The East-West dichotomy /Chapter 3
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The dichotomy with Asia-centrism
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|This source text was taken from The East-West dichotomy, retrieved August 16, 2009|
Man is the measure of all things. (Protagoras, c. 480-410 BC)
In the early 20th century, the influences of such great (read: radical) narratives doctrines such as Herbert Spencer’s ‘Social Darwinism’ in Process: It’s law and causes (1857), Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Will to power’ in Human, all too human (1886), and Marx’s Communist Manifesto (1848) all rooted deep in most Western academic writings on the East-West discourse. There was no sense of equilibrium and balance. In that great Darwinian struggle among nations for their survival, any inferior culture was – at the slightest sign of weakness - believed to be surely eliminated. Hence, all that behavior about superiority of race, culture, and civilization, for example in Nazi-Germany (1933-1945) or Militarist-Japan (1932-1945), but also during Stalin’s revolution (1928-32), the 1915-1917 massacres of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, or Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), but also during American cultural militarism (c. 1991-2006) to name but a few. Fortunately, another World War now seems unlikely. The world timely woke up in August 1945, when an American bomber dropped a plutonium bomb named ‘Fat Man’ over Nagasaki and ended World War II. Grand scale war-activities, it seemed, finally stopped at the prospect of total annihilation of entire civilizations. With Europe on her knees, but the victorious US well disposed to face the disciplined nations of the East (identified by the Warsaw pact [1955-1991] and other communist nations), soon a new warfare had been put in place, this time a mere ideological, if not total intellectual one:
According to the intrinsic powers of Western analytical reasoning over history, the East had to become westernized – gradually – by law of nature.
Similar to the extension of the universe, demonstrable after the discovery of the ‘Planck constant’ (Planck, 1901), or the direction of time, demonstrable by applying the ‘Special theory of relativity’ (Einstein, 1905), for the analytically-based West history has a qualitative nature. It has aim, it is progressive in nature, it can only improve in one direction, from a general (the universal) to a more complex stage (the particular), and advance with one truth only.
For the integration-based East on the other hand, what might be called ‘truth’ is given at any time (the ‘one’) and always justifiable through ‘being a part of the whole’. In other words, there are many truths, many more than the West can bear, and the mere existence of the more inductive East as an alternative a priori to the more deductive West qualifies it to provide a genuine, believable non-Western experience of history: history as a non-directional but time-less tangible realm.
The integration-based East, for the greater part of its at least 5000 years of extraordinary civilization (in case of India and China, certainly even older), nurtured the importance of inductive reasoning ability by a strong emphasis on broadening all traditional knowledge, increased their culture’s memory-capacity, favored the ability to learn from analogy, and promoted high generalization skills (for example, in Asia, “yes” is the universal confirmative answer in formal dialog, even if ‘no’ is implied).
And, there is the Asian ‘love for learning’. Already philosophically treated and discussed as early as in Mozi [墨子] (470– 391 BC), love for learning was officially politicized during the Legalists movement (770-221 BC). The legalists stressed the universal importance of promoting capable people as officials no matter their confession or creed. Throughout history the inductive way in Asia manifested in ever-higher inductive reasoning ability and, consequently, in cultural output (in art, religion, music, literature etc.) that values ‘oneness’, ‘balance’ and ‘harmoniousness’ (Gu, 1922; Sen, 2006; Wu, 1997, 1998). This ‘discharge’ of overall Asia’s diligence, high achievement, and ancient duty of studying is best exemplified in The Analects (Lun Yu, 论语, 8;17):
学如不及，犹恐失之。 Study as if you were never to master it; as if in fear of losing it.
So, that is essentially what the intelligent Asian people were doing in the 20th century: studying as if they were never to master it. And, indeed, after long, curious “flirtations with Western culture and values” especially during the 1911 revolution and the May 4th Movement (c. 1919-1921), which were essential anti-Confucian and partly pro-Western, in the 1920’s and 1930’s virtually every Chinese, Japanese, or Indian intellectual was embroiled in a series of controversies about Eastern and Western culture (Ji, 2006).
Although Western theories, sciences and technologies were appreciated, most Eastern commentators were convinced that Asian values and wisdom were unique and so clear-cut diametrically opposed to many values and wisdoms to the West, that they needed to be preserved, at all cost of an inevitable intellectual crash with the West. In the fields of arts, literature and science, especially after the founding of the Communist Party in 1921, Chinese writers, politicians and historians stood up for their views on the East-West dichotomy and patriotically defended their own civilization and the ‘essence of the East’ (e. g. Asian thought and culture) against the infiltration of Western “scum and dregs” as asserted by Ji Xianlin: “只要拿得不过头，不把西方文化的糟粕和垃圾一并拿来，就是好事” (As long as we do not take in Western scum and dregs, it will be a good thing) (Ji, 2006 ), ‘Western preoccupation with ‘ontological being-ness’ asserted by Kitaro Nishida 1870-1945 (Abe, 1988), and western-fabricated ‘Orientalism’ asserted by Edward Said (Said, 1978; 1995).
