Chinese Culture in the Perspective of Globalization

Wang Meng

(Translated by Yuan Wuhua)

Wang Meng (1934- ), contemporary writer, born in Hebei. Author of 《Long Live Youth》(1953), 《A Fresh Horn in the Organizational Department》(1956). He went to live in Xinjiang for over 10 years since 1963. He was editor-in-chief of 《People’s Literature》, Vice Chairman of China Writers’ Association, Member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Minister of Culture and Vice President of China Center of the

International Pen.
Dear readers, I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to exchange some ideas with you. The title of my presentation is 《Chinese Culture in the Perspective of Globalization》, which would include such contents as the background of globalization, Chinese culture and building of a big cultural country. If you do not think what I say is right, you may raise questions or refute, so that we can interact and enlighten each other.

Globalization has caused Anxieties about Culture

To talk about globalization, I wish to clarify one point, one proposition, that is globalization is in line with modernization, for the inevitable outcome of modernization is globalization. According to Marx, the production force is the most active factor and there is nothing can withhold its development. Shallow as this point is, it has weathered tests and it is an indisputable truth. Despite a myriad of criticism, questions and protests, nobody can stop globalization, which has given developing countries such as China an opportunity, and at the same time given rise to anxieties over culture.

Without Absorbing Modern Technology, We Can Hardly Think of a Modernized, Socialist and Constantly Forward Going Motherland

We can see, when talking about globalization is in line with modernization, that anything that facilitates the development of the production force can be easily accepted by various countries with different cultural background. Take airplane, which is a quicker and safer means of transportation, can be accepted by any country. A technology such as power generation, computer, in particular information technology can be accepted by any country with a different coding. You cannot stop it. The Chinese nation has a brilliant history and culture, but how many modern science and technology have we accepted to make what our life is today? For instance, electrical bulb is a modern technology, computer, overhead projector and PowerPoint are all modern technology, and the optical I use is a modern technology. Without absorbing modern technology, we can hardly think of a modernized, socialist and constantly forward going motherland.

Bar coding and containers are being used in the whole world; they made it possible for us to exchange and share products, commodities and results of science and technology. Nothing can be shared if there is no worldly unified standard, such as your electrical bulb is not compatible to mine. Digitalization and the invention of computer accelerated the process of globalization. The so called information high way is already a reality. Digitalization is pressing you to learn English, we are indeed very helpless in this; it, however, provides a lot of opportunities. If you want to use computer, no matter how good the Chinese software is, notes, lists and choices would inevitably come out in English. This says one thing to us that is development of any country is not possible without the world. Any country, no matter how determined and great it is, it can not do without this process. Globalization has brought China development opportunities, what China is today can not do away with the momentum of world economy. Export processing plants and commodities in coastal areas are a proof of this.

Anxieties over Culture caused by Globalization refers to the Danger Sensed by some Countries and regions That Their Culture Is Being Melted and Changed by Globalization, the First Danger is Lost of Identity

Anxieties over culture caused by globalization refers to the danger sensed by some countries and regions that their culture is being melted and changed by globalization, and the first danger is lost of identity. I recognize this danger, for what you have been learning are things American or British, mainly American, yet, after learning, you are not an American. Such crisis exists in many countries, including France and China. In France, measures are taken to limit use of English. Here, lantern slides, road signs on the airport highway, and television names, for instance, CCTV are all in English, there is an English channel as well. On top of that, there are so many English teaching programs. I am not criticizing this; it is something necessary and good. China is opening up, more and more tourists from various countries are coming. Despite that Chinese is a great language, and its users are most populous in the world, yet, it is far from being internationalized. In reality, English is being commonly used in the world; this can not be thoroughly explained in theory. Is English the best and most scientific language? Not necessarily. However, if you speak English, you can get around. English can be understood by most people at international symposiums, business talks and diplomatic functions. In Premier Wen Jiabao’s press conference, the target language of interpretation is English, not Japanese or Russian. In theory, all languages are equal, but in practice, English has superiority.

