Author: wchao37

Reinvigorating the study of Chinese culture [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2005-1-13 06:39:00 |Display all floors

The essence of Chinese culture boils down to "yi ren wei ben"

China's PNC that ended in mid-March, 2004 promulgated the notion of putting people first ("e ren wei ben") and this concept is very important.

Contrary to widespread belief, the concept of humanitarian treatment of our fellow citizens, so succinctly delineated in the pithy phrase "e ren wei ben," is not modern or Western in origin. It is quintessential Confucian in origin.

Confucius (551-479 B.C) and Mencius (372-289 B.C.) lived in the chaotic Warring States Period and sought means for restoring order and social harmony through individual morality. They advocated a hierarchical social order allowing for individual ability and dedication, while firmly believing that everyone is born with the seeds of virtue and imbued with the spirit of greatness and therefore should be treated with equal humanitarianism even as they hail from disadvantaged social backgrounds.

In other words, citizens from whatever social background - rich or poor, noble or commoner - can take a public examination and become the highest officials of the country.

The basis of a meritocracy through examinations was thus formed basing solely on the ability of individuals to improve themselves through education and self-development, and not through enjoying privileges by birthright.

In addition, by self-cultivation and following virtuous examples, literally anybody can become a sage. No priests or churches are necessary. Ecclesiastical orders imposed from above were regarded as counterproductive in achieving prosperity for the group, hindering the pursuit of self-development through secular, earth-bound activities.

European nations borrowed this Chinese concept beginning in Seventeenth Century England (some said earlier), through adopting the Chinese system of selecting civil servants from amongst the mass of educated commoners.

Thanks to Confucianism, these educated public officials selected through public examinations were the ones who made the complicated achievements of modern governments possible.

This is not to say that Confucianism is a panacea for all social ills, but weighing all the merits and demerits inherent in its teachings, it is still full of vitality in China's humanitarian re-constructive efforts embodied in the concept: "E ren wei ben."

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Post time 2005-1-13 06:41:53 |Display all floors

The real strength of the Chinese nation lies in the rejuvenability of her cultur

Why did Chinese Civilization endure through perennial challenges -- political and economic upheavals, foreign conquest and natural calamities -- and manage to survive intact?

In other words, where is the real strength of the Chinese Nation that accounts for its recurrent ability to reinvent itself without irreparable discontinuity of its civilization?

Or: why does the Chinese nation always manage to arise like a phoenix after seemingly irreversible misfortunes in more than five millennia of her recorded history?

If you had lived in 1900 at the time of the Boxer Uprising, could you have imagined that barely a century later, China would be enjoying true respect again from her fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth, and literally basking in the glorious centerstage of world politics?

In essence, would you have been able to witness her soft power bearing fruit as a result of her just policies towards all nations -- big and small, rich and poor, black and white -- and her increasingly robust economic prospects?

Fair questions all, and I'll try to offer a concise explanation here by probing into the real strength of the nation -- a conclusion I have reached after many years of study and worldwide travel to OR actually living in fifty-six nations including all major political centers in the world, as well as having acquired more postgraduate degrees than I can count on the fingers of one hand:

Traditionally the Chinese people had always opted to direct their primary loyalty towards their families or the emperor rather than the state.

No modern concept of statehood existed until relatively recent times. After all, the idea of 'nationhood' itself did not come about even in Europe until the Treaty of Westphalia was signed in 1648 after four years' haggling amongst Sweden, France and Germany, effectively ending the Thirty Years' War.

Lack of centrifugal loyalty towards the state itself was one of the reasons why, apart from the intrinsic foibles of the Ming Dynasty, it took only 600,000 Manchurian cavalry to physically conquer China proper in 1644. By that time, the last Ming emperor had already hung himself from a tree when rebel forces under Li Zicheng entered Beijing, with virtually no royalty left to claim the throne or to act as a galvanizing force around which resistance could be effectively organized.

So the strength of familial bonds and not nationalism in China accounted for the longevity of the Chinese civilization precisely because Chinese cultural traits can be transmitted this way from generation to generation uninterrupted..

Why so many scholars find China's sudden ascendancy in all fields -- the Summer Olympics included -- so inexplicable is because many of them have held onto the anachronistic belief that "might" makes "right" and they are equating the power of a nation to the amount of destructive power it possesses, and they don't see a whole lot of this kind of hard power in China. It is thus difficult for them to explain away the soft power of China in the world fast eclipsing that of the hegemon because they are basing their analysis on the wrong parameters.

As is well known, both Western and Chinese scholars in the past had tried to rationalize the gross inadequacies of pre-1949 governments by characterizing Chinese society as a 'sheet of loose sand.'

Yet the same 'sheet of loose sand' that was responsible for the demise of the nation during the Opium Wars of 1839-42 is now part and parcel of the lauded 'Chinese-characteristics package' responsible for China's rise in the 21st century.

In my view, such ascendancy in a relatively short period of time must be explained on the basis of the unique characteristics of the Chinese family when compared with societal norms in other world civilizations.

