Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Minds of Confucians?

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 (撒娇).

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 甘え. 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.

The Discussion: 33 Comments

I think Dave pretty much nails the critique of this book. If you’re interested, I have a post about it on The Useless Tree, here:
http://uselesstree.typepad.com/useless_tree/2006/11/here_we_go_agai.html

My only addition question is: why do some people feel the need to create these kinds of overgeneralizations? Why can’t we just accept that China is a big place, with a lot of people, and will have a multifaceted and complex reality about, which cannot be reduced to a simplistic assertion of the “Confucian mind”? Why?

November 29, 2006 @ 11:25 pm | Comment

This is one of the best posts ever to grace this blog. I can’t thank you enough, Dave.

We all want to understand things that seem foreign to us. We are all groping for explanations. Was it any surprise to see the huge upsurge in sales of books about Al Qaeda and the “Muslim mind” after 911? I do think that many such books that seek to explain peoples, like Jasper Becker’s The Chinese, can be of value. But when they’re reduced to simplistic clichees and obvious contradictions, they do us all a great disservice. Generalizations are a quick fix and make us feel good. But in the case of Mr. Wang, those who choose to listen and believe are only fooling themselves.

November 29, 2006 @ 11:36 pm | Comment

“I believe there is a there there worth writing about.”

That’s rich! I believe that the there is always there-er on the other there…but I digress.

Great topic – but what’s it all mean? Do generalities no longer apply in this topsy-turvy world? Does each and every individual need his/her own manual for living? But what about the collective universal subconscious mind? Has it been rendered null & void? Oh bother…

November 30, 2006 @ 12:03 am | Comment

I read an exceprt of the book and it seemed pretty good, as far as generalizations go. However, most of what I read seemed more relevant to Japan and Korea than to China.

November 30, 2006 @ 12:44 am | Comment

@Sam: “My only addition question is: why do some people feel the need to create these kinds of overgeneralizations? Why can’t we just accept that China is a big place, with a lot of people, and will have a multifaceted and complex reality about, which cannot be reduced to a simplistic assertion of the “Confucian mind”? Why?”

That was what I was trying to address at the end of the post. I honestly think it’s pretty human response, to look for big simple answers to complex problems, but I think this is becoming more and more sought after in the face of increasing information overload. With so much information, true or false, coming at people from more and more sources, all-encompassing theories will be more popular.

It’s interesting you mention the China Law Blog “Chinese Mindset” discussion in your post, because I thought of that as well. This post was too long as it is, but I had a whole tangent I kept myself from going on about how these sorts of generalities are often the China consultants bread and butter. There is one consultant blog out there that referred to the China Warcraft gold farming industry and marveled at how a head for business is in “Chinese DNA”. This can simply be a shorthand expression, but I think it’s a careless one that degrades the quality of your opinion – because it’s a slippery slope from that to “The Confucian Mind”, and from a slippery slope from “The Arab Mind” to the rationale for the war in Iraq. Even now conservatives such as Ralph Peters say we have to get really brutal in Iraq because “force is all they’ll understand”. It’s the same generalization being advocated as a policy solution, while simultaneously dismissing the idea that anyone, in the face of a foreign invasion, would probably not give up but become more hardened in the face of such violence.

@Richard: Thanks for the compliment. We can’t avoid generalizations; they’re a necessary starting place to begin burrowing into more details. But generalizations need to be presented as exactly that: a starting place to seek more accurate and useful knowledge. Generalizations should be given in an open-ended way – these are the exceptions, these are the contradictions and questions they present. Just look at the review for Becker’s book from Publishers Weekly quoted at Amazon: “He is after contrast, not continuity, conundrums rather than convenient answers, and he succeeds admirably.” Precisely what a survey ought to do. Becker also uses footnotes and direct experience. The generalizations in the excerpt of “The Confucian Mind” I quote do neither. It is unsupported pseudo-psychology.

