Written by Frank Li
Men vs. women, Yin vs. Yang, and the West vs. the East – Why are there so many rivalries? Because people are different, and the world has not evolved to be boring! Competition is the ultimate refiner, eliminating the weakest as the most adaptable thrives.
In this post, I will highlight the subject of the West vs. the East throughout the past 5,000 years of human history, in order to divine the future, 50 years ahead …
It is a widely accepted theory that the human species originated in Africa many millions of years ago, and then propagated to virtually all corners of the earth.
Some of our ancient ancestors were apparently quite content with Africa. They settled along the Nile and built, most likely, the earliest civilization with many impressive accomplishments, such as the pyramids (shown below). These pyramids are about 4,500 years old, and they remain engineering wonders even today!
Many of our ancient ancestors did, however, leave Africa …
Many migrated from Africa to Europe. I will highlight three destinations: Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and the U.K.
2.1 Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece was a Greek civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity (ca. 600 AD). Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in ancient Greece is the period of Classical Greece, which flourished during the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Classical Greece began with the repelling of a Persian invasion by Athenian leadership. Because of conquests by Alexander the Great, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea.
2.1.1 Athenian democracy
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Athenian democracy developed in the Greek city-state (known as a polis) of Athens, comprising the central city-state of Athens and the surrounding territory of Attica, around the fifth century BC. Athens is one of the first known democracies. Other Greek cities set up democracies, and even though most followed an Athenian model, but none were as well-documented as that of Athens apart from Sparta, which is known for having the strongest military of all the Ancient Greek cities.
For more, read: Overview – Ancient Athens and the Birth of Democracy.
2.1.2 Alexander the Great
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great (Greek: Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, Aléxandros ho Mégasiii[›] from the Greek: ἀλέξω alexo “to defend, help” and ἀνήρ aner “man”), was a king of the Greek kingdom of Macedon. Born in Pella in 356 BC, Alexander succeeded his father, Philip II, to the throne at the age of twenty. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, until by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to Egypt and into present-day Pakistan. He was undefeated in battle and is considered one of history’s most successful commanders.
Now, let me highlight two points about Alexander the Great:
He took pride in “conquering” Egypt, a civilization preceding Ancient Greece. To his surprise, the Egyptians did not resist. Instead, they welcomed him warmly, including naming its then capital after him: Alexandria.
He did attempt to advance deeper into Asia beyond Pakistan, but failed to pass completely the high mountains over there, and turned back from eastern Pakistan when his soldiers mutinied. A very few years thereafter he died too early (at age 32).
The image above shows the Greek Empire. For more, read: The Book of Daniel Chapter Eight.
2.2 Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was perhaps the second civilization in Europe after Ancient Greece. Here is an excerpt about the Roman Empire from Wikipedia:
The Roman Empire (Latin: Imperium Romanum) was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterized by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean Sea in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The 500-year-old Roman Republic, which preceded it, had been destabilized through a series of civil wars. Several events marked the transition from Republic to Empire, including Julius Caesar‘s appointment as perpetual dictator (44 BC); the Battle of Actium (31 BC); and the granting of the honorific Augustus to Octavian by the Roman Senate (27 BC).
It may not be entirely correct to say that Ancient Rome was largely a copy of Ancient Greece, but it is historically accurate that Julius Caesar closely followed, and overwhelmingly surpassed, Alexander the Great in his conquest of the world.
The Roman Empire was a dramatic fusion of imperial power and religion (i.e. Christianity), resulting in numerous wars and crusades. Prior to Christianity, many people (e.g. Egyptians and Greeks) worshiped multiple gods. In contrast, Christianity introduced belief in just one God, provided a critical sense of right vs. wrong, and disavowed all other religions … The image below shows the Map of the Roman Empire.
The Roman Empire lasted for several centuries, leaving two huge imprints behind:
Further to the extension of the Roman Empire to the U.K. (Roman Britain), Romans migrated to the U.K., initially in direct occupation, and later (via Germany), as Angles, Saxons and other Germanic tribes.
The Vatican: Through the papal hierarchy, the shadow of the Roman Empire still persists all over the world today. It was at least partially responsible for the religious persecution in the U.K., resulting in massive British migrations to North America.
2.3. The U.K.
Here is an excerpt from a previous article of mine (The Greatest Countries in Human History):
The U.K. substantially expanded her territory and influence, via imperialism followed by the Commonwealth, like no other nation in human history. The image below shows the Commonwealth today, geographically. As you can see, “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was literally true at one point in time and all the “red” countries speak English today, in addition to the U.S.!
