The Elephant and the Dragon

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This comment reflects in many ways important elements about how and why the Chinese view the Indians as they do:

… your question has answers in two periods. The second and most recent was during the cold war, shaped by Chinese elite (diplomatic) interaction with their Indian counterparts during this period who came to see Indians as unserious prevaricators. Big talkers and little doers, whether or not you agree with this assumption, it is what drives Chinese elite opinion today.

The first and older break was an earlier schism in worldview at the dawn of the 20th century when Chinese elites chose to take the path of Darwinian materialism towards national salvation. This meant radical politics and a restructuring of Chinese society towards any ends at any cost as long as it meant material prosperity and power. This left China lurching between fascism and communism. At the same time they came to view simultaneous Indian political trends, another vast nation under Western power, as being embodied by Tagore and Gandhi. That is focused towards traditionalism and eastern metaphysics as a path to revival. This is again may or may not be true but it became the default opinion. This was actually shared by elements of the Chinese elites as well, though the losing faction. The winners of the debate viewed such a policy as childish escapism verging on nihilistic passivity in the face of real threats and India, as the eidolon of such defeated views became tarred by association.

As I have noted before, Adam K. Webb’s Beyond the Global Culture War highlights attempts by early 20th century Asian traditionalists to coordinate. Some of the same characters appear in Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. For all the influence of Fabian socialism on Nehru and the early leaders of India, nothing on the scale of what happened in China to the traditional society occurred in India.

But today as many Chinese transition to post-materialism they are looking back to their own past. This is natural. But the past destroyed is not so easy to access and rebuild.

Addendum: Chinese liberals and progressives of the early 20th century adopted and modified racial theory from Europeans.

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86 Replies to “The Elephant and the Dragon”

  1. “But the past destroyed is not so easy to access and rebuild” – I agree, but it can be done. The Chinese throughout history have always been good about record keeping, and linguistic continuity has meant that the average Chinese can access the country’s past if he/she really wanted to. In India, thanks to Sanskrit becoming a dead language despite the government’s best efforts, and the average Indian being at best semi literate and the urban elites having lost all native language proficiency, this isn’t the case. Most scholarly work on Indian history is ironically done by Westerners, with all their inherent biases and baggage.

    At the World Buddhist museum in Kandy, each Buddhist country has a room or section to exhibit their respective artifacts and Buddhist history, which I found was inevitability a reflection of geopolitics more than anything else. The Indian section was quite humble, which was tragic but the Chinese section was opulent. Tibetan Buddhist history was completely coopted as a branch of Chinese history, which was ironic and hilarious at the same time

    1. To understand mainland China’s relationship to traditional Chinese culture.

      Imagine if the communists took over India and tried to wipe out traditional Indian culture (great leap forward). Introduced a new common dialect and simplified alphabet.

      Then later on as communism declined globally, the Indian communist party adopted a sort of hollow Hindutva to became popular Nationalistic materialists.

      I am much more optimistic about China’s prospects than India’s prospects. But I think they unnecessarily severed ties with their own past in the Maoist period partly in reaction to the humiliation they faced leading up to world war 2.

      Now they are sort of overcompensating with Chinese nationalism.

      Taiwan, nationalistic from the outset, went down a different road and was able to become prosperous sooner while maintaining a greater level of continuity with traditional Chinese culture.

      1. Taiwan prosperity is more due to very same factors the Chinese have, and less to do with their maintaining “traditional Chinese culture”. Its mostly an add on to distinguish itself from the mainland.

        1. i not saying that traditional Chinese culture is what has made Taiwan economically prosperous.

          rather that the CCPs focus on destroying the 4 olds was an unnecessary distraction that cost the country years of progress.

          And the culture would have reformed more organically overtime

      2. Then later on as communism declined globally, the Indian communist party adopted a sort of hollow Hindutva

        In the hypothetical scenario you list a much more likely (almost a guarantee) outcome would have been complete eradication of the Caste System by a much more brutal approach. Post Independence Caste System reform while good still only exist on a Spectrum and it is taking way too long for this to come to a conclusion. Leading today to a situation where the General students feel like they are in a Nuevo Caste System of sorts come time for College exam/entries.

        But I think they unnecessarily severed ties with their own past in the Maoist period partly in reaction to the humiliation they faced leading up to world war 2.

        They likely went too far in CR time period but in general their approach was logical and necessary. Chinese civilization hold was too powerful a force for the Communists or any other group who attempted to establish a new Chinese State/Republic. And it isn’t unsurprising given that this Civilizational dynamic was formed over millenia, it wasn’t just going to go away Politely on its own. The issue needed to be forced.
        Their diagnoses was correct in large parts because heavy reliance on traditionalism and catching onto outsider developments happening too late is what led Chinese to be left-behind, even Japan.
        For India the diagnoses is similar, it is the human-capital wasteful system of Caste System and other mundane and ridiculous religious practices which ultimately acted as the drag which caused internal divisions which led to stable-fragmented political entities and harder to unify and mass mobilize enough human capital.
        One doesn’t get their behinds handed to them by semi-desert nomads from Afghanistan who number like 10 times less than you. This happens when Half the population is already not of any use (women, who still are not all that well off), then another half is just socially ostracized for 1000s of years. Genetics start to play a role at that point, even in 150 years we can begin to see nutrition and resource crunch/boom leading to physiological body changes like height and so on.
        Leaving one about 20-30% or 1/3 of the actual population to do anything. So much waste. Even today India is struggling with this fact, how to properly use its Human Capital. Demography is not Destiny, you have to make it work for you, it doesn’t work on its own.

        1. “One doesn’t get their behinds handed to them by semi-desert nomads from Afghanistan who number like 10 times less than you.”

          Well those nomads pretty much handed everyone’s behind in that area ( Iran, Egypt, Anatolia) .

          Also the odds were stacked even higher in Mongol-Chinese and Manchu-Chinese “interaction”. Pretty sure the Chinese came out on top.

          1. Well those nomads pretty much handed everyone’s behind in that area ( Iran, Egypt, Anatolia) .

            Those conflicts were in relative terms on somewhat parity terms not the insane multiplier complex they had with India.

            Overcoming a 1:2 or 1:3 manpower disadvantage is hard but somewhat understandable but just running through like knife-on-butter with a handicap of 1:10 if not more just defies logic at surface level. But we then peer under that surface and find out in reality it really wasn’t 1:10 given how much human capital was wasted in India.

