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Does China need a new religion for the 21st century?

(This will be a controversial post so let me explain in detail before throwing any cyber tomatoes) Hu Jintao and many other top ranking Chinese officials have spoken about the need for cultural influence and development of Chinese culture. But Chinese culture does not have as much influence in the rest of the world today and now even among Chinese, much of their traditional culture is being replaced with outside influences. I believe that as China becomes more wealthy and politically influential some level of cultural influence will come with that as well. But I don’t think economic development alone will do the trick for seriously developing one’s own cultural influence among one’s own people and others people.

But for China to truly have their own modern culture and to influence its own people and others with its culture–that is, for there to be true cultural exchanges in the world and not just a mostly one way west-to-east cultural exchange–China would need to develop something new and fitting.

I see nothing wrong with outside influences per se. Often it helps with developing society as whole. Tang China was influenced by outside cultures and it assimilated those outside influences to create a more nuanced and developed Chinese culture.

But I also have sympathy for those who see outside influence as a kind of harm when it is mostly a one-way street and when aspects of a foreign culture is adopted uncritically. It’s shocking how many westerners are hypocrites in this regard. When it comes to Chinese cultural, linguistic, political influence in, say, Tibet, westerners often throw a fit and see this as an evil act where there is a replacement of a native culture with a foreign influence. Yet they do not sympathize with Chinese peoples’ wish for the development of their own culture instead of simply adopting outside influences. They wish to save all the world’s religions (well, mostly just the Judeo-Christian ones and others palatable to western tastes such as some forms of Buddhism) but wish to abolish China’s native religions.

But there is good reason why I think many Chinese may want to further develop their own culture, that is, to develop something that is truly their own (even if it may be influenced or inspired by foreign sources as was the case in the Tang dynasty). That is because I believe collective self-esteem is a trait necessary for a happy and prosperous nation and such self-esteem heavily depends on cultural identity. A sense of cultural identity or a consistent, practiced, living tradition that the people can identify with and be proud to call their own gives people a sense of self and self worth. It also instilled a sense of purpose in life. Like it or not, religion provides much of the glue for society. A religion is the greatest vehicle for tying all these loose ends and packaging it in a way society accepts. It is also the vehicle that makes possible what Hu and others who wish for native development can only vacuously plead for.

That sense of identity, I’m afraid might sound frightening to many outside China who have been raised with the racist thought that Chinese culture and people are evil and if they had any self-esteem, would conquer the world. Thus the world must keep Chinese people in a state of cultural/spiritual sickness like it has been kept for many years. The west would love for China to adopt religion but only if it is western religion.

This is why I am more and more inclined to believe that Chinese people ought to develop a new religion. But won’t the re-adoption old ones do? No, not if they are adopted without any necessary changes so as to be more conducive to modern life. Religions are large aspects of culture and a culture is a mode of living and believing which must be first of all conducive to the lifestyle of the people practicing them. When they are not so conducive, they go extinct.

For many of our readers who are possibly enlightened and very secular people (as I am), the suggestion may conger up the thought that I am advocating a kind of retrograde systems of superstition to be adopted by the masses of Chinese people. No. That is not what I mean by ‘religion.’ A religion isn’t necessarily bad. Likewise, a religion isn’t necessarily superstitious advocating hocus pocus metaphysics and outdated moral systems though all of the Judeo Christian ones and many forms of Buddhism and other major religions (ahem, FG) certainly do.

I have in mind a very broad meaning of religion. It is what Joseph Campbell emphasized. A religion is simply a mythical narrative or story about how a people came to be, what they have done, and where they are going. It supplies the context of their creation and of their historical struggles in a way that at the same time mythologizes those experiences and gives posterity a sense of cultural value. Such a mythical narrative, as Campbell made explicitly clear, need not be fictional. It may have large elements of truth (as well as metaphor). It also supplies rituals where people can come together to share those religious experiences with each other.

