Aligning Cultural Resources with China’s New Developmental Philosophy
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By Ole Döring

Aligning Cultural Resources with China’s New Developmental Philosophy

Aug. 07, 2018  |     |  0 comments

Cultural History

Over centuries, Eurasia had been artificially divided into isolated realms. Just when mobility of technologies and minds could have benefitted humanity with an innovative and collaborative momentum of human ingenuity, during the third phase of globalization,[1] cultural constructions of national, ethnic and ideological identities erected new, lasting frontiers. Now, two centuries after the beginning of what was euphemistically coined the “Great Game” in Central Asia,[2] it is time to correct that course and open a new avenue towards prosperity, across Eurasia. Shall we consider entering the gate that Western explorers passed by in their zeal to conquer the world and shape all under the image of the One?

Potential for some other kind of humanistic globalization can be explored when we take an economic approach, considering that economy is the widest extension of “proper housekeeping.” Economy is a holistic application of governance. It embraces sustainability, justice and cooperation, it harbors cultures of social value, and employs the value from labor in expressive creativity, social transactions, science (epistemics), ethics, and law, in order to furnish a realm of peace. Within this conceptual approach, external borders play no role, because value is derived from elementary contributions of human beings.

Such a deliberated pragmatic focus will foster a spirit of collaboration and liberate resources of creative humanism, in a comprehensive sense, keeping ideologies and unilateralism at bay. Moreover, these philosophies form the humanistic backbone of the classics across Eurasia, between Athens and Qufu, Weimar and Yuelu, Kant and Confucius. By virtue of their original designation, to understand and prescribe the structure of sustainable human relations under conditions of ultimate chaos, these classical weaving patterns of social coherence connect us as threads with competence and cord with humaneness.

Narratives for Innovation

The world is now populated as never before, with human potential in abundance. It is imperative and overdue for us to surmount the mindsets and organizational frames of imperial colonialism that still permeate our great narratives, from Herder or Wei Yuan, Rudyard Kipling or Kang Youwei, Oswald Spengler or Yan Fu, and many others, as they continue to limit our options for human advancement within the present world.

There should be no doubt about it: in the classical canons of humanity, there is no room for confrontation, exploitation, discrimination, exclusion, social darwinism, or racism, in any form and on any grounds among people. It is true that our classics have been expressions of their historical setting, but these could only blur, not negate their major points and achievements, that is, to provide powerful narratives on our ways to introducing truth, beauty and goodness as a prospect and call, beyond phenotypical boundaries.

We own a robust, universal framework and a host of experience from human histories, to build proper developmental conditions for globalization. For Europe, this implies the task to honestly revise culturalistic prejudice and flawed self-conception, overcoming the rigor that fueled the pacemaker of the irrational pendulum between Sino-philia and Sino-phobia. In spite of formal declarations of human rights or international law, Eurasia is still informally shaped by structures and narratives deeply imprinted by colonialism. The insult of being regarded as pawns in the strategic plots of others continues to impact the livelihoods of peoples along the Eurasian core regions.

It is in our own best interest to revisit the options within the cultural diversity that preceded the long phase of dominance of monocentric and culturalistic narratives, so as to capture and translate its value according to the needs of our times and future generations. On the other hand, China will help this cause when it succeeds in building a truly unbiased, that is, scientifically (in the sense of 格物致知[3]) grounded approach in exploring the value of her genuine enlightenment (明德) tradition, which has been buried among the rubble of ill-advised iconoclasm and the ignorance of well-meaning Western instructors.

China Plays, Who Joins?

Now, with its new Silk Road strategy, China has set in motion a timely initiative that may very well unfold dynamics towards a wholesome development for, at least, the Eurasian countries, with obvious implications for 天下. It is not a downside that large areas of details of application are left open, because this is a sketch delivered to be worked out. For example and especially, the essential “soft” regulatory and diverse socially applied provisions are not defined in positive terms under this strategic focus, that prudently sets on with the roots (物本事始, 知先近道), that is, hard infrastructure, security, and finances. Notably, there are still vacant seats at the conductors’ table, leaving the design of the regulatory system and the determination of the ultimate spirit and purpose in the grey — this situation could be tolerated for as long as the tentative direction supports the development of the quality of human livelihood.