            Also the odds were stacked even higher in Mongol-Chinese and Manchu-Chinese “interaction”. Pretty sure the Chinese came out on top.

            Chinese did come out on top for vast majority of cases/exchanges they had with their Northern neighbors. The historic gaps which became famous like Mongol, Qing or earlier dominant Khanates are famous precisely because they were outlier events and didn’t also last centuries, barring the Qing.

            Mongols overcame Chinese eventually after a lot of struggle and trying, it was hard for them and they used all they had, be it Persian or Chinese skilled person or their own ruthless efficiency so close to their relative home-base. Plus Chinese were also weak internally at many of these moments (which is similar to what happened with India, just the mechanisms by which this process happened was different and different length of lasting).

            Furthermore Chinese genetics is also a point of corroboration on this comparison. Chinese over the last 2000 years underwent a lot of mixing, of course classes existed but the nature of them was more economic and power based and temporary than what had happened in India where it just became a Birth-Reality and perpetual. This over the long term has a profound sociological impact when majority of the population is basically rendered useless in a way.

            Even today China used this Total Mass Mobilizing capacity of theirs to super charge their development. Everyone was roped in, there were no exceptions and those who stood in the way were forced aside. Development at all costs because No one gives a crap 50-80 years down the line how their great grand-parents neighbor didn’t make it for whatever reason.
            As long as there are enough people on the other side of the struggle the struggle is justified. India failed in that, Half a Billion people are already dead and gone without seeing that bright future. That is already history, it can not be changed.

          2. Excellent comment about India squandering its human capital to its own detriment.

            I am not sure whether it is enough for stopping the nomads in their tracks as they have overcome the most powerful of powers in their moment of weakness, for eg Romans, islamic caliphate. But surely the resistance or comeback could have been stronger/ sooner.

    2. Chinese language is a natural language which was not standardized untill recently unlike Sanskrit which has stayed same for atleast 2500 years. Traditional Chinese literature is written in several ‘languages’ and ‘dilects’. It’s hard for modern Chinese people to understand even 300 years old songs of Chinese opera. On the other hand if someone crosses hurdle of learning Sanskrit grammar, understanding it’s literature becomes a piece of cake. Sanskrit has logically defined rules for formation of words so you can easily guess meaning of uncommon/unknown words and can even create your own words.
      The script is another problematic aspect of Chinese langauge. It’s very hard to learn logograms which is primitive form of writing. Modern Chinese can’t read all of older logograms.
      The death of Sanskrit has more to do with Indian politics and less with other factors. Sanskrit almost became one of official language of India and it would have been a great connecting thread for India.

      Although recently I’ve observed that many Indian youths are intrested in learning Sanskrit.

      1. Traditional Chinese literature is written in several ‘languages’ and ‘dilects’.

        are you a moron or do you just play one on this weblog?

        Chinese dialects are spoken. the Chinese written language is a unified language, so Cantonese speakers can write to mandarin speakers.

        there has been a shift in characters in the 20th-century from classical to simplified. but it is one standard language to another standard language.

        the continuity of Chinese is strong enough that people can somewhat make out characters on oracle bones using knowledge of classical.

        too many moron comments and i will ban you.

        1. @Razib
          Please ban me. I have no way of dealing with a maniac blogger like you.
          Did you even try to comprehend my comment?

          Didn’t I clearly state that Chinese writing system is logographic !
          But Chinese language itself is ‘natural’ and had been prone to changes.

          Can you tell real sound of ancient Chinese ‘languages’? Or ‘original’ meaning of all of logograms? Can a person(who is well versed in modern Chinese) understand Chinese classics just on the basis of knowledge of grammar of modern Chinese or read all of logograms?

          I compared Chinese with Sanskrit mainly for highlighting effects of standardization on the languages. Sanskrit grammar is consistent and any person even with basic acquaintance with grammar would be able to understand most of literature without any external aid. Same can’t be said for Chinese language where you would need to put years of effort to understand the texts in their original form.

          Now please block the ‘moron’. 👎

  2. I think at think point of time English should be named as de facto lingua franca of India especially in rural india. The country is lot morr diverse than people actually think. Its time to get unified because people aint gonna unify on basis of Native languages (Hindi vs Urdu , Hindi vs Dravidian, Punjabi vs Hindi etc)
    Most scholarly work is done by westerners cause india didn’t have a proper Sanskrit literary culture. ( Could be because of sanskrit being more of a priestly language than language of all at any point in time).
    The culture that flourished during medieval times was Urdu/Persian writing of poetry , ghazal , urdu literature but because the upper class muslims were exclusivits that only Upper class Hindus or people from other communities tend to know more Urdu/persian than average labourer.
    But most hindus today will never accept Urdu culture : Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb (even though i think its great ) because of its connection with muslim rulers and now with all Muslims of the subcontinent.
    Everybody loves poetry , ghazal , art , drama etc but most people will not accept it fully.

  3. I disagree with the notion that the modern Chinese society is able to access and project its cultural and literal traditions in a more robust manner than India. The soft power of India, more earthy and less centralised than the Chinese equivalent, is leagues ahead in terms of eyeballs and retaining them. I have read countless blogs on how Chinese movies barely manage to get more than a passing look in Africa, South America and the Middle East. This is in spite of billions and billions of sunk money in Chinese state funded extravaganzas. I also think this is the ability of the Indian polity to connect with its roots and enable stories from the bottom to re-circulate in cultural circles far removed from their origin. I fear Mainland China has gone so far down the road of materialism that they no longer care or know what has been lost. A Taiwanese tourist once told me – We are the civilisational mainland.

    1. India’s soft power is indeed commendable, and speaks volumes about our cultural vitality and creativity at a very earthy level like you pointed out. The cultural worlds of classical, folk and rural are being fused and mined constantly and overlaid with western influences, and it’s maddening and delightful. Indian cultural output can also be considered the foremost among the ‘global south’ in a way, as a competition to anglo-western output in terms of competing in developing markets from Morocco to Malaysia.

