Traditional Chinese Culture in Modern Times
Achievements and Value of Traditional Chinese Culture in Modern Times.
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There were several occasions when foreign culture was introduced into China on a large scale, such as the introduction of Buddhism during the Han Dynasty. However, the introduction of foreign culture never changed the system and structure of traditional Chinese culture, which, based in Confucianism, remained dominant in Chinese social life. Western culture arrived in China through colonial invasion. From the time of its arrival, traditional Chinese thought and culture underwent a transitional change, exercising a far-reaching and profound influence on the modernization of Chinese society.
In the face of the challenge of Western culture, insightful scholars still furthered their studies of Traditional culture. Through hard work, they scored many achievements in various sciences of Modern culture. The growth of new ideas and new culture and the formation of new methods of study began operating in the study of Traditional culture. Under these circumstances, scholars pioneered a number of new frontiers, setting up many new disciplines. On the basis of carrying forward the merits of Traditional culture, they also made new creations, thus further enriching the culture of antiquity.
This is really an ideological and cultural advancement
For example, in historiographic research, scholars making use of modern Western theory and methodology broke away from the confinement of conventional study on history, opening new vistas for research. Modern historians sought out Traditional ideas beneficial to the new epoch from inherent cultural thought evolving the historiographic theories and methods that combined the Western theory of evolution and the Confucian classics. With these theories and methods, they made a creative study of Chinese history, producing a spate of prestigious monographs on ancient Chinese history; the Chinese cultural history, and the general History of China. The most influential of these included Liang Qichao's "A Commentary on Chinese History" (1901) and "A New Science of History" (1902). In these two essays, Liang applied the theory of evolution for the first time to a theoretical and systematic criticism of feudal China's historiographic theories and concepts. Traditional methods, he said, should be abandoned and History should no longer be merely a record of the farrfily History of feudal emperors.
He also put forward the watchword of the revolution of History science that was of great significance in the emancipation of the mind. It showed that Modern scholars had begun creating a new theoretical system of History and philosophy.
Since then, a profound change has taken place in the study of History the first book of Chinese history compiled and edited with the new historical viewpoints was the New Teaching Book of Chinese History for Middle Schools written by Xia Zengyou (1863-1924) and published in 1904. Later, it was renamed History of Ancient China. At the same time, Zhang Taiyan (1869-1936) published the second edition of his book Qiu Shu Remonstration (in 1904), Liu Shipei(1884-1920) published A Teaching Book of Chinese History (1905-1906) and Wang Guowei A Study of Ancient History. All these works were edited with the viewpoints of modern History science in terms of their division of History into periods, basic contents and style of edition, and proved valuable for medieval History study
Many scholars took a skeptical attitude toward ancient Chinese classics and Traditional accounts of ancient civilization, negating a number of hitherto unquestioned assertions. The seven-volume Discrimination of Ancient History compiled the findings of a number of scholars who had re-examined ancient History seeking to distinguish between what was true and what was false. With new methodology and new findings these scholars eliminated superstitions and blind faith in ancient books. They also contributed to "textual criticism, discrimination of true materials from false ones, and correction of mistakes in ancient documents.
But the school of skeptics was also limited by the times. Sometimes, they went so far that they even doubted the truth.
The theory of evolution not only presented a severe challenge to Traditional culture, but also provided a good opportunity for it to develop. Academics introduced the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Immanuel Kant and others, and all these helped to improve the exploration of the History of Chinese philosophy and the History of thought. The Traditional concept of change was adapted to the Western theory of evolution, analyzing and explaining the historical change of Chinese philosophic thinking with the theory of evolution, while also beginning to introduce and systematically study the History of Western philosophy.
An Introduction to Philosophy, compiled by Hou Sheng at this time, appears superficial and contains many mistakes. Nevertheless, it was significant in the enlightenment of Modern thinking in China.
The influence of Western philosophy changed the direction of development of traditional Chinese philosophy, both in modes of thought and in academic style. Much of ancient Chinese philosophy grew in a context of political struggle, and stressed the importance of social and political ethics. Modern philosophy added to this the study of the universe and nature and the outlook on nature.
Since ancient times, the Chinese had adopted, altered and assimilated foreign doctrines of thought according to their own logical structure and cultural psychology. This now included the introduction of the theory of evolution and mechanical materialism. Chinese thinkers made a new theoretical summary and recreation of the theory of evolution to form their own unique philosophic theoretical system on the basis of Modern conditions, while inheriting the best achievements of Traditional philosophy.
When H.E. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics was translated and introduced to China, by Yah Fu, Chinese readers paid more attention to the translator's preface and notes than to the original text itself. The principles of evolution in Chinese philosophy, while containing a lot of evolutionist terminology, concepts and categories, differed from Western evolutionism. But sometimes a proper understanding of these principles was lacking because of the different backgrounds of Chinese and Western cultures as well as many alterations of Western philosophy made by Chinese scholars, adding new applications to the principles. This is the new achievement made in the philosophic field of the Traditional culture in the face of the challenge of Western culture.
