Chapter 11 – The Problem of Standard

The East-West Dichotomy was re-published in 2013 by China’s Foreign Language Press and available in bookshops, academic libraries, and from intl. online retailers, including Amazon.


钱宾四 wrote in his 中国思想史(1991): “中国文化过去最伟大的贡献,在于对‘天‘’人‘关系的研究“. If you cannot read what I just wrote that means you probably don’t understand Chinese. It says: “Among all those past contributions of Chinese culture (to mankind), the study of the relation between ‘heaven’ and ‘man’ is the grandest” (Qian, 1991/1998).

Without knowing Chinese, it is, I would argue, very difficult to read, listen and understand Chinese people. Sadly, “not knowing Chinese” is the rule among Western commentators on the East-West discourse: from the political thinkers Montesquieu (1689-1755) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), over the great writers Denis Diderot (1713-1784) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), the economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790), to the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-) and the three great ‘fordmakers’ in cultural studies Francis Bacon (1561-1626, he initiated the scientific revolution), Max Weber (1864-1920, he founded the modern study of sociology), and Karl Marx (1818-1883, the father of communism and dialectic materialism). Similar in philosophy we have the – verifiably – highly gifted Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), Friedrich W. S. Schelling (1775-1854), Georg Wilhelm F. Hegel (1770-1831), Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) – all of whom wrote passionately about the Confucian and/or Buddhist canon, categorized the world’s people, and judged upon their cultural outlook and modus operandi.

Now, of all the persons listed above, to my knowledge none of them had ever mastered Classical Chinese or Sanskrit, nor learned any other Asiatic language in a lifetime.

But then, why should they? The standard of Western knowledge is Western civilization and, recently, the English language, and against THAT standard all other cultures are measured and judged upon. Western man, not man, it seems, is the measure of all things:

There is something unique here inEuropethat is recognized in us by all other human groups, too, something that […] becomes a motive for them to Europeanize themselves even in their unbroken will to spiritual self-preservation, whereas we, if we understand ourselves properly, would never Indianize ourselves, for example. (Edmund Husserl, 1935)

It is clear to all Chinese that Western culture is the root of wealth, success, development and political survival – it is the essence of modernity.
(Francesco Sisci, 2008)

This air of condescension is reflected in Western education systems. It is still perfectly conceivable to meet a German, French, Italian, American visiting scholar on the streets ofDelhiorShanghai, who has never heard about Rammohan Roy, Sri Autobindo, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Si Maqian, Hu Shi, Liang Qichao, or Lu Xun. OutsideAsiathe situation is truly hopeless, with the average American Joe or European Karl not being able to name a single living Chinese person.

The histories of China, Japan, and Indiawere not even mentioned (before 2008) in the syllabus of Germany’s compulsory secondary school curriculum. This void of general (Asian) knowledge extends to grand literature works such as The Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, the Puranas or the Ramayana.

Even to this day, nine out of ten university professors of Chinese or Sanskrit/Hindi Studies in Europe are not able to write or communicate fluently in those languages, let alone to a level worthy of the highest intellectual standard, and even have to employ Chinese or Indian translators or assistants to help their ‘white masters’ carefully dissecting those foreign texts as if they were insects on a cardboard.

Are Europeans really that ignorant? Of course, they are not. Far from it, in fact, they are really busy in all intellectual departments in keeping what they have, and maybe learning a bit more about finance, IT, American pop culture, and the other twenty-five EU member states. What they don’t have is spare time and human resources to master Eastern cultures and languages.

Only so much time and energy can be devoted to the pursuit of knowledge of other cultures without other aspects of our own culture suffering. In 1964 Germany proudly produced 1,357,000 children; in 2006 it was a mere 676,000 – out of which 28-30% were of non-German nationality (destasis, 2006) Therefore, it will be an unachievable task for Germany to maintain its own culture, letting alone learning a lot more new things. Take the Swedish culture, a people of merely 8 millions (of whom 20% are foreigners, but this aside). In order to maintain Swedish history and knowledge,Chinacould send a mere 0,5 % of its population to do the job. On the other hand if the entire Swedish population tried to maintain Chinese history and knowledge, they would not only discontinue the Swedish cause, but would also venture no further than to preserve a tiny 0,5 % of the Chinese civilization. It is therefore self-evident, which countries have greater capacity for cultural preservation.