However, on the other hand, the level of our Chinese, to our impression, has been lowered and to be improved. For instance, in the popular TV play series 《Han Emperor》, the playwright likes to use the phrase “keep waiting under a tree for the rabbit”, it says, “the enemy is coming, we should not waiting under the tree for the rabbit, we should attack!” They thought the phrase means defense. Too many such usages in TV series even made me puzzled. I wish to take this opportunity today to solicit your ideas on whether this phrase means defense. No, it does not. It means an intention, an unexpected luck, something like a pie dropping down from sky.

At one Spring Festival Gala, there was a couplet (anti-thesis) with good intentions, yet, it should be further studied. In the couplet, they used “朝天门,chao tian men—Chaotian Gate (a dock on Yangtze River in Chongqing)” against “天津港,tian jin gang—Tianjin Port”. For any one who had attended the old style private school for a year would know that you can not use two “tian” in the same couplet. The four characters of chao tian and tian jin are all of flat tones, which should not occur, not to mention anything else.

In our way of life, Christmas and Valentine’s Day have made our markets busier; on the contrary, Lantern’s Day and Mid-Autumn Day have drawn little attention. In the old days when people didn’t have enough to eat and dress, eating 饺子—dumplings at Spring Festival is a big event; You were supposed to eat “Yuan Xiao” (small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour) on the Lantern’s Day, “zongzi” (made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves) on Dragon Boat Festival and Moon cake on the Mid-Autumn Day. We are so lucky now and don’t have to worry about food and clothing, yet our sons and daughters don’t know what feeling hungry is. When you ask them to have “jiaozi”, they don’t think it is something terrific; when you ask them to have a moon cake, they think it is too hard to bite and give it to others as a gift.

They should know they were celebrating beautiful festivals, which are so dear to us.

Comparatively speaking, in our way of life, among clothing, food, housing and travel, food is something we have been good at. Most Chinese still like to have Chinese food. However, it is a different story with children under three, who like McDonald and Kentucky fried chicken, which in my taste, are garbage food of foreigners. We are no longer strong in clothing and means of travel, are there still people taking old style carriages? Very few. As far as housing is concerned, it is now difficult to build rooms with large roofing. We should pause and ponder, how can we have our own distinctive way of life?

The Course of Globalization Has Brewed a New Worry among Us: Culture Is Reaching to More and More People in Batches while Things Elegant for a Small Number of People, What Chairman Mao Referred to as “White Snow in Sunny Spring” Is being Endangered

The course of globalization has brewed a new worry among us. Culture is reaching to the great masses in the form of batches. The advantage of this is democracy in culture, a way to ensure sharing and equality in culture. For instance, short comedies by Zhao Benshan can be appreciated by both people of higher learning and illiterate at the same time. Mass production in forms of CD, VCD, DVD and now something new called EVD. But, there is a problem, things advanced and sophisticated, which can not be produced, created and made by anyone you like, which may not be comprehended by anyone you choose. These are for a small number of people; they are what Chairman Mao referred to as “white snow in sunny spring”, something elegant. Such things are being endangered, we sense.

I sometimes find fault with myself. I was asking myself, aside from short comedies in Spring Festival Gala, which have been popular and I like it as well, because they are funny and plausible, could we have some works of higher cultural grade that can enrich our cultural qualification and intelligence? We may make a comparison with the Golden Hall in Vienna, of course, domestic situations are different, where the New Year concert is also popular, the music is not sophisticated or something difficult to comprehend; the scores of Strauss are mainly Waltz, he seems of a higher taste.

Let’s talk about writing down characters, something Chinese adored and when you do it, you feel having a noble sense in it. The windows and desk would have to be spotlessly clean, the writer had to bath before hand and incense would have to be lit, the young boy serving your studies would grin the ink stab for you while the young girl, usually a house maid, would stand aside to tip down the ashes on top of the incense, holding the brush pen, you often moisture it on your tongue again and again. You murmur what you are going to write to yourself, then you write: “sky and earth are house of all things, time and tempo are passengers through generations” (天地者,万物之逆旅;光阴者,百代之过客。Tian di zhe, wan wu zhi ni lv; guang yin zhe, bei dai zhi guo ke.) These are antithesis and a phrase, you know where it originated, what a pleasure. Yet, when the broad masses read it, they don’t really understand, for literally, 逆旅(ni lv)may mean a contrary trip; A simple thing, under your pen, becomes complicated. The good thing about it is it is elegant, refining; it has a style and taste. If you wrote it in vernacular, the broad masses would understand it, yet are you risking loosing its intellectual and cultural content and affecting y our style and taste?


