“The Master said: ‘Stupid and yet desirous of doing things his own way;
ignoble and yet desirous of taking himself as sole authority; born in today’s
world, yet reverting to the Tao that has come down to us from antiquity — People
like this will bring calamity on themselves.’ ” — Doctrine of the Mean, Zhu Xi
I’m delighted that Tiger Mom Amy Chua brings “Chinese values” — a phrase that brings to mind a big sign on I-93 when it swung into Boston before the Big Dig tunnel: “Chinese Church” — to the West. But what is more impressive, in my opinion, are the Chinese agricultural workers who worked California’s Central Valley during the Great Depression, some without pay: “We were lucky,” an elderly Chinese woman said recently. “We had ducks and chickens to eat while others had nothing.” My Irish relatives are still complaining about the potato famine.
But that is the perspective of Lao Tzu, father of Taoism, and the contemporary and counterpoint to Confucius. He is the dragon left behind in the contemporary writing today of Iris Chang, Leslie T. Chang and Amy Chua. They bring instead a kind of super-Confucianism to the West; call it American “Big Gulp” Confucianism. To get new-age, it brings imbalance to the chi when the Tiger leaves the Dragon behind. I hope Chua’s ”Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” restores the Protestant Ethic, but I don’t think it will. Because Confucianism without Lao Tzu is vulnerable. Lao Tzu is the cure for Confucianist domination; without it the culture becomes brittle and breaks. The Dragon requires the Tiger; the Tiger requires the Dragon. More and better Confucius — a Don Draper kind of Confucius — is not what we need. We already have that from Rome, Calvin, Newton and Elizabeth I. What we lack which has consistently caused our fall is Lao Tzu.
A hundred years or so hence, America’s definitive moment might be seen as that described by the late author Iris Chang in her excellent book, The Chinese in America, where the Chinese coolies who were building the railroad across the continent from California met up in the middle of America with the Irish who were building it from the other side. The Chinese fared better; they drank tea while the Irish drank whisky, and they were armed with a philosophy, Taoism, which has allowed China to progressively grow and prosper for thousands of years.
These three are all excellent writers and their books tell of our world today, but they present a warning not intended. When Mao went to Marx he left behind Lao Tzu and doubled up on Confucius. A Buddhist monk acquaintance reports that Taoists today in China are hounded and imprisoned, and I receive mail from them indicating that they are.
The truth about China and the East is that they traded Confucius and Lao Tzu for Marx and Keynes. China might have needed to do so as a defense against Western encroachment. But the philosophies are vastly different. As I heard it explained from one very prominent Indian theoretical physicist: “We started with God and moved to math. You start with math.” That is Confucius — “super Confucius” — without Lao Tzu; the Tiger without the Dragon.
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