Western Technology And Eastern Culture

WHEN A PHYSICALLY and spiritually devastated Japan emerged from World War II, her people and their American conquerors established a program for her rejuvenation and modernization. That effort thrust a distinctively eastern nation into the arms of western civilization in which she would soon take a leading role.

When a downtrodden and previously feudalistic China emerged from revolution four years later, the communist victors drew ambitious plans to meet the impending task of industrialization and modernization. They would attempt to make a backward agrarian country a peer to the world's scientifically advanced nations and to create for the Chinese people and the world an image of a vanguard for international communist revolution.

Both of these eastern nations embarked on a campaign for industrialization, the natural prerequisite to modernization. But history has shown that the nation that strives to advance scientifically and technologically inevitably compromises its non-western identity--the socio-cultural conditions that have shaped its traditions and national character.

Contemporary industrial Japan is living testimony to this pattern. Japan's rise to world leadership in science and technology resulted directly from American reconstruction of the war-torn islands. The United States set out to build, in her own image, the enemy she had destroyed. And the indigenous population, embarrassed by its defeat, accepted with open arms the conqueror's values, priorities and social systems in return for capital and leadership.

But China--equally desirous of the fruits of modernization--ardently resisted westernization. In many ways the Chinese have been successful where Japan was not. The Chinese have yet to attain the economic modernization they desire and future foreign contacts may well bring China a more western character. But China's success thus far in preserving its culture can be laid to the success of Maoism in stripping the country selectively of those traditional elements in its heritage that are incompatible with the regime's plans for China's future. Mao's disdain for the west and his maxim, "Let the past serve the present and let foreign things serve China," laid the framework in which modernization has proceeded.


For the most part the processes of national self-determination and modernization in the third world cannot occur simultaneously. The terms themselves are contradictory. Modernization, by current definition, represents an attempt by the powerless to conform to what is accepted as the best and most efficient by the nations that wield the most power. And this is the problem that faces those "backward, underdeveloped" nations of the third world for whom the superpowers are so willing to supply technological know-how: Western science and technology developed as an outgrowth of the social setting in which they were born: Western Europe. The importation of western science necessitates the importation of that system of training as well as of the very manner and setting, the value and priorities of the western scientific tradition.

It is therefore impossible, given the structure of the world economy, for these underdeveloped nations to give birth to their own unique scientific and technological traditions. Profit-maximizing corporations, governments liberating the natives from their "ignorance" and "self-sacrificing" individuals send in some scientific and industrial know-how. But natives must still emigrate to attend western institutions for their modern education, and return to their homelands with western values and techniques to guide their nations' development.

The process of development--of modernization--is intrinsically an imperialist one. Implanting modern technology requires western capital and education; it means implanting the western values and priorities that gave rise to science and technology as we know them. Without a fight of the type China has waged, especially without independent sources of capital, developing nations will become nothing more than xerox copies of the nations against whose colonialism they have fought for centuries.

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