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A view of China’s Great Wall. | Pixabay

I recently wrote a term paper on the mixed economy of China for my History of Eco­nomic Thought class. I chose this topic partly because of the recent media attention on China and my own per­sonal interest in learning about the subject. 

From the very start of the project, my igno­rance of Eastern history and culture became painfully clear. Having attended a clas­sical Christian school from kinder­garten through high school, I had spent my entire edu­cation studying Western history and culture, much akin to the Hillsdale model of education. 

I don’t mean to deny the merit of knowing one’s own her­itage, and I under­stand that America’s founding and intended culture is built on a largely-Western foun­dation. That being said, now we are living now in a much more global culture than our forefathers. 

Hillsdale covers Western culture and thought to the almost total exclusion of its Eastern coun­terpart. Hillsdale should offer classes in mul­tiple depart­ments that specif­i­cally discuss Eastern ide­ology, culture, and history. 

Based on my expe­rience at Hillsdale so far, many members in my gen­er­ation are wholly unin­formed about Eastern history and current affairs. This makes it nearly impos­sible to ade­quately under­stand the future of American rela­tions with China or compare Western and Eastern thought. Based on my survey of the Hillsdale Course Catalog, there is one class in the art department on Non-Western Art and one class in the History Department on the History of the Far East and one on the Middle East These are not enough to provide stu­dents with a thorough grasp on Eastern thought. 

Hillsdale stu­dents in par­ticular should study Eastern thought to chal­lenge and strengthen their under­standing of Western thought. Largely, we are West­erners and we are fully inun­dated with Western culture. We have a lot to gain by com­paring our native culture with other world­views. For example, we often take a certain level of indi­vid­u­alism for granted, in the West, while Eastern cul­tures are more com­fortable with col­lec­tivism. Why do we insist on the impor­tance of the indi­vidual? What do we gain by rejecting col­lec­tivism? These ques­tions are best answered by under­standing the alter­native to the per­spective that we often take for granted. 

Ancient asian soci­eties are not the back­wards cul­tures West­erners some­times write them off as either. China developed tech­nology for paper, printing, gun­powder,  paper cur­rency, and a smallpox vaccine, to name just a few things. We should take their history and global con­tri­bu­tions seriously. 

There are also prac­tical reasons to study the East. With China’s growing presence on the world stage, the pre­pared statesman or citizen should antic­ipate the objec­tions raised against his Western per­spective and the per­spective Eastern coun­tries are intro­ducing to the global con­ver­sation. The con­ver­sation is not restricted to pol­itics either. Busi­nessmen and women will find them­selves dealing with Eastern economies and business more than in the past, and aca­d­emics will need a more solid back­ground for inter­acting with argu­ments orig­i­nating in the East. 

At Hillsdale, we usually think of the Bible as one of the founding doc­u­ments of our Western her­itage. This is true, Judeo-Christian thought has shaped civ­i­liza­tions, including our own. But the Jewish Bible began as an Ancient Near East doc­ument and thus was written to a people com­fortable with and influ­enced by Eastern thought. In the book, “Mis­reading Scripture with Western Eyes,” authors Ran­dolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien argue that the Bible can and should be studied with both Eastern and Western per­spec­tives in mind. They argue there is room in the text for both indi­vid­u­alism and col­lec­tivism at times, or a need to con­sider the honor and shame system alongside the tra­di­tional Western moral system. 

In order to pre­serve Western thought, prepare our­selves for a changing world stage, and deepen our bib­lical inter­pre­ta­tions, Hillsdale should offer its stu­dents more classes on the East. Don’t settle for a brief big-picture glance to our neighbors. 

 

Emily Marsh is a sophomore George Wash­ington Fellow.