The amoral-tribalist mindset that permanently distinguishes Asian culture from the West
in the “ineluctable racial incompatibilies” thread, Roland D. sends this essay which is a modified version of a comment he made in another forum about Asian culture and society. Following Roland’s comment, other readers express strong disagreement with his view.
Despite the various historical antipathies among various Asian nations, all Asian groups feel more kinship with one another than with Westerners or other outsiders. Yes, Koreans may hate the Japanese, and Chinese may hate the Japanese (this perception is deliberately exaggerated by the Korean, Chinese, and Japanese governments and business conglomerates in order to confuse the West in trade negotiations and so forth), and the Chinese may think they’re superior to all, but Asians will work together to take advantage of and frustrate the designs of Westerners and other outsiders.
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Another thing to keep in mind is that all Asian countries, with the exception of India, form the “Confucian sphere,” and that whatever their theoretical political systems (“democracy” in Asia is a sham, of course), Asians’ underlying cultural value systems are based on Confucianism.
Confucianism is essentially a form of hyper-nepotism, putting oneself and one’s family above all other considerations, even when one’s family is wrong. Lying, cheating, stealing, bribing—all these things are A-OK, as long as (a) you don’t do them to your family, and (b) you don’t get caught. There is no analogue of the Western concept of “fair play” or “justice.” The Confucian view of the world is that it’s a Hobbesian war of all against all, and the devil take the hindmost.
This means that anything and everything is allowed in the pursuit of personal and familial gain. Asian social relations are mainly structured around the acquisition of money and power, and forming relationships with others who can be useful in the acquisition of money and power.
The oft-remarked prejudice most Asians hold against Indians in particular is based upon (a) skin color and (b) the perception (generally true) that most Indians don’t have a lot of money and are cheapskates (Asians are very thrifty compared to Westerners, so this is saying something!).
Asians as a whole were shocked and dismayed that the USA elected Barack Obama as President of the United States, as he’s black and blacks are considered animals by most Asians (in their attitudes toward blacks, Asians make the KKK look like the NAACP). Of course, Obama’s incompetence and weakness confirm this view.
If you are a Westerner and have close friends who are Asian, you should always keep in mind that the primary loyalties of Asians are to, in descending order of importance, their family, village, city, region, ethnic subgroup, nation, and primary ethnic group, and that all other relationships fall below this hierarchy in importance. In business, you must assume that all Asians you deal with are lying to you, all the time, and that their primary objective isn’t to reach an equitable, mutually profitable business arrangement, but to take you to the cleaners. This is true of Asians who reside in the West as well as those who reside in their countries of origin. “Asian-Americans” are Asian in all the attitudes and loyalties which count.
What Westerners call “corruption” is deeply embedded in Asian culture. Governmental officials, police, the military etc. are basically gangs of rent-seekers whose primary goal is to extract as much money from and exert as much power over their subject populace as possible in order to benefit their own families (see Confucianism, above). Bureaucrats, law enforcement, and the military are all paid a pittance, so they turn to various forms of criminality and oppression in order to take what they feel is rightfully theirs, and there’s no remorse or stigma attached to such behavior. This is a deliberate strategy on the part of Asian governments, as it leads to selective enforcement of the law, which is a powerful psychological tool for keeping the populace in check—in a society where one simply cannot get along without violating some laws and regulations, and in which one inevitably ends up paying bribes to get out of sticky situations, the bureaucrats have a lever on everyone, and they can use it at will for their own personal gain.
Singapore is probably the least corrupt Asian nation (with a level of corruption more tolerable to Westerners, and certainly more circumspect, than in many other Asian countries). China is the most corrupt, with Burma and Vietnam neck-and-neck for the second slot. Thailand and the others fall in line behind. Contrary to popular belief, both Japan and the Republic of Korea are quite corrupt by Western standards; they just tend to manage Western public perception better than most other Asian countries.
This “corruption” is not seen as morally wrong in the Confucian worldview, it’s seen as a positive duty to one’s kin to be “corrupt” if and when one has the opportunity to do so. So it’s possible to characterize Asian corruption as far more honest and less hypocritical than corruption in Western societies.
Despite periodic announcements of supposed anti-corruption campaigns in various Asian countries, the truth of the matter is that most Asians aren’t interested in rooting out governmental and commercial corruption—they’re interested in figuring out how they and theirs can sidle up to the trough.
If you are a Westerner involved in business activities with Asians, you need to understand that you are culturally ill-equipped to deal with them. Instead of being trusting, you must be functionally paranoid at all times, even with perceived (note the “perceived”) friends and close business associates. It’s nothing personal, it’s just the way things are in Asian culture. Once you understand this, you’re much less likely to be done dirty, and are better able to shrug it off and not dwell on it. Keep in mind that your seemingly Westernized, Western-educated Asian buddies are still out to extract maximum value from their relationships with you, they’re just much better equipped than most other Asians to do so because they appear to be just like your other Western friends and associates. In reality, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
If you understand this, you’ll be able to deal with Asians much more effectively. If you maintain your own moral compass and standards even in the face of this very different worldview, you’ll gain great face amongst Asians, who will respect you for not being naive while at the same time maintaining your personal and cultural integrity.
There’s also an undue deference paid to Westerners in Asian societies; even as they seek to exploit you, you will often be allowed far more freedom and leeway than Asians are, and will be viewed as being an expert in your chosen profession, even if the Asians you deal with have more experience and expertise in a given field (which is actually quite rare). This isn’t fair, of course, but it’s how things are.
Finally, age and seniority are at the top of the Confucian hierarchy. Asian societies are very intolerant of youthful innovation and independence. Generalized interests, individuality, and curiosity for its own sake are disdained; specialization, conformity, and knowing one’s place in the hierarchy is all.
