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On the Importance of Understanding Chinese Thoughts using Chinese Terminologies

February 17th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Recently, Zack brought to our attention a great article at Asia Times by Thorsten Pattberg, who is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies at Peking University. Pattberg dedicated his life to study Chinese philosophy, political thoughts, and culture in their original meanings. He concludes:

Western people are curious like all the people of the world. If someone gave them Chinese taxonomies, they would look them up, familiarize with them, and internalize them. They would stop calling a junzi a (British) “gentleman”, or a (German) “Edler”; instead they would call a junzi just this: a “junzi”.

To put “culture” back in a more economic perspective: Nations should compete for their terminologies like they compete for everything else.

I was too quick to disagree with the need for China to explicitly compete for her culture and for preserving her ideas in her own taxonomies, assuming a richer China will somehow automatically cause the problem to correct itself.  So, I was really happy today seeing perspectivehere chiming in on this topic and later on Allen giving a good gist on what this means for him. I recommend Pattberg’s article linked above in its entirety and of course  perspectivehere’s and Allen’s remarks below.

perspectivehere February 16th, 2013 at 13:21 | #219

YinYang :

One disagreement I have with the article is in China needing to explain and protect her ideas. The way I see it is that once China becomes much richer, the West will naturally want to learn more Chinese.

I think what you say is true, but there’s more to it than that. Of course, being vacation in lovely Hawaii, it’s understandable that you should be outdoors and enjoying the scenery, rather than spending time typing long comments on a blog! So this is not a criticism. But I’d like to suggest some further ideas in this vein.

As you note, China being richer is fundamental. This means a larger number of students able to afford study, and able to become scholars and writers and other producers and interpreters of Chinese knowledge able to communicate in English (as well as other non-Chinese languages) and in Chinese. It takes years of personal effort and institutional support to nurture such scholars and talents. A richer and more economically vibrant Chinese society generates opportunities for careers for individuals seeking to tap into this economy. This provides opportunities for not only the population of ethnic Chinese, but also non-ethnic Chinese. Scholars like Professor Pattberg who have devoted years of their lives to Chinese studies play an enormous part in helping people understand the significance of Chinese intellectual and cultural traditions.

This doesn’t “just happen” as a result of China becoming wealthier – after all, individuals need to choose to study these fields, to find meaning in what they do, and the subject matter needs to be intellectually enriching for them to build a professional scholarly career upon. But of course, the wonderful thing is that the richness of Chinese traditional intellectual culture (including the period in the last 150 years as it has confronted western and modern traditions, as well as the fracturing of Chinese social and political institutions under the onslaught of Western (and Japanese) imperialism) provides so much of interest to the scholar that there is an endless profusion of material on which to generate new ideas and new knowledge for consumption in education, cultural and markets for applied knowledge.

One of the areas in which we have seen a proliferation of “Chinese terminology” in English language during the past few decades are terms relating to Chinese martial artsand medicine. The terms “kung fu”, “qi”, “Tai chi (Taiji)”, “yin yang”, “tao” (dao) and “feng shui” have become almost commonplace English language concepts.

Perhaps someone has already traced how these terms were transmitted and became popular knowledge in English, but I suspect this has been less due to professional academics and more due to widespread attention given to Chinese martial arts movies and above all the influence of Li Xiaolong (Bruce Lee) in the world outside China.

It is also due to the influence of dozens of practitioners of Chinese medicine who plied their crafts outside of Mainland China, and taught students (many of whom are not Chinese) who then went on to practice and teach and spread this knowledge to others.

One of the great examples of the latter is this book and author: The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. I haven’t actually read this book but I’ve seen so many references to it as to its importance in transmission of Chinese traditional medicine concepts in English that I thought it worthwhile to mention. I think it is in the fields of applied, practical knowledge such as medicine where people who acquire the knowledge will by necessity need to use concepts that derive from Chinese philosophy, and this means using Chinese terminology.

(I should note that, with respect to the reason to use Chinese terminology, it is not because of a particular nationalistic fetish for Chinese words, it is so that concepts can be communicated accurately and with fidelity to the original source documents and historical traditions.)

The title of the work is very interesting and I think important to contemplate. The quote below comes from a review of the book in the European Journal of Oriental Medicine:

“It is instructive to look back at the original passage from which Ted chose the book’s title, written by the renowned biologist and sinophile, Joseph Needham. In Volume 2 of Science and Civilisation in China there is a section which describes the Chinese insights into the inner workings of the world. Needham (as did also Derek Bodde), makes the case for the need to distinguish between the Chinese view of the internal arising of life which has its own implicit natural order and the western view of an external force imposing ‘laws of Nature’. Needham writes ‘..the conception of a net is close to that of a vast pattern. There is a web of relationships throughout the universe, the nodes of which are things and events. Nobody wove it, but if you interfere with its texture, you do so at your peril. In the following pages we shall be able to trace the later developments of this Web woven by no weaver, this Natural Pattern, until we reach, with the Chinese, something approaching a developed philosophy of organism’.”

I think there is much truth to this view. Traditional Chinese thinking is holistic and integrates natural and social philosophy. A traditional teacher of taijichuan once told me that all of Chinese thinking and practice of martial arts, medicine, health, cuisine is all linked to common ideas and similar concepts. I think this concept of a “web” or “net” that has no weaver is very fundamental (although Chinese themselves probably don’t use either of these terms to describe it, but it is a useful non-Chinese concept for explaining it).

The author, Professor Ted Kaptchuk, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Harvard-wide Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

According to his bio:

“As a leading figure in placebo studies, a scholar of East Asian medicine and an academic authority on medical pluralism, Professor Kaptchuk’s career has spanned multiple disciplines, drawing upon concepts, research designs and analytical methods from the humanities and basic, clinical and social sciences.

In collaboration with his colleagues, Professor Kaptchuk has made significant contributions to the field of placebo studies through his investigations of the impact of placebos in various illnesses, the neurobiology of placebo effects, the experience of patients being treated by placebo, and various psychological, cultural, sociological and philosophical dimensions of placebos. Professor Kaptchuk has written well-regarded histories of placebo controls and the placebo effect, and significant ethical analyses of the use of placebos in clinical practice and research. His laboratory is currently investigating molecular signatures for placebo responses.

Professor Kaptchuk entered the field of placebo research after pioneering the study of East Asian medicine in the United States and Europe and establishing himself as a scholar of multiple healing traditions. He is the author of The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine, a classic textbook, and was senior writer and researcher for the 9-hour BBC-TV series The Healing Arts, which documented healing practices around the world. In the 1980s, he directed the pain unit at Boston’s Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, a state-run chronic disease facility.”


It is interesting to see that Kaptchuk’s place within a mainstream medical school is primarily seen from the perspective of “placebo studies”.

As we know, a placebo is a medical treatment which is seen by mainstream modern medicine as ineffectual, but due to psychological or other factors, nonetheless has clinically significant effects on a patient.

Seen from the perspective of modern medicine, Chinese medicine is argued to be effective due to its placebo effects.

But the notion of “placebo effect” throws into question notions of how the body and mind function together, and perhaps there is something in the modern medicine’s modelling of the human body which is lacking. Some say it is because of the “mind-body dualism” inherent in modern medicine which is faulty, and a more holistic model that integrates the mind and body as one organism would be more accurate. Chinese medicine fulfills these functions. However, in a modern institutionalized medical system, the individualistic style of Chinese medicine has a hard time fitting in.

I see an analogy here to the place of Chinese in the world. Chinese themselves are becoming more important in the world and self-aware of their own importance, and yet the mainstream world has been accustomed to fitting China within a particular box which is somewhat delegitimizing, disempowering and belittling. Like Chinese medicine which was often seen as superstitious quackery that will be swept away by the march of modern scientific thinking, yet these traditional practices have survived and flourished in a way that was totally unexpected, and now live on in an uneasy co-existence with the modern western “allopathic medicine.”

