The problem of Chinese thought in Brazil

Currently, Brazil considers China an ideal partner. The economic achievements of Chinese inspired the Brazilians. The Chinese social and political model is regarded with admiration. However, Brazilians are also apprehensive about China. Do not understand the Chinese culture. Do not understand their habits. Do not know about their philosophies, and ignore the concept of a millenary and ancient history.
The Brazilians, therefore, has defiance ahead. If they want China as a partner in the future, need to understand their ways of thinking. On the other hand, the Brazilians have great difficulty in absorbing what does not come from Europe or the United States. The Brazilian society is usually receptive to foreigners, but at the same time, is very afraid to cultural innovations. This question applies to the Chinese case. The Brazilians alternate between admiration and rejection, curiosity and fear. What are the reasons for this behavior? And as the study of Chinese philosophy could help solve this problem? It is that we will see in our text.

The problem
In his book 'Dialogue of Cultures ' (2011), the French sinologist François Jullien proposed that any understanding between different societies requires strategies. These strategies are based on finding ways to make a cultural dialogue. One very effective way is the philosophical dialogue. The meeting of Chinese philosophy with European philosophies created a rich environment for exchanges. By knowing the other's intellectual concepts, know better, too, its culture and society. Although this is a recent phenomenon in world history, the Europeans managed to acquire a solid and rich knowledge on China. Similarly, China learned Marxism , and used it to reform its modern political system.
Brazil, however, does not have a sinological tradition. Few Brazilian scholars devoted themselves to studying China. There is a total lack of Sinologists and teachers of Chinese language in Brazil. For centuries, Brazil was concerned to supply Europe and the United States with agricultural products. In return, the Brazilian thinkers sought to become Eurocentric’s intellectuals, ignoring the rest of the world Asia and Africa. The current reality of the world, however, changed this setting and cultural policy. Growth in Asia woke the rest of the world. Is needed to know the thinking’s of China, India and Japan. Here, the central theme is the Brazilian difficulty in accept this change. China provokes fascination, but many Brazilians fear losing their cultural identity due to non-European influences. Brazilian intellectuals have a great fear of admitting that their philosophical abilities are limited because it restricts the study of European philosophies. For years, European thought was the solution to explain the world. However, today, Europe is in crisis. The rise of Asia has changed this situation. Now that the European philosophies have difficulty explaining this Occidental fall, Brazilians thinkers also feel helpless. How they responding to the Asian ascension?
Learn more about Chinese thought it would be a good solution to understand China. But, this involves knowing a whole new cultural world - and this is a strong fear among Brazilians. Fear of the unknown reaches directly the knowledge of Chinese philosophies. What are the problems the Chinese thought facing, so, to reach the Brazilian mentality?

Are Philosophies?
Brazilian teachers have great difficulty to accepting the Chinese thought as a form of philosophy. The first reason for this approach is the almost total ignorance of Chinese philosophical thought. Currently, there are only two manuals books published on Chinese thought in Brazil (Granet, 1997; Cheng, 2009). The Brazilian academy has no regular courses of Asian history. The unpreparedness to deal with the Chinese culture, in a serious and scientific manner, is complete.
This problem is completed by Eurocentric posture of Brazilian researchers, who refuse to study what is not Brazilian or European. Are rare scholars who study Africa, although the number is growing. The number of researchers in history and Asian philosophy is even lower. The few researchers are discouraged by the lack of work in universities, which offer no opening for the creation of an area of ​​Asian studies. Many researchers believe that these Asian thought can compete in prestige and importance to the European thoughts. This posture promotes a strong academic prejudice against the study of Asian philosophies.
An example: today, many Brazilian researchers refer vaguely Asian philosophies as if they were 'Oriental thought’. There is no concern in differentiating Arabs, Indians and Chinese. Would all be ‘equal’. This absurd ignorance withdraws the student’s interest by Asian philosophies. In the case of China, the most important philosophical traditions - Confucianism, Taoism and Chinese Buddhism - are repudiated as philosophies. For much of the Brazilian Academy, philosophy is only European and Occidental. There is no philosophy outside this tradition. The Brazilian thinkers fail to understand the concepts of Chinese thought, and for not understanding, they refute. This is not an attitude you expect from a philosopher. But the Brazilian thinkers fear that their learning years are destroyed by these ‘strange’ theories, which existed for centuries. Chinese thought, with its wealth, surprise unpleasantly the Brazilian thinkers.

