On the Three Foundations of China’s Cultural Self-Confidence

By: Han ZhenFrom:English Edition of Qiushi Journal July-September 2017|Vol.9,No.3,Issue No.32 | Updated: 2017-Sep-1 15:45
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China is referred to as an ancient civilization due to its glorious and long culture. However, in the modern era it fell behind other nations, devastating the Chinese people’s dignity and self-confidence. After generations of ceaseless struggle, the Chinese nation has launched its new journey towards rejuvenation and returned to the center of the world stage. Xi Jinping once noted, “Of all the political parties, countries, and peoples in the world today, none have as much cause to be confident as the CPC, the People’s Republic of China, and the Chinese people.” The cultural self-confidence of the Chinese nation comes from its profound history, its solid practical foundations, and its stable institutional guarantees. China’s reform and opening up and the successful development of its economy and society are rooted in the country’s traditional culture; and in return they also help to validate and consolidate the Chinese people’s self-confidence in their culture.

A ceremony in tribute to Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, is held in Shaanxi Province on Tomb-Sweeping Day, 2017. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER LI YIBO

I. History

The Chinese nation’s cultural self-confidence comes from its firm belief in its autonomy. It will never waver in its determination to be independent and pursue its own path in the face of difficulty and adversity.

What gives the Chinese nation the resolve for autonomy? The answer is found in its long-standing cultural traditions. As Xi Jinping said, “Over the history of several millennia, the development of the Chinese nation was no plain sailing. However, we weathered numerous difficulties and hardships because the Chinese people cultivated and developed a unique and profound Chinese culture over several generations, which provided powerful spiritual support for our nation to overcome adversity and continue to progress.” The Chinese nation is an innovative nation. As early as the Shang and Zhou dynasties (1600-256 BCE), our ancestors established a ritual system. Following this, many schools of thoughts and great thinkers emerged and contended during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 BCE). The unification under the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), the rise of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), and the flourishing culture of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE) – all provided cultural sustenance for the Chinese nation, with its population of 1.3 billion and a territory of 9.6 million square kilometers, enabling it to pursue its own way. This tradition has also provided the broadest possible stage, the deepest possible cultural heritage, and the strongest possible resolve to carry us forward. Cultural self-confidence has not only created the glorious history of the Chinese nation, but also laid a foundation for the success of China’s reform and opening up.

China’s cultural self-confidence has been foundational for the independent development of its long civilizational history. Conversely, this long history further consolidates the Chinese people’s cultural self-confidence. This also provides abundant cultural resources for China’s social development in the contemporary era, thus creating broad space for its national rejuvenation.

II. Achievements

China’s cultural self-confidence is established on the solid foundation of its development. The success of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the China miracle performed under its reform and opening up policy embody, validate, and consolidate its cultural self-confidence.

Living together with others in a “global village” and in the era of “economic globalization”, why has China, a large country, been able to develop rapidly within a few decades? Why has it been able to perform its “miracle” in a fiercely competitive globalized economic environment? The reason is that its own lasting cultural traditions enable it to remain confident in the face of competition from others. In other words, China’s development provides the grounds for its people to remain self-confident in their culture; while this self-confidence is a font for China’s development. The continuous, independent development of the Chinese culture is an inexhaustible motive force for China’s social progress and development. Over a decade ago, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American corporate strategist, said that he thought China’s economic transformation was only the second biggest change in the country; the largest was in the thinking and spirit of the Chinese people – their opinions and ideas, their open minds, their confidence in their country and people, their enthusiasm for entering the world stage, and the actual freedom they enjoy. The Chinese people have the courage to exchange with and learn from other cultures as they open up; dare to go up against competition; dare to better themselves through confrontation; and dare to change and to try. This courage comes from the cultural self-confidence of the Chinese nation.

III. Institutions

The cultural self-confidence of the Chinese nation enjoys institutional guarantees. Its successful social and economic development demonstrates that the Chinese culture, having lasted several millennia, provides a profound foundation for the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

The reasons for China’s development are: China’s cultural traditions; China finding an approach to development, a theoretical framework, and a social system that tally with its cultural traditions. The key issue is that China’s approach to development, theoretical framework, and social system are founded in its own history. With this cultural foundation, China will not lose itself while learning from other cultures, and will not become as a river with no headwater or a tree with no roots.

The success of China’s approach to development presents West-centrism with a real challenge of historic significance. Some foreign scholars have noted that in the past the majority of challenges the West encountered were “internal crises”, “however, the current challenges come from Chinese socialism. While Western economies run into difficulty, China’s outstanding economic performance makes its system more attractive.” It seems that in today’s world, China’s cultural confidence not only embodies its historical heritage but also is validated in practice, and is strengthened by socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Han Zhen is a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

(Originally appeared in Beijing Daily, February 13, 2017)