Over time, I think traditional Chinese medicine will further develop and as more people become familiar with it, more of the traditional terminology will continue to enter the English language. This will be true in other fields as well. But it will take people who consciously seek to apply Chinese concepts and thinking, like Pattberg, Kaptchuk and others.


Allen February 16th, 2013 at 22:09 | #220


Perhaps we should make this into a post…

I like you point about Chinese medicine. I think it’s the same with Chinese philosophy, especially political philosophy. It’s seen as not legitimate, and when it does have application, it has very narrow one, almost a you got lucky type of thing this one time…

A placebo…

Going back to language imperialism – it’s about narrative and stories that are associated with terms and concepts… the presumptions, the pictures, the fears, the hopes, the ideals, the history, the worldviews that are invoked – that set the norms.

Think authoritarianism – the fears of “1984” … but that’s a degenerative form of authoritarianism – not the ideal form. It’s been hijacked.

Same thing with democracy – the hopes and ideals overrides the double standards, the double speak, the emptiness of the term.

Same with freedom… it’s rhetoric that masks politics that goes all the way down …

And with Chinese terms like junzi, shengren and rendao, etc. They are deemed as so quaint. So useless and irrelevant. It doesn’t work. We need people to check all the bastards in gov’t. And if you want to aim for good gov’t by inovoking shengren, mandates of heaven … you get laughed.

Someone here mentioned not long ago that the Chinese system doesn’t work, because every few hundred years, you get a bloody revolution.

Perhaps that’s a part of history, not Chinese system.

And who’s to say democracies also don’t go through that? If inequality continues to widen, if economy shrinks, if the West lose a major war and their status as neo-colonizer, will there really not be revolution ever?

We are too quick to judge. Too clouded by current ecosystem of ideas … framed in part by language imperialism – narrative imperialism – concept imperialism – thought imperialism – all possible because we so quickly forget our heritage … we do not have imagination to break out of the conditions we find ourselves … and we all want to join the powerful … want to move “forward.”

  1. JJ
    February 17th, 2013 at 08:10 | #1

    Excellent post!

    And this is a great quote on the spell of language and post-colonialism from an amazing blogger:

    The irony of post-colonialism is that it must be written in a Western language (usually English or French) in order for it to be validated. I keep telling everyone that white people have won; our own thoughts are shaped by their language. I mean, post-colonial thought owes much to Foucault and Sartre, you know?

    If we really are to move ahead, I do believe it should be in another language and perhaps even to abandon or reject post-colonialism as we know it now. So, really, the people who will truly make a difference are not the ones who are writing about post-colonialism in English. It’s the people who have nothing left to lose.

    Otherwise, we stand to become like the feminists — unable to truly make any changes because they are looking at things from a patriarchal framework, if you know what I mean. How can you destroy a house when you’re still living in it?

    It is VERY hard to acknowledge your own privilege. I like to think I’m relatively reasonable about mine, and I still have moments of self-pity and entitlement. And, to make things even more difficult, we all grew up accustomed to and accepting white privilege so we, as non-whites, often don’t even see it ourselves.

    Also, why should whites dismantle a system that benefits them? What good would it do them? And really, isn’t that one of the main problems of post-colonial theory? We’re still waiting for whites to do something: to acknowledge, to change, etc. That’s why we write in their language; it’s not for ourselves, it’s for them. We’re still their subjects hoping they’ll see the error of their ways.

    Unfortunately this person’s blog is no longer online or else I would definitely link to it.

    Also, in Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized he discusses that the conquerors’ language was often forced upon the locals and was part of the required learning if they ever wanted to succeed and move up the “new” social ladder.

  2. February 18th, 2013 at 07:14 | #2

    I think Perspective’s post should appear here as well.

    perspectivehere :


    In terms of Chinese philosophy, you might be interested in reading this interesting essay I came across a couple of days ago. It’s written by JeeLoo Liu, a Taiwan-born professor of philosophy who was educated in Taiwan and the US, and now teaches at the State University of Fullerton in California. In her essay she discusses an attitude which is surprisingly prevalent among American philosophers, that “there is no such thing as Chinese philosophy”. She suggests ways in which this mentality is being challenged and changing, and various analytic approaches for bringing about the change, but it will only come about through patient, painstaking intellectual effort.

    Converting Chinese Philosophy into the Analytic Context
    JeeLoo Liu
    Department of Philosophy California State University at Fullerton

    I think the most interesting part of the essay was when she departed from the abstract and academic, and began to describe some of her personal experiences in dealing with questions of Chinese philosophy in a western setting, and how that has influenced her research interests and writings. Although she does not focus on Chinese political philosophy, nonetheless her work should be of interest to anyone who wants to understand how Chinese philosophical concepts and terminology are getting on in the world of thought. Here is an excerpt:


    Ҥ Analytic Comparative Philosophy Approach to Chinese Philosophy: Background

    I personally have been taking the analytic and comparative approach. I prefer this combination both because of my personal training and because of my audience. I studied Chinese philosophy in Taiwan, and obtained my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at National Taiwan University. I had a deep passion for Chinese philosophy and my Master’s thesis was on a Chinese philosopher of the seventeenth century. After I went to the U.S. for my doctorate degree, however, I devoted my attention fully to analytic philosophy since that was what most major philosophy programs (including my own — University of Rochester) offered at the time. I worked primarily on philosophy of mind and philosophy of language. For about ten years, I hardly thought about Chinese philosophy. After I started teaching in Upstate New York, students often approached me to plead for offering Chinese philosophy course. Initially I always declined, because after being fully immersed in the analytic philosophical mode, I found Chinese philosophical terms vague and Chinese philosophical argumentation sloppy. But eventually I gave in to students’ requests and offered an experimental course on Chinese philosophy. I aimed to explain what I had felt to be in my blood and in my bones, to students who had not been brought up in the Chinese culture, who were not familiar with the philosophical terms commonly used by the Chinese people. For this purpose, I found the analytic style to be the most helpful. I would analyze the philosophical terms to make them less mystifying. I would lay out the philosophers’ argumentation and ask for students’ reflection or critique. I would compare Chinese philosophical views to those Western views that my students knew about. After one experimental course, I found the result encouraging. I felt that using the analytic style made Chinese philosophy more accessible to my students, and I also began to see more and more points of common concerns and similar ideas between Chinese thought and Western thinking. There was no book that took a systematic analytic approach to Chinese philosophy at the time, and thus I took upon myself to write such a book. My book, An Introduction to Chinese Philosophy: from Ancient Philosophy to Chinese Buddhism, came out in 2006 by Blackwell Publishing. In this book, I employed the analytic approach that emphasizes the analysis of concepts, the formulation of arguments, the examination of basic assumptions, and the pursuit of clarity in language.

