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Liu Mengxi: Chinese Culture is Inclusive

Source: People’s Daily Date: 2015-07-22
    What is culture? Generally speaking, culture means the overall lifestyle and value system of a nation. We deal with culture everyday and live in different cultural environments. No culture is uniform. Rather, all cultures are heterogeneous, with the coexistence of diverse cultural elements. This is even more so for the Chinese culture. When talking about Chinese culture, we must recognize that it is in fact a big inclusive concept.
 We often said that Chinese culture is the “Yellow River Culture” or “Yellow Land Culture”, with inland cultural characteristics. But over the past two or three decades, with new archeological discoveries and deep-going academic studies on the origin of Chinese culture, people have come to know that Chinese culture does not only originates from the Yellow River culture and the Yangtze River culture is also an important source of Chinese culture and yet the Yellow River culture and the Yangtze River culture have different features. If we say that the Yellow River culture carries inland characteristics, then the Yangtze River culture has somewhat maritime cultural features as it has been famous for convenient shipping and smooth access to the sea since ancient times. At least, describing the Yangtze River culture with inland culture is not comprehensive. The Yellow River culture and the Yangtze River culture have different styles also in terms of cultural philosophy. “The Book of Songs”, a realistic literary classic, has its origin in the Yellow River Basin, while “The Songs of Chu”, a pioneering classic of romantic literature, has its origin in the Yangtze River basin. Confucius and Mencius, representatives of Confucianism, were born in the downstream Yellow River while Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi, representatives of Taoism, were born in the mid and downstream Yangtze River. Since ancient times, these two cultural origins in the Yellow River and the Yangtze River have developed with interactions and together fostered the Chinese nation.
    Chinese culture is diversified both in its origin and in academic thoughts. The coexistence of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism gives testimony to the diversity in academic thoughts. Confucianism prospered in the Han Dynasty and has since been the dominating philosophy, becoming a big tradition of Chinese culture. But Taoism represented by Lao Zi and Zhuang Zi also has an important influence on Chinese culture. Taoism advocates a step backward and an approach of countering the strong by way of weakness, with the starting point and purpose all boiling down to nature. That is much different from Confucianism represented by Confucius and Mencius. Confucianism is about the relationship between persons while Taoism is about the relationship between man and nature, calling for unity of man and nature and taking the natural course as a destination. In addition to Confucianism and Taoism, Buddhism has also influenced Chinese culture in significant ways. There has been a saying of “unity of three philosophies” since the Tang Dynasty, which means that Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism are not exclusive but mutually absorbing and complemenntary. This can show the inclusiveness of Confucianism. The reason is that Confucianism has been the dominating philosophy since the Han Dynasty,and without its inclusiveness, there would not have been the space for the development of Buddhism and Taoism .
    Another feature of Chinese culture is that it is not exclusive, which also points to its inclusiveness. The attitude of Confucianism towards Buddhism shows that being not exclusive is a big tradition of Chinese culture, as it accepts with an open mind a philosophy from afar. The ordinary people, even in remote areas or quite closed areas, are not exclusive. Rather, they have a respectful and appreciative attitude towards other customs and traditions. In the same vein, Chinese culture is not aggressive. During the prosperous Han Dynasty in Chinese history, Wang Zhaojun was sent to the north for marriage. And during the Tang Dynasty of great diversity and prosperity, Princess Wencheng was sent to Tibet for marriage. In the prime times of history, the Chinese used affinity to forge good-neighborly friendship, which shows the commitment of Chinese culture to harmony in developing relations with neighbors.
 Chinese culture is a big inclusive concept and so is “China”. Anyone with a good knowledge of Chinese history will appreciate this inclusiveness and better understand today’s China. In fact, today’s world is also full of diversity and it is impossible for any country to dominate the world. People should recognize differences and protect and respect diversity. In this regard, the Confucian idea of “harmony without uniformity” is even more valuable. The development of mankind is in the final analysis a process of seeking common ground while reserving differences. As a saying goes in the Book of Changes, “They all come to the same (successful) issue, though by different paths; there is one result, though there might be a hundred anxious schemes”. The paths, ways, methods and means may not be the same but the final goal is often the same. We must advocate inclusiveness for the development of not only culture but also other aspects. Take modernization for example. There is not only one way to achieve modernization. Both as early modernized countries, the United States and European countries were modernized in different ways and Asian countries realize modernization also in different ways from Europe and the United States. As a late comer in modernization, China obviously needs to explore its own way to modernize itself.