remember the first time I saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. To see this memorial was not part of my original plan—not until I realized that it was in the same area as the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, which I intended to visit. Born, raised, and educated in China, I was not yet ready to see the other side of the Vietnam War. I expected it to be as disturbing as the side of the story that I already knew, and I felt reluctant to rethink about the blood, death, and cruelty involved. But as I walked toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I saw an architecture different from anything that I had imagined—it looked as if a huge Chinese character “人” was written on earth in black ink. This character 人 (rén) means person, people, and human in Chinese. I could feel my heart sink in mourning for the dead as I stood before the simple yet stunning memorial. It is not about glorification of war—instead, it is all about life and humanity. I later found out that the designer of this memorial is Maya Lin, an American landscape architect of Chinese descent. Lin (2000) said:

Although I grew up almost completely oblivious to my Asian heritage, I have become increasingly conscious of how my work balances and combines aspects of my Eastern and Western heritages. I see my work as a voice that is of both cultures, profoundly tied to my Asian American identity (p. 53).

I think that most Americans might not see what I saw in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; hence I wonder how the Eastern characteristics of this memorial speak to its dominantly Western audience. Lin (2000) talked about herself and her work as existing on various boundaries: “Somewhere between science and art, art and architecture, public and private, east and west” (pp. 2-3). Although the first several boundaries are conscious choices that she makes as an architect, the boundary between east and west comes with her cultural heritage that influences her work, though probably unconsciously sometimes. More importantly, the Eastern cultural elements in her work can impact how the audience perceives her work. In fact, this cultural heritage became part of the controversy after her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial won the juried competition, which was announced by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund members (Hess, 1983, p. 122). At the very first press conference, a reporter asked Lin if she found it ironic that the memorial was for the Vietnam War and Lin was of Asian descent. Lin (2000) was irritated not only by articles that attacked her for being “too Asian,” but also by the aesthetic misinterpretation of her work as a minimalist statement, not a reflection of Eastern, meditative space as she had intended (p. 45). However, since its dedication in 1982, the memorial is popular with the public; it was described as “breathtaking” and “incredible” by visitors (Thornton, 1982; Schmidt, 1982). My purpose in this essay is to identify the features of the memorial that make Eastern cultural elements rhetorically appealing to its predominantly Western audience through the lens of intercultural communication. In this paper, I reveal the Eastern cultural elements of the memorial, use ideological criticism and intercultural communication theory to analyze the rhetorical meanings of those elements, discover the strategies that Lin used to make Eastern cultural elements appealing to the predominantly Western audience, and discuss the contribution of this research to rhetorical theory.

Description of Artifact: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is known for both its historical value and aesthetic value. The memorial is two black granite walls (each 200 feet long and 10 feet below ground at their lowest point) forming to a V shape, appearing to descend into the earth. The arms of the V-shaped form point outward, directing us to the Washington Monument to the left and the Lincoln Memorial to the right. In chronological order beginning with July 8, 1959, carved on the wall, are the names of the 57,930 men and 9 women who lost their lives or are listed as missing in the Vietnam War. The memorial bears two panels: on the first panel, it says: “In honor of the men and women of the armed forces of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, the names of those who gave their lives and of those who remain missing are inscribed in the order they were taken from us;” it is noted on the final panel that the memorial was built through private contributions (Clarke, 1983).

The idea of building the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in honor of those who fought in the Vietnam War was from Jan Scruggs, who organized and became president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in 1979. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bill,signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, authorized the construction of a memorial in Washington, D.C. in memory of those who fought in the Vietnam War. In 1981, Maya Lin’s design was selected. Lin was a twenty-two-year-old Yale undergraduate student, majoring in architecture, when her design was selected. Opposition to Lin’s design surfaced after the design had won the approval of the National Capital Planning Commission, the Fine Arts Commission, and the Department of the Interior. The design was called “a black gash of shame and sorrow” by Tom Carhart, a Vietnam veteran and lawyer in the Pentagon (McCombs, 1982, p. 14). Some sponsors of the memorial also joined the opposition.

