"Western Science, Eastern Morals" Revisited
Saturday 12th September 2009 - 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2009
"Western Science, Eastern Morals" Revisited
Dalian, People’s Republic of China 10-12 September
The popular 19th century slogan "Western science, Eastern morals" captured the essence of Japan's effort to industrialize, and later influenced the education policies of many other countries in the region.
How valid and applicable is this statement in the 21st century?
The concept of “Western Science, Eastern Morals” was widely adopted across Asia as a means to usher in needed Western technologies – such as the telegraph or weaponry – without abdicating their connection to long-standing traditions or social structures. It was a strategy borne of necessity: For China, its initial reluctance to adopt “Western science” made it a victim of the imperializing forces of both the West and Japan.
Underpinning the phrase today is the question of what role traditional culture should play in the modern, globalized world. In an age of global connectivity enabled by international trade and a revolution in communications technology, the definition of culture is growing increasingly porous. For some, the perceived dilution of traditional values has scarred the national psyche; for others the pain is less acute. No matter where one falls on the spectrum, the price of modernity is an ongoing balancing act between external and internal cultural forces.
The perception that globalization is a homogenizing force to some extent is not reflected in the daily experience of globalized life. If anything, the cultural pain associated with globalization arises instead from diversification, and the pain is felt on both sides of the equation. Citizens of some so-called developing nations may fear the assault of new popular culture and the values those imports represent. Likewise, those in developed nations may be distrustful of new immigrants with unfamiliar customs and languages, or economic competition from low-cost countries.
While it is easy to categorize the sources of these insecurities under the blanket term “globalization” they are engendered by a complicated response to a number of factors, including modernity, urbanization and the application of new science and technologies. Some cultures and individuals are able to better absorb these new cultural forces. Indeed, many individuals identify themselves not with a nationality or ethnicity, but rather with a culture of their choosing – one that may include elements from a disparate range of influences.
Yet, some in nations such as Pakistan believe that globalization has come at a high cost – poverty, political turmoil, violence, social apartheid, a ravaged environment. They believe that globalization has perverted a proud culture in the span of less than 50 years. One telling example: critics of globalization’s effect on Pakistan note that the ubiquitous Kalashnikov rifle was initially brought to the country by Western forces.
However, when taken to its furthest extreme, the desire to protect one’s cultural sovereignty can result in protectionism, if not fundamentalism. Some believe that if cultures are to survive they must evolve with modernity through adaptation to, and absorption of, foreign influences. South Korea – once colonized by Japan and with a long-standing relationship with the US – is perceived by many to have succeeded in this balancing act. By imbuing its movies, popular music and soap operas with its own distinctive characteristics, the country’s cultural products have found a devoted audience across Asia.
The sense of a fluid culture is further complicated, or enriched, by the Internet, which allows one to be connected to the culture of one’s choosing regardless of physical location. It remains to be seen how future generations will negotiate between internal and external cultural forces or how they will make such distinctions.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Japan; Global Agenda Council on the Future of Japan
Charles E. Morrison, President, East-West Centre, USA
Sohn Hoon, Associate Professor, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Republic of Korea; Young Scientist
Muhammad Azam Khan Swati, Minister of Science and Technology of Pakistan
Orville H. Schell, Director, Center on US-China Relations, Asia Society, USA; Global Agenda Council on Climate Change
This summary was prepared by John Bishop, summary writer. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.
Copyright 2009 World Economic Forum
No part of this material may be copied, photocopied or duplicated in any form by any means or redistributed without the prior written consent of the World Economic Forum.
12 September 2009
Orville H. Schell
Director, Center on US-China Relations, Asia Society, USA
BA (Hons), Harvard College; MA and PhD, University of California, Berkeley. Formerly, Dean, Graduate...
Academic Fellow, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Japan
1962, MD, Univ. of Tokyo. 1979-84, Prof., UCLA School of Medicine; 1989-96, Prof., Univ. of Tokyo; 1...
Charles E. Morrison
President, East-West Center, USA
PhD, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Formerly: taught on South-East Asia; US...
Associate Professor, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), Republic of Korea
1992, BSc and 1994, MSc in Civil Engineering, Seoul National University; 1999, PhD in Structural Eng...
- Muhammad Azam Khan Swati