Looking at ‘world history’ – on the one side, the rational, incredible West that ends all other ‘histories’ and promotes the universal language, English, and on the other side the intuitive, incredible East that closes the historic circuit and integrates the universal language, English – in this twenty-first century, it is nevertheless the East that holds a considerable advantage. It is the bigger phenomenon.
Let us make no mistake: Communism and Capitalism were made for scale and the masses, and scale and masses are now in Asia. So are numbers. So are the world’s greatest challenges such as economic stability, food shortages, pollution, environmental destruction, population explosions, youth bulges, and terrorism, all of which are demanding more global attention. The bigger, or, as we are talking about history, shall we say the greater the phenomenon a theory describes, the greater that theory becomes. In the past, great phenomena often happened in isolation and did not automatically call for global attention. For example, the intellectual output of India is legendary; her civilization is older than the Greeks’ (c. 3300 BC). India taught the West how to count; she conquered and dominated China, Korea, and Japan culturally (I am talking, of course, about the influence of Buddhism) “for twenty centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border” (Hu Shi [胡适], 1891-1962). She was the source of enlightenment for Europe, and the main source of German philosophy in the last three centuries. Similarly, China during the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1421) accounted for roughly 25 to 30 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, while the combined productivity of the European nations did not exceed 20 percent (Needham, 1963; Maddison, 2006; Spence, 2001). Once the potential of those ‘great phenomena,’ those two great Eastern giants, had been realized in the West, that indeed could have been among the most important reasons why the small European states – with all their trials of Eastern expansion, colonialism, and imperialism – always seemed to have a greater interest in Asia. Those European states were interested in Asia’s technologies, wealth, land, and resources, more than the other way around, but this, of course, is just speculation.
What is not speculation is that Europe never paid enough attention to where it gets more complicated: the religious, ethical, and sociological wisdom of the East. Or better, that religious, ethical, and sociological wisdom that had been created by the East, not indirectly by the West. Today, times have changed, the great wheel of fortune has turned, and China, India, and the other Asian states provide golden opportunities for theoretical innovations and the creation of new values, more than in any other part of the world (Lin, 2006). Thus, the twenty-first century is very likely to be the century of the Chinese economist and the Indian computer scientist, as both countries already produce more university graduates than the USA or the European Union. The USA and Europe already heavily rely on tens of thousands of Asian graduates and those priceless connections these graduates offer for the future competitiveness of Western societies.
Having established that Asia, in this century, evidently constitutes a greater phenomenon than Europe or the USA, why then should anyone think that Chinese culture, or any other East Asian culture for that matter, is a pitiful victim of Westernization?
On the contrary, isn’t it the case that not the West but the East is now nurturing the content of ‘world history’? Where are today’s Western politicians, historians, and men of letters who stand up to the truth? ‘World history’ is becoming genuine, not European, let alone American, which is but an extension of the Eurasian people’s achievements. Are Western leaders afraid that their countrymen are not mature enough to face the ‘other humanity,’ the East, unless they are assured it is an inferior one?
China had numerous invaders, like the Liao (907-1125), the Jurchen (during Northern Song, 1115-1234), Yuan/Mongols (1271-1368), and the Manchus (1644-1911), yet she absorbed them all. India in the tenth century alone was invaded 17 times by the Muslim Mahmud Ghaznavi and his successors, by the Mongol Empire (1221-1327), and, starting from the fifteenth century onwards, by the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British imperialists. Both China and India have either assimilated or expelled each and every invader. Furthermore, there are Russia, Vietnam, Thailand, Korea, Myanmar, and Indonesia – none of these places appears as if the West had ‘taken over.’ Even Japan, the American Geisha Ally (Shibusawa, 2006), is so entirely different in her spiritual, cultural, ideological, and psychological makeup, that to call her a Western progeny would be an insult to Japan, her long history, and her fine people. Lastly, no Muslim or Arab state, not even the occupied Iraq or Afghanistan, strike me as Western ‘colonies’ either. Quite the opposite: Many people secretly think it was Islam which destroyed U.S. hegemony by attacking the Twin Towers and provoking the disproportional response of the USA, and that it is Islam and the Middle East which are now the forces to be reckoned with. Moreover, many Westerners think that Islamic culture is now ‘besieging Europe’ by presenting itself as an alternative cultural mode (Minorityinfo, 2008).
