Zhu Yuan

Traditional culture is not enough

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-03 06:28
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Sometimes even a point of view that churns our stomach or offends us can be food for thought. The very extreme nationalism and populism in the book China Stands Up is case in point.

In his book, writer Mo Luo, a scholar with the Chinese National Academy of Arts, accuses Chinese literary figures such as Lu Xun (1881-1936), Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940), Hu Shi (1891-1962), Chen Duxiu (1879-1942) of cutting short the line of traditional Chinese culture despite the fact that all these figures have been respected as pioneers in the May Fourth Movement on 1919, dubbed China's Renaissance.

Mo criticized them as culprits who have overturned the basic values of traditional Chinese culture. The Western-style education that they helped to establish is said to have given birth to the worship of Western culture. As a result, Chinese have been educated to blindly follow the path that Western powers have designed. China is still on its knees, the writer says, and it will not stand up unless it returns back to the values of its own culture and no longer blindly worships those in the Western culture.

Globalization is described in the book as a conspiracy by Western powers to further exploit China. One example Mo gives is the huge profits gained by transnational companies from sweatshop factories in coastal areas.

True, many factories do gain very low margins of profit with the lion share going to transnational companies. Western companies in the 1840s were indeed supported by their governments to conduct illegal sales of opium to China.

Yet, these examples do not prove that holding onto our traditional methods of education - with intellectuals reciting ancient Chinese classics - will revive China as a prosperous and powerful nation outshining its Western counterparts.

I doubt that China would have been underdeveloped had the historical figures severely attacked by this writer not reformed education by learning from the West.

It is not a shame to admit our own weaknesses and to learn from those who have done a better a job. China's defeat by Western powers in the two opium wars between the 1840s and 1880s and the country's defeat in the war with Japan on the Yellow Sea testified to the decline of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the country's backwardness in the development of science and technology as compared with the West.

Those intellectuals may have gone too far in expounding on the downsides of the traditional Chinese culture in the early 1920s. But it was because they felt that steering China toward prosperity and modernity was an urgent, pressing task.

China and its economy have evolved quicker than any nation in the past three decades. And its standards of living have also vastly improved. There is no denying that the nation's advancement is largely due to its openness to the outside world. The message is that opening up to the outside world is the only way for China to rise as a prosperous and powerful nation.

If there is anything we can learn by reading this book, it should be the right attitude we must adopt in cooperation with Western countries. We should never take it for granted that everything our Western counterparts have done is right. We must learn to distinguish what is good and what is bad in the Western culture as well as in Western corporate culture.

The current financial turmoil on Wall Street should have taught us a lesson how fraudulent financial institutions have been in creating and exploiting derivatives. What we should recognize from this example is the nature of Western companies to make a profit. It is only wishful thinking that they will ever help China at the cost of their own business.

On this point, business is business. We must never compromise our principles and never make unnecessary concessions in negotiations with these firms. Following the rules as long as the rules are fair should be what we do to cooperate with other countries.

Only by further opening up to the outside world can we hopefully better know about our Western counterparts. Only by knowing about them will we be able to better protect our interests in our cooperation with them. That is also one of the fallacies this writer has committed in writing this book.

E-mail: zhuyuan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 02/03/2010 page8)