I have an impression that the tag from Kipling’s Ballad — Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat —quoted ad nauseam some time ago has almost disappeared from current writings and speeches. It is high time that it should. The tag has seen long service, and, on Humpty Dumpty’s principle of “paying a word extra when it is made to do a lot of work”, would be able to retire on a fat pension. The idea is of course palpably false, for they also meet who — fight. Kipling himself, after a day or two in Canton, was so impressed by the efficiency of the Chinese that he felt serious concern about the great struggle between the white men and “the yellow men with black hearts” for what later politicians would call the living space. The world history of the last hundred and fifty years is but a gloomy record of the meetings of the twain who, alas! seem always to meet at Philippi. Would only Kipling’s words were true and East and West had never met!
Fortunately they also meet on a higher plane, as much above spheres of influence as above markets of competition, the plane of eternal verities. Towards the common goal of the True, the Good and Beautiful, the East and the West have for ages worked their respective way, each innocent of the other. When they at last meet, after some preliminary misunderstandings which are only in the nature of the things, a mutual recognition dawns upon them. The avidity with which the Chinese since the end of the nineteenth century have studied Western science, philosophy, literature and art, show conclusive that the human mind knows no geographical frontier and makes naught of estranging seas and interposing mountains. Meanwhile the understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture is on the increase among Europeans and Americans. Chinese culture gradually ceases to be the sinologues’ special field marked off with boards to the effect that “Trespassers will be prosecuted”, but begins to mean to Western men in general an extension of the horizon of their total experience and knowledge.
Of things Chinese, painting was the first to be discovered by the West. The reason is very simple. Painting is free from the curse of Babel, and embodies meanings immediately communicable. The value of Chinese philosophy, on the other hand, has not yet won full recognition from Western thinkers. Hegel, e.g., authoritatively said in his Philosophy of History that “everything which belongs to Spirit is alien to the Chinese character.” He found in Confucius mere Herumreden and Gewoehnliche and expressed the interesting opinion that one would read nothing in Confucius that had not been said, and better said, by Cicero. After the lapse of a full century, Orientalism in thought came into sudden vogue in Europe. The conservative French journalist Henri Massis took an alarmist view of it and denounced indiscriminately all Asiatiques occidentalises like Gandhi, Tagore, Ku Hung-ming, & Co. in Defense de l’occident. We feel sure that he would have vociferated more against Chinese philosophers if he had known more about them. But this attack is in a way a reversed tribute. To be denounced as dangerous is certainly more complimentary then to be dismissed as mediocre. Still, judicious studies and estimates of Chinese thought by trained Western philosophers are only too rare.
These reflections are suggested by Mr. K. J. Spalding’s illuminating article published in the following pages. Mr. Spalding thinks that the ancient Chinese philosophers still have a valuable message to the contemporary wartorn world. It is not for us Chinese to dissent from him. Speaking under correction, I suppose the words “to orientate” and “orientation” have been popularised by philosophers. As early as 1786, Kant wrote the short article, Was heisst: sich im Denken orientieren? And “orientation” is etymologically connected with the Orient. But as Vladmir Soloviev queried in his poem Ex Oriente Lux, “What sort of East they desire, that of Xerxes or that of Christ? ” We might in this case substitute another pair of alternatives for the orientation of thought, the Orient of Confucius or the Orient of Buddha. Valiant defenders of the West would perhaps find the two much of a muchness.