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Wang Meng: Exploring Values from Traditional Culture

Date: 2015-11-02
Wang Meng (photo taken by Xiong Ming)
 
On 30 October, Wang Meng, famous writer, former Minister of Culture and Researcher of the CCICH attended the 2015 Annual Conference of Chinese Cultural Institutes and Cultural and Art Expo in Chongqing. He delivered a keynote speech on “traditional culture and value construction” at the Chongqing Yuelai International Convention Center.
In Wang Meng’s opinion, the core socialist values are fully reflected in the several-thousand-year-long Chinese traditional culture and ethics and people can explore values from the traditional culture.
Seeking value identification from the genes of our national culture
“The term of ‘core values’ is not something coming just from theory, textbooks and classics or foreign ideas. It is based on history, culture, life, the people and more importantly, human conscience.” Wang Meng believed that human conscience naturally involves values and the moral judgment distinguishing good from bad, kind from evil, beautiful from ugly and true from false.
According to Wang Meng, core values should be extracted from human counscience. They are developed on the basis of the research of social elites and many people who are devoted to fostering good ethics. Accurately generalized and suited to reality, they serve as the largest common denominator in social identification, thus becoming the cohesive power for society and the Chinese nation and the yardsticks helping us to distinguish good from bad, kind from evil, beautiful from ugly and true from false.
Wang Meng said that those values cannot be isolated from the influence of traditional culture. No matter how much we have criticized and reflected on traditional culture, the influence of traditions are still in people’s heart and we cannot simply say no to our own nation and tradition. Therefore, the positive factors in people’s heart are the foundation for advocating core values and they come from the traditional Chinese culture, the new culture which started from the May Fourth Movement and the revolutionary culture represented by the Jinggangshan spirit and the Yan’an spirit.
Seeking good and positive consensus from human conscience
Wang Meng said that since the Opium War, the traditional Chinese culture has repeated suffered setbacks, criticism and derision. Some people thus consider our traditional culture as miserable and even some Chinese people have forgotten their own traditional culture.
But Wang Meng believes that China’s traditional culture and its essence always stay in people’s heart.
Wang Meng talked about Bangu’s “Hanshu-Yiwenzhi”, which quoted a saying from Confucius to the effect that rites and rules are lost but stay among the people. Speaking of the turmoil and separation of East Zhou, Confucius said that on the surface the rites are not longer there and have been lost to a large extent but they have remained among the general public.
“That is to say that warm-heartedness, benevolence and other ancient and good values remain in the heart of the people”, said Wang Meng.
Wang Meng also cited local operas as an example of the clear line between good and bad, between those with virtues and those speculators, between those with high moral standards and those betraytors.
Wang Meng said that the common people put much emphasis on those values. The Chinese people consider self-cultivation as the precondition for running the family, governing the state and making the whole land peaceful and virtue is an important symbol of the legitimacy of the power of the kings and ministers. As the saying goes, “to govern with the power of virtue”, which is exactly what Confucius advocated.
To explore strengths from traditional culture contributes to deeper appreciation of core socialist values.
Wang Meng believes that we can increase understanding of prosperity, democracy, cultural advancement and harmony through the Confucian idea of benevolent government, of freedom, equality, equity and rule of law through Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi’s philosophy of tolerance and rule of rites and of patriotism, commitment, honesty and friendliness through the education of kindness and virtues. All those ancient values may differ in one way or another from our reality, but they are indeed relevant and there is much in common between the tradition and the reality.
“ From the traditional culture, we also see the values of justice for all in the world, respect and prudence, rule of rites, benevolence, faithfulness, tolerance and not doing unto others what you don’t want others do unto you. They all serve to realize what we advocate, i.e. patriotism, commitment, honesty and friendliness”. Wang Meng said that we are not blindly copying the tradition or looking backward. What we cannot accept is the idea that promoting traditional culture is one thing and looking to the future and achieving modernization is another and the two are completely in conflict. What we need to do is to fully explore the assets of traditional culture to enrich our appreciation of core socialist values. That is not just about enriching core socialist values but also about the innovative development and transformation of traditional culture.