The difference in values between the East and the West has created a diverse world. But at the same time, it has driven some countries to pursue a homogeneous system and culture value worldwide. Léon Vandermeersch, a famous French sinologist and tenured professor at EHESS (École des hautes études en sciences sociales), believes that the value of each culture is good and deserves respect. The individualistic values of the West and the collective values of the East have their own merits, which should both be inherited. Yet no matter how good the value is, if it is pushed to the extreme or distorted, it will have many side effects.
Vandermeersch pointed out that Western democratic thinking does have a certain antithesis to Chinese mode of thinking: Chinese people value more on harmony, and they see collective interests outweighing individual interests. Only in this way can they achieve universal harmony in society. However, in the Western democratic process, the protection of personal interests stands out. Everyone protecting their own interests is the norm in Western democratic societies. And this, obviously, could easily lead to personal interest coming first among other values.
This defect has been reflected in Western party politics. While party politics seem to safeguard public interests, it’s a fight to defend individual’s power through these democratic operations. In this regard, Vandermeersch believes that China’s collectivism, or collective concept, may have some reference value to the West. In the comparison of Eastern and Western societies, there is no point in judging which is better. Likewise, the real questions are not whose situation is better, or where the crisis is more serious.
Instead, Vandermeersch said that the real problem is that each of our societies is imperfect, but we are blinded out and obsessed with our own traditions. We need to learn from others, to see our own problems by virtue of others’ success experience. Only by then, we could overcome weaknesses, rather than solely imitating others.
There is also a saying in the West, “bad money drives out good”. This economic principle also holds true in the cultivation of cultural values. Many people do not refer to the good values of the West to rectify their own culture, but take in some wrong or bad things in the West for their use. Vandermeersch believed that when people encounter another culture, they have a certain tendency or preference, which could be defected itself. With this tendency, people could be easily attracted by the strange and exotic aspects in other culture, without seeing the true value of it. As a result, they insist that their own culture is superior. Comparing excellent part in one’s own culture with the outlandish aspects in others leads to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Editor: Cynthia Ryan
Caption: Léon Vandermeersch. Source: Encyclopedia of China Publishing House