Besides opposition to the design itself, questions about Lin’s age, gender, and race were raised. “I think it is actually a miracle that the piece [Lin’s memorial] ever got built” said Lin, “From the very beginning I often wondered, if it had not been an anonymous entry 1026 but rather an entry by Maya Lin, would I have been selected” (Lin, 2000, p. 45)? Lin’s design was originally for her architectural seminar, not for the competition. Therefore, Lin designed it as what she believed it should be instead of what the jury expected it to be. However, her attempt to produce a neutral statement about the war in order to avoid political controversy itself became politicized. Lin (2000) said that she remembered reading an article in the Washington Post that referred to her design as “An Asian Memorial for an Asian War” (p. 45). The sponsors proposed to incorporate an American flag and a statue of an infantryman in the design. After a wearisome negotiation and discussion, the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission approved the proposal, but ruled that the statue and the flagpole must not intrude upon Lin’s original design (Shannon, 1982). Lin’s memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982; visitors have reacted with great emotion and responded to it positively since the dedication.     

Description of Method

Rhetoric of Culture and Ideology

The memorial represents not only a political tension, but also a cultural one. Although the political tension was not resolved until the dedication of the memorial, the tension between Eastern culture and Western culture is resolved in the design itself. The resolution of the cultural tension in the memorial can be seen through intercultural communication.

Intercultural communication can take place rhetorically in a visual image, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which shares rhetorical characteristics with popular culture. Burke (1969) defined rhetoric as “the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents” (p. 41). However, “words” refers broadly to various forms of symbolic communication. He explains that use of symbols encompasses not only words, but “all other human symbol systems, such as mathematics, music, sculpture, painting, dance, architectural styles, and so on” (Burke, 1966, p. 28). That is to say, rhetoric and communication exist beyond verbal forms and can be conveyed in different ways. More importantly, meanings of both popular culture and visual image are closely related to the purpose of the rhetor and the reaction of the audience—which do not always correspond with each other.

The power of popular culture resides in two distinct procedures of creating meanings. One is encoding, which refers to “the construction of textual meaning by popular culture institutions” (Martin & Nakayama, 2007, p. 336). It implies that the meaning of popular culture partly depends on the rhetor. Similarly, virtual works of art “produce effects and are intentional and purposive objectives” (Foss, 1986, p. 329). In other words, the rhetor of a visual image intends to influence the audience in specific ways too. The other procedure of creating meanings is decoding, which refers to “the interpretation of the text’s meaning by receivers” (Martin & Nakayama, 2007, p. 336). Likewise, the reaction of an audience is a crucial component in interpreting a visual image (Berleant, 1970, p. 61). Sometimes the audience does not respond in a manner that the rhetor expects—both in popular culture and in visual image. Therefore, as a form of virtual image, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial displays intercultural communication, rhetorically, as much as popular culture does. As a result, the rhetorical meaning of the memorial can be interpreted by the audience differently from what the rhetor intended to convey.

Moreover, the process of identification matters in visual image as a form of rhetoric because the rhetor needs to use creative strategies of identification to persuade the audience. Individuals form identities through different substances, which include both concrete possessions (physical objects, occupations, etc.) and abstract possessions (beliefs, values, etc.).  They tend to identify themselves with those with which they share some substance (Burke, 1969, pp. 21-23). Thus, identification refers to building up such commonness, which characterizes where rhetoric takes place. In order to create identification, rhetors sometimes define situations for audiences by adopting “a strategy for encompassing a situation” (Burke, 1973, p. 109). To guide the audience to perceive the situation that the rhetor intends to provide is especially important in visual image because of the lack of the direct form of verbal communication. Kaelin (1970) explained, “the artist learns as much from his work as does his audience. The artist is his first appreciator…the first one surprised to discover ‘his’ idea” (p. 38). It implies that Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial more than likely has features that contribute to the process of identification that leads visitors to see what Lin means to show. Otherwise, the memorial would not have been as popular with the audience as it is.