Are Religions?
A way to escape from this problem, for Brazilian academics, is say that the Chinese philosophical traditions are not philosophies, but are religions. For this reason, it would not be academically interesting to study China in the course of history or philosophy. There is a grotesque error in this assertion. Much of European thinkers were active Christians. Separating the European philosophy of religion is as artificial as saying that Chinese thought is only religious, not philosophical. At this moment, the Brazilian researchers move from passive ignorance (not knowing Chinese thought) for an active ignorance - prejudice - which ranks Chinese thought arbitrarily. Even so, the Chinese philosophies represent a challenge to Western classification’s categories. We can say, for example: Buddhism has religious characteristics, but Buddhists is divided into lines absolutely different, each with its specific creed. What religion would that is, therefore, that no has an only creed? Confucianism also usually is classified as a religion: but, how this doctrine may be a religion, if a Confucian student can practice other religions freely? It is very difficult for Brazilian intellectuals understand that Confucianism is a social and political doctrine that does not depend on the Christian God to exist.
The study of Chinese philosophies could be very enlightening for the Brazilian intellectual formation, by showing other ways of thinking. Free from dependence on Eurocentric thinking, could draw more complex shapes and autonomous thinking. The Brazilians would benefit by knowing other ways of thinking different from European and American, with which they are accustomed.
This, however, would be necessary to overcome the barrier of prejudice. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world, and most of population is Christian. If the Brazilians do not interested for Asian philosophies in academic studies, they fear even more so when these philosophies are treated as religions. The debate moves from the intellectual area to the field of faith - where, precisely, the debate is much more difficult. There are Brazilian Christians who have a great desire to go to China on religious missions. They believe they must convert the Chinese to Christianity. Many fanatics believe that the Chinese philosophies are damaging forms of religion, and that should be prohibited or restricted.

Are esoteric practices?
To further complicate this situation, the Brazilians who are interested in Chinese philosophies tend, in general, believe that they are religions. Disappointed with a distant and repressive Christianity, many Brazilians have embraced Buddhism. Already exists in Brazil, a network of temples of Chinese Buddhism. Today, have Buddhist Brazilian priests. In reduced numbers, there are practitioners of Taoism religion in Brazil, organized into small groups well established.
The attraction of Chinese thought is caused by religious motivation. Martial arts practitioners, Chinese medicine practitioners, even those without specific religion are classified as 'esoteric'. They engage in learning practices and ideas of Chinese thought, but in a manner disorganized and superficial. Without knowing these systems so deep, esoteric approach the Chinese thought is stereotypical and Salvationists. They seek in Chinese thought what they lost in the Christian belief, or not understood in Western philosophies.
The esoteric approach often confused. With the exception of well organized Buddhist and Taoist temples, most scholars is amateurish, and tends to blend different traditions without theoretical or methodological care. The esoteric end up repeating the same prejudices of the academy, but in reverse: they believe in a divine presence in the world unifying (the Sophia Perennis, by the Swiss thinker Frithof Schuon (1907-88)), and understand that Indians, Chinese and Japanese speak the same things. This knowledge was 'hidden' in the Western world, and is 'revealed' to person 'initiated' in 'Eastern wisdom'. This 'Eastern wisdom' is a way for the 'whole truth' that exists in the world.
We don’t take much effort to understanding as that esoteric approach is misguided. It does help in -depth knowledge of Chinese philosophies. The ‘esoteric’ ignores the basic elements of the history and concepts of Chinese thought. However, esotericism is an open door to the knowledge of the other, and some serious researchers have in esoteric practices, before awakening to the necessity of deepening.
In Brazil, the ‘esoteric houses’ are widespread, offering courses in Chinese basic knowledge: Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese massage, martial arts, Chinese astrology, meditation, Feng Shui, Chinese cooking, Chinese calligraphy . If they contribute to the dissemination of Chinese culture, on the other hand, does not help to clarify matters relating to Chinese thought, and not solve the problem 'philosophy versus religion'.