To begin with, the fundamental social unit in China is the family and not the individual. In contrast, in the Western world the fundamental social unit IS the individual.

Let me give you one small example.

In the Fifties and Sixties, Gary Cooper in the Movie "High Noon" playing a sheriff who dared to confront a roving band of robbers even when the townsfolks were not helping him initially was their hero, so was Steve McQueen who came after him -- the man always played a loner fighting against overwhelming odds.

The familial structure of Chinese society can be likened to a molecule of triatomic water and the Chinese Nation is therefore akin to a huge collection of such molecules. The covalent hydroxyl bonds binding the individual water molecules together are extremely hard to break, and yet in its ionic form water is simply the best solvent available. Chinese civilization is this ionic form of ocean water capable of taking in and dissolving everything under the Sun.

You can throw any rock at the ocean -- even granite and meteors -- and the water will always 'yield' first. Yet the rock rather than the water will always end up disappearing.

Similarly, no matter how many battalions of enemy soldiers the invaders threw at the nation, the effect would just be like throwing rocks at the 'yielding' ocean -- the Civilization remained robust and survived reversals of fortune of the state.

In wartime China sometimes the people galvanized in time to stop the invaders in their track. During other times they failed and the hordes conquered the land. But the invaders always failed to realize that without conquering the Chinese Family, the Civilization will endure and the invaders will eventually be thrown out. It might take 89 years as in the case of the Mongols, or 267 years as in the case of the Manchus, but the Civilization never failed to endure because during hard times, the family stuck together and 'pulled' the Civilization through.

This allegiance to the family became deeply ingrained in the Chinese character not only because of Confucian teachings -- which many so-called Western scholars would ascribe to whenever they encounter anything puzzling about China -- but because of the penal code of "Lienzhuo," in which an entire family would be punished for the crime of one individual.

By and large this tended to bind a family in China much closer together than one in other societies. The corollary of this is that this familial trait is also the root of nepotism because just as punishment is dished out to the entire family on account of the sins of one individual during bad times, honor and economic privileges are bestowed upon members of the same family on account of the merits or social status of one individual during good times.

In the first post-1949 decades of the revolution, new institutions such as the Peoples' Communes were used in social engineering experiments to push the individual away from the family towards the state, with the authorities thinking that individual families was the root cause of China's backwardness.

No one knew at the time that the 'sheet of loose sand' they thought they saw was actually an ocean of water.

Trying to re-construct Chinese society using non-familial models was doomed to failure from the very beginning because of this mis-interpretation of the real problem.

It was like painting on a mosaic. When the rains came after the Cultural Revolution, all the paint was washed away.

The traditions of familial cohesion congealed by the policy of "lienzhuo" down the dynastic centuries die hard and a new model of rebuilding China through reinforcing the familial structure -- starting with the Family Responsibility System (Jiating baozhan daohu) in agriculture in Anhwei Province in 1977-8 -- proved that it was an economically viable model.

The rest of the huge success story based on this small beginning is now known to the entire world.

The irony is that as material prosperity is at an all-time high level, the familial structure in the nation is undergoing an unprecedented crisis.

There is an unhealthy trend today especially in big cities to blindly cherish the Western model of individualism. This can be seen in the way parents are treated by their only children. The ease of dissolution of marriage and the stress on hedonism is creating a society in which the highest bidder -- whether foreign or domestic -- will gain one's loyalty.

There are now even omnipresent commercials on cctv-4 urging young people to visit their old parents at home more frequently -- a fact which proves that the problem is snowballing as the pampered only-children-generation is unwittingly falling prey to Western-style individualism, all the while shirking their responsibility to give emotional, if not economic, support to their parents.

That's why it is imperative to promote honoring one's parents in society to reverse this unhealthy trend. Now that the incipient form of a new social security net is in place thanks to the new "better government" and "e ren wei ben" governmental policies, all that the children need to do is to give more emotional support to their parents.

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Post time 2005-1-13 06:45:29 |Display all floors

China's future is bright because the basic tenets of a mature humanitarian socie

...and not because she has ten thousand pieces of WMD in her arsenal.

The state of Qin which unified China for the first time in 221 B.C. lasted only fifteen years, and yet it was the most powerful and feared military machine of its time.  If Alexander the homosexual Tongzi had been able to reach the state of Qin before 323 B.C., most probaby he wouldn't have survived to die in Bagdad in that year -- his army was no match against that of Qin China in terms of training and weaponry.

When mistreated peasants rebeled towards the end of that fifteen years, the two Qin armies stationed in the south near today's Guangzhou and in the north near the Great Wall took their time in responding to the urgent pleas of the second emperor Er-si for help.  The man had lost the confidence of the people and hence the Mandate of Heaven.

So militarism is for the birds and that's the single most poignant lesson of Chinese history.

Transnational Humanitarianism is something no brutal physical force will ever be able to take away from Chinese culture, just like the Mongols and Manchus were never able to dislodge such an impregnable spiritual core from the nation, and in time actually became totally assimilated by it.

