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Heightening Historical Consciousness and Strengthening Confidence in Chinese Culture Through the Study of the History of Chinese Civilization

Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-10-28

Heightening Historical Consciousness and Strengthening Confidence in Chinese Culture Through the Study of the History of Chinese Civilization



Today we are holding the 39th group study session of the Central Committee Political Bureau. Our focus today will be on the Chinese Civilization Origins Project. The purpose is to gain a deeper understanding of the development of China's civilization over the past five millennia, to promote a further study of the history of Chinese civilization, and to heighten historical consciousness and cultural confidence throughout the Party and society. This will help ensure that we stay committed to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, strive to build a modern socialist country, and achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

"History has illuminated the right path of governance." Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, I have repeatedly said that we must respect and study history, adopt a historical perspective, and pass down China's fine traditional culture. The Political Bureau has arranged several group study sessions on Chinese history and culture, including the September 2020 session on China's latest archeological findings and their significance. Today, we will focus on advancing the Chinese Civilization Origins Project.

Chinese civilization, with its long history, is expansive and profound. It is a unique part of the cultural identity of the Chinese nation and a bond linking Chinese people all over the world. It is the foundation for contemporary Chinese culture and a source of inspiration for cultural innovation. Marx once wrote, "What the nations have done as nations, they have done for human society." Throughout the long course of history, the Chinese nation has employed resolute and persevering self-reliance to endure tremendous hardships, and gone through a path of development different from that of other civilizations.

"Truth is revealed through history. To know great truths, one must study history." Our Party has always viewed the history of the Chinese nation with the standpoints, viewpoints, and methods of historical materialism, and we have always passed down and preserved the best of China's traditional culture. As far back as 1938, Mao Zedong said, "Our national history goes back several thousand years. It has its own characteristics and innumerable treasures. But in these matters we are mere schoolchildren. Contemporary China has grown out of the China of the past; we are Marxist in our historical approach and must not separate ourselves from our history. From Confucius to Sun Yat-sen, we should take stock of our history and carry on this valuable legacy. This is important for guiding the great movement of today." 


President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote address at the opening session of the International Conference in Commemoration of the 2,565th Anniversary of Confucius' Birth and the Fifth Congress of the International Confucian Association, held at the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, September 24, 2014. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER HUANG JINGWEN

The origin of China's civilization is a major topic that attracts not only the devoted study of Chinese scholars but also the continuous attention of the international academic arena. With the efforts of several generations of scholars, important projects such as the Chinese Civilization Origins Project have produced evidence of one million years of humanity, ten thousand years of culture, and more than five thousand years of civilization in China.

We have gained great progress in tracing the origins of Chinese civilization, but we still face a long and arduous journey ahead. We must continue to advance and deepen our studies, and we should give priority to the following tasks.


President Xi Jinping toured Fujian Province, March 22-25, 2021. He is pictured on the afternoon of the 24th visiting the former residence of Yan Fu (1854–1921), a well-known Chinese scholar and translator, in the Three Lanes and Seven Alleys area of Fuzhou, the provincial capital. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER JU PENG

First, strengthening multidisciplinary research to see that the Chinese Civilization Origins Project makes further progress

The Chinese Civilization Origins Project has provided us with a clearer understanding of the origins, formation, and evolution of Chinese civilization, the formation and development of the pluralistic unity of Chinese civilization, and the characteristics of Chinese civilization as well as the reasons for their formation. Yet, these represent only preliminary and incremental results. There are still many historical mysteries to be solved and many major questions on which we need to reach consensus by way of real evidence and research. In particular, we have a lot to do in unraveling the history of the Xia Dynasty in its entirety.

We have used the latest technologies from cutting-edge disciplines in biology, molecular biology, chemistry, geoscience, and physics to study our ancient artifacts. This has provided a solid scientific analytical basis for our work in tracing the origins of Chinese civilization and has enriched our understanding of China's 5,000-plus years of civilization. Research on the origins and formation of civilizations is a complex, long, and systematic undertaking. A methodical reconstruction of the evolution of a civilization demands integration between archaeological explorations, literature research, and scientific techniques, as well as full consideration of material and intellectual conditions, social relations, and other factors.

We should strengthen planning and coordination and carry out the project from different perspectives and across multiple disciplines, levels, and dimensions. We should ensure close collaboration between archaeologists and historians and between researchers in the humanities and the natural sciences, expand the scope of our research in time and space and the coverage of our research across different sectors, and provide better answers to major questions involving the basic landscape and internal mechanisms of the origins, formation, and evolution of Chinese civilization, as well as the evolutionary paths of its regional civilizations.

Over the years, the West has developed a set of theories on civilization; we should learn from them, but we should not mechanically copy them. The Chinese Civilization Origins Project puts forward a Chinese solution to defining civilization and identifying civilized societies, and it has made original contributions to the study of the origins of world civilization. We should do a good job of publicizing, promoting, and applying our theories on ancient civilizations and the research findings achieved through the Chinese Civilization Origins Project, step up efforts to research, explain, present, and publicize our unearthed cultural relics and sites, and advance the influence and appeal of Chinese civilization.

