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"Impact of West On East Asia",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Evening Star, April 30, 1965,
of a book:
IMPACT OF WEST ON EAST ASIA
Volume 2: East Asia; The Modern Transformation,
by John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer and Albert M. Craig.
New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 19xx

 

"Impact of West On East Asia"

by Carroll Quigley

 

A HISTORY OF EAST ASIAN CIVILIZATION,
Volume 2: East Asia; The Modern Transformation.
By John K. Fairbank, Edwin O. Reischauer and Albert M. Craig.
Houghton Mifflin Co. 955 pages. $14.75.

 

   The first volume of this substantial work was published four years ago, titled EAST ASIA: THE GREAT TRADITION. The two volumes together offer over 1,500 pages of material from the Harvard General Education Course on the Far East. The mark of their origin still rests upon them: an enormous mass of factual information, competently organized and presented by recognized authorities, with frequent use of vivid episodes from the source materials, and occasional new and revealing insights. This second volume, which examines the East Asian responses to the impact of Western society, has three chapters on China three on Japan, two on the other Far Eastern areas, an introduction on the corning of the Europeans, and a conclusion on the Far East in world politics today. Sixty-seven maps, sketches, and tables along with bibliography and index complete the package.

   This is an excellent, if somewhat textbookish, presentation, but as an explanation of what happened when Western culture collided with the cultures of East Asia, it is not fully satisfying. The problem of understanding such a collision, involving whole societies (such as foreign aid, economic or community development, decolonization, and such) cannot be understood in terms of the older academic disciplines however many of them are added together. A new "whole-culture" approach with its own methods of analysis is needed.

   The present volume, in spite of its coverage of political changes, economic and social developments, and some attention to literature and ideology, remains fairly narrowly historical. It is an interesting book to read, straightforwardly chronological, with concrete details and real individuals, but it will not satisfy the reader who seeks explanation rather than narration.

   The chief problem raised in this book is why the Japanese response to the West was so utterly different from that of the Chinese. This question has become of increasing importance, for it now begins to appear that Japan is the only "underdeveloped" country which has been able to pass over into a condition of self sustaining economic expansion similar to that of the West; the continual food production crises in the Soviet Union and Red China show that they have not done this.

   The Fairbank-Reischauer explanation of why the Japanese response to the West was so much more successful than that of China is, as historical narrative, impressive, but it does not answer the question because it does not get to the psycho-social roots of the great differences between Japanese culture and Chinese culture. These roots are complex, but one aspect of them which is not to be found in this book may be indicated. The Japanese language is a highly inflected one which indicates explicitly not only grammatical but social relationships. Thus a statement in Japanese has a different form if addressed to a social inferior, to a social equal, or to a social superior. This language was used in an articulated social system in which all social relationships were equally explicit and rigid. The process of growing up in such a psycholinguistic and social environment could hardly fail to impress on any Japanese child the great significance of relationships and of the need for personal discipline. The Chinese language is one of isolated monosyllables which lack precise function and do not belong to any particular grammatical category, while the language as a whole has a minimum of structure or grammar, with most relationships conveyed simply by the order of the words in the sentence, while the meaning is conveyed in a relatively impressionistic way. This language was used in a society which was itself a great amorphous mass whose relationships were vague and empirical.

   Thus the Chinese ought to survive by pragmatic adaptation to the immediate environment of an amorphous and uncontrollable world, while the Japanese sought to obey the established rules of a structured and knowable world. As a result, the Japanese, despite the rigidity of their social structure and their cognitive system, were able to adapt to the Western impact because their experience helped them to see relationships, such as those between weapon-control and political power or between capital accumulation and economic expansion. The failure of the factors of Chinese personality formation to emphasize relationships, on the other hand, exposed them to such futile fiascos as the Boxer Uprising or the Great Leap Forward. Until material of this kind is incorporated into an acculturational approach to the East Asian responses to the West no fully adequate account of this great and significant subject will be possible.

 

 


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