Japan: Regretfully the World’s Last Hope Against Eurocentrism

Eurocentrism in its extreme form.

Why does the world continue to allow for a lack of respect for diverse peoples and cultures? Comrades, these are troubling times indeed, when the masses embrace the capitalist corruption of the people’s liberation: Eurocentrism.

On a serious note, Eurocentrism is a terrible thing. It makes me mad, for one thing; so much that I wrote a blog post about it ages ago. It also, more importantly, leads to a decline in respect for diverse peoples and cultures. It leads to, for instance, Mitt Romney arguing that Israeli culture is better than Palestinian culture, and thus by extension that generally Western culture is better than Islamic culture. Or, on a rather depressing note, it leads to unnecessary violence like the recent shooting rampage at a Sikh temple. But, on a brighter note, there is hope against Eurocentrism. In fact, it is blatantly obvious hope, even if you only have some basic knowledge in international affairs and history. That hope is Japan.

Japan is the best – and perhaps (currently) the only – counterargument against Eurocentrism.

No, no, I don’t mean to imply that Japanese culture is awesome compared to Western culture. Because it’s not. Yes, I think the phonological structure of Japanese is interesting, and I think the Japanese have the best Asian confectionary; however, Samurai and ninja are overrated, and I don’t give a damn about how spiritually pure they are in their martial arts, and anime is just goddamn anime for goodness sakes.

But Japan is still, perhaps, for now, the only clear argument against Eurocentrism.

Think of it this way. When you think of the “developed world,” or of “modernized” countries, especially those with any political or economic power on the international stage, these would probably come to mind: America, Britain, Russia (sort of), Germany, Japan, France, and so on. Which one’s the odd one out? Japan. Why? Because it’s the only non-European one on the list. When you think of countries that were formerly colonial empires/imperialist douchebags, these would probably come to mind: Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Russia, and America (arguably). Who’s the odd one out again? Japan. Because, again, it’s the only non-European one on the list.

Starting to get the drift here?

Japan shows the white devils that they, too, can be imperialist douchebags by shooting those godless, heathen, pagan Chinamen. (See First Sino-Japanese War)

For the past century and a half or so, Japan has proven itself to be the only successful non-European nation – if we define success as becoming a world power rivaling that of the “Western” states. A number of recent economic powerhouses, such as China, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, India, and so on, don’t count because they have only recently rose to power. Japan has been at it since the late 1800s, and not only that, it also has a history of being an imperialist douchebag like former Western colonial powers.

But one could argue that Japan is Westernized: they wear “Western” clothing, eat fast food, and have a democracy that supports freedom and equality. These, however, are relatively superficial. Traditional clothing is still very much commonplace in Japan, though in more limited contexts; and Japan still eats rice; and so on. Even their sort of freedom and equality is not exactly the same as in Europe or America. For instance, while there is freedom, there isn’t on the other hand much encouragement of individuality. Conformity to society is much more important; standing out, playing the unique hero – that’s discouraged. Shy from conflict, cooperate and compromise or even comply rather than “fight for what you believe in.” And so on. That’s not to mention that there’s still a clear patriarchal, even repressive, element of Japanese culture: women still have clear gender roles. Ultimately, the traditional influence on Japan is still extremely pervasive, even if guys don’t go around committing suicide to preserve their honor (as much).

Thus Japan – yes, that very Japan that gave you Pokemon and anime and sushi – proves that Western culture is not fully necessary for success. For Japan did not begin as a white folks’ nation with white folks’ culture, nor did it become one . Nay, even its modernization programme during the Meiji era relied heavily on cooperation between the government and corporate leaders of samurai stock, and it was done so in terms of a Confucian worldview (all honor to the Emperor, etc.); so so much for laissez-faire capitalism. And Japan’sefforts succeeded beyond imagination, flabbergasting the Europeans who watched in shock as Japan beat Russia and China and colonized Korea and Taiwan, proving that Westerners weren’t the only people capable of being big colonial douchebags/dicks/jerks. When Japan was defeated in World War II, they shocked the West once again as they rebuilt themselves into an economic power, without the need to adopt heavy doses of Western individualism, so much that in the 80s Americans feared that Japan would one day take over the world.


