Shengren – Chapter 2.4 – Wu Nai, The Concept of Helplessness

Chinas vast and gargantuan empire lies at the far Eastern end of Asia; it has always, and in modern times, blocked access, especially in the interior away from its main ports, from the messengers of Christianity. Yet, some interlopers succeeded anyway. Legend has it that Apostle Thomas had preached Christianity there, from 60 to 65 AD, and indeed traces of Christian customs from the 1st Century have been rumored [in China]. An old document from the seventh century in the Chinese language reads the following: ‘Our Trinity of unity sent a person to become the adorable Messiah. That person, hiding his Majesty, became human; a human born just like others. Everything that has happened to him has been foretold by the 24 saints in the old law. The sermon of the new law is equal to the sound of the famous ancient (music) instruments that was used to encourage the people to virtue and to instill love and gentleness. [1]

– Benedict S. Steger, Die Protestantischen Missionen

Benedict Steger was not the only German who decided that the Chinese were worthy Christians, or at least were suitable recruiting material for Christianity. Already the great philosopher Leibniz had suggested that the Chinese were ‘in emulation of the higher teachings of Christ.’[2] The technical term for such an attitude is heteronomy. It means the subjection to the laws of another, in this case, to the laws of Christianity or, more general, the Western ways. No people on the face of the earth could escape Western heteronomy. The German word is Fremdbestimmung (or Fremdgesetzlichkeit; lit.: the laws of another), all the same: When Richard Wilhelm, the great missionary and China expert, said of Confucius that ‘God had inspired him,’[3] then, for the records and for all the German public knew and cared, God inspired Confucius and that was that.

To use the language of psychology, if someone tramples on others in disregard for their psychological and physical well-being, that is bullying. Disregard for China’s cultural autonomy is bullying, too. If someone motivates others to join his abusive actions, and if those people continue to refuse to admit the suffering caused by their actions, that is bullying. The victim, the being-bullied, over the time feels isolated, mishandled, coerced, and accused of things he has not or had never done, lied about, and talked behind his back. A victim culture emerges. The sacking of thousands of Chinese terminologies and unique concepts and the replacing them with Christian or any other Western terminology is a disregard for Chinese autonomy. The stress that is built up in the victim, in this case the victim is a people, is China, causes a fatal emotional reaction that I prefer to give a Chinese name to: 无奈 wu-nai or helplessness. 无奈 wu-nai is how China felt when the Western great powers (and Japan) took advantage of the desolated state of the Qing Dynasty in the 19th and 20th century and – joining forces – subjugated the Chinese to Western rule and dominance, and still do everything in their powers to bent China’s ascent to their will and advantage.

The Chinese people were only one people in a long list of people that had been subjugated to Western laws and terminologies by the Europeans before; in fact, the German philosopher Georg Hegel saw the subjugation of the Asians as a duty:

Being subject to the Europeans is the necessary fate of all Asiatic empires, and China one day will also have to accept its fate.[4]

The German philosophers criticized China’s thought: China’s culture was non-philosophical. The German orientalists criticized China’s culture: China’s tradition was backward. The German missionaries criticized China’s traditon: China’s belief was pre-Christian. China was constantly and systematically disparaged for being authoritarian, unscientific, unenlightened, and full of superstitions. And because they did so exclusively in German language, about a China that was rendered in German language only, with no original Chinese concept present, the mere sight of the familiar German terminology (instead of the Chinese one) would encourage a German to claim a profound insight into all matters Chinese and to take over that Chinese culture after a good breakfast.

Oskar Weggel, a German historian, described Asia’s incompetence for governance in his Die Asiaten – Wie in Asien regiert wird (1989) [The Asians – How Asia is Governed]:

One has to start thinking in the Asian context and {thus} translate Nepotism as well-functional system of patronage and translate corruption as harmonization; nevertheless the sheer frequency, and above all the innocence by which {the Asians} patronize and harmonize, will over and again cast doubts over the ability of Asian societies for institutionalization {of their societies}.[5]

The German compulsion for self-righteousness, fault-finding, and finger-pointing at other people was well documented by non-German academics. George Weinberg, a psychologist, in his Invisible Masters (1993) described compulsion as an act of terror: ‘It is an attempt to regulate something concrete and controllable because the person cannot identify and control some real psychological problems.’[6] Benedict S. Steger’s Die Protestantischen Missionen und deren gesegnetes Wirken (1838) described the systematical evangelization of China. The Chinese did not know that their Chinese Classics were pregnant with God’s word. Now they knew.

