Chinese Culture in 21st Century
The 21st Century and Traditional Chinese Culture. Prospects for World Culture.
Random photo: Impressions of China
With the advent of the 21st century, scholars and others have pondered what impact culture will have on the world in the coming years. One view is that During the 21st century, clashes among cultures will affect world politics. People with this view hold that interactions between some seven or eight basic cultures will dominate the world. The clashes that will occur among These cultures Western, Eastern-Confucian, Muslim, Indian, Slavic-Eastern Orthodox, Latin American and African - are sure to influence world economy and politics.
This view is flawed as an attempt to explain cultural trends of the 21st century because it over-stresses conflicts between different civilizations without regard for the mutual influences and attractions between them. Clashes as well as a blending together are quite natural between two cultures. One aspect can't exist without the other. Moreover, the view has not been able to explain bow These cultural clashes will influence the development of world economy and politics. Therefore, it is not so convincing.
Another view is that Eastern (Chinese, strictly speaking) Confucianism will have a great impact on the world. Western scholars with this view have offered detailed evidence. They say that Asia and Africa won their independence at almost the same time but so far Asia is better off than Africa in terms of its economic and political development. Why is this? They argue that many Asian countries turned to their traditional cultures as a base for their development without blindly copying the Western model. Most leaders in These countries have been inculcated with Confucianism. Confucian values have greater influences on the countries of the entire Southeast Asian region. Confucianism advocates establishment of a well-disciplined, stable, multi-level society with high moral values. So this helped enable These countries to undergo economic and cultural development in a planned way.
These countries have achieved, and are achieving, good results.
This view does reflect some aspects of the realities of the 20th century, but it has yet to explain what influences the fine Tradition of Chinese culture will have on the world in the 21st century.
There is still another view that it will be Taoist thought from traditional Chinese culture that will have more and more influence on the world, particularly on those economically well-developed Western countries. People who hold this view cite that The Book of Lao Zi has been translated into about 30 different languages. Many great Eastern and Western scientists have enriched their thinking through their reading of the book, exploring the mysteries of nature and the universe according to the model of Lao Zi. The “Way," or the "Tao," set forth in the book has appealed to a number of natural scientists. For example, the British scientist Dr. Joseph Needham focused in Science and Civilization in China on the great impact Taoism had on the development of science and technology in ancient China. Other prominent natural scientists from Western countries hold that although the West has made great progress in science and technology, it has neglected the development of the humanities. If the humanities are neglected, a society will become an abnormal and deformed one in which individuals become subordinated to materialism and machines. In ancient China, in the book of Lao Zi the thought of combining "science" and "humanities" had its genesis. This is exactly what will guide the development of science in the 21st century. That is to say, m the coming century, "science" and "humanity" will march hand in hand to get rid of all evils and defects in the world to create a happy and joyful life for all people.
The above views based on the experiences of scientists in the West are profound and visionary. However, they do not fully explore the relationship between the 21st century and traditional Chinese culture. Obviously, it is a complicated and difficult subject that needs further public discussion. First, a matter-of-fact analysis of traditional Chinese culture is needed. Only on this basis, can its future role m the World be determined. In the foregoing chapters, traditional Chinese culture was introduced. Here, a further analysis will be made of the moral values of Confucianism and the natural philosophy of Taoism.
1. The Value of Confucian Principles on Life
Confucius, the great thinker and teacher of the late Spring and Autumn Period, proposed a system of moral principles. He absorbed the moral and cultural inheritance of the earlier Shang and Zhou period, and then created his own ideas in light of the needs of the times in which he lived. His theories include the following:
- Differentiation between what is civilized and what is barbarous. The theory was developed long ago of differentiating between the civilized and the barbarous, opposing barbarism and upholding civilization. To enable a civilized life, Confucius introduced moral codes for people to observe. He believed that after learning people could become refined with a high level of morality
- Gentility. This is an important part of Confucian thought, advocating the perfect integration of the soul and actions of a person, or of the inner quality and outward appearance of a person. To be a person of morality requires not only good deeds, but also a noble soul and heart. Confucius believed that a person would be tough and wild so long as his basic, unsophisticated nature held sway over his better, cultivated nature. But when cultivation in a person overshadows his basic nature, this leads to immodesty and conceit. Only by balancing the two, the form and the content, can a perfect and morally well-cultivated person of refinement be produced.
