Friday, December 14, 2012
Mad Rant: Freedom in the Far East
You could say the same thing about the west. How everyone seems to think that before the era of the so-called “Enlightenment” and especially before the revolutionary era, everyone lived in oppression and ignorance. They forget all about the great universities established in the Middle Ages, the tremendous scientific, literary and artistic discoveries of the Renaissance or how, even in feudal times, most Europeans had more holidays from work and paid less to their governments than they do today. But in the east this same ignorant attitude has often also been combined with a disgusting dose of condescension and thinly veiled racism. I will never forget finding an old school book, written sometime in the 1910’s, that spoke with such arrogant, ignorant pride about the 1911 Revolution in China. This was from a contemporary American perspective of course, and the book spoke so smugly about how the Chinese had finally “grown up” and were embracing the idea of the republic which, of course, Americans were “smart” enough to have figures out two centuries earlier. One would think the very concept of “freedom” had only been invented in Philadelphia in 1776!
Human beings the world over had plenty of time to learn what worked and what did not and, unlike today without our collective safety nets, if something didn’t work the consequences could not be ignored. People learned from it, adapted and moved on. When a system was found that worked, they stuck with it until it became sacred tradition. Many attributed foreign influences with the establishment of the Japanese constitutional monarchy in the Meiji Constitution. However, it embodied the same values held by the Japanese going back at least to the Seventeen-Article Constitution released in 604 by Prince Shotoku. This document included such points as being tolerant of disagreement, not to be envious, not to conscript people at times that would prevent them from providing for themselves and that important decisions should be left to one ruler but taken after discussion. Those who believe that government which governs best is that which governs the least might also be surprised to learn that many Chinese came to the same conclusion a thousand years ago. In Imperial China there was the famous saying, implying considerable freedom through benign neglect that, “Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away”.