But developing such a narrative is a collective effort. Just like no single person made the Christian or Jewish faith as we know it today, no single person made many of the other major religions including Buddhism and Hinduism. Rather the traditions are lived. They encompass many lives in many eras and is simply the collective wisdom of a people telling their own story passed down from one generation to the next with each contributing something special and meaningful.

A truly Chinese religion, whether it be created ex nihilo, or created with the inspiration of its past religious, moral, philosophical, historical developments (as I hope it will be) will need the efforts of many Chinese people to contribute.  It needs to be novel, it needs to be grand, inspiring and it needs to tell the story of us as Chinese people. It is also important that it be attractive to modern people’s sensibilities and worldviews. This can be achieved by making the narrative relevant to their modern lives. Hopefully China’s artists are up to this great task and they need all the encouragement they could get. I believe that artists, especially writers and people in the humanities, will contribute the most here in the development of a future Chinese identity, one in which future Chinese will proudly call their own and see as a continuation of the past linked by a profound, spiritually beautiful narrative which can also teach us about ourselves and give meaning to our lives.

 

Categories: aside, culture, General, history, Opinion, religion Tags:
  1. August 21st, 2012 at 10:29 | #1

    Great read, melektaus. To me, China’s “new religion” is the faith in the wisdom in her 5000 year history. China’s uniqueness will be her crawling forward while carrying the weight of history on her back.

  2. August 21st, 2012 at 10:47 | #2

    @YinYang

    Yes, China has great cultural resources to draw upon. But sometimes too much cultural resources and plurality may actually be a bad thing because there is no tie to bind them into something that makes it a true narrative. I hope that some form of cohesive narrative is developed which makes those ties in a way that tells a beautiful story.

  3. August 21st, 2012 at 11:38 | #3

    @melektaus
    I understand what you are saying. Hey, on this thought:

    I hope that some form of narrative is developed which makes those ties in a way that tells a beautiful story.

    What do you think is the American narrative that gives her culture ‘religious’ appeal around the world?

    Want to see if we can distill this down using an example.

    In terms of entertainment, I see simply the U.S. market has given Hollywood the opportunity to have really big budgets. This makes their story-telling much more compelling. In terms of the big movies, like, say, Batman, X-Men, Battleship, Transformers, and etc., the narratives are as follows:

    1. American military is #1. In Battlefield, it can even defeat powerful aliens that come from afar to threaten humanity. As in Transformers, American military can fight side by side with Autobots.

    These films have incredible propaganda value for projecting American military as a force for good. I frequently see American troops in other countries as if such occurrences are normal in the films. When they are, American soldiers seem to be above the law and have free reign.

    2. Invariably, American movies heighten the ‘individualism,’ ‘freedom,’ and ‘democracy’ to religious status. The individual is always worshiped above everything else. They are repeated over and over again in every film.

    3. Non-Whites are usually cast as the lesser and certain societies or countries are disparaged. (Okay, generally speaking.)

    I would say, given the opportunity, I can imagine other societies doing the same: glorify their own military, their own values, and even disparage others.

    Wouldn’t you say, the ‘American’ story is narrated ‘beautifully’ and with so much repetition.

    I can imagine if China becomes more affluent and with bigger budgets, she can do #1 and #2 just as easily. I hope she stays away from #3 though.

    Having a good narrative and a beautiful story is obviously important. I suspect that’s part of great movie-making (backed by really big budgets).

  4. August 21st, 2012 at 13:56 | #4

    As an agnostic bordering on atheist (let’s say 6.9 on the Dawkins scale), my big problem with religion is that it is – by its nature – a FAITH-based belief system. Under such a system (regardless of whether it takes on the label of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc), people draw conclusions independent of scientific evidence.

    I actually think modern American atheism is one of the few set of ideas we can import from the West.

