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A Guiding Light for the Development of Modern Chinese Civilization

By The Chinese Academy of History Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2023-11-14

Situated along the extended northern section of Beijing’s historic north-south axis, the Chinese Academy of History presents a striking presence, resembling a traditional Chinese cauldron. The major decision to establish the academy, taken by the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core, holds important significance for the future development of Chinese history studies. On June 2, 2023, President Xi came to the Chinese Archaeological Museum, which is located within the academy, visiting two thematic exhibitions entitled “The Origins of Civilization” and “The Making of China.” As he learned about major archaeological discoveries from the Neolithic Age and the dynasties of the Xia (2070-1600 BC), Shang (1600-1046 BC), and Zhou (1046-256 BC), he inquired about advancements in related research work. After this, President Xi viewed several valuable ancient books and archives housed within the academy. In front of an exhibition highlighting the academy’s research accomplishments, he also heard a report detailing progress in related research. President Xi stressed that archaeology is crucial to understanding the extensive history of Chinese civilization and truly perceiving the profound depths of China’s culture. He called for solid steps in major projects such as the “Program to Trace the Origins and Early Development of Chinese Civilization” and the “Chinese Archaeology Project,” so as to deliver good progress in researching and explaining the genesis of our civilization.

Following his inspection, President Xi attended and spoke at a meeting on the inheritance and development of Chinese culture at the Chinese Academy of History. In his speech, he elaborated on a range of major theoretical and practical issues concerning cultural inheritance and development in China. President Xi also issued a resounding call to the entire CPC and all the Chinese people to develop a modern Chinese civilization.

I. Answering the question of “What makes Chinese civilization great?”

Each exquisite artifact excavated from the ground offers us a vivid glimpse into the arduous journey of our nation’s forebears as they strived to forge a new path forward. This is true for Neolithic-age artifacts such as a 7,000-year-old pottery portrait of a human face, a pottery flask with characters in red pigment, and a painted pottery plate decorated with a dragon design, as well as for a dragon-shaped turquoise instrument from the Xia Dynasty site at Erlitou, Henan Province, an exquisite Shang-era ivory cup, and a wonderful Zhou-era bronze sheep wine vessel. As he explored the Chinese Archaeological Museum, President Xi repeatedly voiced his admiration for the wisdom and brilliance of ancient Chinese civilization, offering comments such as, “These 4,000-year-old items are truly exquisite,” “Such technology would have been very advanced in that era,” “These finely crafted items are really beautiful.”


A view of the Chinese Academy of History. The academy’s main functions include coordinating and guiding historical research nationwide, integrating resources and manpower to formulate plans for historical studies, and organizing the implementation of major academic programs on Chinese history. CHINESE ACADEMY OF HISTORY

Chinese civilization, with its extensive and profound history, stands as a unique symbol of the Chinese nation. It is the foundation of contemporary Chinese culture, a bond that connects Chinese people all over the world, and a treasure house for cultural innovation in China. What makes Chinese civilization so unique? What makes it great? These important topics that concern the future of our civilization were fully unpacked by President Xi during this meeting. He noted, “Only with a full understanding of the history of Chinese civilization can we effectively spur the creative transformation and innovative development of China’s fine traditional culture, fully advance the development of socialist culture with Chinese characteristics, and build a modern Chinese civilization.” From a macro-historical perspective, President Xi examined and reflected on the course of our nation’s development in order to provide an incisive summary of the distinctive features that define Chinese civilization and illustrate its special importance in the history of human civilization as a whole. Using well-founded theoretical propositions, he has helped further reinforce the historical foundations of our cultural confidence.

Down through the ages, the Chinese nation has endured and flourished by following a path best suited to its particular set of characteristics, cultivating a unique and profound culture in the process. By systematically delineating the essential elements of traditional Chinese culture, President Xi shed light on the national character and values of the Chinese people.

