Saturday, October 10, 2009

Indians and Chinese - Questions or not?

I am reading the book "The discovery of India" by Jawaharlal Nehru, written during his imprisonment in 1942-1946.

... The Greeks, as a race, may have lived more in the present and found joy and harmony in the beauty they saw around them or which they themselves created. The Indians found this joy and harmony also in the present, but, at the same time, their eyes were turned towards deeper knowledge and their minds trafficked with strange questions. The Chinese, fully aware of these questions and their mystery, in their wisdom avoided entanglement with them. (P152)

Since we have been long time discussing about the differences between Chinese and Indians, this statement struck me. It has taken us a while to figure this out: Chinese are generally lacking the ability to ask questions and think critically, while Indians are obsessed with argumentation. Chinese are doers, while Indians are thinkers.

Of course, you do not have to agree with our version of generalization about Chinese and Indians. We do find many evidences.

The famous poet Zheng Banqiao has written the following, kind of one Chinese philosophy:

Similar meaning was depicted in the image in this post. If it's translated word by word, it says "hard to be muddled". I don't know how you're going to interpret it, its actually meaning is not saying that a person with a clear mind. It somehow praises the way of keeping things fuzzy in some circumstances. Smart people may find ways to get everything clear but wise people not to bother to make everything crystal clear. Leaving some in dark may help things in some ways, you never know! Sometimes, the more truth you know, the more painful you will be.

On the other side of the Himalaya, the Indian Nobel prize winning economist Amartya Sen has written the book called "The Argumentative Indian" which discusses Indian history and identity, focusing on the traditions of public debate and intellectual pluralism. It demonstrates the importance of public debate in Indian traditions generally.

In schools in China, kids tend to follow and believe in what they are told and less to question. This shows up even in this master program in the Netherlands we are involved in. In a same classroom, Chinese students usually do not have any questions to ask. Moreover, they also wonder why the rest of the class have so many questions.