Reception and Transformation - Recognizing the Self In the Other / the Own in the Unknown
Posted on 14. Feb, 2009 by Noll Andreas
|Title||Reception and Transformation - Recognizing the Self In the Other / the Own in the Unknown|
|Publication Type||Magazine Article|
|Year of Publication||2007|
|Authors||Noll, Andreas, and Andreas Noll|
|Magazine||Thieme Almanach 2007|
|Keywords||Reception and transmission|
|Full Text|| |
Reception and Transformation - Recognizing the Self In the Other / the Own in the Unknown
What could motivate a local therapist to devote himself to such a foreign medicine as the Chinese Medicine? Did our Western world - in which, after all, for thousands of years diseases are being successfully treated and even cured - not also achieve great things in medicine? Are concepts as the humoral pathology of Hippocrates and Galenus, of a Hildegard von Bingen or of a Samuel Hahnemann not enough? What leads us so far away on our "search for salvation" (Heilssuche), not only towards spatially distant realm, but also on a timely scale: Towards the thoughts of Chinese doctors as well as scholars who lived, taught and practiced some thousands years ago? Obviously, it is the wish for the "totally unknown" which is so very different from the local ideas that there is no need to show consideration for any tension, or possibly arising dissonances. The step into the unknown finally creates the distance to dissatisfaction, disappointment and frustration. But still, one should be aware of the impossibility that any escape from the own tradition would be - as we are deeply rooted in the here and now. The local understanding of health and illness stem from this time and this space.
Illnesses - Variable Matters?
This becomes obvious in looking at "new" diseases, such as ADD, CFS, AIDS. But also more familiar terms as "climacteric", "vegetative dystonia", "hysteria", "neurasthenia", "hypochondria" all are medical expressions which spring from historically caused ideas and which make no sense to - for example - a Chinese from neither the 19th nor the 20th century. Thus, when speaking about illness and health, we would actually have to accurately differentiate between the time and place in which a term is being coined - since it certainly became considerable only due to the importance of that particular disfunction during that particular moment in time. Chinese medicine - developed in over 2000 years, coined by social, political, climatic and religious changes in the distant Zhongguo- had been (and continues to be!!!) subject to endless changes. Illnesses and conceptions of healing appeared and disappeared. Accordingly, one should try to understand why this particular concept of Chinese medicine became relevant and of interest just now in this moment within our realms. The problem with this continues to be theselective perception of the Other: What will be extracted from the entire set of medical possibilities and perspectives, is mainly whatever fits best into the own, familiar point of view. In addition, there is an tremendously well functioning language filter of the manifold (primary, secondary, tertiary,...) translations and interpretations of "classical literature". The original version is gone - but do we need it, anyhow? Or, are we able to comprehend it at all?
Do we have to (over-) interprete?
Where is the intersection between our ideas and that of "the Chinese" (whatever the time, whereever the place...)?
Or is it not that culturally and historically determined ideas and concepts are recurrently put into question and repeatedly have to be measured by reality? Ideas which then are freshly formed until the next putting into question.
What is Meant by "Reception" and "Transformation"?
The key words are "reception"- i.e., the inclusion of unknown thought - and "transformation" - its conversion, its remodeling while keeping up the original content. There are ideas of "the Chinese" of the manifestations of body and soul which are partly substantially different: Why do the Chinese not make beautiful anatomical drawings of bodies/organs, as did Leonardo da Vinci? What is "madness" in Chinese terms? How about the local understanding of the five senses and the "Chinese perception"? And our soul -...do "the Chinese" have a soul, anyway? And what about their bodies? What kind of relation might these two have? Responding to these questions offers the possibility to question the own ways of thinking, to soften stuck models of perception und to then find new ways while practicing. The reception of foreign thought, especially of such a different system as the Chinese, is - in its often missing authenticity, the possible lack of actual substratum and the occasional overextravagance of interpretation, speculation, desires and illusions, just as dreams are to us in our personal life - the basis for great creativity.
The alienation of fundamental relationships, commonly spread in our Western world, which normally lend a sense of security and orientation to existence, is an important motif for the search in unknown shores and the reception of other cultures. The first expeditions to unknown shores were done by the Romans; Alexander the Great anticipating them and leaving his Hellenistic marks in India. The Moores in Spain, the Huns all over Middle Europe - they offered enough matter for all different kinds of phantasies. Though it was not until the discovery of the Americas in the 15th century that the unknown became relevant to economic and cultural development: different people, different cultures, different religions, different doctrines of salvation - the determination of the familiar world view was over. With regard to the Far East, other factors - as I will demonstrate - also play an important role: China is the "opposite world", meaning, the Other per se. China stands as a symbol for the stable, the millennia-surviving system (Confucianism).
Thus, the reception of foreign philosophies primarily serves the confirmation and dissociation/ securing of the own thoughts. The impact which the perception of the Chinese may have on a group, can be detected every year in the very specific dynamic of the Congress of Rothenburg/Germany!