    I also think the notion that religion is a necessity for passing on collective wisdom and meaning is a fallacy. A few excepts below explains things far more articulately than I can:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptwEV0xhTzI

    Here is another excerpt on the potential dangers of religion in modern-day America, I would hope that this pernicious form of religion does not infect China:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Weu7Rh6dYrM

  5. August 21st, 2012 at 21:14 | #5

    Mister Unknown :

    As an agnostic bordering on atheist (let’s say 6.9 on the Dawkins scale), my big problem with religion is that it is – by its nature – a FAITH-based belief system. Under such a system (regardless of whether it takes on the label of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc), people draw conclusions independent of scientific evidence.

    That’s only one definition of religion, one in which I was not relying on. I was, as I mentioned in the blog, using Campbell’s definition which as he explains does not rely on faith. Religion, as explained in Campbell’s terms, need not be fictional and may have substantial truth as its basis. The Judeo-Christian faiths have distorted people’s idea of what a religion can be because faith in the fictional is such a large aspect of what THEY are. But many religions simply rely on no such thing. Chinese Buddhism for example, is extremely naturalistic and may be compatible with scientific and naturalistic philosophical worldviews.

    BTW, I would probably score quite high on Dawkins’s atheist scale.

  6. August 21st, 2012 at 21:22 | #6

    YinYang :

    @melektaus
    I understand what you are saying. Hey, on this thought:

    I hope that some form of narrative is developed which makes those ties in a way that tells a beautiful story.

    What do you think is the American narrative that gives her culture ‘religious’ appeal around the world?

    Want to see if we can distill this down using an example.

    In terms of entertainment, I see simply the U.S. market has given Hollywood the opportunity to have really big budgets. This makes their story-telling much more compelling. In terms of the big movies, like, say, Batman, X-Men, Battleship, Transformers, and etc., the narratives are as follows:

    1. American military is #1. In Battlefield, it can even defeat powerful aliens that come from afar to threaten humanity. As in Transformers, American military can fight side by side with Autobots.

    These films have incredible propaganda value for projecting American military as a force for good. I frequently see American troops in other countries as if such occurrences are normal in the films. When they are, American soldiers seem to be above the law and have free reign.

    2. Invariably, American movies heighten the ‘individualism,’ ‘freedom,’ and ‘democracy’ to religious status. The individual is always worshiped above everything else. They are repeated over and over again in every film.

    3. Non-Whites are usually cast as the lesser and certain societies or countries are disparaged. (Okay, generally speaking.)

    I would say, given the opportunity, I can imagine other societies doing the same: glorify their own military, their own values, and even disparage others.

    Wouldn’t you say, the ‘American’ story is narrated ‘beautifully’ and with so much repetition.

    Yes, in a way, the US has made incredibly brutal and ugly stories into beautiful narratives. That’s the major problem with making narratives. You might turn something ugly and dangerous into something beautiful. But you can also show the world truly beauty things that were there and which they had not realized was beautiful.

  7. August 21st, 2012 at 21:35 | #7

    @melektaus
    lol. Okay, I forgot my punchline. So, my point was that there was probably no genius that came up with #1, #2, and #3 at the very beginning. Human nature, unrestrained, has allowed all those 3 phenomenon to manifest itself – given the economic opportunity.

    So I am saying, there need not be a religion to allow for those narratives. Hence, China need not a new religion. 😛

  8. August 21st, 2012 at 22:26 | #8

    @YinYang

    I have my doubts that simply throwing money at something will make it attractive to people and especially make it worth attracting. Look at Waterworld, a film that cost a record to make at the time and flopped. It was not made appealing to the public. And look at even the blockbusters that do well. Thought they may have mass appeal, they are not worthy of being attractive because they are in fact ugly.

    I want China to be able to have something that is both appealing and worthy of appeal. Greater money might make that a greater possibility but it is certainly not sufficient. It needs a purpose too or a sense of direction. I think a religion, in the meaning I was using, provides this.

  9. August 21st, 2012 at 22:38 | #9
  10. August 22nd, 2012 at 00:22 | #10

    @YinYang

    Great article from global times.

