Asia Society presents; 35
A. Asia before flying to the present. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster league Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. We're often given the advice to know ourselves better. In order to create our understanding of the world around us. For this some of the books turn to religion various ways in which you know ourselves better. But I think if we want to know ourselves better we might very well take the advice of the man who was our
guest on this edition of the ages society presents because his suggestion is to know the rest of the world better particularly the culture of the Orient because in Asia where civilizations are and where much wisdom has been presented if we draw upon what has taken place centuries ago we might find great relevance to what we are experiencing today. Having this will. Become more apparent as we go along in this program. I'd like to tell you that our guest is a man who were singled out for his contribution to Asian studies in this country in His name is William Theodore did that right. But there's a debate of this cop and a professor of Oriental Studies at Columbia University. And it is under his direction that Columbia College has assembled what many people feel is the finest undergraduate Oriental Studies program in the nation. Professor De Baron has traveled in Asia five or six occasion. He has a
new book coming out may be out already in fact by the time you hear this and the book is called self and society and Ming thought. Dr. Berry is this something that you knew quite early in your life in your studies that knowing more about Asian thought particularly Chinese thought would bring us an insight which somehow we wouldn't have without it. I don't think that I realize that when I. Started the study of China and the Chinese at that time I was simply curious about what was going on in that part of the world in the thirties. There was considerable interest in China. And in the revolutionary changes that were going on there. It was simply that kind of curiosity to understand the contemporary world which led me into it in the first place. But the further I got into it the more I realize that
one. Had to study Chinese history and civilization and some depth before you could make some kind of sense out of the contemporary world. And in order to understand China then one had to understand the Chinese and why they are. How they became what they are and what their own values are. In other words I think it's clear to many people today that we've often made great mistakes in understanding our adult people. And trying simply to evaluate their. Actions according to our standards. And we had to try to understand better what their motivations were what their values were. Why they created the kind of society that they did. And it's and I think in the course of trying to understand that that I became more and more interested and.
Particularly this period of. Chinese thought and history just before the. Entrance of the West. Into Asia. And. In trying to. Understand their political problems their social problems. I became more and more involved in the study of their. Philosophy and religion provided them with the basic values from which they tried to deal with these political and social problems with really startling to read just that little I have about the problems which people experienced in that Ming Dynasty time of Chinese civilization which I believe runs on the late late 14th century too about the need Seventeenth and there the people experience the rebellion. Do you need men walked round and camped with their clothes in a pretty sad state of disarray.
There was a sense of nation. There was a loss of Neuve on the part of political officials. And the final takeover by the Manchus in the mid seventeen hundreds. I hope you're not drawing too clear a Pownall between that time and this time. Well I'm not trying to use this as a basis for any kind of predictions as to the future but I think it is helpful to see the problems that they confronted as a very mature civilization that in the 14th the 15th century had this experience. The relationship of the individual to a state and to a social order that he was not able very readily to change or influence. In other words the individual helped. Oppress. Help great pressure from. You know what we would call the establishment. And particularly
the class that had provided the political leadership in China the Confucian educated scholar. Felt himself very greatly a strange from the kind of. Despotic state that asked for his service. Many of them faced a great dilemma in deciding whether they should fulfill their obligation for public service by joining the government and trying to improve things. Or whether they thought it was so hopelessly. Characterized by. Coercion and corruption that he had to completely disassociate himself from it and withdraw to the life of a teacher and. A scholar. That's what's so sadly familiar. We hear that the best men don't run for public office in our country because they can't put up a decent
man again. They don't have the money for the campaign and they feel that they have is nothing but well corruption eventually and they don't want to be a part of it. You know it just rang so many bells to read about this time in China. It might be well then to observe that there is probably a significant difference in that in China of that time there were fewer opportunities than in our society for advancement of the the what were the possible vocations for an educated man were relatively limited as either official service or teaching. Business was not considered a worthy occupation for a true gentleman or a member of the educated elite. So that in our society you do have many more options therefore you do not feel quite so
intensely I think. The radical alternatives that are presented to you. Yes it's true you don't have given up completely. You don't want to end a public office because there are many opportunities for public service such as the Peace Corps. Urban coalition and other groups where people can work without too much bureaucracy interfering with him. Still the fact that these parallels do present themselves between that period the Ming Dynasty and our own will is alarming but it need not be could simply be enlightening. You feel that the Oriental Studies programs not only that Columbia but which exist in other universities and colleges are. Giving broadening outlook to two Americans something they couldn't have had before. Oh yes I. I think they do. In many ways Quest making them aware of.
