Alexey Maslov: "Asia does not think of the world in Western terms.
It requires respect for its own primordial mentality. "
This is “Greater Asia” on the TV channel and on the site “bigasia.ru”, Alexey Maslov, Doctor of Historical Sciences, professor at the Higher School of Economics, orientalist. Today I would like to talk about how Asia is understood in Russia. Access to a very diverse range of information, to various sources, creates such an interesting illusion in people that they know about places they have never been, enough to form some kind of complete idea and declare that they understand how and what is happening there now. Well, what do you think, how close are these ideas to the truth, and how much, what is the degree of distortion here?
- In fact, Asia still remains a very big mystery. Even if we take the word "Asia" itself, then in Chinese it sounds like Yasia, which is a transliteration of a well-known Western term. It is we - Europeans or Russians - who think the world in terms of the West or the East, or Asia and Europe, Asia and America ... But the Chinese never thought like that from the very beginning. For China, the world was ethnocentric, that is, China is the central world, and next to it are the nearest satellites - countries such as Japan and Korea. Frankly speaking, Japan had the same idea of the world. It turns out that, one way or another, the concept of Asia is a European concept.
As we know, there are also such followers of Asian culture who say: “I only drink green tea”, “I only eat Japanese sushi”, or “I practice feng shui or wushu”… In other words, people like to try on Asian clothes. And in many ways, if you do not take a very narrow circle of professionals, this corresponds to a hobby or a kind of "disease of Asia". And today there is by no means its first outbreak. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this was called "orientalism", which meant the imposition of oriental forms on western culture. The phenomenon of today can be called neo-orientalism.
At present, the manifestation of orientalism has changed slightly - it has begun to smack of "business orientalism". It means that now people say: "I want to do business with China", "I want to do business with India" ... But in fact, they do not really understand very well that much is arranged quite differently there.
– Asia is huge from every point of view, be it territory or diversity of cultures. Is it possible, being in Russia, to try in any way to break this general idea into parts that are feasible for our understanding? Arguing by analogy, it means to segment the global canvas into small fragments, while at the same time preserving the overall vision of the subject.
– Segmentation is a good word. This definition clearly fits the phenomena that occur in Asia. The fact is that we are used to living in a relatively homogeneous world: we all speak languages of almost the same group, and even the lexical structure, for example, of English and Russian is very close. Moreover, Europe, which is literally cut into small pieces into different states, is, in fact, one culture. You may live in Belgium, France or Germany, and the languages may differ, but the culture remains the same. Take, for example, China, which is formally one and the same country... However, the northerners do not understand the language of the southerners, for example, the Shanghainese is a Beijinger by language, and the Hong Kong resident is a Beijing city dweller.
This is exactly what you have to get used to. And behind the outer facade lies a different historical fate. As a result, Asia never tolerates a superficial attitude when you once visited China or spent 10 days in India, having gone on excursions, and then you start saying: “I was there and I know all this very well.” Asia never forgives such mistakes and consumer attitude towards itself. If we want to work with her - it doesn't matter in political or cultural terms, business plan - & nbsp; we will have to study such manifestations of tradition. This is a huge job, which failed and undermined not only large modern business projects that were faced with a lack of understanding of Asian specifics. Something similar already happened when the West came to Asia.
We had an illusion that Asia could become Western, European, and we lived in this illusion for a very long time. Moreover, our view of the world is identical to the Western one. Take the history of the Middle Ages & nbsp; from school history textbooks. In these textbooks, only 10-15 pages are devoted to the events that took place at that time in India, China or Japan.
And above all, this is a problem of our consciousness, since we still think world in Western categories.
– You mentioned that there is a certain fashion for oriental studies now. But among people who are deeply engaged in studying Asian countries, for example, many people study Chinese. We can say that This is a fairly popular direction in the field of education now. Businessmen learn the languages of other countries of this region, realizing that they get an extremely important tool in their hands - language, which determines the ability to understand, read and expand information sources for themselves. Do you think that the possession of a linguistic resource brings closer to understanding not only the meaning of words, but also the essence of the phenomenon itself and the way of life of society?
There is a whole range of knowledge that is necessary to understand how to work with the East, since oriental studies are an applied science . That is, even studying ancient history or ethnography, in fact, we are studying how the East works today. Thus, we delve into the political culture, forms of communication between people, get to know the local ethnic groups and their way of life, that is, how the country's leadership governs its people. And only in this case, having studied this whole complex of knowledge and understanding it, we can understand how the East will generally react to this world. And, oddly enough, if we know history in great depth, we will understand how China will develop in 20-30, or even 100 years.
And just calculate, for example, GDP growth, economic trends or the demographic situation is clearly not enough.
As a result, we need to understand what is the logic of development of both the East itself and the peoples inhabiting it. For these reasons, Orientalism today is not just a hobby. It is of great practical importance, although it requires a great deal of knowledge and a very long study. And only with the help of this science can we understand how we can work with the continent where at least a third of the world's population lives and 50% of the world's GDP is produced. Moreover, this gross product of the continent is steadily rising. In addition, Eastern values are sometimes already beginning to dominate Western ones. As a result, we get a different world space configuration.
Aleksey Maslov is Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, an orientalist. Photo: "Greater Asia"
– It is clear that not everyone who would like to to deal with the East in various aspects - cultural or business - is able to immerse himself in history, calculate trends and build forecasts. This requires a certain baggage and the ability to analyze information, as well as knowledge. Who is called to help such a person?