    It has hit on the reason why I blog – not necessarily to correct biases, but to free us from Western dogma. It is freedom from this, and more importantly, empowerment to create another worldview, another set of norms, ideals, goals, purpose, etc. that I am after. It is through this that China is resurrected and becomes a real living civilization.

    A Japan or S. Korea or even India may be happy being a successful Western mold. China cannot be. China has to be an engine – a beacon – a new center – the source of the next phase of human development.

  11. August 22nd, 2012 at 00:25 | #11

    @YinYang

    Great find! I agree and what a coincidence that it was published basically the same time as I posted my blog. It said much of the same things. I wonder who wrote it. Maybe we’re dopplegangers.

  12. August 22nd, 2012 at 00:48 | #12

    @melektaus

    Someone has noted once that great thinkers are often born around the same time in history – not necessarily because they are great, but because the world is hungry for something new.

    Maybe it’s China’s – humanity’s – hunger that is guiding you … and the global times editor … and many others around the world?

  13. August 22nd, 2012 at 13:45 | #13

    “Why doesn’t China has its own national religion?” I think this is a common question of any sinologist studying Chinese history and watching China. The Indian has Hinduism, the Greek and Roman eventually embraced Christianity as national religion, the Arab has Islam, and of course the Jewish has Judaism to the extent that one cannot be Jewish without believing in the religion.

    And what set religion apart of philosophy? In my view it is the believe in the supernatural that differentiate religion from a philosophy. In that regard what should Confucianism or Daoism be classified as? There is a Confucian saying “Respect the demon and deity but keep a distance.” It is precisely this belief that drive China to form a government that try to base its foundation on logical governance instead of legitimacy from a super natural source. In other word, instead of appointment based on bloodline the person is selected on merit.

    However, in keeping with the masses and to facilitate orderly rule, the king/emperor was still regarded as son of heaven. By adhering to this agreement, the Confucian bureaucrats and scholars devised a rule of engagement to run the country. The underlying promise is that the rule of the king/emperor cannot be challenged or overthrown until he lost the mandate of heaven. Until that happened, the king/emperor deserved the unquestioning loyalty of all his ministers and citizen.

    One of the most difficult aspect of governance is to find an orderly transition of power. The so-called greatest merit of democracy is that it supposedly allowed the most effective selection of next political leadership.

    Before that, most political system is simply family based and pass on from usually father to son. In China, the solution has been to have a mixed of that with a national examination system to grade possible future government official. I won’t say the rest of the world copied this system but in many regards examination is the most sensible and effective way of selection. So on their own each civilization, state or empire come up with a system to select their officials and examination system is currently the most effective.

    Basically, how viable and competitive a state is in our modern world depended more on the quality of the civil service than anything else. However, too many factors dictate how a government is set up. The strength and position of the country like its economy, military, world position (its geographic and political alliance) would make quite a difference. For example, Weimar Germany probably has the most democratic government of any large countries in Europe but it failed.

    Religion and philosophy basically try to answer the biggest question of every human. The question of “What is the meaning of life?” Both religion and philosophy try to make the human more reasonable and try to create a “workable society” for “the masses”. However, as history has shown both forces can be a source of destruction and wars. Because without religion and philosophy, human basically live the rule of the jungle, the survival of the fittest. The strong should rule over the weak etc.

    Religion and philosophy try to introduce concept of sense of worth, fairness, rule of law, compassion, justice bla bla bla. I am not trying to belittle those ideals but realized in history that both religion and philosophy has been used as a tool of justification of exploitation and cruelty too. And when you add religion and philosophy to the rule of the jungle it becomes very ugly.

    Today, the common theme of the ruling party in China has been to create a “Harmonies Society”. At one time the concept of universalism is embraced. In many circle it is called communism and socialism. And after China has worked its way back into the dominant international system a few models were tried. Unfortunately, none proved to be a cure all, and now “socialism with Chinese characteristic” is the running model with Harmonies Society as the ultimate goal.

