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Cultural identity key to building sense of community for Chinese nation

LI XIAOFENG | 2018-05-17 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Representatives of each of China’s 56 ethnic groups wearing their individual traditional costumes pose on the square in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. (XINHUA)


The long-term basic method of enhancing China’s national unity is to reinforce cultural identity, build the common spiritual home for all ethnic groups and establish a community awareness of the Chinese nation. Cultural identity is in a sense the root and the soul of national unity.

To this end, we need to facilitate the organic interaction between seeking cultural roots and cultural construction, striving to enrich and develop excellent Chinese culture in the innovation and integration of multiethnic cultures, in a bid to create a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation.


Historical inheritance
The formation and development of Chinese culture parallel that of the Chinese nation. Important patterns emerge in the process: multiethnic cultures constantly interact, exchange and integrate with each other in dialogue and collision. A dominant trend is to center on the Han culture while the cultural identity of each ethnic group continues to deepen, increasing the overall strength of the Chinese culture. Finally, the multiethnic nation reaches a state of “I’ll carry you. You’ll carry me,” which is a valuable historical resource and spiritual force of the Chinese cultural community.

The Chinese cultural community has undergone more than 5,000 years of development and is indeed a miracle in human history. With the progress of agrarian culture, China formed a cultural system with rites at the core during the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties, and the Chinese nationality has continued to build on this foundation ever since.

During the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period (770-221 BCE), an open and pluralistic ideology, represented by Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism and Legalism, further promoted the development of Chinese culture. The achievements in material, spirit and institutions are well embodied in philosophy, history, literature, music, dance, painting, architecture, astronomy, military, medicine and other aspects.

The Han nationality in the Central Plains absorbed features from a wide array of cultures. In particular, nomadic, fishing and hunting culture have largely diversified the composition of Chinese culture. For example, King Wuling of Zhao (reigned 325-299 BCE) who ruled in the State of Zhao during the Warring States Period was famous for his reform of “wearing the Hu-style attire and shooting from horseback in battle,” which greatly improved the fighting capability of the Zhao military. Also, the introduction of Hu-style songs and dances in the Han Dynasty (206 BCE- 220 CE) enriched Chinese music.

At the same time, through confrontation and exchange, ethnic groups have also formed a unique ideological and cultural system in their respective historical development. For example, the Qidan ethnic group learned Mandarin, drew lessons from the Tang and Song court systems and worshiped Confucius. Mongolian, Manchu, Hui and some southern minorities also learned from the advanced civilization of the Central Plains.

It is worth noting that the communication and influence of different ethnic cultures have never been one-way. Princess Wencheng brought the Tibetans many of the scientific and agricultural advances of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when she married King Songtsen Gampo, the ruler of the Tubo Kingdom in modern-day Tibet. Many Tibetans came to study Chinese in Chang’an, capital of the Tang Dynasty after the famous peacemaking marriage.

History has shown that the integration of and communication among different ethnic cultures promote harmonious ethnic relations and the prosperity of the Chinese culture. Now socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, so we need to inherit and develop such a fine tradition creatively, which is the historical foundation of the community awareness of the Chinese nation.


Common principle
Given the 5,000 years of the continuous Chinese civilization, it has long been the practice for the Chinese nation to learn and draw on other cultures with tolerance and inclusiveness.

As renowned Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong proposed, “appreciating the culture and values of others as do to one’s own” is the basis of “a harmonious world.” In the new era, while we uphold the principle Fei put forward, it is also important to stress the cultural community awareness in contemporary time.

The concept admits and emphasizes the different characteristics and structural relationships of various ethnic groups. However, it must be considered that not all traditional cultures carry fine genes. Therefore, we need to select the essence and discard the dross on the basis of respecting each individual ethnic group’s unique customs. In the end, what we need is a community of all the excellent cultural elements.

Chinese culture is wide-ranging and universal; it emphasizes virtue, benevolence, honesty, justice, self-discipline, moral cultivation, determination and strength of character.

In the face of people’s ever-growing cultural demand, we need to deepen research into folklore, history and culture while actively exploring the creative integration of traditional and modern culture, so as to preserve the legacy of the past and find their corresponding modern value.

Nevertheless, it is safe to say that respecting cultural difference with the understanding of “seek common ground while reserving differences” as well as “harmony in diversity” is the common principle that we should adhere to in order to let each ethnic group’s fine cultural genes play a role in the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation while ensuring the Chinese cultural community evolve with times and maintain its vitality.


Action plan
The identity of the Chinese culture contains the excellent traditional culture created by all ethnic groups.

Marx once said, cultural structure, economic structure and political structure are basic factors, among which the primary is the economic structure because it is the foundation for all social and cultural development. Given this, the primary task of building a Chinese cultural community is to resolve the socioeconomic imbalance across the vast land of China.

Next, we need to tell the history of all ethnic groups in a clear manner. While affirming their status and contributions to the cultural community of the Chinese nation, it should be pointed out that all ethnic groups have the responsibility and obligation to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. At present, it is of great significance to thoroughly explain the cohesion of the Chinese nation and carry forward the traditions and spirit of all ethnic groups.

In addition, the common spiritual home for all ethnic groups reflects the common interests, destiny, ideals and faith of people of all ethnic groups and points out the direction of construction of a Chinese cultural community. The common spiritual home thus shall be jointly built by all ethnic groups. It is the key to arousing the enthusiasm and creativity of all Chinese.

Finally, in the past, doubts about our traditional culture have undermined our cultural confidence. That’s not the case today. Now the emphasis on and revival of traditional culture has strengthened our sense of history and unity. Going forward, we must remember that cultural confidence is the cornerstone for the confidence in China’s road, theory and system, which works together to revitalize mental strength and promote national rejuvenation.

In sum, the cultural community is a magnetic field in the spiritual level for inheriting traditional Chinese culture. We can say that without the identity of Chinese culture community, shaping the community awareness of the Chinese nation will lose the bedrock for settling down and getting on.


Li Xiaofeng is a professor from Dalian Minzu University.

(edited by YANG XUE)