A New Cultural Mission: Developing a Modern Chinese Civilization
Cultural prosperity serves as a strong pillar for the rejuvenation of a nation, while flourishing culture is a clear indication of an era’s progress. During a recent visit to the China National Archives of Publications and Culture, President Xi Jinping noted, “In times of prosperity, cultural development should be prioritized. In this era, our nation is thriving, with a peaceful and stable society. We have both the willingness and ability to carry forward our national culture. It is imperative that we accomplish this task.” “What I care about most,” he added, “are the priceless treasures that have endured the vicissitudes of the Chinese civilization. Although some Chinese classics have been lost over the centuries, we must do everything we can to protect and cherish the remaining cultural gems and continue to carry forward the only civilization in the world that has never been interrupted.” These words reflect President Xi’s deep concern for China’s traditional culture.
Culture is pivotal in shaping and defining the soul of a nation. Without the positive guidance of advanced culture, substantial enrichment of people’s intellectual lives, and continuous strengthening of national spirit, no country or nation can stand tall in the community of nations.
Today, across the vast expanse of China, the light of civilization is illuminating the way toward rejuvenation. China’s cultural heritage is being kept alive and further enriched, making our nation’s magnificent spirit, values, and strength much more evident. The Chinese people are more inspired than ever to forge ahead, more resolved than ever to work hard, and more confident than ever of securing success. They are filled with a stronger sense of history and initiative. All across the country, we are witnessing vivid illustrations of how a thriving culture fosters national prosperity and how cultural strength reinforces national strength. Substantial progress has been made in building a country with a strong socialist culture, generating a potent wave of positivity for upholding and developing Chinese socialism in the current era and driving new advancement in the cause of the Party and the country.
At its 20th National Congress held in October 2022, the Communist Party of China (CPC) outlined an ambitious blueprint for building China into a great modern socialist country and advancing national rejuvenation through Chinese modernization. Chinese modernization seeks to build upon, rather than erase, China’s ancient civilization; it has been developed here in China, not copied from any other country; and it has stemmed from the revitalization, not disruption, of Chinese civilization. Chinese modernization will breathe new life into this ancient land and see Chinese civilization shine with renewed radiance.
Fully grasping the distinctive features of Chinese civilization
At the Yin Ruins of Anyang, Henan Province, inscriptions, engravings, and fascinating oracle bones bear witness to several millennia of recorded history, inspiring people to search for answers in this era to the question of “What has China achieved to make what it is like today?” Less than a week after the closing of the 20th CPC National Congress, President Xi visited this archaeological site. He carefully examined bronzes, jades, oracle bones, and other cultural artifacts unearthed there. “I have long wished to visit this place,” he remarked. “This time I am here to gain a deeper understanding of our civilization, to see how we can make the past serve the present, and to draw inspiration for developing modern Chinese civilization.”
With a history stretching back to antiquity, China’s fine traditional culture is extensive and profound; it is the crystallization and the best of the wisdom of Chinese civilization. It is the root and soul of the Chinese nation and enables us to maintain a firm footing amidst global cultural interaction.
The best of traditional Chinese culture espouses many important principles and concepts, including the social ideals of pursuing common good for all and fostering social harmony, the principles of regarding the people as the foundation of the state and governing the country with integrity, the ideas of striving for great unity across the nation and being united in diversity, the values of practicing self-cultivation, maintaining family harmony, conducting good governance, guaranteeing peace, and shouldering one’s duties to secure the future of the nation, the aspirations of embracing the world with virtue and cultivating integrity, the economic principles of enriching the people and considering both justice and interests, the ecological philosophy of promoting harmony between humanity and nature and ensuring all living things grow side by side, the philosophical tenets of seeking truth from facts and combining knowledge with action, the mindset of understanding multiple perspectives and seeking harmony through the middle way, and the communication approach of acting in good faith and being friendly to others.
