A guy named Daniel Wang, apparently. Evil, sulkiness, whatever is going on in those inscrutable Chinese minds, Dan has your answers. In what is either some sort of fascinating example of Orientalist targeted marketing or an ironic twist, I found out about Dan’s book The Confucian Mind, through an ad on Foreign Policy’s article What Makes a Muslim Radical? – I’ll get back to them at the end of this.
Anyway, I have found no reviews, press releases, summaries, home pages, bios, academic articles or other material about either this book or its author anywhere except the Xlibris bookstore that sells it, an Amazon page with 2 reviews, and a comment left at Sinosplice (an interesting discussion there, btw). But based on the blurb for the book and quotes from the excerpt offered, I’d say this is book is best used as a doorstop. To wit, from the blurb:
Asian values grown out of that social structure (subservience) diametrically contradict core Western values of freedom and justice, resulting in grossly distorted interpretations of these imported concepts, as the Asian mind struggles to find common ground between East and West… The author takes a bold and honest approach, ignoring cultural taboos, to reveal the inner workings of the Asian mind. The entire history of China and Japan – two different forms of Confucian civilization – is methodically examined and explained in this volume, which goes much farther and deeper than Ruth Benedict in analyzing the Japanese character, and for the first time presents a realistic portrait of the Chinese character. Readers can also find answers to questions like why savings rates are so high in East Asia, why post-war Japan was stable but not Iraq, mentality of the Chinese regime, and in what direction China is moving.
And for no additional cost, he’ll also explain why they stuff seven identical menus in your mailbox and how, by placing two of them inside a steel cage with enough graph paper and dumplings, you can live without using MatLab ever again. Now, from the book itself, after the fold:
By now the child has completed the second step of Confucian training. He acquires many of the characteristics recognizable in Asian adults. These include a largely emotionless face, a body and four limbs that are reluctant to move one way or another for fear of misinterpretation or any negative interpretation by parents and others, a quiet and timorous demeanor around strangers and superiors, and a high degree of sensitivity and concern as to what others in the room or relevant in any situation are thinking.
I knew it! Woody Allen is Asian. That explains the lack of smiling (seriously, how often does Woody smile in his movies?), the awkward body that fears negative interpretation and the high degree of sensitivity and concern for others thoughts – as well as Soon Yi.
In such a relationship there is no such thing as what the child deserves, or a guaranteed set of services for him, such as food, clothing, shelter and safety. He depends on them, yet he can not count on them. It is made abundantly clear to him that all these services are conditional, and that he deserves nothing, instead it is the parent’s mercy that keeps him alive. This presents a problem: how does he approach his parents when he needs help or wants a favor?
Based on fieldwork I’ve conducted in KFC, I’ve determined the go-to strategy is to emit a screeching noise that, while it oftens elicits a spanking from the parental unit, does in fact trigger the release of some neurochemical stimulus that provokes the parent to buy him a chocolate sundae and whatever wretched piece of plastic made by his third cousins in Jiangxi is being foisted upon the middle class that day. For some inexplicable reason, the parent neither kills the child nor gives it to one of the staff for disposal – which, clearly, given that the child is not guaranteed safety in the Confucian mind, is a ready option. Daniel Wang says that a Western child “can talk to his parents openly about what his entitlements are, including allowances, and what his responsibilities are, including housework, as well as what is fair and why. It is generally understood what a child needs is provided unconditionally, as long as parents are able, and what he wants is subject to negotiation and rules, which once agreed upon are binding to all sides”, whereas there is no distinction between a childs needs and wants in the Confucian mind. And the child must resort to an ancient Chinese ritual:
The child can not complain or get angry at mistreatment. He can try but that would only worsen his predicament. For whatever he desires, whether it is food or an expensive toy, he has to beg. “Can I have that please?” (with an ingratiating smile). If that does not work, the kid climbs into his mother’s lap, shaking her gently back and forth, pouting and humming. This is not the same as sulking, which implies animosity. This is one example of a distinct Confucian phenomenon, called amae (æ’’å¨‡).
DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: If the child climbs behind his mother instead of into her lap, shakes her left to right instead of back and forth, or whistles instead of hums, he is instantly dragged to the temple by a thronging mob for he is clearly possessed by a demon spirit or western spiritual pollution which has defiled the ritual prostrations of his groveling. Here, our cameras managed a rare glimpse as a 4 year old is hustled by the herd away from a watering hole known as Dicos and hung from a nearby tree for angering his ancestors by not properly grooming the lice from his elderly grandmothers hair. For further explanation, we spoke to noted Asian Studies professor, Jane Goodall.
On a serious note, I’d point out that the characters here are “sajiao”, not amae, which is a Japanese term which is written as ç”˜ãˆ. Amae, according to wikipedia, involves begging, pleading, acting coquettishly and the psychologist behind it, Takeo Doi, said a child “develops it gradually realises that itself and its mother are independent existences, and comes to feel the mother as something indispensable to itself, it is the craving for close contact thus developed that constitutes, one might say, amae”, and that Amae asserts itself in adulthood with a need to be mollycoddled and a certain dependence on authority figures. I’d even go so far to say as this is precisely what pissed off the 88s recently. I do believe that there is a there there worth writing about.
But I do take issue with the sloppiness Senor Wang writes. He goes from saying the child can’t count on the parent for anything, to the parent giving a “fake rejection” of the child’s pleading on the very next page. The idea that an Asian child doesn’t believe his parents will feed or cloth him if he screws up seems not only far fetched to me, but dehumanizing as well. These cultural psychology approaches are not without merit; I think there really are psychological differences between cultures. But it is when the psychological profile of another culture is made utterly foriegn (“they don’t guarantee the child’s survival needs! What barbarians!”) instead of pointing out that the difference between cultures is one of degrees and not kind (Woody Allen freaks out about other people’s opinions, family thanksgivings in America are sometimes a tour de force of fake ingratiating, lip service to hierarchy and thinly veiled threats) that I feel it crosses a line. The tone shifts from how different human cultures place different emphasis on universal human feelings and ideas, to how “Asian values grown out of that social structure (subservience) diametrically contradict core Western values of freedom and justice”. How they are our complete and alien opposite, while also blanketing over any meaningful distinction between sub-categories (mixing a Japanese term with a Chinese one, for instance).
To bring this back to Muslim radicals, consider a very similar titled book, The Arab Mind. This book, written by the Hungarian Raphael Patai, was considered a must-read by various Iraq War advocates before the war, according to Seymour Hersh. “The Patai book, an academic told me [Hersh], was ‘the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior’.” In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged – ‘one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.’” Hersh mentioned this in light of the Abu Ghraib photos, and other sources report the book got alot of play in the US military in general. Unfortunately, it was full of generalizations – the very title, “The Arab Mind”, doesn’t seem very helpful when you need books more like “The Fallujah Mind”, “The Basra Mind”, “The Guy standing by the Trash Can on Sadoon Street at 2:43 PM Mind”, etc. etc. Similarly, many of the generalizations made about Arabs go for pretty much all human beings. Once a battle begins, Patai says, Arab “psychological mechanisms come into play, making it practically impossible for either side to stop fighting, unless totally and hopelessly defeated, or unless mediation can bring about a settlement of the dispute” – psychological mechanisms that couldn’t possibly be at play when it comes to the US deciding what to do next in light of the meltdown in Iraq, right? No, those are peculiarities of the Arab Mind. Westerners know nothing of maneuvering to avoid shame or humiliation, just as not a single one of us ever begged our parents for something while promising to clean our rooms more often. What a bunch of rot. I look forward to watching Chuck Schumer prattling on while waving a copy of Daniel Wang’s book, because unfortunately I don’t see the predicating of the Iraq War on historical and cultural illiteracy as being the exception – I think, in the 21st century, it is the norm. Awash in a gargatuan sea of information, people will gravitate towards glib answers (“The World is Flat”, “Asians are Emotionless”) to understand the world’s problems. And it will simply make things worse as we half-ass our way into oblivion, led by an army of the sound bitten and their legions of Powerpoint-armed consultants.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.