Chinese and Western Difference in Cultural and Historical Perceptions

Here is some more from my professor from Beijing University teaching my 20th Century Chinese History class. He taught in the second class about “Chinese and Western Difference in Cultural and Historical Perceptions” as part of the introductory lecture.

So let me post them up here and we can discuss whether you view these assessments as accurate or inaccurate:

Difference in the concept of morality

Western: a moral person must be honest, namely, always telling the truth
Chinese Confucian: honesty gives way to loyalty and filial piety

*He elaborated that in the west if someone (even a family member of close friend) were to break the law you must hold that person accountable to the law since that is the perceived “moral” thing to do. But in China if a family member or close friend breaks the law, then the moral thing to do is protect that person from punishment since he is your kin and to protect your kin is the moral thing to do. He also said that Chinese “hate law”, but I don’t know if he meant for this reason though.

Differences in the way of thinking

Western: “comes to the point”, from micro to macro, focusing on the specifics
Chinese: step-by-step exploring the idea and purpose, from macro to micro emphasizing the “general”

History perspective

Chinese historians: analyze from general perspective, and explore motive and significance
Western historians: more attention to a witness narrative and statistics that show different aspects of the event and results. Their conclusions are based on interpretation of the info.

View of the ideal world
West: broadly associated with democracy, freedom, equality
Chinese: Confucian concept; “Harmony” based on collective effort and responsibility as well as perfect top down arrangement.


One thought on “Chinese and Western Difference in Cultural and Historical Perceptions

  1. Rich

    “Patriotic” Chinese people love to make these artificial dichotomies to justify their badness in a context of moral and cultural relativism that appeals to postmodern Western thinking. In truth it’s just more of the same lies.

    In each of the areas your professor has hilighted, all cultures have people which think both different ways. There are plenty of Western people who will protect members of their family, religion, race, etc. from prosecution when that person has broken the law, and there are plenty of Chinese (or at least were, since many have been killed, for instance at Tiananmen Square) who break from the idiotic ideal of loyalty to stand up for what’s right.

    What your professor has described is not any inherent cultural difference between Chinese and “The West” (which is far from a homogenous entity in itself), but rather a difference between the political agendas of The Party in China and those of liberal/progressive democracy, community empowerment, etc.

    All cultures have both good and bad elements to them. Our duty as thinking, caring beings wishing to make our world a better place is to recognize which traits are desirable and which are abominable and to be willing to throw out the bad parts while keeping what’s good from our traditions. China has an extremely large amount of rotton baggage that still needs to be thrown out, and too few people sufficiently brave or willing to take the plunge.

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