    Dominant world religion like Christianity, Islam all have element of manifest destiny in them. The ultimate goal is to convert the non-believers. Hinduism and Buddhism also have manifest destiny but centred more on self enlightenment, where the believer achieving Nirvana as the highest goal. Confucianism discarded the manifest destiny and super natural element and try to deal with the present world. In China Confucianism mixed with Daoism, Legalism has become the dominant belief for over two thousand years. The present political leadership and social elite seems to think it is the most workable model for China. That’s why Confucian institutes are being presented as representative of China’s model to the world.

  14. August 23rd, 2012 at 01:12 | #14

    @Ray

    You are partly right that one way to look at the religious/philosophy dichotomy is that one relies on reason while the other is supernatural. However, there are naturalistic religions out there such as Chinese Buddhism which does not posit any supernatural things. Another way to make the distinction between religion and philosophy is that religion seeks to answer not only life’s most pressing and important problems like philoosphy but it also contains large elements of social rituals which philosophy has none in essence.

  15. dan
    August 23rd, 2012 at 05:35 | #15

    This is a tall order, creating a new religion to befit the new China. Every religion takes centuries to formulate into its individual messages we know today. Since religion and culture are closely weaved into the fabric of any nation, I will leave religion out and just rant on cultural ones. How many Chinese today can say that out of the basic daily life necessities, how many remains true as an embodiment of Chinese character: ‘衣,食,住,行’? IMO, out of the four, ‘Food’ is probably the only item we can say yes to, the other three are pretty much westernized. I am not saying that Chinese need to go back to certain dynastic periods to remain ‘Chinese’, but if we want to have meaningful cultural influence, something relevant to the world as ‘Chinese’, it can’t simply be just having a ‘Golden Wok’s Chinese restaurant’ in every corner of the world.

    ‘衣’; it took me sometime in college to realize that what we wear daily is a continuum of westerners’ fashions. Clothing we wear today –even underwear – has a clear, linear relationship to the Western cultural development. What Chinese in China wear today have no relationship to Chinese fashions, the line is broken;

    ‘住’; take a look at architecture in China and its urban development. The houses most Chinese want: western style. Chinese cities are built on Western concept, no cultural linkage. Witness the destruction of cultural gems: the ‘胡同,’ 四合院’, for one reason or another, our own built structure is considered backward. Regardless of where Chinese are in income level, to live in a Western style house is considered ‘made it’;

    ‘行’; this is a bit hard to conceptualize. To me it is an abstract term. The closet link to this word I can think of is probably the methods of conducting daily life, not just mode of transportation. Say, writing. Even our writing, I have to use western syllabus to construct Chinese characters onto the digital format, can’t Chinese scientists figure out a uniquely Chinese way to ‘write’, to communicate in the digital format without going Romanized? Call me crazy, but I am waiting to see Chinese computer scientists develop ways to write programs in Chinese.

    I am pessimistic when it comes to how long China can remain a distinctive culture as a major civilization. We had remained distinctive for so long, but once the Qing’s China disastrous confrontation with the West, we had lost more than territories. Our cultural development, the’ things’ that make who we are have lost its continuum. The dialogue with the past has broken. What I see in China today is nothing more than a desperate attempt to be ‘modern’, to be some body. Some say it is futuristic –a Star-Trek society, but where does this Star-Trek idea come from? China may be modernizing, but is losing its soul in the race course.

    My rant may be out of topic, but thank you for letting me posting my 2 cents.

  16. August 23rd, 2012 at 07:32 | #16

    @melektaus
    Actually Buddhism contained a lot of super natural references. The reason Guanyin is portrayed as female in China is because the story always showed he appeared in female form. Also the ultimate goal of Buddhist is to achieve enlightenment, which cannot be explain in simple scientific term (maybe in the future we can).

  17. August 23rd, 2012 at 08:05 | #17

    @dan
    I think you raise a good point but I have to totally disagree with most of your reasoning. First of all, ‘衣,食,住,行’ are Chinese concept not foreign concept.