 It is evident that ethnic identity plays an important role in the process of identification. Ethnic identity, defined as a set of ideas about one’s own ethnic group membership, typically includes three dimensions: self-identification, knowledge about the ethnic culture (e.g., customs and values), and feelings about belonging to a specific ethnic group (Martin & Nakayama, 2007, p. 175). According to Martin and Nakayama (2007), ethnicity is a specific and relevant concept for some U.S. residents because ethnic identity encompasses more than shared physical features—it also involves a shared sense of origin, history, and culture (p. 175). Asian Americans, therefore, have shared ethnic identity and thus can identify themselves as “Asian” both in terms of physical characteristics and cultural heritage (Wong, 1998, p. 129). There is a distinct Asian culture in the United States, which differs from the mainstream culture. In the United States, “whiteness” is considered as normative because whites have historically been the dominant group; generally, the dominant group has a “normal” experience in the social hierarchy (Martin & Nakayama, 2007, pp. 167, 178). On the other hand, minority groups have “abnormal” experiences. Therefore, they tend to preserve their cultural practices “in an effort to survive in a hostile society where dominant cultural values often conflict with traditional values” (Wong, 1998, p. 128). In fact, the phenomenon of preserving ethnic culture has been common among all immigrants throughout the migrant history of the United States (Anderson, 1983; Ignatiev, 1995). As a result, there is tension between the dominant Western culture possessed by whites and the minority Eastern culture possessed by Asians in American society. This Asian ethnic identity brings cultural tension to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial because the Eastern culture that Lin intends to convey does not speak directly to the audience made up dominantly of Western culture. Such cultural tension raises rhetorical challenges to Lin because those two divergent cultural identities—Eastern and Western cultures—are an obstacle to identification.

 However, minority Eastern cultural elements can be made rhetorically appealing to the dominant Western culture in the United States. Foss (2009) pointed out that ideology indicates certain sets of beliefs and values that are indispensable to rhetoric (p. 209). She further explained that there is a hegemonic ideology and multiple counter-hegemonic ideologies within a society. A hegemonic ideology dominates other ideologies—thus constituting social control through “a means of symbolic coercion” (Foss, 2009, p. 210). The hegemonic ideology can either be maintained and reinforced or challenged and altered through the use of rhetorical strategies and practices (Foss, 2009, p. 210). In other words, the power relation between the hegemonic ideology and the counter-hegemonic ones can be transformed through rhetoric. Therefore, the tension and potential conflict between Eastern culture (counter-hegemonic ideology) and Western culture (hegemonic ideology) can be resolved through rhetorical strategies. Maya Lin managed to make Eastern cultural elements appealing to visitors predominantly of Western culture. My method of analysis will be to identify the rhetorical strategies that Lin adopted in her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to resolve the tension between Eastern culture as a counter-hegemonic ideology and Western culture as the hegemonic ideology in American society.

Intercultural Communication Theory: The Structure of Consciousness

 To discover the impact of a counter-hegemonic ideology on the hegemonic ideology, one needs to first identify both explicit and implicit ideological elements. I intend to do so this through an intercultural communication theory: the structure of consciousness.

Gebser (1985) proposed the concept of the structure of consciousness, which is composed of the universal dimensions of time, space, sensory perception, ego, existence, etc. This proposal renders a rhetorical framework that contributes to understanding culture in a broad sense. The universal dimensions that Gebser discussed are fundamental for virtually all cultures because they “are modes of human consciousness with different orientations toward the environment and everything in it, including the society and the properties of humans” (Chen, 1998, p. 359). After analyzing numerous legends, folklores, myths, epics, tales, artwork, and social systems from all cultures worldwide, Gebser (1985) discovered with convincing evidence that there is something cultural-general—the link between nature and human consciousness exists in different dimensions. Chen (1998) further explained: “the structure of consciousness is conceptualized as the mode knowing, which is associated closely with human activities, dreams and imaginings, emotions, rationality, and self-awareness” (p. 359). In other words, the structure of consciousness encompasses various dimensions of attributes that form or influence culture. The significance of Gebser’s theory resides in the fact that it explains not only the similarities (cultural basics as mentioned above) but also the differences between cultures. According to Gebser (1985), the dimension that dominates in one culture determines the characteristics of that culture, thus making it distinctive from others.