Under the influence of modern Western concepts of democracy and equality, remarkable achievements were also made in the introduction and study of modern Western science of law during the late Qing period and the early period of the Republic of China.
The Aid-in-Governance Council (similar in form to a parliament in Western countries) and the Advisory Bureau (on the order of a local council) were set up toward the end of the Qing Dynasty. In the early stage of the Republic of China, the first session of the First National Assembly was convened and a cabinet was created, attempting to introduce a party-led political and electoral system. All these needed to be built on the basis of law. Meanwhile, turbulent Modern society also needed legal regulation and control. An extensive study of the subject was conducted, involving the definition of law, its origins, the five major legal systems of the world, international law, criminal law, civil law and administrative "law: These laws, however, could not be applied to the semi-colonial and semi-feudal society that existed at that time in China.
With this background, the famous scholar Shen Jiaben(1840-1913) of the late Qing period, who was versed in ancient Chinese legislation, tried to reform it with elements of Western law. It was Shen who first introduced modern Chinese legislation. At the same time, many researchers were studying and debating a series of important modern Western legal and political issues such as man’s inalienable rights, the concept of the state, nationalism, government system, constitutionalism, and local self-government. For example, in 1906, the Commercial Press published the Teaching Script of Politics by Yah Fu, the first modern Chinese work of political science. After the Wuchang Uprising of 1911, the Hubei revolutionaries drafted and published the "Provisional Constitution of Hubei." Later, Sun Yat-sen, representing the provisional government, published the "Outline of the Provisional Organizational Law of the Republic of China" and the "Provisional Constitution." Both these laws were based on the American system of congress and the cabinet-presidential system.
Progress was also made in linguistics and literature, applying Western linguistics and literary theories to the classical Chinese language, literature and art.
After the two Opium Wars, an increasing number of new words, including loan words, appeared, and changing the structure of the Chinese language. Ma's Book of Grammar by Ma Jianzhong (1845-1900) was the first work applying foreign grammatical principles to the Chinese language laying the preliminary foundation for the study of Chinese grammar.
Many others continued what Ma had begun, making further and deeper studies of Chinese grammar. Reform programs of the Chinese language and a phonetic system for transcribing Chinese characters (Pinyin) were also proposed. Most scholars agreed to reform Chinese characters on the basis of Pinyin, thus solving the most urgent problem in the reform.
The highly stylized nature of classical literature had put it beyond the reach and comprehension of ordinary people. Scholars now proposed to reform literature through a drive to promote the vernacular, holding that literature should not be restricted to being only a means of expressing the author's feelings; it needed to allow ordinary people to express their joy, anger, sorrows and happiness. Some writers proposed that authors should avoid affected pose, cliche, literary antithesis and quotations in their works, but not the use of slangs and colloquialisms. In 1904, the famous scholar Chen Duxiu set up Anhui Vernacular News to publicize new thoughts and ideas in popular forms and plain and simple language. It was widely welcomed by the public. The promotion of the vernacular was not limited to literature; it was significant in the History of culture and promoted a transformation of the mode of thinking of the intelligentsia in China.
Theories of literature and art were greatly influenced by the West. Scholars discoursed on many important theories, their social functions, and the method of writing. For instance, Lu Xun (1881-1936), a Modern writer and thinker, made perceptive commentaries on both foreign literature and Chinese literary classics. His important writings included A Brief History of Chinese Fiction.
Wang Guowei (1877-1927), also a Modern scholar, studied traditional Chinese literature with the viewpoints of Western philosophy aesthetics and literary and art theories. His pioneering work on novels, dramas, and poetry included a study of the classic novel A Dream of Red Mansions.
There were also new variations of literary and art works on the basis of Traditional culture and many new literary and art frontiers were also opened. The translation of foreign novels by people such as Lin Shu rapidly developed, providing new references for modern Chinese writers.
The Chinese word for "tradition" has the connotation of inheritance. The relationship between a Modern society and its Traditional culture should be first of all the relationship of inheritance. This does not mean that everything should be retained; rather, it is a process of selection and creation. Therefore, traditional culture embraces both a culture of antiquity and a culture of the Modern times.
This process is both a right and an obligation of every generation. The unique traditional Chinese culture, formed over several thousand years, has a strong ability to renew itself. It has been able to regulate itself, both with the spirit of the nation and the ethos of the times, capable of adapting itself to domestic changes and assimilating and matching its foreign counterparts. The reason for the longevity of traditional Chinese culture is its ability to renew and regulate itself.
More examples could be given of the accomplishments of Traditional culture in Modern times. But we only mean that China belongs to the world. In the Modern opening world, mutual influence, mutual penetration, even mutual assimilation of different cultures is inevitable and necessary. So long as we adopt a correct attitude toward foreign cultures which have been introduced and deal with them properly, Chinese culture will be sure to develop without interference, with further opportunities for growth and vitality.
