Asia Society presents; 69
Of. The Asia Society presents. This is a series of interviews with authorities on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your host on this transcribed series is a noted author and award winning a broadcaster. Lee Graham here now is Mrs. Graham. We hear the phrase loss of identity or identity crisis very often but we think this is a western phenomenon a Western problem. Apparently it is a phenomenon of the east of Asia as well. Our guest on this program who is very much steeped in Asia as an archeologist as a sociologist is another part just feels that within 10 years perhaps things which identified the Asian cultures may have vanished from our world and that would be said in his opinion I don't know whether you'll agree but we'll examine this as we go
along. He is the noted curator of Asian collections at the American Museum of Natural History and his name is Dr. Walter fanservice. In addition Dr. Phares service is chairman of the department of anthropology and sociology at Vassar College. I don't think you were so in love with the Orient that you say when you about 16 you left home to Pike to travel. Yes I got tired of school I was at that time in New York high school system and the regents were coming and suddenly seemed much better than taking the regents So I I I was in studio involve myself as they are today so I I revolted and went to Asia. It was to come back at some point. I did I came back and paid the penalty for my absence but managed to survive and go on from there. What drew you to Asia of all the parts of the world you might have gone to. While I suspect that's what draws many people to Asia in those days it seems so romantic. My grandfather had been an export who had traveled a great deal in
Asia spoke Chinese and we were surrounded at home with many objects of his travels. And I suspect that helped very definitely in luring me in the direction of Asia. When you speak out defensiveness of a loss of identity that is something we hear about all the time. Rather an emotional problem for some people in the West. We somehow never assumed that this could happen to people and we felt that they were so steeped in a long tradition that they knew who they were. I didn't have this problem. Yes that's certainly true. The problem is that the lower and the goodies of Western industrialization and progress as we call it have drawn many Asians into the belly work of the I suppose it's into the the net as it were of the West. And literally they're giving up their culture for the lower the West the goodies of industrialization. Why would that make a person feel that he doesn't know who he is.
Well you take the typical situation of say for example an Indian. Boy lives in the village he was raised in the Hindu values and Hindu ideas who dresses in a certain way and assumes that he will marry in a certain way whose life cycle is determined and who contributes something to his world as an Indian. Well this boy goes to a large city and in the city he finds the values of his village are obliterated by other kinds of abuse. And as he adjusts to these he gives up his orthodox Hindu FISONs he gives up with it the values of his village. He changes his clothing. He may if he marries he marries probably under the urges of the of the city not that of the compulsion is of the village. He no longer serves his family as a service as he would have served his family in the village. Even the games that he plays with his children the little toys that they have are are not those of the traditional Indian world. He
even made me obliterate the language for the sake of the whatever spoken locally. And the result is that then he is compelled to face his children and say you are Indian but you're not. Like I was. And then the children say well what do you mean. And in turn he has difficulty explaining what he means. And in the process of trying to explain his children get confused. And the result is that well actually we were facing that resolves in the disillusionment the disenchantment the the loss of roots the failure of the old tradition to have meaning to the younger generation and the result was that simply people lose their Indian I saw whatever their Asian ness or whatever their background couldn't this be given to a person in that state a fusion couldn't we say Gilliam.
This is your past this what your grandparents did. This is what we did for centuries. But now we are emancipated. We are liberated. We are going to a new world a world where there is more flow of ideas more communication more travel. And so you can now be a man of the world you don't have to just be Indian. Why can that be looked upon as a marvelous reward for living in this century. Well I think one of the problems in dealing with the past the truth of the the old tradition is that we tend to think of it as confining. We tend to say well it is restricted and we have a marvelous idea that freedom is simply to look at the world any way one wishes to. But the problem is to look at the world at all you have to have a point of view. You have to have some ideas that are your own. And it's this finding of who one is that the old culture is mean to me. We have this trouble in our country when our people without certain as to just who they are are they representative of an older idea are they representative of what we call the
new progress or are we representative of an international world. And it is Asians as a great difficulty ascertaining really who they are and in this context I something that surprises many of us. We always felt these people at least know who they are. At least they know they know what their past is because they live so much in the past. When did this change start coming about. Since World War 2. Well I think before that unquestionably it certainly goes back to the 18th century when the beginnings of a major outlook to the West began by Asians. You recall in the British period one of the major struggles in India was the Indians right to learn English so that the learning of the West would be available to them Macauley for example made possible the teaching of English to Indians. And of course the at that point the wonders of the West were open to them and they seized upon it and it's the offspring of these people who seized upon it with those who produce the modern India.