The German missionaries were convinced of their own goodness. Karl Gützlaff, who translated the Lutheran Bible into Chinese, reported back to his authorities how fortunate the Chinese were to learn the Gospel.[7] If a Chinese refused to convert to Christianity, that was a clear sign [for Gützlaff] that the Chinese feared governmental suppression, banishment, and prosecution by the mandarins (Unterdrückung, Verbannung, and Verfolgung).[8] It was inconceivable that a Chinaman rejected Christianity because he did not want it. If he was reasonable, the Chinaman had to convert. The German Gützlaff wrote in the opening of his Biography (1847): ‘I wish our fatherland will be given rise to a lasting interest in China.’[9]. Gützlaff was very successful. Most Germans believed the nonsense he posted home – ‘Confucius worshipped God’ and all of it.[10]

The psychological violence inflicted on its (language) colonial subjects is done consciously. Colonialism rules out the unconscious intruder. So do Imperialism and Orientalism. A colonial master, if he is sane, be it a diplomat, a professor, a military man, or a businessman who is officially sent to China and finds himself in pomp and luxury, the young and tender Chinese women at his feet, the city lights burning low beneath the windows of his penthouse apartment, earning the equal salary of a hundred Chinese employees combined, who is arrogantly claiming his impact is unconscious is a liar – an irresponsible, dangerous person.

The excuse for colonial behavior is not a matter of consciousness or the lack of thereof. Rather, it is power, and the obsession with power: We can’t help it. The Chinese letting us do this to them. The individual perpetrators are without fault (and easily enough replaced, if they do not play along), because it is a systematic abuse at work that comes with the power assumed by the imperialists, colonialists, and orientalists in their institutional roles. In plain English: they are just fixing Asia, and it is incredibly rewarding.

A feeling of power, control, and domination, perhaps even sexually charged (as far as the theory of Orientalism goes: colonial fantasies).[11] If the Chinese could not even take care of their own names, and left it to the foreigners to (re-)name them, what about their culture and tradition, their ideas and inventions, their brands and trademarks? This is what is meant by无奈 wu-nai. The victims of imperialism are helpless.

[1] Steger, 1838, p. 42: ‘Chinas, tiefes große, ungeheure Kaiserreich in den äussersten Enden Asiens, hat von Jeher und in neurer Zeit besonders den Zugung ins Inntere desselben den Boten des Christenthums versperrt. Der Sage zu Folge soll schon der Apostel Thomas dort das Christenthum verkündigt haben, und man hat auch wirklich schon längst Spuren christlicher Gebraeuche daselbst angetroffen. Eine alte Schrift aus dem siebenten Jahrhundert in chinesischer Sprache, die man vor einiger Zeit dort aufgefunden hat, lautet also: ‚Unsere Dreiheit der Einheit sandte Eine Person, um der anbetungswürdige Messias zu sein. Dieser, seine Majestät verbergend, wurde Mensch, als ein Mensch, den übrigen ähnlich, geboren. – Alles, was mit ihm geschehen ist, ist von 24 Heiligen in dem alten Gesetze vorherverkündigt worden. – Die Predigt des neuen Gesetzes ist gleich dem Schalle des berühmten alten Instruments, welches gebraucht wurde, das Volk zur Tugend zu ermuntern und ihm Liebe und Sanftmuth einzuflößen.”

[2] Leibniz, 1677, §1

[3] Wilhelm, 1914, 7.22

[4] Hegel, 1952: ‘Es ist das notwendige Schicksal der asiatischen Reiche, den Europäern unterworfen zu sein, und China wird sich auch einmal diesem Schicksal fügen müssen.”

[5] Weggel, 1989, p. 95: ‘Man muss im asiatischen Kontext zwar umdenken und Nepotismus mit wohlfunktionieriende Patronagebeziehungen sowie Korruption mit Harmonisierung übersetzen; gleichwohl lässt die Häufigkeit, vor allem aber die Unschuld, mit der protegiert und harmonisiert wird, immer wieder Zweifel an der Fähigkeit asiatischer Gesellschaften zur Institutionalisierung aufkommen.”

[6] Weinberg, 1993

[7] Steger, 1838, p. 42

[8] Ibid., p. 43

[9] Gützlaff, 1847, p. III: ‘Ich wünsche dass in meinem Vaterland ein bleibendes Interesse für China hervorgebracht werde.’

[10] Gützlaff, 1840, pp. 373-379

[11] Yegenoglu, 1998; Zantrop, 1997, Murti, 2001

Pattberg, Thorsten (2011), Shengren – Above Philosophy and Beyond Religion, LoD Press, New York

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