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Cultural reform essential to country's revival

Source: Global Times  By: Ye Lang  Updated: 2012-02-03

In building a cultural superpower, we need to focus on our nation’s cultural essence. When we discuss China’s cultural influence on the world, the core of that discussion must be the influence of China’s essence.

The report issued by the 17th National Congress of the CPC discussed the way our culture can serve as a bulwark for the rest of society. Many phenomena in society, including food-safety problems and jerry-rigged construction projects, involve more than just the immediate actors involved, but our entire national character. The material production and social development of a country cannot go far without spiritual pursuit.

First, China should work to win respect from the rest of the world. Economic development has made many Chinese become rich, often overnight. But cultural quality cannot be raised equally as quickly. Some people show off their wealth and snap up all kinds of luxuries. 

Some institutions pay huge sums of money to invite foreign entertainment and sports stars to China to show that China is rich. But such efforts do not help win respect from the rest of the world. In building a cultural superpower, we should create healthy social and cultural environments through education via school, the media and various forms of cultural activities.

In addition, modern China requires the understanding, recognition and appreciation of international bodies and other nations. At present, the US possesses the strongest cultural appeal. It attracts talent from all over the world and its films, drinks and fast food have spread to every corner of the globe. 

Comparatively, international society is still fairly unfamiliar with Chinese culture and has many misunderstandings about it.

We should communicate to the world the beautiful and progressive aspects of our culture, philosophy and art via various channels and let the world know that the real China is not about ignorance or evil, but about respect for nature, the love of life, desire for peace and so on.

To this end, the strengthening of China’s culture cannot be fulfilled without the emergence of a group of masters in culture and art. We already boast many scholars in culture, academics and art who have engaged in research and artistic production for years via their assimilation of influences from millennia of Chinese civilization.

They have become or are becoming the contemporary masters of our cultural and spiritual growth. We should pay more attention to them, make them known to the public and introduce them to the world by putting them on national stage. Such processes involve the shaping of China’s contemporary national cultural image, which cannot completely rely on the crass exhibition of kungfu stars and pop singers.

What’s more, China needs a more developed cultural industry. In a general sense, China’s cultural industry is still in its early stages. The present creation methods and content of China’s cultural products are rather weak compared with countries like Japan and the US. More focus should be put on the content of the products, so as to enhance their focus on raising people’s spiritual viewpoints toward aims that supersede mere entertainment.

The success of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs demonstrates that the soul of creativity lies in the combination of art and science. We should make it the guiding principle of cultural development.

Of course, the development of cultural industry should also be connected with people’s well-being and the ultimate goal of our cultural projects the improvement of people’s livelihood.

China’s 21st century revival needs to occur in both economic and cultural spheres. We should encourage and guide young people to learn the classics of Chinese philosophy, literature and art. We shouldn’t resist fast-food culture, but we should oppose using fast-food culture and popular art to marginalize classics, whose status is irreplaceable. In addition, traditional culture should also be closely integrated into daily life, not only in form, but in spirit and essence.

I agree with some foreign scholars in their assertions that China’s 21st century ascendancy will profoundly change the outlook and developmental course of the whole world. I also agree with the idea that it is outdated to hold that Chinese’s influence will only manifest itself economically.

The author is the director of the Institute for Cultural Industries, Peking University. The article was based on a speech made by Ye Lang at the 8th International Forum on Cultural Industries held at Peking University last week. 

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