- "File way of the golden mean. Confucius proposed the highest standard of morality, holding that morality should be an integral part of every action. To handle any problem, do it properly not overdoing it but doing it in a timely and judicious manner. This is the ultimate requirement of morality. The way of the golden mean is a way of understanding. It can help give an all-round perspective on things. As a moral educational theory, it encourages a person to pursue a personality of individual perfection and to become a noble person of good morality.
- Harmonious but diverse. A person of morality is broad-minded able to tolerate dissenting views and to learn from the merits of others. Confucius said that a person of morality takes "harmony" as his criterion, but he doesn't follow others blindly and can speak out what he thinks right. Indecent people are liable to follow others blindly without independent views of their own.
- Entertainment within education. Teaching of ethics is not a dreary preaching, l~'ot best results, it should be vivid and lively, combined with the teaching of rites and music.
The above is the theoretical basis of Confucian moral education. Confucius lived in times that date back 2,500 years. That he proposed These principles so long ago is surely a great accomplishment in the history of China's ethical thought. These theoretic principles will continue to be enriched and developed along with the advancement of human history and society.
Following Confucius, Mencius and Xun Zi also made creative contributions to ethical and moral theories. Mencius, especially, made the most significant contributions. Inheriting the spirit of humanism from Confucianism, he proposed profound views on moral psychology in ancient China.
The early Confucian science of morality holds that lofty morality is ordained neither by Heaven nor by external force. Anyone who wants to become a perfect gentleman needs only to decide and work hard. Confucius said: "I want to be benevolent, and then benevolence is at hand." Mencius developed the theory further by sating that everyone can become a perfect person of refinement if he exerts himself to that end. Everyone has the psychological ability to become a saint like Yao and Shun. Early Confucian scholars believed that a person had the ability to regulate the differences between self and environment. As Confucius said, Yan Hui led a hard life in a simple house, eating coarse food. But he had a strong desire to learn and an earnest wish to be a perfect gentleman of moral virtue. So his environment did not limit his spiritual life. He was confident in his pursuit of truth. Mencius developed this sort of firm and unremitting spirit as a “noble spirit”. He said, a true man or woman will not give up a lofty goal whether living in comfort and affluence, under hardships and destitution, or under threat by violence and power. In other words, with the right convictions, people can exert the force of persistence and patience to overcome difficulties, thereby guarding the nobility of their personalities. This may be taken as a treasure in the history of ethical and moral theory in China.
These Confucian moral teachings produced an inestimable impact on the cultivation of people with ability in the following ages. For example, Dr. Yang Chen Ning (Frank C.N. Yang), a Nobel Prize laureate, mentioned Mencius when he recalled his life, saying, "I had a good command of mathematics and natural science when I studied in primary school. When I entered a middle school, my father, a university professor, did not support my study of infinitesimal calculus, but rather invited a teacher of Chinese classics to teach me The Book of Mencius through the whole summer vacation. I really found this benefited me throughout my whole life." Of course, not only Yang, but also many other successful people have been taught how to be a person by the early Confucian ethical and moral thinking.
During the period of the Qin and Han dynasties, along with the establishment of a unified feudal state, China's ethical theories made new progress. Sima Qian was not only a celebrated great historian, but also a great scholar of moral theory. He proposed a view on life and death, saying: "A death may be weightier than Mount Taishan and a life may be lighter than a feather," presenting a lofty idea of value. He also put forward "state comes first" as a morality standard and a view of life, that is, "Be calm and composed before honor or dishonor. And, righteousness alone goes before anything else." He advised that people should take a correct attitude toward either good fortune or adversity, and never give up moral principles at any time. He also proposed that morality is not a patented product owned exclusively by scholars and gentlemen. Noble deeds of moral virtue can also be found in peasants, rich merchants and ordinary people in the lower class.