Of all the cultures that have disappeared from this world, to my knowledge, not a single farewell letter or suicide note has ever been unearthed. It must be a pain-less, gradual, almost unnoticed just process. Some of the Goths, the East Germanic tribes who disappeared slowly after the 6th century, must have felt that their cities had too many foreigners; that their daughters preferred to marry outsiders, that there sons had to learn a foreign language, that they consumed more and more goods that they themselves did not produce; that its few survivors suddenly felt the desire to belong to something greater than their own narrow turf.

In this 21st century of voyeurism and mass media though, we may want to hear and watch some cultures die. In drawing an analogy to Ms. Kübler-Ross’s celebrated ‘five stages of grief’ (Kübler-Ross, 1969) – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance – certain European nations could be considered no longer in ‘denial’ but are already experiencing the next stage of their looming exodus, that of ‘anger’.

Contrary to the Confucian laws of good manner or Indian tolerance and gentleness, Western media, especially the German, French and British ones – in the name of the European rest-monopoly on freedom, democracy and human-rights, – leave out no opportunity to shamelessly lecture China on human rights, degrade Islam, satirize India, wet-nurses the Persians (Iran), and make a mockery of all ambitions Russian – whatever floats the European boat.

This helplessness of a dying creed pointing fingers – I have not seen inIndia,Chinaor theU.S.A.lately. On the contrary, these great and promising powers are optimistic and ambitious about their future. This is especially true in 2008 Olympic China, that has the world’s attention: “更高, 更快, 更强 (Higher, faster, stronger, the Olympic Motto)”. In 1978, Chairman Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) proudly announced: “To get rich is glorious!”. This has been the nitty-gritty of a 30-year period of unprecedented of wealth growth (>10% of GDP) in the history of humankind (Khanna, 2008; Kim, 2006). “They undergo compulsory Maoism courses but fantasize of little but money.” (Aiyar, 2008). An American teacher inBeijingonce wrote in her web-diary about Chinese students: “The think their country is doing so incredibly well and it can only get better… and they are always happy, happy, happy.” They love their country, and they embrace life. They also have plenty and great problems, they know it, but they would – as all great powers do – rather continue to be great and engage with other great nations, and not to waste too much time with the negative, nagging and left-behind former great nations, and certainly not with some jealously barking – but politically irrelevant – European demagogues.

The European nation states’ diminishing roles in world politics, their declining populations (Heinsohn, 2004), the brain drain (timeEurope, 2004/01), and their reluctance to learn from other cultures (Phelps, 2007), are all irreversible and accelerated year by the year. Even the hope for a suffering in fragmentary unity, I am talking about the hope for a ‘United States of Europe’ (Reid, 2004), proved short-sighted, when first a European constitution was ruled out, and finally a European Treaty was rejected twice in 2005 by France and the Netherlands, and in 2008 by Ireland. Furthermore, in case of a referendum inBritain, 89% of the public would fervently vote against the “damn Treaty” (BBC, 2008/02). A great piece of advice will be needed to steer the European boat through these difficult times. I have one: “Not to live in living is to endure. Not to die in dying is to live on” (Kumarajiva, 2008).

