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Treating culture studies more fairly
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-06-09 11:15

Why do Chinese teenagers prefer Hollywood movies to Chinese classical literature?

Why do Chinese undergraduates achieve high scores in TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exams, but are not able to write readable and fluent articles in their own language?

The basic reason lies in China's neglect of and bias against the studies of traditional Chinese culture, or the so-called "national studies," said Ji Baocheng, president of the Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

He warned that the indifference to "national studies" has led to a deep cultural crisis among the Chinese people, which poses a challenge to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

As part of efforts to reinvigorate traditional Chinese culture, Renmin University of China has established the country's first school specializing in such studies.

The School of Studies of Traditional Chinese Culture will officially enrol students from September.

Ji urged a revaluation of the studies of traditional Chinese culture so the subject can play a bigger role in the country's modern cultural construction.

But his call immediately triggered a hot debate over the necessity of rejuvenating the studies of traditional Chinese culture in a modern society.

Traditional Chinese culture studies were virtually wiped out in the late 1910s and early 1920s. At that time, liberal intellectuals such as Lu Xun (1881-1936) and Chen Duxiu (1879-1942) blamed traditional Chinese culture - with Confucianism being the key part - for the country's decay and it being invaded by Western powers.

Studies of traditional Chinese culture became a synonym for backwardness.

Now an enlightenment campaign about traditional Chinese culture is badly needed to let the Chinese people know the modern value of traditional culture, proponents say.

They even suggest that studies of traditional Chinese culture regain a dominant position in the country's ideology to help solve problems which have emerged in China's modernization drive.

Opponents describe efforts to rejuvenate the studies as going against the country's modernization bid.

They are worried that the rejuvenation of the studies of traditional Chinese culture, which contain many feudal thoughts and ideology, may even damage the country's efforts to build a modern civilization.

For instance, outdated ideologies such as the "special privilege" mentality, superstition and clanship advocated by traditional Chinese culture are all natural enemies of modern thoughts such as democracy, science and the rule of law.

Furthermore, it is unrealistic and ridiculous to expect "dead knowledge" to solve the problems of modern society, opponents claim.

The crux of the debate is how to treat the studies of traditional Chinese culture in a scientific, reasonable and fair way.

Really, the studies are neither as valuable as supporters claim nor as formidable as opponents think.

Like any culture, traditional Chinese culture with its history of more than 5,000 years has good and bad aspects.

So what is needed during the process of studying is the elimination of the dross.

As has been proven in Singapore and South Korea, which promote Confucianism, some moral standards of traditional Chinese culture can live in harmony with modernization.

They include benevolence, respect for the elderly, and the promotion of hard work and diligence.

Critical studies of traditional culture can undoubtedly help the country carry forward useful parts of the culture.

Although there is a need to stay on guard against side effects from such studies such as the return of some feudal ideologies, that does not justify a complete abandonment of the studies.

We should neither overly welcome nor overly fear studies of traditional Chinese culture. They are only a branch of learning, no more and no less.

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