      China is not playing this game though, the creative output of a people stifled can never reach it’s potential. Their power projection is focused on increasing their clout in the world through control and influence of global organisations. Case in point – the WHO chief who was a former minister of health in Ethiopia, a country firmly in China’s grasp. Through Pakistan, China tacitly has the OIC in it’s grasp, and Chinese influence will undoubtedly (and sadly) only grow after the Corona mess that is very much their creation. While the West’s (and India’s) economic are locked down and economies are taking a beating, China’s factories are back up and running and they are using this very cleverly to surge ahead.

  4. because of its connection with muslim rulers and now with all Muslims of the subcontinent.

    bengali muslims don’t have a connection with urdu. neither do muslims from keral and tamil nadu.

  5. “Taiwan prosperity is more due to very same factors the Chinese have, and less to do with their maintaining “traditional Chinese culture”.“

    Nothing that magical- all countries take advantage of their demographic dividend because of low dependency ratios- Taiwan simply had it earlier than China- unfortunately China has hit a wall because of sharply climbing dependency ratio, a little earlier, and now has an ageing population.
    The south and the west of India are now realizing their demographic dividend relative to north and east. It is key for India to have female participation in the workforce to further decrease the dependency ratio and that is happening. The #metoo movement will help considerably.

  6. “Tibetan Buddhist history was completely coopted as a branch of Chinese history, which was ironic and hilarious at the same time”

    That’s a great long term opportunity for Tibetan Buddhism to occupy the spiritual void in aging China- much of which is being slowly taken by evangelical Christianity. The prevailing nationalist anti western sentiments should move China to search from within as long as someone can broker it within China itself without falling foul of the Party.

    1. That’s a great long term opportunity for Tibetan Buddhism to occupy the spiritual void in aging China- much of which is being slowly taken by evangelical Christianity. The prevailing nationalist anti western sentiments should move China to search from within as long as someone can broker it within China itself without falling foul of the Party.

      the book i am reading indicates that Chinese see tibetan Buddhism as more primal and authentic. but there are 2-3 times as many Chinese Buddhists in china as protestant christians.

      Christianity gets a lot of attn because this is what the west cares about.

      1. the book i am reading indicates that Chinese see tibetan Buddhism as more primal and authentic.

        There is some respect in which Tibetan Buddhism feels to me personally as more “primal and authentic” than the historically earlier Chinese Buddhism – the Tibetan version involves more tAntric elements, and tantra perhaps incorporated many more hunter-gatherer elements.

        But I am guessing Chinese have completely different reasons – is that because Tibet’s backwardness or its peoples’ apparent lack of polish strike the Han as more primal?

    2. “The prevailing nationalist anti western sentiments should move China to search from within as long as someone can broker it within China itself without falling foul of the Party.”

      true, but the party is still very jealous of protecting its turf. they will have to tread carefully.

      case in point, tv serial based on a grand historical theme was recently shut down in china at the orders of the party. the reason being, there had been a deluge of such grand historical dramas in chinese tv in recent times, and the party got worried that this constant depiction of glorious historical china somehow belittles the achievements of the party!

    3. China is officially atheist, and their actions in Tibet after the invasion would have made the Taliban in Bamiyan seem like amateurs. But enough ‘re-education’ has since been done that they can actually pull off being seen as defenders of the Tibetan Buddhist faith.

    4. China is officially atheist, and their actions in Tibet after the invasion would have made the Taliban in Bamiyan seem like amateurs. But enough ‘re-education’ has since been done that they can actually pull off being seen as defenders of the Tibetan Buddhist faith.

  7. “unserious prevaricators”, “big talkers, little doers”

    I’m curious about the often-referenced trope about the two Asian civilizations — that China is pragmatic, praxis-oriented in its character (e.g. its philosophy was relatively speaking less metaphysical or theological and about how society should be run on the ground), and India was more abstract and philosophical, less materialistic. So, for instance, this is used to explain why China was able to enforce ruthless pragmatism in jettisoning one ideology and picking up another, to compete and catch up to the west.

    You see this idea of these “deep” differences of pragmatic China vs. idealistic, abstract ideas-loving India, bandied around to explain everything from why India dominates IT, and China dominates in hardware, manufacturing, to why even the Chinese and Indian diasporas differ in career and lifestyle choices (e.g. why Indian diasporas in the west or US do into more ideas-oriented fields like politics, law etc. over the Chinese and that study proposing the verbose argumentative style of Indian culture aids their assimilation in the US, why Indian kids like spelling bees and “verbal” fields, not that they don’t dominate mathy fields too… okay some of these examples do seem cherry-picked to overfit the narrative… but…

    What do you guys think — is this difference overblown or overplayed or a legit phenomenon?

    If so, why would this long-standing difference exist so long for thousands of years and influence things today?

  8. Everyone apart from the Chinese seem to think that they are missing something. The Chinese on the other hand don’t seem to care that much. This seems akin to how hindutva folks look at dravidians/communist and lament how they are missing out on great “hindu tradition”

    Naipaul once said “ the past must seem to be dead, because the past can kill”

    1. This constant abuse of the term “Dravidian” is interesting. By “Davidian” do you mean strictly Periar types ?

        1. Both are talking about same thing. People who identify strictly as Dravidian are the periyar types who are also subject to ‘concern’ from from hindu RW for missing out
          Both the groups are at each others throats about things like Sanskrit/Hindi/Tamil superiority, hindu traditions, Brahmanism (all people living north of their apartments are north indian aryan brahmins according to these ‘Dravidian’ definition) and other North vs south twitter shouting matches.

          1. I know exactly what he was asking, so i answered exactly what he wanted to hear. We N-Indians are dumb but not that dumb.

            Cannot play both sides after a certain point. Have to choose.

        2. Dravidian is “anyone who identifies as Dravidian” ?
          LOL. Are you channelling Kabir now ?

          Dravidian has a specific meaning in linguistics.

      1. @Arjun

        “This constant abuse of the term “Dravidian” is interesting. By “Davidian” do you mean strictly Periar types ?”

        He’ll use every opportunity to spout some BS north vs south stereotype.