We are really helpless. No only in China, foreign countries as well, threats to things advanced and sophisticated do exist. Take big films, they arouse you and give you excitement; and after you have seen them, you forget them. They think they are successful to have such a result, for it would be too tiring if people remember them all, and people would loose their sleep.

The Globalization Process, on the One Hand, Has Marginalized Elite Culture, on the Other Hand, It Is a New Proposition of our Times to Deal with Globalization’s Shock and Challenge on Culture. They would Come No Matter you Like it or Not.

Globalization process has, on the one hand, been marginalizing elite culture. When talking to people in China, or in old European countries such as France and Germany, they often are scornful of American culture. I remember one year I was invited to a meal by leaders of the Goethe Academy in Munich, during the courses, the McDonald fast food on the streets of Munich was mentioned, one of them trembled with anger and remarked, “cuisine should be a kind of culture, American fast food, which is a sort of rearing, goes against culture.” I went to the United State later that year, I mentioned this to one at New York Library, his reaction was, “Let this teacher in Germany swear, each time he swears, customers in our fast food restaurants would increase by 10%, and their influence would spread further with the increase of customers.

How to deal with shocks and challenges on culture caused by globalization are a new proposition of our times. Shocks and challenges would come regardless of your attitude towards them. Much of traditional morality and spiritual life are in confrontation with the swift development of science and technology and with worldwide cultural exchanges. China is a country that attaches great importance to morality. What touched me most, when I read 《Spring and Autumn and the Warring States》and 《The Romance of Countries in the Eastern Zhou Period》, was the moral of the people at that time, who regard justice more valuable than their own lives. In order to assassinate the King of Qin, Jingke came to Fan Wuji, who was originally from Qin and was in the State of Yan at the time, and said to him, “I am going to kill the King of Qin, but I can not get close to him if he does not trust me.” Fan knew what was in Jingke’s mind and replied, “If you call on the King of Qin with my head, he would receive you.” Having said this, Fan cut his head down with a sword. You see, our ancient ancestors can sacrifice everything for a cause they thought was righteous.

Let’s look at the story of “The Pen of Spring and Autumn” period, a history recording official wrote down “in x month of x year, xx killed the King” after a person usurped the throne in the State of Jin, when the new King learned about this, he was in rages and killed the official; then, the brother of the official took over the post, he wrote down again, “in x month of x year, xx killed the King” and the brother was killed; then, another brother came and wrote down the same thing. This spirit of holding the pen and write down facts in a straight forward manner is really startling. Another example would be Shi Kuang of the Warring States period, in order to devote all his attention to music; he damaged his eye balls with a screw driver. Whey is all this? Morality was a kind of belief, something super organic, such as “justice” and “loyalty” were more important than anything else in the old times.

The Advancement of Science and Technology Has Destructed a lot of Things, Things Great would Seem Trivial when Measured with Science and Technology. Spiritual Life, Moral Concepts, Aesthetic Concepts, Gallantry, Loftiness and Poetic Feelings Are Confronting with Challenges.

The advancement of science and technology has destructed a lot of things. (There are two words, one is “destruction” and other is de-ghost, have removed theological color from almost everything. That’s why at late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, you heard a saying—“The God is dead”. Originally, worship to the God, to deities prevailed, everything was decided by the deity, don’t ask why, just do it according to the will of the deity. Yet, with the advancement of science and technology, you feel you can no longer find a personified deity. That’s why “The God is dead.” When we come to the present era, some say “people are dead”, what does that mean?