Gebser’s (1985) theory is especially pertinent to this essay and useful to my analysis because it provides a framework to examine the differences between Western and Eastern cultures in their common domains. According to this theory, the Western way is widely acknowledged as “predominantly a perspectival approach to everything/anything, with linear/causal thinking and a strong sense of ego/individual, whereas the Eastern way, is the opposite in virtually every respect” (Chen, 1998, p. 360). Chen (1998) talked about the three common domains of consciousness in Western and Eastern cultures: time and space, human and nature, and ego and society. Regarding time and space, she points out that Chinese culture is generally dominated by lack of perspectives, which results in unawareness of time and space to the extent that “thinking without perspective is the default mode” (p. 360). In regards to human and nature, Chen (1998) argued that “hand in hand with the space-unconscious mode is the ego-unconscious mode of mind, resulting in a tendency toward polarization. The world, and everything in it, is seen as a whole with complementary halves” (p. 361). In the last common domain—ego and society, collectivism is typical of Eastern cultures while individualism characterizes Western cultures (Sun 1989; Triandis, 1989).

 The three major domains of cultural differences (time and space, human and nature, and ego and society) between Eastern culture and Western culture provide the basic structure of my analysis. First, I will analyze the features of the memorial that reflect the change of time and space while remaining its meditative intention, thus resolving the cultural tension. In response to the second cultural difference, I will analyze the characteristics of the memorial that highlight the polarization of life and death, but at the same time subtly connect the division. Finally, I will analyze the balance of collectivism and individualism in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Findings of Analysis

Looking at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial rhetorically through a cultural perspective, I argue that a significant rhetorical feature of the memorial results from resolving the tension between the minority Eastern culture as a counter-hegemonic ideology and the dominant Western culture as a hegemonic ideology in American society. I assert that Lin managed to make Eastern culture appealing to Western society through three major features in her design of the memorial in order to bridge three major cultural gaps: (a) It invites visitors to think through the change of time and space; (b) It reflects the polarization of life and death with subtle connections between the two; (c) It provides space for visitors to mourn as individuals but also to focus on the feelings that they share as a group.

 Invitation to Think Through Space and Time

The first tension between Eastern and Western culture in the memorial comes from two different default modes that Chen (1998) described: thinking is dominant in Eastern cultures while perceiving is dominant in Western cultures. Influenced by Taoism and Buddhism, Eastern architectures are usually featured by providing meditative space for visitors with an emphasis on mental process instead of visual stimuli. Lin intended to bring visitors to think less about the Vietnam War itself, but more about those individuals who lost their lives in the war. Lin (2000) recalled:

Sometimes, as with the memorials, I see a very specific and clearly defined purpose to the project. With the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I needed to ask myself the question “What is the purpose of a war memorial at the close of the twentieth century?”…I felt that the design should focus on the individuals who died and not on the politics surrounding that war. I sought a design that would bring the viewer to an honest acceptance of the death of those individuals (p. 35).

She took an apolitical approach because she did not intend to glorify the war; instead, Lin wanted to underscore the sacrifices involved in it. However, Lin was also aware that in the American society where it is extremely youth-oriented, it is difficult for people to accept death or dying as a part of life. Lin (2000) regarded this thinking process—to accept a loved one’s death as the first step to overcome the loss—as critical in her design (pp. 49-50). The simplicity of the memorial reflects her intention to emphasize the mental process of thinking because there are no patriotic symbols or any other colors besides white and black in Lin’s design.        

However, Lin managed to invite the audience, the majority of whom have little understanding of Eastern culture, to meditate through the change of time and space, which is the default mode of Western culture. The memorial itself is not unchanging—it is moving both physically with the landscape and mentally with the timeline. The two arms of the V-shape walls constitute a change of space: the space narrows down as visitors walk closer to the memorial. As a result, it brings focus and concentrates attention on the memorial itself, the names chiseled, and death as a result of the war. This change of space leads the audience to think, especially for those whose visit to the memorial is more a stop-by than a purposeful plan. With other beautiful architectures around that do not bear the same connotation of loss and sorrow and with the noise from the city life of Washington D.C., the narrowing in space separates visitors from these distractions and encourages them to focus on this memorial, thus the pain and sacrifice of individuals.