These include the social ideals of pursuing the common good for all and fostering social harmony, the governance philosophy of regarding the people as the foundation of the state and governing the country with integrity, and the tradition of striving for great unity in the country and being united in diversity. They also include the values of dedicating oneself to self-cultivation, family regulation, state governance, and peace for all and of shouldering one’s duties to secure the future of the nation. They encompass the aspirations of embracing the world with virtue and cultivating integrity, the economic principles of enriching the people and considering both justice and interests, and the ecological philosophy of promoting harmony between humanity and nature and ensuring all living things grow side by side. They incorporate 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.


The entrance hall of the Chinese Archaeological Museum. Part of the Chinese Academy of History, it is China’s first museum with the word “archaeology” in its name. Exhibitions focus on archaeological finds, including precious ancient books, archives, and documents. CHINESE ACADEMY OF HISTORY

President Xi stressed that these essential elements have combined to shape the distinctive features of Chinese civilization, which are consistency, originality, unity, inclusiveness, and a peaceful nature. These five distinctive features clearly capture the overall physiognomy of our civilization and shed light on its specific strengths. They are the historical pillars underpinning our cultural confidence.

Chinese civilization’s consistency makes it the world’s only uninterrupted civilization that can be traced in a continuous line from the earliest times to the present day

This unbroken line of continuity between ancient and modern China represents a miracle in human history. On a fundamental level, this determines 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.

Originality means that Chinese civilization brims with vitality and boldly pursues innovation

Since ancient times, the Chinese nation has embraced an innovative spirit of seeking continuous improvement on a daily and ongoing basis, a philosophy that holds that reaching the limit leads to change, change leads to solutions, and solutions spawn new development, and a governance maxim stating that multiple approaches exist and the ancient way is not the only way to develop a nation. All this fundamentally determines that Chinese civilization upholds tradition without clinging to the past and respects ancient wisdom without following archaic thinking. It also determines that the Chinese nation is fearless in facing new challenges and embracing new things.

Unity means that Chinese civilization is a stable civilization with strong cohesion

The concept of great unity from China’s history has nourished Chinese national sentiment, united the Chinese people, and reinforced the identity of the Chinese nation. It has provided a continuous source of inner strength for forging a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation. This has essentially determined that the various ethnic cultures of China have integrated to create a cohesive whole and have always remained tightly knit even in the face of major setbacks. It has also determined 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. Finally, it has determined 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 means that Chinese civilization embraces tolerance and diversity

The Chinese nation has always subscribed to the Confucian idea that “Heaven overspreads all without partiality; earth sustains and contains all without partiality; the sun and moon shine on all without partiality.” This has fostered a generous spirit of welcoming all elements as a vast ocean does all rivers. In essence, it has determined the Chinese nation’s historical orientation toward communication, exchange, and integration, as well as the harmonious coexistence of diverse religious beliefs in China and the willingness of Chinese culture to embrace and draw on other cultures.

A peaceful nature means that Chinese civilization is committed to seeking common ground while reserving differences and pursuing fairness and justice

Throughout the ages, the Chinese nation has always stood by the belief that a man of virtue should seek harmony not uniformity; it has strived for the goals of enlightenment for all and harmony among all nations and pursued the aspiration of fostering universal harmony by spreading education far and wide. These ideas have been molded together into a mindset of regarding peace as most precious and believing that people should work together for a common cause and live in harmony. All this fundamentally determines that China will always work to safeguard world peace, contribute to global development, and preserve international order. It determines that China will continue to promote exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations without ever seeking cultural hegemony. It also determines that China will never impose its values or political system on others, always seek cooperation over confrontation, and never form small groups on a partisan basis.

The important conclusions drawn by President Xi regarding the distinctive features of Chinese civilization are backed up by more than 5,000 years of Chinese civilization and take into account the development courses of other civilizations. They explain what makes our civilization great and the essential reasons why it endures. Based on powerful philosophical insight, strong critical reasoning, and well-founded guidance, they represent a solid intellectual foundation for carrying forward our cultural heritage and creating a modern Chinese civilization that embraces the future.

II. Explaining the profound significance of the “two integrations”

There is an ancient Chinese saying, “All things are products of synthesis.” Indeed, the Chinese nation has long espoused integration as both an effective practice and a wise political approach.