Anyone who can explain to me how this is related to the concept of Japanese conformity vs. individualism/playing hero will win free french fries.

My conclusion here is that perhaps culture does not determine the superiority of a nation or people; institutions (as well as historical luck) have a much bigger role. The Japanese developed institutions that kept them going for a long time, and, despite their current economic woes, still keep them going well enough to at least barely float. At the very least, something happened that caused Japan’s standard of living to rival that of America or France. I highly doubt it was because white people have better manners or philosophy. Japanese children are still taught values that adhere, directly or indirectly, to Confucian ethics and East Asian ideals. But this did not, and does not, really produce a culture inferior to that of the so-called “Judaeo-Christian” West (a concept which itself I find problematic, and, yes, you guessed it, Eurocentric).

If Japan, so steeped in its Confucian and East Asian roots, could produce a modern power without heavy doses of Western culture, who are we to day that an Islamic, Indian, or West African culture couldn’t do the same? That’s why Japan is so important. It’s the only clear evidence we have of a successful modern nation that isn’t Western in culture. Japan’s example proves that with good leaders, right timing, and luck, any culture can have the means to succeed and become the imperialist jerkass and/or economic powerhouse it always wanted to be, Western Judaeo-Christian culture or not.

Yes, Japan is overrated in some ways – no, in many ways. But in other ways, it really is the only hope against Eurocentrism, the only good evidence we have that you don’t have to be white to be an imperialist, greedy, violent, ruthless, colonizing douchebag if they try hard enough – and in some ways, that’s good for the white folks too. When every culture is a douchebag, maybe then it’d be easier to have respect for diverse peoples and cultures.

I admit I prefer Japanese rice over Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, or Indian rice. I like its texture and moistness. Also, this rice is white. Is that racist?

(Also, happy one year birthday to my blog. What an imperialist, people’s blast, a truest respect for diverse peoples and cultures:

Happy birthday to the masses, happy birthday to the masses, happy birthday to you all, may we rid the world of dirty reactionary imperialist-capitalists!)

U mad? I mad. Eurocentrists MAKE ME MAD.

Not to mention that the Dark Ages are an outdated, Eurocentric idea.

I MAD. Eurocentrists make me MAD. Irate. Enraged. Furious. Angry. They are the great scourge in the most noble and magnificent academic discipline of history. They are like the ultra-capitalists and imperialists of history, reserving its richness only for the West – and only the West! – at the expense of all other cultures. They have no respect for diverse peoples and cultures.

The idea that Westerners (i.e., Europeans, Americans, Australians, etc.) are better than others is outdated, to an extent. Only racists would claim that white people are inherently better. Righht?

Yet the idea that Western civilization was somehow inherently better than other civilizations still remains in the academic disciplines of history and the social sciences, to some degree. It also remains in pop culture as well (see 300 with the democracy and freedom loving Spartans (not)). Sad as it is, some scholars – misguidedly, in my opinion – still try to find proof that something in the West allowed it to dominate the world, something that made them inherently better. Justifications range from the more plausible geographical reasons, to the less plausible but still (somewhat) reasonable economic reasons, to the more ridiculous “cultural” and “ethical” reasons.

An opinion piece on CNN recently attempted to justify the West’s rise to power using these very methods (see the article here). In this article, historian Niall Ferguson argues that the West had several so-called “killer apps” starting around 1500 that allowed it to beat the rest and dominate the world. Some of these “killer apps”, in my opinion, are reasonable (though I don’t fully agree with them). Unfortunately, others display – in my opinion – blatant Eurocentrism and ignorance about World history in general.

This disrespect for diverse peoples and cultures cannot be ignored. His blatantly Eurocentric arguments concerning history are easily countered with historical examples.

