The surest indicator that the philosophy of a nation has found universal acceptance is when Hollywood creates a successful movie franchise around it! The success of the Kung Fu Panda movies, which is loosely centered on the tenets of the Chinese way of life is surely ample testimony to this fact. Though one can’t be sure that the scriptwriters used the services of a Chinese translation agency to read Chinese philosophical treatises to get a real understanding of that culture, they sure managed to convey a sense of what it stood for.
The overriding theme of Chinese philosophy is humanism. The ancient Chinese philosophers weighed in quite extensively about what the role of a human being is as an individual and as a part of society. The reason Chinese philosophy is able to instantly connect with one is its emphasis on the practical and the moral as opposed to the lofty metaphysical essence of Western philosophy.
That is the reason why the Chinese people have actually follow the tenets prescribed by their greatest philosophers in daily life to this day. For them, the philosophy propounded by their greatest though leaders became their religion and way of life. The thoughts of the greatest Western philosophers were on the other hand mostly occupied by lofty metaphysical questions, which were beyond the pale of the ordinary people.
It is, therefore, a pity that many more students in the West are likely to study Greek philosophers than Chinese ones. If only more Westerners made an attempt to study Chinese and the Chinese way of life, they would not find the second most formidable power in the world to be an inscrutable lot with whom you cannot communicate without the help of an array of Chinese translators and Chinese interpreters to help one make any headway.
The idea here, of course, is not to cast any aspersions on the very capable and extremely useful certified translation agencies who carry out a sterling job enabling China’s multi-billion dollar trade with the rest of the world. The point one is trying to make is that by understanding Chinese philosophy, one gets to understand the Chinese, which everyone will agree is the need of the times, given their growing clout.
The usefulness of Chinese philosophy is not restricted to the realm of understanding what makes the world tick. It should rather be looked at in a more holistic manner. Understanding Chinese philosophy could help one to create a bridge between Eastern and Western thought, leading to a better and more composite new one. We are in the middle of the Web 2.0 revolution where all the old certainties have been thrown out of the window. In a time like this, the millennia-old tenets of Eastern thought are probably better equipped to help a crisis and angst-ridden generation to find its moorings.
It would be wonderful if the young people from the West were to travel to the East and China in particular and get to know what and how the young people there think and operate. While it’s true that most Chinese don’t speak English, one will find a host of simultaneous interpreting and interpreting agencies to help out there. There is much the West could take from what Chinese philosophy postulates. Confucian ethics, for example, have been very well defined with regards to the family dynamic. Confucians lay great store by the role of not just both parents, but also the government in the bringing up of children. While it is the former’s responsibility to provide a nurturing environment for the children, the latter can help create the perfectly conducive environment for families to flourish.
One of the greatest reasons behind the discord between the East and the West has been the fact that there is no diversity in the curricula taught to the students in the West. This is on account of the belief that European thought is the ultimate truth that there is and no other culture that is anywhere close to it in terms of value. This kind of unbridled hubris may have been possible in the past because the West was in the ascendant in world affairs. It may, however, lead to avoidable conflict in the coming century when the East will regain its preeminent status.
It would be far better to create a new world order which is a synthesis of the shared knowledge of all the cultures of the world. Understanding ancient Chinese philosophy will have to be an important part of this cross-cultural exchange. One should do whatever it takes to study ancient Chinese philosophical texts. Even if one has to pay for document translation services, it would be well worth the effort.
Surprisingly it is in China and not the famed democratic bastions of the West that universities commonly offer both Western and Chinese philosophy courses in equal measure. That would imply that the Chinese have a better understanding of the Western way of life than the West has of China.
There have been great civilizations in the past that sank in the sands of time. The achievements of the Western world in the last two centuries have been truly mind-boggling and praiseworthy. But that does not mean that other civilizations do not have it in them to surpass past achievements. As some of the great philosophers of the past would tell you that any civilization that assumes that it has reached their apogee of achievement, probably has.
In the unfolding drama of human civilization, it is the nimble and the adaptive who will not only survive, but thrive. The Chinese have been doing so for thousands of years and there is nothing to suggest that they will not do so again. The West with its less than five hundred years of grand achievement behind it cannot afford to sit on its laurels. The Chinese dragon is stirring again and readying to take flight. It might be a good idea to hitch and ride and understand how it flies.