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« Chen Guangcheng: It ain't over 'til it's over | Main | Reply to Eric X. Li: Cultures are not Incommensurable and the CCP is not Confucuian »

May 15, 2012


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All this talk of imposing or importing outside values on China but there is little talk I hear of importing Chinese values to the west. I believe that the west needs more of Chinese values, especially Confucian values, than China needs western values.

I wonder if that asymmetry has a bit of cultural chauvinism and racism behind it. With the west's constant invasion, occupation, oppression, and rampant human rights abuses of their own citizens and other people around the world, perhaps it's time to look within and ask ourselves what we need to change and whether other peoples may supply the corrective for those moral shortcomings.

Just to be clear, I don't mean to accuse you specifically of that asymmetry, just that it's far more common to hear that one-sidedness in the western press and among the public. I'm sure the west has plenty to learn from Chinese culture. But why so little discourse about learning from China? What we always hear is China needs to learn about this and that (human rights, democracy, capitalism, western culture, western science, philosophy, etc, etc).

probably because China is "relearning" those values after 60 years of having them stamped into the mud, while concurrently entertaining ideas of becoming (almost) anyone ...

so imo we have little to learn from contemporary Chinese society, in terms of values, and much more to gain from allowing Chinese to settle into this new world, in which old Chinese universalism (ie the gentleman) meets the modern world, and then reaping the benefits of that fusion.

That doesn't really follow. The question isn't why is there an asymmetry when it comes to contemporary Chinese society though that question itself cannot be glibly dismissed. The question is why the asymmetry when it comes to western values (or culture) vis a vis Chinese values (or culture).

I also believe that the west has something to learn from contemporary Chinese society much as contemporary Chinese society has something to learn from contemporary western societies. But I was asking a much broader question in the first post.

Big question. I just tried to write something but it got too long and involved. Let me just put this out there:

If Confucianism is to become more attractive to Western societies it has to be conceived of as a set of universal values. If it is not universalized, it will remain parochial. And, further, I think that process of universalization requires certain conceptual compromises with liberalism, which I see as an ideology powerfully reinforced by broader economic and social processes of globalized modernity.

I know this puts some of the Hidden Harmonies guys in an uncomfortable position, to the extent that some of you argue against the notion of "universal values." But if there are no universal values, then there is little chance for Confucianism to gain traction in the West.

I have written, in a somewhat different vein, about how Confucianism is unlikely to serve as a soft power resource for the PRC. It is a rather longish, academicy paper, but you can find it here:

Thank for the response Sam,

I think Confucian values are already universal. In fact, I have debated with many of the other posters at HH on this very issue.

Furthermore, I don't even understand much of this "universalism" talk of many people at HH and also of Eric Li. It seems fundamentally confused talk to me.

It shouldn't be such a big thing to make Confucianism universal because I believe that it already makes universal claims. Just one notable example among many in the Analects, when Confucius talks about a junzi living among barbarians and the barbarians becoming more like the junzi instead of the junzi becoming more like a barbarian.

But my concern is not with Confucianism per se. It's with an attitude that many in the west have which is why I believe that there is such an asymmetry. Many Chinese are fully aware that they do not know everything and that they have things to learn from people around the world. But i do not see that same attitude in westerners and especially Americans. They are far more likely to be complacent in their own worldview. This is manifest in discourse where I hear much more often talk of why Chinese should adopt this and that and believe this and that but I hear almost no talk of why we should adopt this and that in the west from China's culture and society.

The west is by no means perfect. In fact, if we look at the last forty years, we see profoundly devastating events from constant foreign wars and internal human rights violations to socio-economic woes.

One may make a good case that China's culture and society offer insights not available in the discourse which may help to solve or ameliorate these problems.

One should seek to learn constantly. I think restriction to western or Chinese culture is a needless dichotomy. The point is we should incorporate what is useful and avoid what is not, regardless of the source.

That is what one should do for oneself, both on an individual and societal level. On the other hand, it is entirely consistent with western culture to speak up and make unsolicited suggestions, as with the relationship with china; meanwhile, it is contrary to Chinese culture to offer unsolicited opinions. So there should be no surprise that the US tells china what she can do to rectify shortcomings, whereas china does little of this in return. That being said, as with the recent dueling human rights reports, china is starting to speak up about other peoples' business. The irony is that she becomes more "western" in doing so.

Skc seems to make some very overly broad and down right silly remarks about western and Chinese culture. The Chinese do not see expressing opinions as going contrary. In fact, in my experience, the Chinese are the most opinionated people on earth. Skc seems to be relying on simplistic orientalist stereotypes rather than well thought out and supported claims.