Some of our ancient ancestors traveled to the Far East, settling down in what is now China, which is similar in size to Europe.
China boasts to have 5,000 years of civilization, but it has nothing to show as substantial and as early as the Egyptian Pyramids.
The earliest significant Chinese figure of interest to the West is Qin Shi Huang (pictured below).
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
Qin Shi Huang (260-210 BC), personal name Zheng, was the King of the state of Qin (r. 246-221 BC) who conquered all other Warring States by and united China in 221 BC. Rather than maintain the title of king borne by the Shang and Zhou rulers, he ruled as the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty from 220 to 210 BC. The title emperor (huangdi) would continue to be borne by Chinese rulers for the next two millennia.
During his reign, his generals greatly expanded the size of the Chinese state: campaigns south of Chu permanently added the Yue lands of Hunan and Guangdong to the Chinese cultural orbit; campaigns in Central Asia conquered the Ordos loop from the nomad Xiongnu, although eventually causing their confederation under Modu Chanyu. Qin Shi Huang also worked with his minister Li Si to enact major economic and politic reforms aimed at the standardization of the diverse practices of the earlier Chinese states. This process also led to the banning and burning of many books and the execution of recalcitrant scholars. His public works projects included the unification of diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army. He ruled until his death, which occurred in 210 BC despite an infamous search for an elixir of immortality.
Now, let me highlight two points:
With the First Emperor, China officially evolved into feudalism from slavery.
The First Emperor unified China not only geographically, but also in several big things, such as a common “official” written language, currency, and measurements (for weights and dimensions). Commonality helped propel China well ahead of Europe. Now, consider the EU: It has been trying to do to Europe just a fraction of what the First Emperor accomplished in China more than 2000 years ago! Commonality led to simplicity, which was a critical factor behind China’s preeminent economy in the world during much of the first 1800 years of our 2014-year-old calendar!
What, then, happened around the year 1800? The West caught up with China, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, which China missed entirely! As a result, around 1890, the U.S. became the largest economy in the world, replacing China!
4. The U.S.
The U.S. is quite different from Europe or China. For example, there were pre-existing civilizations in both North America and South America, but most of them were subjugated after Columbus‘ “discovery” of the Americas and the ensuing influx of Europeans. As a result, a country called “the United States of America” was established in 1776. It was an incredible deal for the U.S.: It got rid of British rule, while maintaining the crown-jewel of British culture: English.
The U.S. worked out so well in the first few decades that Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political thinker and historian, found the following (via his book “Democracy in America“, appearing in two volumes: 1835 and 1840):
The American people, through their chosen representatives who were instructed by their wisdom and experience and were supported by their virtues – cultivated, purified and ennobled by self-reliance and the love of God – had matured, in the excellent wisdom of their counsels, a new plan of government, which embraced every security for their liberties and equal rights and privileges to all in the pursuit of happiness.
Too short-sighted! Here are three basic points:
The U.S. was founded upon freedom and justice to all. But that was in theory only. The practice was very different. For example, the U.S. continued to harbor slavery after 1776, with absolutely neither freedom nor justice for the slaves! This incongruity between the theory and the practice was eventually addressed by the American Civil War, during which more Americans died than in all of its other wars, before and since, combined!
Continued massive killings of the Native Americans, especially during the period of West – Empire upon the Trails. It often involved a systematic violation of all human rights, as we know them today, against the founding principles of the U.S.!
By the definition of “one person, one vote“, democracy was not actually realized in the U.S. until 1964 (i.e. Civil Rights Act)! How well has American democracy been truly working since then? Not very well! For more, read: Civil Rights Act: 50 Years Later.
5. West-East meetings
Three thousand years ago, there was no contact between the West (e.g. Ancient Rome) and the [Far] East (e.g. Ancient China): their civilizations developed separately.
For some 2000 years until 1900, the West and the Far East met several times. Four big examples:
Two Opium Wars: Both were total disasters for China.
Today, it’s a global economy, with the West and the East tightly inter-connected.
6. Some comparisons
The rivalry between the West and the East has been in existence for a few centuries, at least. Yet, it is still constantly evolving. For example, during the Cold War from 1945 to 1991, it meant the West, led by the U.S., vs. the East, led by the Soviet Union. Today and in the coming decades, it may well mean the U.S. vs. China. So let’s focus on the U.S. and China with seven comparisons as follows:
China vs. the West
The U.S. vs. Ancient Greece.