Following the example of Japan’s modernization efforts during the Meiji Restoration in 1868-1931 to absorb Western thought and technology (‘Wakon yosai’ or ‘Western techniques, Japanese soul’), China and its periphery, according to their 5000 years of history of learning and self-cultivation - in just under 60 years (1948-2008) - re-actively happened to study and orientalize virtually each and every Western theory. Hands down, I mean it: virtually everything.
Notwithstanding the love for learning, Confucian China, Imperial China, and now Communist China nevertheless believed that the most important thing it already owned - 中国为本 (its Chinese-ness at the root) -, if only it could acquire from the deductive, scientific-oriented America and Europe their useful techniques and theories - 西方为末 (Westerness as a means) . In order to prevail over the West (Ji, 2006), do as the Master said:
In strolling in the company of just two other persons, I am bound to find a teacher. Identifying their strengths, I follow them, and identifying theirweaknesses, I reform myself accordingly. (Confucius, Lun Yu, 7,12).
Under ‘orientalization’ we now understand the process in which Western knowledge and techniques are acquired without giving away the Asian soul – in essence a form of ideological self-reliance (自力更生), as opposed to reliance on Western ideology or westernization.
Not only China but East-Asia in general consequently ‘borrowed’ from the West whatever seemed fit: from aestheticism - in a Wildean or Byronic sense – (Zhou, 2000), architecture, art and cinema, economics, film and documentary, law, literature, sports, music, post-modern theory, through Darwinism, Marxism (e. g. the sinification of Marxism), to socialism (e. g. Socialism with Chinese characteristics) and new forms of democracy. China today openly acknowledges the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Russia and Myanmar (Burma) as ‘democratic’ nations and sees itself as ‘democratic, with Chinese characteristics’, according to each country’s own definition of what constitutes a legitimate democracy (China.org., 2005; Chinadaily, 2007/01/13). Remember the Eastern notions of many truths? That’s a no-no in the Western world, where we expect the unwavering truth - and one truth only.
China in particular never made any great attempts of covering her own truths and her aim to hold up Eastern values and wisdoms (why should the East throw away its 5000 years of successful history and culture?), and at the same time profit from the practicability of foreign learning; her ability to adopt herself, even if it meant aggressively copying from the Western others:
Study the foreigners so that you will have the upper hand over them.(Wei Yuan, 1843)
All things Western became fashionable, however the influence of true Westerners on China’s soil - as some patronizing American or European would like to imagine - as it was truly the case for example with Buddhism in China (c. 68-800 AD) or the introduction of Western sciences by European missionaries (c. 1575-1702 AD) before, in my view, is wishful thinking. That ‘Great Learning’ from the end of the Qing Dynasty (清朝) onwards to the beginnings of the People’s Republic (1911-1949) is unmistakably ‘made in China’, an ‘intellectual property of China’, so to speak. I feel the urge to repeat this important historical fact: the rise of China is inherently Chinese, just as the Meiji Restoration (明治维新, Meiji ishin, 1868-1912) was inherently Japanese.
Yes, Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936) indeed took on some ideas of Nietzsche and developed them further. So did Li Shicen (李石岑, 1892-1934) and Mao Dun (矛盾, 1896-1981). Hu Shi (胡适, 1891-1962) took on James’s and Dewey’s ideas on education and pragmatism and developed them further. Mao Zedong (毛泽东, 1893-1976), Chen Duxiu (陈独秀, 1879-1942) and Li Dazhao (李大钊, 1888-1927) took on Marx and Lenin and developed them further. I could go on. Yet, in the intellectual output of those great cultural figures no foreigner took part; the Chinese intellectuals – no less engaged in protecting their cultural sovereignty with nationalism than the Japanese before them - read Western theories, studied Western theories, improved them - sinosized them.