The value of a human being lies not in power and officialdom or in high position and great wealth, but in thinking and action. The feudal ethical code is different from the traditional Chinese fine virtues. The feudal ethical code has in general the following features:
First, the establishment of the relationship in which one person is an appendage to the other, basic to the feudalistic social system, as an ethical principle and a religion. The core of the ethical code including the "three cardinal guides" (ruler guides subject, father guides son, and husband guides wife) is a concise description of the relationship. That the feudalistic social system is characterized by one person as an appendage to the other, as pointed out by Marx, is a scientific view: The French thinker of the Enlightenment, Charles Louis de Secondat Montesquieu, in his Work The spirit of the Laws said that the dependent relationship berxveen pcople became the big enemy of law. The difference between a modern society and a society of dictatorship lies in the former having broken off from the dependent relationship to hold high the banner of everyone being equal before law.
The feudal ethical code was made a Religion by some people, who said the emperor was god and the history of emperors was a history of emperors transformed from the god. But the ethical code never became a true Religion in China because of the dominating spirit of humanism of the early Confucianism and other reasons.
Secondly, the feudal ethical code only dealt with such problems as the obligations of various ranks in society-to-society and the emperor in an ethical view. It did not involve the problem of human rights. It also stressed the rule by human volition, not by law. In retrospect, one will find when making a review of the history that it was only empty talk that punishment was meted out to princes who violated law in the same way as it was with ordinary people. That was only propaganda of the Legalists. Real examples were few. In feudal society, lack of the idea of human rights and inadequate rule by law had a close relation to the feudal ethical code.
Thirdly, the feudal ethical code had not yet deterred the development of China's humanism. But the humanism of feudal society was different from that of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods. During the period of the Warring States, the humanism advocated by Mencius contained the simple idea of equality of everybody in society. For example, someone had asked him: "Could a tyrant be executed?" Replied Mencius: "Yes. The tyrant is no longer a ruler." In the Qin and Han periods, this view had almost become obsolete. During These periods, humanism was recognized only under the premise of the rule of emperors, different from that of Mencius without any premises. It was because such humanism could not escape the influence of the feudal ethical code.
Therefore, it is necessary to differentiate the traditional virtues from the feudal ethical code. The Confucian ethical value of humanism is full of vitality and will not fade away. When it is applied in practice, it should be modified under the requirements dictated by the present and future. It should not be copied mechanically. As to the feudal ethical code, it has long since lost its life. It must be totally eradicated.
2. The Taoist Philosophy of Nature and the World
Some historians in the West have said that Chinese culture is based chiefly on political ethics without the philosophy of nature. The assertion, in fact, is incomplete. Chinese culture is teeming with the philosophy of nature. But it does not talk about nature without involving human problems. It talks about nature beginning with the problem of human life. And its theory in turn is used to guide human life. So the formula is: Human life - nature - human life.
Two major lines go through Chinese culture: One is Confucianism, the other Taoism. Taoist thought more distinctly expresses the character of the above formula.
Lao Zi, the founder of Taoism, studied nature and created his philosophical theory through sayings about many problems relating to human life. Some of them follow:
Lao Zi says:
Under the sun, nothing is weaker than water.
Water can pass through mountain valleys, and across plains.
Water can overcome the hardest things when it passes.
These observations illuminated his view of human life in the philosophical sense:
People should be as weak as water.
Keep in mind: The most treasured things are teachings "without words" and the benefits of “non-action."
Lao Zi says:
The rivers and oceans can hold water coming from a hundred streams because they lie in the lowest position. Hence the theory: A sage who wants to be really trusted by common people should be kind and treat his people with humility.