But that's a long way from the end that they originally inherited this the India they inherited was composed of several layers of civilization anyway right. And each had to change during that particular century. They say there is nothing that is purely and even if we use that as an excuse. Yes that's true but you see one of the things that was important to India in the past was the fact that it was a strong sense of roots. But in India the history whatever it was was a kind of an amalgam of things that were that were Indian. Now when we speak of the west the west literally superimposes its ideas and most Indians who except the west do not consider that which they accept in the West as in any way Indian whereas in the past they might have accepted Persian ideas and amalgamated them into an Indian ethos. But the Western friends used to do great because Ukraine was right it was. But isn't that narrowing. Right stepping ideas from the east more and my philosophy and music.
I want to if we really are I think what we're simply saying then is that we are interested in them and for the first time many people are discovering them. They're lured by the fact that eastern philosophies have some validity in our world. We are interested in the music of Asia and other things but we don't literally absorb them into our culture we're almost two times in this period of which we've suddenly discovered these things is too short. We don't know yet what the influence of the East will be. We know that it's here now and I'm afraid that so often if you look at our history where we've been exposed to foreign cultures we find a kind of fatalism going on I remember one period in the 50s that was then Buddhism was all the rage and it's considerably fallen off it's been picked up in other ways perhaps but nonetheless there have been changes in it. And I'm not at all certain that our people are immersed in it or it will have significant meaning to them. Well as more ideas come to us because there is a greater transmission of ideas. We as you rightly say do not necessarily accept them but we're
interested. We know that it's not that we might accept part of them. Do you think then that the West has more by talent in this particular part of the world's history in that more is flowing from west to east than east or west. Well we used to think that way yes. There's no question that Western civilization with its strong orientation on urbanization on gathering people into a large city situation and its fantastic scientific advances and with the obvious technology that goes with that and all that dynamic quality which goes back to the Samaritans and it's certainly a questionably far more dynamic than anything he's produced. But on the other hand the east has produced ways of life which are valid. One of the significant things that the US produced was of course it's clear observation of the meaning of nature to the lives of people. When we try to be in harmony with nature in the West this is our crisis now is our inability to be in harmony with the nature that's now
reacting to us and in ways that we hadn't expected would. Then we can now live in from the east and see what they have retained which we should not have lost and perhaps be inspiring respect. The only trouble is that now the East because it's becoming more west make the same mistake is making the same mistakes and indeed when you consider the vast population explosions in India and China to the consumption of their landscape and the crises that were that occurred because of this they themselves have had to face this this business that we're facing now. But where is their philosophies and ideas enable them to surmount the crisis on an individual basis at least in each individual could have certain security in knowing that whatever his fate there was at least a reason for it. We in the West are caught without any any any of this quality we are uncertain as to why our fate should be but we are very much aware that it can happen. Well you're not a theologian Still I would like to ask you this question do you think the identity crisis man's fear about his
insignificance was puzzlement about who he was and is it came with that loss of belief in God which I suppose you could trace back to the 18th century in the West. The age of reason and like me and skepticism and that brought about the real identity crisis. And if that is true what people in the Orient. Very much so everything just believes absolutely foundering. You see after all religion was so much a part of every part of the thought of the total culture in the east. Much more so than in the West. When religion is removed from it then there is a tremendous acceleration of the disintegrating side of things. The change in the address one sees in Tokyo. Almost all western dress in the outskirts is honest and no that is just the superficial aspect of this but still it points out that the East wants to accept as much of the West as possible doesn't it. Well of course you see western mass produced clothing is as a typical example it is
mass produced it's cheap and many of these cultures which are agriculturally oriented having the native materials the flax and the cotton and so on which they can produce a great number and they can make the cheap wine. And the result is that that is one major factor of course for the seizing on Western clothing it's cheaper than their own. You think that's the only reason. Not quite the contrary I think also the breakdown of the culture and the desire. You see one of the odd things is that many Asians have felt inferior to the west because of the West's accomplishments in science and technology and so they're more than ever eager to have to seize upon every aspect of the West which includes the cloning the Japanese seem to do this to the grave very much so I don't write much Japanese boys and girls want to look as much like American teenagers as possible right. Absolutely do having operations on their eye and making them around her and that of having them narrower. Yeah well of course that that reaches a ridiculous length you know. Yes but they are doing it in large numbers.
