Orientel and Western culture – a generalization?

Oriental culture , Western culture are commonly accepted phrases and is usually used in discussions as if they really mean two different unified cultures.

But is it true? Or is it a sweeping generalization?

This has been put to some good examination in the book – “Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples” by Hajime Nakamura and english translation edited by Philip P. Wiener

The great surviving cultural traditions are the Chinese, the Indian, and the Western roughly. I am sure many would find this statement itself a gross generalization.

Bertrand Russell had pointed out that man is engaged with three distinct conflicts – (1) against Nature, (2) against other men, and (3) against himself. Nakamura says, it is sometimes easy to view that each of these culture engaged dominantly with one of the aspect among the above three. West was focused on the natural problem, China the social, and India the psychological.

Nakamura also dismisses some gross generalizations that has become acceptable.

#1. East man’s individual existence is not fully realized and is subordinated to the universal and the western man is aware of his freedom. This viewpoint is limited as examples of subordination of individual to universal can be found in western history.

#2. East are intuitive and accordingly not systematic or orderly in grasping things. In contrast the Westerners are said to be “postulational” or logical, and that they try to grasp things systematically While the ways of thinking of the Chinese or the Japanese may be characterized as “intuitive.” But in the case of the Indians, this label is hard to apply.

#3. Ways of thinking of the Eastern peoples are synthetic, and that of the Westerners analytic. We cannot say that only Westerners have a tendency to be analytical. It is generally recognized by scholars that the Indians showed a great skill in the analysis of linguistic or psychological phenomena. Indian grammar was quite advanced in the analysis of words and phrases, but very weak in its consideration of the synthetic construction of sentences.

#4. Western civilization is “materialistic,” while the East Asian civilization is “spiritual,” is erroneous.

#5. Westerners are rationalistic, but that East Asians are irrationalistic.
Although Indians did not achieve as remarkable a development in the field of natural science as the West, they conducted far more elaborate speculations than the Westerners of antiquity and the Middle Ages with respect to the theory of numbers, the analysis of psychological phenomena, and the study of linguistic structures.

Many religions of the West do have irrational and illogical elements and this is acknowledged by the Westerners themselves. Consequently, we cannot prudently adopt the classification that the East is irrationalistic and the West rationalistic.

There is evidence that passivity has been a conspicuous feature of the way of thinking of the Chinese and the Indians. When various thoughts are found opposed to one another, they are likely to recognize their rational force, and to compromise and synthesize, rather than to adopt one of them alternatively to the exclusion of others.

The Indians are prone to tolerate the co-existence of philosophical thoughts of various types from the metaphysical viewpoint; the Chinese are inclined to try to reconcile and harmonize them from a political and practical viewpoint

As Nakamura says, we must acknowledge the fact that there exists no single “Eastern” feature but rather that there exist diverse ways of thinking in East Asia, characteristic of certain peoples but not of the whole of East Asia.

Another fact that we must understand is that all these analysis, talks of the of people in past. Modern world is far more connected, diverse and moving beyond such stereotypes.


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