Indeed a fascinating book, Where half the world is waking up by [Clarence Poe], a person born in North Carolina writing about China, Japan, Korea and India in the year of 1911. What a view he had!?

    Certainly I got to learn about what these countries were like — more backwards than I have thought, have been taught to believe, and have ever imagined. It was not the West bullying because they love to bully; it was the East being relatively too weak, so in a simplified game of world dynamics with only two contestants, the West & the East, the winner went to the West (as we conventionally call though I'm also reading another book, in which the author spent pages to articulate and hoped to define the term "East vs. West" → therefore, the convention wisdom of the two terms are not nearly as clear as one assumes. On the contrary, they are such a broad brush in a social, historical, even geographical context that the line between them are completly blurred and up for interpretation by whoever is speaking!). Not that the West was being more civilized, advanced, enlightened, knowledgeable, but the East had grown to be primitive (the Korean spade pic), rigid (Indian's caste system!), and readily positioned itself to be swept away by the wave of development.

    The only way out of this is not to lock yourself into a belief but to think yourself and to listen and to read as much as you can. Quoting from the book,

    we are also ready to admit the truth of what Dr. Timothy Richard said to me in Peking last November. "This revolutionary progress in China has come about," he remarked, "because for twenty years China has been measuring herself with other countries. It is a comparative view of the world that is remaking the empire."

    This echoes again my firm belief that open-mindness, the sheer exposure of multiple angles of views of the same world we live in, makes you think, makes you wonder, make you tremble, with excitement and with fear, make you question what you have been told all along, make you seek explanation none sofar has been satisfying to you, make you put conflicting theories, ideologies, teachings, point of views, voices, opinions, beliefs, interpretations, writings, sacred or not, together into a single entity — yourself — with a struggle to internalize all, bits from some, pieces from another, so to reach a world you yourself can explain, can navigate, can function, can make decisions as if there were a reason, can see the cause as if there were one, can feel confident from time to time, can act as if its intended outcome is predictable, can convince yourself what to and not to do, can convince others what you think is right and wrong, and can hope (if Hope was indeed a savior instead of an evil!) your existence make sense.

    So reading, thinking, debating, conflicting, is the only way that knowledge (what an abstract term itself is! what is a knowledge!? how do you know you have obtained knowledge?) can be manifested. Reconciliation is difficult; yet, everyone is a result of reconciliation of all the above, or else s/he will not exist. Contradiction is eternal; consistency is an illusion; consistently contradicting is real.

    Interesting quotes from the book


    "I cannot help thinking," said one of my friends to me when I left home, "that when you get over on the other side of the world, in Japan and China, you will have to walk upside down like the flies on the ceiling!"

    While I find that this is not true in a physical sense, it is true, as Mr. Percival Lowell has pointed out, that, with regard to the manners and customs of the people, everything is reversed, and the surest way to go right is to take pains to go dead wrong! "To speak backward, write backward, read backward, is but the A B C of Oriental contrariety."

    Alice need not have gone to Wonderland; she should have come to Japan.

    I cannot get used, for example, to seeing men start at what with us would be the back of a book or paper and read toward the front; and it is said that no European or American ever gets used to the construction of a Japanese sentence, considered merely from the standpoint of thought-arrangement. I had noticed that the Japanese usually ended their sentences with an emphatic upward spurt before I learned that with them the subject of a sentence usually comes last (if at all), as for example, "By a rough road yesterday came John," instead of, "John came by a rough road yesterday."