Because people no longer is the center of the universe, not the center of the world. Things great would seem trivial when measured with science and technology. Take the moon for an example, in the spiritual life of many nations, moon is a fantasy, something you can dream of, but you could not reach it. However, in the 60s of the 20th century, Americans landed on the moon and they found it a lifeless planet, there was no Wu Gang, no Chang Er, no rabbit and no osmanthus tree (all appeared in the Chinese myth—Chang Er flies to the Moon). Thus, dream of many people is destroyed.

Love such as that between Romeo and Juliet, poetry that sings praise of love, such as poetry of Pushkin, Lermontov, Shelley and many others…have been disrupted ever since there came a man called Freud who did experiments (tests) on everything, some people in the US think “love is a mental disorder”. There is visual hallucination and acoasm in love. When they hear “She is the most beautiful lady of the world”, they would say how could that be, there is more beautiful lady than her, therefore, you have mental disorder. Love would have been dead if you look at it from the pure medicine point of view or from the veterinary hybridization triangle. That’s why I say man’s spiritual life is being challenged; moral concepts, aesthetic concepts, gallantry, loftiness and poetic feelings are being challenged. Some people use scientific instrument everyday. Once I said in 301 Hospital (a military hospital in Beijing—translator) that Tao Qian (365-427) can write: under the east fence, I pick chrysanthemum; looking up leisurely, I saw the southern hills. This is something you feel is beautiful, yet, a sergeant can not say: under the strong operation light, I see leisurely a focus of the disease. A great amount of science and technology, the fluorospic technology have destructed man. A beautiful lady, after been given a CT scan and you look at the diagram, it wouldn’t give you much sense of beauty, no matter she was Wang Qiang, Xi Shi or Diao Chan (the three are regarded as the most beautiful ladies of China).

Globalization, powered by economic and technological development, has brought with it the so-called cultural conflicts. Though many Chinese do not agree with the concepts of Huntington, cultural conflicts do exist, you can not deny it. Comparatively speaking, because of Confucian tradition and the tradition of “experiencing secular life”, China is apt to accept the contents of seeking progress, welfare and higher quality of life in the course of the globalization.

Out of anxieties described above, a tide of anti-globalization, anti-science and technology and anti-development is surging up world wide. Some termed it “New Leftist Thinking”. Is it only “new leftists” that is in this tide? Not necessarily. The Frankfurt School, some noted western philosophers such as Foucault, Jameson and Macuse exposed that a rule of capital and a rule of a superpower were behind globalization, advancement of technology and cultural industries, and these rule would bring disasters to the mankind. We have seen the anti-globalization parade in Chile, there was parade in Italy during the G8 summit, and some people were dead during the protest. There are similar thoughts in China as well; their way of expression has not gone as far as the ways in western countries. Some intellectuals (very interesting thing to note), particularly those who have studies in the US and western Europe where they acquired weapons of severe criticism of the US and western Europe, and when they make criticism in Chinese, you feel their criticism is so far detached from the Chinese Society, criticism of science which they advocate sounds meaningless in China, for in the rural areas of China superstition out numbers science by a big margin.

On the other hand, globalization caused by the advancement of economy and technology, has brought with it the so-called cultural conflict. Even though many Chinese do not agree with the concepts put forward by Huntington, yet cultural conflicts do exist and you can not deny them. Comparatively speaking, owing to the Confucian tradition and the tradition of “experiencing the secular world”, China is more apt to accepting the contents of seeking progress, wealth and a higher quality of life. It would be more difficult for culture in some countries and nations to accept these conflicts; it wouldn’t work if these conflicts were forced upon them.

China’s Traditional Culture

What China’s traditional culture means are the basic value orientation, basic ways of life, basic ways of thinking, basic social organization and basic aesthetic characteristics that have been passed on without breaking from several thousand years ago in the Chinese nation. In the doctrinal aspect, from the triangle of ethnics and politics, it is the mutual compliment of Confucian scholars and Confucianism, or the “Four Books”--《The Great Learning》,《The Doctrines of the Mean》,《Analects of Confucius》 and《Mencius》; in the aspect of thinking and philosophy, it is the culture of Han language and characters, it is 《The Book of Change》, it is worship of notion and intuitive judgment; in the aspect of geography and economy, it is Yellow River Culture complimented by the culture of the State of Chu, it is farming culture; in the aspect of social organization, it is the balance between feudal dictatorship and the thinking of taking people as the foundation; in the aspect of folk culture, it is Yin and Yang, it is the Eight Diagrams, it is patriarchal clan system and blood relations, Chinese medicine and Chinese cuisine, mixed worship of multiple deities, it is loyalty, filial piety, moral integrity and justice that have been overwhelmingly illustrated in traditional operas.