    I am certainly not alone in my endeavors. The development of explicating Chinese philosophy with the analytic approach started way before me, and I relied on the early scholars’ analyses as my guideline. Furthermore, there are now many Chinese scholars who have gone through similar intellectual paths to mine, and they too felt the need to convert Chinese philosophy into the analytic context. There are also many non-Chinese philosophers who came out of the analytic training, and they found it natural to discuss the issues in Chinese philosophy with the analytic approach. I have seen this trend in North America, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan and in China. In his article “The Analytic and Comparative Studies of Chinese Philosophy,” Cheng-yang Li observes that there are three major groups of scholars who take this approach. The first group includes the Chinese scholars who went to the U.S. in the eighties from various philosophy programs in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Their native language is Chinese, and they have received solid training in analytic philosophy. They have produced many comparative studies from the analytic approach. The second group includes non-Chinese philosophers who have received extensive training in Chinese, and their proficiency in reading original Chinese texts enables them to produce quality research on Chinese philosophy. The third group includes philosophers who came from Western philosophical training but became interested in Chinese philosophy on their own. They mostly do not read Chinese texts, and must rely on translations. Their background training in Western philosophy, in particular, in analytic philosophy, inclines them to take a comparative analytic approach to Chinese philosophical issues as well. (Li 2007, 262)

    The trend is also spreading back to areas in the Chinese-speaking world. In 2005, National Cheng Chi University in Taipei hosted a conference on “Chinese Philosophy in Analytic Perspectives.” In 2009, the Association of Chinese Philosophers in North America (ACPA) worked with the Institute of Thoughts and Culture in Modern China as well as the Philosophy Department of East China Normal University to co-sponsor an international workshop on “Chinese Philosophy and Analytic Philosophy.” Another society, the International Society for Comparative Studies of Chinese and Western Philosophy (ISCWP), has also organized numerous conferences on the interchanges between Chinese philosophy and analytic philosophy in China. These are merely the more recent events.

    § Analytic Comparative Philosophy Approach to Chinese Philosophy: An Application

    One basic premise in converting Chinese philosophy into the analytic context is that the interpreter must have a solid understanding of the original texts, so that the analytic treatment would not distort the philosophical content of the original text. Another important requirement is that the contemporary interpreter must appreciate the original texts in their social, historical contexts, so that the new interpretation does not result in awkward “anachronism” (using Li’s term, 268). Finally, I think the conversion should be done systematically, holistically, so that individual works would not be taken out of their intellectual lineage and be injected with alien notions.

    I believe that to systematically convert Chinese philosophy into the analytic context, we need to explicate the fundamental issues to which analytic philosophers can relate. As Donald Munro puts it, we have to “present philosophical findings accessible to a broad audience… Present the human problem. Do not just present the textual problem. That is not of interest to people outside of Sinology.” (Cheung & Liu 2008) I see the common concerns shared by Western and Chinese thinkers alike, and this is where I would establish my comparisons. I begin with metaphysics, in particular, with the Chinese cosmology. To begin with, Confucians have the fundamental conviction that the world has always existed, is full of vitality and is governed by a certain principle, which is called Dao or the Way. Daoism, on the other hand, has its distinctive thesis that Being comes from Nonbeing. Dao to Laozi stands for an objective reality that is not a perceptible, describable, or even humanly conceivable. It has also been seen as the principle, the origin, the motivator, etc. of all things. Since Truth is Dao, we humans can never know the real Truth. Chinese Buddhism, to give it a rough depiction, originates from the belief that the phenomenal world is basically the construction of the mind’s conceptions as well as other mental activities. These three different worldviews co-exist in Chinese philosophy, and the validity of each view has been the focus of debates among many Chinese philosophers in history. From the basic metaphysical differences generate different views on human perception and conception. Confucianism affirms the possibility of man’s grasping the Truth, and such persons who not only can grasp the ultimate Truth, but also can institute moral codes for human society, are called ‘the sages.” Since Daoism denies that Dao can be captured by human conceptions and words, Dao is cognitively closed to us. Chinese Buddhism, finally, claims that only when we can let go of our conceptions of and emotional attachments to material things, can we gain the enlightenment that all is empty of its own nature. Therefore, knowledge hinders true understanding. I characterize these metaphysical/epistemological differences as that between realism (Confucianism) and anti-realism (Daoism and Buddhism). I have also contrasted Laozi’s view and Zhuangzi’s view as that between metaphysical realism and internal realism in my “A Daoist Conception of Truth.” (In Comparative Approaches to Chinese Philosophy, (ed.) Bo Mou, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2003.)

    Secondly, the basic element of Chinese metaphysics is qi, which is different from the notion of matter in Western metaphysics. Qi is dynamic while matter is inactive; qi penetrates everything while matter is solid; qi is constantly changing while matter is static. Chinese cosmology treats qi as existentially prior to matter – the condensation of qi constitutes matter. Everything is comprised of qi, and the various degrees of purity or impurity determine the levels of existence. Qi is not volitional; hence, our creation is not the result of any intentional production. Qi condenses and rarefies, but it never gets exhausted or even diminished. Qi pervades the universe; in other words, the universe is simply the totality of qi in perpetual motion and constant alteration. In this cosmology, the cosmos is viewed as being composed of a great force (qi), which, even though having no mind of its own, has an intrinsic order in its movement. This great force permeates everything in the cosmos; hence, everything is interconnected in this organic whole. To understand Chinese metaphysics, one must appreciate the notion of qi. Based on this basic notion, Chinese philosophy develops a holistic approach to human beings’ relation to the world of nature as well as humans’ interpersonal relationships. If we see other things as made of the same qi as I am, then the boundaries between others and me become fluid and transient. This metaphysical conception of the world also forms the basis of Chinese moral philosophy.

    Another important comparison is frequently made between Chinese ethical views and Western ethical views. I cannot possibly do justice to the richness of the discussions that have emerged so far. Here I will just state what I perceive to be the main spirits of Confucianism and Daoism. In the Confucian moral society, people are categorized into different groups according to their varying degrees of moral cultivation. One who is morally exemplary is called “the superior person” (junzi, sometimes translated as “the gentleman”). Those who not only have superior moral characters themselves, but also help others cultivate themselves, are men of humanity (men of ren); and finally, those who can extend benevolence to all people and bring succor to the multitude, are the sages (sheng). The complete moral self-cultivation is a process that one is committed to undertake throughout one’s life. The highest moral goal is world peace and harmony, such that everyone is free from starvation and brutal death. What this ethics characterizes is a virtue ethics that stresses benevolence and altruism. Daoism takes a radically different approach to ethics. Both Laozi and Zhuangzi reject the moral preaching of Confucians, and they blame ethical codes as part of the corruption of the world. Laozi takes the fundamental virtue to be ‘inactivity’ (wu-wei). We can perhaps say that Laozi’s notion of ‘wu-wei’ incorporates three functions: (1) when things are running well, do nothing to interfere; (2) when the sage has to do something, do it with no personal, selfish desire; (3) in all his acts, the sage should conform to Dao, the natural pattern of things, and refrain from introducing human intervention. The method of inactivity works best when people are in a primitive society with very basic natural needs. Laozi thinks that all unnatural desires are derived from artificial conditioning from society. Zhuangzi also saw the distinction between morality and immorality as an artificial separation introduced by people like Confucius. The ethically ideal state, according to Zhuangzi, is a state where people are naturally moral without even thinking about the notion of morality itself. The ultimate moral goal for Daoism is to be in accord with the natural state of being, which demands ridding oneself of one’s preferences, prejudices and meddling. It has often been pointed out that the Confucian ethical view is a form of social holism — everyone is interconnected in a larger social web; Daoism, on the other hand, leads to a form of spiritual individualism — one aims to free oneself from conventional bondages.

    I am now working on my second book that continues the analytic treatment to the later period of Chinese philosophy. The title of this book project is Metaphysics, Mind and Morality: An Analytic Approach to Neo-Confucianism. ‘Neo-Confucianism’ typically refers to the revival of Confucianism developed between the eleventh and the eighteenth century in China, spanning over four dynasties in Chinese history: Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Comparable to what “Modern Philosophy” (between the 17th and the 19th Century in Europe) accomplished in Western philosophy, Neo-Confucianism also revitalized classical philosophy and brought the traditional philosophical discourse to a new dimension. Neo-Confucianism was a new form of Confucianism that came after the dominance of Daoism and subsequently Buddhism in the Chinese intellectual circle. The transformation of Confucianism as a result of the challenge and influence of Daoism and Buddhism was a most remarkable and significant development in the history of Chinese philosophy. Neo-Confucianism invigorates the metaphysical investigation in the classic Yijing and incorporates different concepts and perspectives from Daoism as well as Chinese Buddhism into its discourse.