    And this, of course, is but one illustration of thousands that might be given to justify my title, "The Land of Upside Down," the land of contradictions to all our Occidental ideas. That {4} Japan is a land "where the flowers have no odor and the birds no song" has passed into a proverb that is almost literally true; and similarly, the far-famed cherry blossoms bear no fruit. The typesetters I saw in the Kokumin Shimbum office were singing like birds, but the field-hands I saw at Komaba were as silent as church-worshippers. The women carry children on their backs and not in their arms. The girls dance with their hands, not with their feet, and alone, not with partners. An ox is worth more than a horse. The people bathe frequently, but in dirty water. The people are exceptionally artistic, yet the stone "lions" at Nikko Temple look as much like bulldogs as lions. A man's birthday is not celebrated, but the anniversary of his death is. The people are immeasurably polite, and yet often unendurably cocky and conceited. Kissing or waltzing, even for man and wife, would be improper in public, but the exposure of the human body excites no surprise. The national government is supposed to be modern, and yet only 2 per cent, of the people--the wealthiest--can vote. Famed for kindness though the people are, war correspondents declared the brutality of Japanese soldiers to the Chinese at Port Arthur such as "would damn the fairest nation on earth." Though the nation is equally noted for simplicity of living, it is a Japanese banker, coming to New York, who breaks even America's record for extravagance, by giving a banquet costing $40 a plate. The people are supposed to be singularly contented, and yet Socialism has had a rapid growth. The Emperor is regarded as sacred and almost infallible, and yet the Crown Prince is not a legitimate son. Although the government is one of the most autocratic on earth, it has nevertheless adopted many highly "paternalistic" schemes--government ownership of railways and telegraphs, for example. The people work all the time, but they refuse to work as strenuously as Americans. The temples attract thousands of people, but usually only in a spirit of frolic: in the first Shinto temple I visited the priests offered me sake (the national liquor) {5} to drink. Labor per day is amazingly cheap, but, in actual results, little cheaper than American labor.

    It is amid such a maze of contradictions and surprises that one moves in Japan. When I go into a Japanese home, for example, it is a hundred times more important to take off my shoes than it is to take off my hat--even though, as happened this week when I called on a celebrated Japanese singer, there be holes in my left sock. (But I was comforted later when I learned that on President Taft's visit to a famous Tokyo teahouse his footwear was found to be in like plight.)

    Speaking of music, we run squarely against another oddity, in that native Japanese (as well as Chinese) music usually consists merely of monotonous twanging on one or two strings--so that I can now understand the old story of Li Hung Chang's musical experiences in America. His friends took him to hear grand opera singers, to listen to famous violinists, but these moved him not; the most gifted pianists failed equally to interest him. But one night the great Chinaman went early to a theatre, and all at once his face beamed with delight, and he turned to his friends in enthusiastic gratitude: "We have found it at last!" he exclaimed. "That is genuine music!" . . . And it was only the orchestra "tuning up" their instruments!


    No religion of the Far East has ever recognized the dignity of woman, probably because no religion has ever recognized the worth of the individual. Just as I have said, that in the old days, and almost as largely to-day, in the relations of the home, it was the family that counted and not the individual, so in his relations to the larger world beyond the individual formerly counted for nothing when weighed against the wishes of the superior classes. In the earliest days, when the lord died, a number of his subjects were buried with him to wait upon his spirit in the Beyond. Later, with the same object in view, wives and servants committed suicide on the death of the master. Even now it is regarded as honorable for a girl to sell herself into shame to save the family from want.

    The same antipodal difference between East and West--here "the family is the social unit" and with us the individual himself--explains the system of adoption: a younger son not being essential to the maintenance of the family cult may be adopted into another family, while the eldest son may not. On the same principle the father rules, not because of what he represents as an Individual, but because he represents the Family. Whenever he chooses, he abdicates, and must then join his other children in obeying the eldest son.

    In the relations of citizenship the same disregard of {56} individual rights was the ancient rule, not merely in the fact that for centuries the smallest details of everyday life were regulated by law, but more seriously in that the Samurai, or privileged class, might "cut down in cold blood a beggar, a merchant, or a farmer on the slightest provocation, or simply for the purpose of testing his sword," while in case of the ruin of their cause it was the honorable and natural thing for soldiers to commit "hari-kiri"--that is to say, commit suicide by disemboweling themselves. A Japanese writer recently declared that "the value of the individual life is an illustration of the Christian spirit" that is profoundly influencing Japan, and he mentioned as an example that formerly suicide, in such circumstances as I have mentioned, "was regarded as an honorable act; now it is regarded as a sin."

    Without professing the religion of fatalism which so influences the peoples of the Nearer East, the Japanese soldiers behave like fatalists because the fundamental basis of the social order for centuries has been the necessity of the Individual to sacrifice pleasure, comfort, or life itself when required either by the Family or by the Social Order. And this partially explains why it is said in sober earnest that the highest ambition of most Japanese schoolboys to-day is to die for their Emperor.

    — by Feng Xia


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