Such an assimilative process is in effect going on right now and Anglo societies are mesmerized by the beauty of this spiritual core that they are finding absolutely irresistible.

The only thing they can do is to isolate the Chinese politically, surround them militarily, pester them ideologically, downplay their achievements and denigrate their prospects, while in the process of doing this they are inadvertently being pulled by the same forces that pulled the Mongols and Manchus into the Chinese cultural orbit.

The Chinese are forever patient and confident that their cultural cohesiveness will pull them through anything. They don't think of the past five hundred year as a 'waste of time.' It was simply a temporary diversion in the globalization process in which they are destined to play a significant role.

To put it another way, to the Chinese these foreign cultures are like rocks and theirs is like water. Rocks may look hard and formidable, and water accommodative and pliable.

But throughout the earth's history, no one has ever heard that rocks have eroded water because the covalent hydroxyl bond that forms water is so stable and well nigh unbreakable. It has always been the other way - water has eroded the rocks.

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Post time 2005-1-13 08:28:21 |Display all floors

China will inevitably save the West from itself.

Ironically, despite all the encirclement and anti-encirclement along China's fourteen international borders by the Lone Superpower, the country that will one day save this Incredible Hulk from itself is China.

Nixon was a genius. He foresaw that it is China that will save the West one day, and that was at a time when China's GDP was but a minuscule fraction of America's (I think he said it in his book "The Real War").

You might ridicule his thesis that communist China will save the Capitalist West, yet obviously he is talking in realpolitik terms unencumbered by the superficial meanings of the labels. In today's global village, laissez faire market economy is a versatile tool that China has put to better use than the Americans, and because China is a benevolent power with no previous record of harming the West in psychological framework or historical propensity, the West has nothing to fear from China.

His prophecy is coming into full view with unmistakable clarity before us. No matter what the nincompoops from Pentagon or the State Department say about China's lack of religious freedoms and potential as a future 'threat' to the West, the reality is quite the opposite. In the struggle against terrorism and proliferation of WMD, China has fought side by side with the Americans not because she is stupid (a more 'normal' foe of America's would have wanted to let others do the dirty work and harm America to her own benefit, but not China, why?) but because she knows that science and modernity is the irrefutable mode of future human existence, and that if individual nations decide to avoid modernity and retain their retrogressive social institutions, it would be to their own detriment.

The main difference in the approach of America and China towards encouraging modernity in other nations is that America sends in her aircraft carriers and Strycker Divisions, invoking an image of barbaric hubris in the eyes of the world, while China sends in the sincere and scholarly Qinghua graduates Hu and Wen, offering to help smaller and weaker nations in sci-tech cooperation through her diversified investment portfolio in the five continents.

When I was a child I read a fabled story about how the Sun and the Winds competed to get a man to take off his overcoat.

The Winds went ahead first and blew as hard as it could on the man trying to blow the coat off his back, whereupon the man simply clung more tightly onto it with both arms wrapped before his body.

The Sun simply came out as usual but turned up the heat. The man began to sweat and took off his coat.

America is like the Winds and China is like Sun.

If America keeps on doing what she does best -- threatening this nation and coercing that one with her military might to follow her orders -- she will go the way of the Winds and in time will really be 'gone with the wind.' If you don't believe me just look at a tornado. It looks really scary and fierce for a while but I have never heard of a twister that never dissipates its energy after a while.

That's where China comes into the picture. She will say to America, "Hey buddy, you're doing it all wrong. You must SINCERELY want to help and not boss other people around like you are doing right now."

Do you think America will listen? Of course not. Just like even on a sunny day a twister is not going to listen to the Sun and disappear before its kinetic energy dissipates.

But eventually she will listen, just like all Winds die down and enjoy tranquility under the Sun.

America will not listen because the entire history of the Western World tells her that might makes right. From Alexander to Tommy Franks, the doctrine of he Sword had always prevailed over the doctrine of the Modest.

Yet with the advent of instant access to information in the Global Village, together with the unlikelihood of global warfare where massive mutual destruction is assured, international co-operation is in and hegemony is out. Hegemony is out because it is counter-productive in terms of individual creativity and optimization of use of natural resources -- occasioned by the arrival of new material sciences making it possible to satisfy the yearning of the great majority of the world's people for material prosperity. Hegemony is therefore headed towards the way of the dinosaurs.

When America realizes this fact she will truly desist from attacking China and will accept her philosophical framework in international relations. this will take decades if not centuries, but eventually she will have to do so in order to survive as a viable and recognizable entity.

That's why I say China will inevitably save the West from itself.

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Post time 2005-1-13 08:32:48 |Display all floors

modern neo-Confucianism

Confucianism is an advantage of the Chinese culture.

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Post time 2005-1-13 09:57:51 |Display all floors

You are the recipient of the month at CD

You are the recipient of the month at CD.
What do you mean by that? wchao37.

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Post time 2005-1-17 19:29:56 |Display all floors

This topic should go on

bump...

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