The Western View toward the East
The meaning of reception therefore always includes approaching an unknown cultural environment that offers something which the familiar sphere is not able to provide. The familiar sphere differs accordingly. At no point in the history of the Occident, has the Orient, i.e., the East, not been given grounds for speculations, hopes and phantasies. Ex oriente lux - the light comes from the East, as the saying goes. But not only that: Marco Polo fired the imaginations during the 12th century, but even then did the crusades, and later the Turkish Wars, succeed to coin very different images of the Orient. Images which display their refreshened echo throughout the world until today. Concerning China, increasing intentions to understand this extremely unfamiliar country, its culture as well as its medicine, started about 500 years ago. Endeavors of which implications were carried by the very special needs of the prevailing epoch.
Exploration and Contacts
During the 15th century, in the realm of the big discoveries of foreign territory which included the questioning of the entire world view, the exclusiveness of the Western-Christian and especially Eurocentristic perspective collapsed. There was more than the recently discovered America with its legendary treasures of the Inca, there was also a powerful culture. A little later, the Jesuits arrived in China. Shortly after Martin Luther`s Reformation, after the fierce shock the Catholic church had to experience hereby - in the middle of deep doubt in the God of the Christians after the devastating earthquake of Lisbon - the Jesuits proclaimed news to Europe about a highest God Shangdi whose son was the Chinese emperor as Tianzi. Confusion everywhere: Could all these Chinese be Christians? While the Jesuits were approaching Chinese culture, even holding important functions at the Emperor`s palace, such as overlooking the order of time, i.e., the making of the calendar, the pope (Clemens XI) got angry and declared any adoption of "heathen rites" as heretical. In prohibiting to include ancestor worship in any Christian service, this "rites controversy" set an end to Christian missionary work in China which had been successful up to that point. Only in the 40s of the past century had this papal bull "ex illa die" from 1715 been canceled.
And another decade later in the face of the flourishing age of Enlightenment, Leibniz noticed enthusiastically:
"If nothing changes, I am afraid we soon will succumb to the Chinese on any commendable field."
And Leibniz continues:
"By an unique decision of fate, as I believe, it came into being that the most sophisticated culture and the technologically most advanced civilization of mankind are equally concentrated today on the two furthest ends of our continent, that is in Europe and in Tchina [Tschina] (as it is actually pronounced) which adorns the opposite end of the earth as if it were a Europe of the East. Perhaps the Highest Providence aims at the goal -while most civilised (and at the same time the most distanced) People are holding out their arms to each other - to gradually lead everything that is in between into a more rational life."
But the Chinese are not superior in everything:
"...that the Chinese - even though they cultivate erudition with astonishing keenness and are offering highest awards to their scholars - have not come to any exact science, has been caused, as is my believe, by nothing else than their lack of that "one eye" of the Europeans, that is mathematics."
( Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm: Preface to “Novissima Sinica". In: Hsia, Adrian (Hg.): Deutsche Denker über China. Frankfurt/M.: Insel 1985. [German Thinkers On China]
It was during this time that the enthusiasm for China, initiated by the Jesuits, reached its climax. China was "in" - accordingly it was not only the news of this unique Chinese cure "acupuncture" reaching Europe. In addition, it meant good form to adorn oneself with "Chinoiseries" of all kinds: Be it with porcelain (“China”) or with a Chinese Pavilion, as Frederick the Great had constructed in the castle grounds of Sanssouci. But at this point, a different trend appeared one that was critical towards China. It was favored by the euphoria of Enlightenment, by the economic boom and especially by the increasing trade with China.
After the Jesuits had fallen in disgrace over there (see above), merchants became the informants for the West. The Chinese were [sic!] the perfidious, inscrutable and moneygrubbing Chinks...
Halt and Progress
And further: Chinas was being plagued by Europe's economy, science and philosophy.
Immanuel Kant ascertained a parallel which was still very common during that time: the parallel between Buddhism and Christianity, including Trinity and sacraments. Therein, Buddhism appears as the degenerated form of Christianity. This was a clear change from earlier concepts which had always located paradise (see also "Shangrila") in the East. This can be found as well today in the occasional fanciful admiration of anything that lies beyond the Hindukusch. Hegel noted an attitude towards Chinese culture by the West which implants itself until today - perhaps even to whom nowadays the Chinese culture seems to provide with the stable, the immortality which the go-getting thirst for growth and change in the West lacks.
"That was the Eastern Wind , he was dressed like a Chinese. "Oh, are you from that region?" the mother said. "I believed you were in the Garden of Paradise." " I will not go there until tomorrow!" said the Eastern Wind. "Tomorrow it will be one hundred years since I had been there! Now I come from China, where I danced around the Porcelain Tower so that all bells were ringing. Bureaucrats got a beating in the street, the bamboo cane was smashed on their shoulders; and those were people from first to ninth rank. They shouted: "Thank you, my fatherly benefactor!" But it did not come out of their hearts, and I rang my bells and sang: Tsing, tsang, tsu!"