The change of time is also evident in the chronologically listed names and the fact that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial points to both the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The chronological, instead of alphabetical, list of names of the men and women who died or were recorded as missing in the war connects visitors with that period of history. More importantly, the list of names connects visitors with those individuals, not as strangers, but as fellow citizens—regardless of age, gender, race, or religion. It evokes a sense of nationhood and more importantly, a sense of humanity. Visitors are encouraged to think about what they and the soldiers share in common— families, hobbies, favorite food, etc. In this way, the audience does not judge those individuals, whose names are carved in the wall, based on what they did or did not do in the Vietnam War. Visitors are led to see love and loss behind those names and in humanity itself. With the arms of the V pointing at two historic monuments—the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial—the Vietnam Veterans Memorial also leads visitors to link history with the current day. It encourages the audience to think about the history of the United States and the liberty and freedom embraced upon the nation’s establishment. However, it not only evokes patriotic feelings, but also reaffirms the fact that throughout history war always comes with pain and sacrifice regardless of the actual result. Victory in a war means more than glory—just as loss means more than shame because both of them imply tragedy, sorrow, and forsaken life. A visitor to the memorial said: “It [the list of names] simply washed over–the utter futility, the incomprehensible waste…” (Schmidt, 1982). Another visitor, a Green Beret, responded in a similar way: “What a horrendous waste it all was” (Vietnam Vets, 1982, p. 1).

Indeed, the reflection on the change of space and time in the Vietnam Veterans memorial invites visitors to think about those individuals, those lives, and the waste in war. It connects the audience with the war in the past and encourages them to think about the sorrow and pain that still persists with time. The memorial encourages visitors to think about the war not only in terms of victory or loss, but also in terms of humanity, life, pain, and death.

Subtle Connection of the Polarization between Life and Death

Besides the tension regarding time and space, another cultural tension results from the polarization in Eastern culture where the world is seen as two complementary parts. For example, in Eastern culture, the world is seen as heaven and earth, earth and sea, yin and yang, creature and plant, night and day, sun and moon (Chen, 1998, p. 361). The Vietnam Veterans Memorial highlights the separation of the dead and the living as well as the missing and the present. Harmon (2009) commented: “Lin underscored the emotional acts of remembering and paying tribute to the soldiers by creating an experience of mass and void, presence and absence” (p. 250). In fact, Lin intentionally emphasized such division in order to make visitors aware of the loss—thus being mindful about war. She intended the memorial to be lethargic through a conscious focus on death. Lin (2000) said: “I remember one of the veterans asking me before the wall was built what I thought people’s reaction would be to it…. I was too afraid to tell him what I was thinking was that I knew a returning veteran would cry” (p. 46). Nevertheless, the polarization between life and death is latent in Western culture (Chen, 1998, p. 360). The memorial appeals to its audience while underscoring death by subtly connecting two separate parts together.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is composed of two walls—one on the left and the other on the right, which symbolizes a division between life and death. The contrasting colors of the wall (black) and the words written on it (white) further intensify the polarization. These two colors underscore the division between those who lost their lives in the war (the list of names) and those who mourn for the loss (the wall). However, the names carved on the wall start from the right wall and descend with the wall to the earth; they then rise again from the earth and end at the origin where the names start. Earth is where the dead are buried; the memorial is where the living mourn. Therefore, the layout of those names that form a circle links the memorial to the earth—and symbolically, the present to the missing. Visitors are encouraged to contemplate on the circle of life—thus accepting death as part of it.

Another feature of this memorial that functions to subtly connect life and death is the glossy surfaces of the memorial. Visitors can go down to the space, touch those engraved names, and see their own reflections. As visitors run their fingertips along the thousands of names of strangers, the names that they do not know, their reflection encourages them to think: This could be me. Indeed, my name could be there if I had been born at a different time or had been drafted. A volunteer for the National Park Service said at the site: “You are looking at yourself through the names of the dead” (Clarke, 1983). This is a powerful statement made by the memorial about death because it reflects death through the living. The memorial also leads the audience to realize, as they see themselves in the wall, that behind every single name, there is a face, a body, a family, and a story—just as they have. 