    The aim of my book project is to explicate Neo-Confucianism in its major themes and to see how they exemplify a coherent underlying concern: the relation between Nature and man. Neo-Confucians were fundamentally concerned with the role humans play in the moral reconstruction of the world around them. In their view, humans not only endow the world of nature with meaning, but also share moral attributes with natural phenomena. Their worldview combines metaphysics and morality, and the connecting point is the human mind. Hence the title for my book: Metaphysics, Mind and Morality.

    The organization of this book is thematic rather than chronological. The major common themes in Neo-Confucianism include: (1) the relationship between the two constituents of the universe—cosmic principle and cosmic force (qi); (2) the debate on whether human nature, or the human mind, is the exemplification of this cosmic principle; (3) the analysis of the roots of human good and evil as a way to answer the question of what makes human morality possible. The book has three parts: Part One deals with the Neo- Confucian metaphysics, and I shall explicate the commitment to moral realism in their metaphysical view. Part Two examines their views on human nature and their explanations of the relation between man and Nature. Part Three investigates Neo- Confucians’ various forms of virtue ethics, their answers to the problem of evil and their proposals for moral education or moral transformation. The ancient Chinese philosophers’ debate on whether human nature is good or bad was given a new dimension in the discourse of Neo-Confucians. They were concerned with the foundation for morality, and they traced the possibility of morality to the various aspects of human mind — desires, sentiments, will, reason, etc. In this context, I will also bring in current discussion of moral psychology into my explication of Neo-Confucianism.

    The analytic approach focuses more on the analysis of key philosophical concepts and the examination of the philosophers’ basic assumptions. The analysis in this book will draw comparisons to analytic philosophy in its main issues and concerns. This approach attempts to bring Neo-Confucianism into the context of contemporary philosophy and to see how those issues in the Neo-Confucian terminology are actually quite akin to the issues dealt with by Western philosophers. It aims to show that even though Chinese philosophers use different terms, narrative strategies and analytic modes, their concerns are often similar to those of their Western counterparts: for example, What is the nature of reality? Wherein lies the foundation of our moral values? Is human nature fundamentally good or bad? How do human beings connect to the whole universe?
    What is the foundation of our knowledge of the world? My goal is to make these issues accessible to Western thinkers by shedding light on their universality through the analytic explication of these texts.

    § Conclusion

    I recently taught a mini-course in Taiwan to a group of young scholars and undergraduate students who were interested in Neo-Confucianism, and I used that chance to present my analytic approach to Neo-Confucianism. Even though at the beginning, some students were skeptical about whether the application of philosophical analysis and Western philosophical conceptual schemes that I used for comparison were suitable for understanding Neo-Confucianism, eventually my students all affirmed the value of taking Neo-Confucianism to a different level. It is very encouraging for me to see their response. I understand that the comparative and analytic path is just starting and there will always be scholars who would choose a different path. I think that any philosophical tradition needs multiple developments and there is no need to oppose the other paths even if one believes the path one takes is the best one. What is crucial for those who wish to convert Chinese philosophy into the analytic context is to produce quality works that “meet the standards of the best ‘mainstream’ philosophers.” (Van Norden, Newsletter).”

    I think the prospect of these developments is pretty exciting. The years ahead should be very intellectually stimulating and rewarding for those who are following the developments of Chinese thought and philosophy in a western context.

  3. Huang
    February 18th, 2013 at 20:57 | #3

    This is a great topic, and one that I’ve thought on alot in my life. Having lived in the States, Taiwan and China, it became pretty obvious to me quickly that the English language has an influence that’s stronger and more pervasive than any other. It’s something I think that visiting Westerners take for granted. So many signs, even in rural towns in Asia (at least in Taiwan), have English on them along with Chinese. Companies use English to write their names on their logos, even for companies that have no presence in the West. Even Chinese celebrities that are famous tend to use an English nickname (i.e, Jet Li, Tony Leung, etc) In my opinion, until a full Chinese name – whether it be celebrity or company – can become a household name, the chances of Chinese language becoming the stronger presence in discourse is slim to none. Maybe in a generation or so – I’d be surprised at anything less.

    On another note, the book “The Web That Has No Weaver” was mentioned – it’s a decent book for introducing some concepts in Chinese medicine, but there’s some flaws with it. The main is the simple fact that it’s an introduction for Westerners, by Westerners. With all due respect to the author, who clearly worked hard and enthusiastically on the book, alot of concepts are either glossed over or “fluffed” for mainstream appeal. The other big issue with the book is that it presents “Traditional Chinese Medicine” (TCM) in a very monolithic light. The concept of a unified vision of TCM is actually a very recent thing. Like martial arts in China, medicine was hardly a monolithic practice geographically or historically, even if there are shared principles in all the varieties.

    It may seem kind of nitpicky to emphasize, but I feel that the depth, complexity and sheer longevity of China’s culture and practices are often neglected for a simpler, more pristine, even more “safe for consumption” vision. I find that even LeeJoo Liu’s article above seems to oversimplify Daoism and Chinese Buddhism a bit, showing more familiarity with Confucianism – not a slam on her (I only read the excerpt), just a reiteration that I think that China’s vibrant (and sometimes dark) culture and history shouldn’t be presented as graspable within a single semester of school.

  4. February 23rd, 2013 at 03:17 | #4


    In response to your observation:

    One disagreement I have with the article is in China needing to explain and protect her ideas. The way I see it is that once China becomes much richer, the West will naturally want to learn more Chinese.

    The reason I disagree fiercely with this statement is because how incorrect it is.

    Yes – economic underdevelopment explains in great part China’s lack of cultural influence in the modern world. But if you look at a country like Japan, it had achieved economic development on par with the Western world for much of the last century and a half – it has been the preeminent Asian power for the last century and a half – yet if you look at its cultural influence on the modern world, it also has been very little. Japan’s place in the modern world is determined by its willingness to succumb to it, to adapt to it, to embrace it – not by its ability to shape it, to contribute to it, to project Asian values upon it. Same with South Korea. The success of Samsung is emblematic of the success of South Korea and Japan on this world stage.

    Recently NYT has an interesting article that compares Apple vs. Samsung. It noted how Apple created new trends and tired to dominate the market created by those trends while Samsung merely adapted to needs of the market.

    “We get most of our ideas from the market,” said Kim Hyun-suk, an executive vice president at Samsung, in a conversation about the future of mobile devices and television. “The market is a driver, so we don’t intend to drive the market in a certain direction,” he said.

    That’s in stark contrast to the philosophy of Apple’s founder Steven P. Jobs, who rejected the notion of relying on market research. He memorably said that consumers don’t know what they want.

    Now this could be just a market maturation piece, but I think there is more.

    Apple is a true innovator – a market innovator if not a technological innovator. They try to change the world – create new trends – in a way that Samsung does not.

    For China to succeed as an independent civilization – to contribute to the modern world, not just be satisfied as an appendage of the West – it needs to create a soul of its own. That’s what this article you link is really about. It’s not about the use of roman numerals in pinyin, the strength of the English language per se. It’s about defining terms and concepts in global discourse, a set of concepts that a typical global citizen has access to in discussing international issues and norms. In that arena, the West clearly dominates. Successful rich Asian nations such as Japan and Sough Korea barely makes a dent. Rich economies with strong Chinese culture like Hong Kong and Taiwan and Singapore has also failed to make much contribution.

    Some might say, well, South Korea has lots going for it. That gangnum style thing has gone viral!