@Bob Willes Chitty: “The collective universal subconscious mind”? Do you want a Tim Leary approach to this? All I’ll say is that there are universals. Children begging their parents for stuff is pretty universal. It is not some weird Chinese ritual. There may be nuances to the Chinese version compared to the American, but to generalize about it for Chinese at the cost of generalizing it about children in general is misleading. In general, though, yes, everybody has their own manual. Human beings tend to be holistic in nature; change one tiny detail and you’ve got a wholly different system. Two individuals can be almost identical in their lives, yet one small difference could make them vast different people. And people don’t interact with a “Confucian” or a “Laowai”. They interact with a guy named Zhang San, or Bob Chitty.

November 30, 2006 @ 2:19 am | Comment

Wow! One book that will tell us everything we need to know about the Chinese and the Japanese (and their ENTIRE histories). Amazing. I just don’t understand why it would not also tell us everything we need to know about North and South Korea as well, but okay.

If the book is really as advertised, I would be hesitant even to use it as a door-stop.

For those interested in more on the idea of whether there is even such a thing as a “Chinese Mindset,” I suggest the post on my blog, entitled, “Is There A Chinese Mindset, And So What If There Is.” That post can be found here:
http://www.chinalawblog.com/chinalawblog/2006/11/is_there_such_a.html

November 30, 2006 @ 3:59 am | Comment

This book is most likely self-published, and likewise it’s a fairly small fish to fry. You’ve probably already increased its readership fourfold.

I guess I am sympathetic to the critique of “Orientalism,” and of course this type of “Chinese Mind” armchair theorizing is sort of fundamentally “racist,” but is it wrong to point out that the author has a Chinese surname?

I also think it’s interesting how freudian psychology gets into dangerous rhetorical territory when it crosses western borders.

November 30, 2006 @ 9:54 am | Comment

Xlibris IS a self-published bookseller, and as such, the quality is, to use a polite term, uneven. I have other stuff by other authors, full of typos, simple errors of logic and citation, and similar, that an editor might have caught.

It’s always a problem to decide how far to go with generalizations, and once made, what to do with them.

There’s also a problem with the term “Confucian” which seems to have become a blanket term that is acceptable to use that is a catch-all for all the differences between East and West.

Michael

November 30, 2006 @ 4:14 pm | Comment

@Michael: “There’s also a problem with the term “Confucian” which seems to have become a blanket term that is acceptable to use that is a catch-all for all the differences between East and West.”

Exactly. I happened to stumble across this book and thought it was a good extreme case for flogging that problem, but I don’t think it’s limited to just the one. I think it’s a slippery slope too often for attempts to discuss foreign cultures, Confucian, Muslim, laowai….

November 30, 2006 @ 6:38 pm | Comment

I have mixed thoughts about this.

1. Fully agree that “Confucian” is an essentially contestable concept, equally as contestable as “Christian.” (As an American Catholic I always recoil whenever I hear Fundamentalist Protestants defining “Christian” categorically in their own terms,
when the largest Christian sect in the world considers them technically to be heretics.)

2. As many of you know, the original teachings of Confucius were largely lost and then reconstructed out of broken shards after the purges of the First Emperor, not to mention all of the reinterpretations which followed over the centuries since then.

3. Lumping the Japanese and Chinese together on the grounds of their common Confucian heritage makes even LESS sense than lumping the Germans and the English together as heirs of Christendom. At least the Germans and the English belong to the same language family, but the Chinese and Japanese don’t. And considering how the “racial” and linguistic kindred nations of England and Germany fought the most uncompromising war in Modern European history over their competing ideas of what “civilisation” means, the whole concept of European or Western civilisation is very problematic. (I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, only that it’s problematic, and contestable.)

4. However. Dave, just some food for thought: Might you be willing to consider, that your assumptions about any kind of universal Human Nature, or about how every Human has some kind of individual essence, are very Western assumptions indeed? If so, then wouldn’t projecting those assumptions onto other cultures which don’t share them, be just another kind of cultural imperialism?

(Ivan puts on his asbestos flame-suit, awaiting responses to this deliberate provocation….)