What then is the problem with Europe? Why don’t they unify, become ‘one’? I will argue, that in 2500 years of its history, there has never been the concept of ‘oneness’, and ‘harmoniousness’ in the European collective mind. Goethe said: “There are two peaceful powers in this world: Right and Tact” (Goethe, 1833). And Gu Hongming noticed: “希伯来人的文明宗教教导欧洲人正义的知识,但没有教导礼法. (The Religion in the civilization of the Hebrew people taught the people in Europethe knowledge of Right, but it did not teach Tact (Gu, 1922). The Greeks knew about Tact and taught the Romans. The Romans tried to teach the Germanic tribes Tact and Right, but the Germanic tribes could only understand Right, not Tact. Thus, the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806), from the King of the Franks Charlemagne (747-814) to Francis II (1768-1835), later Emperor of Austria, did not know how to rule tactfully, and their subjects did not know how to submit tactfully. About that same Empire, Voltaire used to muse “it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” For a start, despite the name, it did never include Rome. Then, observe at all those divided territories, quarreling tribes and countless families that “live scattered and apart, surrounding their dwellings with open space” (Tacitus, 1996), the Franken, the Dutch, the Swiss, today’s Czech, Flemish, Polish with no lingua franca, the opposition of Prussia and Austria, the Church. And what did the righteous Napoleon do? He did what he knew was Right, he ran them all over again, thereby diffused and divided the already fragmented; but Napoleon did not know how to unite, rule or teach them Tact either.

The Chinese, on the other hand, knew only little about Right, but a lot more about Tact. Laozi said:


When a large country submits to a small country, it will adopt the small country. When a small country submits to a large country, it will be adopted by the large country. The one submits and adopts, the other submits and is adopted. It is in the interest of a large country to unite and gain service, and in the interest of a small country to unite and gain patronage. If both would serve their interests, both must submit. (Laozi, 61).

Thus, there is a tactful bond between the small states imitating the large: Submission is a means of union. If you ask any of the fragmented twenty-seven nation states of Europe today about their European Union, each of them wants to defend their individual Right, but none of them has Tact enough to submit to the greater cause.

The “fragmentary view” on the world has the greatest prominence in the deductive West, namely in the categorization of the people of the world and their regions, followed by a rigorous system of classification (Sen, 2006). Tibetis classified as Tibet, and its people as Tibetan, not part of Chinaand the Chinese people (TheEconomist, 2007/02). The one-party political systems ofRussia,Vietnam,Thailand,Myanmar,Iran, andChina are outrageous human conditions, if not utterly revolting to the analytical Western intellect, and a security risk to Western hegemony (Barnett, 2004).

With regards to China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam etc. the mere thought about ‘Asian values’, their archaic and outmoded forms of politeness, filial piety, rotten-spoiled ‘little emperors’, submissive doll-like women, shyness in adult men, rote-learning, collectivism, the tendency for authoritarian rule etc.… all this exerts a specific revulsion in the Western psyche. This revulsion is so pervasive and continuous in manner that I do not dare to speak out the irreversible and dangerous course of history that is looming over Asian civilization in case Europe  (andAmerica) cannot find itself at peace with the new, Asia-centric world-order. During the Cold War, the socialist Guy Mollet is believed to have said:

The Communists are not of the left but of the East. (Guy Mollet, 1905-1975)

That statement is based on facts. Far into the 1970’s, no communist party in Western Europe or theUnited Statesheld any considerable mandates. Apart fromFrance,Italy, andFinland, communism was virtually absent in Western politics, except, of course, as the bogeyman. I cannot discuss the reasons here why collectivism, authoritarian rule, the spiritualization of materialism, socialism and totalitarian concepts so easily caught fire in the East, and why Stalin, Mao, Kim Yong-Il, and, yes, Hitler too, are still (despite acknowledged flaws) considered ‘great leaders’ among many Asian intellectuals and admirers. They will probably always be. What I will discuss, on the other hand, is how history is now repeating itself.

The ‘sell off’ or labeling that took place in Western Europe with regard to communism as an ugly Eastern proposition, that same ‘sell off’ or labeling is now taking place in Western Europe and the United States with regard to ‘harmoniousness’ as an ugly Eastern proposition. Someone might want to go as far as to say:

“The ‘harmonizers’ are not of the liberal-democrats but of the East”.

This is what Amartya Kumar Sen, the 1998 Nobel Laureate in Economics, has to say about the two civilization modes and their views:

There are two ways of thinking of the history of civilization in the world. One is to pursue the story in an inclusive form, paying attention to the divisions as well as the interdependence involved, possibly varying over time, between the manifestations of civilization in different parts of the world. This I shall call the ‘inclusive approach’.

