The Asian Way Of Life
India and China today are the direct heirs of the two longest-living
civilizations in the world. By the beginning of the third century A.D., the
formative ages of these two civilizations had produced an Indian tradition and
a Chinese tradition that have endured into modern times. These two traditional
ways of life differ sharply.
During India's formative age, the youthful energy and optimistic
self-assurance of the early Aryan warriors of India was replaced by Hinduism's
ideology of ascetic withdrawal from life. Indian society became so strongly
dominated by priests and religion that government usually played a minor role.
Even Buddhism, which challenged the power of the priests, had as its primary
goal not social change but, like Hinduism, the dissolution of the ego and
renunciation of the world. The great bulk of Indian thought seeks not to
challenge the existing social order but to explain and justify it. Duty
(dharma) and not, as in the West, freedom, individual rights, and the idea of
progress, dominates Indian thought. Individual rights in this world are
over-shadowed by the requirements of eternal salvation, and freedom means
escape from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Both are to be obtained
through the faithful discharge of caste duties.
In India there has been little demand for a better life in this world.
Social injustice is too often treated with indifference. In the words of a
modern scholar, "The tragedy of India is that it became a land where tragedy
had become irrelevant." ^7
[Footnote 7: Charles Drekmeier, Kingship and Community in Early India, p. 300]
The Chinese, on the other hand, did not lose their relish for life. They
reacted to human suffering not, as in India, by pursuing a long and arduous
religious quest that Indians often described as "leaving the world," but by
aiding the afflicted and directing the power of the state toward the
amelioration of social evils and the relief of distress. This was the product
of two of the main ingredients in the Chinese tradition - Confucianism, with
its humanistic concern for the individual within society, and Legalism, with
its stress on the power of the state.
Today some scholars view the present Communist dictatorship in China as
another imperial dynasty, the last in a long succession of imperial regimes.
But communism is a foreign import at variance with Chinese tradition, which
the Communist leaders have rejected - Confucianism in particular.
Nevertheless, the humane values of the Chinese tradition have persisted. This
was demonstrated in the spring of 1989, when hundreds of thousands of
university students in forty-one cities, supported by many workers, massed and
demanded "democracy" and an end to corruption. Their slogan, "People Power,"
echoed Mencius' view that the people's contentment is the indispensable
criterion for Heaven's choice of the ruler "since Heaven sees with the eyes of
the people." Perhaps, too, they remembered the opening line of the Analects of
Confucius: "To study and in due season to practice what one has learned, is
this not a pleasure?"
World History Project