Lao Zi says:
Anything that is strong will die.
Anything weak and gentle in nature can live forever.
Therefore, resorting to arms is doomed to failure. The toughest bough will break one day. So anything that has strength and power is temporal and will be gone in a flash. But weakness and gentleness will exist forever.
Lao Zi then applied his philosophy of nature to the philosophy of life. He held that whatever a person does During a lifetime should be done in a manner as weak as water, with modesty and little said, "saying nothing" and "doing nothing." "Doing nothing" does not mean one should not do anything, but rather that one should not do things against the law of nature or the nature of things; should not do things while showing off one's ability, and should not do things while making trouble for others. By so acting, anything can be done. As Lao Zi said, "doing nothing" is in a bid to "do anything."
Lao Zi was a keen observer of nature, with brilliant wisdom. In this respect, he resembles the ()reek philosopher, Heracleitus. But they also had a distinct difference. Heracleitus stressed "struggle" when he observed human life from nature. But Lao Zi believed that the miraculous cure for maintaining youthful vigor is "harmony" and "going back to nature." This reflects the different historical backgrounds of Chinese and Western cultures. The Taoist classics are filled with profound discourses based on keen observations about nature and human life. Some intelligent discourses on life experience and social activities are regarded as contributions particularly to the practice of nourishing life and fostering longevity. It seems no accident that the international academic community today attaches great importance to The Book of Lao Zi.
Lao Zi lived in the late Spring and Autumn Period. Zhuang Zi, another important representative of Taoist thought, lived in the Warring States Period. Zhuang Zi was more philosophical in his observation on nature. In The Book of Zhuang Zi, he described natural phenomena and told fables, trying to lead people to think about the mystery of nature as a way of determining what they could do to deal with nature and society.
"The ruler of the Southern Sea is called Shu; the ruler of the Northern Sea is called Hu, and the ruler of the Center is called Hun Dun. Shu and Hu often met in the territory of Hun Dun, and being always well treated by him, determined to repay his kindness. They said: ‘all people have seven holes for seeing, hearing, eating, and breathing. Hun Dun alone has none of these. Let us try to bore some for him.' So every day they bored one hole; but on the seventh day Hun Dun died."
In Zhuang Zi's view, nature is a whole. It cannot be broken. Taoists declared that nature should be protected, that it should not be destroyed. It is interesting that the famous Japanese scientist Yugawa Hideki - after studying elementary particles of about 30 varieties for a long time and exploring the fundamental material behind those particles, finally was enlightened by the above fable. He concluded that the fundamental matter was most likely similar to Hun Dun. He wrote the following line after he had succeeded in his study: "The Chinese were, among all human beings in the world, the earliest to enter a stage of spiritual maturity And it seems that Taoists with their insights were able to achieve a thorough understanding of the destiny of individual human beings and of the whole humankind.
Taoism also appealed to, and still appeals to, the scientists of the world. Kinship of the Three and the Book of Changes, by Wei Boyang of the l'2astern Han period, was translated into English in the 1930s. So far, many monographs and commentaries on the book have been published abroad.
If we may say that the European thinkers of the Enlightenment During the 18th century attached great importance to China's Confucianism, then European and American scholars During the 20th century and forward have paid more attention to the study of China's Taoism.
3. Traditional Cultures and Its Future
Chinese culture is not an isolated, closed culture. The reason it has a long history lies in its attribute of openness. This openness earth" on spurred mutual learning among all the ethnic groups of the country, resulting in common inventions. Early in the Spring and Autumn Period, way back about 2,000 years ago, thinkers and statesmen were not restricted to preaching their philosophies in the places of their birth in various states in the Central Plain area. They settled down an3~vhere they could fully exercise their talents.
Confucius traveled around all the states, but he found his ideal could not be realized in any of them and returned to his native home, the State of Lu, where he became a teacher.
