chapter  7
20 Pages

The Contrasts of Japan and China

It is not only as givers and receivers of elements of culture that civilisations act upon each other. A more obscure but not less significant relation is established by impacts that produce a process of polarisation: forces of one society calling forth opposite forces in the other. In some cases such an antithetical movement is due to the presence of conscious opposition, antagonistic urges, enjoyment of contradiction. More often it is caused by half-conscious or unconscious tendencies through which the organic dialectics of life appear to work themselves out. Thus Greek and Roman classical art and literature served not only as model and standard for West European civilisation but also as thesis engendering an antithesis, inducing a shift of emphasis from order to freedom, from generality to individuality, from the body to the spirit. Contact with French society has sometimes added touches of lightness and grace to German literature; but it has also reinforced the appreciation of what is massive, systematic, unsociable and primordial. Similarly China has perhaps rendered the most signal service to Japan, by awakening the Japanese mind to its own contrasting potentialities. It is by transforming the impulses received from China into means of discovering herself that Japan has vindicated her claim as a culture able to live according to its own law. The presence of this law can be perceived in every sphere of life, from simple gesture to metaphysical construction.