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Bringing regenerated oriental cultures into mainstream values

Updated: 2013-03-26 13:09

Following is the speech of Wang Zhan, president of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, at the closing ceremony of the 5th World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai held on March 23-24, 2013.


Bringing regenerated oriental cultures into mainstream values

Wang Zhan, president of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, attends the closing ceremony of the 5th World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai, March 24, 2013. [Photo by Uking Sun/]

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The World Forum on China Studies, while providing a wonderful opportunity for sharing the achievements in China studies, sets up an important platform for the interchange between cultures Oriental and Occidental. This has already been witnessed over the past two days.

At the concluding meeting of the National People’s Congress one week ago, I heard in person the inauguration speech made by the newly chosen Chinese President Xi Jinping. He elaborated on the “Chinese Dream”, which is closely related to our theme “China’s Modernization: Road and Prospect”.

President Xi in particular mentioned the “Chinese spirit” characterized by national spirit based on patriotism and the cosmopolitan spirit based on reform and innovation. Inspired by this, I would like to address the issue of bringing regenerated Oriental cultures into the mainstream values as one example of cultural mutual-learning and organic combination.

Firstly, cultivate a new culture of today by drawing upon our own tradition and developing a global perspective.

The Chinese traditional culture, in its evolution over several millennia, mingled with various cultures of other peoples, showing and obtaining a high degree of vitality, diversity, flexibility and inclusiveness. Therefore, the traditional Chinese culture basically presents no barriers to dialogue and communication with other cultures. In this world of globalization, we can also expect an effective interchange between Oriental Occidental cultures, just as we can expect a happy combination of patriotism and cosmopolitanism. Cultural combination is not only what the Chinese need, but also what the world should have as well. For the Chinese culture to be better and more widely appreciated, it is imperative that this culture should be transformed and restructured. For example, traditionally the Chinese culture was centered primarily on “three subordinations and five virtues”, specifically, “the subordination of subjects to emperor, of son to father, and of wife to husband”; and the virtues of “benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faithfulness”. The three subordinations should certainly be discarded today, yet the five virtues could well be redefined and preserved with a view to cosmopolitanism.

Secondly, reinterpret the traditional elements of Chinese culture in a creative way.

Different cultures may have different emphasis in their connotations. Western values, for example, tend to highlight equality, democracy and human rights, while our culture may emphasize family responsibility, good governance and collective welfare. However, we can always develop consensus among different cultures through expanding our overlapping areas, particularly by means of redefinition or reinterpretation.

Still, let me take the “five virtues” for example. The quality of “faithfulness” could be remanufactured into integrity and credit-worthiness, thus making it fully in line with the needs of

a modern market economy. “Righteousness” may also be divorced from its original provincial context, thus expanding into a quality of citizen activism that is always needed in a dynamic modern society. “Benevolence” may be reinterpreted as well, so that it will become something urgently needed in an anonymous society. “Wisdom” should be recast into a quality of tolerance and inclusiveness, so that different peoples of the world will truly appreciate “harmony but not uniformity”. With this wisdom, harmony might be promoted among different religions or religious sects. Likewise, “propriety” may also not only serve as a source of appropriateness and beauty, but also a basis for the rule of law required in a modern society.

Thirdly, bring regenerated Oriental cultures into the mainstream values of the modern world.

As shown above, by means of reinterpretation and modernization, the traditional elements of Chinese culture could well be adapted to the current-day expectations. For example, the “five virtues” could well be brought in line with the mainstream values of the present world, and serve the current-day agenda. A traditional culture can thus become more readily accepted by people today and peoples elsewhere, therefore gaining greater vitality and popularity.

The Chinese and, more broadly, Oriental cultures belong to the whole humanity. In this world of globalization, we should not just integrate the markets of different regions, but also the cultures of different peoples. Such a process of interchange and mingling will bring us a more solid basis of mutual understanding and cooperation. This will specifically give the Chinese culture a better chance of reaching out to the rest of the world. I believe that the resurgence and regeneration of the Chinese culture should also be a part of the “Chinese dream”.

With this, I conclude my presentation. Thank you very much for your attention and attendance at the Forum!


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