– The answer to this question is very simple. Oriental studies form decisions, but not necessarily participate in their development. No one is obliged to read books in such quantity as professional orientalists do. But still, I would recommend starting, firstly, by reading some fundamental books. Moreover, please note that fundamental works do not necessarily mean works that are difficult to perceive. These are key to understanding Asia and well-written books. At least such works explain how the East works. Secondly, if you want to work seriously with the East in any area, take yourself, figuratively speaking, a guide. This means a consulting firm or just a good specialist in the East. Such an expert will not allow you to make at least serious mistakes. Mistakes on your part can be very diverse: you can sit incorrectly during a conversation with an eastern partner or accidentally speak inappropriately. Such a miscalculation can destroy the result of long-term painstaking work in one fell swoop.
There are a lot of good courses for comprehending knowledge. However, for reasons I don't understand, every European, be he Russian, English or German, falls into the same trap. It seems to all of them that this cup will pass them by, that, having arrived in China, India, Japan, Korea, they will immediately solve all problems. Such an illusion arises steadily and everywhere. Moreover, after returning home, a person lives for about half a year under the influence of this mirage: it seems to him that he has agreed on everything and decided everything. Then failures begin, difficulties both in politics and in business precisely because he did not hear the signals that were being broadcast to him and did not understand the phrases that were being said to him. It is no coincidence that, for example, in Chinese there are more than 10-15 expressions that can be translated as "yes", that is, as a sign of consent ... But this "yes" absolutely does not mean that your partner agreed to your proposals.
– So this “yes” is not the same as “yes” in the European language?
– Absolutely right. Moreover, in the East, a signed treaty may mean nothing. And sometimes personal connections that have been established over 10-15 years can play a much larger role than a signed paper. The East is different from us, and until we learn, do not understand how to work correctly, failure will inevitably lie in wait for us. make allowances for dealing with foreigners if they encounter inappropriate behavior?
– Asians are different, so they react differently.
– Can you illustrate?
– Because, for example, the Japanese, who survived both the American occupation and Westernization in general, are calm about mistakes of foreigners and do not pay much attention to it. China has always been very sensitive to its traditions. Citizens of this country react to a violation of local etiquette quite differently. If you just arrived as a tourist and made dozens of mistakes, asked dozens of not very good questions, you will be forgiven.
But here is an important question - who do you want to consider yourself? Or you want to go inside this society and be perceived, if not as your own, then as a normal interlocutor, and then you will have to follow local rituals. If you just want to come, see and leave, then strict requirements do not apply to you, but then you should not expect that you will be treated as a serious partner.
– Have you spent a lot of time in China and can you to some extent appreciate what, in particular, is the Chinese stereotype of Russian citizens?
– It will probably be interesting to know that I have observed not only this stereotype, but also its transformation from the end of the 80s of the last century to the present day. In scientific terms, I have a vast field of observation with a certain historical depth of perception. The Chinese treats the average Russian very well. This is true and is by no means a slogan. This means that, in my opinion, a Chinese citizen treats a Russian better than any other representative of Western culture. But one should not confuse the attitude of the Chinese to the Russians with the attitude of the Chinese to Russia. Thus, many Chinese believe that Russia is a land of lost opportunities, a slowly developing country, and that therefore it needs help. In this regard, when I hear a typical remark in a conversation, “You know, the Chinese want to come here and buy something,” I am acutely aware that the interlocutor is wrong: oddly enough, first of all, psychologically, many Chinese want to come and help Russian people who find themselves in a difficult financial situation. Secondly, in the view of the Chinese, a Russian is a very cheerful and optional person. There is some underlying reason in this plan, because the modern generation of Chinese saw Russians in the 90s who came to China in order to buy something ... At the same time, they promised something, sold something, did not fulfill their obligations and left for themselves to the homeland. In fact, this, of course, is no longer the case today. Russian businessmen in China are working as clearly as possible. Nevertheless, the stereotype has already taken root.
And there is another paradox. For example, in China, on many issues, Putin is more popular than Xi Jinping, because he embodies the ideal leader, from the Chinese people's point of view, a leader who is not afraid to talk tough with the West. Maybe China itself would not mind talking to that part of the world in a manner similar to Putin. But the fact is that Beijing is pursuing a different policy. But Vladimir Putin behaves with & nbsp; Americans in exactly the manner that appeals to the average Chinese. This, by the way, is very curious: it turns out that Russia is taking on a somewhat dirty job, like an icebreaker punching a hole for China in the defense of the Western world, which exists under American auspices.
–In Russia now the real fashion for Asia. In many ways, this is probably due to the fact that a certain Western model to which we are accustomed (career building, training and a general life concept) has already become boring. This creates a desire to try something new. But how promising are Asian behavioral models for a Russian?
- In general, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a Westerner to adapt to the East in general. And it's not just about the language or food, which may be unusual... You can get used to this, after all. The fact is that you live in an environment where you do not have any clan, patronymic, blood ties, that is, you live alone. And it is no coincidence that Western people are trying to create their own community there (clubs, communities, associations), because they need to survive. And very many who once, for example, came to China 10-15 years ago, did not make a serious career there and did not become millionaires. This happens not because they are bad businessmen, but because there is a completely different environment, and & nbsp; Europeans don't have connections.
Thus, Asia is tough on protecting not only its markets, but also your culture. It is very difficult to get in there. Working with Asia is, first of all, working with a completely different culture, with other stereotypes, other values that are unusual for a European. The local belief system is not good and not bad, but different from our ideas. In this regard, everything depends on how much you are personally ready to adapt, and not just negotiate. This is a fundamental issue, so you need to be extremely careful and careful with Asia, and on the other hand, very polite towards culture, otherwise it will eat and go on to develop further.
This is the essence of the culture that today has already existed for almost 5, and maybe all 6 thousand years.