No place for negative traditional culture
There is no reason not to popularize traditional Chinese culture and make the young generation aware of the precious cultural gems passed on to us by our ancestors. But since every civilization and culture has positive and negative elements, distinction should be made between these opposing elements while promoting traditional Chinese culture.
Not all regions of China, however, have been able to make this distinction. In a move to promote clean governance, authorities inHuai’an, Jiangsu province, recently held an exhibition of some ancient tools of torture, including the barbaric “tiger stool” and “breast clip”, with vivid descriptions, exposing their poor understanding of the importance of traditional culture.
In Dongguan, Guangdong province, local officials have organized classes on “female ethics”, where women are advised not to react or strike back when scolded or physically assaulted. They are also advised to resign to their fate, and never seek divorce, even if their marital life becomes unbearable— which is akin to putting the old Chinese patriarchal society’s prejudicial moral shackles on women. In Lu’an, Anhui province, the local publicity department has launched a campaign to promote “24 Filial Piety Stories”, one of which, set in ancient times, is about a poor man who intends to bury his little son in order to save food for his starving mother.
Old Chinese stories on “filial piety” and wives’ unconditional love for and tolerance toward husbands are the products of the specific historical conditions of the times and, in most cases, have no place in modern society.
At a September symposium to commemorate the 2,565th birth anniversary of Confucius, the top leader Xi Jinping said traditional culture represents the ideological roots that a country must inherit and popularize, for without it we would be deprived of a spiritual lifeline. But he also said efforts should be made to creatively develop and transform traditional Chinese culture to facilitate its integration into modern society. In fact, Xi and other leaders have expressed similar views on many occasions.
One can rule a country well if he/she knows half of the Analects (of Confucius) and follows its teachings, goes an old Chinese saying, highlighting the richness and practicality of the thoughts of the great philosopher and his disciples contained in the book. The Analects and Confucianism, the core of traditional Chinese culture, have laid the ideological and moral foundation of Chinese society.
With top leaders re-emphasizing the importance of traditional culture, it’s no surprise to see a renewed enthusiasm among people across the country to study and learn from “national culture”. Some colleges and universities have even started special graduate and postgraduate courses for the subject, and a fewprimary and middle schools have introduced newteaching materials in their classes. Also, a number of institutes on “traditional culture” studies have been set up, and old-style home schools teaching students ancient Chinese adages such as the Three-Character Primer, which nearly disappeared after the founding of NewChina, have re-emerged.
The renewed zeal among people to study “national culture” will help China develop and carry forward its traditional culture, especially at a time when traditional culture has been extensively replaced by other subjects in schools. Many have complained that many Chinese people, especially youths, have poor knowledge of the country’s culture or traditions despite being technology and fashion savvy.
Without the revival of traditional culture, China cannot realize the aim of boosting its soft power and developing itself into a cultural power. Traditional culture offers China a fertile soil to develop and prosper as a nation. Some ethics nurtured in this cultural soil, such as loyalty, amicability, love for others, tolerance, and sense of responsibility and shame, along with the exemplary literary works, have helped Chinese people become better human beings and made the country an important actor on the global cultural stage.
“If you believe everything you read, better not read”, saidMencius, another Chinese philosopher. So, while popularizing traditional culture, we should use the strong, virtuous ones as example and mercilessly discard the negative ones. The author is a senior writer with China Daily. firstname.lastname@example.org.