        1. There are people who have made a living out of all this,and yes, of course, i am the bullshitter.

  9. Active apathy and defunding by Indian governement ensured that sanskrit or other indic languages are dying a slow death

    View this video. It is long but at some point his IIT-K graduate makes a case for reviving native languages of India.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?index=233&list=FL6WJHL_VEP6_q63NUiofxdA&v=pw4YEyAbIdI

    I am not sure why people keep thinking urdu is elite. Urdu was born in barracks between interactions between Turkish, Persian soldiers and the hindu population who fought in the armies. It is because north indian muslims looked down upon Hindus and considered themselves elite that even the language they spoke was considered elite. Braj,/awadhi that were edges out by muslims Court, are far more poetical and musical languages. First 70 years in Bollywood were dominated by muslim writers, lyricist, directors, producers. They gave this label of eliteness to Urdu.
    Urdu will take twice the amount of words to say something compared to most indian languages. , 5 times more.

    From what I have seen living in US, Chinese behavior is very different from indian behavior and unfortunately I will be stereotyping. For every one thing that I write here, there is bound to be an exception. Generally, I find chinese have great nationalistic fervour for China. They seem to stick to their social groups. They speak in mandarin/chinese with each other even their 2and gen. All of these things are not true with respect to Indians. They seem to have great contempt for Indians but envy their ability to speak English. I suspect that it is their government’s thoughts that are being projected not their actual interactions with Indians.

    1. “Urdu was born in barracks”– This is a factually incorrect statement and reflects a wrong understanding of History.

      Urdu evolved out of Khari Boli, the prestige dialect of Delhi. It was associated with the Mughal court, which is why it was known as “Zabaan-e-Urdu-e-Mualla” (language of the exalted city). As for Braj and Awadhi being “far more poetical”, that is of course a subjective opinion. One could argue that Urdu is the quintessential language of poetry as is evidenced by the longstanding ghazal tradition. Even in today’s Hindutva India, Urdu poetry by Faiz and Jalib is a major part of protest movements.

      As for Braj being “edged out by Muslim courts”, I have previously cited the fact that as late as the period of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the Mughals were writing poetry in Braj. This hardly qualifies as being “edged out”.

      This opposition between Urdu and so-called “Indic” languages is a reflection on the Two-Nation Theory and a reaction to Pakistan choosing Urdu as its national language. It is especially ridiculous since Urdu itself is an Indian language and the cities most associated with it–Delhi, Lucknow, and Hyderabad– are within India’s borders. The only reason for this opposition to Urdu is because of its associations with Indo-Islamic culture.

  10. my feel is that while chinese consider themselves as the real victims of western imperialism, they think of indians as someones who got away relatively unscathed from the colonial era. at the extreme end they even characterize indians as the collaborators of the western imperial project.

    an objective assessment of history does not support this assertion. india suffered as much as china under the yoke of colonialism, considering the famines that devoured millions, exploitative economics that destroyed traditional industries and such. but what is history but a fable everybody agrees upon. and this is the history they have agreed upon for themselves.

    1. they even characterize indians as the collaborators of the western imperial project

      They are not wrong to do so. Indian soldiers were employed to subjugate the Chinese in the Opium Wars.

      On a related note, the Irish feel they are the first colonial victims of the British, and as a matter of fact, they were. But in India, they were collaborators in the British Imperial project, and as white people, were part of the “sahib” class that looked down on the “natives”.

      1. Why Chinese (or Irish), Indians see other Indians as collaborators of the western imperial project, and they aren’t wrong too.

        1. Perhaps in private, but no one does so in public to my knowledge. In fact, there’s a lot of denial and offense-taking at any suggestion that one’s ancestors weren’t congenital freedom-fighters.

          Try mentioning the fact of Sikh troops’ crucial role in quelling the 1857 Revolt to a modern-day Sikh in India and you’ll know what I mean.

          I think William Dalrymple got a lot of hate for mentioning (in his recent book “Anarchy”) how much local collaboration in Bengal led to the Company’s victories and subsequent regime-buttressing. Not just the Marwari merchants scheming with Clive but also the Bengali bhadralok gaining from Cornwallis’ permanent settlements. Try mentioning these facts to a Marwari or Bengali today and brace yourself for the avalanche of gaalis that come your way.

          1. There were an equal number of Chinese merchants (Hong) operating in the Canton system (18th century) and tried to actively destabilise the Qing court and sided with the English during the opium wars. Nobody among the Indian elites considers them collaborators or stooges in a civilisational context. A one-sided narrative can lead to wishful results.

          2. Try mentioning the fact of Sikh troops’ crucial role in quelling the 1857 Revolt to a modern-day Sikh in India and you’ll know what I mean.

            Well that isn’t even hard to counter, Sikhs can just retort by saying the Bengali and Bihari regions didn’t support them during the Anglo-Sikh struggle which happened before 1857.

            Meaning the gist remains the same, India lost because it was too divided at that stage in its history and West pounced. West might have won anyway given they had technological edge at that point but India just made it easy for them in the end.

          3. The gist actually is more like “all of us were collaborators and no one dare raise finger at me”.

            “Try mentioning the fact of Sikh troops’ crucial role in quelling the 1857 Revolt to a modern-day Sikh in India and you’ll know what I mean.”

            Sikhs actually are pretty blase about their collaboration. They take great pride in their contribution to the Brits empire, and take the criticism in their stride. Its only folks/ethnicities who know that their credit to debit ratio in terms of collaboration/freedom fighting is bit off who get irked. We all know which ethnicities i am talking about.

  11. in my opinion,
    1. sanskrit was never meant to be a language of the masses.
    2. it looks like many south indian languages have borrowed words and grammer from sanskrit. ( tamil to a lesser extent).
    3. sanskrit is having a revival in india.

    1. tamil to a lesser extent

      That’d very likely a recent project, the result of the 20th century Dravidian movement. I speak Thanjavur “Brahmin” Tamil, which is the language of my ancestors, and it’s quite heavily Sanskritized.

  12. ” unserious prevaricators. Big talkers and little doers”.
    Ah, the old idea that Chinese are practical and pragmatic, praxis-oriented, vs. Indians being argumentative, philosophical, verbose theoretical etc.

    It’s been mentioned a lot before (e.g. the argumentative Indian, that study showing Indians are more verbose and similar in western argumentativeness than Chinese in the US, even those arguments about how China dominates hardware and manufacturing and Indians dominate IT), but I still wonder how far back and how accurate the trope about the character of the two big “Asian civilizations” goes — some part of it seems cherry-picking and confirmation bias to me, especially arguments like “Indian kids dominate spelling bees in the US because they love being wordy and talkative more than East Asians”.

