- Chidao de wenming (Late Comer to Civilization) by Yuan Weishi
Due to the recent revival of Chinese classics, public enthusiasm about new Confucianism has regained momentum in China. In such a circumstance, scholastic debates over the merits and drawbacks of traditional Chinese culture have reached their climax.
In a cornucopia of thought-provoking observations on cultural differences, Yuan Weishi’s () new book—Chidao de wenming (Late Comer to Civilization)—attracts readers by conducting a surgical-style analysis on what he calls the ‘sphinx riddle’ of China’s late entry into the modern civilization.
The title of the book—Late Comer—indicates the author’s hypothesis on the evolution of China’s culture that China is a late comer in the world of modern civilization. Raising such a series of questions as“what has caused this late arrival into modernity,” “is China’s traditional culture itself deferring the modernization drive of China” and “where will China head in the future,” the author expresses his dissatisfaction on the current role of the Chinese culture in China’s social development. Yuan systematically describes and analyzes the factors that he believes has impeded China’s evolution towards a culturally-advanced part of the world.
Scholars have different views about the comparison between the Chinese and western cultures. In his book Duihua yu chuangxin (Dialogue and Innovation), Du Weiming (), a scholar supporting new Confucianism, argues that a culture not necessarily should be defined as good or bad. Each culture is unique and influences people in a certain locality. On this basis, cross-culture exchanges will give people maximum opportunities to learn and understand the uniqueness of other cultures. Furthering his deduction, Du emphasizes that “the relationships between traditional Chinese culture and Western culture are not contradictions but reciprocal interactions. They can be more aligned, and thus more responsive toward each other.” In such a way, they can “accumulate enough cultural resources to deal with current dilemmas confronting human societies.”
Holding a similar view on the traditional Chinese culture, in his book entitled Zhongguo de pinge (Chinese Characterisristics), Lou Yulie () states that the Chinese culture and western culture are [End Page 180] basically different and some of these differences will remain between the two cultures forever. Thus, according to Lou, in cross-cultural communication a Chinese should understand and adhere to his cultural identity and he should also know that his culture is not superior or inferior to other cultures. In the book, Lou stresses that “while comparing the Chinese culture with the Western one, trying to discover the essence of the Chinese culture is the most effective way to regain our respect toward our own culture and traditions.”
Different from the opinions of Du and Lou, Yuan Weishi defines unlikeness between the two cultures as distinction instead of difference. The former implies a low opinion of the traditional culture of China. He argues that the backwardness of the traditional Chinese culture is due to “the lack of complete acceptance of modern civilization” (p. 248). In Yuan’s opinion, “modern civilization is a synthesis of the essence of Eastern and Western cultures and embodied in a set of commonly recognized values of the modern society (p. 271).” Being categorized as modern civilization or not shall be judged upon whether “the state of human beings lies at the heart of its values (p. 244).”
People should always be of paramount importance. In the third chapter of the book, Yuan elaborates that as described and proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR, 1948), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966) and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR Commentary, 1966), human beings are entitled to all rights and freedoms as set forth in the Declaration(s), regardless of their race, gender, age and background. These are grounding norms of the modern civilization. Western culture, the author further deducts, with its core values set upon such advanced recognition of modern culture as liberty, democracy, equality and the rule of law, are easily assimilated by the modern world...