Chapter 3 – The Dichotomy with Asia-centrism

Man is the measure of all things.
(Protagoras, c. 480 BC-410 BC)

      In the early twentieth century, the influences of such great (read: radical) narratives’ doctrines such as Herbert Spencer’s ‘Social Darwinism’ in “Process: Its Law and Cause”  (1857), Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Will to Power’ in Human, All Too Human (1886), and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto (1848) could be felt 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 survival, any inferior culture was – at the slightest sign of weakness – believed to be surely eliminated. This gave rise to those misguided beliefs 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). American cultural militarism (c. 1991-2006) is another case in point. Fortunately, another world war now seems unlikely. The world got a rude but timely awakening in August 1945, when an American bomber dropped a plutonium bomb, the so-called ‘Fat Man,’ over Nagasaki and ended World War II.Waging war on a grand scale, it seemed, stopped short at the prospect of total annihilation of entire civilizations. With Europe on her knees and the victorious USA 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 created. This time, the warfare was merely ideological, if not intellectual:

According to the intrinsic powers of Western analytical reasoning over history, the East had to become gradually Westernized 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 is 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 timeless tangible realm.

The integration-based East, for the greater part of its 5,000 years of extraordinary civilization (in the case of India and China, certainly even more), nurtured the importance of inductive reasoning by placing a strong emphasis on broadening all traditional knowledge, increasing its peoples’capacity for memorization, favoring the ability to learn from analogy, and promoting the skill to understand what is implied (for example, in Asia, ‘yes’ is the universal confirmative answer in formal dialog, even if ‘no’ is implied).

And then there is the Asian ‘love of learning.’ The subject of philosophical discussion as early as Mozi (墨子, 470 BC-391 BC), the love of learning was officially politicized during the Legalist Movement (770 BC-221 BC). The Legalists stressed the universal importance of promoting capable people as officials, regardless of their confession or creed. Throughout history, the inductive way in Asia manifested itself in an ever-increasing ability to reason inductively 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 overall output of Asian diligence, high achievement, and ancient commitment to study is best exemplified by Confucius’ Analects (Lun Yu, 论语, 8;17):

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 twentieth century: studying as if they were never to master it. And, indeed, after prolonged flirtations with Western culture and values, especially during the 1911 Revolution and the May Fourth Movement (c. 1919-1921), which were essentially anti-Confucian and partly pro-Western, in the 1920’s to 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, science, and technology were appreciated, most Eastern intellectuals were convinced that Asian values and wisdom were unique and so clearly diametrically opposed to many values and wisdoms of the West, that they needed to be preserved, even at the cost of an inevitable intellectual clash with the West. In the fields of art, 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 [2]), Western preoccupation with ‘ontological beingness’ as asserted by Kitaro Nishida 1870-1945 (Abe, 1988), and Western-fabricated ‘Orientalism,’ as Edward Said called it (Said, 1978; 1995).

Following the example of Japan’s modernization efforts during the Meiji Restoration from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century to absorb Western thought and technology (‘Wakon yosai’ or ‘Western techniques, Japanese soul’), China and her neighbors, according to their 5,000 years of history of learning and self-cultivation reactively studied and Easternized virtually each and every Western theory. Hands down, I mean it: virtually everything.

Notwithstanding its love of learning, Confucian China, Imperial China, and now communist China nevertheless believed that the most important thing it already owned was 中国为本 (Chineseness at the root). If only she could acquire from the deductive, scientific-oriented USA and Europe their useful techniques and theories, the so-called xifang wei mo (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 their weaknesses, 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. The People’s Republic of China today openly acknowledges the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Russia Federation, and Myanmar as ‘democratic’ nations and sees itself as ‘democratic, with Chinese characteristics,’ according to each country’s own definition of what constitutes a legitimate democracy (, 2005; Lynch, 2007). 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 at concealing her own truths and her aim to uphold Eastern values and wisdoms – why should the East throw away its five millennia of successful history and culture? – and at the same time profited from the practicability of foreign learning and her ability to adapt herself, even if it meant aggressively copying from the West:

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 Westerners on China’s soil –  as some patronizing American or European would like to imagine  – as was truly the case with Buddhism in China (c. 68-800) or the introduction of Western sciences by European missionaries (c. 1575-1702) before, 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,’ her ‘intellectual property,’ 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) adopted some ideas of Nietzsche’s 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) espoused 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) were influenced by Marx and Lenin and developed their ideas further. I could go on. Yet no foreigner was involved in the intellectual output of those great cultural figures. The Chinese intellectuals – no less engaged in protecting their cultural sovereignty with nationalism than the Japanese before them  –  read Western theories, studied, improved, and Sinosized them.