    But other parts do seem like there’s a grain of truth — there clearly something about why it’s said that Chinese civilization is more pragmatic as for instance caring more about rules governing relations with humans on earth, less about speculation on the nature of the divine, and less metaphysical than Indian when it comes to theology/philosophy.

    How “deep” and legit is this — not saying its innate but could be a deeply ingrained cultural habit, but why would this cultural difference persist (arguably even in diaspora, despite assimilation) — what do you guys think?

  13. i think it is bit unfair to call sikhs or marwaris/bengali-hindus the collaborators with british.

    when sikhs took part in the suppression of uprising of 1857, they were simply getting back at the muslim aristocracy of delhi for the centuries of oppression they had suffered at the hands of mughal empire. in fact there is historical evidence to support this view. british officers commanding the sikh troops played upon the sikh slogan “raj karega khalsa”, and goaded the sikhs saying this is their moment to establish their “raj” over delhi. i am sure sikh soldiers felt they were just fullfilling a prophecy foretold by their gurus.

    in the similar vein, when the marwari merchants of bengal conspired with the british to overthrow muslim rule, in their calculation they were simply aligning with one foreign power to defeat another one.

    for those who need some history lesson, the last nawab of bengal sirajudaullah was no hero. as a matter of fact he was a complete asshole of a nawab. he came to inherit his throne from his maternal grandfather alivardi khan, who had earned immense goodwill of his subjects – both hindus and muslims- in admirably protecting his state from the predatory raids of marathas. sirajudaulah was such a jerk that he frittered away this entire goodwill in his brief rule of 6 months in total!

    one of his favorite sport was dressing as a woman and breaking into the zanana of the houses of his hindu nobles in disguise. in one incident he threatened the jagat seth – the chief financier of his state – with forced conversion and circumcision for the banker refusing him some loan. in another incident, he forced a newly married daughter-in-law of jagat seth’s household to uncover her face in open court.

    any man of sword would have lifted his sword to avenge these grave insults. jagat seth was not a man of sword. he was a man of money. so he used his money to buy the services of one foreign power – the british to extact revenge from another. i certainly do not find any fault in his actions.

    the point is, in the medieval times (and india was still living in medieval age till 1857 AD), nationalism was pivoted upon religion. secular nationalism detached from religion was an alien concept to indians in medieval age. (rhetorcial question – have indians embraced secular nationalism whole heartedly even today?).
    to the sikhs or hindus of medieval times indian muslims were as much foreigners as the british.

    1. Two points

      No body really has the cheek to call sikhs collaborators which is due to mix of guilt( 84 riots etc) and their immense service (which dwarfs every other community) both in pre and post Independence India. They actually don’t care what they are called.

      The Marwari-Bengali “collaborator” battle is a battle among themselves mostly to establish who was lesser collaborator. Add to the mix the recent Hindu right push into Bengal which is being bankrolled by the Marwadi-Gujju combo (with bihari manpower) comes across as a hostile foreign takeover of the state.

      For rest of India its amusing for see both factions calling each other collaborators , fully oblivious of the fact that they both are seen as the alpha collaborators with the Brits. Especially the Bongs who go on throwing around words like “Idea of India” and “Resistance” . At least the marwadis keep their calm and make money.

      1. Are Marwaris still “foreign” to Bengal? They’ve been there an awful long time…

        They’ve kind of been everywhere in India for an awful long time, and they all speak the local languages fluently, and know the customs. If anything, they are one of the closest groups to a pan-Indian community I can think of.

        1. 1. sadly they are foreigners every where including in mewar, alwar etc!!.
          2. a sub culture of marwadis out side marwad has developed as is the case of any second/third generation migrant groups.
          3. cpi(m) was called communist party of india(marwadi) towards the end of their reign in bengal.

          1. “cpi(m) was called communist party of india(marwadi)”

            When u fuck up the economy, you have to beg to very same folks who u have castigated as villains for eons

          2. I disagree. I don’t think Marwaris are foreign at all anymore in places like Bengal or Maharashtra. At least no more foreign than any other local group with its own history, customs, brand of language, etc. Everybody interacts with them, they are integral to the economy, culture, and history of the place, and they are very much part of the social sphere, and local institutions. I can’t even imagine a Kolkata of the last 200 years without Marwaris.
            We are talking 4th, 5th generation and counting on average at this point. The first ones came in the early 1700s! All of them speak Bengali. Many speak Hindi as a home language as well, and if any speak Marwari, it’s not the same as it was in the old country, but rather mixed with Hindi and local languages.

            They’re a bit like Jews. A German Jew is not foreign to Germany. A Polish Jew is not foreign to Poland. A Kolkata Marwari is not foreign to Kolkata.

  14. a lot of the metaphysical framework in neoconfucianism is pretty clearly adopted from or stimulated by the arrival of Buddhism. Buddhist language and identity was indigenized, but it is notable it had to come from the outside in china…

    the Chinese elite really stopped focusing too much on personal theism after the Shang (they may have been believers in a technical sense, but they simply didn’t organize society at the high-level around salvational religions)

    1. @Razib

      “a lot of the metaphysical framework in neoconfucianism is pretty clearly adopted from or stimulated by the arrival of Buddhism. Buddhist language and identity was indigenized, but it is notable it had to come from the outside in china…”

      What about Taoism? Was that also influenced by Buddhism at the outset? It seems similar to Indian religions in some of its content, but that could be coincidental or just a biased reading of it.

  15. “Ah, the old idea that Chinese are practical and pragmatic, praxis-oriented, vs. Indians being argumentative, philosophical, verbose theoretical etc.”

    in some ways india vs china equation is analogous to greek vs roman. greeks were the thinkers of ancient world, romans were the doers. 2 millennia later, i think it is fair to say that greeks had more of a cultural impact on the world we are living in than the romans. the glories of the magnificent roman empire faded away, the thoughts of the greek treatises endured.