The possibilities for different social arrangements and different approaches to problems that tend to persist in human society. I think the more mature we become as a society in a civilisation the more crowded our society becomes the less the less elbow room we have. And the more we're going to confront the same social problems that the Chinese and the Japanese and Indians have confronted and we will probably be forced in upon ourselves to a much greater extent. Now the Post post-war preoccupation with the self. I think it is one indication that we are perhaps entering a phase somewhat similar to that of the Ming Dynasty where. Already by that time the great metaphysical systems that had been prevailed were giving way to a much
more pragmatic kind of existentialist kind of thought and where the individual was. In the middle of a great deal social change and changing social values finding himself. Unsure of what his role in society was what values should be and then confronted with this highly organized highly efficient and in its own way state that was established by the Ming. He was forced into a kind of introspection and self-examination and so forth that the confrontation with his basic values that I think we are going through and many of the values which have traditionally been assumed and not questioned.
Are being questioned. A very radical way today and that the same sort of thing you see in 16th century China. Do you think that when people begin to question which I guess it's a sign if intelligence introspection but when they begin to question and that is accompanied by the freedom to do sell that that leads to dissatisfaction usually the dissatisfaction leads to a desire to change things that leads to revolution which can often take the form of anarchy. And then you begin to create a new dog agent everything that exists before has to be done all over again. I may be oversimplifying but you think that's almost and it's dog cycle which is inevitable. Oh I wouldn't think so I wouldn't think that I could. So as I say predict what the pattern might be. Certainly that it would not to accurately describe what happened in China. There was this kind of very radical questioning.
And many of the. Characteristics of a pattern of alienation that we're familiar with. An alienation from society from a traditional culture and religion and so forth. But as I say they limit the options the alternatives were limited and therefore the possibility of effecting radical change if it were somewhat restricted. Certain people were ready to. Attempt this in many ways intellectually socially but they certainly were not able to effect any total change in the Chinese way of life. And you have had a change in dynasties a change in the.
Ruling group power passed to other hands and there was a very difficult transition for most people to make. While that was going on it was a violent process. But what ensued was not all that different from what had gone before. And in that respect you see it would have more relevance to an understanding of communist China where you had this revolutionary change very violent and drastic and so on. And one might have thought that it was going to produce something extremely different from what had gone before. Yet the fact is it's not all that different. Well that was the point which I hope to make clear perhaps I didn't. That the dissatisfaction is followed by the change often a violent disruption. But what ensues if you point out is not that different. And it's still a lot of time and energy wasted towards achieving something which is more like the same as people had in the thing although I think part of the problem in the making and perhaps also today is that
when you get this violent protest. And rebellion against the existing order there is the danger that their food does not. It is not organized and led in some disciplined way that it threatens the society with chaos with anarchy. The one thing that most people cannot stand is the threat of anarchy. They react against the majority cannot stand it but a strong might even say a courageous minority would welcome it. And they can be forceful enough can they not make the majority about killing. I mean it was not due to the chaos which the majority didn't think it wanted but is helpless to do anything about once it takes place. Well I think perhaps outwardly that might seem true. And so there will be a change at least in the personnel. And
in some of the things that they set about doing. But I don't think that you can change people easily. You take them the way they are. Even when you seem to have assumed power over them and the people as numerous as the Chinese you can't be wholly re-educated that quickly. Even the leaders cannot re educate themselves that quickly they may think that they're doing that but often their very preoccupation with gaining power means that they have a rather poor understanding of themselves and of their own past. And it's only in time that they they come back and begin to face up to some of these things. Part of what's been referred to as the process of revisionism. U.S. and communist China. The attacks that were made during the Cultural Revolution on the
so-called revisionists. And the intellectual and cultural sphere a very important aspect of this was that here were people who were U.S. communists identified with the communist movement who were yet. Beginning to come to terms with some of the facts of Chinese life economically and socially speaking they were refusing to go on. Being doctrinaire. And leaping into disasters. Well the thing is that upon facing some of the facts. And. Making adjustments accordingly and in the end a lecture on cultural sphere they often want to come to terms in some way with their past. So that one aspect of this movement is a renewed study of history and renewed attempt to claim some of the
leading writers and thinkers of the past. For that reclaim them for the present you see the city see what their relevance was for the present. That's often the unfortunate tendency isn't it Dr. De Barrie of revolutionaries. No matter what country do you throw out everything of the past thinking that it was somehow harmful it might be poisonous to mention it at the present time that it might interfere with current reform. Then later they seem to go up to the fact that they shouldn't have done it so radically and they try to bring back some of that that. I think the thing that troubles so many of us is that there should be so much suffering. Meanwhile. Well certainly human suffering all for all will always but problems so on not like there are in many cases. But if we could go to this thought next time and I know you know much more about this than that I would think of many other people
that both India and China have been referred to as frozen or arrested. Civilization. They didn't but they just stopped at one point and they have their glories back culturally and not just simply not too much of a present. You think that's true of China. Well it's true in certain respects but not in others. It's true in the respect that I referred to earlier that the governmental structure and social structure tended to become somewhat solidified. But the very point about the Ming the Ming period the historical significance of significant intellectual history of China is that once the society was re-established and or order was really imposed after the expulsion of the
Mongols from China. Once you had sort of re-established a Chinese order of things and it was operating effectively it tended to produce conditions of peace and prosperity which then in turn led to a cultural. Flowering a certain easing of the harshness of political life of the restrictions in society and therefore as this established order gradually broke down. There was a great increase in social mobility and social change and cultural change and. These. Developments were new in the sense that they they produced the new literature many fiction drama poetry. And it's on the arts.