The other, which I shall call the ‘fragmentary approach’, segregates the beliefs and practices of different regions separately, paying attention to the interdependences between them as an after thought (when any attention is paid to them at all). (Amartya Kumar Sen, 2006)

The two ways of thinking in the history of civilizations are reflected in humankind’s approach towards ‘communism’ and now towards ‘harmoniousness’. The East is pursuing the story in an inclusive form; the West segregates the beliefs of different regions separately. The West does not identify itself with the “inclusive approach” and right now is ejecting the ‘harmonizers’, like the ‘communists’ before them, out of the Western ideological hemisphere.

Indeed, after all the recent pre-emptive strikes on terrorists and failed states, the irreversible process of ‘westernization’ and ‘globalization’, the tiresome break with each and every civic code of mutual respect and non-interference in any nation’s internal affairs, and the desire to conquer nature and, if necessary, the traditional people and tribes that made a pact with nature – how can we not say that the deductive West is rejecting thoroughly, entirely the inductive Eastern notion of ‘harmoniousness’?

With those statements above like “the West is rejecting ‘harmoniousness’”, of course, it seems we are committing another simple generalization. Yet, like with all abstracts that seem simple – they are actually very complex: If we study the histories of the inductive East and the deductive West, and if we understand that the one went down the integration-based path while the other the analytical-based path, we will come to understand that ‘harmoniousness’, just like any other mental concept like ‘democracy’, must be understood in the “respective Western context” or in the “respective Eastern context”.

The abstract concepts of ‘harmoniousness’ or ‘democracy’ behave non-relative precisely in their “respective Western context” and in their “respective Eastern context”, and behave relative only in itself. Here I will give an example about the so-called ‘Golden Rule’ in ethics, also called the ‘ethic of reciprocity’, which is supposedly at the root of the Western position on human rights. In Luke 6;27-31 Jesus said: “Do for others just what you want them to do for you. If you really do that, you may just find that your enemy will become your friend.” The Golden Rule from The Bible is unambiguous, I think, about its intention: make enemies friends (what happens if applied to friends, will they become enemies?) for one’s own personal advantage.

Another use of the Golden Rule from The Bible is to warn someone about the pain and punishment that comes along with breaking the Golden Rule, because once you break the Rule, you cannot rule out that someone else is breaking it on you. After all, who wants to be accused, beaten, and crucified? Despite all the individualist, very moving, and almost selfish touch of the biblical Golden Rule, it is among the closest example of ‘harmoniousness’ in “the respective Western” context, and according to its moral implications, all Western nations have encouraged their societies to promote the development of individuality by laws and variable decrees of punishment that will ensure your systematical punishment if another individual was harmed by you or your actions. This could be called the Western ‘fragmentary approach’ to the Golden Rule.

Now we will look at the Eastern ‘inclusive approach’ to the Golden Rule. Confucius formulated his ‘doctrine of reciprocity’ roughly 500 years before Jesus did: “己所不欲,勿施于人,在邦无怨,在家无怨” (Do not do to others what you would not like yourself. In the state there will be no complaints, in the family there will be no complaints) (Confucius, Lun Yu, 12;2). This Golden Rule of Confucius is at the core of ‘harmoniousness’ in the East, and according to its moral implications, all East-Asian nations have encouraged their societies to promote the cultivation of oneself as an integrated member of the collective with various decrees of obedience and filial piety that will ensure ‘shame and loss of face’ if the collective is harmed.

Few people in Chinafear the punishment by law for one’s misbehavior. What is feared most is the ‘loss of face’, the ‘feedback from the collective’, the ‘wrath of one’s family’, one’s ‘father’s judgment’, and, yes, sometimes the Party official’s patronizing, if not infantilizing, words “This disgraceful ‘child’ now prefers to feel ashamed”. When Zi Gong [子贡] asked the Master: “Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?”, Confucius replied: “It is the word ‘shu (恕)’ – reciprocity” (Confucius, Lun Yu, 15;23)

As an interim result, let us say that this simple Golden Rule: “Do not onto others what you do not like yourself” is implemented in the West by laws and punishment, and in the East by morals and sense of shame:


If the people are governed by laws and punishment is used to maintain order, they will try to avoid the punishment but have no sense of shame.

