16 thoughts on “A Letter To Our Chinese Friends”

  1. I read an essay online a few years back – lost to link rot since, I fear – that argued convincingly (to me) that the influence of early Protestantism on the development of Western democracy is greatly underestimated. The insistence that not only was the Bible the literal word of God, but that it was the responsibility of each person to understand (and thus interpret!) it for himself laid foundations for the later development of public education and constitutional government.

  2. There are times when David P “Spengler” Goldman writes a profoundly insightful essay.

    This isn’t one of those times.

      1. Rand, I am indeed honored that you feel that way.

        This article is purported to be about Chinese culture whereas Mr. Goldman starts it off like a speech by Mr. Obama. About himself.

        It has the cultural insights of Senator Schumer’s questioning of Supreme Court Nominee Kagan regarding her choice of restaurant on Christmas Day.

  3. One Theory was that the great Black Plagues that depopulated Europe during the Renaissance had an effect: If Peasants are valuable then everyone is valuable. In China people were dirt cheap — they have only what worth they can contribute to the ruling classes. And China had enough peasants that losing a city’s worth or so was unimportant.

    1. The Black Death plague recurrences between 1347 and 1870 happened in both East and West, and some were stronger in the East. The expansion of seaborne trade in those 5 centuries did not wipe out the Silk Road, and its transmission of disease. What did happen differently was the *response*, because of different governments.

      In the West, growing national governments had few resources to alleviate the plight of landowners without low-paid peasants to till their farms, because they covered small areas. In China, the imperial system had many more resources to deal with this, maintaining the positions of large landowning families relative to peasant farmers more effectively.

      The results were sustainment of the belief in most of China that the group you belonged to, or could get certified by, in the case of the mandarinate, was more important than anything else. As a result Mandarin culture looks at groups far more often. I remember a net conversation, about 10 years ago, with a man from Singapore, IIRc, who had deep scorn for what he termed America’s religious belief in the freedom of the individual. He regarded that as a species of insanity.

      The final collapse of the imperial government’s chance at reuniting Europe after the original outbreak of the Black Death (540 A.D. called “the Plague of Justinian”) may have had a far greater effect than the 14th-19th century recurrences of Yrsina Pestis. Restricting European imperial government to the Roman Empire of Constantinople, while imperial forms persisted in China till 1911, was what allowed Europe to breath relatively freely in adjusting to the 5 centuries of returns of the Black Death between 1347 and 1870.

      1. I’ve been reading a lot recently about the dark ages in Italy under the guise of reading about the history of early Venice.

        “Justinian’s Plague” was bad, but from what I understand it was just the final stage of the process. They depopulated Italy in the process of supposedly reestablishing imperial authority, and then went back to their usual perpetual civil war, which let/encouraged the Lombards to take over.

    2. Another Black Death-related factor was that the plague didn’t play any favorites – Catholic clergy were as likely to die as anyone else. So many did, in fact, that lay people had to start taking over some priestly duties in many places. Having gotten used to this state of affairs, many were not happy to yield such functions back to Mother Church when the contagion abated. One of the lasting results was the rise of Protestantism in its myriad forms.

  4. The author writes: “No one resents the wealth of a Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos”…

    Where does Mr Goldman live to be able to write such a sentence and when can I move there?

  5. The way people in Western countries think has changed dramatically over just the last century, concepts like “family honor” were strong 100 years ago, today “individuality” is supreme. The same transformation is now taking place in other cultures as they become wealthier, better educated, and more worldly. So I’m skeptical that comparisons between Western and Eastern cultures have much to show us unless they take into account what time period in a societies development is being compared.

    1. I hope that proves to be true. Chinese culture has a long history, as Spengler notes, but for all except the last couple or three decades of said history, Chinese culture was based on a tiny ruling class and a vast proletariat of illiterate peasants. That is, to say the least, no longer true. Well-educated, personally capable people are, I think, going to increasingly resent the ability of latter-day “Emperors” to arbitrarily order the ends of their lives and those of their families for the sorts of reasons that have historically passed muster in China.

    2. So I’m skeptical that comparisons between Western and Eastern cultures have much to show us unless they take into account what time period in a societies development is being compared.

      Why do you think that development over time will lead to a Western type of culture? Would they without Western Civilization as a guide?

      The diversity of human cultures and societal structures shows that there is no one development path and that universal traits exist but don’t necessarily lead in any direction. Take religion for example. It is universal, even with people who think they don’t follow a religion, but it manifests in radically different ways, from the human sacrifice of the Aztecs to the flagellation of AGW proponents to beliefs that reality is a computer simulation and even belief in atheism.

  6. Mr Kipling figured this out 110 years ago.
    The Stranger
    The Stranger within my gate,
    He may be true or kind,
    But he does not talk my talk—
    I cannot feel his mind.
    I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
    But not the soul behind.

    The men of my own stock,
    They may do ill or well,
    But they tell the lies I am wonted to,
    They are used to the lies I tell;
    And we do not need interpreters
    When we go to buy or sell.

    The Stranger within my gates,
    He may be evil or good,
    But I cannot tell what powers control—
    What reasons sway his mood;
    Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
    Shall repossess his blood.

    The men of my own stock,
    Bitter bad they may be,
    But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
    And see the things I see;
    And whatever I think of them and their likes
    They think of the likes of me.

    This was my father’s belief
    And this is also mine:
    Let the corn be all one sheaf—
    And the grapes be all one vine,
    Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge
    By bitter bread and wine.

    1. Yet:

      Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
      Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment seat;
      But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
      When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

      The first two lines express the cynicism that fundamental differences cannot be overcome, but the next two, and the rest of the poem, argue against the cynicism.

      I do not agree with Spengler that characteristics are immutable, and what has prevailed in the past is template for the future. Prosperity begets autonomy. It takes time, but the seed will flower when subjected to that environment.

  7. If Chinese culture did get more individualistic and therefore more in favor of individual liberty, you can bet the collectivists, inside and outside China, would be bemoaning the fact. A few years ago there were articles about how India was becoming more individualistic (thanks, interestingly enough, to the popularity of Ayn Rand), and the article contained a lot of collectivist wailing and gnashing of teeth–music to my ears.

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