    But is gangnum style really bout Korean culture? Isn’t it mostly a Western style music – Western hip hop – combined with an Asian twist. It’s like socialism with a Chinese twist. It may be interesting in its own right, but hardly earth or ground shattering by any stretch of the imagination.

    It’s what Prof. Liu has observed to be so prevalent an attitude in the West: “there is no such thing as Chinese philosophy”. Everything in the world can be viewed through Western lens. The little differences here and there can be explained away as quirks in local conditions and can be acknowledged even incorporated, but the Western lens on the whole is “universal.”

    This is not just a problem in the West, as this attitude is also prevalent among many Chinese – both inside and outside China.

    Thorsten Pattberg observed that “The Islamic world with its ayatollahs and imams, its bazaars and kebabs; and the Hindu world with its dharma and karma, its yoga and avatars and so on, are far ahead of the Chinese world when it comes enriching English as the international language.”

    That may be so, but I think it’s only in a limited way. The Islamic words contributes as a “religious” concept. In a liberal world, once you corned a term as “religious,” it really has limited force.

    The extent to which dharma and karma, its yoga and avatars contributes is a Western conception. The way they are used are shallow. It’s the use of terms to project what are really just fuzzy new age philosophy of the West.

    So it is.

    This is the problem in the essence in my opinion. The world is mostly Westernized, and it would take a herculean effort to make it less Westsernized.

    Yes China can’t compete without catching up on GDP (providing its citizens with comparable standards of living as the West), but that aloneis not enough. Not by a long shot.

    Chinese resurgence in GDP per se will not make a difference. China has to have a “renaissance” in its thinking, its outlook, rediscovering its roots, history, philosophy. It needs to have the will to imagine a world liberated from entrenched Western ideology.

    This will not just take a year. It will take a few decades, maybe even a decade.

    Or maybe never. Maybe China will just become a Japan and South Korea – except it has more people.

    We’ll have to see…

  5. February 23rd, 2013 at 09:21 | #5

    I would like to add my opinion to both your observation here. My view is similar to yinyang but agree and disagree with many points you’ve made. You had used Japan as an example. It is indeed true that since 1968, Japan is the number 2 economy in the world until being surpassed by China recently. But you have to see that Japan is also badly outnumbered in the company of European and American (which is basically transplanted European). In term of population, Japanese numbered less than 1/7 out of the OEDC countries.

    Although it might be simplistic to say the biggest economy produced the most innovation and cultural icon. It is indeed the case in history. From ancient Babylonian, Persian, to the Greek, Roman, Islamic Civilization and many others, not least the Indian and Chinese civilization. Unless, each empire or civilization has a large economy, innovation will not come forth. I will totally skipped how all these civilization come about because it will take many books to do so. But ultimately it is a powerful government and thriving economy that led to innovation. When the Greek and Roman empires ended so does its economy due to no government being able to enforce “safe trade”. It is the same with other empires of the world.

    What you describe as western domination is actually European international colonialism that started with Spanish and Portuguese expedition. The so-called western domination actually come with just one superiority, efficiency. The Spanish/Portuguese has superior ships and firepower to all their opponents. They also have a good merchant class and most efficient military formation. Hence they are able to built a vast worldwide empire. However, when other countries with better efficiency come into the picture, they were defeated. Nevertheless, the Spanish and Portuguese culture and language legacy is the most predominant in South America because they were there first.

    Do you know that New York used to be known as New Amsterdam? Likewise the Dutch colonists were superseded by the English. Like the colonies in South America, North America eventually seek independence. The rise of newer powers in Europe although upset the balance brought next level of efficiency innovation. The rise of France as the pioneer land power is but one example. Germany came into prominence due to political unification (governmental efficiency). The abolishment of tariff brought about a more efficient trade system. Germany’s industries played catch up to England by being as efficient as possible.

    For the past five hundred years, why did Europe progressed so much in efficiency but the rest of the world did not? The answer is both historical and geopolitical. I will cut straight to the short answers, religion and politics. These are the two biggest motivation to European imperialists. The self righteousness interpretation of the Christian religion gave them the need to evangelize to the world. Secondly, political rivalry and threat from other powers forced them to expand or be vanquished. Japan and much of East Asia used to copy the system first devised in China. Of course China has more than ten times the population compared with the rest, so it is almost a given. For example, paper and printing are needed by the Chinese bureaucracy to run the country. Gun powder and compass are due to discovery by some Daoist priests in alchemist experiment. China was a hot bed of innovation when the government is able to maintain a constructive environment for trade. Many inventions we see are simply products needed in a commercial society. The major reason Ming and Qing China eventually fell behind technologically was due to the lack of competition but they were never behind in luxury products until the late 19th century.

    When the European arrived in Japan and forced it to open up, the Japanese realized how much behind they were not just in the efficiency of their government, but also in military and economy. For survival sake, they simply copied the European way. Unfortunately, they also copied imperialism from them. The rest as we know is history.

    You lament the lack of soft power of Japan, Korea and China. However, I think you fail to see that soft power is actually a manifest of hard power. For example, is Hollywood culture superior to French, Indian or Chinese? Why is Hollywood able to project its cultural products worldwide? I think you are equating commercial success with innovation and cultural superiority. The product that put Sony on the forefront is a product that is called “Walkman”. Sony is not the first company to put headphones into a cassette player. They “merely” repackaged it and market it through a very large “global market”. And did Chrysler invented the mininvan too? Apple is simply a commercial entity with a few successful products. To give too much credence to any commercial company is missing the big picture. In my view Japan and Korea simply take a very dire situation and make the best out of it. In fact, contrary to your view, I think they are punching far above their weight for now. Japan does in its credit has a very successful cultural export, in its manga/anime industries. It is in fact more successful than even France and Germany in the world stage. Of course, few people would know that Transformers used to be Japanese.

    I believe you are equating modernization with westernization. There is simply no going back to the previous way of life whatever that is. The American today cannot go back to the lifestyle two hundred years ago and neither can a modern Indian, Chinese or whoever. The problem again lied with efficiency, can one live without modern education and medicine today?

  6. February 23rd, 2013 at 11:31 | #6

    Guys, when I initially commented on Pattberg this way, it is indeed problematic:

    One disagreement I have with the article is in China needing to explain and protect her ideas. The way I see it is that once China becomes much richer, the West will naturally want to learn more Chinese.

    Not saying the steps Pattberg proposed shouldn’t take place. They should and I think they will. Ray would agree with this too.

    My original thinking is like this. Imagine a rich and educated Chinese person at a time when China’s per capita GDP is equal that of the United States. Well, that person will not be willing to be seen as lesser to an American. That person wouldn’t be willing to stand idle if the American pounds his chest professing ‘democracy’ to demonize the Chinese. That person would be much more willing to say, “you know what, you are such an ideological prick!” When you are poorer, and think you are less equal in some way, you are much less likely to assert yourself.

    This seems like too “passive” a view which Allen (and perspectivehere) disagrees with, and I’ll just quote Allen from his above comment here:

    Chinese resurgence in GDP per se will not make a difference. China has to have a “renaissance” in its thinking, its outlook, rediscovering its roots, history, philosophy. It needs to have the will to imagine a world liberated from entrenched Western ideology.

    So, I agree with the need for proactive and explicit rediscovery of the essence of what Chinese civilization is all about. China needs to package her vision for the world.

    China would need to tweak U.N. and make sure it accommodate China’s vision (not merely a Western ideologically dominated body).

    I actually think it’s easier for the world to rally around China’s rise if she is willing to spend economic and political capital to make our world a more tolerant place and reject this Western vision of unilateralism, because for our modern history, that unilateralism has been used almost exclusively to justify imperialism.

    Universal values have been a much debated topic on our blog. However, all of us agree imperialism under the pretense of universal values is no no.

    In perspectivehere’s words, “this doesn’t ‘just happens’.”