A brilliant ancient culture was created During the period of the Tang. During that time, the Han people learned from all other minority peoples, and vice versa. The Tang culture was composed of the cultures introduced either from the minorities or other countries in Asia. During the Han Dynasty and the period of the Tang, there was a street called "Foreigner's Street" in Chang’an, the capital city, where all the foreigners lived. In restaurants, there were also foreign waitresses. At the time, in the city, it was the prevailing fashion to wear foreign dresses and imitates foreign dances.
Secondly, the openness feature also included China's knowing how to learn from foreign countries. Indian Buddhism, first introduced into China in the late Western Han Dynasty, entered its primary stage in the period of the Tang through the Wei and Jin and the Southern and Northern Dynasties periods. But Chinese believers did not mechanically copy it. The Buddhism introduced from India was adopted, assimilated and modified into Chinese Buddhism. Tiantai, Huayan and Chan were all sects of Buddhism in the Tang period. During the Song Dynasty, some Chinese Buddhism was absorbed by Confucianism to create a blend in the ideological and theoretical system of Neo-Confucianism (a Confucian school of idealist philosophy).
During the period from the 16th century to the 18th century, many European Christian missionaries came to China where they learned the Chinese language, got to know the local customs and way of life and made many friends among Chinese intellectuals and officials. Intellectuals and officials also learned Western natural sciences from foreign missionaries and promoted their scientific research. As a result, such great scholars as Xu Guangqi (1562-1633) and Fang Yizhi (1611-1671) appeared. Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (r. 1662-1722) also learned geometry and land surveying from foreign missionaries.
In modern China, a number of personalities of broad vision went abroad to study to find ways of making China strong and prosperous. When they returned to China, they introduced Western culture and science. For example, Yan Fu introduced the biological evolutionism of C. Darwin and H. E. Huxley, which produced a great impact on China's intellectual community.
The facts mentioned above show that the richness of Chinese culture needs a mix with foreign cultures. But history is complicated. In the feudal society of China, particularly in the declining stage of many of its dynasties, imperial rulers became conservative and followed a closed-door policy, thinking they would rule forever. But that was only a daydream. The policy not only held back the advancement of history, but also brought a negative impact on cultural development.
In the 21st century, such problems as over-population, environmental pollution, and modern diseases cannot be treated by one kind of approach and one kind of medicine. They need a comprehensive treatment by the whole world. When industrial civilization brings both happiness and misfortune to the world, human beings need a healthier spiritual civilization. In this sense, more people in the world may accept some values of Chinese culture as those values are transformed and adapted by them During the 21st century.
For example, the idea of attaching importance to family values may help deal with such social phenomena as loneliness among the elderly in economically developed countries, family education of children, and even the control and prevention of the AIDS virus.
Another example: Chinese culture holds in high regard the ideas of ideological self-cultivation, the effect of spiritual functions, the philosophy of nature and the idea of "going back to nature." These ideas may be applied to the treatment of the physical and mental problems, and to the promotion of the development of science.
Other values in Chinese culture such as respect for the spirit of humanity, emphasis on team play, and belief in the doctrine of the mean may lead people to take a more pragmatic attitude as they observe the world in the 21st century.
Some scientists have pointed out that in the 21st century, people may discover the influence of some aspects of Eastern culture on the world. This prediction, we believe, will be probably realized.
However, we don't think any one culture will come to dominate the world. It is impossible. Any country, no matter how many years it takes in the development, will surely have its own national culture as the dominant culture. Even if a foreign culture is introduced to it, that foreign culture must be combined with its national culture. So far, nobody knows of any pure foreign culture that has become exclusively and fully realized in a country after being introduced into that country. Therefore, the rise and success of Chinese culture in the 21st century only means that its merits and strong points will be adopted and absorbed by the world. As for China, in the new century, it has to carry out modernization.
So the country must concentrate more on the absorption of the merits of foreign cultures to enrich and develop the traditional Chinese culture.
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