On Westernization and de-Westernization
The tendency of many Asians to think, dress and behave like Westerners, to Westernize in an effort to gain the respect of the West, was very revolutionary.
For instance, in the years after World War I, when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, he followed the model of a Western modern republic. Atatürk even banned the fez, the traditional Turkish hat. If someone was seen wearing a fez in the public, he was subject to severe punishment.
Perhaps most famously, he secularized Turkey. These reforms induced a radical change in Turkish Muslim society and its structures. Atatürk believed Turkey’s interests would best be served by embracing the West, a process that is gradually being reversed today.
In China a similarly radical change happened, when Mao Zedong adopted the Western ideology of communism, fighting against Chiang Kai-shek, who had a non-communist vision for China. Mao radically changed the socioeconomic structures of China. Through the years of the Cultural Revolution, starting in 1966, Mao erased all old structures and traditions in effort to create a new China from scratch under communist rule.
During these years, millions of people representing these scriptures, structures and traditions were denounced and some even executed, and the credibility of the old scriptures and philosophers was seemingly destroyed. But in recent years, Confucianism has reasserted itself as the ethical backbone of the business world, and the Chinese government has established hundreds of Confucius Institutes worldwide.
In this regard, I want to address the ancient wisdom of the 3,000-year-old I Ching (Book of Changes) and the foundation of Chinese traditions, the oldest of the holy books that Chinese philosophers referred to, including the most influential, Confucius, who wrote the most important commentaries in the I Ching. Therein one situation, expressed by a hexagram (64 hexagrams altogether, of which each hexagram, or archetype, is consisting of six lines, representing six levels in society) is always changing into the next one, based on observing the ever-changing nature.
In the I Ching the central figure of the junzi, “The Noble One,” “The Ideal Man,” is always following the wisdom of nature. The whole I Ching is written for him, in terms of how the junzi has to behave in different situations, oriented on the exchange of Earth and Heaven, Yin and Yang, and the flow of nature.
The ideal of the junzi as “The Noble One” is deeply rooted in Chinese history and traditions and can be seen as the sublime beneficial reason, why the intellectual leaders of the Chinese Communist Party accepted the Western communist concept of the “New Man” as a result of a communist society. In short, one can say that the “New Man” reminded the Chinese Communist intellectuals of the junzi as teleological luminous figure, but gave them an alternative to it at the same time.
So cultures come from age-old and traditional theocracies, mainly embedded in aristocratic societies and hierarchy, where the king or emperor, as the highest position representing God on Earth, enjoys the adoration of the people within this clan and tribal thinking. These structures of adoration have been undertaking a radical change, especially in the 20th century, and when it comes to China through communism, the function of the emperor has been transferred to the chairman of the Communist Party.
A recurrence of China’s own roots and traditions can be observed, and in parts it is not in the interest of the West to have emancipated counterparts in Asia, who follow their own (religious) traditions, which are often not in line with Western ideals of separation of powers, secularization, and freedom of speech, for instance.
Not only in China, but also in other parts of Asia, such as the Middle East – in particular the theocracy of Iran or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – and also in aforementioned Turkey, one can observe this emancipation of these peoples from Western influence and therefore a de-Westernization process.
According to that, these countries undergo a recollection of their own traditions and values, wherefore the Western influence on these regions and along with that the control of these regions by the West fade out in the course of this de-Westernization, fueled by the US-led invasion of Iraq with a series of inexcusable human-rights violations and the desecration of and disrespectful behavior by the US and British military against the religious traditions of this region.
For a long time the West acted as the dominant power and beacon of light on the world stage, but in recent years through this cultural recollection processes things started to change and a shift to the East has emerged, not least for economic and demographic reasons.
It remains to be seen what this de-Westernization process we are in means for the relatively new “human rights” declaration of the United Nations (1948), as secularized Christian values, and what are the consequences for those parts of the world that are focused on the individualized and secularized Western way, where comparatively individuals enjoy more freedoms and therefore more room for self-expression and creativity, which is not in line with Eastern traditions.
So there is an increasing conflict potential between the Westernized layers within Asian countries, educated in Western values, and the majority educated and socialized traditionally, since the latter seemingly gain more and more momentum, as the concept of globalization, which used to connect the Westernized factions around the globe, lost its shining light on the world and has to share the economic predominance with China, as the leading advocates for globalization fail more and more to persuade people to see globalization not as project of Westernized business elites, benefiting the few and sacrificing the many on the altar of a failed distribution policy leading into a distribution battle, which has just begun.