The professor sits at her desk as the students file in. Images displayed in the air of what look to be maps, statistics, and religious symbols. You aren’t sure, but she seems engrossed so you sit down and prepare for the beginning of the lesson. When she hears a set of footsteps rush into the classroom, she looks up and smiles before causing the images to disappear with a flick of his wrist.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to bite your head off because you are late.” She chuckles and winks at the
student before standing up to address the class.
Today we are going to be discussing a potentially controversial topic: ethnocentrism. This is a thorny issue as it involves inspecting our own prejudices, as well as examining the potential prejudices of other cultures while remaining non-judgmental. Learning about history is not always comfortable or easy, and so we must cover it for the sake of accuracy and being aware of our own shortcomings. While I highly doubt I need to give you this warning, please do take the information in this lesson with a grain of salt and remember that generalizations are often potentially harmful and not useful. However, as you are in your Fourth Year now, I trust that you all have the mental and emotional maturity to ponder complex and polarizing concepts.
Ethnocentrism is a driving force behind actions, thoughts, and policies on both a local and global level. What I mean by this is it affects us on a daily basis, in actions, thoughts, and words so small they are difficult to notice on their own, and also influence the movements and change-making groups we are part of on a global level. For those of you that are unaware of this sociological phenomena, ethnocentrism is the evaluation of cultures in a way that leads to a belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture. Overly simplified, it means that you believe your own group is best. Moreover, it also means that you view other groups through the perspective of your own culture instead of trying to understand their viewpoints. However, it is crucial to note that ethnocentrism is not inherently evil! It can also manifest in national pride and a sense of camaraderie with your fellow citizens. A small measure of it is present in nearly every single person’s worldview. It is when ethnocentrism goes unchecked by other, more balanced opinions of “outsiders'' that it becomes dangerous.
Consider the pureblood movement for a moment, focusing on the staunchest of the followers, specifically the ones that believe Muggle-borns and Muggles to be inherently less capable, scorning their “lesser” magical heritage. Many purebloods (though it is important to note here that I am generalizing, and there are obvious exceptions) were unable to understand Muggle culture because they were viewing it through their own world, which Muggles are not part of. For quite a long time after the advent of the automobile, pureblood and even half-blood wizards saw no use for the Muggle artifact. It was not until recently that the car was adopted by our wizarding brethren.
Enough about purebloods, though! Pureblood ethnocentrism is disappearing as we speak (though, that is not to say that it is gone completely). It is also important to know that any of you feeling animosity towards all purebloods (or even all pureblood supremacists), is also experiencing ethnocentrism. You feel that your culture of understanding and appreciating all different types of people inherently makes you a better person than someone with blood purity beliefs. Do not fall victim to that trap either! Just because people have different opinions, beliefs, or practices does not make them evil inherently. Look, instead, to their actions and the choices they make. Above all, be sure that the strength of your convictions does not lead to hatred or dehumanizing of people that believe or act differently from you, no matter how repulsive their views may seem. It’s an easy thing to want to do, but a much more difficult thing to succeed at.
However, for now we must move onto our topic for today and this year: Asia. Obviously, it is not only Asia that suffers from the negative effects of ethnocentrism. All sorts of countries, political groups, and social groups have fallen for this line of reasoning: “I am wonderful. All my friends are wonderful. You are different from me, and different from my friends. Therefore, you are not as good.” However, since we are talking about the East this year, we will discuss what this topic has to do with eastern history.
Ethnocentrism in Asia
Amongst many social anthropologists and magianthropologists, it has been a long-held belief that ethnocentrism in Asia is an issue. Before discussing that, however, we must delve into the “why.” One of the main reasons for the development of ethnocentrism in Asia is because of its isolation. Particularly in Eastern Asia, countries can be completely cut off from the others, and the whole of Asia itself was, for a time, geographically isolated from the rest of the world. Moreover, leaders such as King Jogong, the Tokugawa Shogunate, and the Hogwu Emperor, among others, proposed limited-to-no contact, trade, and exchange with other civilizations and countries.
You may be asking, though, how is this inherently a bad thing? Isolation from other cultures is not always ideal, but not inherently dangerous. Unfortunately, the issue lies with results or complications therein. Colonialism and the mindset of the conqueror comes from this line of thinking; it is much easier to assume command of a country if you feel your own civilization is far superior to the nation you are conquering. Just as the Romans did with the druids and the Celts, and as the European settlers of the new world did with the Native Americans, it is too easy to dehumanize other cultures when you do not understand them.
Conflicts and Issues in Asia Due to Ethnocentrism
Ethnocentrism on its own is obviously not the sole cause of conflict in the East; feuds between rulers, various dynasties and clans, claims on land and resources, and ideological differences certainly play a part here, just like everywhere else! However, ethnocentric beliefs can influence wars and the thinking of those in power, causing conflicts to be more violent and cruel or frequent. Below, we will look at a brief overview of some conflicts in Asia and how ethnocentrism played a part in each.