China’s Traditional Culture Has Withstood Tremendous and Severe Tests. A Kind of Regeration Has Occurred, which Is a Wonder

China’s traditional culture has withstood tremendous and severe tests. A kind of regeration has now occurred, which is a wonder. There was a period since the Opium War, during which things in China were not good, the nation was humiliated and her sovereignty forfeited, those who came to their consciousness first were patriots who were extremely critical to Chinese culture. Let’s look at Lu Xun first. What did he say? He asked young people not to read Chinese books, he said you could read anything but Chinese books, and reading foreign books would stimulate you to struggle, to be strong, while reading of Chinese books would pacify you, and you lose your desire to going forward and you put up with things and roll with the punches. These are not Lu Xun’s original words, but are what he meant. Lu Xun was a leftist, and the rightists were the same. Wu Zhihui, a veteran Nationalist, said people should throw the bonded books into the toilet. Some young people shouted very drastical slogans to express their hatred of Chinese culture and characters.

Why did they hate Chinese characters? They are too difficult to learn. Why was there dictatorship? Because the broad masses of people were unable to learn the difficult characters, and only small handful elites could master them, having learned the characters, they could suppress the common folks as they pleased. I believed in this when I was young. Professor Lu Shuxiang, a very famous master and linguist held that only alphabetic writing could bring democracy into China. Chairman Mao Zedong who strongly opposed blind worship of things foreign was not conservative at all in reforming the language. One of his saying was well known:  “the only way out for the Chinese characters if Latinization”. During the May 4th period, people like Qian Xuantong went very far as to request abolishment of not only Chinese characters, but also the Chinese language or the Han language. They wanted all Chinese to learn English from childhood. You can hardly imagine when you were at a countryside and met two old illiterate farmers who would say “How are you?” and “Come on” to you.

More and More People Have Come to Know the Precious Value of Chinese Culture, which can never be distinguished. In Spite of its Backwardness, Rigidity and Putrefaction, Chinese Culture Is Also Agile, Open, Absorptive, Adaptable, Self-Adjusting and Revitalizing.

It is rare in history for an ancient and big country to have such an attitude towards its own culture. We fully affirm the progressive significance of the attitude. Without those who came to their consciousness first and gave deafening, spring thunder like words, without their excitement, there would be no present day China, and quite likely we would still remain at the stage where people would say in their daily life “the master says” or “the Book of Songs says”, for the strength of old culture in China was too powerful. Please note that happened in the May 4th Movement period. Post Liberation days saw many things similar, for instance, the “Breaking Four Olds” of 1966 went wild without any boundaries.

How things are after going through those big disasters? More and more people have come to know the precious value of Chinese culture, which can never be distinguished. Despite its backwardness, rigidity and putrefaction, Chinese culture is also agile, open, absorptive, adaptable, self-adjusting and revitalizing. There are many things we thought were right proved to be wrong. Take the Chinese characters, which are a bit difficult to learn, but not that difficult, there are rules to them. Alphabetic writing uses letters, mostly thirty something letters, and each letter has a phonetic sound, which carries no meaning at all. The Chinese characters contain not only sounds, but also image and logical relations, and a beautiful picture. When the way of inputting Chinese characters into a computer was found, the voice for abolishing Chinese characters was squelched. We have on our hands some information and data showing the rejuvenation and re-heating-up of Chinese culture. Chinese culture is demonstrating her ability of regeration, of keep herself abreast with our times and the pace of modernization and globalization, and at the same time maintain her own feature, attributes, identity and charm, which are epitome of our confidence and pride of Chinese culture.

The Chinese Characters Are a Way of Thinking; It Would Be a Disaster if Chinese Characters Were Abolished and Everyone Speaks English, not Chinese.

