Scholars have hailed General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping’s important speech, which he delivered at a meeting on cultural inheritance and development in early June, saying it has shown the way forward and provided fundamental guidance for spurring innovation of cultural theory, deepening historical and cultural studies, and building a modern Chinese civilization.
Rich content and continuity
The rich and continuous Chinese civilization has been passed down for over 5,000 years, spanning countless generations and standing as a remarkable achievement in human history. The diligent and ingenious Chinese people have contributed groundbreaking inventions that have profoundly shaped the course of human civilization, including papermaking, gunpowder, printing, and the compass. They have also created brilliant literary works such as the Book of Songs, the Songs of Chu, fu poetry of the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), poems of the Tang (618–907) and Song (960–1279) dynasties, operas of the Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368), and novels of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties.
Furthermore, they have preserved great epics such as the King Gesar, Manas, and Jangar, while also accomplishing awe-inspiring engineering marvels like the Great Wall, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, the Grand Canal, the Forbidden City, and the Potala Palace.
Great thinkers like Confucius, Laozi (Lao-tzu), and Mozi (Mo-tzu) delved into subjects in heaven above and the earth below, extensively discussing the essence of the relationships between people, between humans and society, and between humanity and nature. Their profound philosophical systems have continued to exert a significant influence on the lives of the Chinese people to this day.
As Xi said in the 2023 New Year address, “Today’s China is a country that keeps to its national character.”
“Chinese civilization, which has stretched for thousands of years, is making big strides toward an unprecedented new modern civilization,” said Jiang Yihua, a professor of history at Fudan University.
According to Jiang, the Chinese people are undergoing a comprehensive and historic “metabolism” in their knowledge, values, aesthetics, emotions, as well as their models of production, lifestyle, and behavior. This transformation encompasses the shift from a traditional agricultural-nomadic civilization to a modern industrial and information-based civilization, from a rural civilization rooted in old-fashioned ways to a modern urban civilization, and from limited interactions with the outside world to extensive domestic and global connections.
Jiang added that amid profound global changes unseen in a century, it is crucial for Chinese civilization to continue progressing in order to achieve the great revitalization of the Chinese nation. This necessitates a firm sense of self-awareness and confidence in Chinese culture.
Recently, the Chinese Culture Praise exhibition, titled “Chinese Traditional Cultural Costume VR City Tour,” has concluded its journey across nine cities in China. This unique exhibition transcended the boundaries of time and space, as well as geographical regions. Through the use of digital technology and based on historical contexts, it successfully highlighted the captivating allure of traditional Chinese attire.
After listening to Xi’s speech on cultural inheritance and development, Duan Peng, leader of the project and vice president of the Communication University of China, said that General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important speech has provided a clear roadmap for advancing socialist culture with Chinese characteristics and developing a modern Chinese civilization.
Duan emphasized the importance of upholding fundamental principles as the foundation for building a modern Chinese civilization. The rich historical legacy of Chinese culture necessitates a comprehensive and profound study of its history in order to successfully establish the modern Chinese civilization.
Duan said that the Chinese nation’s commitment to innovation is what enables it to uphold fine traditions but never blindly stick to old ways, and respect the fine traditions but never indiscriminately restore old traditions. Innovation is also the fundamental approach running through the development of Chinese civilization.
Invigorating China through culture
Prior to his speech, Xi visited the China National Archives of Publications and Culture (CNAPC) and the Chinese Academy of History successively. During the visit to the CNAPC, Xi said that collecting historical documents has been a longstanding tradition deeply rooted in the Chinese nation. “In an era of national prosperity and social stability, we have the will and capacity to carry forward Chinese culture, and we should accomplish this great undertaking well.”
The purpose of collecting historical documents is to uphold and pass down intellectual traditions. Publications play a crucial role as a diverse repository of documents pertaining to Chinese civilization. Within them lie the intellectual genes and cultural roots of the Chinese nation. Regarded as “golden seeds,” publications encapsulate the crystallized progress of civilization and serve as a means of cultural inheritance.
To date, the CNAPC is home to more than 25 million documents in various forms, including oracle bone and bamboo scripts, ancient classics, wood block rubbings, manuscripts, local chronicles and family records, and calligraphy and painting works.
Regarding the tradition of collecting historical documents, Mo Lifeng, a professor from Nanjing University, told CSST that the Chinese people in previous eras consciously preserved and organized ancient documents in different ways, extracting essence and interpreting pertinent theories within to “gain new insights by reviewing the old.”
The establishment of the Chinese Academy of History in January 2019 marked a milestone in the development of Chinese historical studies, a strategic move of great historic significance to uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.
In the past four years, the academy has undertaken several significant initiatives. These include the launch of a key project to recompile a general history of China, and the execution of major projects such as the history of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, the history of national unification in the Qing Dynasty, and governance systems in previous dynasties. In addition, it has carried out special projects on major historical issues, funded by the National Social Sciences Fund of China. These endeavours have yielded a multitude of high-quality outcomes.
According to Li Guoqiang, the academy’s deputy director, the Chinese Academy of History will dig deep into history for research on major historical and theoretical issues concerning the origins, early development, and prominent features of Chinese civilization, fine traditional Chinese culture, Chinese modernization theory, and modern Chinese civilization. The aim is to contribute more insights into the Chinese modernization drive by leveraging the power of Chinese historical studies.
Five prominent features
In the speech at the meeting on cultural inheritance and development, Xi said that China’s fine traditional culture is comprised of many important elements which together form the prominent features of Chinese civilization: consistency, originality, unity, inclusivity, and peaceful nature.
Chinese civilization stands out in human history as the only civilization that has endured for thousands of years, maintaining its vitality throughout. Jiang highlighted that despite the strong impact of various external civilizations over time, Chinese civilization has never been assimilated or lost its essence. On the contrary, it has continuously enriched itself by drawing inspiration from remarkable achievements of foreign cultures, harnessing its potential for creative transformation and innovative development. This resilience and adaptability can be attributed to the long-standing history and prominent consistency of Chinese civilization.
Moreover, Chinese civilization is centered around the people alongside their real communication and life, rather than an unrealistic, objectified world made up purely by concepts, Jiang said. This has made Chinese civilization extraordinarily innovative and inclusive, neither drifting along nor being conservative and close-minded, neither stagnating nor being disrupted abruptly. As such, the unity and peaceful nature of Chinese civilization have very stable foundations.
Building a modern Chinese civilization is a new concept, expression, and proposal put forth by Xi after careful and forward-thinking deliberations. Xing Guangcheng, director of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the profound history of Chinese civilization should be better reflected in its innovative development. Grasping its five prominent features is the key to properly understanding ancient China, modern China, and China in the future.
Toward the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, Chinese civilization has been developing continuously amid inheritance and innovation, upgrading itself constantly in response to the changing times. It is believed that the modern Chinese civilization aims to collaborate with civilizations worldwide, fostering a more diverse and vibrant world while providing significant impetus to the building of a human community with a shared future.