    Of course, there’s ‘danger’ too that China may not be able to climb out of entrenched Western ideology or that everyone on the planet subscribe to those ideologies and China has to develop with the weight of them bearing down on her.

    Right, so the above won’t just happen on its own. It’s a real competition and takes real proactive steps to get there.

    Now I feel like I am double-speaking here. I think Ray and I think more indirectly while Allen/perspectivehere thinks more directly. Does that make sense?

    Ray’s confidence comes from his historical understanding: they simply happened in every case. I chalk my confidence up in my intuition about human nature: when the Chinese are fully confident, and cocky even, they will want to pound their chest over their ideas and into the heads of others.

  7. February 23rd, 2013 at 19:54 | #7


    I am sort of lost… Most of what you wrote I didn’t think apply to what I was trying to articulate.

    But I will respond to just this passage.

    Apple is simply a commercial entity with a few successful products. To give too much credence to any commercial company is missing the big picture. In my view Japan and Korea simply take a very dire situation and make the best out of it. In fact, contrary to your view, I think they are punching far above their weight for now. Japan does in its credit has a very successful cultural export, in its manga/anime industries. It is in fact more successful than even France and Germany in the world stage. Of course, few people would know that Transformers used to be Japanese.

    I believe you are equating modernization with westernization.

    1. Apple is not the reason West is “innovative” – I merely point out a symbolic example – as way to articulate my point in concrete terms. Apple invented a new market (with ipod, iphone, ipad) while Samsung serves an existing market. I think the symbolism is self-evident. Now, I don’t care about the underlying business rationale for the success – only the symbolic value. Remember, even if you take Apple away, my point about Western dominance persist. Even if Apple were Korean and Samsung were American, my point still persist. I would just not use the companies as examples. The world would not been any more Asian if Apple were Korean. Hope that makes sense.

    2. Japanese anime…. sigh…. That’s not what I am talking about. I am not talking about cultural soft power. I am talking about terms and concepts that people across the world subscribe to and views the world through. Japan is also a big porn hub. People all over the world view them. But that’s not what I or Pattberg are talking about.

    3. S. Korea is definitely punching above its weight. But that just proves my point. They are successful only to the extent they have joined the game. They have not made any difference in terms of defining the game. Yes, yes, Korean has such a small population, they should be commended for what they have accomplished. All true, but irrelevant to my point. If you just want to join the game, as Koreans thave, then you don’t care about what Pattberg is talking about. If you only care about joining the game, what Pattberg is talking is distracting and off the point.

    4. About Japan. You also wrote

    It is indeed true that since 1968, Japan is the number 2 economy in the world until being surpassed by China recently. But you have to see that Japan is also badly outnumbered in the company of European and American (which is basically transplanted European). In term of population, Japanese numbered less than 1/7 out of the OEDC countries.

    So what has Japan contributed that changes the way the West views the world in a fundamental way? Again porn and anime doesn’t count. I am not talking about being a co-architect of the worldview. How about just 1/7? How about 1/10? The world has not become any bit more Asian even though Asia has had an industrialized pre-eminent power that the West respects for the last 150 years. That says a lot, I think.

    5. I would love to hear about your idea of Westernization vs. Modernization is. To me, it is not self evident at all…

  8. February 23rd, 2013 at 19:56 | #8


    when the Chinese are fully confident, and cocky even, they will want to pound their chest over their ideas and into the heads of others.

    What would the “ideas” be? If the Chinese don’t self reflect like I have said, and only think that becoming rich will make them prosperous, by the time they are rich, they will just be like the Japanese or S. Koreans. The world would not have gotten any better – except that more people are rich. The world would be just as monopolistic as now.

  9. February 23rd, 2013 at 20:35 | #9


    About westernization vs. modernization again: it really is an important point. Depending on where one draws the line, the likes of Liu xiaobo can either be viewed as a savior or enemy of the Chinese state – even Chinese civilization…

  10. February 23rd, 2013 at 23:19 | #10

    The Chinese would certainly have to self reflect and come up with their vision. Again, I am not disputing that. Well, for one, Japan and South Korea are occupied countries. They automatically do not have the political power to shape any collective vision as long as the U.S. is dominant and disallow.

    China has sovereignty and is much more independent.

    What would those ideas be? For me, if China can foster a world order such that there is less willy nilly imperialism, especially under the guise of universal values, that’d be a big win for humanity.

  11. February 24th, 2013 at 00:12 | #11

    If I may chime in…

    Dumplings and stir-frying were invented in Song. Without these important parts of what define Chinese today, were those Han/Tang Chinese really Chinese? If Qin/Han Chinese had a time machine and went to Tang, and saw their progenies worshiping some strange gods (Buddhas), would they consider Tang Chinese, the same Chinese as they were? Chinese as a people, a culture or a civilization is ever evolving. Time, as we commonly understand, is unidirectional. The future Chinese will recognize us as Chinese, but we may not easily recognize them.

    Then there is what Chinese, especially what future Chinese can accomplish… don’t ever sell us short. In the 80s when I first started following various Olympic sports, it was all but certain to me Chinese men would never amount to anything in swimming — then no Chinese man could even make to a world swimming event’s finals let alone medal podiums. Last year Sun Yang accomplished something in my opinion even more unthinkable than Phelps’ 8 gold medals in Beijing, winning golds in 400m and 1500m freestyle, and silver in 200m. It was the equivalent of winning 400m silver, 1500m gold and 10000m gold in track.

    The main difference between Apple and Samsung is its home market. In the end, both companies are trying to sell to the American market and by extension the global market. The designers in Apple led by Jobs obviously have an edge over their peers in Samsung in figuring out what’s cool in the US. In electronics, the only exception in history might have been Sony. Sony was once what Apple is today. A big reason is Akio Morita had spent a great deal of time in the US.

    What if one day they will all first and foremost need to sell to the Chinese market? Then the designers in Shanghai actually have a leg up to their competitors in Silicon Valley. That day, is sooner than most people realize.

    One major difference in the rise of Japan and the current rise of China is, in the 80s Japanese bought up famous Western art pieces, and now Chinese just buy up famous Chinese art pieces. Andy Warhol, the great American modern art icon, has been heavily promoted to rich Chinese — even the potentially offensive Mao’s paintings were removed in a recent exhibition in China. Yet Chinese’s reaction seems to be, “don’t care, don’t like, don’t give a fuck.”

  12. February 24th, 2013 at 01:43 | #12


    Dumplings and stir-frying were invented in Song. Without these important parts of what define Chinese today, were those Han/Tang Chinese really Chinese? If Qin/Han Chinese had a time machine and went to Tang, and saw their progenies worshiping some strange gods (Buddhas), would they consider Tang Chinese, the same Chinese as they were? Chinese as a people, a culture or a civilization is ever evolving. Time, as we commonly understand, is unidirectional. The future Chinese will recognize us as Chinese, but we may not easily recognize them.

    My response is that China is the oldest continuous civilization today. South Asia (say India, although that’s not doing it justice, as that is more an artifact of British imperialism than anything else) has a long history of human activity, too – though it’s marked by long history of strife, upheaval, conflict, and change. There is no continuous civilization.

    What is Iraq and Iran also has a long history, although the original civilization is long dead. The Egyptians too has a long history, and even though they see themselves tracing part of their bloodline to the Egyptians of Pharaohs times, today’s Egypt is more a product of Roman and Islamic conquests than the Pharaohs (heck to decipher the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egypt has to rely on scholars in the West using the Rosetta stone to translate to Greek).

    So which China will it be in the future?

    Sure change will always happen. And the definition of a robust civilization is adaptation and evolution. But there is also a thing as termination. Will China be an Egypt or India – which can trace history way back within its geographic border but which obtains its current order from other civilization?

