Discussion of W.I. Thomas, "The Significance of the Orient for the Occident"


While I have purposely sought to place antithetically certain differences between the man of the Far East and the man of the West as I conceive these differences, and, while of necessity, I take my stand with the man of the West, yet I wish to preface my remarks with a statement of my admiration for the oriental man.

Since it is a law of life that man must earn his bread in the sweat of his brow, I greatly admire a people which has learned to toil almost incessantly, with so little friction and complaint and with so much contentment, as has the Chinese, whether in China or out of it.

When I know the unparalleled ravages of tuberculosis among the American people, I turn with hopefulness to China which has bred a human race practically immune to this terrible disease. The Chinaman has become the most perfect human animal for colonization in the world today. With greater safety than any other people the Chinese may be transplanted to the Arctic snows or the recking heat of the humid equatorial area.

Again I turn with admiration to the Orient -- to Japan. Japan has taught the whole world the practicability of modern scientific knowledge in everyday life - the most important lesson the West can learn from the recent Russio-Japanese war.

When we consider the Asiatic continental man as the oriental, and the American and western European as the occidental, there are, it seems to me, three fundamental cultural traits in which the oriental and the occidental have radically differed, and today do greatly differ, and in which conflict stimuli are active in contacts between the two.

First, the oriental is a peaceful, patient, plodding man, with a meditative, spiritual nature. He has given the world most of its domestic animals and staple food plants. He has given the world all of its great religions. The occidental is a thinking, active, belligerent, materialistic man. He has

(753) given the world its incessant pioneering activity, its modern science, its machinery of modern war, and its heretofore undreamed of machinery for and hoards of material wealth.

We may now enlarge our definition of the oriental so as to embrace the Japanese as well as tile continental man of Asia, and say:

Second, the oriental is a communistic man, living, struggling, and dying in herds -- in the commune of labor, and the family. The occidental is an individualist. It may almost be said that every American private soldier is potentially a general. Representative government, whether monarchical or republican points to the individualism of the occidental. One who has seen the average American among the average orientals in the Orient knows that two Americans are worth twenty orientals in an emergency -- when practical things must be thought instantly and done quickly.

Third, if one may be pardoned an American bull, he may say the future of the oriental has been, and is largely today, behind him. The oriental looks always backward over his shoulder for the nod or frown of his ancestors. He is tightly tied to the past with the gordian knot of custom and tradition. The occidental's future is before him, and he cares little for the customs and traditions of the past. He builds his reputation and his fortune for his children much more than, as the oriental builds, for the family name established generations ago by his ancestors.

There are three additional conflict stimuli active between the occidental and oriental; and we may now understand the term oriental to be broader than used above, so as to include also the Malayan peoples.

The oriental is naturally a dissembler in word and business transactions. The occidental is a man of truth. The oriental's ways are those of indirection and dissimulation. The occidental man is direct and frank. The oriental will tell you that which he thinks you want to hear, without respect to its truth or falsity. The famed honesty and honor of the Chinaman in business transactions with foreigners of his acquaintance is deserved. It may be based on the superior business acumen of the Chinaman who is a much better judge of the western man than the western man is of the Chinaman. Those who know the Chinese best at home, however, tell me that the greatest weakness of the Chinese today is their mutual distrust of one another; and it is founded Upon their inherent untrustworthiness. In spite of the famous Bushido of Japan, all men having transient or prolonged business with individuals in Japan know of the business dishonesty of the Japanese.

The oriental is commonly fanatical and intolerant The occidental is commonly sane. rational, and a lover of justice; in private life he takes the part of the under dog, and the bully has short life with him.

The oriental is commonly an autocrat and an oppressor, and his hand is heavy on the lower classes and the women. The occidental loves his liberty and his democratic institutions, and his ideal is that the will of the

(754) many shall be the will of all. He has the habit of lifting up the unfortunate, and he honors women.

As Professor Thomas has said, the secrets of the West "are getting out" and all the people of the world are rapidly "becoming of one consciousness." Although the conflict resulting from this contact of the West with the East will undoubtedly give the people of the Orient wonderful cultural advance, as such conflict always does, and will tend to break down some of the differences presented above, yet, because of the long-standing, inherent tendency of the Occident to cultural advance, and because of the long-standing, inherent tendency of the Orient to cultural inertia, and, more than all else, because of the unprecedented racial and cultural conflicts in the occidental world, especially in America, and the apparently relative absence of opportunity for such conflict in the Orient, I believe that the Occident will have far into the future the power of discovering new secrets for cultural advance ahead of the oriental world.


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