Author: Krzysztof Gawlikowski
Institution: Uniwersytet SWPS
Year of publication: 2017
Source: Show
Pages: 9-52
DOI Address: https://doi.org/10.15804/ap201701
PDF: ap/20/ap2001.pdf

Some reflections on historical stages of „understanding China” in Europe and on the origins of our stereotypes

The study presents the process of increasing knowledge of China in Europe starting with ancient Greece and Rome until the colonial and post-colonial periods. The author indicates that the key role played at the ancient times the division of the world into the sphere of „civilization” and of „barbarians”, who – according to Aristotle - should be treated as animals or plants, beings which must be under command of civilised men. At this early phases the stereotype of „Asian despotias” had already been born (although it concerned ancient Persia and other Middle East countries, not China), which depreciate an individual and citizens’ rights, and put an emphasis on the „slavish nature” of Asians. The images of „Asia” served first of all as the opposition to the forming identity of „civilised Europe” and its values. And of course, it has a mission of diffusing the civilisation. In the middle ages a new division appeared: into Christians and pagans, who are Devil’s children, and who should be baptised or annihilated. It was a new form of the ancient mission. In the Enlightenment period there were two streams of thought. One of them admired China as an excellent model of the enlighten, absolute monarchy, another one presented China according to the ancient despotic stereotype (its main theoretician was Montesquieu). This second, developed by Hegel, become essential for the colonial and post- -colonial period, including „cold war”. During this time such a vision had been propagated by Karl A. Wittfogel. According to this vision the West, again, has the mission of spreading out its superior civilization. Today there are two visions of the world in the West, one offered by Fukuyama, and another one by Huntington. The first propagates the mission of the West and inevitable westernization (or more exactly – Americanisation) of the entire world. The second vision maintains that notwithstanding modernization there will exist for a long time various civilizations with their diverse values, side by side with the West. And this vision appears more realistic, since everywhere in the world, including China, one could notice the revival of native or nationalistic traditions. President Trump seems to be the first American president for fifty years, who shares Huntington’s vision and does not subscribe to the idea of the obligatory civilising mission of the West.

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