Monday, October 7, 2013

493: Chinese Otherness

So far I have pointed at apparent similarities between Chinese and our philosophy and ideas. But what about that Chinese otherness? Do our philosophical concepts apply to Chinese philosophy?

The most familiar associations of the word Chinese in our popular discourse are "puzzling," "confusing".  In Dutch we use to say "This is Chinese to me"  to tell that you don't understand at all what is explained, for instance.

I found an interesting chapter in "From Africa to Zen" by David Hall and Roger Adams (2003) with a fascinating explanation of the otherness of Chinese thinking.

"Late in the evening of june 4, 1989, government tanks rolled into Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the symbolic center of China, to clear the square of protesters.

The news media have provided vivid accounts of events apparently similar to the Tiananmen incident: protesters with placards and loudspeakers 

exhorting liberal reforms and proclaiming certain victory for their cause; soldiers, in helmets and khaki uniforms, firing upon their fellow citizens. 

Were we to look at Tiananmen through Chinese eyes, however, would we really see an event explicable in the terms used to explain student protests in our own country 

or, for that matter, the broader acts of governmental violence in the Middle East, South Africa, or Eastern Europe? Instinctively, we believe that pain and the brutality that causes it are the same around the globe.

But how are we to interpret the incident at Tiananmen as a democratic revolt if in our democracy there is  a prevailing conception of personhood that entails natural rights, free choice, independence, autonomy, and so on, 

while in China such values, far from being self-evident and normative, have traditionally been regarded by even the sagest Chinese as sociopathic?"

The Chinese, then, may look different to us. If you knew how they thought / think about us?! Barbaric, clumsy, tactless and vulgar. Westerners even got the nickname "foreign devil".

A popular saying in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries captured this impression of the intruding foreigner as unmannered and graceless: 

"The sage fears nothing in this world. save for one thing only: the foreign devil attempting to speak Chinese."

It hasn't been always this way. When the jesuit Matteo Ricci (1551 - 1610) came to China, he found there, according to his reports, a humane and eminently civilized people.

Individuals such as Leibniz (1646 -1716) and Voltaire (1694 - 1778) often proclaimed the knowledge and virtues of the Chinese to be superior to those of Europeans.

It was Leibniz himself who discovered the binary structure of the Yi Ching hexagrams. But it was Hegel (1770 - 1831), who came up with an unsympathetic interpretation of Chinese civilization.

At the time of the Industrial revolution, when Europe and America marched under the banner of scientific and industrial progress, the evaluation of Chinese culture was described in terms like inert, backward-looking and dying.

Or  take this: "The Chinese are naturally conservative because their written language is rigid and inflexible, rendering the task of forming new words extremely difficult.  

And the people  who are hampered in forming new words are also hampered in their conception of new ideas and the discovery of new truths." ("Chinese Philosophy" by dr. P. Carus. 1902)

Things like Maoism since 1949 and The Cultural revolution, haven't contributed to a more positive opinion about Chinese civilization.

The religious writer Gerald Heard (1889 - 1971) once characterized the civilizations of Europe, India, and China in terms of a fundamental question presumably asked by the thinkers and seers of each tradition. 

For the European that question was "Where am I?" Curiosity about the nature of the external world led to the development of the natural and social sciences. 

Indians asked the question "Who am I?" and as a consequence discovered subtle techniques of spiritual self-examination and articulation. 

The Chinese asked the question "What am!?" This question was answered in terms of rituals and roles establishing the parameters of one's identity as a social being.

To  be continues….

