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Historic Yellow River culture has value in new era

ZHANG SHENG | 2020-01-09
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
 
The Qiankun Bay in Yan’an, Shaanxi Province where the Yellow River turns a 320-degree bend in the valley Photo: XINHUA
 

 

The Yellow River is a magnificent and everlasting river enriched with culture. For thousands of years, the rushing Yellow River, along with the Yangtze River, has nurtured the Chinese nation and cradled Chinese civilization. In September 2019, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping stressed that we must “protect, inherit and promote the Yellow River culture” at a symposium on the ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River Basin held in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. What is the Yellow River’s image in the history of Chinese civilization, and what is its value today? How should we tell the story of the Yellow River in the new era? 
 
 
Four scholars were invited to discuss these issues. They are Zhang Shucun, president of the Shandong Academy of Social Sciences; Zheng Binglin, director of the Institute of Dunhuang Studies at Lanzhou University; Miao Changhong, director of the Research Center of Yellow River Civilization and Sustainable Development at Henan University; and Wang Congxia, a research fellow at the Ningxia Institute for the Theoretical System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.
 
 
The Yellow River culture is a major component of Chinese civilization. What are the historical characteristics of the Yellow River culture?
 
 
Zheng Binglin: In terms of period, the Yellow River culture sprouted early and commands a certain degree of originality. Its development runs through the entire Chinese civilization as the bedrock and vein of traditional Chinese culture for nurturing the common cultural psychology of the Chinese nation and consolidating the foundation of Confucian culture. From a geographical perspective, the Yellow River culture has a wide spatial distribution and its great inclusiveness led to a huge cultural system.
 
Wang Congxia: The Yellow River culture is the sum of material, intellectual and cultural products created by people in the social practices of utilizing, managing and protecting the Yellow River. It deals with the relationship between people and the river as well as nature, and the relationship between people and society. It has characteristics such as originality, integration, diversity and uniqueness. In terms of diversity, the Yellow River culture is rich in politics, economy, literature and art, science and technology, water conservancy, ethics and customs.
 
 
Miao Changhong: The distinctive characteristics of the Yellow River culture are manifested by the worship of ancestors, more than 5,000 years of continuity, and the inclusion of varying regions and national cultures. The Yellow River culture also refers to a unity centered around Chinese culture along with creativity in pursuit of change and innovation. The Yellow River culture has always nourished and united all ethnic groups, collectively achieving a great civilization.
 
 
 
Miao Changhong: Since the Miaodigou Age, a phase of the Yangshao culture, (c. 7000–5000 BCE), the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River have exhibited a stable and restrained social structure. Until the emergence of the sovereign state in the era of the Erlitou culture, the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River had been forming rites and music that were to affect generations. It is the long-established Yellow River culture that supplies the foundation and nourishment for the Chinese nation’s respect for etiquette and harmony.
 
 
Wang Congxia: During the revolutionary period, the Yellow River culture creatively absorbed Marxism and developed a revolutionary culture in practice that highlighted struggle without fear of sacrifice. The Yellow River has suffered frequent floods. Facing major problems such as the threat of flood risks and the fragile ecological environment, the concept of taming the Yellow River has evolved from “combating flood damage and building water conservancy facilities” to further “promoting harmonious water resources, ecology and environment” based on flood prevention Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. 
 
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River basin have been highlighted. At present, the concept of green development has become a distinctive symbol of the Yellow River culture in the new era. The ancient Yellow River culture has shown a sign of new life in the practice of the socialist cause with Chinese characteristics.
 
 
Zhang Shucun: During the New Democratic Revolution period (1919–1949), the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region and the Shanxi-Hebei-Shandong-Henan Revolutionary Base Areas situated along the Yellow River Basin developed the great Yan’an spirit, Xibaipo spirit and Yimeng spirit that became the Chinese people’s source of power in the resistance against aggression and the struggle for liberation. After the founding of the new China, the Communist Party of China led the construction of large-scale water conservancy projects such as Longyangxia and Xiaolangdi, and it implemented major ecological protection projects targeting Sanjiangyuan Natural Reserve and the Qilian Mountains. The ecology of the Yellow River made great progress. In the new era, we will explore the values that matter for today’s society and promote the creative transformation and innovative development of the Yellow River culture.
 
 
What is the status quo of the cultural heritage concerning the Yellow River, and what issues demand urgent attention?
 
Zhang Shucun: We must strengthen protection of cultural heritage related to the Yellow River. In recent years, the protection of cultural heritage in the Yellow River Basin has intensified. The system surrounding the intangible cultural heritage list is becoming more comprehensive, such that Xi’an, Luoyang, Zhengzhou, Qufu and other national large heritage protection areas have formed an integrated protection pattern. 
 
To promote the systematic protection of the Yellow River culture, we should focus on the following tasks. First, departments should organize and map out the cultural heritage resources of the Yellow River and draw up a general plan for the conservation and inheritance of the Yellow River culture. Second, it behooves us to make full use of the rich historical materials and relics of the archaeological excavations in the Yellow River Basin and to build the Yellow River Cultural Park so that a protection system targeting materials, customs and digitization will be available. The third aspect is to strive towards applying for World Cultural Heritage status, boosting the cultural protection of the Yellow River. 
 
Also, efforts are needed to strengthen the research on the Yellow River culture and plan several major research projects. A stable research team should be built and a set of research results should be produced.
 
 
How do we better understand the value of the Yellow River culture, and how do we better pass it down and promote it?
 
Wang Congxia: Passing down and carrying forward the Yellow River culture is a systematic project. The Yellow River cultural platform should be improved by improving the Yellow River Museum’s hardware and software construction. Second, places situated in the upper, middle and lower reaches of the Yellow River Basin should cement communication and cooperation and promote the systematic protection of cultural heritage related to the Yellow River. 
 
Focuses of the protection include cultural relics, local customs, architectural sites, river engineering tools and intangible cultural heritage in the Yellow River Basin. Third, we should continue to boost research on the Yellow River culture and adhere to the principle of unifying social, ecological and economic benefits. Deep integration of the Yellow River culture and tourism will aid the transformation of cultural resource advantages into industrial and economic advantages. Fourth, management staff should deploy strategic thinking to double down on the systemic, integrated and collaborative protection and management of the Yellow River Basin, thus solving the environmental problems of the Yellow River Basin.
 
 
Zhang Shucun: To explore the modern value contained in the Yellow River culture we must support artistic creation and production projects and encourage the majority of literary and artistic workers to realize a series of excellent works, such as literature, film and television shows, music, and artistic products, enriching the cultural forms of the Yellow River. 
 
Development projects will be launched to integrate the Yellow River culture and such industries as agriculture, industry, tourism, education, traditional Chinese medicine, health care and architectural construction, stimulating the vitality of the Yellow River culture. Implementation of the cultural service projects depends on various cultural and art museums to promote activities that allow people to appreciate the charms of the Yellow River culture. A group of tourism projects should be developed to serve as the embodiment of the Yellow River culture.
 
This article was edited and translated from Guangming Daily.
edited by MA YUHONG