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Born and raised in Maryland, USA, and attended the University of Maryland, but now living in Pennsylvania, RTByrum is an author and publisher of 9 books but does not make a living at it. His places traveled include Britain and China. His past marriage was to a Chinese woman for 3 years. He since claims to have found the secret to happiness and hopes to share that happiness with someone special, and through his blogs, perhaps also with you.
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The Pursuit of Power and Cultural Bias, Part 2

By RWByrum
403 Views | 11 Comments | 8/3/2018 1:51:48 PM

            For five centuries, China was the most powerful nation on Earth and poised to dominate the world.  Why didn't it?  Professor McNeill saw the answer in Chinese culture in general and Confucianism in particular.  Chinese iron production began to drop in the 13th century.  The same foundries that had been producing 30,000 tons of iron a year in the 11th century were barely producing 8,000 tons per year by 1260 and had ceased production altogether by 1736.  The Ming Dynasty forbade private merchants to engage in foreign trade in 1371, a ban that was not lifted until 1567 and by then the initiative had already been lost to the Portuguese.  In 1433, the Chinese navy stopped sailing into the Indian Ocean and in 1436 the Ming Dynasty issued a decree forbidding the construction of sea-going vessels.

            Professor McNeill saw Confucian attitudes towards merchants and the accumulation of wealth as the source of these policies.  Capitalism inevitably led to the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few.  Industrialization increased this tendency still further.  As the accumulation of wealth was inherently socially disruptive, capitalism and industrialization were inherently harmful to social harmony.  Since Chinese culture valued social harmony above everything else, it was only natural for the Chinese government to sacrifice the keys of power for the sake of social harmony.

            Professor McNeill tried hard to avoid cultural bias in his analysis of Chinese history, he even mentioned the tendency of Westerners to see lost opportunities in the governmental policies that caused China to lose its advantages over the rest of the world and thereby abdicate political power to the Europeans, but I do not believe that he entirely succeeded.  He failed to recognize the fundamental relationship between history and culture and I believe that his failure to do so was based, ironically enough, on cultural bias.  History is not the product of culture, rather culture is the product of history.  Chinese culture developed fundamentally differently than European culture precisely because Chinese history took a fundamentally different path than European history.

            Chinese civilization spans 35 centuries.  Notice I said 'civilization' not 'culture' and I am using the term as understood by modern historians.  The word 'civilization' is derived from the Latin word 'civis' meaning 'city'.  This reflects the ancient belief that civilization was characterized by living in cities.  However, the modern historian does not define civilization in that way.  For the historian, civilization is defined by a single cultural element.  Those cultures that possess that element are deemed to be civilized while those that do not, are not deemed to be civilized.  That one cultural element is written language.  Thus, modern historians, at least the ones outside of China, date the advent of Chinese civilization to the beginning of the Shang Dynasty in 1500 B.C.  That is because the oldest examples of written Chinese date from that period.

            Chinese tradition claims that a Xia Dynasty ruled China before the advent of the Shang Dynasty.  If this tradition is correct then Chinese history would date to approximately 2000 B.C.  However, there has so far been no archaeological evidence discovered to support the existence of the Xia Dynasty and until that evidence is found the Xia Dynasty will be regarded as nothing more than a legend by many historians.  However, it must be remembered that legends that win such wide acceptance were rarely created out of whole cloth.  Scholars once regarded both Mycenae and Troy as nothing more than figments of Homer's imagination until Heinrich Schliemann uncovered the ruins of both of those cities.  But then again, Schliemann was no scholar.  Had he been a scholar, he would have no more searched the mountains of Greece for Mycenae than an archaeologist would search the hills of Cornwall for Camelot.

            The point I am making is that out of the 35 centuries of Chinese history China was united as a single polity for at least 13 of those centuries, even by the most conservative estimates.  I am speaking here of de facto unity, not merely de jure unity.  While 13 out of 35 centuries might not seem to be particularly impressive remember that most of those 13 centuries were in the later part of Chinese history.  And in particular, China enjoyed a period of uninterrupted unity that spanned from 1279 all to way to 1911, not under the same dynasty, obviously, and not always under Chinese rule but it was a united empire during that entire period.  What this means is that China has a long tradition of unity that has been regarded as the norm for China and that periods of disunity, such as the Warring States Period, was a distant memory.