The Discussion

[13:18] herman Bergson: T….  Thank you... :-)
[13:18] Ada Zaurak: ty, Herman
[13:18] Bejiita Imako:
[13:18] Corronach: :)
[13:18] herman Bergson: Guess your brains are milling all info :-)
[13:19] Bejiita Imako: hmm that was something indeed
[13:19] Bejiita Imako: yes
[13:19] Bejiita Imako:
[13:19] Corronach: Bejiita will start us off. :)
[13:19] herman Bergson: The most important point is....
[13:20] herman Bergson: in 1984 a Chinese student said "We need mere democracy,tho I don't know what it is..."
[13:20] herman Bergson: The thing is....there is no word for democracy in Chinese....not a word that expresses the same concept as how we understand democracy
[13:20] Bejiita Imako: cause they have never experienced anything like that or?
[13:21] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:21] Ada Zaurak: what about Hongkong and Taiwan?
[13:21] herman Bergson: It was never present in their frame of mind Bejiita....
[13:21] Ada Zaurak: and 1984 is 30 years ago, and world and china especially is transforming in highspeed
[13:21] herman Bergson: Hongkong, Taiwan....?
[13:22] herman Bergson: Hongkong is british...well was...
[13:22] Ada Zaurak: yes
[13:22] herman Bergson: Yes Ada...and that is the big problem.....
[13:22] Ada Zaurak: what influences has the history of Hongkong and the 10.000.000 ppl there to the rest of china?
[13:22] herman Bergson: I talked about that in my previous lecture....
[13:23] Ada Zaurak: i'm sorry when i bring old Kamellen into the discussion ,-)
[13:24] herman Bergson: The problem is that the conceptual world of Chinese thinking is largely formed by Confucianism and Daoism....
[13:24] herman Bergson: It means...they look in a different way at reality...
[13:25] herman Bergson: some Chines scholar once said...
[13:25] herman Bergson: the reason why China never developed  biology or zoology is
[13:25] herman Bergson: because...when a Chinese sees a fish he first thinks of how it will taste
[13:26] herman Bergson: he can't look at it in the emotionless way like westerners do
[13:26] herman Bergson: You could say.....
[13:26] herman Bergson: we can make nature an OBJECT of study....emotionless, rational....
[13:27] herman Bergson: A Chinese is first one with nature...from a daoist point of view for instance
[13:28] herman Bergson: Thus Chinese lack a lot of concepts we use and visa versa...
[13:28] herman Bergson: But yet they are integrating at high speed our consumerism into their society...
[13:29] herman Bergson: And that leads to huge begin with
[13:30] herman Bergson: Maybe this is a bit too much for you? :-)
[13:30] Ada Zaurak: corruption in the meaning of political corruption?
[13:31] herman Bergson: corruption in the meaning of making money based on for instance your position
[13:31] Mikki Louise: what are they missing that leads to the corruption? Italy also has much corruption.. Russia too... another society embracing consumerism
[13:31] herman Bergson: Russia has amazed me greatly....
[13:32] herman Bergson: When the communist system collapsed no time there was a well organized maffia
[13:32] herman Bergson: that is one thing....
[13:33] herman Bergson: Basically you can say that corruption doesn't occur when people have strong moral standards....
[13:33] herman Bergson: with respect to honesty, justice, fairness and values like that
[13:34] Roo: good morning all
[13:34] Mikki Louise: but most societies have a group that leans towards corrupt practice as a means to do business .. just as most societies have a form of fried bread
[13:34] herman Bergson: So when a society is corrupt these moral standards seem to be absent
[13:34] herman Bergson: not present
[13:34] Mikki Louise: there are commonalities despite our different teachings
[13:34] Ada Zaurak: but also when there is the absence of poverty
[13:35] Ada Zaurak: as more poverty as more corruption
[13:35] herman Bergson: there are many explanations for the presence of corruption in a society....
[13:36] Ada Zaurak: yes
[13:36] herman Bergson: I don't think there is just one with respect to the causes...
[13:36] herman Bergson: except the fact that people don't seem to value certain moral values
[13:37] herman Bergson: even some primates have a sense of fairness.....sharing equally for instance....
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: so basically Chinese are all egoistic?
[13:37] herman Bergson: morality IS part of our system....but greed is too unfortunately :-)
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: thinking for themselves only
[13:37] Roo: Egocentric is the word you mean
[13:37] herman Bergson: No, you can't say that bejiita....
[13:37] Roo: to write
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: i heard at work that they build whole cities that no one can afford to live in so they just stand empty like ghost towns
[13:38] herman Bergson: but the consumerism which is new to china can make a lot of people weak....
[13:38] herman Bergson: Why can't I have what my neighbor has?
[13:38] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:39] herman Bergson: That is true.....
[13:39] herman Bergson: Just to fake that the economy is growing...
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: thats a real waste i d say
[13:39] Bejiita Imako: build stuff for nothing
[13:39] .: Beertje :.: herman Bergson: Why can't I have what my neighbor has?..sounds childish to me
[13:39] herman Bergson: It will be come an increasing problem for the future Bejiita....
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: indeed, can imagine
[13:40] Mikki Louise: they would call it speculation... eventually the population will grow, the demand will be build now while it is cheap
[13:40] herman Bergson: You mean, Beertje, that you don't want  a car too like your neighbor....? He has the same job as you have for instance
[13:41] .: Beertje :.: i don't need a car like my neighbour has
[13:41] herman Bergson: Big problem it that the population doesn't grow Mikki...they still have the one child policy
[13:42] herman Bergson: No not you Beertje....but many look at others...our children already do so...
[13:42] herman Bergson: they want NIKE shoes too like their friends in class