    The reason “clothing” is put ahead of all others is because of the concept of dignity. Having dignity is more important than “food, housing and transportation”. Do you seriously think that human can only live on food and without the rest? Also it is wrong to say that modern dress is entirely western in origin. The Chinese invented trousers and is the first major civilization to dress its population in a pair. Funny isn’t it? The Greek and Roman, initially don’t wear trousers. The major reason modern western style clothing is so dominant is because in many way it is very effective, modern European also don’t wear toga. If you actually try to put on a Tang robe you will see how time consuming it is. The Ming robe is simpler and Qing fashion is simpler still. Modern dress comes with zipper and buttons (compare to traditional Chinese style button, the modern form is so much cheaper to make). It is also true that the European are so dominant for the last few hundred years that if you don’t dressed like them they will despise you. And I don’t know where you got this concept that underwear is a Western cultural thing.

    Chinese ‘四合院’ is nice in concept: living area surrounding an open space in the middle. The Chinese palace and temple are probably the only place to use this building concept anymore. The problem is , unless one is rich and afford a big land, a bungalow (Spanish villa) style house is the most efficient. And today, in all major cities (including Chinese ones), the only choice is apartment. You have to be super rich to live in a Chinese style villa today.

    Come on, Chinese on Taiwan still use the traditional way of constructing Chinese characters. I learn that while growing up and find the pinyin system much easier. What’s wrong with pinyin? By using the zhuyin system, you have to memorize another set of characters for use in pronunciation. The Roman devised the alphabets from Greek alphabets, and eventually most of Europe adopted it. It is clearly an effective system. Before that most of Europe do not have a written language.

    And I always tell people that business that deal with clothing, food, housing, transportation, birth, aging, sickeness, death (衣,食,住,行, 生,老,病,死)are the ones to go into because it is what people need or has to go through. I think you are too pessimistic, Chinese culture is very pragmatic and always adapted more effective methods to run daily lives. In many ways, European cultures are like that too. I actually have Caucasian friends that lament to me that what they have as culture is what we see in daily life while Chinese still have something resembling tradition.

  18. August 23rd, 2012 at 12:20 | #18

    @dan

    Good comments Dan. I think you and I are on the same page regarding China is at today. Where we might disagree on is the future viability of China.

    If China is to follow Japan or South Korea or even Taiwan’s model of development, you may be right. It’s basically just Westernization. China will be a Western civilization, with some (not very important, really) Chinese characteristics.

    Still … that’s only where things look today. How China develop is still up in the air? You may be too pessimistic. Remember, Japan is no China. Neither is S. Korea. Taiwan is just a province … with no real core for independent development. We’ll just have to see. I reserve for a different outcome for China.

    As for your complaint about pinyin to enter Chinese, that’s superficial really. If you go by your definition is Vietnam really Westernized today because it uses some sort of roman alphabet as the basis of its “modern” written language? Has it lost its core? Maybe … but maybe not… It depends on what Vietnam does in the future, in my opinion.

    Pinyin is at most symbolic. The real substance we have to look deeper .. and wait.

    As for computer programming languages, all programming are really just logical languages with limited vocabulary and grammar. It’s looks “English” to humans though it’s not really English. In actuality, it’s easy to put any computer language in any form of characterset you want. Get any freshman computer science guy and he can write a compiler for source code language you want.

    Hutong? Is that really Chinese? Or just a character of a particular time? If Hutong is Chinese, you might as well argue steel is Western and no Chinese?

    What’s more important I think is the outlook, the norm, the ideals promoted going forward – which goes to the idea of a Chinese “religion.”

    Personally I don’t like that term “religion,” as it’s often associated with a right and wrong, an absolute norm that fuel crusades, and an infatuation of righteousness. But take all that away, I agree with melektaus – China needs to look for a outlook that is its own. You cannot develop independently, have an independent culture and make truly new contributions living in another’s shadows.