  16. i agree with greer, and said it 10 years before him, that it’s really

    Indian <-> greeek <-> chinese

    greeks had extensive ethical philosophies but also metaphysics. the Indians focused on metaphysics (leaving ethics to custom, tradition, scripture) and the Chinese basically just imported and repurposed Indian metaphysics (a lot of daoist thought seems rxtnary to Buddhism)

    1. There are several Indian treatises and works concentrating on the temporal world and I believe these are unsurpassed by any equivalent Greek works (at least to my knowledge) –

      Arthashastra – 200 BCE to 100 CE – Administration, Strategy, Taxation, Geopolitics, Time Management

      Kamasutra – 400 BCE – How to figure out if a woman is interested, kissing, sexual hygiene, interpreting behaviour and of course, the 64 methods

      Vedanga Jyotisha – 1400 BCE – Astronomy, calculating the winter solstice, Arrival of spring

      Ashtadhyayi by Panini – 400 BCE – Syntax, Comparative Grammar, Meta-rules, widely considered as the forerunner of modern linguistics.

      1. Arthashastra – 200 BCE to 100 CE – Administration, Strategy, Taxation, Geopolitics, Time Management

        the republic and politics.

        i am not talking about natural philosophy, astronomy irrelevant (every civilization cares about astronomy due to astrology).

        india seems ahead on linguistics for sure.

        1. One example that strikes me as a good case for Indians having a history of favoring abstract theoretical things beyond the pragmatic is the history of large numbers, where it’s said Indian civilization is one of the few that pre-modern times had any interest in naming large numbers like trillions or 10^20 or something, and featuring them in stories, cosmologies etc. going back to Vedic literature.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_large_numbers#Ancient_India

          Most ancient civilizations (that tend to think of 10 000 as ” a lot” or myriad) wouldn’t bother to, and well, most practical-minded people today in modern times even, don’t talk about numbers larger than things useful enough for counting in daily life (how often do you need to distinguish ten trillion things from a hundred trillion things, for instance).

          I remember Carl Sagan in I think Cosmos describes how Hindu cosmology was really the only in pre-modern times that imagined sizes, numbers and scales in space and time prior to modern science allowing us to verify these sizes. Reminds me of many theoretical fields of science/math where it’s the idea that comes long before any practical science or engineering finds a use for it.

          Also, being (the first?) able to develop a science of linguistics (wishing to analyze and systematize the very rules of language far earlier than other civilizations did) demonstrates some really detailed interest in theorizing.

          Going back to a question I did have is to what extent do you guys think this penchant for theorizing vs. praxis in India and China going back millenia has an ongoing influence in the 21st century today in explaning Chinese and Indians’ cultures today (as opposed to say modern changes or technological/material/economic conditions in the last few generations). I do wonder if takes regarding the two nations’ trends in the last century or decades like “China dominates manufacturing, Indian software and IT” or “Indians dominate politics and occupations with lawyerly/verbal argumentation more than Chinese, including their diasporas in the west” attributing this to trends about their philosophical/metaphysical deep roots are accurate, because it’s too easy to attribute modern trends to deep things in the past (e.g. look how many things that are products of a generation or two or modernity are attributed to Confucianism or lack thereof, like Weber’s argument that Confucianism harmed modernization vs. those who say it helped after seeing East Asia’s rise). Clearly, few people in the west act as if Classical Greek and Rome’s culture carries over to influence modern Italians and Greeks in the EU, but plenty (including us on the blog) act if ancient China and ancient India do provide insight on the modern, because there is at least some continuity worth discussing about.

          1. @Diasporan

            “Clearly, few people in the west act as if Classical Greek and Rome’s culture carries over to influence modern Italians and Greeks in the EU, but plenty (including us on the blog) act if ancient China and ancient India do provide insight on the modern, because there is at least some continuity worth discussing about.”

            I don’t think that’s the right analogy.

            Saying Indians are influenced by ancient Indian culture is more like saying Europeans are influenced by ancient Greek & Roman cultures.

            Not saying either is true, but I think that’s the more apt comparison if you’re going to make one.

  17. Scorpion says:
    “my feel is that while Chinese consider themselves as the real victims of western imperialism, they think of Indians as someones who got away relatively unscathed from the colonial era. at the extreme end they even characterize Indians as the collaborators of the western imperial project.”

    This is a very superficial analysis on the part of the Chinese. The way I would look at it is that South Asia and to a lesser extent South-East Asia absorbed the brunt of the European rapaciousness in Asia. To begin with South Asia was closer to Europe. The riches of South Asia were so huge that as the English (EIC) grew in power and strength and controlled more of South Asia, their navy also grew to control access to Asia. A more effective response to European predation in South Asia would have likely meant that South-East Asia and China would have had to bear much more of the European exploitation.

    The analogy I would draw is to Islamic rule taking hold in North West India and becoming deeply rooted in empires centered on Delhi. Islamic rule did penetrate into the Deccan, but this was gradual and much more tenuous, and shorter in duration. Just as the Islamic armies of Delhi Sultans contained many Hindu Rajahs and soldiers and were used to conquer parts of the Deccan, the EIC troops which fought in China contained many Indian soldiers.

    Suffice it to say that Europe exploited South Asia much more throughly than it could exploit China.

    1. @JT. it is not as if chinese aren’t aware of true history. as i alluded in my earlier post, this is the version of history that serves their interests best.

      it is noteworthy that during 50s and 60s when the india-china border dispute was heating up, the standard insult of official chinese media for nehru was “running dog of western imperialists”. to any neutral observer calling a leader who spent sixteen years of his life in british prisions a lackey of imperialists will sound ludicrous. but this is how it went.

      may be it was jealousy on moa’s part. nehru was a darling of american media, and mao was a just a brutal communist for americans. whatever it many be, one thing stood out. chinese leadership’s quiet confidence in their manifest destiny of emerging as the sole asian leader nation was evident even in the fledgling 50s.

  18. The democratic traditions in most of S Asia create conversations such as this forum- you get 2 S Asians in a room, you have 3 opinions (joke)…. this is important for how we think in our workplace, our ability to ‘do the right things’, principles are being tested and sharpened and in the end they are more important than rules….
    The same cannot be said about the Chinese and this is a problem that is not good for the world on the long run, given the population size. The walling off of Facebook and Twitter and Google are a human engineering problem that harks back to the one child policy- I have been to China, nearly 10 major cities in past 5 years and it is increasingly a police state, with cameras everywhere and spyware on computers. On the short term it is ok, but it does serious harm on the long term and folks are missing out on the global dialogue and the inhibition of creative thought just when China needs to get out of its steal/copy/paste phase to its next needed evolution. It’s ironic that it is becoming an electronic forbidden kingdom and at the same time it desires a ‘belt and road’ Silk Road type deal with rest of the world. It’s more about reformulating the past….

