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Reflections on triple relationships in context of Chinese modernization

HUANG CHANGYONG | 2022-12-01 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

Foreign students from different countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan experience the traditional Chinese arts such as hand-drawn fans and brush calligraphy. Photo: Chen Yang/CNS

In the report to the 20th CPC National Congress, it is clearly stated that the central task of the CPC will be to lead the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in a concerted effort to realize the Second Centenary Goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects and to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization.

The theme of Chinese modernization will, in a profound way, have an impact on the future culture that we aim to build over time. It is an important judgment made based on the new changes that took place within the world landscape. 

Looking back through China’s past trajectory, cultural development in China has experienced a major transformation since the Opium War. The journey was difficult as the nation transitioned from the experience of learning from the West to being self-reliant and culturally confident today. In the context of Chinese modernization, we need to rethink the “triple relationships” in promoting our culture.

China and the world

The first dynamic is about the relationship between China and the world. Prior to early modern times, China regarded itself as the center of the world, which was a kind of “Sino-centrism.” However, after the Opium War, when the door to China was forcefully opened by Western powers, Chinese culture shifted from what was characterized by “Sino-centrism” to that of “Western-centrism.” 

It is noteworthy that to this day, the Western systems of disciplines, academic research, and discourse still affect Chinese culture, scholarship, and art to a certain degree. This is evidenced most clearly by changes in cultural mentality—that is, the mentality of many Chinese has changed from being “culturally self-important” to being blindly xenocentric today. This gradual change can be not only detected in people’s daily life and consumption, but also from China’s academic and cultural systems. In this sense, China’s relationship with the world essentially means how we should deal with the issue of cultural diversity. Facing the world, we must adopt an attitude which “rejects the false while preserving the true.” To enhance cultural confidence, following blindly should be excluded from any cultural mentality.

 Tradition and modernity

The next relational dynamic is about the relationship between tradition and modernity. Since the May Fourth Movement and the upsurge of anti-traditional thought trends, there have been, over a long period of time, many debates on the way we inherit and develop Chinese traditional culture. In the Resolution of the CPC Central Committee on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century, which was adopted in the sixth plenary session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, the need to promote the creative transformation and development of fine cultural traditions, has been emphasized. 

Regarding this creative cultural transformation and development, the key is to keep modern consciousness in mind from humanistic perspectives. It is particularly noteworthy that interventions from contemporary times, especially new technology, forms a part of the modern consciousness. To properly address this issue, we need to reinterpret the traditions, and even recall cultural traditions from the May Fourth Movement.

The East and the West

The third dynamic is about the relationship between the East and the West. When facing the West, we tend to lack confidence when discussing Eastern culture, and even regard it as an archetype of backwardness. Some of the West’s opinions on certain aspects of China—or the East at large—which include mystery, backwardness, or ignorance, are essentially an external imposition. 

In other words, the West’s impression of Chinese culture and art is at their discretion, and it is not based on the future or the current reality but a fixed point in the past. Therefore, to develop our own refined traditional culture within the context of contemporary China, the most important thing is to retain Chinese styles that have distinctive national characteristics. 

Huang Changyong is president and deputy secretary of Party committee at Shanghai Theatre Academy. 

Edited by BAI LE