These important elements of China’s traditional culture offer important insights for addressing contemporary challenges. They can facilitate our understanding and transformation of the world, shed light on national governance, and offer enlightenment on the cultivation of morality.
To see a river travel far, you must make sure it flows smoothly from its very source. Only with a full understanding of the history of Chinese civilization can we spur the creative transformation and innovative development of China’s traditional culture, promote the progress of Chinese socialist culture, and build a modern Chinese civilization.
At a recent meeting on cultural inheritance and development, President Xi said, “The best of China’s traditional culture encompasses many important components that have combined to create the distinctive features of the Chinese civilization.” He provided a precise depiction of the prominent features of Chinese civilization—consistency, originality, unity, inclusiveness, and peace.
Consistency determines on a fundamental level that the Chinese people must follow their own path. Should we neglect to see China through the prism of its long and uninterrupted history, we will be unable to understand China’s past and present, much less its future.
The originality of the Chinese civilization determines that it stays on the right course without merely following the beaten track, and respects traditions but not obsolete practices. It also determines that the Chinese nation is fearless in facing new challenges and embracing new things.
The unity of the Chinese civilization has seen its various ethnic cultures coming together to create a cohesive whole and remaining tightly knit even in the face of serious setbacks. It determines the Chinese people’s common belief that China’s territorial integrity must always be preserved, the nation must never be allowed to descend into turmoil, our ethnic groups must always remain united, and our civilization must never be interrupted. It further determines that national unity will always sit at the heart of China’s core interests and that a strong and unified country is vital for the future of all our people.
Inclusiveness determines the Chinese nation’s historical orientation toward communication, exchange, and integration, as well as the harmonious existence of diverse religious beliefs in China. It also defines the willingness of Chinese culture to embrace and draw on other cultures.
Peace, the pursuit of which is the very nature of the Chinese civilization, determines that China will always work to safeguard world peace, contribute to global development, and preserve international order. China will continue to promote exchange and mutual learning among civilizations without seeking cultural hegemony. China will never impose its values and political system on others. It is committed to cooperation rather than confrontation, and it will never form small groups on a partisan basis.
This elucidation is both cogent and well-refined. These five distinctive features of Chinese civilization fundamentally determine the development path, character, common aspirations, historical orientation, and broad vision of the Chinese nation.
Understanding the profound significance of the “two integrations”
From the strategic and overarching perspective of upholding and developing Marxism, President Xi Jinping has creatively put forward the “two integrations.” These consist of integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities and integrating these tenets with the best of China’s traditional culture. Additionally, he has made numerous important expositions to systematically address the major issues concerning the principles, methods, and pathways for the “two integrations.” All this has provided direction and guidance on how to better uphold and develop Marxism in the new era that began in 2012. Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is based on contemporary China but also has deep roots in Chinese history, thereby imbuing Marxism with distinctive practical, national, and modern features. This thought is a model for adhering to the “two integrations” and advancing theoretical innovation; it is the Marxism of contemporary China and the 21st century, embodying the best of Chinese culture and ethos of this era. It signifies a new breakthrough in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of our times.
Xi Jinping has pointed out, “Given the rich foundations of our more than 5,000-year-old civilization, only by integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities and with its traditional culture can we pioneer and develop Chinese socialism. This conclusion, drawn from our experience, is the most effective instrument we have for delivering success.”
It is important to understand that the premise of integration lies in mutual compatibility. Although Marxism and traditional Chinese culture have different origins, they are highly compatible. Genuine integration can only be achieved with such compatibility, and it will contribute to the success of both sides. Integration is not about piecing different components together—nor is it a simplistic physical convergence. It necessitates comprehensive fusion, giving birth to a new, organically knitted cultural unity. It has enabled Marxism to truly take root in China, helped modernize traditional Chinese culture, and facilitated the emergence of a new culture that serves as the cultural form for Chinese modernization.