I wish to talk a little more about Chinese characters, which represent a way of thinking, and differ in many aspects with western culture centered on Europe or culture presented by Europe and America.

This is a rather complicated issue; a few more words are needed here. I wrote a short story entitled 《The Eye of Night》, was first published on 《Guangming Daily》in 1979 and has now been translated into Russian, French, English and Germany. When rendering this story, some translators called from the other side of the ocean and asked almost the same question: “Is the eye of the night is plural form or single?” I was puzzled. The “eye” in the story contains three meanings, firstly, the night was personated, in that sense, there should be no plural or single for the eye, because the night had no form nor quantity; secondly, there was a hero named Chen Gao, I didn’t say in the story he had only one eye or died in war, so it should be “eyes”; thirdly, I said there was a dim light on the work site, it is of course “single”. So, you can not simply divide “eye” from “eyes” in the story. But, they could not comprehend what I explained. I couldn’t understand what they were trying to get from me. They thought I must make if clear whether it was one eye or eyes. I therefore think the Chinese character “眼—yan” contains more essence than one eye or two eyes. Chinese characters have a hypostasis nature.

Let me give you another example: “牛—niu—means a cow”, which is the essence, then you can have “牛奶—niu nai—means milk”, “牛油—niu you—means butter”, “小牛—xiao niu—means a veal”, “乳牛—ru niu—means a dairy cattle”, “公牛—gong niu—means an ox”, “母牛—mu niu—means a cow”, “水牛—shui niu—means a buffalo”, “黄牛—huang niu—means a scalper”. You can see in English, there is no unified word representing the essence. The word “cattle”, according to dictionary, is bovid mammals that may include a cow. There is no connection among words of cow, butter, veal, beef and ox; they don’t seem to belong to each other.

We Chinese attach much importance to the essence, particularly to numbers of one, two and three, especially to “one”. Chinese people hold that all things in the world should have a centralized, unchangeable and unrepetitive source of origin, therefore Lao Zi said, “
In mythical times all things were whole:

All the sky was clear,
All the earth was stable,
All the mountains were firm,
All the riverbeds were full,
All of nature was fertile,
And all the rulers were supported.” (“whole” in the original Chinese text is “一—yi—means one”—translator)

I don’t know how to translate this “一“ into English, it would be a problem if it is rendered as “one”, because for Chinese, it is not a quantitative concept, it is the ultimate essence of things. To put it improperly, this “一” refers to the God, the God for the Chinese people. It is really complicated and it is out of my ability to explain it very clearly.

It would be a big problem if Chinese characters were abolished; it would be a disaster if Chinese characters were abolished, and everyone speaks English, not Chinese. Wang Guowei committed suicide when he saw Chinese culture was at the brink of being destroyed and he lost confidence. Chen Yanke explained thus: Chinese culture was his roots on which his life rested on; it didn’t matter that the Manchu Qing dynasty was overthrown, but Chinese culture was endangered and was coming to an end, so he killed himself. We are so fortunate to witness another florishing and developed stage of Chinese culture.

We Shall Not Touch on Various Cultural Relics or Classics in the Traditional Culture, which also Includes Cuisine, Daily Life and Medicine, many of which Can Be Directly Perceived through Senses and Are Products of Extensive Processing.

We shall not touch on various cultural relics or classics in the traditional culture, which also includes cuisine, daily life and medicine, many of which can be directly perceived through senses and are products of extensive processing. Take Chinese traditional medicine, many things can be directly perceived, for instance, red sugar creates heat, white sugar is cooling, crystallized sugar is even more cooling and can remove internal heat from man’s body. These are not empirical, only direct senses, which I like very much. When I have a fever, I don’t drink water with red sugar, but rather putting crystallized sugar into chrysanthemum tea. This differs to some extend to methods used in foreign countries where formal logics and empirical methods (testing and records of each test) are strictly applied.