Well the numbers are yeah but I think at the same time you find as a counter current going on and that is that the younger people I think throughout the world whatever their cultural background. But it's particularly true the Asians are starting to say why are we giving up that which makes us Asian. Why are we making such a fetish out of the West. And the result is that there are native mystic revivals of some form or another going on in many nations and I think this is perhaps a hopeful sign that there is value in the old culture that it need not be subjugated to the west. And if this happens of course there can be again much more variety in the world. What would you comment on the Asian attitudes in the United States and the Asians who have left their native countries and come here for second perhaps third generation what the difference is that I do. Well there are a lot of things that one can say I can give you two examples one Indians who come to this country. Many Indians come for educational advantage. The mail is as opportunity comes here are some of the ladies come that way too and they're
very expert in areas such as statistics and mathematics and this kind of thing. So they are given opportunities in our society after they graduate. Westinghouse for example may employ the many of the big firms we employ them. These opportunities are in such contrast to the lack of opportunity in their own homeland that the parents the young people who are married and have come over to India and have their little children here decide that they will stay in America. But then there they are faced with the conflict should they send their child back to India. So that the child can at least be raised partially in an Indian tradition. Or should they keep him here and raise them as an American child. Now this immediately is a question of identity. There's a real conflict the family does not want to lose its identity as Indians and yet India doesn't offer them the opportunities so there was a tremendous conflict. And so and at the other side they don't want to be separated from their child because the child is a very valuable part of their everyday existence much more so perhaps than our children are. It's an
essential really of life and it is a statement of the future of their identity. And so for Indians there is a constant tragedy in the decisions made by which they have to stay away from India. They may try in their own way to maintain their little bit of India in America but this is almost always a losing battle in the long run because of the obvious pressures that are on them here. Another example is there are the Chinese-Americans the first generation who came over it tended to maintain their Chinese qualities they had a sense that they would return to China. And as a result they had a very strong feeling of identity with the old trying of the old tradition. The second generation having to struggle in America resented the fact that the parents were in effect saying we are Chinese and you should be Chinese too and so they in effect revolted against it and tended even to deny the language and try to speak always in English in the home and the like the result was that they cut the
roots. Now their children come along and their children are mongoloid in feature. They are American and dress American in speech and everything else but they're clearly a minority. And at the same time they're regarded as Chinese by their grandparents for whom they have no contact they don't speak the language anymore they have only a very vague idea of the original tradition. And so resentment begins to come about if when either Chinese or American. Who are we. And then the resentment goes to their parents to say you cut us off from that which was valuable. We can be better Americans because we are richly imbued with the knowledge of our own culture. China. Then we can be by just simply being amorphous people who need to fit in in either side of the fence. So I find many students to Chinese students and you know who are American perhaps even as far as the fourth or fifth generation who are now returning to the Chinese thing they're now studying the
language again and they're the ones that motivate having courses in Chinese or Japanese as the case may be they may even in their own communities have reopened some of the old festivals and begin to to look at at the culture there the ones that want to go to Taiwan for example or Hong Kong and get in greater contact with the Chinese. And I think this is an increasing thing I don't think it's decreasing at all. Well the story though of the United States is that wave after wave of immigration took place and we are one layer upon the other of all different races and nationalities as you know. And that's been the the problem if you put it that way out of many many groups. Why do so many people however say this is a problem. Why shouldn't the groups relax more and say we know what we were in the past. And I going to forget it. But here we are in the present. Our job are we doing something here in the future. Why can't people embrace all of this without becoming resentful or if you will feeling rejected. I think this going back to the
