Home OPINIONS Finding the fulcrum between cultural inheritance and development

Finding the fulcrum between cultural inheritance and development

Revelers celebrate Lunar New Year in Manhattan's Chinatown, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Culture is fundamental to a nation’s foundation and future. The Chinese nation boasts a legacy spanning millions of years of humanity, ten millennia of culture, and five thousand years of civilisation. In recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has consistently pondered promoting China’s socialist culture and developing a modern Chinese civilisation.

A couple of months ago, Xi convened a meeting on Cultural Inheritance and Development in Beijing, with the aim of addressing pertinent issues on this initiative.  The meeting sought to address three core principles, which Xi spelt out in his speech. The first is developing a profound understanding of the defining characteristics of Chinese civilisation.

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The traditional Chinese culture encompasses a multitude of significant concepts, including social ideals of pursuing the common good for all and achieving universal peace, governance principles of regarding the people as the foundation of the state and governing by virtue, traditions of striving for great unity in the country, and ensuring unity amid diversity.

Chinese civilisation is distinguished by its continuity. Chinese civilisation is the only great, uninterrupted civilisation that continues to this day in a state form. This unequivocally affirms the cultural identity and robust vitality of Chinese civilisation as it has responded to challenges and broken new ground through self-development.

Chinese civilisation is distinguished by its creativity. It places stress on discarding the outdated in favour of the new and making progress on a daily basis. The creativity of Chinese civilisation determines that it upholds tradition without clinging to the past and respects ancient wisdom without reverting to archaic thinking. It also determines that the Chinese nation is fearless in facing new challenges and embracing new things.

Chinese civilisation is distinguished by its unity. The longtime tradition of great unity underpins its commitment to upholding unity amid diversity and maintaining solidarity through centrality. The internal cohesion of maintaining unity is both a prerequisite and a consequence of Chinese civilisation’s continuity.

Chinese civilisation is distinguished by its peacefulness. Over the five thousand years, Chinese civilisation has always upheld peace, amity and harmony. It advocates applying moral principles to create a world where the common good and individual interests harmoniously coexist and prioritising others in self-other relationships.

The second principle is understanding the significance of integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities, and the best of its traditional culture. Given the profound foundations of China’s venerable 5,000-year-old civilisation, the only path for pioneering and developing Chinese socialism is to integrate the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities and the best of its traditional culture (“two integrations”).

Mutual compatibility is the fundamental prerequisite. Despite their distinct origins, Marxism and traditional Chinese culture exhibit remarkable congruence. For instance, the social principles of pursuing the common good for all and acting in good faith and being friendly to others resonate harmoniously with the ideals and convictions of communism and socialism. Marxism sees the essence of man from the angle of social relations, while in Chinese culture, people are defined by their relationships with their family, their country, and the world.

What sets Chinese socialism apart? What enables it to thrive with such vitality? The answers lie in its distinct Chinese characteristics, and the essence of these characteristics is encapsulated within the concept of the “two integrations.” The path of Chinese socialism is fundamentally socialist, grounded in Marxism. The essential socialist elements in Chinese culture provide an intellectual foundation for the embrace of Marxism in China.

Just as Chinese modernisation infuses Chinese civilisation with modern vitality, the rich heritage of Chinese civilisation bolsters Chinese modernisation. Chinese modernisation seeks to build upon, rather than erase, China’s ancient civilisation. It has developed within China, not imported from any other country; and it has stemmed from the rejuvenation, not the disruption, of Chinese civilisation. Chinese modernisation is a new mission for the Chinese nation.

The integration of the basic tenets of Marxism with the best of China’s traditional culture has enabled us to retain both the theoretical and cultural initiative, and exerted a strong influence on the path, theory, and system of Chinese socialism. From this perspective, the systems of people’s congresses and political consultation established by the CPC reflect the Chinese concept of the people being the foundation of the state, the idea of universal participation in governance, the tradition of collaborative and consultative governance, and the political wisdom of being all-inclusive and seeking common ground while setting differences aside.

The third principle is better shouldering new cultural missions. Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the Central Committee has given paramount importance to cultural progress in leading the Party and people in advancing the nation’s governance. Through unwavering dedication over these years, the country has witnessed cultural preservation and development adopting a fresh perspective and forging new frontiers.

China has continually deepened its understanding of the laws governing cultural development through practical experience, proposing a series of new visions, new ideas, and new concepts. To bolster cultural confidence, China has prioritised endeavours to distill insights from our experience and transform these insights into distinct Chinese theories, grounded in the country’s great historical and contemporary practices.

Stated Xi in his speech: “we must neither blindly follow dogmas nor indiscriminately adopt foreign theories. Rather, we should strive for intellectual independence. We should make cultural confidence part of the Chinese ethos and cultural characters that are characterized by high-spiritedness, rationality, and peacefulness.”

Stephen Ndegwa
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