November 30, 2006 @ 7:24 pm | Comment

*clickclick* *clickclick* (Dave raises aerosol can to his Zippo)

Ahem. I’m willing to consider it, Ivan, but on the other hand I have a hard time thinking of children wanting something from their parents, or people using strategies of ingratiation, or seeking emotional security from others as being Western in nature. A particular way of going about it would be Western, but I believe there’s a universal set of basics feelings and desires that give rise to cultural specific expressions and actions. Unless you have some sort of damage to a particular hemisphere of your brain, anger, jealousy, insecurity, love, loneliness – those are all pretty universal. As for individual uniqueness… I think it’s pretty self-evident that everything in the universe is unique in terms of time, place and composition taken together. A counterexample would help.

November 30, 2006 @ 7:47 pm | Comment

Dave,

Well your above reply is a good START toward answering my question.

But I notice, that you emphasised the nature of infants. And personally, I agree with you thus far.
All Human babies ARE essentially the same. (And I adore babies – especially when they’re just beginning to walk – and then I always wonder how such beautiful little creatures so often turn into fucked up adults, in all cultures.)

And that really is a serious question. HOW and WHY do Human babies – who ARE all basically the same (and all equally lovable) when they’re infants – HOW and WHY do they turn into such vastly diverse kinds of adults?

Sure, all babies are the same. And in that sense, yes all Humans do share the same essential nature. But as Humans mature, they develop in very diverse ways, for many complex reasons. Personally I believe free will is the most important factor in how Humans develop.
(But then again, my belief in Free Will is ultimately a Christian belief, at least for me. Not everyone believes in it. Not all “Westerners” believe in free will – and to complicate matters even further, many “Westerners” SAY (or convince themselves) that they believe in free will, when they really don’t.

(Gloss: There is a difference between what people SAY they believe and what they REALLY believe, and then there is another complication:
Sometimes people THINK they believe something, when they really don’t believe in it.
I think the many Westerners (ok, let’s just focus on Americans for example) THINK they believe in free will, but then they also believe in all kinds of determinism, like Darwinism, and economic determinism, and all kinds of confusions. Are Humans just material “things” whose minds are determined by material conditions? Darwinism tends to suggest so, and Marx took that to its ultimate (and disastrous) conclusion. Or, do Humans have some kind of essential free will?
I think so, but if so, then doesn’t that throw a wrench (a “spanner” as the Brits say) into the mechanistic idea of Darwinian evolution?)

(Another gloss: personally I DO believe in evolution, but I think Darwin only understood part of how it worked. Natural selection does happen, but there is more to evolution than that, and no this is NOT the same thing as “intelligent design.”)

And some cultures TEND to believe more or less in free will than others, or to value it more or less than others.
Mind you, I’m talking about TENDENCIES, not categories.)

Anyway. Dave, my next question for you is: Well, sure, we agree that there IS an essential Human Nature which all Humans share. But you have used the nature of INFANTS to demonstrate it. So far, so good.

Next question: Is it POSSIBLE that the essential Human Nature which is shared by all infants, might develop in radically different ways depending upon the environments those infants grow up in?

The funny thing is, that this is exactly what most “Westerners” THINK they believe in. Most “Westerners” (especially Americans, on this issue) THINK they believe that “the environment” conditions how people develop.

AND YET, in the NEXT breath, they will say, “All Humans are basically alike.”

Well, which is it? If all Humans are “basically alike”, then cultural relativism is bullshit.

See what I mean?

Do you want to say, “All Humans are alike, and culture has very little to do with it?” Fine, but then cultural relativism goes out the window.

Or vice versa, if you believe in cultural relativism, then the idea of a common Human nature goes out the window, except in the most basic terms like when you talk about infants.

Dave, Ah’m a jest sayin. Just askin’, because I think too many “Westerners” (and especially Americans) have not thought about this contradiction.

November 30, 2006 @ 8:42 pm | Comment

@Ivan: I guess my short answer is that I don’t believe adults are that different from infants. The only difference is that we pile all this extra interpretation on what are essentially the same motivations and drives for everybody. The motivations and drives are “human nature”, the thing we all share. Culture and personality are aspects of the interpretation as we struggle to deal with that nature. So while interpretations radically depart from one another, at the end the day everyone is trying to interpret the same basic experiences.