(Hans Christian Andersen, Garten des Paradieses: Hans Christian Andersen, Garden of Paradise)
Searching for the Other
Following the Enlightenment, when the human being seemed to serve as model and measurement for everything, the philosophers of the Romantic period searched for the solution to the question, where the human being could find morality and ethics - apart from Kant's "categorical imperative". Schelling (among others) turned to the East and investigated in Chinese society. They did not know a God in the Occidental sense - "Originally, all commitment is commitment to God alone ..." - the system of Confucianism and the "celestial admiration" [“Himmelsverehrung”] which found its identity apparently beyond myth and religion within the mutual social commitment.
Nietzsche later opposes that:
China is the best example of a country where dissatisfaction on a big scale and the ability for transformation are extinct since many centuries; and with their rules for improvement and security of life, the Socialists and the governmental idolators of Europe could easily reach Chinese conditions and a Chinese "luck". That is, provided that they could be able to wipe out the sickly, fragile, female, temporarily still abundantly existing dissatisfaction and Romanticism here first.
(Nietzsche, The Jolly Science, 24)
We are talking mid- to end of the 19th century here: The times of the Opium War, of the erection of Western bases for religion and economy in China, and of the powerlessness of the Qing government. Nietzsche understood the fall of the Chinese Reign as the answer to idleness and transfigured self satisfaction.
Also Nietzsche's idea of the Übermensch (superior man), presented in his later days in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra", finds a support of his argumentation in the situation of China:
"...a common inhabitant of the earth [Erdenmensch] shall come into being, therefore, the human being still is in the process of change (where he adjusted himself, e.g. China, he stays almost the same since milennias)."
(Nietzsche, Fragments, Explanation of Characters and Special Characters)
In the 20th century the arising sociology, as well as psychology, dealt with Chinese ideas.
Max Weber understood Protestantism as the driving force in the development of the West. That meant, a development of the Christian religion which, in its rationality, Puritanism and instinctive asceticism, facilitated the expansion and colonization of China. Even though Max Weber also thoroughly studied the sociological aspects of Confucianism and Daoism, the main interest in China at the beginning of the 20th century was above all of economic and sociological nature. But nevertheless also in this case: dealing with the unknown in the unknown shores was and continues to be a mirror of the own culture, of the own well-worn exclusiveness and habit.
Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers, Richard Wilhelm - in the 20th century numerous attempts were made to comprehend Chinese ideas and their possible relevance for the Western world. With the final dominance of the soul over the body - already established by Platon 2300 years ago and characterizing healing concepts during the whole time - modern psychology was determined by Sigmund Freud. C.G. Jung on the other hand - partly together with theologians and sinologists like Richard Wilhelm - borrowed from Chinese thought, in the search for entirety and relations between separated lives. And since the 1960s, the myth Tibet and Buddhism as healing system, are blossoming in an unfriendly, inhuman, combat-centered world.
And what about today?
What moves millions of people in the Western world to use Chinese medicine to be cured by?
Why is it that this curing system including Acupuncture, Moxibustion, Qigong and Chinese medicine fits so well into our modern times? Is it perhaps due to the term "energy" which we increasingly use since the first oil crisis in the 1970s? Or possibly rather due to the term "network" - whether the internet, globalisation or Jingluo- the channel network of Acupuncture?
Let us ponder and recite...
Andreas A. Noll (München/Deutschland)
Andreas Noll, born 1955, education in acupunture at the Institute of Acupuncture, Colombo, Sri Lanka with Dr. J.M.K. Bandara Jayaweera 1984/1985. Acupuncturist [Heilpraktiker ] since 1984 with clinics in Berlin-Lichterfelde and Munich. Study of Sinology and Religious Studies at the Freien Universität Berlin.
Educational trips to China since 1990(Chengdu, Shanghai, Beijing)
Publications: Handbuch der Phytotherapie 1989, Die Wandlungsphasen der Traditionellen Chinesischen Medizin, Band 1–5 1992–2002 (im Autorenteam mit U.Lorenzen); Der ältere Patient in der TCM (Hg. mit B. Ziegler, 2006), Stresskrankheiten mit TCM behandeln (Hg. mit B. Kirschbaum, 2006), Kinderwunsch und TCM (Hg. 2007)
President of AGTCM Germany 1999-2005
Founder and Principal of Berlin School of Traditionelle Chinesische Medizin (TCM) (ABZ Ost, Shou Zhong) 1990-2002
Teacher in Germany, Austria and Switzerland
Visiting Professor of Chengdu University of Traditionelle Chinesische Medizin (TCM) since 2006