Editor's Note: This article was prepared for a conference on the "Dynamics of Northeast Asia," arranged by the Asia Society and held in Japan in November 1973.
Christendom, Europe, or, more broadly, the Western world is customarily balanced with the Orient, the East, or more narrowly, Asia. This equation, however, is a false one. While the various lands of the West do in fact share a common historical tradition and in many cases similar cultural traits, Asia is divided into major cultural traditions as far removed from one another as from the West. There are vast psychological and cultural gulfs between the Arabic-Islamic world of West Asia and North Africa, the Hindu-Buddhist civilization of India and Southeast Asia, and the Sinic world of East Asia. But within each of these major cultural units there do exist psychological and cultural bonds in some ways comparable to those that unite the countries of the West. This article explores the nature and strength of these bonds among the countries of East Asia-that is, China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam-and the degree to which these affect their present political and strategic relations with one another and with countries outside this cultural grouping.
The Sinic world as a cultural unit in some ways parallels the West, but in others it is sharply different. The higher cultures of all four East Asian countries derive basically from the civilization of ancient North China, as shaped over the millenia by Confucian ethical concepts and the tradition of a centralized empire, just as the cultures of the nations of the West derive from the civilization of the Mediterranean area, particularly that of Greece and Rome, as reshaped by Christianity and a long, shared historical evolution.
While the countries of East Asia show strong psychological variations, these are no greater than those among the nations of Europe, and the basic cultural similarities are certainly as strong. The written word has historically been the firmest bond among the East Asian lands. Chinese characters long
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