Sinic vs. Indic seen through Nihonjinron

“Ethnic Thais overwhelmingly prefer yoga and Sino-Thais mostly do Tai Chi. Because Thais are more inert and the Chinese are more active.”  The Japanese teacher of Tai Chi I interviewed for my PhD fieldwork in Bangkok was talking from her 20-year experience. For someone like myself who does both every morning, her very Nihonjinron-style observation echoed with my own impression of the two traditions.

Firstly, quite a bit of time in yoga is spent sitting on the floor, while the Sinic martial arts keep you on your feet all the time. For me, that has to do with the type of personal eschatology each tradition adopts. The Indic way is about digging deep inside oneself to discover the Absolute and thus escape the physical world for good. On the other hand, the Sinic way is to harness the power of the Absolute and make it work in the physical world (cf. Mao’s simile of how the stupid, the clever and the wise deal with wind).
Secondly, in yoga many exercises and definitely meditation is done with your
eyes closed, while in Chinese martial arts your eyes are open and focused or, sometimes, semi-closed, and very rarely completely shut. A Nihonjinron thinker would conclude from that that Indians escape reality, while the Chinese actively engage with it.
Crude and generalist as they are,  these binaries seem to shed some light on the differences in the modernising trajectories of China and India. Or, say, how the two countries perform in the Olympics and other sporting competitions. As always, outliers are left unexplained such as India’s shining cricket glory or its astonishing economic growth over the last several years.

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