Reflection and Aspiration

Mirrors and Models in Traditional European and Chinese Thought

In: Intercultural Mirrors


Socially, the ‘reflections’ we get from others are sometimes projections. Using past experience, values and dispositions, we shape both ourselves and our expectations. This process is essential but problematic during intercultural encounters. In European cultures mirrors were designed to reflect accurately, to show the perceptual ‘truth.’ Even when they distorted, they were used for magnification, humour or irony. In Chinese culture, too, mirrors had a special place in ritual and folklore: to frighten away ghosts, as a tool in exorcism, or as a symbol for Buddhist enlightenment. The idea of a mirror had an important meaning politically. Historical texts were used as Mirrors of Government and were explored as models for learning. Ethical mirrors were also found in European history, the so-called Mirror of Princes, a genre common from the Middle Ages on. Today, there is much that can be learned from cross-cultural reflections and interactions that shift across the range of mirroring and modelling behaviours. Learning and sharing together was at the heart of many types of relationship in Chinese culture. This analysis looks at inter-cultural friendship as an ‘encounter space’ where such reflections and models interact.