Wednesday, 27 October, 2021

On the Relationship between Culture and Country

Longhushan mountain, considered as China's no. 1 Taoist mountain, a world heritage site, Yingtan City, Jiangxi.

Yang Zhaojun and Wu Chuke

Culture plays a pivotal role in the formation and development of a country, and the country also has a counter-effect to cultural development and trends. Culture and the country, just like the relationship between mind and body, are inseparable. They influence each other, complement each other and promote each other.

  1. What is a country?

In Chinese, the word “country” was called “Guo” (国) in ancient times, while the original word of Oracle Bone Inscriptions was “Xu”(“戓”) (later developed into “或”), symbolizing holding weapons to guard the territory. Adding “囗” (i.e., “围”) in the inscriptions symbolizes the city wall, forming the present country “国”, meaning city-state, city and capital city. Chinese Confucian culture emphasizes “isomorphism between home and country”, thus forming the condition of “home” and “country”, and "country" refers to a country as a whole. However, the “country” in Chinese ancient books refers to the dynasty formed by a certain surname family, not the concept of modern nation-state. The word “state” was used to attach the western state when western learning spread to the east. In English, a country refers to a political entity that covers a certain range of land and has a government. This political entity may be an independent sovereign country or an area of a sovereign country. Another English word, nation, which has been translated as a country, was originally the meaning of nation, because the rise of nation state in English has also been translated as a country in some paragraphs.

Marx mentioned in The Origin of Family, Private Ownership and State that “this society is caught in an insoluble self-contradiction, which is divided into irreconcilable opposites and unable to get rid of these opposites. In order to prevent these opposites and classes whose economic interests conflict with each other from destroying themselves and society in a senseless struggle, it is necessary to have a kind of power ostensibly driving above society, which should ease conflicts and keep them within the scope of “order”. This kind of power that comes from society but lives above society and is increasingly separated from society is the country.” According to Marx’s concept of that state, we can easily see that the state has several basic characteristics: first, the state is a kind of power. Second, this power of the state comes from society. Third, the power of the state comes from the society but lives above it. Fourth, the state is a force that is increasingly separated from society.

The authors think that the country should be a geographical concept first. And whether it is the western definition or the Chinese personal definition, the country must have a geographical scope. Talking about a country without geographical scope is divorced from reality. Modern countries must be understood from the perspective of frontier politics, and should also include sea areas and airspace. Secondly, the country is historic, and it cannot surpass the times. We admit that we are all descendants of the Huangdi, and we also admit the inheritance of Chinese civilization, but we can never say that we are a country with the Han Dynasty. Thirdly, the content of the country should include tangible and visible things, such as the army, prison, police, law, etc., but also those that are invisible. Here, it mainly refers to culture, including “benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, faith, kindness, courtesy”. And the saying that “Heaven walks strong, gentlemen constantly strive for self-improvement. The terrain is vast, gentleman carries goods with great virtue.” is also the embodiment. The latter plays a very important role in the country.

  1. The function of culture to the country

Culture has two core functions of “construction” and “deconstruction” for the country. Constructive culture can strengthen, stabilize and consolidate the country, and can generally become the mainstream culture, such as Brahmanism in India and Confucianism in China. At the same time, any oppressive structural culture must need a hedging cultural system to ease it, so as not to break the social structure. We call it deconstruction, such as Buddhism and Brahmanism, Confucianism and Laozi and Zhuangzi.

The Vedic culture system of India, which was born in the 10th century BC, has a typical constructive function. The two major characteristics of Vedic cultural system are Brahmanism and caste system based on it. Brahmanism gradually makes the doctrine, the order systematized, by taking Veda, Brahman Book, Forest Book and Upanishads as its classics, Brahman as its highest belief form, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu as its three main gods, and Vedic system, sacrificial omnipotence and Brahman supremacy as its third programme of action. On this basis, the Indian caste system, which is hierarchical and still works today, came into being. The first level is Brahman; the second level is Kshatriya; the third level is Vaisha; the fourth level is Sudra; the fifth level is the untouchable. This kind of social structure is extremely stable, so it can become the mainstream culture. Any stable structure culture must need a hedge culture system to ease it so as not to break the social structure, so Buddhism came into being. Buddhism manifests itself as the reactionary Brahmanism everywhere. Origin theory opposes Brahma’s theory of cause; Fight against the Vedic Apocalypse with “all laws are empty”; Fight against “sacrifice everything” with the Eight Rightways; Confronting Brahmin with equality of all living beings. The emergence of Buddhism can’t be simply understood as the great invention of Buddha who was born in Nepal. In the social environment at that time, the emergence of Buddhism is the inevitable product of social structure and cultural system. Buddhism has no constructive function, so it is impossible to become the mainstream culture.

Chinese Confucianism and Laozi and Zhuangzi are very similar to Brahmanism and Buddhism. The former plays a constructive role, while the latter serves as a buffer for the former and plays a deconstructive role. Confucianism has always been in a dominant position in China’s thousands-year history and is an absolute mainstream culture. Confucianism emphasizes its entry into world, respecting and ranking people, and “three cardinal guides and five permanent members”, which are highly socially constructive. However, Laozi and Zhuangzi emphasized being born and doing nothing, which showed the reactionary Confucianism everywhere in the teaching content.

Whether it is the role of construction or deconstruction, it fully illustrates the important role of culture in the consolidation of state power. It also highlights the important role of culture in the country.

  1. The influence of the country on culture.

The influence of the country on culture depends on whether culture can consolidate the state power. However, cultures that are conducive to the consolidation of state power are generally supported. On the contrary, cultures that are not conducive to the consolidation of state power are generally suppressed or even killed.

Buddhism was introduced from the Eastern Han Dynasty in history, and went through the Wei, Jin, Sui and Tang Dynasties, Five Dynasties and Ten Countries, until Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. Buddhism has been constantly developing and evolving in China. In most periods, Buddhism played a role in educating people and consolidating political power in the process of consolidating state power. It was the peak of Chinese feudal society in Tang Dynasty, with stable politics and developed economy, and maintained an open attitude towards different cultures. During this period, Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Islam were introduced. However, as a result, Nestorianism and Zoroastrianism gradually disappeared, while Islam was gradually marginalized, and only Buddhism remained and infiltrated for a long time. The best explanation for this situation is that Buddhism can help the ruling class to maintain its rule. Of course, when culturally disadvantaged develops and consolidates its political power, it will be suppressed. For example, in Chinese history, that “Three Persons Named Wu Destroy Buddhas” is typical.

To sum up, culture is very important in the process of national emergence and development, and it is an important part of national form and content. Similarly, the country can promote, standardize and restrain culture.


(Yang Zhaojun is a PhD candidate at School of Ethnology and Sociology, Minzu University of China and Wu Chuke, is a Professor at Minzu University of China.)