As President Xi Jinping pointed out, “Given the rich foundations of our more than 5,000-year-old civilization, the only path for pioneering and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics is to integrate the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities and with the best of its traditional culture. This is the systematic conclusion we have drawn from our explorations of socialism with Chinese characteristics. All along, we have emphasized the need to integrate the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities, and now we are also putting forward the ‘second integration.’”

The practice of integrating Marxism with the Chinese context is a momentous undertaking that has a direct bearing on the destiny of the Chinese nation. As the true successor and developer of China’s traditional culture, the CPC has adeptly grasped and applied the political wisdom of integration, staying firmly committed to using the “arrow” of Marxism to shoot the “target” of China’s realities. In doing so, it has resolved a series of major theoretical and practical issues concerning China’s revolution, development, and reform. Why was Marxism, which originated in Europe, able to take root, blossom, and bear fruit in faraway China, thus bringing about the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics and achieving some of the greatest feats in human history since the advent of the 20th century? The answer lies in the CPC’s mastery of the essence of integration. Furthermore, by steadily adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of the times, the CPC has not only profoundly transformed China, but also substantially enriched and developed Marxism.


Rectangular bronze ding (cauldron) on display at the Chinese Archaeological Museum. CHINESE ACADEMY OF HISTORY

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, President Xi Jinping has reflected deeply on the inherent connection between Chinese civilization and Chinese socialism. On this basis, he has creatively proposed the theoretical principle of integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s traditional culture. Known as the “second integration,” this principle represents a profound summary of the CPC’s experience in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of the times. It illustrates the CPC’s deep understanding of the laws governing the development of Chinese civilization and is yet another instance of freeing the mind. It reflects the new heights the CPC has attained in its understanding of the path, theory, and system of Chinese socialism, in its confidence in Chinese history and culture, and in its consciousness of promoting cultural innovation while carrying forward traditional Chinese culture.

To continue upholding and developing Chinese socialism, which is a major task in the new era, it is vital that our energies are focused on integration, particularly the “second integration.” At the meeting on cultural inheritance and development, President Xi elaborated on the profound importance of the “two integrations,” thus providing in-depth answers to questions like why integration between Marxism and China’s traditional culture is possible and how it can be achieved. Included in this are several important conclusions.

The premise of integration is mutual compatibility, without which genuine integration is impossible. Integration has led to advancement for both sides and brought about a new, organically unified cultural entity. The “second integration” has enabled Marxism to truly take root in China and traditional Chinese culture to be modernized. The new culture we have given shape to through integration is the cultural embodiment of Chinese modernization. Integration has also reinforced the foundations of our path, with the “second integration” endowing socialism with deeper historical roots and broader cultural foundations. Furthermore, integration has created new opportunities for innovation, with the “second integration” enabling us to retain the theoretical and cultural initiative and effectively apply it to the path, theory, and system of Chinese socialism. Finally, integration has helped consolidate our cultural identity, and Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is a powerful manifestation of this identity. This thought integrates the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities and traditional culture. Drawing on people-centered approaches, moral values, and wisdom from over 5,000 years of splendid Chinese civilization, it seamlessly melds the core tenets of Marxist thought with the finest elements of China’s traditional culture and the shared values that Chinese people intuitively apply in their everyday lives. Embodying the best of Chinese culture and the ethos of this era, this thought marks a new step forward in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of the times.

“What is it that makes our socialism different? What enables it to thrive with such vitality?” As President Xi has stated, “The answers lie in its distinctive Chinese characteristics, and the essence of these characteristics is encapsulated in the concept of the ‘two integrations.’” By drawing on the time-honored culture of the Chinese nation and recognizing and grasping the truth of Marxism, we have integrated the essence of Chinese civilization with the stances, viewpoints, and methods of Marxism to pioneer a new path for carrying forward our cultural heritage. This will undoubtedly see us cultivating a more proactive mindset for realizing national rejuvenation and keep us forging ahead on the new journey toward a strong country and a rejuvenated Chinese nation.

