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The Relationship between Culture and System

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热度1499票 时间:2010年2月26日 22:13
by Yang Hengjun 翻译来源:http://is.gd/9Tr8V

 

   

Translation of a blog post by Yang Hengjun (楊恒均) entitled “A Look at the Relationship between Culture and System from the Rise of Asia”.


Here is my translation of the blog post:-

“Over a hundred years ago, when Westerners suddenly showed up in the East with their formidable canons and battleships, almost all Asia countries capitulated. Thus technologically incompetent Asia was defeated. Asians began to reflect: Are there some problems with our civilization? Or is something wrong with our culture? How come we could not beat them – their culture not being as deeply rooted as ours, nor their civilization having as long a history as ours?

Although at that time somebody did think of the term ‘system’, at the end of the day ‘system’ was only something considered within the context of culture, or it was a case of people blaming culture for the failure to establish systems. So the net result was the attempt to thoroughly overhaul and transform our culture, and to abandon our thousands of years of civilization.

The outcome of such kind of mentality was quite obvious. In the last century, one thing that pained beyond words the most conscientious of Asian intellectuals was not the loss of their countries to enemies, nor the demise of their countries – it was their feeling of despair about their own countries’ culture and civilization. They began to think that as a people, we were doomed by our own culture and civilization, and yet culture and civilization could not be changed. A rotten country can always be replaced by a new one; but if a culture rots, what can be done? Then things went from bad to worse to the extent that people have begun to fret that even Chinese cuisine is bad – too oily!

Let me not be judgmental at the outset. But it is only natural that once such a general view has emerged, there will come a rebound at some point. As it turned out, in the second half of the last century, there first came the rise of Asia’s four little dragons, then followed by rapid economic growth in other Asian countries. So why was there rapid economic growth? Some people thought that it was due in part to our assimilating Western systems and culture. Others had the exact opposite opinion: that the reason for Asia’s rise was because in part we refused to be influenced by Western culture and systems – that because we insisted on hanging onto our own culture and systems.

In China, these two groups of people have an equal audience. The first group thinks that if China is to keep rising, we must continue to embrace the world’s, especially advanced countries’, cultures and systems. The second group consists of those who say ‘No’ and the ‘Unhappy’ ones – for example, they say that China’s economic growth has something to do with the renaissance of Confucian thinking, and with an incomparable system. They think that the reason why we can fly around the world in Boeings 747 with our pockets full of US dollar bills, and we can have McDonald’s and Kentucky’s even in small towns, is exactly because we oppose the West and refuse to be westernized.

It is hardly surprising to have this kind of debate going on in China. In fact, in Asian countries like Japan and Singapore, such kind of debate has been alive for a long time. But up to now, only Japan has thoroughly learned the true lesson, and that is, to appropriately sever culture and system from each other, instead of groundlessly equating one to the other. Culture is the core, while system is the framework. Different cultures can brew different kinds of systems, but systems that modern civilizations have empirically verified to be workable should be suitable for most cultures.

Some people have repeatedly emphasized this: that Chinese people have a preference for collectivism, they need to unite as a group, it is in their nature to submit to authority, they respect their ancestors, etc. etc. They say this is the culture of the Chinese and Orientals. It is also the key component of our thousands of years of civilization. Yet this component is radically incongruous with a democratic system that is premised on individualism and selfishness. Is that really true?

Your ‘collectivism’ in Japanese people’s eyes can only mean a ‘bucket of loose sands’. Are you really more ‘submissive to authority’, or more ‘respectful to ancestors’, than the Japanese? Yet the Japanese have found their solution. While importing Western systems, they have become one of the Asian countries who have excelled in the preservation of their unique culture and civilization. What can you see from the little Japanese motorcar that European and American countries import so many of? Surely it’s not only the outcome of a competitive democratic system; there’s also the result of sheer hard work and unending quest for excellence that are the essence of an East Asian culture.

In fact, this was not exactly what the Japanese thought after World War II. Some intellectuals did have a painful time reconciling with the Japanese cultural transformation that was taking place. But after being in deeper contact with Americans, they discovered that America did not have much of a culture to boast of, let alone comparing it to the East Asian culture that had thousands of years of history.

At that time, two paths were open to the thinkers: one was that - the reason America is able to become strong and beautiful is exactly because she does not have the antiquated cultural and civilization baggage like we do, thus by extrapolation, it is our culture and civilization that prohibits us from taking on a democratic system. The other path, which was the choice of most Japanese, was the tendency to say ‘Yes, we can!’ – if even uncivilized America can set up a democratic system, why can’t we too? Another place that followed in Japan’s footsteps was of course Taiwan, who has up to now been deeply influenced by Confucian thinking.

Years later, when I was living in America, I began to feel the same way. I discovered that their culture and civilization was not superior to ours. The only difference between them and us is that they have a more advanced system. But this system was not there on day one – its existence was the result of a process of discovery, development and refinement. The United States was established at a time when their landmark culture was a negro slavery culture. But now, it is their system that has let an offspring of a negro become the president.

My understanding is the same as the Japanese. As long as you assimilate a system’s essence, it will only serve to make our own culture and civilization grow and bloom. Can you not see that the Chinese who were awarded Nobel prizes are all more deeply immersed in Chinese culture than you and I? And what enabled them to get the awards was no more than an education system that liberates humanity and an institutional system that respects and promotes the free spirit of science.”


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