Ferguson’s firstly listed argument states:

Competition. Europe was politically fragmented into multiple monarchies and republics, which were in turn internally divided into competing corporate entities, among them the ancestors of modern business corporations.”

He maintains that Europe was 1) politically fragmented and 2) financially fragmented. This is true. Europeans fought each other. Nothing new. But here is the problem: he implies that everywhere outside of Europe was not fragmented, and that all non-European states and societies were somehow monolithic blobs that didn’t compete with each other. And because of this, Europe obviously could more easily take over the world.

The argument that everywhere outside of Europe was not fragmented can be easily countered with numerous counterexamples, of which even schoolchildren can understand. You want to see examples of fragmentation outside of Europe around 1500? Freaking overrated-katana samurai-dwelling Japan. You want more examples? I’ll show you (I’ve highlighted sarcasm in italics, since the internet makes it so easy to detect that, right?):

(end sarcasm in italics)

That’s a lot, don’t you think? And even if you read some of the histories of these supposedly “monolithic” non-European empires such as those in China, India, and the Middle East, you’ll realize how un-monolithic they were. China, for instance, was and still is divided into numerous ethnicities which display great cultural differences with each other – even if they speak the same language. That’s not to mention that China was often in political turmoil (see Dynasty Warriors) anyways throughout its history. India, too, was always divided into numerous groups – and moreso than China, because rarely did an Indian empire actually dominate the entire subcontinent for more than a couple generations. As for the Middle East, well, there were always various groups coming in and out, into and out of power. The point? Everyone is fragmented.

Here’s another of Ferguson’s arguments:

The rule of law and representative government. An optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on private-property rights and the representation of property owners in elected legislatures.”

I find it interesting he ignores the supposed developments of freedom and democracy in other parts of Europe. Still, his argument is one that is often applied to Europe: i.e., Europeans developed political systems based on democracy, freedom, and so forth before everyone else did, because Spartans stand for democracy and freedom, right?

Sure. Yeah. Europe was so much freer. They believed in democracy. Yup. Totally true.

(Actually, I feel sorry for Marie Antoinette. I personally believe she was misguided and kind of ignorant, but not cruel per se; popular conception got the better of her. She also never said “Let them eat cake.”)

Finally, there is one Eurocentric claim of Ferguson’s that is equally troubling:

“Beginning in 1500, Europeans and European settlers in North America began to get richer than Asians (and everyone else, too).”

Basically, Ferguson argues that Europeans became awesomer economically (and, by implication, politically, culturally, socially, etc.) once Columbus discovered America. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Did Europe really become better starting in 1500?

Let’s start with statistics. Looking at these this chart from the Economist, one can see that China and India had the largest GDPs in the world up until the mid to late 1800s. Now that’s interesting, isn’t it?

In case you were too lazy to click the link.

Even though China and India were “declining” in the 1800s, their economies still dominated the world up until then. They had not only more people, but more resources as well, including many luxury goods like silk and spices, as well as better trade networks. Why do you think those Europeans wanted to explore the world and colonize the first place? Because it was fun? Did Columbus go looking for China because he wanted to eat instant noodles and try General Tso’s chicken, or because he was looking to make profit where profit was being made? (If you want to read more on a case-study of China as a counterexample to Ferguson’s claims, you can see my previous blog post).

So Ferguson is, ultimately, like a neo-imperialist – and I do not mean that in jest. After doing a bit of research on the guy, I discovered that there’s been a lot of controversy about him, especially considering his Eurocentric claims. Thankfully, there are many historians who are much more cautious, open-minded, well-informed, and, may I dare suggest, respectful of diverse peoples and cultures. Many historians are beginning to challenge the Eurocentric mindset, but it’s only a beginning. Many would scoff at what Ferguson claims in his book Civilization: The West and the Rest: “no civilisation has done a better job finding and educating the geniuses that lurk in the far right-hand tail of the distribution of talent in any human society. […]maybe the real threat is posed not by the rise of China, Islam or CO2 emissions, but by our own loss of faith in the civilisation we inherited from our ancestors.”