Second, deepening research on the characteristics and patterns of Chinese civilization to provide theoretical underpinnings for a new model for human progress

The Chinese people created China's splendid civilization over the course of more than 5,000 years, making major contributions to the progress of human civilization. Many people in the West are used to viewing China as a modern nation state through the lens of their Western modernization theory, instead of approaching China from the perspective of its more than 5,000 years of civilization; therefore, they fail to truly understand our past, present, and future. We should link up our research on the origins of Chinese civilization with our research on its characteristics, patterns, and other related issues; thoroughly explore and explain the development path of the community of the Chinese nation and the evolutionary path of the pluralistic unity of the Chinese nation, both of which have been revealed by our research into the origins of Chinese civilization; study and interpret the virtues of benevolence, the people-centered approach, honesty, justice, harmony, and unity embodied in Chinese civilization as well as their patterns of development; and expound on the profound cultural heritage of the Chinese path.

As for traditional Chinese culture, we must not indiscriminately reject it; instead, we should put ancient insights to use today, derive new ideas from them, and carry forward and promote their best elements. Mao Zedong once said, "Confucius is regarded as a sage; this is because he was a revolutionary and engaged in many uprisings. According to Mencius, Confucius wrote The Spring and Autumn Annals, which scared treacherous ministers and traitors. Actually, Confucius traveled a lot at the time; wherever there were uprisings and revolutions, to those places he would go. Therefore we should not write him off completely or simply say 'Down with Confucianism'."

We should develop disciplinary, academic, and discourse systems with Chinese features, style, and ethos in the study of civilizations, so as to provide strong theoretical underpinnings for practices related to a new model for human progress.

Third, promoting the creative transformation and development of China's fine traditional culture to lay down a cultural foundation for national rejuvenation

"In studying scriptures, scholars can tell right from wrong; in studying history, they can explain successes and failures throughout time." I have time and again stressed that the best of China's traditional culture encapsulates the wisdom and essence of Chinese civilization. It is the roots and the soul of the Chinese nation, and it is the foundation upon which we can stand firm amidst strong global cultural interaction. We have worked to combine the basic tenets of Marxism with China's realities and the best of traditional culture and consistently adapted Marxism to the Chinese context according to the needs of the times, thus driving forward the creative transformation and development of our fine traditional culture. We should continue to innovate on the basis of what has worked in the past, adapt our traditional culture to socialist society, and give expression to the unique cultural identity of the Chinese nation, so as to better bolster the Chinese spirit, values, and strength.

In the course of promoting the creative transformation and development of China's fine traditional culture, we should remain committed to Marxism as our fundamental guidance, carry forward our revolutionary culture, strive to foster an advanced socialist culture, and continue to draw nourishment from the best of our traditional culture. We should make full use of the achievements of the Chinese Civilization Origins Project and other studies in order to paint a more complete and accurate picture of ancient Chinese history and better use history as a textbook. 


President Xi Jinping visited the city of Chengde, Hebei Province, August 23-24, 2021. He is pictured on the morning of the 24th visiting an exhibition entitled "A Look at Both Sides of the Great Wall: A Chronicle of National Unity in the Qing Dynasty," hosted by the Chengde Museum. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER XIE HUANCHI

Fourth, promoting exchanges and mutual learning between civilizations to facilitate the building of a global community of shared future

Since ancient times, Chinese civilization has been known for its openness and inclusiveness, and it has constantly gained new life through exchanges with and learning from other civilizations. The history of China's 5,000-year-old civilization clearly shows that species, technologies, resources, groups of people, and even thoughts and cultures all develop and progress through communication, exchange, and interaction. We should employ civilizational exchanges and integration to disprove the "clash of civilizations" theory.

I said at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in 2019, "Just as human beings differ only in skin color and language, civilizations vary only in color and hue. No civilization is superior to another." We should champion equality, mutual learning, dialogue, and inclusiveness between civilizations, foster broad-mindedness toward the ways different civilizations understand values, and respect different peoples' explorations of their own paths of development. We should ensure that when it comes to different civilizations, exchange transcends estrangement, mutual learning transcends clashes, and coexistence transcends a sense of superiority. We should promote common human values as embedded in Chinese culture.

Standing firmly on Chinese ground, we must work hard to tell the story of Chinese civilization and present a true image of China as a country worthy of friendship, trust and respect to the world. It is important we clearly explain what civilization and what country China is and how Chinese people view the universe, the world, society, and morality. We should show the world the long history and rich human heritage of Chinese civilization, so that people around the world can truly understand China, the Chinese people, the Communist Party of China, and the Chinese nation.

Fifth, bringing more cultural relics and heritage to life to create a strong social atmosphere for passing down Chinese culture

Cultural relics and cultural heritage carry the genes and lifeblood of the Chinese nation, and they are non-renewable and irreplaceable civilizational resources. We must actively protect and use our cultural relics and preserve and pass down our cultural heritage, unearth all aspects of the value therein, and spread more symbols of our values and cultural products that bear the Chinese culture and Chinese spirit.

China's Communists are not historical or cultural nihilists, and we must never forget our heritage or belittle ourselves. Our leading officials at all levels must have a reverence for history and our fine traditional culture, give greater weight to protecting and utilizing cultural relics and preserving and passing down our cultural heritage, and provide more policy support for historical and archaeological workers to carry out research, further their studies, and conduct exchanges. We should create a strong social climate for passing down Chinese civilization, widely publicize the results of the Chinese Civilization Origins Project, and educate and guide our people, especially young people, so that they may better understand and identify with Chinese civilization and aspire to become more proud, confident, and assured in their identity as Chinese.


This speech was delivered at the 39th group study session of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee on May 27, 2022.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 14, 2022)