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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 21, Issue 2, 2011

Universalistic Ideas in Philosophy, Multiple Civilizations and Scientific Applications

Krzysztof Gawlikowski
Pages 115-162

A New Period of the Mutual Rapprochement of the Western and Chinese Civilizations
Towards a Common Appreciation of Harmony and Co-operation

Since the 1990’s the rise of China provokes heated debates in the West. Numerous politicians and scholars, who study contemporary political affairs, pose the question, which will be the new role of China in international affairs? Many Western observers presume that China will act as the Western powers did in the past, promoting policy of domination, enslavement and gaining profits at all costs. The Chinese declarations on peace, co-operation, mutual interests, and harmony are often considered empty words, a certain decorum of “real politics”, as it had been often practised in the West. An inquiry into the Chinese political and intellectual traditions, almost unknown in the West, challenges such widespread opinions and fears. Of course, it is an open question to which degree the traditional Chinese concepts will determine contemporary policy, since China had been westernised in enormous degree. Nevertheless, attitude to war, struggle, and competition constitutes one of the principal characteristics of each culture and appears closely related to its structure of values. Such attitudes determine political concepts and systems, foreign relations, norms of social life, etc. The analysis of Western and Chinese civilisations demonstrates that in this respect they represented divergent orientations. In Erich Fromm’s typology of societies, the Chinese culture could be considered non-destructive but aggressive, whereas Western civilisation could be called aggressive and destructive Of course, there were great differences both within Chinese and within Western civilisations. Local/regional cultures belonging to each of them had their own characteristics in respect to struggle, and one could also notice great changes in the course of their histories. In general, at the dawn of these two civilisations, both of them were more or less bellicose, although in the cultures of the Chinese Central Plain “avoiding struggle” traits could be detected quite early. Appreciation of peace and harmony eventually prevailed with the predomination of the Confucian ideology, although Taoism and other schools of thought also condemned struggle and war. On the other hand, in the Mediterranean the bellicose cultures and war-mongering states prevailed. The beginning of this “great divergence” could approximately be dated for the middle of the 1st millennium BC, and the civilisations of East Asia and Europe took the opposite courses in their social and political development. Struggle constituted a fundamental principle in the Western vision of the world-order, and its crucial archetype constituted the eternal struggle of Evil against Good, with the eventual triumph of God, who embodies Good and forces of Light. The Chinese tradition promoted instead the vision of the universe as one giant organism based on the principle of harmony, where Yin complements Yang. Hence both civilisations adopted the dualistic concepts, but one was antagonistic, and the second—complementary. In the 19th century, when Asian nations faced the colonial conquests, many of them tried to protect their independence and modernise themselves. For this end they tried to adopt not only Western armaments and military skills, but also Western bellicose ideology and values. Japan was obviously the champion of such a militarist course, but there were similar tendencies in China as well. Such bellicose ideology reached its apex there during the famous Maoist Cultural Revolution, when class struggle and bellicosity was exalted. The triumph of the Western bellicose approach and rejection of the traditional native heritage marked the century 1860’s–1960’s in China. However, after the unimaginable sufferings of the World War I and II, of Nazism and of communism, the West started to revalidate its traditions condemning war and violence. People started to appreciate peace and co-operation within and among nations. The United Nations and the European Union had been founded for such purposes: to promote peace and co-operation. However, the condemnation of wars did not halt military confrontation of the states, and the West still cultivates political ideologies, which propagate the “proper order” based on competition and struggle. Hence the concepts of multi-party democracy and of free market could serve as hallmarks of the West. In China, since the end of the 1970’s step by step the ancient ideological traditions have been appreciated again and the new concepts of peaceful and harmonious development evolved. At the beginning of the 21st century the Chinese leaders elaborated a new ideology of both harmonious domestic and international order aiming at peaceful development based on co-operation. Of course, there are still vivid the remnants of the previous Western-type approach of the brutal competition and of aggressive foreign policy. Notwithstanding divergent tendencies inside each of these civilisations, in general they both approach each other again, but this time in a common search for peace, cooperation and harmonious development. Their interpretations obviously differ, since in China such concepts are traditional, but rather new in the West, and in various respects both sides have different values and ideals.

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