The individualism thing comes into this as well. For example, you’re a Catholic. Cool. But if I take some generalities about Catholics and apply them to you, I’m not going to find it terribly informative about you. Why? Because your interpretation of the world, couched in Catholicism, is not going to be the same as the Pope or any other Catholic. In fact, I assert it’s impossible for it to be the same as the Popes. But the experiences you are attempting to interpret through Catholicism will be much more similar. You and the Pope can both experience pain, and pain will not be that different for either of you. I kick you, nerves react, etc. but how you interpret that pain will be vastly different.

November 30, 2006 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

Dave, that’s all very cool. Now, more questions and remarks:

1. You still have not answered my question about the contradiction between the two commonly held American beliefs in “all Humans are essentially alike” versus “cultural relativism.”

As you seem to be taking a hard line on the belief that “Human nature is the same everywhere”, then, doesn’t that mean that you reject cultural relativism?

Or (yes I’m leaving this all as an open question for you), do you have any subtle ways of reconciling cultural relativism with your belief in the essential identity of all Humans?

It SEEMS that your premise is a refutation of any arguments about “cultural relativism”, which in turn would imply that GW Bush and his kind are correct in assuming that Western style “democracy” (sardonic coughing here) can be exported wholesale to non-Western countries.

Or are your thoughts about this more subtle and complex? (Hint, I am guessing so!) Please tell more….

November 30, 2006 @ 9:45 pm | Comment

PS,

Dave, I’m really enjoying this exchange. ;-)

November 30, 2006 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

PPS,

Dave, yes I’m a Catholic but not a typical one. My myriad heresies and violations of the catechism have already condemned be to at least 100,000 years in Purgatory. But, as I’ve done SOME good things in my life, I think I will be allowed to choose my room-mate in Purgatory. I will choose Stalin as my room-mate in Purgatory, because I know he’ll be a good conversationist for thousands of years, and he appreciates good vodka (yes they do have vodka in Purgatory, because ALL Russians go to Purgatory first, because Purgatory is just an extension of Russia)….

….and I like the idea of partying with Stalin in Purgatory while both Stalin and I throw all of our shit and piss down onto Hitler’s head in Hell. ;-)

And Dave, I expect to be one of your neighbours in Purgatory, although I think your roommate will probably be James Joyce, whose writing style yours often resembles. ;-)

November 30, 2006 @ 9:54 pm | Comment

Let me jump in between Dave and Ivan (my trusty fire extinguisher is at hand) with one quick point:
Confucius, too, believed in something like a universal human nature. Anyone, with the proper education and practice, could become civilized. It was open to anyone, even “barbarians” from other cultures who learned how to do the right thing. The implicit, and sometimes not so implicit, universalism of human nature was a central point of debate between Mencius (the optimist who saw human nature as inherently good) and Xunzi (the pessimist, but not really Legalist, who saw human nature as potentially bad). Yet even this difference was not confined to any particular “culture.” To push this point to its logical extreme, which I think is actually in keeping with the Venerable Sage himself, however much it pushes against our modern conceptions of “cultural difference:” Confucius never assumed his philosophy was merely “Chinese;” it was always meant to be universal.

November 30, 2006 @ 9:58 pm | Comment

Sam,

Brilliant. You seem to know more about Confucius than I, but based on what I know, your comment is bang on. REAL “Confucianism” is (or was) essentially Humanist.

But no need for any fire extinguisher between me and Dave. He and I are both enjoying this.
Dave and I are kindred spirit Gaels in diaspora (aka insanely ingenious sons of Ireland) and neither he nor I will ever start any fire unless we spill some whisky near a candle. And even then we’ll both stomp out the fire, because our first thought will be, “SAVE THE WHISKY!”

(Digression/joke about the Irish: An Englishman and an American and an Irishmen were all sharing drinks at a pub in London. And some flies came around, and landed in all of their beers. The American picked up his beer and brought it to the landlord, and the American said:
“DAMN it! There’s a fly in my beer! I demand a new beer, or else I’ll SUE your ass!” And the Englishman quietly picked the fly out of his beer and then continued to drink it. And the Irishman picked the fly up by its wings, and he shook the fly, and he shouted at the fly:

“SPIT IT OUT, Y’ BASTARD!”
:-)

(And now that leads to even MORE questions about “culture”……..)