In the integration-based East, were knowledge comes from traditions, ancient concepts of the inductive Eastern ‘moral superiority’ vs. Western deductive ‘scientific superiority’ were soon identified as the nucleus of the East-West dichotomy and the struggle for the Eastern soul. By all means Western technology and ways of rational inquiry – the deductive way - had to be acquired in order to defend against Western imperialism, yet it was the humanitarian Eastern soul and its wisdom – the inductive way - that should guide the East:
对西方的文化，鲁迅先生曾主张“拿来主义”。这个主义至今也没有过时。过去我们拿来，今天我们仍然拿来，只要拿得不过头，不把西方文化的糟粕和垃圾一井拿来，就是好事，就对我们国家的建设有利。 In case of Western culture, Lu Xun earlier proposed the ‘take-in approach’. This has ever since been our practice. In the past we took in, and today we are still taking in. As long as we steer calm, not taking in the waste and garbage of Western culture too, this will be a good thing for the construction of our nation. (Ji Xianlin, 2006 )
Lun Xun proposed to “return a plum” (Ji, 2006). So does the Chinese tradition in the Book of Songs, Da Ya (诗经, 大雅): “投我一桃，报之以李 (If you give me a peach, I shall return a plum), meaning to practise a ‘give-and-take’ attitude (送去主义). Unfortunately, Mao Zedong, realizing that the capitalist West would never except his plum - with reference to Luo Guanzhong’s [罗贯中] war epic Romance of the Three kingdoms (San Guozhi, 三国演义, c. 1330-1400 AD) that reads: “三十年河西，三十年河东” (Thirty years west of the River, thirty years east of it) (Luo, 1998) - made a mockery out of Lu Xun’s ‘give-and-take’-mentality and blew all culturalism of tolerance to the wind, literally:
我认为现在国际形势到了一个新的转折点。世界上现在有两股风：东风，西风。中国有句话：“不是东风压倒西风，就是西风压倒东风。我认为目前形势的特点是东风压倒西风，也就是说，社会主义的力量对于帝国主义的力量占了压倒的优势。 I believe that the international situation has now reached a new turning point. There are two Winds in the world, the East Wind and the West Wind. There is a Chinese saying that “either the East Wind prevails over the West Wind or the West wind prevails over the East wind.” I believe it is characteristic of the situation today that the East Wind is prevailing over the West Wind. That is to say, the forces of socialism have become overwhelmingly superior to the forces of imperialism. (Mao Zedong, 1957)
In the latter half of the 20th century, just as the West aggressively propagated its own political values, so did the East. The ‘soul of Asia’ had to be internalized by each and every member of its collective Eastern societies obedient to a universal Asiatic ‘code of conduct’ (e. g. Confucian conduct) driven by the Eastern notion of ‘oneness’. Some may call it a collective defense mechanism against the Western ‘particulars’, only this time using neo-Darwinian terminology in the spirit of Darwin (and later Spencer) and their prophetic biology that “bids all to eat and to be eaten in their turn” (Darwin, 1859 ). If interest in biological survival embraces political resolutions, one may call it ‘nationalism’.
Finally, the spiritual East finally identified the material West as the sole competitor for everything that is worthwhile in life: culture, values, wealth and dignity. Yet, because of its inductive cognitive ways, the East could only perceive the West as the short-sighted, destructive force of millions of self-determined individuals who spread out and conquer nature and undermine the great harmony, constantly neglecting the oneness of all things, and dwelling in the minuscule particular. What is worse, back home the West had formed nation states as political tool to bundle and channel the disruptive forces of its army of independent, egoistic, shameless, and often utterly lonely individuals.
Not surprisingly, Europe-style nationalism and Europe-style concepts of cultural superiority soon became very fashionable in the East, too, for example with eugenics in China. Until recently, the prevailing notion among many Chinese anthropologists, the Communist Party of China, and Chinese college textbooks well into the 21st century was that the Chinese race exclusively developed from the ‘Peking man’, or ‘homo erectus”, whose remains were, so we are told, first discovered in 1923-1928 by Davidson Black (1884-1934) and Pei Wenzhong (裴文中, 1904-1982) during excavations in Zhou Koudian (周口店) – now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre - near Beijing dated roughly 500,000 years ago, while the European races were believed to be the result of a communion between homo sapiens and the lesser Neanderthal man. This interpretation of history was challenged twice in 1985 by Lewis Binford (1930-) and Chuan Kun Ho (1945-), who argued that the Peking Man was a scavenger (Binford and Chuan, 1985), and finally in 1998—2004 by a team of computational biologists and anthropologists around Jin Li (金力), who used methods from molecular genetics to demonstrate that the Chinese race, like everyone else too, descended from Homo sapiens and the African continent in accordance with the ‘single-origin hypothesis’ (Jin, 1998).