    1. “you get 2 S Asians in a room, you have 3 opinions (joke)”

      Heard this joke before about Jews, Christians and religionists in general. First time about South Asians but makes sense on this blog!

  19. “They seem to have great contempt for Indians but envy their ability to speak English. I suspect that it is their government’s thoughts that are being projected not their actual interactions with Indians.”
    In my experience- it’s much more hierarchy and stature oriented, if you have knowledge to give or have seniority, you are given the royal treatment and lavished upon regardless of your origin and also vice versa. The Chinese show more contempt for their own than outsiders of similar stature within an organization. They are curious about the success of Indian-Americans and instinctively recognize that it is more than language proficiency that makes Indians successful in the West.

  20. “came to see Indians as unserious prevaricators. Big talkers and little doers”

    Just a random thought – the big talker and little doer is sort of a negative stereotype of Brahmins among non-Brahmins.

    “Pundit” can be used dismissively to describe someone who is very learned but lacks the ability to put things into practice.

    By contrast, populist, low caste Modi is a big doer, unafraid of taking bold action, even if the actions are sometimes ill thought out (for eg. demonetization).

    I wonder if the historical dominance of Brahmins in the Indian elite has lead to certain stereotypes that perhaps do not apply to other groups of Indians.

    No one would accuse Banias of lacking pragmatism, the Kurmis of lacking work ethic, the Gorkhas of lacking bravery etc

    I wonder how the rise in power of the ordinary non-Brahmin Indians will change India’s perceived culture.

    1. A thought about this might be would we expect differences in “argumentativeness” in personality in the diaspora depending on the source and nature of their ancestors? Would well-off Indian-Americans and their kids fit the argumentativeness stereotype well, but not say Guyanese or Fijians? We can figure out if this is about culture or pragmatic material conditions… a construction worker that lives in one of the mid-east Gulf countries probably has less chance to get involved in argumentative exchanges than a Rutgers student in NJ for instance.

      Also, we have many different diasporas to compare this idea with (of varying levels of assimilation and original retention of cultural/caste origins and separation from homeland).
      I’d really be curious if the average Chinese or Malay Singaporean thinks Indian-descent Singaporeans are argumentative, or the average white or black South African thinks Indian-descent South Africans are argumentative, etc. compared to themselves or the majority populace.

      I’d imagine just due to immigration selection effect, the most well-off and educated diaspora, Indian-Americans are the most verbose and argumentative, including the folks that go into politics, whether on the left side or the right side. If it’s caste/class/education it might be something more than SES status since high-SES differ in the argumentativeness stereotype (e.g. Jews, S. Asians, stereotypically yes, Chinese and other E. Asians in the west not as much even if just as rich/educated)

      1. I competed in university Parli debate in the tristate area. Rutgers was a huge player always and a sizeable portion of their team was S Asian origin. It tended to be browns from upper caste backgrounds but not just Brahmins. Even groups like Reddys and Banias were common enough, if I remember the last names correctly.

        A lot of the debate teams had Indian members. When I competed at worlds actually, there were a healthy number of Indians on teams from the UK, Australia, and of course the US

        I also lifted weights with a few Guyanese guys for a bit. cool bunch. Way more relaxed culturally. And more “proud” to be Indian, if that makes sense. Just like on average (maybe about 10 total in the group).

        They just seemed more secure in an Indian identity, despite being far away from it. Some came from broken homes with alcoholic fathers etc. So it was a different set of backgrounds for them compared to the rest of the Indians I grew up with. But they were nice. They actually came up to me in the gym first.

        One of them said, “It’s good to see Indians lift. Not a lot of us do it. And we have to do it more.”

        A Guyanese patient at the hospital told his mother “Hey you see this boy here. He your son. He gonna take care of you. So you listen to him.” Very endearing. Lovely people. I am a huge fan. And they can actually dance more than Bhangra lol

    2. The big talker Indian is a post-1947 phenomenon – primarily a Nehruvian phenomenon.
      Brahmins were around for a long time before that. If anything, they were much too superior to talk to anyone about anything.

  21. “Chinese dialects are spoken. the Chinese written language is a unified language, so Cantonese speakers can write to mandarin speakers.”

    To be fair I’ve heard that Cantonese speakers did at one point develop an informal, colloquial version of their own written language separate from the official standard by adding and modifying it to reflect local usage. I don’t think it ever encroached/competed much against the official standard though.

    (the website Omniglot says “In Hong Kong, colloquial Cantonese is written with a mixture of standard Chinese characters and over a thousand extra characters invented specifically for Cantonese. The extra characters are included in the Hong Kong Supplementary Characters Set (HKSCS).”

    and Wikipedia even has a Cantonese version separate from the standard Chinese version.

    https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=548
    https://www.omniglot.com/chinese/cantonese.htm
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantonese_Wikipedia

    “From what I have seen living in US, Chinese behavior is very different from indian behavior … They seem to have great contempt for Indians but envy their ability to speak English.”

    I’m not sure why Chinese (I’m assuming Chinese nationals, expats or adult immigrants, not Chinese Americans is referred to here) would go out of their way to envy Indians specifically for English ability, would this also apply to envying any other immigrants from English-colonized nations, like Nigerians, Singaporeans, Guyanese, South Africans etc. And of course anyone born and/or raised in the US would logically speak English.

    “i think it is fair to say that greeks had more of a cultural impact on the world we are living in than the romans. the glories of the magnificent roman empire faded away, the thoughts of the greek treatises endured.”

    I feel like this is a difficult one to judge (including the fact that Roman culture drew so much from Greek to begin with) because both were influential in different ways if you’re defining culture broadly, after all, despite being more of a “practical” aspect of culture, there’s still the huge impact of the Latin alphabet, Latin languages like French, Spanish and Portuguese that have huge numbers of speakers, Roman-style of organizing politics that countries have modelled governmental structures after (e.g. Senates), architecture etc.

    I feel like it’s somewhat like asking if the US or UK has a greater impact on world culture — some of what made the US great came from the coat-tails of British Empire spreading Anglospheric dominant, but surely some from its own doing and clout in the 20th century. What to attribute to what is hard.

