Chapter 14 – Cultural Evolution

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.


Let us imagine two people, Mr. East and Mr. West, who quite differ in their attitudes, behaviors and ways of perception. Why, let us openly employ technical terms from ‘Differential Psychology’ to describe them. Mr. West is more rationally driven, while Mr. East is more intuitively driven. Although both could have developed the whole range of possible talents to a sufficient degree, yet each of them chose to practice one set of particular talents more than the other. Given the limited time of practice during a lifetime, many people may become excellent artists or brilliant scientists, but rarely does someone triumph in both areas. Why? Because, based on our limited time and resources, in a very competitive society, it is a very practical decision for Mr. East to do something different from Mr. West. Once that decision has been made, both will start cultivating their strengths, while neglecting their weaknesses. It is about finding one’s niche, occupation, purpose, or destiny in life. The ideal time to make that practical decision is usually at an early stage, and thus it not only depends on genetic factors or character traits, but is often heavily influenced by exterior factors such as family situation, parental support and teachers. Mr. East became an excellent artist, while Mr. West became a brilliant scientist, because the former came from a family of artists, and the latter came from a family of scientists. If this is how it worked out for two individuals, Mr. East and Mr. West, why not for whole groups, even entire civilizations? After all, if the West were really so superior, how come that the East is still with us, and for so long? Surely, East and West do complement each other – somehow.

Although Aristotle’s analytical-deductive method (384-322 BC) and Confucius’ intuitive-inductive method (551-479 BC) seems purely accidental, singular, isolated incidents, but once they introduced those methods, one more logic-scientific, the other more intuitive-social, they two methods helped shaping their respective civilization, and unintentionally pushed them apart into two different directions.

In anthropology, we are now informed that powerful individuals or important texts that dictate or maintain certain group-level codes and behaviors can lead to the evolution of an efficient social system (Reynolds, 1983; Boyd and Richerson, 1992; Boyd, 2003; Mace, 2005). Contrary to popular belief, cultural evolution leads to social systems that can be more stabile than the Mendelian (genetic) ones, because culture is less sensitive to migration. That is believable, isn’t it? All branches of Buddhism today – most of them found in Japan, China, and Korea – are based on Sakyamuni’s teachings (c. 563-483 BC) in Nepal, now forming the Tipitaka Canon (c. 100 BC) written down during the Fourth Buddhist Council on Sri Lanka/India. Buddhism slowly declined inIndia (c. 100-1192 AD), revived inChina (starting from c. 100 BC-100 AD) and flourished ever since inKorea (from c. 372 AD) andJapan (from c. 467 AD). This example of ‘Cultural evolution’ shows that any witness of change in turn may change his or her group’s belief, learn new languages and ideas, or choose a new religion, thus promote Cultural evolution faster than that same group would be able to change its skin and eye-color in Genetic evolution (Mace 2005).

Since Cultural evolution – also keeping in mind that groups influence or manipulate each other’s development – does not necessary work strictly alongside Genetic evolution, therefore two societies may have developed quite a similar culture and value system but not necessarily share the same density of certain racial phenotypes, and vice versa (Reynolds 1983; Cavalli-Sforza et al 1994, Mace 2005).

It is difficult to find out who is the greatest individual in human history. But we have some estimation of the world’s most best-selling books, although it will disappoint a lot of China-bashers: Number one is 毛主席语录 (Mao zhuxi Yulu, Quotations from Charman Mao), with over 6,5 billion copies sold since it’s first publication in 1966. Number two is The Bible, with close to 6 billion copies sold since its first publication around 100 BC-100 AD. Number three, four, and five again are Chinese books: 新华字典 (Xinhua zidian, Xinhua Dictionary, 1957; 400 million), 毛主席诗抄 (Mao zhuxi shichao, Chairman Mao’s Poems, 1966; 400 million), 毛主席文选 (Mao zhuxi wenxuan, Selected Articles of Mao Zedong, 1966; 252.5 million) (wikipedia, 2008). No further comment necessary.