Therefore, foundational sectors remain open to be defined and molded, such as the co-development of health-education-vocational and social security systems. First and foremost, trans-cultural rationales for solidarity need to be clarified, so as to disambiguate the direction and legitimacy of the entire venture. Here lie both the opportunity and the challenge for Western Europe to translate her very own convictions and established strengths in these areas into a culturally adaptive matrix. To benefit from learning and the correction of intrinsic, conceptual, and historical flaws. The Chinese part will be asked for patience, because Europe has not maintained the resources (such as in the humanities) to cater for globalized challenges, especially to appreciate opportunities for serious change. Ironically, Europe now suffers from the long period of convenience of a reduced, materialistic, commercial and technological marketing strategy in Asia. While it initiated much of the regulatory systems in order to benefit European business interests, even in the areas of education and culture, it failed to pay due attention to the proportional development of humanistic resources and frameworks that would enable open and constructive developmental paths for all.

This is an opportunity for deep, pragmatic, well-considered, and orchestrated collaborative strategies. Eurasian cultures can reclaim their dignity, after centuries of separation, alienation and turmoil, to devise a decidedly new “game,” with purpose, strategy, and rules set up in joint processes in a spirit of due participation. The meta-rules, to determine these processes, need to be found. It will obviously take a step-by-step and continued mutual learning approach, to get along, and integrity to make sure we stay on the course of benefit from justice (以義為利).

Eventually, it means to overcome the post-colonial monocultures, especially in their embedded forms. This is genuinely difficult because, (a) China has acquired an as yet unexplained hybrid cultural state that might transport ill-suited normative notions while being uncertain about her cultural heritage, and, (b) Europe has consolidated a misconception of sustainable diversity of cultures, with a propensity to reiterate monological patterns in the great narratives, that are indeed only fitted for meso-, not macro-extensions. Europe still entertains attitudes pre-shaped under the transatlantic protective sphere of the East-West divide. Uncertainty in the position watching East has sustained a self-defeating posture of arrogance and sclerotic timidity. We can see this in the debates over how not to respond with a forward-looking strategy to China’s “Belt and Road” in the first place, or in the absence of visions for developing Eurasia for mutual benefit, even at times when it is as easy as never before to present the EU as independent and valuable for global responsibility.

Methodology for Collaborative Cultures

However, these problems also bear recipes for their own resolution, especially when combined with honest self-critical reflection and genuine respect, for all the yet unknown that one might learn from, and together with, the other. The ideal starting point could be, rather simply albeit hypothetically, to stage a proper introduction of cultures, as if it were the first encounter. To bring on curiosity and openness, from both sides, to perform sincerely at their best. We cannot expect that we know anything just about the other, or that we have explained our ways and intentions clearly enough, in spite of all we believe that we understand. Proper interrelation is possible, when we muster what we have learned within our cultural horizons about diversity, in order to understand one another, and learn from them. This is common knowledge, deeply embedded but not trivial. Because it changes when expressed to the other side in terms of self-introduction. It can be used as guidance to work out a solid basis for the needs of our times. There lies the matrix for sustainable peace and collaboration.

Methodologically, translational capabilities must be redefined as fundamental and addressed systematically in order to facilitate understanding and cooperation. This implies a twofold methodology: one, to reconfirm the horizons of our humanities by sharing the studies of our classical knowledge and history; and two, to address shared challenges of our present world (such as with Eurasia), together wherever it makes sense, in a deliberated team spirit, as each does what each can best, in a well-orchestrated process.

Joining hands across Eurasia, for social, economic, cultural and scientific innovation, is a source of genuine hope for humanity.

On the conceptual level of the relevant translational issues, the structural patterns[4] of the great narratives governing our horizons, respectively, will require most delicate scrutiny. Translation is the beginning and the end of understanding as a continued process. We should be prepared to operate walking on a tightrope in the dark. We can do it but cannot take anything for granted. Thus, we can learn expressly from implicit patterns, to use their strengths, and overcome their weaknesses. Such as, misreading zhong (中) as a substantive mono-“center” instead of a perspectively pluralist centrality blurs the fundamental differences between a monological (e.g. monotheist) and relational-teleologic (e.g. Confucian) order of thinking; we cannot even begin to appreciate and explore the wealth of each particular culture, let alone learn, or use our common reason in order to clarify and console such contradictions, as we know we can. In this particular case, the juxtaposition of ultimates versus ultimate reflects the antinomic structure of reason in cultural patterns, especially as in languages. This makes for a grand framework to theorize and organize cross-cultural and trans-lingual philosophical explorations.

