Wednesday, 27 October, 2021

Some Thoughts on Culture

White Pagoda in Beijing, China. It was built by a Nepali artist Araniko some 750 years ago.

Yang Zhaojun and Xiaoyang

Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out: “Culture is an important force for national survival and development. Every leap forward in human society and every sublimation of human civilization is accompanied by the historical progress of culture.” Culture is the product of human spiritual thinking, which has relatively independent historical value after its emergence and records people’s spiritual thinking in a specific period. With relative independence, it is the reflection of human’s understanding of the surrounding world and spiritual activities in each period. It embodies the spiritual connotation of people in a specific period, or records people’s spiritual thoughts in the form of materialization, so that future generations can see the development track of human spiritual thoughts, thus becoming a typical manifestation of human civilization.

  1. Culture originates from human beings’ seeking for existence, communication and exploring thinking.

The emergence of culture is accompanied by human thinking, which mainly comes from human thinking for survival, communication and recognition between people, and human exploration and detachment thinking from the unknown world.

First, culture originates from human’s thinking of seeking existence. From birth to death, the core thinking of human beings is to seek survival first. In primitive society, human beings, like other animals, know little about the secrets of human beings, nature and the universe. Curiosity and fear become their initial psychological state, while fear is the most important. There are many things that human beings fear, some of which belong to the perceptual level, such as danger, pain, hunger and so on. Some are rational, such as death, loneliness, loss of memory, etc.

How to recognize, face and solve problems of fear has become the initial inquiry of human beings. The process of knowing and solving problems of fear almost happened at the same time. The former promoted the arrangement of memory, while the latter promoted the pursuit of wealth. These processes and results contributed to cultural phenomena such as language, writing, ethnic group, organization and religion. Therefore, culture originates from human’s thinking of seeking for existence, and the emergence of culture is the simultaneous process of human’s understanding and solving problems of fear.

Second, culture originates from human communication and recognition. Man is not only a child of nature, but also a product of society. Human survival and development cannot be separated from others, society, race or country. Language, writing, art, philosophy and religion come into being in human communication with others. It also produced cultural phenomena such as family, society, nation and country, and at the same time became the main difference between human and animals. Communication is to overcome fear and feel existence; Identity is to get rid of fear and prove existence. Human interdependence is not only an instinctive need, but also a need for reproduction and a necessity for survival. In primitive society, the natural environment was harsh, and human beings were threatened by storms, thunder and lightning, jackals and beasts, and invasion by other ethnic groups. Only by mutual trust and cooperation could they survive. Of course, on the contrary, such human forces as greed, desire, selfishness and conspiracy have also increased. These good and evil all constitute the earliest cultural form of mankind. these good and evil constitute the earliest cultural form of mankind.

Third, culture originates from human exploration and detachment. Since the birth of human beings, they have never stopped thinking and exploring nature. Nature brings food, sunshine and air to mankind, and it also brings floods, droughts and storms. Human desire to explore nature promotes human thinking, and the earliest astronomy, physics and biology may have originated from these desires. The behavior of human exploring nature promotes the development of human brain, the ability of making tools, and the ability of communicating and cooperating with each other. In the process of exploring nature and striving for detachment, human beings have made continuous progress. Since the birth of mankind, the act of exploring nature has never rested.

2.Culture has the functions of inheriting civilization, integrating civilization and creating civilization.

From a historical point of view, culture has the functions of inheriting civilization, integrating civilization and creating civilization.

Inheriting civilization is the most important function of culture. The function of inheritance mainly depends on words, art, philosophy, religion and other forms. The development history of Chinese characters is also the development history of Chinese civilization, which is different from the single practical function of western Pinyin characters. Chinese characters not only realize practical functions, but also develop the wonderful “calligraphy art” of Chinese civilization and become another unique scenery of human civilization. Whether it is the history of written records or the history of calligraphy art development, it is the history of human beings, the history of human thinking development, and the product of human beings’ perceptual or rational thinking about the universe, life and themselves.

Integrating civilization is the most prominent function of culture. Transnational marriages composed of people of different colors, nationalities and languages can be seen everywhere today, but it was not common in ancient times. Lady Zhaojun’s bidding farewell over the frontier linked agricultural civilization and nomadic civilization, and made the culture of Han Dynasty spread far over the northern prairie. Princess Wencheng’s distant marriage to Songzan Gambo became the link between the two great ancient nations of China and Tibet. Fusion is not all so beautiful, sometimes full of blood and violence. In the mid-Tang Dynasty, Country of Dashi and the Tang Dynasty fought in the Western Regions (Xiyu), and the failure of the Tang made the Western Regions sow the seeds of Islamic culture, which has far-reaching influence until today. The most typical is the Eastern Han Dynasty. When Buddhism was introduced, it made Chinese culture incorporate new elements, greatly attracted Chinese scholar-officials and merged the essence of Chinese civilization, and became an inseparable and important part of Chinese civilization. Since the Opium War, Western culture opened the door to China with opium and artillery shells. Western culture entered strongly, which impacted the original Chinese culture, but later merged with Chinese culture.

Creating civilization is a special function of culture. This process cannot be realized without the subject of culture. At the beginning of the introduction of Islam into China, the missionaries were unable to understand the language and were acclimatized. However, they still spread the seeds of Islam on the land of China after all kinds of hardships and difficulties, relying on pious faith and strong passion. Islam, Confucianism and Taoism, the local culture of Chinese civilization, and Buddhism, the foreign culture, have merged with each other, creating Islam with unique Chinese characteristics: Menhuan, which is a pioneering work. Buddhism was introduced into China, which combined with China’s tradition of paying attention to practicality, and created Zen as a new cultural phenomenon.

Culture has no borders and belongs to all mankind. As Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “Mankind has a history of civilization for thousands of years, and every country and nation has come to this day by connecting the past with the future and forging ahead into the future. The world has become what it is today through the exchange and blending of various human civilizations. Promoting exchanges, and mutual learning among human civilizations is the only way to make the world more beautiful and people of all countries live a better life. "


(Yang Zhaojun is a PhD candidate at School of Ethnology and Sociology, Minzu University of China and Xiaoyang is a teacher of Yunnan New Oriental Training School)