Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.
Mao, who sought ferociously to rid Chinese society of its traditional Confucian roots during the Cultural Revolution, is surely turning in his glass sarcophagus in Tiananmen Square.
In a remarkable address last week to the International Confucian Association that met in Beijing to commemorate the 2,565th anniversary of Confucius’ birth, Chinese President Xi Jinping extolled at length the ancient virtues of Confucius as the guiding light of modern China.
“The ideology and culture of today’s China,” Xi told the assembled scholars, “is a continuation and sublimation of traditional Chinese ideology and culture. To understand present-day China, to know the present-day Chinese, one must delve into the cultural bloodline of China, and accurately appreciate the cultural soil that nourishes the Chinese people.”
“Confucianism,” Xi continued, is key to “understanding the national characteristics of the Chinese as well as the historical roots of the spiritual world of the present-day Chinese. Confucianism has morphed with the times, and evolved in accordance with corresponding conditions, constantly refreshing itself while responding to demands of the times. This is why it has had such lasting vitality.”
President Xi then went on to recite the key principles and ethics of Confucianism and explain how they should be applied not only to Chinese society, but also to relations among nations and cultures. In Xi’s revival, traditional Confucian values are enlisted to promote cultivation of individual character, to fight corruption with the revived moral rectitude of officials and to co-exist peacefully through respect for civilizational differences while being open to learning from others.
Toward the end of his speech, Xi did mention Marxism, but only in the context of another influence from abroad that traditional culture has absorbed and synthesized according to China’s concrete realities.
Clearly, The Analects of Confucius is for Xi’s Chinese Renaissance what The Little Red Book was for Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Below are selected excerpts from Xi’s speech, translated into English for The WorldPost by China -US Focus. The whole speech can be found here.
PEACE IN THE MINDS OF MEN
I visited [the] headquarters of the UNESCO in March. The words engraved in multiple languages on a stone tablet in front of the main building impressed me deeply: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” It makes a very good point. I believe it is crucially important for realizing peace to firmly establish the love for peace in people’s minds.
The Chinese nation has always been peace-loving. Our love for peace is also deeply rooted in Confucianism.
Since ancient times, Chinese people have held in esteem these Confucian ideas preaching peace:
“Coordinate and seek harmony with all nations”
“Associating with the benevolent and befriending neighbors is a precious virtue of the state”
“Within the four seas, all men are brothers”
“A far-off relative is not as helpful as a near neighbor”
“Neighbors wish each other well, just as loved ones do to each other”
“A warlike state dies inevitably, no matter how big it is”
The love for peace has been embedded firmly in the spiritual world of the Chinese nation, and remains China’s basic idea in handling international relations.
In short: Don’t do unto others what you don’t want others [to] do unto you.
CHINA WITH CONFUCIAN CHARACTERISTICS
The formulation and development of China’s traditional culture, that of its core component — intellectual achievements, in particular — has roughly gone through the historical periods of pre-Qin contention of different schools of thought; the rise of Confucian classics studies in west and east Han dynasties; prevalence of metaphysics in Wei, Jin, south and north dynasties; the co-existence of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism in Sui and Tang dynasties; and Neo-Confucianism in Song and Ming dynasties.
From this historical process lasting more than 2,000 years, we can see several characteristics.
First, Confucianism and other schools of thought in Chinese history have competed with and complemented each other, constituting unity of opposites. Despite its long dominant status, Confucianism has been in a state of harmonious co-existence with other theories.
Second, like other schools of thought that have existed in Chinese history, Confucianism has morphed with the times, and evolved in accordance with corresponding conditions, constantly refreshing itself while responding to demands of times. This is why it has had such lasting vitality.
Third, Confucianism and other schools of thought in Chinese history all adhered to the principle that theories must serve the management of state affairs and benefit real life. Confucianism has emphasized giving play to culture’s educational and enlightening functions in cultivating worthy personalities, and combined the cultivation of individuals’ and society’s moral qualities with management of state affairs.
CONFUCIAN ETHICS FOR TODAY’S CHINA
In the present-day world, human civilization has made amazing progress both materially and spiritually. Material abundance, in particular, is beyond the wildest imaginations of ancient times.
Meanwhile, contemporary human beings face such outstanding problems as widening wealth gaps, endless greed for materialistic satisfaction and luxury, unrestrained extreme individualism, ever-degrading ethics, and increasing tension between man and nature.
Resolution of such conundrums not only entails utilization of the current wisdom and strength of mankind, but also calls for that of the wisdom and strength human beings have accumulated over time.
Some people of insight believe that the traditional culture of China, Confucianism included, contains important inspirations for solving the troubles facing us today. Such ideas include:
Following the intrinsic nature of matters and integrating nature and man;
– The whole world as one community based on equality.
– Persistent self-improvement and cultivation.
– Profound moral characters worthy of rich material reward.
– Serving the people interests as the state’s fundamental aim.
– Governing with moral principles and uprightness.
– Perpetual reform, eliminating obsolete practices and setting up fresh mechanisms, and advancing with the time.
– Adopting a down-to-earth attitude and seeking truth from facts, of making knowledge and theories meet society’s practical needs, combining theory and practice and practicing what one preaches.
