Codevilla responds: The issue is Western civilization vs. the Confucian sub-stratum in China

Codevilla responds: The issue is Western civilization vs. the Confucian sub-stratum in China

August 3, 2015 7:27 AM (UTC+8)


Norman Bailey writes that universal ideas have come only from the West, and Sisci agrees: “China now resembles more the “west” than its past, …Women do not wear qipao (which incidentally was manchu) …However the way Chinese think of themselves, their present and their future, is still taken from their imperial histories”

I would go further on all three points.
1) The very notion that nature exists apart from convention is peculiarly, exclusively, Western. There is lots of profound thought in China, but no philosophy, nor any notion of common humanity.

2) China’s history in the 20th century was that of a struggle between two Western ideas, albeit dimly grasped: Sun Yat Sen proclaimed himself a Christian, and a Methodist at that, while Mao and Chou called themselves Marxists. (Any resemblance between Mao’s writing and Marxism is incidental.) Most important, traditional Chinese thought played no explicit part in the deliberations of China’s most influential people. Old China is dead.

3) Except that it is not dead, and cannot be dead in the “habits of the heart,” and of the minds, of over a billion people. This, however vast, is a substratum of culture that cannot but shrink so long as it is not animated from above. From what I understand, the simplification the Chinese language has put its civilization’s great texts out of reach most educated Chinese, for – in part- the sake of allowing them access to cyberspace.

Therefore, how Chinese think – among the most important of questions – is answerable not in term of the crude Western concept of Soft Power but rather in terms of the continuing cultural struggle of Western civilization played out in the context of a quiescent but nevertheless pervasive Confucian sub-stratum. This explains, in part the curiosity about and the appetite for Christianity.