What is this so-called process of ‘Westernization,’ if not the destruction or heavy manipulation of non-Western cultures? It is an exclusive treatment and reserved for the East. No one would think the West is westernizing itself. The East is studying the ways of the deductive West. It learns, internalizes, and gets stronger; I ask: What did the West learn from the inductive East to get wiser?
Not much, because it is not in the nature of the West to easily slip into the role of a student if it had been the master previously. That particular, aggressively progressive element of the materialistic-driven ‘West in the East’ has always been, educationally speaking, hopelessly misguided and short-sighted: In the end, a few European colonial administrators had either to comply with local culture (because Chinese, Japanese, Hindu etc. civilizations are often quite overwhelming to the tiny European cultures, and hard to change), use violence, or else, if they didn’t use force, the Western occupiers had to leave for good – ‘good’ as in ‘de-colonialism.’ Without the use of manipulative forces against it, the East is morally superior. It is the true master of humankind. It emanates humanity itself. And the West hates it for that.
But the West never lost its self-confidence when it came to thinking that it was superior. Naturally, the pattern never changed, and the destructive, dividing-and-conquering Europeans kept coming back, and they are still coming back today (in their latest guise as the war-loving, self-righteous Americans). Now, they are not necessarily wielding swords and guns, but pens and patents; all the same, the West is now all about the East: World history is now all about great phenomena; world history is about the final universal ‘oneness,’ and the key to it is kept in the East.
Understandably, there is a most delicate degree of difference between let us say the prophet tempting the disciple and the disciple tempting the prophet; or: Human subjectivity deluding the world’s objectivity and the world’s objectivity deluding human subjectivity. Does not the East-West relationship, after its great derailment, face a similar dilemma too? Is it not high time for a shift of paradigm, a ‘Copernican Revolution’ in sociology, similar to that of Galileo in astronomy and that of Kant in metaphysics? During the 2,500 years of the East-West discourse we were tempted to believe that the human universe consists of the West at its core with all the other cultures revolving around this core. ‘World history’ worked fine that way.
Now, after having compiled so much evidence here, I am no longer convinced about that Western core. From the Eastern point of view, distant, peripheral Europe and the USA had the historical sense of mission to manipulate the East – the core. In physics, the core is always the most passive, most unwavering element. Passive and unwavering are precisely how the West perceives the East.
According to the definition above, Europe and the USA are active, peripheral forces revolving around whatever passive and immovable matter makes up the core of the human universe – like two hands molding a precious vase. However, the deductive West did not add any substance. It only formed, divided, conquered, ruled for a time; it invented thousands of new rules and regulations, stuck its fingers into the clay, and then did not know what to do next. It had no sense for Eastern form, substance, or spirituality. Alas, so bad was the West at building human relationships, be it by dispatching missionaries, conquerors, soldiers, bankers, or businessmen, that it merely left its fingerprints in the clay, emotional scars, but nothing that could ever transform the East into West.
There is a very active Western part: Some Western nations fought tooth and nail on Eastern soil during the Cold War, and now the West is back again with thousands of business contracts and globalizing catechisms. Asia is indeed very busy, busy studying all those new theories and techniques from the various Western ‘invaders,’ a lot more so than the invaders could possibly learn or could possibly be willing to learn from the East. Yet, all the same, it is the inductive East that attracts all these energies, all this Western attention. This pattern of Western nations revolving around Asia makes me think that it is the East that is at the core, in other words: The East, roughly since the second half of the twentieth century, has not only become the world’s greatest phenomenon, but has also, slowly, shifted to the center of gravity of world affairs.
This shift of gravity is recognized by ever more European historians and scholars who now feel incomplete, not to say incompetent, if they haven’t seen or experienced China. Some already predict the Union of Chinese and Western Ethics (Deng, 1999), with the Western idea of ‘human rights’ and the Chinese idea of ‘human responsibilites’ forming a new universal ethic: “Equilibrium between freedom, equality and participation does not simply happen, but must be re-established again, and again” (Küng, 1998).
The East and the inductive ways in which it excels are seen as the solution to humankind’s problems: ‘oneness.’ And the West feels incomplete without it. If this world is truly to become a more stable, peaceful, albeit more complicated, ‘integrated’ place, a better place, as everyone now seems to believe it should, then the ‘integration-based’ East and the inductive way are not only destined to play a greater role in all human and world affairs, but must also form the core.
A Copernican Revolution
Pattberg, Thorsten (2013), The East-West Dichotomy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing