Chapter 14 – Cultural Evolution

Let us imagine two people, Mr. East and Mr. West, who differ significantly in their attitudes, behaviors, and ways of perception. To find out why, let us use 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 display one set of particular talents more than the other. Given the limited time span of a single human life, many people may become excellent artists or brilliant scientists, but rarely does someone excel in both areas. Why? Because in our very competitive societies, our time and resources are limited; 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 age, 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. Thus, 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 applies to 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 BC-322 BC) and Confucius’ intuitive-inductive method (551 BC-479 BC) seem to be purely accidental, singular, isolated incidents, once they introduced those methods, one more scientific, the other more intuitive, the two methods helped shape their respective civilizations, and unintentionally pushed them apart into two different directions.

Anthropologists now teach us 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 & Richerson, 1992; Boyd, 2003; Mace, 2005). Contrary to popular belief, cultural evolution leads to social systems that are more stable 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 BC-483 BC) in Nepal, now forming the Tipitaka Canon (c. 100 BC) written down during the Fourth Buddhist Council in Sri Lanka/India. Buddhism slowly declined in India (c. 100-1192), revived in China (starting from c. 100 BC-AD 100), and has flourished ever since in Korea (from c. 372) and Japan (from c. 467). This example of ‘cultural evolution’ shows that any witness of change in turn may change his or her group’s beliefs, learn new languages and ideas, or choose a new religion, thus promoting cultural evolution faster than that same group would be able to change its skin or eye color in genetic evolution (Mace, 2005).

Bearing in mind that groups influence or manipulate each other’s development, cultural evolution does not necessarily work strictly alongside genetic evolution. Therefore, two societies may have developed a similar culture and value system but do 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 say who the greatest individual is in human history. But we do know what are the world’s most best-selling books, although this will disappoint a lot of China-bashers: Number one is 毛主席语录 (Mao Zhuxi Yulu, Quotations from Chairman Mao), with over six and a half billion copies sold since its first publication in 1966. Number two is the Bible, with close to six billion copies sold since its first publication two millenia ago. Numbers 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 Chairman Mao, 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 speak of formations – initiated by Aristotle and Confucius and their successors taught those new methods – in sociology we speak of variants – to another witness and so on. This way the new method or variant is replicated within that group. Generation after generation all 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 Saint 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) was the initiator of Confucius’ Great Learning (大学, da xue). Furthermore, we could say that the following great Chinese philosophers somehow form a necessary series: Confucius [孔子] (551 BC-479 BC), Mo Zi [墨子] (470 BC-391 BC), Lao Zi [老子] (c. 400 BC), and Zhuang Zi [庄子] (370 BC-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); Wang Fuzhi [王夫之] (1619-1692) and so on. Finally, we might agree that during the Warring States Period (战国时代, Zhanguo shidai, c. 500 BC-221 BC) the ‘Hundred Schools of Thought’ (诸子百家, Zhuzi baijia) emerged in China – among others, Confucianism, Mohism, Daoism, Legalism, Logicism, Buddhism, and the Yin-Yang School. All those Chinese schools of thought, however isolated or original they claimed to be, nevertheless form a cultural succession, the so-called ‘History of Chinese Thought’ (just as the West has its own ‘History of Western Philosophy’). And, as most Chinese thinkers usually cite their masters and prominent predecessors, we may ultimately be able to trace back the very origins of the Chinese tradition to the I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, or, as far as the ancient sages are concerned, to the King Wu of Zhou (周武王, 1111 BC-1105 BC) and his brother, the Duke of Zhou (周公), also called the “God of Dreams” for his exceptional good governance. Therefore, in hindsight, the various Chinese schools of thought – even Chinese Buddhism that was first introduced via India and quickly Sinicized – share certain key Chinese characteristics (such as the concepts of 道 [dao] and 圣人[shengren]), just as all Western philosophies share a common Greco-Roman and/or Judeo-Christian origin (such as the concept of ‘philosophy’ itself).

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, Daoism… are like the signboards hung outside three shops, and although they sell mixed provisions, still 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, over 2,500 years after the I Ching [易经], Lun Yu [论语], or Dao De Jing [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),  and ‘All under 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, that same individual could have paved – similar to bottleneck situations in genetic evolution (Maddison et al., 2007) – the way for a continuous specialization of the Asiatic people in following the inductive path. This would be similar to how simple births/deaths of Buddhist sages may correlate quite neatly with the founding of different Buddhist subbranches (India) or their separation (China, Korea, and Japan). As a random example, in Japan, this led to the founding of the Jodo-shu School (净土真宗, Pure Land) in 1133-1212 by Honen (法然, 1133-1212) and later Shinran (親鸞, 1173-1263).

The affinity with ‘sages’ and ‘bodhisattvas,’ that is, enlightened beings in the state of pre-Buddhahood, in all South-East 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 thought. Maitreya (弥勒佛), the original ‘next’ Future Buddha, was over the centuries demoted to just another bodhisattva among the many bodhisattvas in the Hindu/Buddhist universe in India. In Tibet, more local, Tibetan deities were introduced, with Maitreya becoming ever less significant. In western China, where Buddhism contended with Daoism and Confucianism, traditional Chinese culture saw no need for a ‘next’ Buddha, and thus used the myth of the Chinese monk Budai (布袋) from ninth-century China during the Five Dynasties period as the personification of Maitreya. He is known in the West as the big-bellied, happy ‘Laughing Buddha,’ but he is actually not a real Buddha. In Japan, Maitreya (Miroku) was in the end unable to retain 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 sail and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the USA, what kind of promotion would the Enlightened One attain in the minds of the American people? Chances are he would become yet another wooden decoration in some giant IKEA warehouse. In fact, IKEA’s Swedish headquarters already saw about 10,000 Hindus protesting against the great insult of “featuring a toilet seat Buddha” – that’s right, a toilet seat adorned with a round-faced Buddha (AP Worldstream, 2002).