III. Providing sound guidance for the important task of developing a modern Chinese civilization

Fostering a new culture for our era and developing a modern Chinese civilization are issues of utmost concern to President Xi. They also constitute the most salient and resounding call to action for our era emerging from the meeting on cultural inheritance and development. Back when he was working as county Party committee secretary in Zhengding, Hebei Province, Xi Jinping once stated, “Those who ardently love China will cherish its every brook, every inch of its soil, and every page of its glorious history.” The president’s affection and reverence for the splendid history and culture of the Chinese nation have not waned, but rather, have deepened with the passing of time.

At the outset of his speech at the meeting, President Xi noted, “Culture concerns the very foundation and destiny of a country. I have been thinking a lot recently about the important issue of promoting the development of socialist culture with Chinese characteristics and fostering a modern Chinese civilization.” President Xi declared, “At this new juncture, the tasks of sustaining cultural prosperity, building our country’s cultural strength, and developing a modern Chinese civilization constitute the new cultural mission for the new era.” In developing a modern Chinese civilization, we are responding to the call of our times, the needs of our Party and our country, and the hopes of our nation. By defining this mission as we embark on a new journey to build a strong country and achieve national rejuvenation, President Xi has demonstrated macro-historical vision and penetrating historical insight as a Marxist statesman, thinker, and strategist. In emphasizing the need to maintain cultural confidence, remain open and inclusive, and continue upholding fundamental principles and breaking new ground, he has provided a well-founded response to the major historical and contemporary question of how we should go about developing a modern Chinese civilization.

We must maintain firm cultural confidence to continue charting our own path

To have confidence in the path, theory, and system of Chinese socialism, we must ultimately have strong cultural confidence, as it is the most fundamental, profound, and enduring force driving the development of a country and a nation. Throughout its long history, the Chinese nation has, with a spirit of tireless self-improvement and unswerving resolve, charted a development path unlike that of any other civilization and created a culture with a splendor all of its own. Our unique cultural traditions, history, and national context have determined that we must follow a development path suited to our particular features. We can only strengthen ourselves if we have self-confidence. Therefore, we must base our efforts on the great endeavors of the Chinese nation from both the past and the present, use a Chinese lens to review the Chinese experience, and elevate that experience to theories that will ensure we maintain our independent ethos. In doing so, we will build a modern Chinese civilization as we steadfastly advance along the correct path toward a strong country and national rejuvenation and advance the course of Chinese modernization.

We must remain open and inclusive to proactively learn from and draw on the finest achievements of human civilization

China’s traditional culture has grown through openness, developed amid diversity, and been enriched by drawing on other cultures. All this has provided an inexhaustible source of inspiration that has kept our civilization thriving. Now more than ever, China possesses the conditions for addressing any tensions between what is ancient and modern and what is Chinese and Western; and now more than ever, we are urgently in need of cultural achievements that will blend these different elements so as to lay down solid cultural foundations for theoretical and institutional innovation. Through openness and inclusiveness, we can ensure that cultural exchanges transcend estrangement, that mutual learning transcends clashes, and that coexistence transcends any feelings of superiority. With a truly open mind, we should draw on all of humanity’s outstanding achievements to create new glories for Chinese culture.

We must uphold fundamental principles and break new ground to carry forward our historical and cultural heritage and write a splendid chapter for contemporary China

To promote Chinese modernization and create a new form of human advancement in the face of global changes unseen in a century, we must review our historical experience and explore approaches for the creative transformation and innovative development of China’s traditional culture. We must always uphold the foundational system for ensuring the guiding role of Marxism in the ideological domain and adhere to the fundamental requirements regarding the “two integrations,” so as to ensure the CPC exercises leadership in the cultural sphere and the Chinese nation maintains its cultural identity. In addition, we must consolidate our foundations and courageously explore new ground and steadily put forward new thinking, new discourses, new mechanisms, and new forms that will enable us to better integrate tradition with modernity, bolster the Chinese spirit, values, and strength, unleash the cultural creativity of our entire nation, and forge greater inner strength for realizing national rejuvenation.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 17, 2023)