November 30, 2006 @ 10:15 pm | Comment

I, too, am a son (or more precisely great-grandson or more) of the old sod!

November 30, 2006 @ 10:40 pm | Comment

Had to go get some food. Glad to see Sam has joined us briefly!

@Ivan: Hear hear! Whiskey saves us the trouble of ruling the world. I am refuting cultural relativism in favor of cultural context, I guess. Culture becomes a way of talking about/dealing with the human condition, and over time (both for an individual and a society) it grows more complex and thus takes longer and longer to explain to someone or to suss out about someone else. Culture also has to do with belonging, and that means a certain level of exclusivity – those who belong, and the Other who doesn’t. Relativism in its extreme form seems like the ultimate in clique-y exclusivity; you can’t judge us because you don’t belong to us, and you don’t belong to us so you’ll never understand us. I definitely reject that.

As for the Catholic thing, yes, you’re not the typical one. But who really is? Nobody. I challenge you to find a typical Catholic. Mind you, there’s this book out now where somebody found the “Average American” who meets the statistical mean of “American” a few dozen ways, but I don’t think that’s the same thing…

As for the Joyce comparison, that’s too much. In what possible way does my writing resemble his? I don’t think I’m capturing the essence of early twentieth century Dublin… But if our writing style is so similar, does that mean we’ll be roommates in Hell a la Satre’s No Exit? To drive each other mental?

@Sam: did Confucius believe that one could gain a proper education without ever being exposed to his teachings or those of any other Chinese scholar? In other words, that some barbarian somewhere might pave another path to the same goal?

December 1, 2006 @ 12:42 am | Comment

In a word: no. (Although Sam may have a different answer.)

And I’ll pose another question: what if Wang’s book (and others of its kind, i.e. “The Arab Mind”) isn’t so much about probing the “Confucian mind” or the pathologies of “Asian” culture, as it is (very obliquely, and in a reactionary way) about recovering and reaffirming Western values and traditions that have been more or less disinherited by postmodernity and replaced by cultural relativism?

Hence the reductionist portrayal of the “Asian” psyche as exotic and inherently alien to (I presume) the “Western” psyche. Through defining others we attempt to define ourselves.

December 1, 2006 @ 3:08 am | Comment

ETA: I don’t believe in Purgatory. But I do believe that through self-examination and self-criticism we can achieve some kind of purgation.

(That said, if there is a Purgatory – I wanna be roomies with y’all!)

December 1, 2006 @ 3:15 am | Comment

The stars must be aligned just right or something, because I wrote a post on virtually the same topic yesterday.

December 1, 2006 @ 3:20 am | Comment

@Nausicaa: “Hence the reductionist portrayal of the “Asian” psyche as exotic and inherently alien to (I presume) the “Western” psyche. Through defining others we attempt to define ourselves.”

Preaching to the choir here. I did mention Orientalism in passing at the top of the article, and I’ve been down the subaltern/Othering route plenty of times reading contemporary lit on Xinjiang. There was huge vogue on that approach in the 90s about how Chinese minorities are an exotic mirror for the bland and unmarked Han.

If we’re all gonna be roommates, I’m gonna go make a chore wheel. I ain’t gonna wash Ivan’s dirty shot glasses everyday.

December 1, 2006 @ 3:26 am | Comment

On Dave’s question: I’m not sure… I think nausicaa’s impulse is reasonable: why should we expect Confucius to have an understanding of civilizations outside of his own. He didn’t travel out of “Chinese” and immediately surrounding “barbarian” locations. But….what matters most for Confucius is what you do, how you perform morality and work toward Humanity. So, if someone came to a moral and Humane practice (as he defined it) but did so by drawing on other cultural tradtions, I don’t see why that would be a bad thing. A more concrete example: the resonance of the “do unto others…” ethic and certain Confucian passages suggests that he would likely recognize behavior deriving from some “alien” cutlural context as civilized.