I live and work in Asia, and enjoy it—it’s the most challenging cultural and business milieu in the world. It’s important to understand that what I’ve described above is the result of a values system and ethos radically different from that of the West. Thinking that Asians (or Middle Easterners or Africans) are really just like Westerners, with only a few quaint traditions which separate these vastly different cultures, is a patronizing and indeed dangerous form of cultural condescension. We aren’t going to convert them to the modern Western or classical Western worldview, nor should we try. The best strategy is to keep them at arm’s length, engaging in profitable trade when it makes sense to do so, but without embedding these people within Western society, thereby enabling them to subvert its few remaining values from within.
Michael R. writes:
There is certainly much truth in what Roland writes, but he does paint with a broad brush. Having spent a fair amount of time in Asia myself, I would like to elucidate a little based on my own experience. The main problem with Asian-American business and political relations lies squarely on the American shoulders in my opinion. The worldview of most Americans is a dangerous mixture of naivete and arrogance combined with a deadly cocktail of historical and cultural ignorance.
Roland writes: “In business, you must assume that all Asians you deal with are lying to you, all the time, and that their primary objective isn’t to reach an equitable, mutually profitable business arrangement, but to take you to the cleaners.”
This is a bit of an overstatement. Again, the fault frequently lies with the American businessmen traveling to Asia. Far too often they seem to treat the experience as a sort of vacation and act like an exchange student trying to win points with his host family. Asians tend to be great hosts—they will wine you and dine you and treat you like a celebrity even though they may feel inside that you are complete tool. Of course their loyalty lies with their company they have worked with their entire life and not with a foreign businessman they have known for all of five days.
Mark S. writes:
I am an Australian who worked in Hong Kong for over a decade as a mechanical engineer. During my time in Hong Kong, I developed an interest, and indeed liking, for Chinese culture.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 09, 2012 07:10 AM | Send
Roland says “There is no analogue of the Western concept of “fair play” or “justice.”
Really? The Asians I have known are invariably honest, with a keen sense of the principle of reciprocity and fairness which seems deeply embedded within their cultures.
I am reasonably conversant with modern Chinese history and culture. Moral teaching forms a huge part of the culture and language. The famed Chinese idioms (or sayings) abound with moral instruction and teachings. One that springs to mind is “da yi mie qin,” which is to do with the righteousness of one who condemns even his own relatives. This has been undermined by communism, but the ideal of reciprocity is always there. [LA replies: But does this ethical rule apply to Chinese relations with non-Chinese Asians, let alone with whites?]
Here is a salient historical example of the concept of reciprocity. When Britain sent warships to subdue China over the opium trade in 1840, a particular upright official Lin Zexu wrote the following (as part of a letter to Queen Victoria):
“I am told that in your own country opium-smoking is forbidden under severe penalties. This means you are aware how harmful it is. But better than to forbid the smoking of it would be to forbid the sale of it and better still, to forbid the production of it, which is the only way of cleansing the contamination of its source. So long as you do not take it yourselves, but continue to make it and tempt the people of China to buy it, you will be showing yourselves careful of your own lives, but careless of the lives of other people, indifferent in your greed for gain to the harm you do to others. Such conduct is repugnant to human feeling, and at variance with the Way of Heaven…. The wealth of China is used to profit the barbarians. That is to say, the great profit made by barbarians is all taken from the rightful share of China. By what right do they then in return use the poisonous drug to injure the Chinese people? Even though the barbarians may not necessarily intend to do us harm, yet in coveting profit to an extreme, they have no regard for injuring others. Let us ask, where is your conscience?”
The theme of “do unto others” and appeals to the “liang xin” (conscience) is clearly manifested in this excerpt. Indeed the word “conscience” in Chinese comes from the conjoining of the characters for “kind, or just,” and the character for “heart.”
Roland comments on corruption in Asian countries, which is no doubt a problem—particular for the developing countries. But the actual corruption indices help provide some context. Singapore is the 5th least corrupt country in the world, and Japan comes ahead of both the UK and U.S. Both Taiwan and South Korea are less corrupt than many Eastern European countries, while China (at 75th) is only slightly more corrupt that Italy (at 69), but less corrupt than Greece (at number 80). Russia (at 143) and the Ukrain (at 152), are far more corrupt than most Asian countries (apart from of course North Korea). There is of courses a strong cultural component to corruption, with cultures that place a great deal of emphasis on familiy and extended family tending to be more corrupt (Southern European countries tend to be more corrupt than North Western European countries). However the level of economic development is also a large part of it.
Roland says: “and the Chinese may think they’re superior to all, but Asians will work together to take advantage of and frustrate the designs of Westerners and other outsiders.”
That is something that is also completely belied by the facts. The most hated “outsider” group in China are the Japanese, and the most recent government ordained nationalistic blockbuster Flowers of War featured as the hero a white man (Christian Bale) rescuing a group of Chinese prostitutes (and falling in love with one) from rampaging Japanese troops during the rape of Nanking. It is the Japanese who are protrayed as sub-humans, while the white man is the dashing hero.
The goings on in the South China sea, where even Vietnam is now cosying up to the U.S. to thwart Chinese ambitions in the region, hardly shows Asian unity to “frustrate the designs of Westerners and othe outsiders.”
As to the Chinese attitudes on race, they admire whites, but are rather indifferent to Africans. Yes, most would not want their children marrying an African, but there is absolutely none of the violence in Asia against blacks or dark skinned peoples that one reads of in Eastern Europe, particularly Russia. Interestingly Obama’s brother has made Southern China his home, and is married to a Chinese woman.
(As an aside Steve Sailer has provided a fascinating insight into the relationship between President Obama and his younger half brother.)