Right. As a non-European, I find his claims that non-Europeans are un-innovative and superior insulting. Does this all even matter? After all, he’s just a historian, right? Should you care? Yes. You should. Historians are academics and professionals. Their conclusions may very well shape public policy, the way governments think and act. The more we all can disregard Eurocentrists – and all kind of centrists, nationalists, and fanatics – the more we can respect diverse peoples and cultures.

Don’t make me MAD like these Eurocentrists. I MAD. I was so mad after reading his article, it wasn’t funny. I VERY MAD. VERY VERY MAD.

Further reading:

Art thou enraged? I AM ENRAGED.

The Historical Importance of 9/11 (Or Lack Thereof)

Stalin once said, “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.”

Except that quote might have been misattributed to him, but let’s ignore that.

9/11 was undoubtedly a tragedy by any means, and a sad example that even in the modern day and age, mankind is still capable of, well, terror. Now that the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us, newspapers, television, and politicians will remind us of how important 9/11 is in a historical context, and how history took a turn for the better or worse – the War on Terror, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the realization that the world will never be the same…

Or is it?

As a student of history, I have to ask myself: was 9/11 actually an important event? Did it define the first decade of the new millennium? Will it have ramifications for decades and centuries to come? In truth, I feel the answer to all of these is a cautious “no.” Or at the least, “not as much as one would think.”

For the people who lost loved ones and/or who were directly affected, 9/11 is undeniably a turning point in their lives, and I won’t argue against that. But for the rest of us? For the world? I don’t feel that history is really controlled by single, prominent events like 9/11, even though we certainly like to think that way. We like to think that World War I was caused solely by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. We like to think that the Roman Empire suddenly collapsed solely because some Germans razed the city in 476 CE.

But history usually doesn’t works that way; I think history follows trends, not single events. For instance, World War I was going to happen, sooner or later (even Bismarck predicted the Balkans would cause a mess). The whole war was the culmination of decades, even centuries, of European competition for power and resources. And as for the Romans, the Empire was already on decline for two hundred years, and Rome wasn’t even the capital anymore (the capital shifted to Ravenna several decades previously). The whole Fall of Rome was the culmination of a trend of barbarian migrations and a failing Roman economy, and it didn’t happen overnight in 476 CE.

Occasionally, of course, you have some really crazy people or groups of people, like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, who totally upset the balance of things and define their era. But that doesn’t happen a lot. And I don’t think Osama bin Laden defined our era, nor did terrorism.

In reality, I think that history since the end of the Cold War has been defined by at least two main trends (there probably are more, but these two are the ones off the top of my head). Firstly, we have the technological boom and increasing globalization. Internet. Computers. The Eurozone (chuckle). E-Commerce. The entire world is connected so much more than it was even one year ago, than it was since 9/11. This has led to some good things – like the spread of knowledge and ideas – and also to some not-as-good things – like how the economic recession affected everybody in the world.

Secondly, we have the overall geopolitical trends. The collapse of the USSR appeared to make the US the dominant power of the world. But there are always rising powers, and even some older ones, waiting in the sidelines. China is the most prominent example, but other important ones include Russia, India, Brazil, and so forth. Furthermore, within the past two decades, it’s been clearly shown that the US doesn’t dominate the world 100%, and not just because it’s too focused on the War on Terror.

Other things have been happening in the previous decade, too – the Middle Eastern revolutions, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the establishment of the Eurozone, the economic recession …

Heck, has anyone noticed that the Republican presidential candidates don’t talk too much about the War on Terror? It’s all about the economy. 9/11? Yes, it’s sad, we say, but we’re more worried about our jobs and income right now. And that’s how Stalin’s purported quote works: when it’s one person, or something dear to us, or something immediate that we can focus on, it’s a tragedy. But when it’s something far away, or something we can’t exactly grasp, it’s just a statistic. And you can think of history like one very, very big and vague statistic.