The most remarkable asset within this constellation is: because it is rooted in two living cultures, each includes a history of experiences in dealing with the other. China had it, most expressly, in the debate over 無極 or 太極, Europe in theological arguments or Aristoteles’ unmoved mover —whereas the dominant narrative is quite clearly distinct, it is, at the same time, a deliberate response to a deep and broad controversy within the respective tradition. This configuration also appears in social economy. Considering how it is that we owe to others beyond immediate positive commitment, legal, or moral obligations to oneself and the other, describes a Kantian framework, as representing humanity in one’s person. This echoes a sense of imperfection within a history of Christian charity or pity leaving social bonding to whim, chance, moral sense or verdict, instead of social-economic reason, as the mainstream interpretation of 仁 refers to in-group obligations, while indiscriminate concern for each human being (jian ai 兼愛) offers a formal relational commitment for the benefit of each and all.[5] To put it in an outrageously simple nutshell: the Kantian response to the Antinomies of Reason[6] proves him to be a true Chinese philosopher, whereas Mo Di’s concept of Jian Ai (兼愛) shows that he is a genuinely German social-economic ethicist (cf. “Solidarität”).

Framing Projects

This conceptual framework translates into potential strategies for organizational and regulatory practice on all levels, covering areas of economy, science and technology, social stability and security. Consider the Eurasia-part of the “Belt and Road” as a circumscribed sphere for learning and collaboration, among collaborating agents. Proper globalization implies a GLocal methodology approach, if we accept that justice and peace should guide our purposes. This figure of deliberation overcomes the traditional confrontation of cultural relativism versus cultural uniformism, of both relational-self-centered and multilateral-colonial dominions. It accepts transzendental (non-positive, pre-semantic) fundamental laws of reason as a regulative heuristic and transforms ritualized or dogmatic certainties with a procedural logic (teleology). In a nutshell: the GLocal approach, as a method, requires that we contextualize and re-evaluate the organizational code, in a progressive alignment perspective, in order to keep the quality deficits productive, as motivators to make it better.

As a global player, China strategically applies and further develops its knowledge base from other cultural contexts while trying to adapt what matters in terms of benefit. China is now effectively entering the stage of self-reliance or even leadership in an increasing number of key areas, especially in science and technology. Notably, the underlying advancement of system-relevant administrative competences, such as in production quality control (i.e. in medicine / biotech), or of environmental sustainability or of cutting-edge IT and AI developments, have gone largely unnoticed or underrated internationally. Imagine, however, three strategic target areas where neither China nor Europe can mobilize the possible and desired benefit adequately on their own, but can succeed when orchestrating efforts and resources.

(1) Global Health EurAsia

All relevant economic transactions should be combined, so that they contribute to the salutogenesis of a just habitat. This applies to the reduction of exposure to health risks, education of health sustaining behavior, access to best available needed health care and health protection for individuals, families, at the workplace, and in public and private domains. It recognizes Eurasia as one vast zone for migrating biro-substances of all kinds that require a comprehensive governance system, e.g., for prevention of and early response to pandemics alongside the revitalized trafficking routes. Within a properly GLocalized organizational framework, the market value and social benefit of health converge and cumulate over time and sustain prospects of a good life for all. The underlying anthropologies should be clarified in terms of relational and non-reductionist determinants of health. This will bear heavily on several areas of traditional economies that generate profit from pathogenic products or behavior. Eurasia is vast enough to become a vibrant field for experiments and learning, as a model for the world.

(2) Global Solidarity EurAsia

Solidarity is an abstract concept that obliges all to care for those they do not feel connected with. When organizing the constitution of a social and health care system, in principle no borders apply (though they maintain a strong role in governing their provisional constituencies). The primacy of caring for the other as an added benefit strategy will not support a self-regarding Risk Calculation, but, rather an Adverse Benefit Calculation, as it is part of Germany’s solidarity fund (in principle): accordingly, the beneficiary will not want to get into a situation in which he is entitled to receive the benefit. No one wants to fall ill or become dependent. This operational setting employs a prudential default mode, to be able to benefit others and from others, especially those with whom there is no living connection except for the abstract social-economic system.[7] Here lies a powerful connection between social-economic value and the organizational fabric of labor. Through the concept of solidarity, China with Europe can inspire and encourage localized models for sustainable social economy and mutual assistance, without degenerating into a frame of “development aid.” Accordingly, quality of life, work and business converge and cumulate over time.

