The year of China

The beginning of the year is traditionally a moment to look back to last year and make some kind of prognostic on the future. I have found page describing Bruce Sterling‘s take on the world, that discusses the obvious event of the last year: the apparition of China on the economic map.

The fact that China is growing at a tremendous rate is obvious, this year, China overtook the US a producer of technological goods. How the Chinese economy will grow, what will be the social and ecological impacts are all interesting questions, but this is not what I found interesting in the discussion.

The part of the text that has stricken me is the following:

When and if people start getting “Sino-ized” rather than “Westernized,” that’ll be a big deal. I just don’t expect to see that happening. I think we are well past that epoch.

We’re all in the same global stew now. Koreans exporting black American music to China? Hey, if you’re looking for Confucian cultural purity, game over.

I found he dismissed the possibility of a strong chinese influence very easily, to easily. Yes, there is a global stew, but the content of this stew is heavily biased of western culture in general and the USA in particular. Cultural influence can be done heavily, like during an military occupation, but also via this global stew. I think one of the reason some people dismiss the idea of chinese cultural influence is because the changes in China come because communism has largely been abandoned (anyway communism was also originally a western idea), and thus the country will westernize. The most westernized Asian country is Japan, the westernization was done early, systematically and there was a occupation by the USA. Yet, Japanese culture and society is very different from western countries. China society will certainly westernize much less, it does not really need to.

Culutural influence permeates every aspect of society, down to technical design. Consider a television set. The electron beam moves left-right top-down, i.e it follows the western reading path. The original proportion of a TV Set was 1.6, i.e an approximation of the golden ratio. You can find those elements in many computer graphics elements: the camera in my mobile phone here in japan does pictures with this ratio. Because the USA are the dominant influence in computer design, the size of computer components (drives, fans) is measured in inches.

Of course, the issue is not only in the small bits of computers. Take the academic world: the lingua franca is english, the best students go to study in the USA. Even if they study science or economy, they are exposed to the society of the USA and its values. If students now go to China (or India for that matter), they will be exposed to other ideas, some of them they will keep when going home.

China will not keep Confucian cultural purity, not that I think it ever had. That does not mean it will not influence other societies. My prediction is that we will see more and more chinese (and asian in general) influence in western cultures. The changes will first be on small things that nobody will notice (what proportion of people in western countries can eat with chop-sticks?) and by the time people actually notice, the changes will be quite important, but except for a few religious or conservative people and, it won’t be a problem. Maybe the future is written in the back of teenager girls: the tattoos are not written in roman characters.

2 thoughts on “The year of China

  1. This reminds me of the quite excellent sci-fi TV series Firefly, where the known universe is ruled by one “Anglo-Sino Alliance” and where characters use Chinese (possibly Cantonese, but I’m no expert) swear words.

  2. de fait il y a toujours eu des small changes que personne ne remarque, de la gueule des madones siennoises au look de la représentation des dragons dans l’iconographie occidentale, au système des examens, au thé, à péter dans la soie et manger des nouilles etc etc
    c’est l’idée d’une culture “pure” me semble être du pipeau.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.