Of course 9/11 was a terrible thing. We should remember those who died, and also remember what evils humans are capable of. But it wasn’t the only thing – good or bad – that has happened within this past decade or two. It didn’t define history so sharply. Rarely does history suddenly “change.” It usually slowly morphs from one era to the next. But that’s not all bad.

This will sound a bit corny, but it’s like growing a tree. We have to sow the seeds of prosperity and success for future generations. The seeds won’t become big trees right away – maybe not even in our lifetimes, but if we take care of them right, water them, and give them a supportive environment, they’ll be nice, big trees someday.

Of course, the problem is that everyone disagrees on how to take care of those seeds. And that’s how many conflicts start, from political deadlock to big wars.

But at least we can try. We can turn the seed of 9/11 – of all that has happened in this past decade – into something better for future generations. I’d like a nice tree, literal or symbolic. Not too many trees. A nice, solid, figurative tree in a huge figurative meadow of figurative flowers or something. I hope my grandchildren would appreciate that.

I’d Vote for Rick Perry if Teddy Roosevelt was his Vice-President and if He Learned Respect for Diverse Peoples and Cultures Like China

Teddy Roosevelt: Awesomest American ever.

I find Rick Perry problematic, much like how I find soggy French fries, inefficient bureaucracy, and Asian chicks who dye their hair ridiculous colors and act cutesy problematic. But that aside, I want to praise glorious People’s Republic of China at Perry’s expense.

In a recent interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham, Perry made the following side comment about China:

You know, China disregarded the world for a millennium… and they lived in their own little world. [America] can’t afford to do that.

I don’t know if the average Chinese person would be offended, but I would be if I were Chinese. This attitude about historical China – that it was a reactionary, isolationist civilization that refused to change – is one that even some historians believe.

Even a quick glance at Chinese history within the last “millennium,” as Perry puts it, would easily undermine any such claim that China “disregarded” everyone else and “lived in their own little world.” Some examples:

  • China was one of the if not the largest economies in the world up until the 1700s and 1800s. Chinese products such as silk, ceramics, coins, and so forth, have been found as far as places like Italy, Arabia, Persia, India, Indonesia, Russia, Kenya, Mozambique, and maybe even Zimbabwe. Why the heck do you think all those crazy white dudes like Columbus wanted to sail to China? To be brainwashed by Chinese propaganda?
  • The Imperial Chinese government allowed for various ethnic, religious, and political groups to settle in China, not counting those that were already in China. During the past millennium, people such as Muslims, Nestorian Christians, Central Asians, Southeast Asians, Persians, and other white people all moved to China, particularly because of the lucrative economic opportunities.
  • China was very much involved in the political affairs of everyone around them. Up until the 1800s or so, nearby countries were forced/persuaded to pay tribute. These included states in modern-day countries such as Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Nepal, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, and all those Stans in Central Asia. You don’t go around asking for tribute if you, well, “disregard the world.” Additionally, China did get involved in international affairs in other states. For instance, China assisted Korea in defending against a Japanese invasion in the late 1500s, of which had important historical ramifications for the three countries and even Mongolia. China also invaded Vietnam a few times, but they all failed because Vietnamese housewives beat their husbands.

    Chinese ships helping their Korean comrades by blowing up Samurai.

  • Chinese ships helping their Korean comrades. The Samurai don’t stand a chance. Notice the rockets. So much for a backwards military.
  •  Perhaps one of the clearest shows of Chinese power and domination during the Imperial era were the voyages of Zheng He, which lasted from 1405 to 1433. Long story, a Muslim eunuch named Zheng He (he was Muslim, but the Chinese emperor didn’t really care about that, now did he?) was appointed admiral and sailed in this huge fleet to a bunch of places, including but not limited to Southeast Asia, Indonesia, India, Persia, the Middle East, and Africa. The ships sailed by Zheng He were possibly some of the largest ships in the world until the 1800s, reaching hundreds of feet in length and holding hundreds of sailors and other personnel. Regardless, Zheng He made a good point convincing most countries he met why pleasing China was a good idea (or at least that China meant $$$ and a good business opportunities).