The U.S. vs. Ancient Rome.
The U.S. vs. the U.K.
The U.S. vs. China.
China vs. the Vatican.
Is the U.S. exceptional?
6.1 China vs. the West
For the 2000 years prior to 1976, China’s system was very different from the West’s. For example, unlike Europe, which fashioned democracy (e.g. Ancient Greece), the fusion of imperial power and religion (e.g. the Roman Empire), and limited monarchy (e.g. British Monarchy), China was mostly an absolute monarchy throughout this period, with neither democracy nor a significant religion!
Today, China’s system is not only still very different from the West’s, but also very different from itself prior to 1976: China is no longer an absolute monarchy, but a dictatorship without a dictator! For more, read: America: What is China, Anyway?
Overall, China’s current system has proven the following:
It’s highly effective, as evidenced by the China miracle over the past three decades.
It’s highly adaptive, which is critical to be a winner in evolution. For example, China was obviously overly assertive in the South China Sea recently, but soon scaled back after it realized the repercussions that might ensue.
It’s definitely the best system for China, so far, if not for the rest of the world.
It’s critical for the West to recognize that China is very different from the West, in order to truly understand its history, it recent success, and its future. Many Chinese ways of doing things are superior to ours. Therefore, it is presumptuous to attempt to blindly impose western values (e.g. democracy and Christianity) on them! They are entitled to work out their problems by themselves, over time. Meanwhile, learn what we can from them …
6.2 The U.S. vs. Ancient Greece
Here is an excerpt from a book entitled The Crumbling Wall Against Tyranny (page 72):
The vote in Athens was limited to free males of thirty years of age … The citizens of Athens were famous for being highly educated, and some historians tell us that there was a property ownership requirement for voting as well.
Yet, democracy failed in this small country/city called Greece/Athens! How, then, could American democracy, which is much more extreme when compared with ancient Greek democracy, possibly succeed in a vast country like the U.S.? No way, absolutely! For more, read: We, the Intelligent People of the United States …
6.3 The U.S. vs. Ancient Rome
Today, the U.S. is strikingly similar to Ancient Rome in two aspects, at least:
Rome was a republic before becoming the Roman Empire. The U.S. was founded as a republic, but is becoming more and more imperialistic. For more, read: America: A Culture of War.
The Roman Empire was a fusion of imperial power and religion, while the U.S. is a fusion of imperial power and ideology (i.e. democracy), with the Iraq War being the worst example. For more, read: Democratic Imperialism.
As a result, the U.S. may fail in the same way as the Roman Empire did: a false sense of invincibility, war, and debt!
6.4 The U.S. vs. the U.K.
The U.S. gained independence from the U.K. via the American Revolutionary War, and tried to be very different from the U.K. from the outset. Two major principles were set to be absolutely essential:
The separation of church and state.
Unfortunately, more than 200 years later, the U.S. seems to be losing its way on both principles. For example, today, the U.S. not only has its own de facto royal families (e.g. the Kennedys, the Bushes, and even the Clintons), but the line separating church and state has become increasingly blurred. As a result, let me ask my fellow Americans two basic combo questions:
Are we losing our republic by having political dynasties like the Bushes and the Clintons? They act like, live like, and are even treated like kings (or queens) – True?
Do you think religion should play any role in our presidential politics? For example, do you think it pertinent to have a religious figure speak at a national convention of a major political party, thus influencing our presidential election?
6.5 The U.S. vs. China
The 20th century was America’s for sure. The 21st century is either America’s or China’s for sure, but who will actually claim it?
The U.S. must take China seriously for one key reason: China not only has one of the oldest civilizations, but also is coming back from ruinous self-destruction. No other civilization has ever had such a spectacular comeback!
The U.S. must take China seriously by becoming better itself, not by hating China!
Generally speaking, the U.S. has three big advantages over China:
Abundance of natural resources and rich lands.
Leadership in technology and economy, although in imminent danger of being surpassed.
More freedom, including civil liberty and freedom of speech.
In contrast, China has three big advantages over the U.S.:
A more effective government, although still far from the ideal. For more, read: Towards An Ideal Form of Government.
A flourishing economy, with an increasingly robust base of manufacturing and technology.
A better educated and better informed population. For more, read: Best education in the world.