If they are governed by the virtue and rules of propriety [ritual] are used to maintain order, they will have a sense of shame and will become good as well.

(Confucius, Lun Yu 2;3)

Next, let us assume that neither Jesus Christ nor Confucius is the voice of God, but the proposition they wanted to talk across really was intended to be universal. What difference would it make? We would still have to read The Bible or The Analects to make sense of the real world. The human mind needs context. That is the bottom line. In the Western context, ‘harmoniousness’ is more Christianity-inflected while in the East context, ‘harmoniousness’ is more Confucian-inflected. This is an example of what I meant by understanding ‘harmoniousness’ in the “respective Western context” and in the “respective Eastern context”.

In the same way, other concepts should be understood “in the European” or “in the Asian context” before someone rushes into any international actions or conclusion, be it on human rights, political reform, economic theories, or euthanasia.

Returning from the excursion about the proper way to discuss Eastern and Western ideas about seemingly the ‘same’ concept, let us know continue with the latest trend in the world. As I said before, communist theory, although to a large extent Western co-manufactured by Marx and Lenin, was almost fundamentally ‘ejected’ from the Western hemisphere thereafter, giving the East considerable amount of time and freedom to experiment and develop its theories further. After communism was ‘ejected’, and after the demise of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, that same process of ‘ejection’ is now taking place with ‘harmoniousness’, and all ideas about tolerance that go with it.

The West, despite all its patronization and sympathy forAsia, is fundamentally rejecting the Asian “inclusive approach” right from under our very eyes. The more of Asia is insisting on the universal of ‘oneness’, ‘balance’, ‘harmony’, or ‘integration’: e. g. “Our goal is a harmonious world!” the more Asia’s theories become hers, and hers alone. The West will not waste its energies on anything that is inner-world dependent and all-inclusive; only that what the West discovered upon breaking that ‘all-inclusive something’ into its parts will make sense to him. This is the consequence of the deductive Western “fragmentary approach” towards nature and all things.

Not that theU.S.A.or European nations do not have there own ideas about harmoniousness, far from it, they have various, often fragmentary, even conflicting ideas about it. They always have. After the ‘ejection’ of communism from the Western hemisphere, in the case of dialectical materialism, all major parties of Western capitalistic democracies quickly found their own ways to attend to and satisfy its people and to curb production and the accumulation of material wealth, and it all happened without turning human beings into submissive production units with no human rights. Today, GermanyandFrance are arguably more socialist than socialist China ever will be.

In the case of universal ‘harmoniousness’, the major parties in deductive Western democracies already have found their own ways to attend to the people’s need for ever more ‘international flights’, ‘foreign currencies’, ‘world trade’, ‘exchange’, ‘cooperation’, and ‘tolerance’, all well covered and served in Western terminology such as ‘globalism’, ‘multiculturalism’, ‘cultural diversity’, ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ etc., and therefore need not having any Asian alternative to make their own citizens happy.

As a consequence, in a Western dominated world no one could care less about “equilibrium is the great foundation of the world, and harmony is its path“ (Zi Si, Zhong Yong, 1), “the function of rites (‘li’) lies in harmoniousness” (Confucius, Lun Yu 1;12), or “to live with a culture is to understand that culture” (Laozi, 54). It is indeed very difficult to conceive that today’s Obama, Sarkozy, Brown or Merkel would favor ‘oneness’ over ‘westernization’; most unlikely candidate of it all: the Chinese dream of ‘tianxia’ (天下, All under heaven). Again, this is the bottom line. There is no need for China’s outmoded senses of tolerance, kindness, gracefulness, Japan’s ‘universal emptiness’, Indian ancient senses of ‘universal equality’, ‘universal tolerance’ or indeed any other spiritual idealism, no matter how many hundreds of years those great Eastern sages spoke prior to Jesus Christ, Bill Gates, or Harry Potter.