December 1, 2006 @ 4:00 am | Comment

I believe in f—ing Purgatory every time I see t-co’s ghastly icon or his name, here, there, or anywhere, it’s just two steps away from Hell for me.

December 1, 2006 @ 8:50 am | Comment

Amen, Amen, Amen. Dave. Thank God I have finally come across a westerner who has some experience with China, and who’s not a condescending arsehole. Most Englishmen I met in Hong Kong, for instance, tend to be utterly paranoid and uber-insecure, always having at the back of their head strange notions of how these sneaky ch-nks are out there to get ‘em. In which case you’ll have to force ‘em to chug a beer or two, and then they’ll get all merry and start bragging about how they’ve been bedding their Filippina maids and some other Chinese call-girls lately.

All said, if any of you could read Chinese, I strongly recommend the collected works of Tang Jun-I and Mou Tsung-san. Professor Tang, in my humble opinion, has proved conclusively that Confucianism, in its purest form, is merely another school of anti-consequentialist deontological ethics, and as such fundamentally similar to Kantianism, Neo-Kantianism, and the “natural law” theory of Ernst Bloch. At the root of Confucianism is the idea of recognition of the inherent humanity in others, notwithstanding any circumstance (the junzi, according to Confucious, carries himself the same way, regardless of whether he’s dealing with Chinese or “Barbarians.”) It is wherefore fundamentally speaking a system of ethics superior to any of the brute Social Darwinism or Benthamite Utilitarianism that certain westerners profess as creed. For an exposition, see Charles Fried, “Right and Wrong” (Harvard University Press, 1978).

December 1, 2006 @ 3:38 pm | Comment

Sorry everyone, I was caught up in another drink party.

Hmmm, James, is that so?? You’re probably taking things a bit out of historical context.

When we discuss this topic on Confucianism, we have to bear in mind that the concept of “China” was alien to Confucius in his lifetime. I have no doubt that Confucius intended to promote a kind of Universal Human Nature. But it was based on what he knew as the Way of the Former Kings, or to be precise, the political philosophy practised by the ancestors of the Zhou clan. Mind you, the small kingdom of Lu, where Confucius came from, was considered a direct descendant of the Zhou clan. In other words, Confucius didn’t define what was “Chinese”; he only made a distinct between what was “cultured” and what was “barbaric”. There’s no doubt that Confucius believed that the Way of the Zhou clan was culturally superior, even though he also held that other barbarous kingdoms could transform themselves by adopting the “Zhou Way”. As far as this is concerned, Confucius did have some similarities to GW Bush, in that he DID believe that the “Zhou Way” can be exported wholesale to non-Zhou kingdoms.

About Wang’s attempt to generalise Asian culture, I tend to interpret that as symptomatic of the author’s attempt to reaffirm his cultural identity. In his case, Asian values have been portrayed as alien and unfamiliar.

T_co didn’t remind me of the purgatory. He reminds me of hell.

Dave, I’ll get you an industry grade dishwasher. Then you don’t have to complain about washing Ivan’s dirty short glasses.

December 1, 2006 @ 3:47 pm | Comment

@James: “It is wherefore fundamentally speaking a system of ethics superior to any of the brute Social Darwinism or Benthamite Utilitarianism that certain westerners profess as creed.”

Certain Chinese follow such creeds as well. I don’t know much about Tang Junyi – 20th century New Confucianist, that’s all I know. But I’m not sure what you mean by “purest form” or “merely another”.

@Fat Cat: Confucius compared to Shrub? Let’s not slander ol’ Kongzi here, or t_co might actually come back! I’m getting the impression from everybody Confucius never explicitly considered whether others might discover an independent path…

As for Wang reaffirming his cultural identity, unfortunately he chose to do it by chloroforming it, pinning it in a display case and proclaiming that the state of the entire species.

By industry grade dishwasher, you mean like for medical instruments? We may need the strong stuff.

December 1, 2006 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

Fat Cat, I adore you. I’d urge you to set up your own blog, but I don’t want to lose you as a marquee commenter.