Integration has reinforced the foundations of our path. Only within the context of more than 5,000 years of Chinese civilization can we truly understand the historical necessity, cultural significance, and unique strengths of the Chinese path. Integration has granted the path of Chinese socialism greater depth and broadened its cultural underpinnings. As Chinese modernization infuses Chinese civilization with modern vitality, it imparts a rich heritage to Chinese modernization.
Integration has opened new space for innovation. It is in itself a form of innovation, but it also opens vast ground for theoretical and practical breakthroughs, enabling the CPC to retain the theoretical and cultural initiative and effectively apply this to the path, theory, and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Integration has also fortified our cultural identity. The Chinese chapter of Marxism has been written by Chinese Communists relying on their own strength. Our experience and present reality show that only by taking root in the rich cultural soil of the country and the nation can the truth of Marxism flourish here. The establishment of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is a powerful manifestation of cultural identity.
As the ancient saying goes, “How could the river be so clear? For it is fed by fresh flowing water.” The best of traditional Chinese culture represents the root of the CPC’s new theories. Since its founding in 1921, the CPC has actively guided and promoted China’s advanced culture while keeping the traditional culture alive and strong. During the meeting on cultural inheritance and development, President Xi stressed that “integrating Marxism with the best of China’s traditional culture is yet another instance of freeing the mind.” It allows us to harness the precious resources of traditional Chinese culture to explore future-oriented theoretical and institutional innovations within a broader cultural space. This integration constitutes a profound summary of the CPC’s experience in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of the times and indicates a thorough grasp of the development laws underlying Chinese civilization. It reflects the new heights the Party has attained in its understanding of the Chinese path, theory, and system, in its historical and cultural confidence, and in its consciousness of promoting cultural innovation while carrying forward the best of traditional Chinese culture.
Understanding how to effectively shoulder the new cultural mission
Cultural confidence is a more fundamental, extensive, and profound form of self-confidence and the most basic, profound, and enduring force behind the development of a country and a nation. Without strong cultural confidence and cultural prosperity, national rejuvenation will be unattainable. Rooted in a land of more than 9.6 million square kilometers, nourished by a time-honored culture, and blessed with the strength of more than 1.4 billion people, we have an infinitely vast stage, a heritage of unmatched depth, and incomparable resolve to draw on when pursuing our own path.
To better shoulder our new cultural mission, we must maintain firm cultural confidence, unswervingly follow our own road, and rely on the great historical and contemporary practices of the Chinese nation. We must review the Chinese experience through a Chinese lens and elevate that experience to theories that will ensure intellectual independence.
The beauty of harmony lies in diversity. Chinese culture is both historical and contemporary, belonging to both the Chinese nation and the whole world for that matter. Today, we will strive to remove all barriers to cultural exchange with a broad mind, draw on the cultures of other countries with an inclusive attitude, and present Chinese culture to the world with confidence and openness. All this will help promote the common development of all civilizations through exchanges and mutual learning and open new chapters in the progress of humanity.
To better shoulder our new cultural mission, we must remain open and inclusive, continue adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of our times, keep alive and further develop the best of traditional Chinese culture, see that foreign cultural elements are adapted to Chinese society, and continue to foster and create a socialist culture with Chinese characteristics in the new era.
Every civilization is, in part, a continuation of the soul of a country or nation. It needs to keep this soul alive from one generation to the next, but it must also move with the times and have the courage to innovate. By upholding fundamental principles and breaking new ground, we follow the millennia-old Chinese cultural tradition of adhering to the right path while pursuing reform. At the same time, we also honor the CPC’s enduring commitment to freeing the mind, seeking truth from facts, moving with the times, and staying pragmatic and realistic, thus upholding the dialectical unity of continuation and development.
To better shoulder our new cultural mission, we must continue to uphold fundamental principles and break new ground. This way, we can, with a principled and enterprising approach, carry forward our cultural traditions and write a splendid chapter for contemporary China.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 12, 2023)