Religious belief in China is very unique; for such a large country there is no unified religion. In Malaysia, the Chinese there would say, “Our religion is Buddhism.” Buddhism is not the state religion of China, not as Islamism in Moslem countries or Catholic in Italy. On the contrary we take a very flexible attitude towards religion; such thinking is different with all the rest of the world. We say, “Anything outside the three dimensions (六合—liu he—six opposite ends) can exist but not to be discussed.” “Liu He” is three dimensions, in each dimension there are two opposite ends, and all together six ends. That means we do not discuss anything that belongs to the ultimate, and we don’t oppose them neither, this is what we say “exist but not to discuss”, and this is a flexible polytheism with ourselves at the center. You have the kitchen god to look after your stove (kitchen), door Guardian to look after your door, you have the Goddess of Mercy to send you children, you have mother flower to look after your children when they have smallpox, you have god of wealth to assist you making money and Mazu (goddess of the sea) to help you in the voyage. Lu Xun once said, “Confucius worshiped deity as if the deity was there.” This is high intelligence quotient. There are no disciples anywhere can talk like this. He didn’t advocate antitheism; he didn’t say religion was cheating. He was not opposed to worshipping of deities. “Worship deity as if the deity was there.” So, the way of thinking of Chinese people is really interesting.

I came to know a sinologist when I was in Germany whose Chinese was exceedingly good. He studied Chinese in Taiwan for a number of years and lived in Mainland China for some years and married a lady from Taiwan. Later when they were divorcing, the wife said to me, “Wang Meng, it is a terrible thing for a German to have learned Chinese, the Book of Change and Lao Zi; the person becomes a demon who uses not only German type of cruelty, but also Chinese type of wiles.” I am not saying the Chinese nation is full of wiles, but it is true our thinking is very flexible. Among so many colonies in Asia, nobody could subdue the Chinese nation, and the main reason is that has her own culture, which enabled us to weather the storms.

Turn China into a Big Country of Culture
We should turn China into a big country of culture; as a matter of fact we are already such a country owing to the scientific outlook of development. Our attention should not be directed only to per capita income, national income, for in the foreseeable future, we shall not be able to surpass the developed countries in these respects. But, still we are living in a great country and Chinese culture had made unique contributions to the mankind. There should be new development in our culture, which is the foundation of our country and our lives and is our pride and glory.

When Persistence Is Called for, We Are the Best in Persevering; When Flexibility Is Called for, We Are the Most Agile. No Matter How Difficult Things Are, We Can Always Find a Way Out and Identify our Orientation. This Is the Vitality of Chinese Culture.

Socialism with Chinese characteristics is now developing with full vigor. Today we are discussing in a happy mood our culture and the roots of our culture. I went to Russia in November, 2004 and found out in 70 odd years of Soviet Union, their agricultural production never surpassed the highest levels of the Tsar period. The per capita income of today is far from that in the Soviet period. In these respects Chinese culture can work wonders, this is not only our view, but also the view of Mme Thatcher and Brzezinski of the United States, they think Chinese can turn ill luck into good and single out auspiciousness admits adversity. When persistence is called for, we are the best in persevering; when flexibility is called for, we are the most agile. No matter how difficult things are, we can always find a way out and identify our orientation. This is the vitality of Chinese culture.

We don’t engage in culture with closed doors, but rather we have an open attitude, things we learn from others would become our own. China is well versed in doing so.

I have said many times that we do not -engage in culture with closed doors. Once after I took part in a cultural summit forum, the media went so far as to say Wang Meng mobilizing a “defense war of Chinese language”. I never said that. There is no need to defend the Chinese language; one should only study it well. I don’t think learning of Chinese conflicts with learning of English. If one studies well the mother language, it would be easier to study any foreign language; and after you studied a foreign language, you would be appreciative of the beauty and features of your own language.