Space for Individuals to Evoke Collective Emotions

The last cultural tension to be resolved in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is between collectivism in Eastern culture and individualism in Western culture (Sun 1989; Triandis, 1989). Due to the influence of Confucianism, a collective identity, li, is realized in the manner of socialization in Eastern culture. It emphasizes shared values and expectations in society, thus resulting in the focus on collectivism (Chen, 1998, p.363). In the essay that Lin wrote in the juried design competition, she explained the idea behind her design of this memorial: “For this memorial is not meant as a monument for the individual, but rather as a memorial to the men and women who died during this war as a whole” (Lin, 2000, p. 45). Besides evoking emotional experiences shared by a group as conventional memorials, Lin’s memorial design also intends to leave space for individual experiences. The memorial balances these two sides by providing space for individuals to contemplate on their own feelings while recognizing the shared feelings as a group.

 The chronologically arranged names on the wall reveal the power of collectiveness. It is not one name—there are thousands of names. It is not just one person—there are thousands of people, those whom the visitors loved, and those who loved them. The memorial communicates with the audience through the clustered names, saying that “The loss of all those young lives was too great a price to pay…” (Schmidt, 1982). Those names evoke shared feelings of “anger at the waste, sorrow at the loss, and empathy for those who grieve” among the visitors (Foss, 1986, p. 336). Therefore, visitors are encouraged to identify themselves with those names and see themselves belonging to this collective group—as family members, friends, fellow citizens, and humans who learn to sacrifice and eventually face death.

The sense of collectivity is balanced by space for each visitor to individually think about the war, especially to think about those who lost their lives in the war. The memorial itself is politically neutral—thus it does not mean to judge or influence the personal opinions of visitors (Lin, 2000, p. 45). Foss (1986) argued that the ambiguity of this memorial, that mainly results from its lacking information, contributes to its popularity and explains the positive reaction from the public. Without any story or plotline of the Vietnam War, the memorial’s lack of information makes visitors feel that their own perspectives are legitimate (pp. 333-334). Hence, the memorial leaves room for individuals to respond meditatively with their own experiences, opinions, and feelings.

Conclusion and Contribution to Rhetorical Theory

Maya Lin identifies herself as existing on the boundary between east and west; her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has Eastern cultural elements that have been transformed to appeal to the Western-culture-dominated American society. Lin (2000) talks about Eastern cultural influence on her work:

In choosing to make works that do not force a set opinion or message forward but present facts that allow viewers to come to their own conclusions—creating meditative spaces that seem almost too subtle in their design, yet have a quiet teaching method or approach—I recognize a distinctly Asian influence. This Asian influence has led to a body of work that is experiential and educational in nature; they are passages to an awareness, to what my mother would describe in Taoism as “the Way:” an introspective and personal searching (p. 53).

The tensions between Eastern culture as a counter-hegemonic ideology and Western culture as a hegemonic ideology in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial enable it to remain an Eastern meditative space while appealing to visitors.

The memorial invites visitors to think through time and space because of the open shape of the memorial, the chronologically listed names, and the two arms of the V pointing at both the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. In addition, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial reflects the polarization between life and death with subtle connections between them. The memorial itself is composed of two separated walls with contrasting colors of the wall and the engraved names; however, the layout of the engraved names and the glossy surfaces enable visitors to connect the dead with the living. Last but not least, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial balances the power of collectiveness and the space for individuals. The collective names evoke feelings of sorrow and empathy from visitors; the lack of information leaves room for visitors to contemplate on their own.

Therefore, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial rhetorically combines Eastern and Western cultures and successfully makes the counter-hegemonic ideology positively contribute to the hegemonic ideology. This research focuses on the rhetorical success of the memorial despite the cultural tension—thus contributing to rhetorical theory by explaining how intercultural communication takes place rhetorically in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial through the lens of ideological criticism.



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