中文 | CONTACT US
You are here: Home Page >> Researchers' News >> Text

Chen Lai: Intellectual Nourishment in Traditional Chinese Culture

Date: 2020-11-24
Cultural traditions are important to any country and nation that respects its history and aspires for a brighter future. They are the source of values that appeal to, inspire and motivate the nation.

Traditional Chinese culture is attracting intense academic attention in recent years. One of the most important voices is Chen Lai, who crystallizes his in-depth explorations in his latest work, The Modern Value of Chinese Culture.

Chen Lai is the President of the Tsinghua Academy of Chinese Learning, researcher at CCICH, and expert on Confucius philosophy, Song-Yuan-Ming-Qing Dynasties Neo-Confucianism, and modern Confucius philosophy, with more than 40 publications on the philosophies of Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming and the fundamental values in the Chinese civilization.

The latest book is a collection of about 20 pieces of articles that best reflect his views on the traditions and evolution of the Chinese culture, the modern day relevance, the national beliefs, the relevance of the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and the implications of Confucianism for the modern life. Tracing the history of the main topics in this field of study, it presents a clear picture of the origins and evolution of the Chinese culture and its profound significance.

Chen Lai argues the national soul is the source of the ever-lasting vigor of the Chinese civilization over the past 5,000 years. It is a broad concept and collective value that underpins the material development, institutions, and behaviors of the Chinese society.

Before diving into the Chinese culture, a clear understanding of the concept of culture per se is a must. While definitions are many in the academic circles in the East and West, the author of this introduction sees it as the totality of the physical, intellectual, behavioral, and institutional developments of a nation over a long period of history. It can be the macro elements such as beliefs and ethics or the micro ones like how to treat a flower and a leaf of grass. In its narrow sense, culture can refer to historical archives, architecture, and artifacts. Explorations of cultural traditions and values in both the narrow and broad sense are necessary for the study of a nation’s culture. Chen Lai’s book is an admirable effort to review the values and pathways of the Chinese culture. It refrains from discussions in its physical embodiment but addresses multiple intellectual dimensions.

Cultural traditions are not all perfect. The outdated part that hinders social progress should be allowed to disappear into history. But the fine legacy must be continuously remembered and renewed to nourish the modern day society. The awareness of its importance has been growing in the decades since China introduced the reform and opening-up policy. People have come to realize that traditional culture can be a source of intellectual nourishment for a society galloping towards greater prosperity. Only in this way can a better future be secured.

While no one questions the importance of fine traditional culture, there are debates about which part of the traditional culture can be categorized as such. In this book, Chen Lai identifies some key elements--harmony between man and nature, focus on the well-being of the people, and respect for ethics. These are the defining features and entrenched values of the Chinese culture. They form the basis of the fine tradition of Chinese culture. In this book, Chen Lai summarizes these values as responsibilities before privileges, obligations before freedoms, group before individuals, and harmony before conflicts. These principles are still observed in modern China.

As Chinese, we have every reason to be confident in the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Confidence in our culture is the most fundamental and far-reaching one. It is in effect confidence in the values of our culture, including benevolence, service for the people, integrity, justice, and harmony. These are the source of the core socialist values. Chen Lai explains in his book in clear terms the logical connections between the fine traditional Chinese culture and the core socialist values. He sees the basic tenets of benevolence, righteousness, wisdom, loyalty, filial piety, courtesy, and sense of propriety as the quintessential part of the Chinese culture, which continue to nurture the modern mind with renewed interpretations.
The Chinese culture is too broad a subject to be fully explained by one single book like The Modern Value of Chinese Culture. Today, the fine traditions of Chinese culture continue to regulate the various aspects of society. At the macro level, they are the root of the national cohesion and civility and a source of wisdom for governance. Independent thinking is important to avoid parroting what was said by the forefathers. The fine cultural legacy will only stay alive when it adapts to and grows with the times. In doing so, those who study this important subject must always remain devoted to the country, as this is the eternal driving force for the Chinese nation to thrive and advance.