During the cultural evolution of the East-West dichotomy, whoever witnessed those important processes – in sociology we say: formations – initiated by Aristotle and Confucius and their successors who taught those new methods – in sociology we say: variants – to another witness and so on. This way the new method or variant is replicated within that group. Generation after generation all copy or imitate each other, we say they form logical or intuitive series. Confucius was continued by Mencius; Aristotle was continued by Plato; Jesus Christ was continued by St. Paul etc.

Now, we might agree that Confucius was the initiator of what we now call Confucianism and the Confucian Four Books and Five Classics (四書五經, si shu wu jing) and that the pre-Confucian inductive method of the I Ching (易经) were the initiators to Confucius’ Great Learning (大学, da xue); furthermore, that the following great Chinese philosophers somehow form a necessary series: Confucius [孔子] (551-479 BC), Mo Zi [墨子] (470-391 BC), Lao Zi [老子] (c. 400 BC) and Zhuang Zi [庄子] (370-301 BC); or Zhang Zai [张载] (1020-1077), Cheng Yi [程颐] (1033-1107), Sima Guang [司马光] (1019-1086), Zhu Xi [朱熹] (1130-1200); or Wang Fuzhi [王夫之] (1619-1692); finally, that during the Warring States Period (战国时代, Zhanguo shidai, c. 500-221 BC) the ‘Hundred Schools of Thought’ (诸子百家, Zhuzi baijia) emerged in China – among others -: Confucianism, Mohism, Taoism, Legalism, Logicism, Buddhism, and the Yin-yang School etc. and that all these schools, however original they claim to be, all were heavily inflecting each other, citing each other, but still with the I Ching text, the King Wu of Zhou (周武王, 1111-1105 BC) and his brother, the Duke of Zhou (周公), also named “God of Dreams” for his good governance, and later Confucian at their very core:

儒、释、道三教,譬如三个铺面挂了三个招牌,其实都是卖的杂货, 柴米油盐都是有的,不过儒家的铺子大些,佛、道的铺子小些,皆是无所不包的.

Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism… are like the signboards hung outside three shops, and although they sell mixed provisions, albeit there is nothing they don’t stock in all the shops. (Liu E, 1909)

Once the foundations had been laid, what followed had to refer to its Confucian initiator(s). Even now, 2500+ years after the I Ching [易经], Lun Yu [论语], or Dao De Ching [道德经], the Chinese people embrace the Confucian ideal of a ‘harmonious society (和谐社会, hexie shehui)’,‘oneness of man and heaven (天人合一, tian ren he yi)’, ‘everything under the heaven or Celestial Empire (天下, tianxia)’. This relationship between Confucius, the ‘inductive approach’, and the Chinese collective mind is so intimidating, that it makes me think that if there had been a great individual much earlier than the Duke of Zhou, Confucius, or the mystical Fu Xi -, maybe 10,000 years, maybe 20,000 years earlier; that same individual could have paved – similar to bottle-neck situations in genetic evolution (Maddison et al, 2007), – the way for a continuous specialization of the Asiatic people in following down the inductive path, just in the same way as for example system biological methods of likelihood of simple birth/death events of Buddhist sages may correlate quite neatly with the founding in India and separation in China, Korea, and Japan of different Buddhist sub-branches, leading in Japan, as a random example, to the founding of the Jodo-shu School (净土真宗, Pure Land; 1133-1212 AD) by Honen (法然, 1133-1212 AD) and later Shinran (親鸞, 1173-1263 AD).

