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Customer Review

20 February 2012
"And yet as I stand here in Shanghai in the smog, I can't help feeling that Western civilization still has the edge .... And it's that freedom that's most likely to unlock the human creativity we need to solve the world's problems in the 21st century." This is from his comment in the concluding scene of the TV series. This is good judgment, not politically correct for correctness' sake, and not apologetic. Every one of us speaks from one's own ethno-cultural self.

An essential element of why Western civilisation has been prevailing is language, that is, the English language with its universalising power. Take the World Wide Web -- which is making this short writing visible -- as an example. If it were not an English invention of Sir Tim while in Europe, would it have become a worldwide success? I think if the Web had been an invention of an East Asian country, it would have stayed within that East Asian country until some good person cares to translate and transplant it, via the English language.

For the reason above, my mother tongue is my mother tongue, Hong Kong Cantonese. It may be the last stand for being Chinese. So, I am proud of the vertical text direction of written Chinese, uniquely indigenous, and yet as natural as human beings standing upright. Fortunately the early Chinese had this invention, without having to thank any Western alphabets for a written script that facilitates cultural transmission. At the same time, my mind can be very open by learning other languages like English and Japanese, for example, and know more of civilisations.

And Chinese characters have had tremendous impact on East Asia and even Southeast Asia. Though grammatically very different from Chinese, Japanese language could not have been written without Chinese, and the Korean hangeul -- invented in the 15th century -- might have been inspired by the angular strokes of Chinese characters. Difficult to write? All foreign languages are difficult to foreigners.

Professor Ferguson noted, in Episode 5, that in Istanbul the female head scarf is in favour again. There is actually a world trend of non-Western cultures upholding their respective identities. Burma has become Myanmar; Bombay is now Mumbai; Seoul in Chinese characters is now "Shou'er" and not "Hancheng" (literally, Chinese City). In terms of culture, Korea takes much pride in her Hangeul alphabet; Japan has more interest in her national spirit (Yamato-damashi); and even in the PRC Confucius has returned.

Related reading: Headley, John M. The Europeanization of the World: On the Origins of Human Rights and Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, c2008.
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