    That would be a true loss. With the advent of Western colonization in the Americas and the subsequent industrialization, there has been no viable civilization in the world to the West … except maybe China.

    Today’s China is but a shadow of its former self. It may become even less than that soon … even as it becomes rich. At least that’s the lesson I take from the article referenced at the beginning of this post.

    But I take some comfort in your description of the art world. It’s a symbolic thing. Perhaps the Chinese will be Chinese after all…

  13. February 24th, 2013 at 07:35 | #13

    Well, I am trying to give a very brief history of how the so-called west come to dominate world politics, economy, military and even society for the past five hundred years. To many in the west, it is taken as a given and will never changed.

    The problem with using commercial products or company as a symbol is we give too much credence to material wealth. That’s why I’ve used the example of Chrysler “inventing” the minivan. Minivan didn’t exist before. It might be a big marketing time at a time, as time goes on it is simply another automotive product. And walkman is simply a Sony copyrighted footnote in electronic history.

    If you are talking about philosophical thought, the list of philosophers would go on not just in the west but on and on. It is just that other than those from Europe and bigger civilization like, China, India, Islam etc, those that are from smaller civilization are almost never known. Sadly, a lot of ideas and philosophical thoughts not from the dominant economy areas are pretty much destined not to be well known. Let’s say someone in Malaysia came up with the idea for iPhone, it would still never go into production. The market and the enterprise simply does not exist.

    I actually agree with your point about western’s dominant for the past five hundred years but if you notice the brief history I had given you, you will see that the buck keep being pass on. No one country or empire can stay on top for even more than a couple hundred years.

    As for your comment on Japanese anime, I agree it is nothing but another very successful artistic products. You are right to be critical that we don’t see much being mentioned about Japanese thoughts and ideas being mentioned in the mainstream press. I actually attribute that to my ignorance rather than Japanese incompetence.

    To be honest, Japan is instrumental in dismantling the absolute domination of European colonialism first in Asia than to Africa. The European imperialism that started in 1492 was pretty much ended in 1942. Of course, Japan was simply imitating the other western power in setting up a short-lived empire of its own. Nevertheless, it proved to the Asian that the western powers are not invincible. The end of WWII ushered in independence movement all over Asia and Africa. It put an end to a chapter in human history.

    Japanese thinkers are in my view very practical, from 脱亚入欧 to kaizen, they pretty much only have time to deal with philosophy related to survival. My basis of argument is that unless, you are in the driver’s seat economically, politically and military it is impossible to make yourself noticed. East Asian revival is still in its preliminary state to be noticed other than in the aspect of economic development. In fact, in this area China is still many decades from achieving parity let alone surpassing the west. I will add more of what it means to be Asians or vice versa in my latter post. It pretty much deal with the point of westernization and modernization.

  14. February 24th, 2013 at 10:24 | #14


    What is Iraq and Iran also has a long history, although the original civilization is long dead. The Egyptians too has a long history, and even though they see themselves tracing part of their bloodline to the Egyptians of Pharaohs times, today’s Egypt is more a product of Roman and Islamic conquests than the Pharaohs (heck to decipher the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egypt has to rely on scholars in the West using the Rosetta stone to translate to Greek).

    Equally most of the important ancient Greek texts were lost in the Middle Age, and only translated to Latin from Arabic immediately before and during the Renaissance. Actually there is doubt if some of those texts were authentic at all. Papyrus was much harder to produce, store and transport than paper. It seems very hard to retain the volume of the ancient Greek writings through the centuries, and then eventually being picked up by the Arabs — Or, is it possible that the Arabs and the early Latin translators created some of the texts?

    In the Middle Age, the roles of the West and the Muslim world were reverse, with the Muslim world being more advanced in science and technology, and the West was more like the modern day Taliban.

    To Chinese, it seems at least in the foreseeable future grade school students will still recite 关关雎鸠在河之洲, so nothing is lost per se as far as being able to rediscover China’s soul now or in the future.


    To many, the peak of the Kennedy family was the assassination of JFK; to me, it was the death of John Jr. Once JFK Jr. was dancing with Princess Di, and the American media had that moment of wow and was mesmerized by how compatible the two were. That was the peak of the Kennedy aura, and JFK Jr. was as close to a prince as anybody ever will be in a democracy. (the UK is a democratic monarchy.)

    Would you be able see that family aura in Patrick Kennedy, John Jr.’s great-great-grandfather, a starving Irish peasant, when he first arrived the US? Chances are when he first disembarked the ship, you were looking at a skinny and smelly Irish man.

    Whatever the soul, or family aura, is created by people. Will Allen Yu’s progenies build upon what Allen starts, create a great family aura and years from now Allen’s portrait is publicly displayed? Future is unknown, until it occurs, and everything is possible. Everything is odds.


    If I was a betting man and not even a Chinese, and I had to pick what would replace the West as the leading civilization decades from now, I would pick the Chinese civilization.

  15. February 24th, 2013 at 11:59 | #15


    Since you mentioned this phrase, you might be interested to know there is a 关雎宫 in Shenyang. It was built by the 2nd emperor of the Qing. His father who started the Late Jin dynasty named his reign 天命(Mandate of Heaven) and used both yellow and the龙(Chinese Dragon) as his standard.

    I think the 龙 Long is another concept that need its own terminology.

  16. February 24th, 2013 at 17:58 | #16


    Thanks. Didn’t know that. By then, his empire was fully formed. Unlike his father, he didn’t need to use his pseudo Han surname Tong. However, he still named the palace to his favorite concubine with the name of the oldest poem that people still recite daily.

    Yeah, Long is a different from dragon.

  17. Zack
    February 25th, 2013 at 05:22 | #17

    i don’t think i need to repeat to everyone here that promoting christianity in China is equivalent to promoting the Westernisation of China in that you’re promoing judeo-christian and hence Western values at the expense of traditional Chinese values.
    It’s for this reason that i raise my eyebrow at the almost panicky desire of two writer of Atimes (Sisci and Spengler: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/WORLD-01-250213.html) to promote the Christianisation of China at the expense of traditional Chinese values.
    IF you want a truly christian Asian nation look no further than the supplicant nation of the Philipines or even South Korea which has 25% protestantism-both nations are forever the slaves of Western imperialists because they allowed the mental enslavement of their young, turning little koreans/filipinos into satraps, mock imitations of their Western creators.

    Promoting Chinese language is only a start; i reckon Chinese films and tv series ought to compete outright with Hollywood, rather than simply co-producing films.

  18. February 27th, 2013 at 08:04 | #18

    Hong Taiji is a political and military genius. He unified Mongolia under his rule and also forced Korea to switch alliance to Qing. In order to secure the loyalty of the Mongolian he set up the Mongolian eight banners, and made sure his four major consorts are Mongolian (which guaranteed that the next emperor would be half Mongolian). He also set up the Han eight banner. Domestically, he renamed the Jurchen tribe as Manchu and renamed the Late Jin dynasty to Qing dynasty. It is highly plausible that he did the renaming mainly to prepare for his conquest of the whole China. Since he is so well verse in Chinese history he knew Jurchen and Jin dynasty has a bad reputation among the Han Chinese.

    I am not sure how much validity to this theory but the Chinese believed in 五行 (the Five Phases): 木、火、土、金、水 wood, fire, earth, metal, water. The 明 Ming dynasty is considered a Fire element, to extinguish it you need a Water element. 清 Qing is a Water element. The Chinese zodiac is also organized under the Five Phases.

    If you are talking about the 佟Tong family, they are one of the most influential and richest Man Chinese. Interestingly, they are so sinicized that they are initially organized under the Han banner. The 1st emperor’s first consort come from this family (He actually 入赘 married into this family). Kangxi’s mother is also from this family. During Kangxi’s reign the family was “elevated” into the Man banner. So that is why in the beginning they have a Han last name 佟 Tong which was later changed to 佟佳 Tong Jia. A short history of this family origin is here.