The affinity with ‘sages’ and ‘bodhisattvas’, that is, enlightenment beings in the state of pre-Buddhahood, in all South- and East-Asian societies is well documented, but by no means uniform. Far from it, it is very regional, according to each country’s historical context and ability to absorb new schools of thoughts. Maitreya (弥勒佛), the original ‘next’ Future Buddha, over the centuries declined into just another bodhisattva among the many bodhisattvas in the Hindu/Buddhist universe inIndia. InTibet, many more local, Tibetan deities were installed, with Maitreya becoming ever less significant. In Western China, where Buddhism struggled with Daoism and Confucianism, Chinese traditional culture saw no need for a ‘next’ Buddha, thus used the myth of the Chinese monk Budai (布袋) from 9th century China during the Five Dynasties period, in order to incorporate him as the personification of Maitreya: known in the West as the big-bellied, happy ‘Laughing Buddha’, but who really is no Buddha at all. InJapan, Maitreya (jp: Miroku) finally could no longer hold his eminent position as prospective future Buddha, but instead became one of the ‘Seven Gods of Fortune’ (Shichi Fukujin, 七福神), often depicted riding on their ship, the Takarabune (宝船). If that allegorical ship would have set its sails and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to theU.S.A., what kind of promotion would the Enlightened One able to attain in the minds of American people? Chances are he would become another wooden decoration in some giant blue-and-yellow IKEA warehouse, with back in Sweden headquarter 10,000 Hindus protesting against yet another great insult of “featuring a toilet seat Buddha” – that’s right, a big pancake-face of Buddha covering your ‘loo’ (APworldstream, 2002).

The evolution of culture is real (Dunbar, 1999; Diamond, 2003), so is the evolution of written texts (Howe et. al, 2005), language (Gray et. al, 2000; Mace, 2005; Haspelmath, 2005), and religion (Reynolds, 1983), the only major obstacle in anthropology – as opposed to archeology – being to locate manuscripts or records written before the 5th-4th millennium BC (Fischer, 2005).

After so much ‘what’, it is high time for some scientist to come up with a ‘why’. Why had the evolution of cultures let to this equilibrium of the two great cultural systems, the occidental and the oriental one, the inductive East and the deductive West, with no third great cultural system ever been invented? A possible theorem is this: because a third cultural system does not exist.

As all available evidences speak for themselves; to us speaks yet another Nobel laureate:

中 华传统文化的一大特色是归纳法,可是没有推演法。其中归纳法的来源是什么?“易者象也”,“圣人立象以尽意”,“取象比类:,”观物取象“都是贵穿《易 经》的精神内。都是归纳法,是向上求整体”象“的方法。徐光启在翻译了欧几里德的几何原本以后,了解到推演法一个特点就是”欲前后更置之不可得“。就是一 条一条推论不能次序颠倒。这跟中国传统不一样。中国传统对于逻辑不注意,说理次序不注意,要读者自己体会出来最后的结论。

The inductive method is a major feature of traditional Chinese culture, but not so the deductive method. What is the source of the inductive method inChina? All these concepts of ‘Yimutology’ described in the Book of Changes. These are inductive methods to infer from the particular to the universal ‘form’. When Xu Guangqi translatedEuclid’s Elements of Geometry, he immediately understood the strength of the deductive method: “the conclusion has to follow from the premises and not otherwise”. That direction of the reasoning process in deductive method cannot be reversed. Chinese tradition, however, was different. Chinese scholars did not put much attention to logical order; the reader would make sense of everything once he understood the final conclusion. (Yang Zhenning [杨振宁], 2004)

Recently, an historical milestone entitled A History of the Chinese Civilization (中华文明史, 2006), has been completed by three dozens prestigious professors (Yuan Xingpei, 2006) of Peking University after six years of work. Reading through some of it, indeed I cannot find a political or historical framework that could ever be considered in line with the political or historical framework of European thought. That has always been the case in Chinese history, whether in the Records of the Warring States, compiled in the Hand Dynasty, or the Records of the Grand Historian Si Maqian (司马迁, c. 145-90 BC). InChina, there has always been an entirely different approach to history, its people, and the notion of time (Wu, 2007, 2008):

