Early in the last century, when he was lending the insurgents a hand up the Royal Way, Andre Malraux said to his wife, “The real question of the century is how the Chinese will adapt to individualism.”

That answer today might be found in Leslie T. Chang’s Factory Girls, a delightful narrative of the work and sudden independence of the 130 million migrant workers — mostly girls — who have found their way from country to city to work in the factories of the Pearl River delta. Twenty million of whom are this week unemployed and roaming.

The question Malraux might have asked today is this: How will the West adapt to the successful Chinese adaptation of individualism?

Can we in the West endure, prevail and evolve as non-Western people; as people who look to Lord Krishna and Lao Tsu rather than to the Christ and Abraham? Can we as a vast majority go forward without turning back to our traditional antithesis in Russia and to the centers from which we have emerged over millennia, in London, Rome and Jerusalem? Can we fully embrace Marx rather than Keynes or Hayek? Jackie Chan, Zhang Ziyi and Jet Li rather than John L. Sullivan, Jimmy Cagney, Elvis and Little Richard? Is it possible for us as a whole to turn East, or will it destroy us and divide us in time?

In fact, we have been asking these questions since the East first began to rise quickly in our imagination in the late 1970s, about the time when Ezra Vogel’s Japan as Number One and Robert Christopher’s The Japanese: The Goliath Explained began to turn our gaze in that direction. Was then we first saw The Bride with White Hair awakened from an endless sleep up the Yellow River. Her kung fu was strong. She was a timeless avenger, an avenging angel, slaughtering the unholy and wreaking havoc on all through the centuries that had threatened, intimidated or abused her. Gore Vidal suggested we team up with the Russians, our brothers anyway, to defend against the Yellow Peril. It’s coming, it’s coming …

And policymakers listened. The war on Iraq — readily signed on to by then-Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) and almost all of them with the same blind enthusiasm and ambition with which Congress signed on these past weeks to the bailouts — was an apparent neocon design called The Project for a New American Century to defend against the Yellow Peril. In invading Iraq we would determine, once and for all, that we were a Christian nation with roots in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and we would turn away from the Pacific Century and commit to war against Saddam, the Great Satan in a Great Crusade, just as we have been doing through much of Christendom’s last millenium: There would be none of Mike Mansfield’s Pacific Century. There would be a Second American Century in its place.

This the psychiatrists call a transference, and in this case, it was possibly the greatest mass delusion in our history.

But still they come in the East, over a billion of them up from the Pearl River, and now Hillary is sent to greet them. Smart, too, and determined and each one of them working, as Iris Chang recalls the phrase in The Chinese in America, “like a Chinaman.”

This is an important reality-based historical moment. A moment we were about getting to in the decade of “leadership and excellence,” as the day was called in the mid-1980s, then we backed off. Was only some of us were able to look across the Pacific without fear and loathing and they the old school — serene Yankee gentry like George H. W. Bush and Barbara — China Hands, they were called — the phrase used for those among us with round eyes who could go to the East and find there inspiration, grace and awakening. But they were few, very few — most, like the missionaries, lived in white cocoons and many would even bring their own furniture. The policymakers and their missionary friends would take the day and turn it back to Saddam. But I see it over for those policymakers as of today.

I don’t know how Europeans will adapt to the East and it is not really to my interest. It would seem difficult to leave behind the ancient stone church and the cave of the Earth Mother if you lived next door. But I’ve never really felt that we Americans of the traditions are really still Westerners. We left most of it behind when we crossed the Atlantic. Nor are we Easterners. They leave it behind when they cross the Pacific.

They have come to the right place and so have we.

Our tale is of Natty Bumpo — Hawkeye, Deerslayer — who cut a better deal with the Mohicans. He lives in nature and draws from East and West but finds his own center here, between. It is told another away in Texas and it is our most important and telling Original Story and Myth: It is the story of six Texas lawmen gunned down and left for dead. One rises from the dead but he has lost his memory of who we was. An Indian nurtures him and restores him to life, but it is a new life to which he is born again and one without traces of tradition or Europe’s history; one of wandering in a new desert between the East and West where the only reliable guide is the Indian. He wore a mask to hide his identity, but his identity was hidden from himself as well. And weekly we were asked, “Who is the Masked Man?” We are the masked man, our identity not yet revealed, even to ourselves.

Incrementally, we emerge. Hillary’s trip to the exotic East removes some fear and mystery, and helps in finding in identity that which is us, neither East nor West, but wandering still in the desert between.

Visit Mr. Quigley's website at http://quigleyblog.blogspot.com.