That - mostly Han - Chinese dream of racial exclusivity, not different in good intention from all other premium contenders such as the British, Germans, Japanese, and Americans before them, fortunately lost its scientific grounds. Yet, other forms of cultural superiority in Asia remain, such as ‘Dahan zhuyi’ (大汉族主义, the chauvinistic Han), Nihonjin-ron (Japanese uniqueness), the Vasudeva (the supreme man) etc. - all highly complex models not so much of biological but more of moral superiority or even intellectual superiority (we come to that later); many of them translated into party-slogans, public policies and literature movements.
In order to integrate ideology with man successfully - again, the concept of ‘the one’ -, not an industrial revolution that manipulates matters, but a cultural revolution that manipulates minds had to take place.
What followed – in the spirit of a neo-Darwinian’s ‘biologized’ society - I call the “husbandry of ideas”. The notion, that ideas can be refined and perfected, just as domestic animals were over the last 2000 years, by a strict and controlled selection and maintenance processes, if only enough intelligentsia were employed to do so:
And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becomingmore correct, more vital and richer each time. (Mao Zedong, 1943; 1967)
The above quote from Mao Zedong sounds ruthless and painful, mainly perhaps because he speaks in his function as a political leader (and known dictator). Who wants to be so openly manipulated by a politician? But nevertheless what Mao said is essentially at the core of all religious movements and any other mass movement you and I can think of, and, of course, repetition is the very essence of all behavioral modification and psychological conditioning. It is the simple act of “value creation”. Any personal action causes a result, and that result itself is the truth about the direction and intention of the cause. The repetitive action then constantly confirms our direction and intention. Hence, it does not matter how much a scientist decries the existence of God: as long as some people believe in God, that God is the truth about the cause that leads to Him.
Could the principles of husbandry and selection, which we have seen to be so potent in the hand of a breeder, apply to social and political affairs? It did so in the former Soviet Union and Germany’s government under Hitler, both explicitly using propaganda favoring communism or fascism in all forms of media, literary and public expression.
In case of China, we see the systematical ideological indoctrination of Chinese pupils in over 500,000 schools and 1,750 universities and colleges till today (2007) during weekly political classes at junior high-school and university level in 毛泽东思想概论 (Thoughts of Mao Zedong)，思想道德修养 (Moral Education)，邓小平理论 (Deng Xiaoping’s theory)，马克思主义哲学原理 (Marxism)，社会主义初级阶段 (Introduction to Socialism), and at primary school level in 思想品德 (Character and moral education), with exam-results as crucial for the children as the ones in mathematics or physics. Finally we have the Ministry of Education’s ‘model scholars 模范学者’ out there virtually reading new Chinese Nationalism and unity into the bullhorn:
As far as East-West issues are concerned, we practically know the West like the palm of our hand, but the West’s vision of the East is a murky confusion. It is thus self-evident who would hold an advantageous position should there be any conflict in the future between the two. (Ji Xianlin - in Lin, 1996)
Meanwhile, after jointly winning the Great War in 1948, those self-exiled remnants of the European civilization, calling themselves the U.S.A., by now militarily and economically evolved into a European warrior-based culture, returned to Eurasia and essentially revived Europe, swept through this former cradle of capitalism, democracy and the free market economy, refined all theories, and build its military and cultural bases all over the place, yet with their eyes fixed on the perceived menaces from Asia.
East and West as a result became competitors for better theories, with an Eastern affinity for hyperbole, gigantisms and holistic totality – the glorifications of idols and leaders, state-monopolies, authoritarianism, and autarchy -: “东方红，The East is Red” (Mao Zedong, 1960), which is also the name of a song, anthem of the CCP during the 60’s, and the name of a satellite that carried a radio transmitter broadcasting the song in 1970; and a Western affinity for an historical ‘sense of mission’ to dissolve and deconstruct the seemingly coherent Eastern cultures and take the lead: “The United States is the locomotive, the rest of the world is the caboose” (Dean Acheson, 1940).
As a result of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) - Mao, in his famous essay ‘On New Democracy’ (新民主主义论, 1964) called it “新的世界革命” or ‘The New World Revolution’) - and the ‘de-Westernization’ of Asia and ‘de-colonialism’ in other parts of the world during the second half of the 20th century (Lee, 1998; Sisci, 2008), the two hemispheres East and West drifted apart, with the remaining inflow of Western ideas and standards (e. g. trials of re-westernization) often seen as the gongs and drums of a recovering barbarian, more or less until China’s opening up (1978/79) and the breakdown of the communist Soviet Union (1991).
When Donella H. Meadows The Limits to Growth was published in the United States in 1972 - the first scientific study on the decline of the West that was not pure philosophical and speculative, like the theories of Herbert Spencer (1857) and Arthur Toynbee (1958), but this time computational and methodical - it became clear to the West that its deduction-based ‘materialistic civilization’ would one day run into its limits: