Some Asian Views of White Culture
A BIT of Chinese humor concerns a swain who went to market to buy his new wife a present. In one stall he saw some neat little framed mirrors — pictures, he thought.
‘Whose likeness?’ he asked, picking up one.
‘Your noble own,’ said the merchant.
‘Ah,’ thought he, ‘the very thing! Every time my wife looks at it, she will see me.’ So he bought it.
His bride was delighted. She gazed at her treasure by the hour. Never was husband’s gift given a more flattering reception. Not improbably, however, he soon realized a puzzling discrepancy between the smiles turned toward the mirror and the varied moods which greeted the supposed original of its reflection.
With pride, we of the West display the gifts of our civilization — and Asia looks them over with many flattering ah’s and oh’s, and we feel encouraged in our naïve conviction of unquestionable superior worth. We may remain as blissfully unaware as the lout in the Chinese fable that the pleasure apparent while the recipient contemplates our marvels, mechanical and scientific, may be due to newly appreciating, in their connection, the value of the ancient culture. We shall not fail to note, however, that Asia’s interest in our achievements does not carry with it any noticeable attraction to our civilization at large.
We have a right to expect that our attainments will influence Oriental peoples — at least, their educated classes. But we seemingly think that, in view of demonstrations we give, our superiority in everything from least to greatest will presently be admitted by all but the ignorant, and we shall become the model and pattern of endeavor. To the modern Occident it is hard to comprehend that there are other ideals than its own — that if the attitude of alien races is not mainly composed of admiration, the true explanation is not sottish obstinacy and impotent envy.
Youth and age are inclined each to be sure in its own wisdom. Asia’s confidence in her culture is matched only by our self-conceit. But philosophical old age can be far more tolerant than strenuously living youth. Therefore it is that, while Asia thinks her culture is the better for herself, we think ours the better for ourselves and her. Salvation for Asia, to our way of looking at it, lies in her conformity to our way of thinking and doing, and we set out with zeal upon a crusade to save her. What Asia thinks of our type of salvation, we do not stop to consider. Her lack of desire for our services we interpret as evidence of her depravity. She has sunk so low that she appreciates not her own need. We will rescue her, perforce.
Mayhap we are right. If so, it is because of pure accident, and not because we have reasoned out our action from a study of comparative cultures. Our belief that Asia needs our civilization is just as unreasoned as the belief of the German imperialists that the world needed them to rule it, and springs largely from the same mentality. Actually, while we have achieved, a great many of our aims are such as other races would not care to set for themselves. Their reasons are often worth thoughtful attention.
Our ancestors in the days of Marco Polo looked respectfully toward the settled culture of the Far East. Concern with problems of philosophy and religion was then honored, both east and west, as the highest occupation of the intellect, although personal eminence and glory came very often to the warrior. The Orient in that age, as it vied with the West, — not only in these attainments, but also in material well-being, — might even with a little pardonable conceit claim superiority. Since then, centuries of western geographical and scientific advance have intervned. We have become cocksure. Galloping ‘progress’ has robbed age of its prestige as we have left the ways of our fathers. Looking back now from our position of eminence in positive sciences and arts, constructive and destructive, we complacently offer to show the way to those we have outdistanced. If the offer is not enthusiastically accepted, we are put out, even disgusted.
We seem to ourselves to have been the only ones who have made progress. It seems to Asia that we have forgotten the aim of progress. The East has not been willing to forget the preeminence we all were once agreed on giving to certain considerations called spiritual. Vaguely, we feel that we have kept them still in mind, although sometimes at a loss to analyze our views or justify our actions. But to the outsider, a cacophony of material accomplishments, undirected and unharmonized, bursting fitfully from a barbarous theme of world-lust, is the prevailing motif in the music of our culture. And the Oriental takes leave to raise the question of whether we have made any progress at all in directions that really count, that tell permanently for higher living. Of course they are wrong in this — we are civilized. Look at us — all the things we have and make and do!
‘Yes, the things you do,’ say they, ‘and by them we are compelled to doubt if you have really reached civilization as yet. We are consistent. We have a time-tested wisdom, we know what to call good — but do you? You do many things which no civilized people can continue to do — why? We have built a culture that endures. What have you, take you all together, got in mind to build — anything at all? If so, are you sure that it is anything really possible, or just a dream?’
If civilization is, as Confucius described it, the sum of intricacies whereby every man’s personal dignity is preserved and respected, they are not to be blamed for their questionings. It is anything but a civilized side of our nature that has been prominent in our contact with Eastern peoples. We admit the Chinese sage’s definition to be attractive, whether complete or not. But by what definition of civilization could we justify our attitude toward his countrymen, and other peoples of the Orient? Whatever may be said of our conduct among ourselves,— and they would render trenchant judgments as to that, — we cannot claim that our conduct toward them was civilized. Insisting on the excellence of our social customs and religion, and their need to understand and practise them, we make little effort, as a rule, to understand theirs. We have shown little respect for their persons, customs, and possessions. We have insisted that we do all the teaching and they do all the learning. We maintain the sanctity of our rights, property, and claims at the point of the bayonet, but we act as unrestrained communists in our desire to exploit their wealth and resources. We are aggrieved and angry if they wish to keep anything they are not at the moment using.
Since we have sent this cultural crusade against Asia,—and not Asia against us, — Asiatics have been given more opportunity to form opinions of our civilization than we of theirs. These are not usually made public; for the Asiatic does not feel so great an urge as we to express his mental reactions. Besides, he is restrained by courtesy, and often by self-respect, from comment upon features of our contact. Of course, only a few Orientals have made a reasoned comparison of themselves and us. During eight years’ contact I have collected little patches of opinion from household servant, ricksha man, clerk, merchant, official, proselyte, and everyone who has had to deal with the foreigner. Fitted together, these form the mosaic picture that I briefly outline here.
If my houseboy could be persuaded to tell what is ‘wrong’ with the westerner, he would say, buh gwei — ‘not squared up.’ Vaguely he feels that the white man is unbalanced. His more educated kinsman analyzes this feeling and judges that the westerner is overactive for activity’s sake, that he possesses excess of power which he utilizes for power’s sake. This appears to him childish, and he would like to excuse us on the ground of youthfulness. But we have the power of prodigies along with the restraining minds of children. Our moral faculty has failed to keep pace with our development in the mechanical. And this, he feels, is very dangerous, both for our civilization and for his.
Since we came to the Asiatics with material superiority, they demanded from us a corresponding intellectual and spiritual superiority. That may be unreasonable; but let us not forget that we affirmed ourselves equal to the implied obligation. Events since 1914 have somewhat shaken our self-confidence. They have utterly shaken Asia’s respect for us.
Nowhere is this reaction more evident than in the field of Christian evangelism. From a willingness to follow our lead in everything, they have changed to an unwillingness to allow us to be the interpreters of our own religion. Friendly Chinese have formerly accepted the various sectarian forms of Christianity taught them, as the metaphysics, as it were, of our cultural philosophy of ‘ Go-getter-ism ‘ and ‘ Make - all - the - world - as - thyself - ism. ‘ Our culture was taught by Christian missionaries, but unconsciously, and in an effort to make their message more attractive. Some Chinese, hitherto friendly or indifferent, have, under influence of the reaction, developed an actively hostile attitude toward Christianity. Many others, with deeper insight, have divorced our culture from our Christ. They have discovered that Christianity is more Asian than European in spirit — a spirit which we have largely missed.
‘As far as I can discern,’ said a graduate of St. John’s University in Shanghai to me, ‘your “Christian society” has hardly more claim to descent from Christ than our superstitious Taoism has to connection with the virtuous Lao-tse whom it claims as its sage. I judge that in both cases an existing school of thought and action, an existing culture, attached itself, without any anxiety for consistency, to the most venerable name it knew. Your culture has been propagandizing us in the name of Christ. I see nothing in the Sermon on the Mount which implies nationalism, patriotism, an army and navy, quantity-production, stock markets, Ford cars, and all the other things which have been coming over here as concomitants of Christianization.’
Christian missionaries tend to be too ‘occidentalist,’ if there is such a word. Their religion is so imbued with national culture that it carries a strong flavor which is distasteful to the Orient. It is evident that Christian propaganda in Asia will soon have to divorce itself as thoroughly from ‘culturization’ as it has already been compelled to do from political alliance. Missionaries once believed that they should favor the ‘Christian ‘ subjugator of heathen lands. They still operate on the theory that Western cultural conquest is encouragement to Christianization and an integral part of their crusade. As native eyes see it, the whole hope of Christianity in the Orient is in the groups which stand out against foreign culturization, maintaining that the age-enriched ground of their own culture is ample to nourish the mustard seed of Christianity, with no need of importing soil from abroad. These Chinese leaders, in such gatherings as the Pan-Christian Conference at Shanghai and the World-StudentVolunteer Convention at Peking, the real import of which is little understood by church people in America, are making it clear that they are not interested in dogmas which seem to them a result of crossbreeding, or the peculiar application of Christian teaching in Latin-Teutonic civilization. Nor do they care to dwell on higher-critical refutations of views to which they were never committed. As to sectarian lines, they have expressed themselves as ‘agreed to differ, but resolved to love.’ The ‘sticklerism’ which is an overdevelopment of the Western conscience appears childish to them, just as their tolerance and freedom religiously appear careless and slipshod to us, whose ancestors burned rather than recant, and fought wars over a theological syllable.
The Chinese have been long accustomed to religious propaganda, and view it, when properly conducted, with a tolerance which has hardly been known in the West. Buddhism, Mazdaism, Judaism, Manichæism, Mohammedanism, Nestorian Christianity, half a dozen orders of Catholicism, and finally forty-odd varieties of Protestantism and the sundry schools of Higher Criticism had, or are having in turn, the unhampered privilege of propagating their doctrines. The typical modern Chinese hardly understand why one should inconvenience himself — or, in particular, others—much on account of creed. So the intolerance of Western propagandists for one another and for the native religions stands in disagreeable contrast to the attitude of their three cults, Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist, which serve the people with as little rivalry as florists and confectioners catering to the same feast.
Under the reign of the great Manchu, Kang-hsi, Jesuits and Dominicans fought so bitterly that he had to separate them to preserve peace. A century later, in Japan, the intrigues of Spanish fathers to bring the country under the king of Spain, even as they had the Philippines, brought the Japanese people to a passionate awakening as to evil concomitants of some altruistic professions. At the close of still another century, patriotic Chinese were aroused to note that Western governments were enforcing privileges that had been granted to missionaries, as precedent for a commercial penetration of the country, which they feared would result in its complete economic and political enslavement.
From our point of view, speaking theoretically rather than historically, our crusade against Asia has been fourfold: political, commercial, religious, and educational. Some of us would sponsor one, and some another, condemning the rest. But Orientals never clearly distinguished these aspects, which so often blended together, one being used as instrument of another. Contradictions of Christian love and religio-sociai intolerance, of national interrelationships and patriotic vendettas, of greedy competition and magnificent philanthropy, are, to them, all parts of one inconsistent and aggressive culture which bases general claims of superiority upon fait accompli arguments of material prosperity and militant success.
Is it any wonder that Asiatics, and particularly Chinese, who are attracted at all to the doctrines of Christ, desire to isolate these from the contradictory mass in which they come to them? Early Christianity was swallowed up in China by Mohammedanism, coming in contemporaneously, because Christianity as taught was contradictive, and Islam, in its militancy, was consistent. Islam, it is worthy of note, was toned down by the Chinese temper, and is found in China to-day in a very mild and sociable form.
Perhaps the Chinese lack a proper appreciation of religious realities; yet there are many who feel that China needs the Christian doctrine of the essential friendliness of the Universe, of the fatherly concern of God for man, of the mutual responsibility of man for his fellows’ welfare, to supplement the more passive Confucian doctrine of personal dignity and mutual respect, and to offset the prevailing Chinese vices of oversophistication and suspicion. If they can give us a practical example of tolerant Christianity, they may yet become religious teachers of the West. It would seem that the fundamental teaching of Christianity has at least as much prospect of acclimating itself in the culture of modern China as in the society of Imperial Rome, where it adapted itself to polygamy, slavery, and many other things at which we should hold up our hands in horror, and which only the assistance of economic and other factors finally brought under the Church ban. There is considerable difference of opinion among us as to what Christianity is. From its reduction to primal terms in new Asiatic environments, we may be able to get a better definition. It may become plain that many western institutions which we feel are bound up with it are entirely unessential.
Asia is disillusioned as to the ethics and spirituality of our civilization. Her people have been confirmed in their early impressions, gained from the filibusterers and opium merchants who first visited their shores. By them and their successors we were judged, just as we have judged China by the laborers and laundrymen who have come to us. They are aware that we appraise them by their belligerent ability, — that a Benny Leonard weighs heavier with us than an Isaiah, — which appears to them as a barbaric standard. To the pacifist East, our militant pride is our shame. Where checked by force, or fear of complications, from making ourselves their political masters, we have preached democratic reform — it seems to them not so much from humanitarian motives as in the hope that a change in government would make their wealth more accessible.
Having had experience of our ability at appropriating what we once get our hands on, is it any wonder that they respond with a sophisticated smile when our consortiums of capital propose to develop their resources for them alone — and a profit?
Orientals are still willing to admit our material superiority. But they are questioning whether material prosperity be not an illusion held out for the ruin of mankind. With the undying conservatism of their culture, they ask whether, since the temptation to misuse our inventions seems too great to overcome, mankind would not be better without them. Even Japan, which almost apostatized to the West, is undergoing a reaction, particularly among her cultural leaders, to the true Asiatic point of view.
‘I should be willing to admit the value of improved communications.’ said one of the Chinese delegates to the Versailles Conference to me, ‘if men were ready to be brought closer together. But what is the profit in bringing nations, continents, and races together merely to fight? The increase in problems which confronted the Peace Conference over those of any previous like body was fundamentally due to the hasty bringing together by modern invention of formerly separated peoples.
‘We have just participated in a European war which under former conditions would never have concerned us, and from which we got only sorrow . Up to a few decades ago, our people, fearing complications, followed a policy of isolation. That policy you broke down by force. We began to be overcome, as you, by the fascination of mechanical and geographical achievement, and against our inner convictions accepted your assurances that only good could come from it all. The events of the past few years compel us to reconsider. We are being led to believe that, the fears of our hearts were well grounded. You of the West, however, still rush forward in the flush of achievement, giving little thought to the problems you are creating.’
This man was trying to express, from the standpoint of the historical experience of his people, what some of us in the West have begun to suspect: that the fundamental reason for the hostile state of the world to-day, in spite of the work of science in making the pursuits of peace more attractive and profitable and the pursuit of war proportionately more dreadful and unprofitable, is that the improvement in physical communication has outrun advance in intellectual and spiritual communication — even in our own Euro-American, or Christian, civilization. Science has brought men physically close together, and they discover themselves mentally as far apart as in the days of Abraham. They snarl and strike at one another. Apparently we need to slow down in our mad enthusiasm for mechanics, until we can catch up in world-sympathy.
Another phase of the same question begets the Oriental feeling that man’s account with science balances on the debit side — the consideration that the returns from science apply so often — not only to destruction of life and property, but to things which merely gratify and do not edify. I encountered this opinion recently in two very interesting men, one a young Japanese poet of accomplishment who has lived several years in New York, the other a Chinese associated with me in newspaper work in Peking.
The Japanese represents a reaction from the unbalanced haste of fellow countrymen like Baron Shibusawa, who said that the most beautiful scene he could conceive would be a landscape filled with a background of belching chimneys. He has spent the last, few years in researches into Old Chinese philosophy and poetry, which are to his people what the learning of the Greeks is to us. I called his attention to a statement by ‘America’s highest-paid editorial writer,’that ‘China is a land which contains nothing worth seeing.’
‘That,’ he said with some heat, ‘is subsidized ignorance expressing itself. Yet many Americans will believe it because of the salary the writer gets. Speaking of salaries, I think not only this writer but all of you in the West are getting more than you are worth. I mean that you are taking more from the earth than you bring to it of fundamental value. Science has increased your income, so to speak, and you receive it and call for more, little considering what good you are doing for yourselves and your fellows in your increased standard of living.
‘If I should suddenly increase my porter’s wages tenfold, he would be a poorer gateman, an unhappier person, and a less worthy human being. You are becoming a spoiled people. Science has bequeathed you riches and, like rich heirs, you don’t improve them. You merely quarrel and fight, with more extravagance and destructiveness than before.’
I felt that a good deal might be said on the other side, but I refrained.
My Chinese friend was more coolly critical. We were together looking over a recently arrived copy of a Pacific Coast paper, for ‘stories’ worth translating for the Chinese press. I stopped over a bit of press-agent stuff about what the motion-picture is doing for civilization.
‘Would this interest your clientele?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ he replied, ‘many of them are interested in motion-pictures as a passing toy. But I am afraid that the idea of the cinema doing anything in particular for the advance of civilization would appear rather absurd to them.’
We dropped the paper and began a serious discussion. I can give merely the gist of it here. Mr. Sung punctured my Western vanity with his shots at some of the outstanding products of our mechanics and science. I learned that his people are not greatly impressed with the science of photography, when its supreme product is motion-pictures, which usually seem to them childish or banal, and often offend their sense of decency.
I spoke of the modern newspaper. While his people were content to print with blocks — I reminded him — we developed the double-octuple press and the great modern daily.
‘It is fine,’ he replied, ‘to be able to turn out in such bulk, if only there is material worth turning out. Perhaps all that is of permanent benefit to mankind in the enormous output of printed material could still be published with blocks and hand presses. The printed page in China used to be revered — nothing insignificant was committed to print. Now multiple presses have invaded our country, and the people have lost respect for what they read. Have your mechanical inventions put the world so far ahead, after all, in the art of living together — in the more abundant life? You boast of force, quantity, process — what is the product ? ‘
Mr. Sung doubted whether a nation on wheels would be any happier than a nation afoot or mule back. He was convinced that the faster men travel, the less they see. Airplanes had been used for destruction more than for welfare, since they were brought to his country, and he opined that the same was true elsewhere. He saw great opportunities for art in the effects of electricity; but were we not teaching men to scorn their beauty by applying them to gaudy commercial advertising? In sum, Sung felt, although he could not express it quite so clearly, that our mechanical monstrosities need further taming for the service of mankind before they may expect to arouse the unequivocal admiration of the Oriental peoples.
In following up this theme with other Chinese friends, I learned that there exists, further, a feeling of apprehension among them that in so rapidly helping ourselves to the unrenewable wealth of the earth, we may be setting up a standard of living that we cannot maintain — spending above our assured resources, as it were.
Orientals have demonstrated that the fertility of the soil may be renewed year after year for millenniums. In spite of years of dearth, which they regard as necessary checks to population, they feel that they have a stable support for society in the products of the earth’s surface. Many are loath to turn their culture into what may be a blind alley. Western authorities themselves assert that, in a period short compared with recorded history in China, such necessities of our modern life as coal, iron, and petroleum will become scarce beyond practicability for use.
We plunge on gayly, assuring ourselves, when we think about it, that we shall forever be able to utilize new resources of energy when the present are gone; and we may be right — no end to our journey upward. But the problem seems worth considering in advance; and Orientals who have arranged a culture to move in routine cycles indefinitely can afford to do it. There was a time when they regarded us as creatures of immense wealth, with power to renew our riches at will. They have learned our limitations. After the experience of contributing to help save starving white men, the naive assumption of our prosperity is giving way to critical appraisal. If the revolving sphere of their culture is to leave its orbit, a question they would like answered First is whether thenceforth it will go on from good to better without limit, and if not, can a safe and sane stability be resumed when desired.
The impetuous Occident cannot pause for such questions. Perhaps when we have ‘eaten our cake,’ they will still have theirs. Will they share it with others? If so, future generations of both sides of the world will be thankful that we were not allowed in our present bonfire-mood to get at their earth-resources. If not, Western rapacity will have reason to be greater than now, but its relative power may be less.
In the social, educational, and political field Asiatic thinkers feel that we have something to offer, although they discount our enthusiasm, which sees each reform as starting the millennium. The view of our disturbed condition confirms their caution. Accounts that they get from large-type headings on our dailies are little more in our favor than their actual contact with the ungentle profiteers whom we send to their shores. The murder, divorce, and crimes of rapacity, prevailing among us to a horrifying extent, are in great contrast to the peaceable tenor of life in their communities — for, despite all we hear of their lawlessness, the percentage of violent crime among them is much lower. We may look at their brigandage, governmental disorder, and official extortion with repugnance, but they have something of the same feeling at reading of the Ku-Kluxism, gang robberies, hired gunmen, laborunion battles, and other manifestations of intolerance and attempts outside the law to enforce conformity, which obtain among us. Who looks at his own faults? ‘At least,’ say they, ‘the Western world is no better than ours.’ Truly, one would search long in the West to find large numbers of people who would starve to death rather than rob another’s fields, as did many in West China during the recent famine.
Orientals note with some approval our heavy public expenditure for universal education, but are not convinced that we get. a proportionate return in philosophical enlightenment and the beautification of life.
In our feminist movement they are keenly interested, yet they view it from the standpoint of people who have looked out for centuries at backward matriarchal tribes on their frontiers, where women are the heads of society. Reading of the increase of divorce in the West, they wonder if there is wisdom in abandonment of their system of marriage by careful parental arrangement instead of free choice. And considering the problem of the single woman in Europe since the war, it appears that there may still be something to be said for their own system of responsible concubinage, by which no women are left necessarily deprived of family backing. Because of Western influence, they are beginning to have the ‘new woman’ to deal with, and — at least from the ordinary masculine point of view — this is not an unmixed blessing.
It is in politics that our contrast with Asia is most evident to us. We preach the virtue of patriotism (except where our interests are liable to injury if it is practised), and feel that in this, with some exceptions, Asiatics suffer greatly by comparison with us. With practice added to precept, we have at least convinced them that they ought to organize nationally to stand out against us. But the more they watch, the less they believe in our nationalistic system. The feeling grows that their loosely knit society will live to see the ‘strong’ nations of the West pass into oblivion and the people into extinction.
Used to their merely opportunistic scraps, the Chinese, for instance, are puzzled at our national vendettas, our placing above regard for culture a fealty to national entities or administrative forms. They are amazed at our willingness to sacrifice our civilization itself for some vague thing called ‘national pride.’ Their own pride is racial, not national, and their fealty is primarily to their culture. In their eyes the European peninsula, excepting possibly Russia, is quite as much a unit in geography and culture as their own divergent provinces, of about the same population and extent. They read of Europe’s wars much as we read of the petty-state feuds which destroyed the glory of ancient Greece.
If nationalism means the dividing of the same culture into hostile camps, to fight, they would rather have less nationalism. If patriotism is to mean that all the population is going to join the squabbles between the officials of various localities, they would rather have less patriotism. And if to have a strong government means that the State has unlimited right to consume its people in deciding futile questions, like, for instance, ‘Shall Paris or Berlin have the right to tax the industry of a certain territory to make it pay for munitions and official salaries?’ they prefer not to have a strong government. Soldiering is a necessary evil to them, but not one for any self-respecting person to participate in. China’s culture here stands supreme in following to its logical end the instinct of Asia.
‘The three essentials of a State,’ said Confucius, ‘are the confidence of the populace, sufficient food-supplies [material abundance], and military equipment. If you must dispense with one of the three, dispense with military equipment; if with two, dispense also with food — for all men must sometime die; but when you no longer have the confidence of the populace, the State ceases to exist.’
True, we may laugh at such doctrine to-day, but the saying might well have come from our Christ, had He applied His teaching to affairs of state, as did Confucius; and, after a century more of devouring one another, should our civilization survive, we may recognize it as the true mark of culture, and all our present opposing guides of human action as costly fetishes of a repudiated savagery.
However reasoned and sincere may be this varied criticism, it is certain that the Oriental, and the Chinese in particular, is far from overwhelmed with desire to discard his own institutions and civilization for a wholesale adoption of ours. A culture which appears to him to contain the seeds of its own destruction is from his long historical view an experiment to watch with interest, while reserving decision to act.
Still, we point to our present activities and urgently call the rest of the world to join. Lake children coasting downhill to a frozen pond in early spring, we are all exhilarated with our fun, and commiserate the senile obduracy of the old gentleman who stands at the top and questions whether the ice is really thick enough, and whether we had better come indoors pretty soon. Indeed, to continue the figure, we are more than eager to drag him onto our sled and take him for a ride.
Had Asia felt the urge to propagandize us, as we have propagandized her, the East and West might, understand one another better than they do to-day. There would not, at least, be the feeling which arises from a common assumption among us that we have everything to teach, they everything to learn. And some unfamiliar doctrines from Confucius’s teaching might greatly help us, to whom his name does not mean authority.
The doctrine of mutual respect, with Oriental courtesy as its extreme outward expression, is at the basis of the unusually placid relations bet ween Chinese artisan and apprentice, master and servant. The employee is treated with a deference for his dignity as a human being unknown in the West. That is the reason that Western employers have so much difficulty with servants or employees in the East. While the Chinese carry the idea of mutual respect to an extreme of aloofness and unconcern in one another’s difficulties, unless there is some connecting link of blood or patronage relation, we tend to go to the other extreme in our doctrine of mutual concern, making ourselves advisers in all our neighbors’ businesses. The doctrine of ‘service,’ gone to seed, threatens to make America, for instance, a nation of self-constituted censors. Yet, since the responsibility for breaking down the barriers between the peoples of the world is upon us of the West, it would seem to be our duty to find the spirit wherein we can approach and be approached in friendship. The Confucian doctrine is suggestive.
Possibly we feel ourselves to be in the position of children who have outgrown their elders. Rut the elders are not accommodating us by dying off and leaving us the field. They persist in apparently undiminished vitality and increasing numbers. The conservative, old-fogy East and the flapper West must dwell together in the household of Earth, and in quarters robbed more and more of privacy by bettered communication — unless, indeed, one should exterminate the other. If the situation is annoying to us, we should remember that it is more difficult for the other side. In an intellectual—and consequently a military — peace between Asia and Euro-America lies the hope of the enrichment of both cultures and their ultimate amalgamation into one mature world-civilization. The eclectic spirit cannot operate where there is scorn or strife. Only a very important change of trend in our culture can assure this peace. If we are to win Asia’s confidence, we must combine a greater spirituality with our material advance.
What my Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Hindu friends have said applies more to Europe than America. America has a unique place in the minds of Orientals, although they feel it almost impossible for us to struggle out of the evil heritage bequeathed by our cultural ancestry. Some of them, like Rabindranath Tagore, who unfortunately visited us when the frenzy of intolerance was upon us, have already included us with the damned. But to America Asia still looks for the humanization and spiritualization of material production and organized strength, and a conscious, coördinated application of these to the fellowshipping of men and the feeding of their souls. If America fails, as has Europe, to get the contradictions out of her culture, Asia will never come into sympathy with the West, even though she fall into our own faults.
It would pay us of America to pause in our achievement, to attend to this matter. We can meet the situation only by a new national philosophy. That of the ‘go-getter’ will never suffice. We need a philosophy which will civil-ize our inventions and political institutions according to the original flavor of the word — make them fit for people living together in peace and civility. For our increased command of natural power, when turned to destructive or unprofitable uses, makes us the real barbarians, the real pagans, the real Huns. To the East, whence once came what our forefathers called ‘the scourge of God,’ we appear, in our inability to control and benevolently apply our power, as the scourge of mankind.