ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (5): 572-582.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.00572

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 Questioning the Rice Theory: Also on the internal and external causes of Chinese preference for holistic thinking

 WANG Fengyan   

  1.  (Institute of Moral Education Research and School of Psychology, Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing 210097, China)
  • Received:2017-08-10 Published:2018-05-25 Online:2018-03-31
  • Contact: WANG Fengyan, E-mail: E-mail: E-mail:
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Abstract:  Based on the significant differences between rice and wheat cultivation, Talhelm et al. (2014) divided the Chinese culture into two types, respectively: rice culture and wheat culture. The former is closer to East Asian culture, and the latter to Western culture. Although the “Rice Theory” provides a novel perspective, it remains to be tested before it’s established. For example, why is holistic-thinking prevalent in China? The “Rice Theory” argues that agricultural types result into cultural differences. Specifically, a long history of rice cultivation should make people live in the rice area more interdependent and thus prefer holistic-thinking, while that of wheat cultivation should make people live in the wheat area more individualistic and thus prefer analytical-thinking. Although the “Rice Theory” provides a new perspective in explaining the differences between rice culture and wheat culture and the prevalence of holistic-thinking in China, the real reason for Chinese, especially ancient Chinese, preferring holistic-thinking may not be a long history of rice cultivation. This paper focuses on explaining this new theory in details. Two contradictions come out when explaining Chinese preference for holistic-thinking by the “Rice Theory”. (1) Before the Southern Sung Dynasty (1127-1279), the majority of Chinese, who lived in wheat-growing area for a long time, used holistic-thinking, barely with any analytic-thinking. Moreover, the holistic-thinking had already reached a high degree no later than the Chhun Chhiu and Warring States Period (770-221 BC). (2) There is no firm evidence insofar to support that the wheat-growing northern Chinese are more culturally Western, no sufficient evidence to support that northerners were more analytical than southerners, or southerners were more holistic than northerners. In fact, northerners are also good at holistic-thinking. The founders and main representatives of “the hundred schools of thought” in pre-Qin period, who have largely influenced Chinese culture and holistic-thinking mode after the Qin and Han dynasties (221-220 BC), were mostly from the northern wheat region. Overall, these two contradictions suggested that the “Rice Theory” was invalid. The external reasons for the prevalence of holistic-thinking in China is probably the enlightenments and inspirations derived from flood control practices, especially the contrast between Yu’s success and Gun’s failure in flood control, which made the Chinese ancients intuitively realized the importance of the harmony between man and nature, and thus considering beings comprehensively (the prototype of holistic-thinking) in solving complicated problems. And the internal reasons is probably the proposal and acceptance of the Yin-Yang theory which contains the thought of Yin-Yang, the Five Elements theory which contains the thought of Five Elements, and the combined Yin Yang-Five Elements theory which contains the thought of Yin-Yang and Five Elements. They provide a complete set of thinking methods to utilize the holistic-thinking for Chinese. Due to the logical and systematic explaining of the birth, growing, sickness and death of the universe, these theories were regarded the rule of thinking by ancient Chinese. They also promoted ancient Chinese to use the holistic, dynamic, and self-adaptive thinking model to explain manifold natural and social phenomena. To sum up, (1) the “Rice Theory” is invalid to explain preference of holistic thinking among Chinese, due to its lack of cultural and ecological validity. (2) It is the flood control practice together with the Yin-Yang thinking, Five Elements thinking, and combined Yin Yang-Five Elements theory that lead to the holistic thinking of ancients Chinese. Insofar, the habit of using holistic thinking to understand and solve problems by Chinese is indestructible.

Key words: holistic-thinking, Rice Theory, flood control, Yin-Yang theory, Five Elements theory, Yin-Yang and Five Elements theory

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