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The 'Truth' of Chinese Thinking

Popularity 7Viewed 4006 times 2015-5-22 02:27 |System category:Life| Chinese, Greece, Western, Thinking, Chine

A recent article from Business Insider, gave me a new understanding of a lot of the psychology of Chinese people that I had pondered for some time. Drake Baer spent 13 months traveling in China, Japan and South Korea. He found himself at odds with his colleagues and friends that he had met along the way regarding the understanding and importance of 'truth'. He found a certain ambiguity with his East Asian counterparts that somehow didn't exist in his own western thinking. Here's what he discovered.

The 'thinking ways' of two ancient societies formed the basis by which westerners and East Asians find themselves today. First, there was the thought processes established by ancient Greece. Likewise, there were the thought processes developed by ancient China.

The Greeks followed the law of the excluded middle while the ancient Chinese followed the Confucian doctrine of the mean. He points out that the Greeks resided in mountainous regions that depended on providing a livelihood based upon hunting, fishing, trade and herding. The Greeks were more independent than the ancient Chinese who, due to the terrain of the geography of much of China, depended more on cooperative and collective efforts of sustaining a livelihood. Settled agriculture came to ancient Greece about 2,000 years later than China, and was, by this time and in their paradigm of thinking, more of a commercial endeavor than a collective, cooperative one. The Chinese learned to live by 'guanxi', or relationships while the Greek was independent and was self-reliant.

Ancient Chinese believed that the established of 'truth' in any argument, was found somewhere in the middle and arrived at only through compromise. They saw each party in a dispute as possessing some truth and some falsehood. The Greek mindset (also espoused in the writings of the famous, ancient philosopher Aristotle) was that in a dispute, one party must be 'right' and the other one 'wrong'. There was little room for compromise and fair judgment should be absolute in its findings.

To me, this is an eye-opener to many questions I've contemplated during my nearly 4 years in China. Questions such as, 'why is there so much ambiguity in so many matters?', 'how can people not see when things are obviously and indisputably unjust?' and 'why is the rule of relationship adhered to more than the rule of law?' The answer is simple. The ancient Chinese sought harmony with neighbors and others that he depended upon to maintain his life. He had to get along. Even in my city of Zhengzhou, the theme of the city is 'harmony.' President Xi is often heard talking about maintaining a harmonious society.

These thoughts and certainly the history of the two mindsets allows insight into questions I've long held. It allows me to live with a greater understanding and knowledgable compassion among Chinese. It gives me insight into how those around me are thinking and what their world-view is like.

I appreciate Mr. Baer's fine article and the wisdom he has exposed as a result of his research.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.


Recent comments

  • Amazing Chinese Student 2018-6-16 15:05

    Great story.

  • Can Chinese Education Change? 2018-5-16 10:53

    I think foreigners are advanced on writing (working)style that we could see if we compare the dictionary of English and Chinese with each other! Chinese scientists and teachers must tell stories in plain words to children and leave more free space for the latter to do logical thinking all by themselves. That is the direction of Chinese education-reform. We must first realize our disadvantages on schooling and then do some operations for changing and improvement!  Never copy foreign things on appearance!
    For more, please check my recent writings on education!

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