Next is the Confucian concept of ‘shengren.’ As the ideal human being, the shengren [圣人] is the highest member in the East Asian family-based value tradition, a sage that has the highest moral standards, or de [德], who applies the principles of ren [仁], li [礼], yi [义], zhi [智], and xin [信], and interacts with all people as if they were, metaphorically speaking, his family. The shengren in Confucianism are just as clearly defined and non-European as the Buddhas in Buddhism are; yet, as of today, the Western public is ignorant about the shengren. Worse, people have no way of knowing that they don’t know shengren. That’s because when the European missionaries came to China to preach the Gospel in the seventeenth century, they translated key Chinese concepts into biblical and philosophical (European) terminology. Accordingly, people in Europe were taught in school that there were ‘philosophers’ and ‘saints’ all over Asia; yet, upon reflection, evidently there wasn’t a single Buddha, bodhisattva, or shengren in Europe. Think. What is that probability? Whose version of ‘History’ (with a capital H) are we taught? As Howard Zinn once said, “If something is omitted from history, you have no way of knowing it is omitted” (Zinn, 1980)

The evolution of different cultures 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 archaeology – is to locate manuscripts or records written before the fifth or fourth millennium BC (Fischer, 2005).

After so much ‘what,’ it is high time to ask ‘why?’ Why has the evolution of cultures resulted in 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? Possibly because a third cultural system does not exist.

All available evidence speaks for itself, yet let us listen to 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 in China? All these concepts of ‘Yimutology’ are described in the Book of Changes. These are inductive methods to infer from the particular to the universal ‘form.’ When Xu Guangqi translated Euclid’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 the deductive method cannot be reversed. Chinese tradition, however, was different. Chinese scholars did not pay 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, three dozen prestigious professors from Peking University have completed A History of the Chinese Civilization (中华文明史, 2006) after six years of hard work (Yuan Xingpei, 2006). After reading some parts of the book, I did not 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 Han Dynasty, or in the Records of the Grand Historian Si Maqian (司马迁, c. 145 BC-90 BC). In China, 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,” and China’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, which often still influence the style and way of thought of today’s textbooks, there are generalizations over generalizations. In these books you will also find the notion that China is a single entity, more generalizations, 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’ pits herself and all her history against the ‘other’ barbarians surrounding China (Nolde, 1966; Huan et al., 1997). To the typical Western-educated scholar, studying history in China is often a painstaking process – many experts despair at the lack of regionalism, objectivity, glossaries, reference material, logical structure, punctuation, and useful introductions. Instead, sinologists will encounter beautiful adjectives, splendid analogies, lovely sceneries, ethical evaluations, moving dialogues, personal comments, and practical moral lessons. In fact, in Chinese literary tradition (and this is important), if a man’s intellect is able to recognize the ‘interconnectedness’ and the ‘greater whole,’ this would make him a great scholar, a true gentleman, while all other lesser men will almost inevitably lose themselves in unnecessary details:

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 nineteenth century, in China there was no philosophy as such, no 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). Only by memorizing the classics could a great man be able to comprehend the depth and complexity of human existence (Li Wai-Yee, 2008). This is true of China today, where commentators on ancient Chinese texts still often treat them as a closed system, with complete inner coherence, and assume ‘pan-signification.’ This is reflected, of course, in politics – as if the only task of the past was to safeguard the future grand unity and authority of China today, despite distorting history (Ge, 2001).

As experience has shown, no man or woman of importance in the Western world (sinologists excepted) is going to read a Chinese history book unless it is translated into English, that is, unless it is incorporated into ‘Western history,’ which is nothing less than ‘world history’ itself. Since not a single non-Western society, it seems, can produce an alternative to the world history that the West would be able to read, it could be tempting to pronounce all other histories ‘dead.’ Since the striving for different histories, or different versions of it, truly has come to an end, leaving only one ‘world history,’ Westerners might as well continue this as ‘The Chronicles’ or simply ‘twenty-first century, twenty-second century,… etc.,’ (counting from zero, which marks the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and the beginnings of Christianity), thus ending the histories of all other (Confucian, Hindu, Islamic, Buddhist etc.) cultures as we used to know them (Fukuyama, 1992).

With just one history left, the Western hemisphere is going to dictate how it is written. The content, however, might be saying otherwise, as we shall see in the next chapter.



Induction and Deduction

The Dichotomy with Asiacentrism




Cultural Effects of the Dichotomy

Two Successful Models

Two Incommensurable  Realities

The Theory of Power and to Whom It Belongs

The Problem of Standard

A Loveless Darwinian Desert

The Psychology of Communion

Cultural Evolution

A Copernican Revolution

The Problem with Nature

Truths and Values



The Dialectics of Dichotomy

Problems with the Dichotomy

The Future of the Dichotomy

The Author


Pattberg, Thorsten (2013), The East-West Dichotomy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing

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