(3) Global Humanity EurAsia

Diversity of demographic compositions, vocational profiles, systemic needs and the raw motivational value of open horizons for development in Eurasian societies can be organized so as to deliberately strengthen the strategic development of a pool of human resources, within and across borders, in terms of education, labor organization and mobility. Namely the imbalance between aging and orphan societies can benefit all through cross-boundary-collaboration, in upscaling value spirals (win-win-win). On the other hand, Europe needs to respond constructively to China’s advances in the governance or social value applications of IT/AI technologies, allowing for experimental model trials along the “Silk Road” by co-opting the affected societies. These diversities should be approached as resources, mobilizing and dignifying populations, and adding to the value-generation of work. Human value can converge across nations and cumulate over time, not to serve one monolithic market, with commodities and material goods only, but to support diversity of contributions.

This advancement can be achieved when we first take steps to overcome culturalistic preoccupations and established rituals. We grow beyond wrong expectations, biases and fears regarding “East” or “West” that effect failure not as much as misrepresentation, through unsound reasoning. This demands from us, neither more nor less than, to catch up with overdue homework. Philosophy, translational capabilities, and institutional infrastructure are needed in order to inform sensible policies. When we compare the present state with the wealth of infrastructure in place for transatlantic connectivity, we get an idea about the enormity of the charge. Better to start early.

Imperative of Practice

Eventually, a truly globalized, pragmatic epi-colonial[8] understanding of multi-lateral global and trans-regional cooperation can take shape. It is, not about “the economy, stupid,” but humane economy (οἰκονομία), not about business, but: to employ justice as the general rule to benefit households, countries and the world as one (以義為齊家國治天下平).

Joining hands across Eurasia, for social, economic, cultural and scientific innovation, is a source of genuine hope for humanity. Currently, China’s development is driving the momentum. Let’s encourage Europe to follow suit, while we revisit the terms together.

This paper was presented at the 2018 Sixth Symposium on China Studies: China’s Development and International Cooperation in the New Era. The Symposium on China Studies is co-hosted by Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The Symposium aims to build a professional platform for scholars on China Studies and think tank experts to share academic ideas and information, to promote communication and cooperation between Chinese and foreign scholars and to enhance the research quality of China Studies world-wide.

The author welcomes critical comments and collaboration requests.

[1] Eurasia-perspectives on globalization comprise, first, antiquity-civilic imperialism, second, medieval-mercantile imperialism, third, industrialized imperialism, and fourth, promethean imperialism, after 1989 began what may in retrospect become the turning point for humanistic globalization. The term globalization as coined by Naisbitt (Megatrends 1982) is historically and structurally biased. Therefore, the term will be used here only in a broad, pragmatic and inclusive sense.

[2] Ironically, as a figure of speech regarding the rivalry of European political powers over dominion in Central Asia, the “Great Game” was initially rendered an advance humanitarianism, albeit notably as “the noble part that the first Christian nation of the world ought to fill, that is, in a peculiar skewed truncated notion of humanism in 1840.” Compare Yapp 2000.

[3] The original Chinese technical terms used in this paper are taken from the 大學 in the version of the 禮記 and as interpreted in my own research.

[4] “Structural” refers to an embedded, often unexplained yet influential interpreting pattern: “a long-standing feature of the world,” as in:

[5] Carine Defoort 2008. “The Profit That Does Not Profit: Paradoxes with ‘Li’ in Early Chinese Texts.” Asia Major 21.1: 153–181.

[6] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason: “Als bloße Erscheinung kann die Welt weder ein an sich unendliches noch ein an sich endliches Ganzes sein, da sie nur »im empirischen Regressus der Reihe der Erscheinungen«, nicht als abgeschlossene Totalität gegeben ist.”

[7] With this definition, my approach to solidarity expressly rejects the “similarity-based approaches” dominating current mainstream, such as: Nuffield Report, “Solidarity: reflections on an emerging concept in bioethics”, 2012:

[8] “Epi” stands for being constitutionally embedded in a greater context, as in epi-genetics.

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