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: and an iphone
[13:42] .: Beertje :.: lol Bejiita
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: cause all others have too
[13:42] herman Bergson: oh least an iPhone
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: thats how it works these days indeed
[13:43] .: Beertje :.: hmm
[13:43] .: Beertje :.: why?
[13:43] herman Bergson: We are destroying ourselves slowly with our consumerism....China is just beginning to discover this way of life
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: not good if escalating out of control though
[13:44] herman Bergson: It adopts the technological and economical infrastructure...
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: buy- throw away, buy new - throw away ect.
[13:45] herman Bergson: but it lacks the  underlying conceptual structure of western individualism
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: you need those concepts too i guess
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: to make it manageable
[13:46] .: Beertje :.: we are destroying our earth if we and all the Chinese keep thinking like that
[13:46] herman Bergson: This is why Xi Jinping is looking at religions as some kind of incentive for moral behavior
[13:46] Ada Zaurak: hmmm, is anything here in western world manageable?
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: indeed
[13:47] herman Bergson: Yes Beertje...THAT is the present horror scenario....
[13:47] .: Beertje :..: Beertje :. that is why I don't need what my neighbour has..I have enough already
[13:47] Roo: is it fair to criticize all Chinese generically?
[13:47] Ada Zaurak: we see a perverted financial industry in Wall Street and city of London, we see collabsing traffic in big cities, ppl eat shit and get fat ...
[13:48] herman Bergson: no..neither is it fair to criticize all Western economists....
[13:48] Roo: true true
[13:48] herman Bergson: There ARE people who fight against this endless abusing of earthly resources....
[13:48] herman Bergson: in many ways....
[13:48] Roo: indeed
[13:49] herman Bergson: but they are not the majority.....
[13:49] Bejiita Imako: indeed, some go with and some go against, its a balance act sort of
[13:49] herman Bergson: There is no balance there Bekiita..I wish it was....
[13:49] herman Bergson: All economists KNOW that infinite growth is an absurd idea...
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: ah, yes that can never work, says itself
[13:50] herman Bergson: but they are tied up with so many interests..status...position....that they can't just leave their way of thinking behind
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: better get to a good level and hold it there instead of try get more and more all time
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: after a while it will collapse
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: cause there is no more to get
[13:51] .: Beertje :.: what is a good level?
[13:51] herman Bergson: There we go, Beertje....:-))
[13:51] Roo: and who is it that determines just exactly "what is good" ??
[13:51] herman Bergson: and another one :-))
[13:52] herman Bergson: is not just a simple issue here at stake....
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: good question but many companies even they do well shut down factories cause they want to get even more by making it cheaper somewhere else
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: for ex in sweden Adidas shut the JOFA plant making hockey equipment for very long here even they did well
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: cause Adidas wanted growth
[13:53] herman Bergson: Well Bejiita..... one final remark here...bit off topic but something to think about
[13:53] herman Bergson: Lately there was a short article in my newspaper...
[13:53] herman Bergson: The headline said... Philips wants to do its shareholders a favor....
[13:54] herman Bergson: What was Philips planning to do...?
[13:54] herman Bergson: It had planned to buy its own stocks so that there would be less, so got maore value for shareholders...
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: when a company is growing the shareholders often get a lot of share, but of the growth stops they get nothing
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: thats how i see it working
[13:55] herman Bergson: and it would accomplish that goal by kicking out 1500 people and cancel their jobs.
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: to produce it cheaper in another place
[13:55] Ada Zaurak: alhamdillulah
[13:55] herman Bergson: What is the function and role of a company in our society?
[13:56] Bejiita Imako: the Jofa factories work is now all made in china where it cost less = more money to the shareholders
[13:56] herman Bergson: We are far away from China now, but it will have to face this question tooo in its future....
[13:56] herman Bergson: Maybe its conceptual system comes up with better answers than ours....
[13:57] Ada Zaurak: its to simple
[13:57] herman Bergson: May I thank you for your vivid participation again....:-)
[13:57] Ada Zaurak: our systems had more facets
[13:57] herman Bergson: We'll continue our quest next Tuesday :-))
[13:57] Ada Zaurak: there were different ideas about how companies should act
[13:57] Ada Zaurak: ok
[13:58] herman Bergson: Thank you all
[13:58] herman Bergson: Class dismissed
[13:58] .: Beertje :.: maybe they can stop the whole process and prevent all the problems we have
[13:58] Corronach: Thanks herman
[13:58] Ada Zaurak: ty, Herman
[13:58] .: Beertje :.: oops...too late:)
[13:58] Bejiita Imako: what i think was really tragic about JOFA is people been working there all their lives was just showed out without any new job
[13:58] herman Bergson: We'll get to that idea in the next lecture Beertje
[13:58] .: Beertje :.:
[13:59] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes
[13:59] Ada Zaurak: bye folks
[13:59] Mikki Louise: ty herman and classmates
[13:59] Bejiita Imako:
[13:59] Bejiita Imako: cu soon all
[13:59] herman Bergson: Bye Mikki, Bejiita :-)
[14:00] Mikki Louise:

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