Billions of Asian hearts will have puffed with pride on hearing that their countries were joining the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO,) another international conference, all in the name of ‘globalism’ that so much resembles the pursue of ‘interconnectness’, ‘oneness’, ‘balance’ or ‘harmoniousness’ and the Eastern need for ‘self-cultivation’ that has been at the root of all traditional Eastern societies from the beginning of time. Western science, technology transfer and materialism seem like a freebie or giveaway if only the West came along and acknowledged your cultural values and your civilization’s achievements. But therein lies the rub: Except for a tiny number of experts, hardly any Westerner has ever learned the Eastern origin story of tolerance as for the example in the Book of History (书经, c. 600-300 BC), the Tipitaka (or Pali Canon, c. 500-400 BC), has heard about the great hero Fu Xi (伏羲, legendary ruler and fordmaker of the Book of Changes or I Ching [易经] in 2800-2737 BC), or the Hindu/Jain traditions of ‘Anekantavada’ (meaning ‘Non-one-endedness’, a philosophy of universal tolerance), ‘Syadvada’ (a philosophical tradition of subjectivity and relativity in discourses) and so on:

How can someone appreciate someone else’s cultural values if he does not know their content, language or their origin? The answer is, no one can; and the West will not appreciate Eastern spirituality and its ways. Was it not Thomas S. Kuhn, the great American scientist, who said that “rival paradigms are incommensurable” (Kuhn, 1970)? Incommensurability means that although it is always possible to imitate each other, albeit it is almost impossible to understand a Chinese paradigm through let us say the conceptual framework and terminology of the European looking-glass, and vice versa. Of course, the inductive East and the deductive West keep trying: “Now that 30 million Chinese study piano and another 10 million study violin, Western classical music well may have become the dominant form of transcendental experience for Asians even while Western neuroscientists dabble in what they think is Buddhism” (aTimes, 2008/07).

Luckily – or rather unluckily, depending one’s point of view – there are appearances. Appearances can make happy, indeed. What appears to the integration-based Eastern nations as a continuation of their own traditional search for ‘oneness’ and ‘harmoniousness’, that same process appears to the Europeans and Americans as the ingenious, creative deconstruction of the East, the processes of total ‘westernization’. Regardless of the looming dangers if things do not work out as expected… can there be anything done about this terrible cultural misunderstanding?

The psychological conundrum forAsiais that due to its induction-based views on the world, it does not perceive those European countries as isolated and self-sufficient, but rather as integrated and dependent part of humankind, and thus – out of need for universal tolerance and harmony – readily believes them; at least will always consider Western views.

The West, however, is different. Apart from a few premises that it chose to work with at any specific time, the West usually does not consider other countries’ noises and fusses. It does not take into account all the facts, the history, the “respective Eastern context”, the whole picture, but isolates each time a few propositions and draws its conclusions accordingly. Its deductive method is precise and sharp as a surgeon’s knife. When the German spokesman of German National TV, ZDF (Zweite Deutsche Fernsehen) came to Shanghai in 2008 and hold a talk on ‘Journalism governed by public law’, he embarrassed his host, the Tongji University of Shanghai (and in my estimation a lot more audiences), by laying down some abstract German premises about ‘press-freedom’ and ‘human-rights’ and than drawing his (very German) conclusion about what any rational man should consider is ‘good journalism’, following a top-to-down deductive-style hell of an argument, like a surgeon that came and undertook a liver-transplantation. There is no option of using chopsticks for a liver-transplantation, you see. There can be no mistake about what a liver is. And about where it is. All the parameters are highly scientific and precise. We know what a good operation looks like, and we know what follows if all the premises are true: the patient walks out of the hospital. When a Chinese professor in broken German language informed the audiences firstly that reality is more complex and complicated, that the Chinese position has to be taken into account, and secondly that in particular German media-coverage on the Tibet-incidents was biased, often untrue, and that is even used Nazi-terminology such as ‘Jubelchinesen’ (Chinese volunteers who simulate spontaneous joy and cheerfulness) for media-coverage on the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games torch-relay, the German lecturer replied in disbelief:

“Nun seien Sie mal nicht so weinerlich!” meaning “Come on, don’t be such a whiner!”.

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