Yuan Xingpei: Making Greater Contributions to the Cultural Development of the World
In our effort to enrich world culture with Chinese culture, we shall be more active in going global. In his book “The Chinese Chameleon: an Analysis of European Conceptions of Chinese Civilization” in 1967, Professor Raymond Dawson of Oxford University gave a comprehensive account of western conceptions of China. He concluded that in the eyes of Western people, the image of China seems to be changing between two extremes, i.e. an idealistic kingdom versus a symbol of stagnation and backwardness. China is described sometimes as rich, advanced, smart, good, strong and honest and in other times as poor, backward, silly, ugly, weak and cunning. The book points to a huge gap between the Western perception of China and the real China. Often the Western attitude to the East gives this impression: Only the West has the authority to interpret the East. Here, we do not want to talk about the Western prejudices against the East, including China. It is just that we feel deeply the urgency for Chinese culture to more actively go global and fully demonstrate our real look to the world amidst economic globalization. As connections in the world are becoming increasingly close and in particular the Chinese economy grows more prosperous, the world needs, more than ever, to understand China and Chinese culture will get more opportunities and means to go global and more space for development in the world. On the whole, economic globalization brings more opportunities than challenges to the development of Chinese culture. We shall be clear about this situation and seize the historic opportunities.
In our effort to enrich world culture with Chinese culture, we shall adhere to the independence of Chinese culture. With economic globalization come more extensive and deep-going cultural interactions for drawing from all fine fruits of human civilization, which we welcome. Since the modern times, the wise men in China have been actively learning from the West in order to save the country. Such learning has undergone a deepening process from the scientific and technological level to the political and cultural level. In its interactions with foreign cultures, Chinese culture has constantly enriched and developed itself and gradually been integrated into the mainstream of world civilization. This process has given us a deeper understanding of cultural independence. To adhere to the independence of Chinese culture, we must realize that both learning from the fine fruits of other cultures and taking Chinese culture to the world are our independent will and act. During the Han and Tang Dynasties of Chinese history, the Chinese people’s open-mindedness about foreign cultures and grand vision in drawing from foreign cultures for our benefit is a perfect reflection of independence. Such attitude was described by famous Chinese writer Lu Xun with the Chinese words “Hong Fang”, which means broadness and boldness. Western modern culture has gradually been transmitted to China since the middle Ming Dynasty and even more prominently since the Opium War, which has affected the course of Chinese history for the past century and more. But Chinese culture has not lost its independence. Today, we are in a better position to adhere to cultural self-determination and decide the destiny of our own culture independently.
The culture of a nation cannot survive in isolation and one same global culture is unimaginable. Only through open-minded mutual accommodation and peace and harmony between different cultures can we achieve the purpose of common development and prosperity. In the context of economic globalization, we must take concrete effective measures to maintain the distinctive national features of Chinese culture. At the same time, we must be aware that distinctive national features exist out of comparison and more comparison gives greater prominence to distinctive features. And also we must realize that the distinctive national features will not remain unchanged and in the process of interacting with other cultures, some factors will grow stronger while others will be weakened and even disappear. All in all, what accompanies economic globalization is not uniform world culture or conflicts of culture but cultural independence and giving and prosperity and diversity of cultures. The emergence and establishment of this new cultural ecology significantly marks a higher stage of human development. In this process, Chinese culture can make greater contributions to the development of world cultures.
The author is President of the China Central Institute for Culture and History and President of the Sinology Institute of Peking University.