With the tremendous growth of China’s economy over the last 30 years, it is expected that its GNP will surpass that of the U.S. in the next 20 years. Great economic strength translates into great influence and growing military power.
Often, observations on cultural differences are based on our own weakness and reflect our inability to connect with that culture. Paying attention to customs and cultural differences can give someone outside that culture a better chance of assimilation or acceptance. Ignoring these can get an unsuspecting person into trouble. Learning a few polite expressions in another person’s language; and showing appreciation for the food and music of another culture can have especially positive effects.
Samuel P. Huntington, a political scientist in Europe believed that the post-cold war era and the age of ideology that has ended, the world would only revert to normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict.
In his thesis, he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future would be along cultural and religious lines. As an extension, he said that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest rank of cultural identity, will become increasingly useful in analyzing the potential for conflict.
In 1993, he wrote an article: It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or economic. The great divisions among mankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
According to reports from the west, their conceptions of religion, race and medicine distorted images of China and its healing traditions. An Anthropologist Linda Barnes in her anthropological approach said the radical misconceptions of the Chinese and their healing traditions arose because of the misunderstanding of the Chinese healing traditions in the West in its widest context.
Several factors contributed. First of all, those who mediated China to the West were educated in the West and firm believers in western religion, civilization and science, and came to China not for academic study but for reasons of religion, trade or politics.
Their observations and evaluations of China and its healing traditions were subservient to these primary goals and conditioned by preconceptions of race, religion, morality and medicine.
Another part of the explanation is that a fair and objective dialogue of equality and mutual esteem between western and Chinese scholars was, for various reasons, all but impossible. Important too were European concepts of progress and modernity, developed since the Enlightenment, which conditioned western observers to see western culture as superior and Chinese culture and its healing traditions as primitive.
In the medieval period, Christian geography had made the Mongols and the Chinese as they were hard to distinguished, associated with both heaven and hell, God and demons. From the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, western observers regarded the Chinese as of our quality and almost as White of Complexion as the People of Europe, taking account especially of the high standard of Chinese civility and manufacturing skills.
However, from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, white Anglo-Saxon people were classified as racially superior to all other human types. It was in this period that the Chinese were described as a distinct race with a particular trait of dishonesty.
As for religion, the Chinese, it was based on the principles of Christianity, ignoring the alternative cosmology which underpins both Chinese religion and medicine. For the Jesuit, God had taken a single form, in the person of Jesus.
In contrast, from the Chinese perspective, if Heaven and Earth are of a single substance, then one can encounter the Way of Heaven, the Dao, in anything from a figurine to the most mundane reality. This cosmological difference produced many misunderstandings.
Geomantic practice (fengshui) was condemned as mere superstition by western observers, who failed to grasp the radically interconnected nature of the Chinese cosmos. Fortune telling, exorcism and the search for the elixir of life were condemned by the Jesuits as inconsistent with the doctrines of Christianity.
Nor was Chinese medical theory better understood in the West. The Jesuits felt that Qi, the psycho-spiritual-material stuff, was incompatible with the dualism of Christianity, which assigned to the body purely material properties, invoking a separate immaterial soul to animate it.
Chinese body theory (zangfu), which is more about function, the transmission and storage of qi activity according to yin-yang analysis and the Five Phases theory than about the physical structure of organs, was commonly seen as merely a primitive, inferior version of western anatomy.
Moxibustion and acupuncture were interpreted as humorally and anatomically based surgical interventions, with no acknowledgement of the Chinese theory surrounding these practices.
The relationship between China and the West for example in the last 10 years, in Acupuncture, expertise and cross-cultural medicine, reveals the distortions and deep misunderstandings within cross-cultural medicine and the reasons behind them, and focuses on how Chinese acupuncture was perceived and practiced in the West from the seventeenth century, with an emphasis on how the interests of social groups impacted on and shaped medicine.
Continuing the investigation in my research of how westerners imagined the Chinese and their healing traditions from the thirteenth century until 1848. Furthermore, the importance of religion for understanding the fundamental differences between the two medical traditions should be an inspiration to all who seek to take seriously the interpretative lenses through which western culture apprehends others.
The widespread Western belief in the universality of the West’s values and political systems is naïve and that continued insistence on democratization and such “universal” norms will only further antagonize other civilizations. The West is reluctant to accept this because it built the international system, wrote its laws, and gave it substance in the form of the United Nations. Huntington identifies a major shift of economic, military, and political power from the West to the other civilizations of the world, most significantly to what he identifies as the two “challenger civilizations”, Sinic and Islam.
The East Asian Sinic civilization is culturally asserting itself and its values relative to the West due to its rapid economic growth. Specifically, some Western countries believe that China’s goals are to reassert itself as the regional hegemony, and that other countries in the region will ‘bandwagon’ with China due to the history of hierarchical command structures implicit in the Confucian Sinic civilization, as opposed to the individualism and pluralism valued in the West.
In other words, regional powers such as the two Koreas and Vietnam will acquiesce to Chinese demands and become more supportive of China rather than attempting to oppose it. Samuel P Huntington in his book Clash of Civilization believes that the rise of China poses one of the most significant problems and the most powerful long-term threat to the West, as Chinese cultural assertion clashes with the American desire for the lack of a regional hegemony in East Asia.
Also it is believed that the Islamic civilization can be a potential ally to China, both having more revisionist goals and sharing common conflicts with other civilizations, especially the West.
The common interest between Chinese and Islamic world are the areas of weapons proliferation, human rights, and democracy that conflict with those of the West, and feels that these are areas in which the two civilizations will cooperate. Russia, Japan, and India we can refer to as ‘swing civilizations’ and may favor either side.
Russia, for example, clashes with the many Muslim ethnic groups on its southern border such as Chechnya but cooperates with Iran in order to avoid further Muslim-Orthodox violence in Southern Russia and in an attempt to continue the flow of oil. The “Sino-Islamic connection” is emerging in which China will cooperate more closely with Iran, Pakistan, and other states to augment its international position.
The emerging understanding between China and the west have seen cultural exchanges in the past years that have helped both parties to understand each other.
In 2001 in Berlin, the stone-carved Buddhist image unearthed in the ruins of the Qingzhou Longxing Temple of Shandong Province and the 600-odd-year-old Kunju opera of Kunshan in Jiangsu Province represent the long-standing tradition of Chinese culture, then modern art exhibition and the opera staged by Guangdong Modern Dance Troupe give expression to the development of Chinese culture in modern time; if the play The General Bids Farewell to His Concubine and the performance given by the Inner Mongolian Chorus are the result of the meticulous work of artists, then the fire performance and shadow play staged by Shaanxi art troupe as well as Shandong Province’s Zibo festive lanterns that decorated the streets under the most magnificent papal bo-trees in Berlin are the personification of folk aesthetic temperament and interest.
During that period, China comprehensively introduced its past and present cultural features to Berlin, to Germany and to Europe as a whole. Chinese culture was once the object admired by Europe. Leaving aside how the great masters of European culture including Voltaire and C.W. Leibniz highly praised Chinese culture, even in today’s Berlin, people still feel the flavor of those years.
In the Charlottenburg palace, a hall was built specially for the collection of Chinese porcelain. In the Prussian Kings Summer Palace-the Potsdam carefree garden, there is a “Chinese pavilion”. Those resplendent and magnificent pillars and sculpture of characters reflect Europe’s imagination of China in the early 18th century, the bronze incense burner of a man’s height made in the first year during the reign of Emperor Shizong of the Qing Dynasty has stood on the lawn of the garden for over 200 years. On the outer wall of the Pilnitz Palace of Dresdner is drawn with a picture of China’s daily life.
According to reports, the marble stone palace in the Potsdam carefree garden, have a bright yellow silk wall cloth that was formally called “Beijing” by Westerners, apparently this is because yellow color was exclusively used by the royal family.