            Contrast this with the 28 centuries of European civilization.  One might be tempted to claim that European civilization is as old as Chinese civilization by citing the example of Mycenae whose advent was roughly contemporaneous to the emergence of the Shang Dynasty in China.  However, it must be remembered that China has been continuously civilized while Europe has not.  When the Mycenaean civilization disappeared around 1120 B.C. the art of writing disappeared along with it.   Thus, the light of civilization was extinguished in Europe and not to be reignited until 320 years later when the Greeks learned to write again by adapting the Phoenician alphabet to their own language around 800 B.C.

            All of European civilization was united in a single polity only for 3 centuries out of those 28.  That was during the Roman Empire between the time that Augustus declared universal peace at the beginning of the 1st century and the final division of the empire into east and west in the middle of the 4th century.  Much of European history can be understood as vain attempts to re-establish that unity.  Thus, European history is the mirror image of Chinese history.  China has a long tradition of unity with disunity being a distant memory.   Europe has a tradition of disunity with unity being a distant memory.

            Furthermore, the centuries of European disunity were characterized by great power conflicts in which some of these great powers aspired to bring all of Europe under their own hegemony while others sought to maintain their independent existence in the face of the imperialistic ambitions of their neighbors.  It was this intense and unrelenting rivalry that caused the kings of Western Europe to undertake the pursuit of power and trade social harmony for that power.  It was the existential threat posed by their powerful neighbors that caused the populations of Western Europe to acquiesce in that sacrifice and thereby, enable it.

            Ming China made the opposite choice precisely because they faced the opposite situation.  They were a unified empire with no existential threats on their borders.  Thus, there was no reason for the Ming emperors to sacrifice social harmony for power and there was no reason for the Chinese people to tolerate such a trade-off.

            Westerners viewing the situation through the prism of cultural bias might be tempted to think that the Ming emperors made the wrong choice at the beginning of the 16th century.  However, we know that China did not feel any negative impacts from that decision until the middle of the 19th century and China ultimately survived its brush with European imperialism.  What we do not know is what would have happened if the Ming had made the European choice and sacrificed social harmony for military power.  Would China have survived that decision?

            What is interesting is that by the end of the 19th century China was faced with the same situation that Europe has faced for most of its history.  It faced the existential threat posed by powerful neighbors with imperialistic ambitions on its territory.  By then it was bound on the north and west by the Russian Empire on the east by the Japanese Empire and on the south by the British and French Empires.  China responded to this threat in exactly the same way as the Europeans, by seeking military power by embracing the very same processes that empowered the Europeans, though in a different order:  industrialization, capitalism, and mercantilism.  Over the last 120 years or so China's history has taken a different path.  Their culture will also inevitably take a different path as well.

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2018-08-03 13:51:35 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

I usually post a comment with each blog based on something in that blog that has sparked thoughts in me about the general topic of the blog or at least one or more specific topics that arose within the blog. But that hasn't happened in this case.

Although I found the information contained in this blog fascinating, in this case, unlike other blogs of yours, no thoughts arose that wold expand upon what you have written. Instead only questions arose in my mind, but by far the question screaming out for an answer relates directly to the last line of the blog:  "Their culture will also inevitably take a different path as well."

And the question is "What different path will Chinese culture follow?" Describe how Chinese culture will differ in the future from how it has been in the past. And if you can speculate further and more specificly, how will the difference express itself in relationships between Chinese women and Western men?

#2018-08-03 15:21:44 by melcyan @melcyan

@RWByrum

 

Great blog Roger. Your historical snapshot summarises why China is so different from the West. The future of China will be very interesting but before we can even hope to understand the future we need to understand the past.

 

@all CLM women

 

My partner is 63 years old. She says filial piety is on the decline. She believes that her generation is the last one to be fully committed to filial piety. She says the one-child policy has made the decline in filial piety inevitable. What do other Chinese women say?

#2018-08-04 00:13:36 by RWByrum @RWByrum

Chinese history has been taking the path of European history since the Opium War.  Thus, Chinese culture will develope along European lines.  The cultural differences will blur and eventually fade away altogether.  How much this will effect relationships between Western men and Chinese women depends on the socio-economic status of the women involved.  You will find that women from the major cities will be more westernized than women from rural villages.  Also, women from economically or politically influential families will be more westernized than women from more humble origins.  Women who were educated in the West will be more westernized than women educated in China.  But in time, this trend towards westernization will permeate down the social hierarchy and penetrate to even the most remote villages.  My ex-wife was much closer to a westerner in her attitudes and behavior than to a traditional Chinese woman.