  22. Ancient Chinese Monk Describes Ancient India // 4th century Faxian // Primary Source

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zy1IowqaDE

    Chinese note Gupta Empire rule is quite lenient. People only have to pay a portion of agricultural gains and not massive taxes. Fines are used more often. Stealing is ‘only’ punished with losing a hand. And decapitation is not the norm like in China

    They note they do not eat meat, drink liquor, or eat onions or garlic. Holy shit this sounds heavily Jain influenced. They even give exception for “Chandalas” aka dalits. They call them “wicked men” who live apart from others.

    They describe Vaishyas (video’s words “possibly class of ruling Guptas”- it is contested whether Guptas were merchant caste rulers- all sources say they were among ruling elite but some argue over whether they held the position of emperors- btw lower castes have ruled empires-Asoka was a shudra emperor)-they dispense charities such as medicine for everyone, especially poor women, children, and the crippled.

    1. Interesting video.
      What also struck me was the comment about Vaishyas spending a lot on building viharas for Buddhist monks. Jain tradition to this day…
      A lot of similarities between Jainism and Buddhism , not just on metaphysics/ concepts but also terms used. For example, Sangh/ Sangha is used to this day as term for congregation among Jains ( e.g the Houston sangh or London sangh) and is also a term used extensively to this day by Buddhists
      Another side comment: Islamists / Mughalists / Paknationalists grossly underestimate the amount of continuity that exists in Indian culture / tradition/ values / practices – many things literally go back 2000+ years.. I have seen this among other things in Jain diksha ( monk initiation) rituals.. this a deep, comprehensive culture which is perhaps why despite 800 years of Muslim dominance India remains Indic to the core

  23. My great grandfather and one of his grandsons (my uncle) took Jain diksha as early as in the last century due to some tragic happenings in the family. We were not traditional Jains. – webstill are not. My uncle (he is no more), then went on to find a Jain order which to this day has thousands of followers. Now we have a member of our extended family from each generation becoming a Jain monk. These are mostly extended family members still living in semi rural India. I have seen their initiation ceremonies which are brutal. I am struck by wonder how they continue with the austere lifestyle. Unlike other gurus, Jain monks follow traditions more than 2000 years old.
    Since they survive on alms, they would die out I’d the rest of the larger community did not support them.

    1. Very interesting. Anecdotally I understand that many Hindu families in the Punjab used to have one son convert to Sikhism. I don’t know how far this is true.

    2. Rohini – Very interesting. What do you mean by your family not being “traditional Jains”? Do you just mean non-practising or from a non-Jain or semi Jain background?

  24. It sis very true and is ongoing. Not just in Punjab. Our neighbor in Delhi was the Sikh son in a Bania family. The way, it is carried out is – that son brought up as a sikh would be married to a traditional sikhni and she would then carry on the sikhism.

  25. Would these incidents be considered “argumentative”

    The Cocos Islands mutiny was a failed mutiny by Ceylonese (Sri Lankan) soldiers against British officers, on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on 8 May 1942, during the Second World War.

    The mutineers were to seize control of the islands and disable the British garrison.

    The leader Bombardier Gratien Fernando and many others were Thomians. !!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocos_Islands_mutiny

    1880’s Australia. Sinhalese workers
    This was merely the start of their problems. The following day, sixty of the Ceylonese deserted their places of employment and this was followed by thirty more on the day after that. There was intense excitement in the town of Bundaberg and the Ceylonese were incited to disobedience by the Anti-Coolies League, which said that its quarrel was not with the Ceylonese but with those who brought them down.

    A public meeting was held and Ceylonese speakers said that they had been brought to Queensland under false pretences. They said that they had been told in Ceylon that the cost of living in Queensland was similar to that in Ceylon, but they found the cost of living here was much higher and that a wage of 20 Pounds per annum was a starvation wage considering that they would have to pay more than three Pounds a year as tax on rice. They said that European labourers doing the same work were being paid much more than twice the pay of the Ceylonese.

    The Planters were also disappointed with their new employees. They found that they were not plantation workers but “blacksmiths, carpenters, cooks, barbers, house servants …” and even a couple of schoolmasters, all unemployed townsmen fleeing from a period of depression. In total, about half of them were unsuited for the arduous task of clearing the jungle and planting sugar cane.

    George David Silva’s Trials:
    When Silva came to the scaffold he was asked whether he had anything to say. He thanked the Governor of the Goal and the Salvation Army for the kindness shown to him. He said that he was innocent and that the witnesses had told lies. He was a lay Preacher and he quoted verses from the 23rd Psalm and repeated the Lord’s Prayer several times and went on speaking. After 27 minutes, the Under Sheriff decided that he had gone on long enough and the execution was carried out. It was the longest gallows speech in the history of Queensland.

    https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2019/11/18/the-devonshire-reaches-queensland-with-500-cingalese-coolies-in-1882/

  26. “The Elephant and the Dragon”

    The elephant is real
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant

    the dragon is not
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon

    Sanskrit ibha (elephant) has real cognates in real languages though sometimes they refer to the camel which is also a real animal.

    Hittite: lapha
    Latin: ebur
    Mycenaean Greek: erepa
    Greek: elephas/
    Germanic: ulbandhus
    Old English: olfend
    Old Church Slavonic: velibodu
    and many more.
    Sources freely available upon googling.

  27. Awesome discussion here!

    Not much to add from my side, but, like others, I have noticed the extreme pragmatism of the Chinese in the US. There is total focus on material achievement, order, discipline etc – nihilistic materialism almost. And the US Chinese are somewhat tempered by US culture – I think Chinese in China are even more extreme when it comes to focus on material wealth and achievement.
    As an Indian, on the one hand I admire and am envious of their single minded focus on material advancement, but on the other hand I would want a more balanced outlook for Indians/India (perhaps we could be somewhat more focused on order, disciple, material advancement that we are now)

    1. but on the other hand I would want a more balanced outlook for Indians/India

      There is book called, Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-First Century, by Orville Schell & John Delury. It also deals with the role of select members of the Chinese intelligentsia in the formation of modern China.

      These 2 terms in a heavy reductionist synthesis (thus loses a lot of context but that is why its being termed reductionist) best describes China, in fact throughout their history. Wealth and Power.

      Because it is only when you have that can you look for balanced cultivation of other things.

      Maslow’s hierarchy might not be Absolute but it is generally a pattern setter. Higher order functions/needs/desires can’t be maturely fulfilled until the base layers are handled and stable.

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