Grady Harp, September 07, 2011
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'East is east and west is west And the wrong one I have chose'
The selected title of this review comes from a 1948 song by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans from the film 'The Paleface' (the song goes on to be known as 'Buttons and Bows'). And the Inscrutable East was also address by Rudyard Kipling in his 1889 poem, The Ballad of East and West:
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!
That may serve as a bit of the background to this fascinating, well-constructed, delightfully written by Troy Parfitt: so many misconceptions, prejudices, myths, and sense of the 'unknowable inscrutable' world of China have been a part of our lack of knowledge about a very large country who seems to be growing into greater and greater power by the day. China owns the majority of US Treasury bonds, makes most of the toys and computer parts fund in this country, and has recently surpassed Japan as a major world power financially. So where does the magical mysticism of the Far East become distilled into reality so that we all have a better idea of the potential of China to be the world leader? Well, this book WHY CHINA WILL NEVER RULE THE WORLD: TRAVELS IN TWO CHINAS pulls together a lot of information that makes much of what have been ambiguous facts, digestible alternative observations on what the media would have us believe.
While there is little doubt that China's influence on the world is significant, careful examination of the truths by a young writer who has lived in Asia for twelve years (Korea and Taiwan) and speaks Mandarin fluently, a Canadian man with degrees in American history and Canadian political science, and a certificate to teach English as a second language in Asia, brings home the realities of one who has traveled in China, met with the people, absorbed the history and traditions, and the has taken the time to sort all of this out into a very readable book. Much of the pleasure of delving into this book is the format in which it is related. Parfitt uses the travelogue approach: he spent months traveling about China as a 'tourist', getting to know the people and interviewing some very important sources, and as a result he brings home far different concepts than dwell in the golden clouds that hang above China's mysterious presence.
Parfitt looks beyond the shining skyscrapers of the new 'Westernized' China and pulls focus to the realities of how China truly looks up close. He shares with the reader that China's great rise as a potential leader of the world is an illusion, that simply because China has imitated the facades of the West, the belief systems are in a disparate state. One of the more interesting aspects Perfitt shares is the Confucian Hierarchy is the chief social structure in Chinese society - a very rigid 'top-down rubric' manner of life that is not compatible with the Western manner of living or functioning. A bit of definition here: 'Following the abandonment of Legalism in China after the Qin Dynasty, Confucianism became the official state ideology of China, until it was replaced by the "Three Principles of the People" ideology with the establishment of the Republic of China, and then Maoist Communism after the ROC was replaced by the People's Republic of China in Mainland China. The core of Confucianism is humanism, the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are ren, yi, and li. Ren is an obligation of altruism and humaneness for other individuals within a community, yi is the upholding of righteousness and the moral disposition to do good, and li is a system of norms and propriety that determines how a person should properly act within a community. Confucianism holds that one should give up one's life, if necessary, either passively or actively, for the sake of upholding the cardinal moral values of ren and yi. Confucianism is humanistic and non-theistic, and does not involve a belief in the supernatural or in a personal god.'
That said, Parfitt discovered through his conversations and interviews from throughout China that most educated Chinese people do not want democracy and blame the West for many of its problems. He also discovered that many of the myths about China are fiction and that given the direction of the country at present makes the potential for becoming the ruler of the world highly unlikely. He also points our the human rights abuses, peasant revolts, growing concern over an expanding military, tainted exports, natural disasters, pollution, and the constant friction and unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang - all of which negate many fears that China is set to rule the world. His commentary on the opium use is an eye-opener, and his relating of the history of Chiang Kai-shek and Chairman Mao Tse-Tung makes for fascinating reading. Parfitt came across a list of items that were not allowed to enter China: printed matter, films, photos, gramophone records, and any form of cinematographic films, CDs, and any form of storage media that would be detrimental to the political, economic, and moral interests of China!
There is so much in this book that could be quoted, but one of the aspects few reviewers are touching on is Tony Parfitt's writing skills in painting simply stunning images of the grand scenery and the atmosphere that abounds in this near-indecipherable land. There are likely to be readers who disagree with Parfitt's findings - and that just makes for al the more reason to read this book for yourselves. It is a different view, a challenging view, a comforting view in some ways, and a bit of a needed does of reality as the globe makes less and less sense daily. And after reading the book between East and West, perhaps the tile of the review will alter thinking a bit! Highly recommended.