past on the part of new generations is a sign of defeat. No no no quite the contrary I think that it's a sign really of trying to take the best out of the past and to push aside that which didn't have it and restricted. I think there's a major effort to to find one's identity by seizing upon that which was was good and which was true. And trying to amalgam that with the modern culture in which in which they find them so I think it's it it has a more obvious international meaning in terms of communication. And if it can be done on that discerning basis. But if you speak of having come from an Indian village. True Nature probably was at its best in most unrestrained and therefore you had disease you had poverty well live long surely. Oh there is not that much glory about the past except that we glorify the past in our job. Oh no quite the contrary I think it. There was much that was good in the past we tend I think typically Americans tend to think of the past even in our own land but certainly for Asians as one that was that
the people were backward in fact we even refer to these countries as underdeveloped already or the developing so-called because they're moving in the direction of the Western industrialization. One of the advantages of studying Asia or any any alien culture is to realize how many good elements there are to go with what we think of as bad for example. I think one of the tragedies in American life is the attitude towards older people in our country we tend to shunt them aside and we've always done this which opens generation gaps. One of the great Asian contributions is respect for the aged. Now sometimes that respect went too far and authority was left with people who should not have had the authority perhaps and with certain kinds of things. But on the other hand there are many examples in Asia of how older people and young people could work out ways of living together with mutual respect. And I think that great meaning to us in the West. Similarly our whole loss of hand-craft in that area of technology we are all our craftsmen or Europeans who are now in
their 60s and 70s many crafts of dying out of Asian respect for handicraft. Still there are many people who practiced a handicraft in this country. In fact I'm going tomorrow to an exhibition of work done by American craftsmen working in ceramics and dad textured fabrics and embroidery. So far don't you think Dr. Besser is that the main problem is that history takes a certain course not you influenced by any others except perhaps a Napoleon or sadly a Hitler and that we must go along with the tide. And if we regret the past too much we imprison ourselves that is if we were great that the past is gone we imprison ourselves and then we lose our identity meaning as we are blind to the present. I would think that you know to sort of complete what I would say the main thing is that by looking to one's own culture one is not looking at the past when as simply saying in effect this was a living thing. It still has a life because I wanted to have a life. And what we're saying is
by looking at it taking from it that which is good. We can add to what we hope will be an eventual perfection for all mankind which has to be amalgam of all cultures not just simply one. And I think that what Asians are doing is they are saying in effect there were things in the past our value to the future and it's these that we want to identify it's these that we want to use and it's these that we want the world to recognize. And as we look at them we find a kind of identity for our individual selves and as individuals we are able to make a far greater contribution and we are as conformist and some kind of uniform wielders. Do you feel that the contemporary people or today generation is in an age yet are able to do this is a very difficult thing. Yes but I think what's happening is that you're seeing change you're faced with it and what's happening is a diminishing of the old traditional cultures a very rapid diminishing. But what I think will precipitate out will be a kind of bewilderment which in the end will mean that a
percentage of their population will look back at the old culture creatively not as a native mystic revival to return but simply to it to pull from and as I mentioned before that which is good and with while they do that they will find a density for themself as Asians. And a final question in the few seconds we have left. You say that you can see this at the Museum of Natural History where you are one of the curators that there are fewer and fewer things to bring from Asian lands your collections. Yes that's right in a way we are faced with the last in the next 10 years we'll see probably the last of the traditional cultures of Asia and what will come forth after that I hadn't the slightest idea except along the lines that I mentioned apps a Ford or a television set or maybe a return to Lachlan Jade. Yes I have. You mightn't suspect from what I've said how deeply I respect the past especially the bass and I think objects of the great beauty of Asia have never been duplicated anywhere. Quite right. Certainly not today. However
I thank you very much for being here. Our guest on this edition of the Asia Society present has been Dr. Walter a fanservice Dr. Besser is curator of Asian collections at the American Museum of Natural History and chairman of the department of anthropology and sociology at Vassar College. Thank you and goodbye. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. This series comes to us through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham. WNYC New York 1 triple 0 7 and make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the Asia Society presents. This is the national educational radio network.
- Asia Society presents
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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Host: Graham, Leigh
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Identifier: 69-6-69 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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