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Lines and Circles- West and East

Lines and Circles- West and East

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Published by: bde_gnas on Apr 21, 2013
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Lines and Circles: West and East
By Zuo Biao
NOTHING IN THE WORLD IS ABSOLUTE. Everything is relative, culturaldifference being no exception.Culture, as the total pattern of human behavior andits products, oversteps geographical limits and historical conditions in manyways, and it is characterized by its strong penetrativeness and fusibility.The advancement of the globalized economy and the rapidity and ease ofmodern communication, transportation, and mass media have resulted in an everincreasing exchange between cultures,unprecedented in scale, scope, andspeed. Consequently, an increase in universality and a reduction in differencebetween cultures is an inevitable trend. It is no surprise to see phenomenacharacteristic of one culture existing in another. As a result, some people evenfear that the world will become a dull place when all the different nationalitiesbehave exactly alike.Nevertheless, the “cultural sediment” formed through long-range accumulation isnot to be easily removed, and the cultural tradition handed down from generationto generation shows great consistency and continuity. The cultures of differentregions and nations still have their own distinctive peculiarities, and thereforesignificance still needs to be attached to the study of the individualities ofdifferent cultures against the background of their universality.By and large, linearity and circularity can be used to indicate the major differencebetween Western and Chinese cultures. “Western culture” here is a general term,putting aside its interior regional diversities in order to contrast it with Chineseculture. A circle is a round enclosure. Aline is a narrow continuous mark. Thecontrast between the linearity of Western culture and the circularity of Chineseculture embodies itself in such aspects as worldview, core value, outlook on time,and mode of thinking.
Worldview: Linear Division and Circular Enclosure
A line divides an area while a circle encloses one. As far as worldviews areconcerned, Western linearity is displayed in the general belief that the Universe
is divided into two opposites with a clear-cut demarcation line drawn between thetwo: man and nature, subject and object, mind and matter, the divine and thesecular. Chinese circularity manifests itself in the prevailing viewpoint ofcombining the two opposites and enclosing them. Although opposites areacknowledged in both cultures, Western culture emphasizes their coexistenceand opposition, whereas Chinese culture stresses their interdependence andintegration.The linear nature of the Western worldview can be traced back to such ancientGreek philosophers as Thales, Heracleitus, Plato, and Aristotle. They alladvocate dividing the world into two opposing parts: element and soul, reality andreason, matter and form. Their theories laid the foundation for the furtherdevelopment of the one-dividing-into-two view adopted by Western culture.Archimedes said more than two thousand years ago, “Give me but one firm spoton which to stand, and I will move the earth.” A proverb says, “Nature isconquered by obeying her.” Conquering or obeying, human beings in the Westconsider Nature as their opposite.Christianity holds that God creates human beings and human beings sin againstGod. Throughout the Bible the theme of the redemption of mankind is developed.There exists a clear division between God and humanity. Later hypotheses likethose of Descartes and Hegel consolidated the theoretical basis though theyintroduced different notions, such as matter and mind and real object andabsolute spirit. The dividing worldview is the starting point of Western culture’sexploring and transforming Nature and explains the rapid development of scienceand technology in the West.The circular Chinese worldview originates from the notion of Tao in theproposition “Tao consists ofYin and Yang” in the Book of Changes (about 600BC). Lao-tzu, who lived about 500 years before Christ, further enunciated theconcept of Tao in chapter 42 of his
Tao Te Ching 
: “Tao gave birth to the One; theOne gave birth successively to two things, three things, up to ten thousand.These ten thousand creatures cannot turn their backs to the shade (Yin) withouthaving the sun (Yang) on their bellies, and it is on this blending of the breaths(both Yin and Yang) that their harmony depends” (Arthur Maley’s translation). It isobviously the One, the blending, and the harmony that are emphasized in theexplanation of Tao.Two centuries after Lao-tzu, Chuang-tzu (369 –286 BC) used orderly philosophicdiscussion rather than poetic intuition to clarify the concept of Tao. He believed in
“the One reality which is all men, gods, and things: complete, all-embracing, andthe whole; it is an all-embracing unity from which nothing can beseparated” (Gardener Murphy’s translation). When it comes to the relationshipbetween humanity and Nature, he proposes that “the perfect man has no selfbecause he has transcended the finite and identified himself with the universe.”Thus the concept that human beings are part of Nature is rooted in the minds ofthe Chinese people. Dong Zhongshu (179 –104 BC), a philosopher of the WestHan dynasty, again developed the Oneness worldview. He assumed that “theenergy of heaven and earth is a unified one. It consists of Yin and Yang andmanifests itself in four seasons and five elements.”A number of Chinese expressions mirror the idea of identifying human beingswith Nature rather than separating them. Here are some examples:Nature affects human affairs and human behavior finds response in Nature (
Tian ren ganying 
).The law of Nature and the feelings of humanity are in unison (
Tian li ren qing 
).Nature accords with human wishes (
Tian cong ren yuan 
).Nature is angry and people are resentful (
Tian nu ren yuan 
).Nature’s will brings about human affinity (
Tian yi ren yuan 
).Nature and humankind turn to one. (
Tian yu ren gui 
).The Chinese character “tian” is translated as “Nature” in the above expressions,although “tian” carries awider sense than the English word. “Tian” (Nature) and“ren” (human) always react to and comply with each other. They can never beseparated. The Oneness worldview also finds expression in Chinese poems:Flowers smile on the happy occasion.Birds sing with the joyful congregation.(Wang Wei)Trees sway in a mournful gale.Waves surge like hill and dale.(Cao Zhi)Catkins scattered by wind, my motherland is being disintegrated.Rain striking duckweed, I sink against the tide, broken-hearted.(Wen Tianxiang)

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