I always cite the example of Gu Hongming (1857-1928) whose mastery of foreign language is next to nobody in China. (He was born in Malaysia, studied in the west, got married in Japan and worked in the Northern government. He mastered 9 languages and acquired 13 doctorate degrees. He was the first one to translate 《Analects of Confucius》and《Doctrines of the Mean》into English and Germany. He advocated Confucianism to the then Japanese Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi, he exchanged letters with Leo Tolstoy discussing world culture and politics. He was reputed by Gandhi as “the most honorable Chinese.—translator) How good was his English? Once in London subway, he was reading 《The Times》upside down, he still had his pigtail, an English young man saw this and laughed, “Look, that pigtail Chinese is reading upside down.” Hearing this, Gu looked back and remarked in standard Oxford accent, “Pal, your English is too simple for me to read upward, it is an insult to my intelligence. It’s fun to read upside down.” How good was his Chinese? His lectures in Chinese were full of witty phrases and shrewd remarks. Qian Zhongshu was at home with English, Germany, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. Yet his old style poems were most beautifully written. I wish to mention Lin Yutong as well, some of his writings were in English, including the novel 《Moment in Peking》and 《Biography of Su Dongpo》, his Chinese was just as good, especially his essays. So, we say if someone’s Chinese is not good, he should not blame it for having learned English; if his English is not good, it is not because his Chinese was too good, and it was because he has not worked hard on English. One would achieve more if he worked hard on English on basis of his excellent Chinese.

So, we have an open attitude, things we learn from others would become our own, and China is especially good at doing so. As early as 1998, I talked about the absorptive and transforming capability of Chinese culture in the US. I said since opening up and reform, Coca-Cola wasn’t successful in China at beginning. Why? They give you a cup if you bought a big bottle. This kind of sales didn’t work. They have now opened up the market and more people are drinking Coca-Cola. Yet, when Chinese people accepted it, there got to be some changes. I didn’t know what it was at the time I was in the US. I found out later that Chinese boil it with ginger and use it as a medicine to relieve exterior disorder to kill cold. Of course, Americans can not accept that. American doctors don’t prescribe anything for you unless you have a 39 degree fever. They would ask you to have cold water, a bit Coca-Cola, and not to wear too much. The habits of Chinese is just the opposite, we put on more clothes when catch cold. They think that since you have a fever, you should dress less, sleep with a thinner quilt or have a shower. Do we dare doing so? In this context, we stress that the door of Chinese culture should not be closed.

I also mentioned about ballet, because the vital statistics are different from those of Europeans, what projects from dancing is different. The same applies to Italian opera, unlike Pavarotti and Domingo whose voice was so resonant, yet, Chinese singers are sweeter and more amorous influenced by Chinese traditional operas and confined by their figures.

We must have a cautious attitude toward culture, never deny anything lightly; we should have enough confidence towards our culture and take an outgoing and open attitude in learning from other cultures in the world and at the same time diffuse the refined parts of our culture to them.
We must have a cautious attitude toward our culture, never deny anything lightly. It was really a pity that the city walls of Beijing were demolished. It is also a pity that so many old and valuable buildings have been dismantled in the course of swift construction. So, in culture, we must treasure more of what we have.

In the past, in traditional operas male played the role of female and vice versa. People were forced to do so. Because in old China male and female should be kept apart, you could not hand something in person to a female you don’t know. At that time, you could not imagine to have three male and two female in the same opera troupe. After Liberation (1949), some leaders said this practice should not continue. Yet during one conversation with a senior figure in the French cultural circle, he asked why there were no more female roles played by man. Women have been emancipated and they can take part in jobs in operas very easily, I replied. “No, no, this is different, a man imitating a lady by using false voice is very special, and you can’t do without it.” When pondering on this remark, I think there is something in what he said. So, we should never deny anything very easily. It is really satisfying and a pleasure to hear a female role played by a man singing Peking Opera in a beautiful voice. You feel so good when seeing a male character with painted face played by a female who danced with a copper hammer after she gave a loud cry. I am not going into details in this. What I am trying to get is to be cautious in cultural matters.

We should have confidence, with the advancement of our country, our culture is exerting more and more influence in the world, even thought such influence is at a shallow level; however, martial art, acupuncture and bean curd have been widely spread. There is a Taiji master in the US who played a leading role in a TV series. More foreigners are learning how to sing Peking Opera, and you can find bean curd (doufu) in all the major cities in the US.

So, we should have enough confidence in Chinese culture and take on an outgoing and open attitude towards it, while we learn outstanding cultures from others, we can diffuse the refined parts of our culture to them.