In the integration-based East, where knowledge comes from tradition, 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, i.e. the deductive way, had to be acquired in order to defend against Western imperialism, yet it was the humanitarian Eastern soul and its wisdom, i.e. the inductive way, that should guide the East:


In the 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 [3])

Lu 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 a give-and-take approach (送去主义). Unfortunately, Mao Zedong, realizing that the capitalist West would never accept his plum – with reference to Luo Guanzhong’s (罗贯中) war epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义, San Guozhi, c. 1330-1400) 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) – mocked Lu Xun’s give-and-take approach and disposed of tolerance altogether:

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 twentieth 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 Charles Darwin (and later Herbert Spencer) and their prophetic biology that “bids all to eat and to be eaten in their turn” (Darwin, 1859 [1]). If interest in biological survival embraces political resolutions, one may call it ‘nationalism.’

Finally, the spiritual East identified the material West as its sole competitor for everything that is worthwhile in life: culture, values, wealth, and, yes, dignity. Yet, because of the limits of the inductive way, the East could only make sense of the West as a short-sighted, destructive force composed of millions of self-determined individuals who spread out and conquer nature, who undermine the ‘great harmony,’ thereby constantly neglecting the ‘oneness of all things’ and dwelling in the ‘minuscule particular.’ What was worse, back home the West had formed nation states as political tools to bundle and channel the disruptive forces of its armies of independent, egoistic, shameless, and often lonely individuals.

Not surprisingly, European-style nationalism and 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 twenty-first 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 to 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 Center near Beijing that dates back roughly 500,000 years ago. Meanwhile, the European races were believed to be the result of interbreeding 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 to 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 Chinese dream of racial exclusivity, held mostly by the Han Chinese, didn’t differ significantly from that of the British, Germans, Japanese, and Americans before them, and was motivated by a similar desire. Fortunately, it was proven that this theory lacked any scientific evidence. Yet other forms of cultural superiority in Asia remain, such as ‘Dahan zhuyi’ (大汉族主义, the chauvinistic Han), ‘Nihonjin-ron’ (日本人論, Japanese uniqueness), the ‘Vasudeva’ (the supreme man) etc. – all highly complex models not so much of biological, but more of moral or even intellectual superiority (we will come to that later).  This superiority has been refflected in party slogans, public policies, and literary movements.

In order to successfully wed man to ideology (again, the concept of ‘the one’), not an industrial revolution that manipulates matter, 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.” This is the notion that ideas can be refined and perfected, just as domestic animals were over the last 2,000 years, by a strict and controlled selection and maintenance process:

And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time.
(Mao Zedong, 1943; 1967)

The above quote from Mao Zedong sounds ruthless, 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? 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 denies 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 when exercised by a breeder, apply to social and political affairs? They did so in the former Soviet Union and Germany’s Nazi government under Hitler; both explicitly used propaganda that favored Communism or Fascism in all forms of media, literary and public expression.

In China’s case, we see the systematical ideological indoctrination of Chinese pupils in over 500,000 schools and 1750 universities and colleges till today (2007) during weekly political classes at junior high school and university levels 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). Here, the exam results are as crucial for 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 proclaiming new Chinese nationalism and unity:

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 European civilization, calling themselves the USA, by now militarily and economically evolved into a European warrior-based culture. They returned to Eurasia and essentially revived Europe, swept through this former cradle of Capitalism, democracy and the free market economy, refined all theories, and built its military and cultural bases all over the place, yet with eyes fixed firmly 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 glorification of idols and leaders, state monopolies, authoritarianism, and autarchy: “东方红” (“The East is Red”; Mao Zedong, 1960), which was also the name of the anthem of the Communist Party of China 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 a 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 Zedong, 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.” Moreover, during the ‘de-Westernization’ of Asia and ‘de-colonialism’ in other parts of the world in the second half of the twentieth century (Han, 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 in 1978 and the fall of the communist Soviet Union in 1991.

When Donella H. Meadows’ The Limits to Growth was published in the USA in 1972 – the first scientific study on the decline of the West that was not purely philosophical and speculative like the theories of Herbert Spencer (1857) and Arthur Toynbee (1958), but computational and methodical – it became clear to the West that its deduction-based ‘materialistic civilization’ would one day reach its limits.



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

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.