If one takes a careful observation of the influence exerted by outside culture on Prussian culture, then the country which comes first should be France, and that which comes second will possibly be China.
Later, if China’s door were not forced open by European powers, if there were not the “self-importance” psyche of the “imperial court” in China at that time, cultural and material exchanges would have been established on the basis of equality, and it would have been quite possible that there was no need for us to wait till now to introduce the facial make-up of Peking opera and the drinking way of green tea, and Europe wouldn’t need to wait until a decade ago before it could generally bring in China’s tin pans for frying tea.
Due to geographical barriers, the cultures of Europe and China developed respectively under a relatively closed environment over the long years against different backgrounds and of different characteristics, their concept of value and mode of thinking are different and their artistic appreciation is also different, can these two ancient cultural systems engage in exchange, learn from each other’s strong points to offset one’s weaknesses and can they merge?
One Western philosopher once expressed his pessimistic view: “West is West, East is East, West and East will never come together”. The relationship between cultures is one of struggle against each other.
However, according to this writer’s observation and impression, as German President Johanners Rau’s congratulations on China’s cultural festival, “The things we share are much more than what we are aware of in our daily life.”
Take the modern art exhibition and the Guangdong modern dances brought by the cultural festival this time as an example, their methods of presentation were transplanted from the West, but they have become China’s own things.
Gao Chengming, leader of the Guangdong Modern Dance Troupe, told the reporter that modern dance has a history of only a dozen years or so; most of the audiences quickly developed a liking for it. Chinese dancers used the Western method to present the Chinese people’s impression on life, although they used different language, Western audiences could understand it fully and share the same feeling.
The performances given in Berlin drew enthusiastic responses from the audiences. There is no lack of examples showing that pure Chinese cultural things have genuinely entered the daily lives of the Westerners.
A case in point is the “Asia-Pacific Cup” dragon boat race held at the opening ceremony of the Asien-Pazifik-Wochen Berlin 2001. Maybe people from the land of dragon boat race do not know that dragon boat race has become a popular sport activity in the West.
In Berlin alone, the dragon boat club already has a history of 10 years and its sponsor was exactly the leader of the then German tourist group to China.
Today, dragon boat club exists not only in Berlin, but also in Dresdner, Schwerin, and Magdeburg. World dragon boat competitions have been held several times, Germany’s Hamburg, Italy’s Florence, Canada’s Vancouver, Britain’s Nottingham all had once been the venues of dragon boat contests. Today, it is said that dragon boat race is the most welcomed sports games second only to football game. Facts have proved that cultural exchange can go out of the scholar’s study into the world arena.
As a matter of fact, some Chinese once held that Chinese culture is so broad and deep that it is beyond the Westerners to understand it.
As a result, for a long time in the past, Peking operas introduced to the West were no more than acrobatic fighting in Chinese operas, such as “Creating Uproar in the Heavenly Palace” and “A Fork in the Road”, with the result that Westerners misunderstood the Chinese culture as “only so so”.
Later, Chinese cultural departments changed their method, sending their complete operas with singing and acting to the West. To help Western audience to have an appreciation base, they had the lines translated into foreign languages and displayed them in captions.
Before the opera began, a brief introduction to its plot was given to the audience; as a result, while watching the opera “Pipa Xing”, some audiences were moved to tears. During the performance in Berlin, the sponsor observed carefully and found that only two to three parents, who had to bring their children home, left before the performance was over. What does this show? It shows that people’s hearts are linked. Zhao Qizheng, the then minister of the Information Office under the State Council, said that culture is the foundation for countries and nations to understand each other. China and Europe have their respective rich, time-honored cultures, to get a profound and comprehensive understanding of the other side cannot be accomplished at one stroke. Moreover, the West will never remain at the level of Beethoven; neither will China remain forever at the level of Mei Lanfang. A cultural festival of an unprecedented scale is necessary, but what is currently needed is a never-ending trickling, we need not only innumerable theatrical performances, but also more multi-level dialogs and discussions to bridge the two together for better understand, economic gains and political tranquil in the world.