This panorama shows a wide range of difficulties that Brazilians have to discover the Chinese philosophical traditions seriously and academic. On the other hand, some paths are emerging spontaneously, and may offer future possibilities for this debate.
The first is the interest aroused, the Brazilians, the interpretation of Marxism made ​​by the Chinese. The successful economic model, and the demonstration that communism could be viable in the modern world, drew the attention of the Brazilian Communist intellectuals. At this point, the Brazilian researchers seek to understand theoretical and practical changes that were made by the Chinese, so that communism survived and developed in China. Such changes, which left an authentic and autonomous Chinese thought, open the perspective that it is possible to look at the world differently. In the case of Chinese communism, are these differences of perception that helped the Chinese develop.
This proves that the ‘European ways of thinking’ are not perfect. Capitalism led to imperialism, Nazism took the great world war, and Marxism 'fails' in Europe. However, the Chinese model showed that it is possible to correct the errors and deviations from Marxism, creating a sustainable system. Obviously, the Brazilian admirations for the Chinese model still wildly fluctuate. In the text ‘Reinventing Dr. Fu Manchu’ (Bueno, 2013), I discussed some of these contradictory aspects of how Brazilians look Chinese. With this, we cannot say, also, that this new economic model and Chinese political is without flaws. The fundamental issue here is that the Chinese experience is as valid as an example for us as the European experiences. In a comprehensive examination of possible policy orientations for the future, therefore, the analysis of the Chinese case must necessarily be placed under these proposals. And, as stated earlier, it is precisely the difference in the reinvention of Chinese Marxism which can lead us to understand the nuances and modifications made by them from a traditional system of thought.
Another path – very different from this first way - is pointing to the possibility of developing an understanding of Chinese thought by way of 'religious studies'. Although this path is tainted by religious debate, the field of the 'history of religion' and 'philosophy of religion' has grown in Brazil. The development of these areas is present in Brazilian universities; since in recent years, religious issues have become, in Brazil, the subject of great political and legal controversies. Brazilian society, torn between the desire to be diverse and tolerant, or narrow and prejudiced, has been involved so active in the discussion of religious questions.
This deepening, if well conducted, can lead to a better knowledge of Chinese philosophical traditions. It is necessary, first of all, open a door. Only serious and detailed study will understand the complexity of Chinese thought, their schools, and debug the religious of philosophical aspects. Maybe this way can open new fields within academia, to the serious study of Chinese traditions.
The question of the reception of Chinese thought shows us, therefore, that globalization is still far from allowing broad and definitive cultural exchanges. Brazil is a clear case of how society and intellectuals may be resistant to the idea of ​​change. Due to the lack of knowledge about China and Asia, Brazilians struggle to understand the rest of the world. However, the philosophical study is like that the butterfly transformation: it requires meditation, effort and knowledge. Only when the Brazilians understand the intellectual cocoon in which they are arrested, they can get free. And the Chinese philosophies, so different from the Brazilian thought, serve precisely to create this disruptive impact. Only the difference can help you grow. The change is needed. Or, like the great sage Mencius said: "The great goal of science is none other than to seek the lost intelligence.”

[1] A. Bueno. Reinventando o Doutor Fu-manchu. [‘Reinventing Dr. Fu Manchu’] In Rio de janeiro, 2013.
[2] A. Bueno. O problema do pensamento asiático. In Crítica na Rede. Lisboa, 2004. Available in:
[3] A. Bueno. O que á a filosofia chinesa? In Crítica na Rede. Lisboa, 2004. Available in:[4] A. Cheng. História do Pensamento Chinês. Rio de Janeiro: Vozes, 2009. (in french: ‘Histoire de la pensée chinoise’, 2002)
[6] F. Jullien. Diálogos das Culturas. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 2011. (in french: ‘De l'universel: De l'uniforme, du commun et du dialogue entre les cultures’, 2011)
[7] J. Magnani. O Brasil na Nova Era. Rio de janeiro: Zahar, 2000.
[8] J. Neto.  Mestres do Tao: tradição, experiência e etnografia in Horizontes Antroplógicos, v.11 n.24 Porto Alegre, 2005. Available in:  
[9] F. Usarski. O dharma verde-amarelo mal-sucedido - um esboço da acanhada situação do Budismo in Estudos Avançados, vol.18 n.52 São Paulo, 2004. Available in:
[5] M. Granet. O Pensamento Chinês. São Paulo: Contraponto, 1997. (in french: ‘La pensée chinoise’, 1927)


[1] Paper prepared for the CRVP International Conference “Philosophy Today”, 21-23, December, Xian, China.

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