#2018-08-04 16:07:54 by melcyan @melcyan

There would be many women here with considerable knowledge of Chinese history. It would be great to hear your opinions. Do China and the West have the same concept of growth and progress?  There is a saying in the West "History repeats" but the West does not have the same belief in cycles as China does. The Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times" is not seen the same way in the West.

 

When I tell my politically aware sons that China is not expansionist they laugh at me and tell me I am China brainwashed.  "Middle Kingdom" is real. World conquest has never been on the Chinese agenda.

 

 

#2018-08-04 21:01:39 by paulfox1 @paulfox1


@RWByrum

You said - Chinese history has been taking the path of European history since the Opium War.  Thus, Chinese culture will develope along European lines.

 

Are you SERIOUS ?

 

I have never heard such twisted BS in my life. You have obviously never spent any amount of time living in China !

 

What a crock of shit !

#2018-08-05 22:32:56 by melcyan @melcyan

@paulfox1


 

"Are you SERIOUS?     I have never heard such twisted BS in my life"

"What a crock of shit !"


 

Paul, these are words that I could have easily directed to you in response to your conspiracy theory talk. Some words are ok to think but not appropriate to say. I disagreed with Roger’s last comment but I expressed my disagreement in a very different way to you. I hope my response to his last comment was constructive.


 

Roger's blog may have created an opening for some very interesting responses from women on CLM. Your comment may have put a stop to that. Those thinking about making a comment may decide that it is wiser to stay silent.

#2018-08-05 23:33:19 by RWByrum @RWByrum


@paulfox1

I'm completely serious.

I spent a week in China.  What I saw was everybody wearing western style clothing.  What I saw was frenetic construction but what were they building?  The same skyscrapers that they have been building in America for the last 75 years.  Downtown Chengdu looked no different from downtown Chicago or downtown Philadelphia.

A friend of my ex-wife sent her a wedding picture.  Eveyone in that picture was wearing westen style clothing.  The groom was wearing a tuxedo andt he bride was wearing a western style white dress.  White used to be the traditional funeral colorl

#2018-08-06 00:29:37 by RWByrum @RWByrum

@melcyan

Yes, I believe that the Chinese now do have largely the same concepts of growth and progres and they measure them by the same parameters.  They are fostering economic growth through the promotion of international trade.  They are building and modernizing their military forces.  They are promoting the developement of science and technology.  They are promoting industrialization and capitalism.  They are doing exactly the same things that western countries have been doing for the last 500 years.

There is a fear among some that they will emulate the west too much and adopt imperialism as well.  But I don't think that is very likely.  The only time China ever tried to conquer the world was during the late 13th century when China was ruled by the Mongols.

#2018-08-06 00:38:54 by RWByrum @RWByrum

@paulfox1

You are indeed a paradox, Paul.  On the one hand, you write some of the most insightful and profound observations that I have ever read anywhere, but, on the other hand, you write some of the most idiotic crap that I have ever read anywhere.

#2018-08-06 11:30:00 by melcyan @melcyan

"The only time China ever tried to conquer the world was during the late 13th century when China was ruled by the Mongols."

 

China was at that time part of the nomadic Mongolian empire. It was a Mongolian attempt to rule the world not a Chinese one.

 

"the Chinese now do have largely the same concepts of growth and progress"

 

We will have to agree to differ on this one. It may be more useful to look at medicine rather than commerce.

 

The world of commerce is not easily examined. Is the most important language of commerce within China English or Mandarin? I suspect it is Mandarin and I suspect that it will stay in Mandarin.

 

China for the first time in history understands that the Middle Kingdom cannot stand alone. Climate Science has forced this shift in thinking more than anything else. China knows that the effects of ecological disasters in other parts of the world cannot be escaped by China. Current climate modelling suggests that China will suffer enormously by the end of this century. I suspect this is why China is making much faster progress than America in taking action. 

 

The concept of "progress" that has "served" the Western world for well over a century is about to undergo a radical overhaul. China will play a key part in the redefining of the term "progress".

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