The reason that there is far more US propaganda directed at China than the Chinese propaganda directed at the US is not that the Chinese don't like to speak out or that it goes "contrary" to Chinese culture.

The explanation is far simpler. There is far more media development in the west than in China. The media in the west has far more experience and far more resources (billions of dollars more in fact) to do their job than Chinese media does.

And this does not even touch on the major issue being discussed and that is whether these criticisms from either side are legit and sincere and whether there should be more symmetric listening as well as the giving of criticisms.

I can't see how one can say that any one race is the "most opinionated on earth". It is a pointless, unsubstantiated, and in fact unprovable superlative. And we're speaking not of merely having an opinion, but expressing it. And we're also not speaking of expressing an opinion to peers, but across cultures. But if melektaus wants to provide support for his claims, I'd happily read it. Suffice it to say that my experience differs from his. Granted, I don't live in China; perhaps he does, so perhaps his experience reflects a more contemporary understanding.

Now, I was referring to the exchange of ideas or cultural mores. Not sure how that evolved to "propaganda". But in that arena, Chinese media being underfunded or ineffective is at best a historical perspective. The PRC has all manner of mouthpieces both at home and abroad, and even on US soil these days. What the Chinese media does (well, some of them at least) that the US can't even count on from its media is pious parroting of the message, such as with the Chinese report on US human rights to which I earlier alluded, which was dutifully reproduced in China Daily. If China wanted to further project her propaganda to the US, she could. The question is whether it would "take" or not. But if we're talking about "propaganda" and not merely culture per se, I don't think the rejecting of propaganda necessarily reflects undue close-mindedness.

One can control what one can control. You can ask for "symmetric" listening, but all you can do for certain is not only to listen but to hear. You can ask for "symmetric" criticism, but all you can do is to ensure the criticism you offer is fair and constructive. Do those things enough, and hopefully both sides will see the benefit of reciprocating for each other. However, my use of "symmetry" does not refer to the volume of traffic in either direction. To insist on a symmetry of traffic assumes that both sides have an identical number of issues of similar gravity deserving of criticism. That may not necessarily be the case.

You've seem to have committed the burden of proof fallacy. The burden is on YOU to prove what you said

"On the other hand, it is entirely consistent with western culture to speak up and make unsolicited suggestions, as with the relationship with china; meanwhile, it is contrary to Chinese culture to offer unsolicited opinions."

Yet you offer no proof for it. It is only your own experiences while my experiences does not support it. In fact, my experiences suggest the opposite that the Chinese are the most opinionated people I have ever met. "Opinionated" usually conveys the meaning of *voiced* opinions, not just of holding them "inside."

And yes, I have lived in China. For 7 years. And I am an ethnic Chinese with many ethnic Chinese friends. So your experience which is all that is used to support you claims, is not any more well founded than mine. In fact, it is far less so because I have far more experience with talking to Chinese people.

Just as I haven't met the burden of proof for what I said, it seems neither have you. What I said reflects my experiences while what you said reflects yours. It's "not any more well-founded" than yours, nor is it less. It's anecdotal on both sides.

I'm also ethnic Chinese, and also have ethnic Chinese friends. And though it was a while ago, I lived in HK for more than 7 years. So if both of us are basing our claims on our experiences alone, I guess our experiences have simply been different.

The burden of proof is not on me. All I have to do is respond in like manner to your speculative and I would think biased view with my own. the difference is that I actually have extensive experience with real Chinese people.

Alrighty then. Like I said, you have no proof and I have no proof, so we can both happily continue on our merry way. I'll have my "biased view", and you can have yours. That's fine by me.

Considering that I am Chinese and you're Chinese, and I have Chinese friends just as you have Chinese friends, I'm curious as to how and where you perceive this "difference". Just sayin'.

This isn't about who has proof per se but who has the better evidence and who has fulfilled basic obligations of discourse. the burden was on you but since you gave no evidence other than a silly reply based on limited anecdotal evidence, I gave mine which is based on far more experience of actual Chinese people (not ones from a British colony or from the west).

So it's equally clear which side of the scale judicious judgment ought to fall based on this exchange.

Please refrain here from making assertions about "real" or "actual" Chinese people. I find such categorizations problematic, exclusionary, and politically biased. The view of this blog is that "Chinese-ness" is more than any particular political grouping in the PRC. People in Hong Kong can be Chinese (though not all people there so identify); people in Taiwan can be Chinese (again, not all people there so identify); People in the US can be Chinese (obviously proportionately few people here so identify); Liu Xiaobo is Chinese; Chen Guangcheng is Chinese. Chiang Kai-shek was Chinese; the Qianlong emperor was Chinese; Zheng He was Chinese. It's a big, complex, marvelous universe.....

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