    Zheng He, epitome of what Rick Perry considers to be a civilization that "lives in its own little world."

  •  Even after China stopped these voyages and put restrictions on merchants and other travelers on where they could go, that did not mean that China suddenly “lived in their own little world” and turned into a backwards reactionary state in two seconds. During the Ming Dynasty, for instance, when these restrictions were first imposed en masse, the Chinese were still willing to trade with Europe; in particular, China stockpiled on a lot of silver coming from Spanish colonies in the America (the collapse of Spain’s gold and silver markets in the early 1600s might have been one of the causes of the collapse of the Ming Dynasty). Again, this doesn’t show “disregard for the world” if you go stocking up on stuff that is mined half a world away by Amerindian and Black slaves.

So given all these blatant counterexamples to Perry’s claim that China “disregarded the world” and “lived in [it’s] own little world” for the last “millennium”, why do a lot of people like Perry – and even some academics – continue to claim that China was a stagnant, self-interested, reactionary civilization in the previous millennium, and particularly the last few centuries?

It’s quite simple, I think, and it all rests on the fact that the Chinese (and other powerful non-Western civilizations such as India, Persia, Indonesia, Arabia, and West Africa) weren’t (and aren’t) white Europeans. China didn’t go around exploring vast territories, killing most of the natives, colonizing now empty lands, and reaping in the resources. But Europe did. Since Chinese people aren’t like Europeans, the Europeans logically concluded that they must have been inferior. Respect for diverse peoples and cultures at its finest.

Though China didn’t go on mass murdering colonization rampages (that’s not to say they didn’t do very mean things themselves), they did progress in different ways. For instance, China developed a number of innovations during this time, including but not limited to gunpowder, barreled gunpowder weapons, paper currency, movable type printing, archaeology, grenades, land mines, naval mines, forensics, rockets, multi-stage rockets, bureaucratic red tape, and political corruption.

Technically this is a Korean weapon, but it is similar to a number of Chinese rocket weapons during the same era. In short, rockets beat samurai.

Economically speaking, China had no reason to go on crazy adventures like the Europeans. It was not necessarily because they had all the resources they needed back home; rather, it was because places like the Americas and the African coasts were too far away, and merchants were already moving back and forth between other parts of Asia and the Middle East already making good profits, so why bother waste funds sending Chinese men on risky expeditions to the middle of nowhere?

Perry’s claim that China “lived in their own world” is perhaps fueled by a Western misconception of China’s own perception of its place in the world. For a very long time, China considered itself the center of the civilized world, hence its modern name “Zhōngguó,” which means “Middle Kingdom” or “Middle Nation”. It had good reason to be, though, given all its achievements and how big it was compared to most of the states around it. Thus, when Europeans first came to China, the Chinese scoffed at them, particularly when the Europeans refused to pay respects to the Chinese officials in the Chinese way (kowtowing) for instance. So much for respect for diverse peoples and cultures. Europeans and Americans have since misinterpreted this attitude as an arrogant, self-interested one, since, of course, anybody who wasn’t going around colonizing and killing was either stupid and uncivilized or self-interested and backwards.

In fact, the Chinese were just as self-righteous, prejudiced, and conceited as the Europeans were. They just expressed their bastardom in different ways.

And that, I think, is what respect for diverse peoples and cultures boils down to: learning how and why other peoples and cultures are just the same bastards as you are.

I don’t blame Perry for his comments, though; as stated earlier, most people – and even a number of historians – still hold the same, outdated misconceptions of China, and these misconceptions won’t go away for a while. I just hope that everybody learns to respect diverse peoples and cultures. Seriously. It would make international relations a lot easier.

Anyhow, still, when it comes to Republicans, I think I’d rather trust Jon Huntsman over Perry when it comes to China. Actually, just make Teddy Roosevelt the Republican nominee again, seriously. I’d totally willingly vote Obama out of office if that happened.