There were new forms develop that had never appeared before so it isn't as if what you know isn't you see more time in China's history. Do you think you now I'm speaking about the 16th principly the 16th century. Yes this is a but hurried on parallel the fourth cultural development in Chinese but how about China after the manse used to go for the 17th century. Well I don't I can't do that I don't think the Manchus was dull defying American respect that prevented certain development but on the other hand it was very conducive to others. As an example the Manchus learned very quickly that if they wanted to govern China they had to somehow make allies of this Confucian educated class. And they were very generous in their support of Confucian scholarship particularly classical studies. So some of the finest classical studies in Chinese history were performed in the late 17th 18th centuries with the munificent
patronage of Manchu rulers who then to find themselves as the protectors and promoters of certain traditional Chinese values. But on the other hand they were very careful to. Suppress or discourage any development that might threaten their power. And some of the most I might say progressive or reformist tendencies in political thought were completely squelched by the very systematic and ruthless suppression of the gays do you think one could make this generalization that when there is a heavy political power that is political power wielded forcefully that the performing arts do not necessarily suffer that in fact they can be enhanced if they are performed for the glory of the state
but that the finites often take a downward trend because the creativity in the freedom necessary for it diminished so that in Russia today for example the performing arts are at quite a high level but the creative arts. Whenever they are a good book does come out it's generally censored and you don't get to read it. Well that may be true I simply wouldn't be able to say on the basis of the Chinese experience but it is necessarily so. Wouldn't you though when you say that the fine arts reached their peak during the Ming Dynasty and after that I'm getting damned some of them did but others did not. For instance I would say that a fine art like sculpture did not develop in the making and still the great the great if the U.S. had been seen earlier that it was not a significant development in the making. Painting
did extremely well. Painting. Flourished. Amazing profusion and variety of fine porcelain that's only beginning to be appreciated. See the great achievements of the Ming in this respect. Well of course the porcelains have been recognized for what I was when when the Manchu dynasty to go after the Ming period ended. Did the fine art suffer at that point. Well I don't believe that they suffered any disastrous. Effect. Did they lose quality. This I think varies according to the Ark. Technically they continued to develop to improve but. I really don't think I could make any generalization. Yes I was wondering whether in general the conditions of life under the Manchus especially in the early rains were extremely favorable. They did a great deal
to promote the the bill and the economic growth. In many ways China was extremely well off under the Manchus but it didn't have. The kind of freedom that might have. Enabled the. Following through on some of the developments of the Ming period itself and so we're face to face with the fact that in these years generally speaking Chinese intellectual and cultural growth slowed down and in many ways China fell behind the west let's say up to the 14th century one might say that China was still very far advanced. And the first visitors. Marco Polo then later the Jesuits who visited China where you see were enormously impressed by the advanced civilization of China then by the late 18th and 19th century European visitors beginning to think of
China as very backward and fall and falling behind the west. Yes the facts seems to be that history of history this movement you believe you are going to have that in me you see is that those visitors. We're not always able to judge the quality of the achievement of Chinese life. They simply were incapable of appreciating some of their actual accomplishments. As we close Dr. Barrett just briefly would you say what might be the most salient reason then why the history of China can be so meaningful to live. If half of what we've already mentioned. Well the collective experience of any people who have had a continuous civilization like that who lived together and had to face the problems of human beings living together and working out arrangements so that they can survive together. Certainly has a relevance to any human being. When I
imagine that your book your new book self and society in Ming thought goes into this whole area in much greater detail that people might think they're reading about today when they read this book I think in some ways they're my family. Yeah. And I thank you very much for being here and say that our guest has been Dr. William Theodore Barry who is professor of Oriental Studies at Columbia University. And I'd like to give the name of this new book again it is self and society in thought. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society prisms with league Graham Lisieux he's come 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 at WNYC in New York City 100 0 7 and make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of The
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- 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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