I raised a big question in one of my classes last week: is modernization Westernization? We had a good discussion. They had read a chapter from Stuart Hall and Bram Gieben's Formations of Modernity, and a chapter from David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity (which is explicated fairly well here).
I like the Harvey book in particular, because it reminds us of how destabilizing and destructive modernization has been in the West. Indeed, the history of the twentieth century, especially the first half of the twentieth century, suggests that the "West" itself was experiencing the same sorts of upheavals as were happening at the same time in Asia. Thus, the "West" itself had not yet gone through the most intense and horrible experiences of its own modernization when imperialism was bringing modernization to Asia. To press the point a bit further: the West was still undergoing "Westernization" (if by that we mean a form of modernization peculiar to the "West") as modernization was taking hold in Asia. If that is true, then "Westernization" is not a process that occurred completely in the West and was then transferred to Asia but, rather, was the Western expression of a common process of modernization that was happening globally. It might then be better to say that modernization in Asia is not really "Westernization" but simply the Asian expressions of the common global process of modernization.
We discussed this possibility. There is a counter-argument, of course. Since Asia was subject to imperialism, the experience of modernization there is inextricably related to a sense of Westernization. Western powers, however much they may have differed and fought among themselves, were united in forcing Asian countries to adopt modernizing practices. In the "West" the agents of modernization - bourgeoisie, certain rulers, some cultural innovators - came from within; in Asia the basic frameworks of modernization were imposed from without.
In both the "West" and Asia, when scapegoats for the instability of modernization were sought out and/or created, they came from both within and without. But in the case of Europe a powerful internal process of victimization - making enemies of the Jews and exterminating them in the Holocaust - stands out as historically distinct. In Asia, while there were internal enemies, the external imperialists bore the brunt of the blame for the depredations of modernization; and that furthers the perception of "Westernization".
Bottom line: modernization in Asia is not Westernization, in that both Asia and the West experienced similar destabilizing and destructive processes at close to the same historical time; but modernization in Asia is Westernization in that, because of imperialism, much of Asia experienced modernization as externally-imposed.
I think about these issues when I ponder the revival of Confucianism in China. Some intellectuals, and perhaps some politicians as well, look to Confucianism to provide an antidote of sorts to modernization: an indigenous philosophical basis for social, political and cultural practices that are fundamentally distinct from modernity. Of course others see Confucianism as simply one element, and perhaps a rather modest element, of a Chinese modernity, still ensconced in the broader trans-historical processes of modernization but with a particular Chinese expression. My sense is that the former desire - for a fundamental alternative to modernity - is largely impossible, because so much of what China is now is so deeply embedded in modernity. Thus, the most that might be expected from a revived Confucianism is something less than what it may have been in pre-modern Chinese times, something that has been compromised with the modern, but still something more than May 4th nationalists or Maoist socialists would have wanted.