So, we should just gently shift the frame from theoretical “time” to concrete “history”, andChina’s rich millenary blood will at once throb into our veins, to flood our pages. We will engage in lively inter-communications with all the historic Wise, popular and academic among our celebrated Five Chinese Races. We learn from ancient Sages, to revise and add to them.  (Wu Kuang-Ming, 2007)

In the history books of ancient China, often still influencing the style and way of thought in today’s textbooks, there are: generalizations, generalizations, the thought that China is a single entity, more generalization, the idea that all Chinese think and feel the same, that all China is ‘one’, all people are ‘one’, all have ‘one’ moral code, and that ‘China’ pins itself and all its history against the ‘other’ barbarians surrounding China (Nolde, 1966, Huan et. al, 1997). To the typical Western-educated scholar studying history inChinais often a painstaking process – many experts despair at the horrible lack of regionalism, objectivity, glossaries, lack of reference material, logical structure, and lack of punctuation and useful introduction. Instead we sinologist are greeted with loads of beautiful adjectives, splendid analogies, lovely sceneries, ethical evaluations, heart-breaking dialogues, personal comments and practical moral lessons. In fact, in Chinese literary traditions, and this is important to realize, if a man’s intellect is able to perceive the ‘interconnectedness’, the ‘greater whole’ – this would make him a great scholar, a true gentleman, while all other lesser men almost inevitably will loose themselves only in unnecessary details and countless, seemingly unconnected, discriminations:

公都子問曰:”鈞是人也,或為大人,或為小人,何也?” 孟子曰:”從其大體為大人,從其小體為小人。” 曰:”鈞是人也,或從其大體,或從其小體,何也?” 曰:”耳目之官不思,而蔽於物,物交物,則引之而已矣。心之官則思,思則得之,不思則不得也。此天之所與我者,先立乎其大者,則其小者弗能奪也。此為大人而已矣.”

Kung Tu Tzu said, “If all men are equal, how is it that there are greater and lesser men?” Mencius said, “Some follow their greater part and some follow their lesser part.” “Why do some follow their greater part and some follow their lesser part?” Mencius said, “The organs such as the eye and ear cannot discriminate and are thus confused by things. Things are interconnected with other things, which lead one further away. The function of the mind is to discriminate – if you discriminate you will attain it. If you don’t discriminate, you won’t attain it. These are what Heaven has bestowed upon us. If you first establish yourself in the greater part, then the small part cannot be snatched away from you. This is the essential of being a great man.” (Mencius, 6A.15)

Before the end of the 19th century, inChinathere were no ‘philosophy’, historiography’ or ‘literature’, only the ‘classics (径)’, ‘masters (子)’, and ‘historical records (诗) (Sisci, 2008). The authority of the living was derivative, depending upon the authority of the masters, who no longer were among the living (Arendt, 1993); and only through memorizing the classics and their transmissions through the historical records, a great man would be able to comprehend the depth and complexity of human existence (Li Wai-Yee, 2008). This is true ofChinatoday, were commentators on Chinese ancient texts still often treat them as closed system with complete internal coherence and assume ‘pan-signification’. This reflects, of course, in politics. As if the sole reason of the past were to hold the future grand unity and authority ofChinatoday, at all costs of historical distortion (Ge, 2001).

As experience has shown us, no man or woman of importance in the Western world – if it’s a non-sinologist – is going to read a Chinese history book (let alone being able to) unless it is translated into the English language, that is, unless it is incorporated into ‘Western history’, which is nothing less than ‘World History’ itself. Because not a single non-Western society, it seems, is able to produce an alternative history to World History that the West would be able to read, it could be tempting to announce all other histories’ ‘dead’. Since the striving for different histories, or different versions of it, truly has come to an end, with evidently only one ‘World History’ left, Western man might as well continue this as “the chronicles” or simply “21st century, 22nd century,… etc.” thus end history (of all other cultures) as we used to know it (Fukuyama, 1992).

With just one history left, the Western hemisphere is going to dictate how it is written. The content however might be telling a different matter, as we shall discuss next.

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