– Drawing on collective wisdom and absorb all useful ideas.
– Governing with clean hands and engaging in public affairs diligently.
– Being frugal and faithful to moral principles and adopting strict self-discipline against extravagance.
– Restraint and appropriateness, seeking common ground while reserving differences, harmony but not sameness, and harmonious co-existence.
– Keeping in mind dangers and disasters in times of safety, destruction in times of survival, unrest in times of stability, and being prepared for danger in times of peace.
RESPECTING EACH OTHER’S CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION
Human civilizations have existed thousands of years. Each country, each nation has arrived at the present by taking over from the past and blazing new trails for the future. The world has become what it is today amid the exchanges and mingling between different civilizations. Promoting such exchanges and mingling as well as mutual learning and reference is an indispensable path toward a better world and better lives for people of all countries.
Properly treating civilizations of different countries and nations as well as traditional and contemporary cultures is a significant subject for us to explore. I think we should mainly stick to the following principles:
First, preserve diversity of the world’s civilizations. “It is an objective truth that all things are different from one another.” Diversity is a natural character of the universe. The world is always diverse in thousands of ways, and presenting dazzling colors and hues. The development of things and progress of the world will come to a stop once all things become homogeneous.
The civilization of each country and nation is rooted in its soil, with its own characteristics and virtues. We should preserve the diversity of civilizations of all countries and nations, enhance mutual communication, learning and reference, instead of mutual estrangement, exclusion, and even displacement.
Differences between the civilization of one’s own country and that of others should be handled rationally, with the awareness that every civilization is unique.
We must seek common ground while reserving differences, learn from others to make up for one’s deficiencies, and refrain from attacking or disparaging other civilizations. Don’t feel displeased or try to transform, assimilate or even replace other civilizations when they are different from your own. History has repeatedly proven that any attempt to resolve differences among civilizations by compulsory means is doomed to fail and wreck havoc on civilizations.
“History has repeatedly proven that any attempt to resolve differences among civilizations by compulsory means is doomed to fail and wreak havoc on civilizations.”
Second, respect civilizations of all countries and nations. Civilization, ideology and culture in particular, is the soul of a nation. If a country or nation does not cherish its own ideology and culture, if it loses its soul, no matter which country or which nation, it will not be able to stand on its own. A country or nation must recognize and respect others’ ideology and culture while valuing and preserving its own.
Different modes of thought of different countries and nations are peculiar in their own ways, and there is no ideology or culture that is superior to others. Irrespective of its size and strength, each country’s ideology and culture deserve to be recognized and respected.
All countries and nations should modestly learn and draw on the strength and quintessence of other civilizations. This is an important condition to upgrading its own cultural self-esteem, self-confidence and independence.
Third, correctly conduct mutual learning and reference between civilizations. Civilizations become colorful thanks to exchanges, and rich because of mutual learning and reference. Any civilization, no matter which country or nation it originated from, is fluid and open.
This is an important rule for the spread and development of civilizations. Throughout its protracted evolution, Chinese civilization has assimilated rich nutrition through exchanges with others, and in return made great contributions to the progress of human civilizations.
The opening of the ancient Silk Road, the foreign envoys sent to China in the Sui and Tang dynasties, Fa Xian and Xuan Zang’s westward pilgrimages for Buddhist scriptures, and Zheng He’s seven sea-faring trips were all vivid examples of exchanges between Chinese and foreign civilizations.
Confucianism originated from China. But it has long spread to the rest of the world, becoming a part of human civilizations. “He who studies alone in the absence of peers ends up being poorly informed.”
We should be ready to learn and borrow from all civilizations humanity has created, be they ancient Chinese, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian or Indian civilizations, or today’s Asian, African, European, American, or Oceania civilizations, and actively absorb their beneficial elements.
We should make the fine cultural genes of all human civilizations adapt to and coordinate with contemporary cultures and present-day contexts, and advance and enrich the fine cultural spirit that transcends time and space and reaches across national boundaries.
Mutual learning and reference between civilizations should proceed from the reality of one’s own country or nation, and be open and inclusive. However, such openness and inclusiveness doesn’t mean to lap up information without digesting it, or to confuse right with wrong, but to discard the dross and retain the fine essence, to sift the true from the false.
Fourth, treat cultural traditions scientifically. We can only open up the future when we keep history in mind. We can only innovate when we are good at inheriting. Traditional culture is the fountainhead of a country or nation’s inheritance and development. Losing it will cut off the country or nation’s spiritual lifeline.
WHERE DOES THE MARXISM FIT IN?
The ideals and struggles as well as the values and spiritual world of the Chinese people have always been deeply rooted in the fertile soil of Chinese traditional culture, and have constantly advanced and been renewed in step with the times.
Members of the Communist Party of China are Marxists, who uphold the scientific theories of Marxism, and adhere to and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics. But Chinese communists are neither historical nihilists, nor cultural nihilists. We always believe that the basic principles of Marxism must be closely married to the concrete reality of China, and that we should approach traditional native culture and cultures of all countries in a scientific manner and arm ourselves with all outstanding cultural achievements humanity has created.