Mongolian Empire / Mongol Empire
As was discussed in Lesson Five, the Mongol Empire, along with its leaders, led a fierce campaign against the majority of Asia, capturing and dominating countless citizens. Even from its beginnings, the Mongolians were no strangers to ethnocentrism, though their conception of identity was initially limited to the idea of much smaller, warlike clans or tribes. Eventually, once all the clans were united, the Mongolian Empire sought to conquer the rest of Asia. The idea that one culture has an undeniable right to expansion, regardless of how it affects others -- while certainly not limited to Asia -- is highly ethnocentric. Due to the belief that they were superior, the people of the Mongolian Empire found it easier to kill and conquer with what many still describe as “ruthless” and “merciless” tactics, which led to a high death toll.
Sino-Japanese Wars (August 1894 – April 1895), (July 1937 – September 1945)
The Sino-Japanese Wars, along with other, lesser, related conflicts were fought primarily between Japan and China. Historically, and even today, the Japanese highly dislike the Chinese and vice versa. This has been the impetus for many conflicts in Asia. The Sino-Japanese Wars are one of the best examples of this dislike and its effects. The First Sino-Japanese War was fought over control of Korea, though, as some may note, Korea was not given the option of deciding for itself who it would like to be ruled by, if anyone at all. Unfortunately, this only a taste of the animosity between the two nations (and, though to a lesser degree, many other Asian countries).
Ethnocentrism enters in when you consider that it would be much more convenient for these two countries, China and Japan, to be allies due to their close proximity and shared history and traditions. Moreover, a glimpse of ethnocentrism can be seen in the fact that neither China nor Japan thought that Korea ought to be given the chance to govern itself.
World War Two and Global Wizarding War (September 1939 - September 1945 and 1938 - 1945, respectively)
I do not mean to imply here that the magical population of Asia was involved in starting either of these two wars. It is quite readily accepted by all that Gellert Grindelwald was the impetus for the latter and Adolf Hitler for the former. However, ethnocentrism, both in and out of Asia, had large parts to play. Both of these individuals based their reason for violence on the premise that their group, culture, or civilization was inherently better than any other and that, terrifyingly, other groups needed to be purged for the greater good. The reason these two conflicts are mentioned in a lesson regarding Asia, though, is the fact that ethnocentrism both encouraged a fair few of Asian witches and wizards to join his cause.
Additionally, even in the Muggle world (though there was some magical involvement in WWII), there were ramifications. During the conflicts, a few Asian countries, though namely the Japanese, have been documented as subjecting prisoners of war to inhuman torture because they viewed them as less than human, particularly in such notable events as the Bataan Death March. This is only one example and, in general, the treatment of prisoners of war was not stellar, even outside of these highly publicized circumstances
Mediating Ethnocentrism’s Effects
In your Third Year, we discussed how we are inherently more likely to seek out others that are similar to us. However, what was not mentioned is what that natural inclination can cause down the road. It can lead to developing an “us” versus “them” mentality wherein, the “them” is perceived as strange, inferior or wrong, simply by way of not being as familiar as the alternative. In this way, stereotypes and negative feelings can form. Moreover, without contact and experiences with the “them” due to isolationism, these feelings and stereotypes are unlikely to dissipate.
Typically, the more multicultural a country is, the less prevalent ethnocentric beliefs are. This is logical to many of us. If one grows up amongst Muggles, it is easy for you to see that they are intelligent, kind and, in fact, not so different from us. However, isolated pure-bloods who know nothing of the Muggle world and have little-to-no contact with Muggles are much more susceptible to dehumanizing Muggles, or seeing them as lesser.
This can be applied to any group, subculture or even continent. Singapore, a diverse country mentioned in our first lesson, for example shows much lower rates of ethnocentrist beliefs when compared with other Asian countries and groups. This can be, in part, attributed to the fact that it is a mesh of many cultures.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible to choose where you live, particularly at a young age. However, there are things one can do, as an individual, to lessen the effects of ethnocentrism and the prevalence of stereotypes. Some strategies include keeping an open mind, attempting to experience as many other cultures as possible with said open mind, and practicing empathy or, “putting yourself in another’s shoes.”
I think that’s enough for today! With such a profound topic, it can be a lot to take it. Before we go, though, I do want to stress, one last time, that Asia is by no means the only continent to experience ethnocentrism nor the only place to have conflicts and issues resulting from it. We are simply focusing on this area for the duration of the year.
For your assignment this week, there is only a short quiz. I’ll see you next week for our absolutely fascinating discussion of alternative magical practices in Asia!