YU JINYAO: 'Going out' calls for broader thinking and new approaches

By / 04-02-2014 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

The “going out” of Chinese culture, a topic of perennial discussion, drew no less heated debate during the recently concluded Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People's Congress (NPC). There are many perspectives on China’s “going out”, but as a researcher of world history, I think it is particularly important to regard it as an issue of promoting traditional culture.

When we refer to Chinese culture in a general sense today, what we are describing is not simply “Han culture”. Historically, Chinese culture is hardly a monolithic entity; it is in fact the embodiment of the many elements of different advanced cultures it absorbed and assimilated crystallized into one. As early as the 18th century, Chinese culture was incredibly in vogue among Westerners, and numerous emblems and artifacts of Chinese culture could be found scattered throughout Western Europe. During the modern times, the splendor of Chinese civilization lost its allure for various reasons, but fortunately today’s Chinese culture is once again demonstrating its great vitality to the world.

In the more than three decades since it began reform and opening up, China has made remarkable achievements and increased its international stature to an unprecedented level. As China rises to become a new world power, the Chinese people ought to consider how to make their own contributions to world civilization and human development. This includes sharing China’s experience with other countries, for instance by introducing foreigners to the Chinese traditions of inclusiveness, openness, diligence and an aesthetic outlook on life. Sharing the Chinese experience and carrying forward our traditional cultural are, after all, one and the same. We have every reason to be confident in Chinese culture "going out".

At present, significant cultural exchange efforts have already been made on several fronts, such as the establishment of Confucius Institutes throughout the world, the translating of many classics, and the introduction of Chinese opera. Nevertheless, the current situation reveals we need some new ideas and methods to further this tide.

Because culture is both ideological and spiritual, truly "going out" needs to be a long-term undertaking. Inviting others gradually to understand and accept Chinese culture is not a process we can rush, but a process we must carry forward steadily and steadfastly. It is, furthermore, a process that requires various vehicles for cultural communication, an area that we still need to explore further. A big part of this will be expanding our whole conception or cultural communication beyond the existing methods mentioned above. There are, of course, many other vehicles for cultural communication, such as exchange programs for researchers and tours abroad. People themselves, simply through their lifestyles, manners and behaviors, can be vehicles for cultural exchange.

We also need to be more attention to what we export when "going out", in particular trying to share cultural elements that best represent the Chinese tradition. In addition to classical and academic works, disseminating cultural products like films and spreading more knowledge of Chinese customs like festivals (e.g. Spring Festival) are two potential avenues to furthering the understanding of Chinese culture overseas, and simply making it more accessible.

Part of the message we need to convey is that the global acclaim for what China has accomplished in the past generation should flow from a regard for our traditional culture. This is the true ideological underpinning of China’s meteoric rise. China’s place on the development fast track is not an accident, but rather a clear continuation of the profound historical tradition it embodies.

Yu Jinyao is CPPCC Member and a professor from Institute of World History at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 571, March 14, 2014       

                                                                                                                                             Translated by Bai Le

Revised by Charles Horne