Now, you may be wondering: how has China progressed to a better educated and better informed population than the U.S., without freedom of speech? Five informative readings:
6.6 China vs. the Vatican
Many Americans, as well as Europeans, dismiss China lightly as “just a communist country”, with many problems from the lack of free elections to religious trepidation. I have a simple tip for these China critics: compare China with the Vatican! Specifically,
Is China’s political system/hierarchy more secretive than that of the Vatican’s, especially on the selection of the head (i.e. China’s President vs. Pope)?
Is China’s defiance to the Vatican more than that of the Church of England‘s?
The answers are no and no! Please note that I am not defending China’s shortcomings and its many problems. Rather, I am just giving you another perspective!
More significantly, if you view China’s political system as a combination of the western political system and religion, you may gain more insight into it. For more, follow my future publications.
6.7 Is the U.S. exceptional?
Yes and no!
Yes, the U.S. is the greatest social experiment in the history of mankind. That is exceptional by itself! Specifically, three examples:
America has produced more millionaires and billionaires than all the other countries combined. This unprecedented creation of wealth is a true indication and realization of human potential.
Without American intervention, WWI might have lasted a lot longer, even with a different outcome, possibly!
Without America’s active participation in WWII, the French and British might be speaking German and the Chinese and Vietnamese might be speaking Japanese today!
No, unfortunately, the U.S. is not exceptional, historically speaking! Three examples:
Self-killing: More Americans have been killed by Americans in the American Civil War than by all its foreign enemies, combined, just as more Russians have been killed by Russians and more Chinese have been killed by Chinese, than by all their foreign enemies, combined!
Self-destruction: Most of the early civilizations declined or even ceased to exist because of self-destruction. The U.S. has been self-destructing badly over the past few decades, thanks to both Democratic Socialism and Democratic Imperialism! Consequently, American democracy may not even out-last Soviet communism in longevity. For more, read: Longevity: American Democracy vs. Soviet Communism.
The money game: The U.S. Dollar has been the world’s major reserve currency since 1945. How long will it last? Well, at this pace, it may not even last for 20 more years! In contrast, the previous major reserve currency was the British Pound, which lasted for about two hundred years! For more, read: Money and America.
Human beings likely shared a common ancestry in Africa a few million years ago. But we diverged and have become very different in culture and government, even with globalization today.
Different forms of government exist for many reasons. The key to lasting success of a country (as well as an individual) is the ability to adapt. For example, China missed the Industrial Revolution entirely, but has been rapidly catching up over the past three decades. The U.S., on the other hand, experienced unprecedented success in its first 200 years, but has been in a steep decline since the turn of the 21st century!
Each country must find its own path to success, with two certainties:
Communism does not work, nor does democracy, as we practice it today!
Capitalism (i.e. the free enterprise system) is the best thing that has ever happened to mankind. It has lifted more people out of starvation than our previous millions of years of existence! For more, read: Pyramid Theory I.
The world is too big and too complex for any single country (e.g. Ancient Rome or modern America) or ideology (e.g. communism or democracy) to dominate for long. Any attempt to do so has failed and will continue to fail.
The world is becoming smaller over time, especially in terms of communication and transportation, requiring more understanding and cooperation between countries, so that we all can just get along …
However, regardless of evolution and time, the world will always be pyramidal, with some countries leading the way. It seems that China is rising as communism falls there, and the U.S. is declining as capitalism falls here. For more, read: Pyramid Theory II.
Conflicts between countries are also inevitable in a competition to survive. Therefore, in this increasingly interconnected world, we must diligently promote peace and avoid violence. Yes, the U.S. must stop Democratic Imperialism!
Very importantly, we all must strive for an ideal form of government. For now, China’s system appears to be slightly better than America’s. For more, read: Towards An Ideal Form of Government.
Today and in the coming decades, the rivalry between the West and the East means the U.S. vs. China, economically for sure, and perhaps even militarily, which is my biggest concern, especially with these two situations: America: A Culture of War and China’s increasing assertion of her sovereignty.
Overall, I am more worried about the U.S. than China for one simple reason: China is on the right track, while the U.S. is not.
I believe I have the most accurate diagnosis for America (Diagnosis II for America: Cancer!), as well as the best solution (Solution II for America: Term-Limits and More!). This post is another attempt to present them from a grand new angle: by condensing 5000 years of human history into a few pages, in order to divine the future …
Now, what about the “50 years ahead” mentioned at the beginning of this post? That is another post for another day …