Over the past one hundred years or more, whenever China came to a crossroads of development, Chinese intellectuals would review and discuss Traditional culture and the direction of its development.
In spite of the challenges from the West, the fruit of Chinese culture in Modern times was still plentiful. However, in general, the attempt to reform and renew it had not yet been fully realized. After World War I, social turbulence and the chaotic state of thought in the West made Chinese thinkers more skeptical and disillusioned with Western civilization. Many scholars began to further consider the advantages and disadvantages of both Chinese and Western cultures in a bid to find out a new way for modernizing Traditional culture.
Throughout the History of civilization, all cultures have had their essence and dross, and there can be no such thing as a pure and perfect culture. Therefore, the research method of dividing Traditional culture into that which is essential and that which should be discarded is not the same as a mere compromise between total preservation of Chinese culture and total Westernization. Neither of these two extremes can achieve a modernization of Chinese culture.
Both traditional Chinese and Western cultures should be dealt with according to the principle of using the essence and leaving out the dross. Some people might disagree, holding that nothing in the culture could be Seen as essence and dross. But in fact, only this principle can survive in the Traditional culture study and help to produce research findings favored by most people. Of course, careful analysis must be made of what is essence and what is dross.
Only by inspiring the national spirit, can we carry out the modernization of our nation and state. The great cohesiveness of a nation originates in its History and cultural creations. If everything of the nation is negated as a burden, the nation itself is negated, resulting in its disintegration and collapse. So, only by recognizing and confirming the essence of Traditional culture, can we assume a scientific attitude to get rid of the dross.
The questions we have discussed here cover only the period from the First Opium War of 1840 to the May 4th Movement in 1919.
In most recent years, there have been two major views in the discussion on national culture problems in the world community:” global consciousness" and "roots-finding consciousness." The two are contradictory. Exponents of the former hold that the trend of cultural development should be viewed in the global light. The IT age has brought about rapid exchange and influence between various new thoughts, theories and cultures. Contact between regions or countries have become considerably easier. Therefore, the trend of cultural development is comprehensive. The cultural development of any country or region must inevitably consider the major issues of the whole world.
"Root-finding consciousness," or "national consciousness," has aroused increasing attention among people with each passing day. After World War II, national awakening and national independence have become an irresistible trend, along with recognition of the need to discover its own cultural Tradition for the development of a nation.
Both views are reasonable, but biased: Stressing root-finding consciousness to the neglect of global consciousness would make it impossible to consider national culture in relation to the rest of the world, or to correctly reflect the requirements of the times; while emphasizing global consciousness to the neglect of root-finding consciousness would make it impossible to create a new culture with distinctive national characteristics.
For this reason, to develop culture in Modern times, especially to develop a culture of such a great country as China with its long Traditional culture, the fine aspects of the nation's Traditional culture should be esteemed, while absorbing and assimilating fine cultural products from the rest of the world. A careful analysis of Traditional culture is necessary and casualness should be avoided.
There has been a strong element of non-utilitarianism in traditional Chinese culture, which can be Seen clearly in foreign relations. The geographic discoveries by Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan were motivated by the desire to gain wealth, an economic impetus and cultural utilitarianism. In contrast, the Ming Dynasty voyages to the Western Seas by Zheng He and his huge entourage had no economic purpose, being merely a demonstration of the power and prestige of the imperial court.
Westerners' pragmatic attitude contrasts with that of Chinese emperors and their subjects who were willing to harm their real interests rather than lose face. When George McCartney arrived in China to trade, he was received as an envoy coming to pay tribute to the Qing imperial court. Whether or not to meet a foreign envoy and whether the envoy was required to kowtow to the emperor was a problem that began in the reign of Emperor Xianfeng (1851-1861) and was not resolved until the 18th year (1892) of the reign of Emperor Guangxu. This sort of non-utilitarianism culture had its limitations.
However, there are many fine aspects in traditional Chinese culture. For example, it stresses honor over gain, and emotion or credibility over gain. In old China, private banks operated by reliance on honor and credibility. A merchant's reputation and personality was considered more important than wealth. Business was done on the basis of honor or credibility, not by a written agreement or contract, the parties being bound by a moral sense. Today, many financial institutions in cities and towns across China are still called "credit cooperatives." Many foreigners were astonished when they first arrived in China and saw such things.
It could be argued that honoring credit rather than contracts reflects Chinese people's low sense of the legal system. Agreements and contracts are based on law, and both the society under natural economy and the society under commodity economy need control with the enforcement of law. Moral prohibition, however, is also necessary. The healthy development of society depends on both a sound legal system and social morality.
The purpose of studying Traditional culture is to try to preserve it, but not simply as an ancient treasure. Through inheritance, reform and development, it must serve the needs of today and used to help solve the problems we now face.
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