December 1, 2006 @ 6:41 pm | Comment

James: good comments. I would push back, however, against characterizing Confucianism as: “merely another school of anti-consequentialist deontological ethics.” A deontologist would urge us to treat all people equally, but Confucius gives us a hiearchy of obligations. The famous Analects passage (13.18) where he says fathers and sons should protect each other even if they have broken the law (i.e. have stolen a sheep) strikes as something with which Kant would disagree. Would Kant lie to protect his son who has broken the law? I think Confucius would. Thus, while I agree that Confucianism is anti-consequentialist, it does not fit easily into a deontological category.

December 1, 2006 @ 9:34 pm | Comment

To Sam-

Ah, but the ideal is not about me having duties towards my father, and privilege (not to serve) against other people’s fathers. It is more like the construction of concentric circles. To be able to carry out our duties towards others, we have to start somewhere, and Confucius apparently uses one’s parents/liege as the starting point.

This is evidenced in Mencius, where Mencius noted how one ought to “treat my old man and someone else’s old man as my old man” (awkward translation, but a cute one, isn’t it?)

To insist on absolutely equal obligation towards everyone alike would be to eradicate the very concept of individuality and free choice. Surely we choose to associate ourselves with people we call friends, and if we are not allowed to treat our friends differently from strangers (e.g. if we are under affirmative duty to provide, say, food and board for strangers throughout their lives), our whole existence will be marked by a lack of personal relationship altogether, and we will no longer be ourselves, but rather computers, subjects with totally dimensionless general concerns.

The problematic of family obligations, of course, lies in the fact that we do not entirely choose who we want to be our parents. As such, special duties towards one’s parents cannot be entirely justified on individualist grounds.

For the reasons stated above, Kant never goes as far as saying that the categorical imperative imposes any affirmative duty. The categorical imperative to him is negative. So thou shalt not lie will be one. But Kant never urges us to “treat all people equally.” So I guess Confucius is less deontological than Kant, alright, but neither is Kant the sort of universalist Sam seems to make him out to be.

To Fat Cat -

I’m not sure about how ethnocentric Confucius the man really was. He used to say stuff like “there are 300 kinds of liyi (rituals), and 3000 weiyi (ceremonials?), where do you want me to start?” The entire construct of Confucianism lies in one word, Jen, which is non-translatable. It is sort of like the Christian notion of charity, except that Jen is much more a disposition than an act, whereas love is an act in itself. (Kierkegaard). Now, if Jen is not universal, I do not know what is. Let us then see how this is put in practice.

When Mencius, for instance, talks about utopia (Da Tong), he was deliberately (and notoriously) vague. He did not lay out any specifications re: legal institutions, property and contractual entitlement allocations, economic institutions, etc. He did talk a little about the kind of title allocation in land used during the Western Zhou period, and considered that to be equitable. But by and large neither him nor Confucius were political theorist or anthropologist. In fact, the Chinese were unaware of their Chinese-ness, until the first wars with the Huns broke out in the early Han period. It was during this time that the ideals of civilization and Chinese-ness were linked. In Chinese, we call it “yi xia zhi fang” (the absolute barrier between the Chinese and the Barbarian).

To Dave:

I could not have agreed with you more. 20th century was a century of total destruction for the spirit of Confucianism. In fact, even men like Tang Junyi were so intimidated by their radical roommates that they dared not attend Confucian lectures while in college.

To everyone:

As for Wang the author, he is another sorry examples of the line self-hating pseudo-intellectuals, starting with the May 4th angry young men. Thanks to them we have sh-t like the Cultural Revolution going on. LOL. The

December 2, 2006 @ 4:54 am | Comment

James, point taken about Kant not being as universalist as I was making him out – heat of the blog and all that… But Confucius was not as deontological as your earlier reference suggested. And your point about concentric circles is right: it is an apt image for Confucian ethics. Perhaps the difference between the two is a matter of degree, not kind: Confucian concentric circles are a bit more restricting than the Kantian variety.

December 2, 2006 @ 8:38 am | Comment

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