  19. Rhan
    February 27th, 2013 at 18:09 | #19

    Ray, did Munchu and Mongols share the same lineage? I am a bit puzzle why there is still a nation call Mongolia but no more Manchuria.

    I don’t quite understand what is the exchange between you all and Allen, perhaps my view is not relevent, i think both Chinese and Muslim share very similar path, we can assert our glory and identity via history and only history, the present day achievement are mostly copy, imitation and learning from the West. My respect toward Mao is he did put in effort to take a different route, he fail miserably though, but i dont see the same aspiration in the new leadership, i agree gdp, improve living standard, eradicate poverty is still the priority, would that make China difference with Japan or Korea eventually like how Allen put it?

  20. February 28th, 2013 at 06:55 | #20

    Technically, no. But Man emperors emphasize the theory of Man/Mongol one family (Mostly to ensure their continual support). After successfully conquering most of China, the Man people started moving out from the Northeast, to the extent that almost 9/10 left. To make up for the short fall, they forcefully move farmers from other areas into the Northeast as serf. The early stage of the Qing dynasty was plagued by a very severe penalty for those escaped serf. It was a very draconian law which punished the escapees and those who dare to harbour them. However, in the late Qing when stagnant economy forced massive immigrant into the Northeast for mining or logging, the government actually passed law banning the migration, to no avail of course.

    This is why Manchuria is almost totally populated by Han while the Man lost their identity because they were spread all over China as a ruling class. Mongolian steppes by contrast was not attractive to immigrant. Also there are no government policy of force movement. Only inner Mongolia have small immigrant who engage in trade and mining. However, this interaction is nothing new. During the 12th century, there are the Jurgen Jin dynasty, Mongolian Yuan dynasty and Han Song dynasty that fought each other in a balance of power in the same region. As one can tell from history the fortune would switch back and forth between groups. In fact there is another group which left a large imprint on history but has now blended into the large Chinese family. There was a group of people called Khitan who set up the Liao dynasty. They were so powerful in the Northeast region that Slavic people assume they are China. In Russian, China was known as Kitai. A variation in English is Cathay.

    Allen is right to say that Western European view, idea, philosophy and even religion (Europeanized Christianity) have imposed a mostly one way direction to other part of the world. Japan and Korea, despite their modernization and commercial success made barely any impact in return. I simply argue that Japan and Korea are simply too small in respect to Europe and North America. It simply will take a larger entity like China, India or the Islamic world to make a difference. And one of the biggest requirement is through size and strength be it in economy, political or military. Presently, these civilization are still playing catch up in term of social economical development so it will take some time although all are already making progress. I also want to emphasize that European dominance is a relatively short term occurrence and one group will always surpassed another (the European history clearly illustrate this example well as the rise and decline of each powers happened like clock work). It is simply natural development.

  21. JJ
    March 3rd, 2013 at 02:19 | #21

    I’ve been thinking more about this and I’m beginning to agree more with yinyang’s idea of the importance of wealth.

    Even back when Japan was #2, the US economy was still more than double that of Japan’s. In addition, the individual standard of living in the US was also significantly higher.

    So I don’t think we can use Japan’s previous position to infer what will happen if China becomes the world’s largest economy.

    That being said, the impact of the West wasn’t simply just because of wealth, but also because it was forced upon the East through violence. So even if China becomes #1, the dynamic will still be different since the rise will have been peaceful.


    Recently NYT has an interesting article that compares Apple vs. Samsung. It noted how Apple created new trends and tired to dominate the market created by those trends while Samsung merely adapted to needs of the market.

    I totally agree that Apple tries to sell a lifestyle rather than just a product. However, I don’t believe it’s message translates over to the Asian market in the way it intends.

    For example, of all the iPhone users I know in Asia, none of them use the Mac. They still use Windows and they even use IE! The larger Apple aesthetic is completely lost. In addition, they decorate their phones in very color and “cute” stickers and what-not.

    I believe that Apple succeeds in Asia because it simply piggybacks on an area in which Western brands have a near monopoly on: luxury.

    Go to any department store in Asia and it’s filled with Western luxury products. From fashion, to cars, to make up, it’s all Western brands.

    There’s a few Japanese contenders, but nothing from other Asian countries.

    All these luxury brands combined probably spend over a billion+ USD a year on marketing. In addition, pair them along with Hollywood’s multi-billion dollar product marketing campaign–er, I mean “movies”–and it’s no wonder so many Asians associate the West with luxury and that’s what it wants to emulate.

    So thinking of it from this perspective makes me more able to see yinyang’s point.


    This is an interesting idea. I’m not really sure where I stand on it just yet, but there’s something to be said about a people’s resilience and their ability to adapt.

  22. dan
    March 8th, 2013 at 20:35 | #22

    This is one topic that interests me greatly. I have always thought about what is Chinese and what makes Chinese civilization? I am not as eloquently as all of you here and not a deep thinker either. As I have shared my 2 cents about this subject before, I tend to see things from the bottom up, from little things and from the inside out.
    When I lived and worked in the States where I have been calling it my home, I feel that I don’t have enough first hand and personal observation to talk about China. So I made a move. I am now living and working in Chengdu and my perception of China and Chinese have changed. What astonishes me is how prevalent the thought of the West blankets everything, and to imitate the West will get you revered and admired upon by the common folks here in Chengdu. I have talked to cabbies, bus drivers, little merchants in tri-cycles, etc… folks in tea parlors…I came away feeling my efforts in understand China is not getting cleared but clouded even more. Have you noticed how many little mom-and-pop shops with the strange, tongue-twisting name that is a transliterate word from English, German, France or any weird combination of sorts. What is displayed outwardly is naturally the thought inwardly. How many of these common folks always express the desire to be liked by Westerners. Strangely, when praising their own country, they do so with a sly way, accompany by a ‘you know how it is’ wink-wink fashion. That, to me does not bode well for China to acquire soft power, to exert influences internationally.

    As Chinese has a saying: 下梁不正上梁歪. If little people from the mass do not think that their culture matters, then, it does not matter. No amount of philosophical entreaties, debates and teachings would correct that. When only the educated talk about Cicero, Lao Tze, debate about Aquinas, Confucius, write about Jung…in the quest of finding a path, but the bottoms 99% just want to abandon ship, you have got a problem.

  23. March 8th, 2013 at 22:29 | #23

    Nothing is permanent. What you are observing in the common folk in Chengdu is no different than how the Europeans worshiped China before Europe industrialized.

    It’s one big pendulum. On the flip side of the coin is that China has a voracious appetite to learn from the West and to catch up to her. In my personal opinion, China is guarantee to develop faster for this reason alone.

    The Chinese will modernize their culture, vision, and identity. You can count on Allen, melektaus, jxie, Ray, and scores of others to do that.

    When China is far ahead, the pendulum is likely to swing the other way. This is a human condition.

  24. Zack
    March 9th, 2013 at 01:42 | #24

    indeed; to put it bluntly, the West is currently too arrogant to learn. China, being more aware and more acutely attuned to its own shortcomings, is willing to learn and change and adapt. The West is not.
    And we’ve all seen that before, in the wake of the McCartney embassy.

  25. Rhan
    March 15th, 2013 at 19:18 | #25

    Thanks Ray for the education piece, pretty tie up with msian politics so rarely drop by.

    A short one, take one example, kids all over the place/world know the fairy tale from almost the same sources, did China/Chinese have a role in this part of our kids mind? I doubt it, and i don’t think economy strength can change this, we need something like humanism and sympathetic, and love.

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