Sule Pagoda in central Yangon
Sule Pagoda in central Yangon

Analyzing the various cultural influences of Asia on the West, one can start with the mathematical zero brought by the scholars along the trade routes from India and the Arab region to the West, or the binary code, the basis of modern computer language, coming via the Jesuits from the Chinese Imperial Court in Beijing to the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a derivate of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese “Book of Change,” or having in mind German Idealism for instance, showing strong influence of the East, as the famous German philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte and his successor Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel read the ancient scriptures of India, such as the Vedas, Vedanta, and the Upanishads, who integrated those ancient texts into their philosophy.

Also coming to my mind is the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who read a lot of the ancient scriptures of Buddhism, or Friedrich Nietzsche, who strongly related to Schopenhauer, developed his philosophy and the concept of the “Übermensch” from that Buddhist influence, reminding of the concept of the “Avatar,” a Buddha-like, fully enlightened person from the East.

Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and student of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, was strongly influenced by the East as well. Jung was an admirer of Richard Wilhelm, the first Westerner to translate the I Ching from Chinese into a Western language – German. Wilhelm presented his translation in 1923 at Peking University, as he had translated most of the ancient Chinese scriptures into German.

So until his death in 1961, Jung was deeply impressed by and working with the I Ching and its archetypes. When Jung refers to the male starting as a man, who over his lifespan gets more and more female qualities, and the female starting as a woman, adding up more and more male qualities during her lifetime, Jung’s Anima-Animus Theory reminds apparently of the ancient Chinese Tai Chi Mandala and its Yin-Yang concept.

All these Western proponents have in common the fact that it was hard for them to mention their strong influence by Asian philosophy, because of the risk of their losing their academic reputations, which makes obvious how the Western academic system and its proponents in liaison with colonial thinking patterns were deeply convinced of the supremacy of the Western way of thinking and ruling the world, as the Western academic world only referred to their own Western thinking traditions and foundations, which persisted at least until the late 20th century.

For philosophical thinkers the strong scientific approach of the Western world is further obvious, starting with the Renaissance and in particular with British philosopher Sir Francis Bacon and French philosopher René Descartes, where the individual existence increasingly became the object of interest, through which scientific research evolved and the religious focus faded, when at the same time in Asia until the 20th century – and in parts of the continent up to the present day – it was unusual to put the individual in the center of attention.

The separation of powers can be seen as a Western response and as a direct result of this individualization process through science, which was sealed by the Age of Enlightenment and the imperative of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant: “sapere aude!” – that is, “Dare to know!” “Dare to be wise!” “Dare to think for yourself!” – addressing every individual in the West and beyond.

So the collective mind (collectivism in this respect) decreased through this processes of individualization, encouraging every individual to use his own brain power. Even now I observe this main difference in (business) culture between East and West, wherefore a big difference in corporate behavior exists, as in Japan or Korea people have to join a company spirit way more than in the West.

Immanuel Kant’s “Dare to know!” “Dare to think for yourself!” is not only about knowing, but more to feel encouraged to act according to your knowledge, to practice your own knowledge and to follow your own insights. If one has internalized this Western attitude toward individualization – although a culture based on these principles might be perceived as based on a lack of respect – one tends to be more self-determined, to have a higher self-esteem, in a sense taking oneself seriously as a person, as an individual.

A result of this individualization process is: the more one practices individuality over collectivity, the more values like modesty disappear, alongside the increase of the value of every individual. From this individualization process the human rights as inalienable birthright evolved.

This attitude, based on the principle of the high value of every individual with the human rights as fruits of the Age of Enlightenment in the West and its secularization of Christianity, might be strange and new to many in the East, where historically people are more used to the collective understanding of family, tribe, and religiously based societies, wherefore human rights are often dubbed an “invention of the West.”

So Asia, such as Japan, Korea and China, also the subcontinent and the Middle East, only gained respect from the West after many decades of Westernizing themselves collectively. Put differently, it was not before individuals from these Asian countries had discarded their deep-rooted traditions and values to a certain degree, trading them for individualization, scientification, and technologization, for Westernization, if you will, as if only when Asians had started to think, dress and behave like Westerners, that they began to become global players and to be respected by the West.

Immanuel Fruhmann

Dr. Dr. phil. Immanuel Fruhmann is an Austrian philosopher and educationist specialized in philosophy of science and language, cultural and social philosophy, as well as adult education, with years of experience in analysis of geopolitics and giving philosophical and educational insights to the public. He is psychotherapist in training and works as coach and consultant as well as writer. Fruhmann is a Knight of the Order of St George, a European Order of the Imperial House of Habsburg-Lorraine,...

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