    Right now, if I don’t look carefully, I would say China is but a shadow of a West … and/or of its former self. It’s neither Chinese nor Western. Both the Western ideal and the ancient Chinese ideal are there, openly available for the China to take. We’ll see what China does. I am hoping the ancient Chinese ideals will make a comeback and that China does not become just another Japan, S. Korea, or India…

  19. August 23rd, 2012 at 20:41 | #19

    @Ray

    Many Chinese Buddhists and other Buddhists do not believe in reincarnation, Karma or anything like that. they have a completely naturalistic metaphysics.

  20. August 23rd, 2012 at 20:42 | #20

    @dan

    Losing its soul by becoming “modern” is a good way to put it.

  21. dan
    August 24th, 2012 at 06:27 | #21

    Ray – The key word, the operative word of my rant and ‘discontent’ is: Continuum. I am not here advocating a whole-sales return to the past nor am I suggesting a resurrection of the ‘义和团’. Not at all. What I want to say is that without acknowledging the past, we cannot arrive to a future that bears our stamp. Every ‘today’ has a ‘yesterday’, but it is ‘yesterday’ that gives birth to ‘tomorrow’. What kind of ‘tomorrow’ depends on how we manage the ‘today’. I am not suggesting that Chinese architects should build ‘四合院’ in all their endeavors, and I certainly will not put on a (bath) robe as my daily choice of clothing. But it is the loss of continuum that bothers me. If we ask ourselves: where do we come from…where are we going… If someone were to delineate all our 5000 years of cultural significances in a linear line, where do the 20th-21st centuries fit in? I suppose we would come to a screeching stop and wonder? Is there any resemblance to our forefathers’ histories?

    Allen – my lamentation about pinyin and computer programing language has to do with the fact that if an ordinary Zhou in anywhere, China, is gifted somehow in logical reasoning, he must first learn another language to be able to use his talent, but what if he is not gifted in learning a foreign tongue? And to write Chinese in a digital medium, I must first know how to write in Roman letters…I mean, WTF? No westerners will ever need to know Chinese in order to excel in science, music, literature, the list goes on. Someone said:’ …in the bivouac of Life, Be not like dumb, driven cattle!…’ the longer China develops under the Western shadow (as you so aptly put), the longer we remain the collective driven cattles- whatever accomplishment Chinese achieve will bear not our stamp but others.

    Melektaus, I like your post and I too believe it is time China must find her own footsteps and creates her own drum beats to dance and to move on. It is not worth all the glistening exterior with but a hollow interior.

  22. JJ
    August 24th, 2012 at 11:24 | #22

    @Allen

    If China is to follow Japan or South Korea or even Taiwan’s model of development, you may be right. It’s basically just Westernization.

    While I understand what you mean, I’m not sure they would be considered that Western though. Both Japan and SK seem to really value their cultural elements. Even today you’ll see young people wear their traditional attire.

    Likewise, Taiwan is heavily influenced by Buddhism/Taoism that no amount of Westernization could really change that. This month is Ghost Month and just earlier this week just about every business person (from street vendors to CEOs of large companies) were out giving their offerings.

    So while I do agree that these three countries have also been affected by Western culture, I wouldn’t say it’s any worse than what’s going on in the Mainland right now.

    @dan

    And to write Chinese in a digital medium, I must first know how to write in Roman letters…I mean, WTF?

    I can definitely feel what you’re saying. It does annoy me too, but there are non-Roman-letter-based ways of writing Chinese, like Zhuyin (which is used in Taiwan), along with Cangjie and Wubi.

    The problem is that they’re often hard to learn. So perhaps if more emphasis was given to it then things could change.

    One thing I feel that needs to be changed is that TV shows and movies must remove the subtitles. While I understand the desire is to promote literacy or deal with the various regional accents, I feel that once people get used to subtitles, they’re more willing to watch media in a different language.

    Whereas in America, most people hate subtitles and as a result, foreign media isn’t popular and thus has less influence.

    Ultimately though, I hope we can look at African Americans for a direction. They basically took their former-masters culture, and made it something of their own. And they made it so compelling that others now want to emulate them.

    And frankly, isn’t that what the Chinese are great at? Didn’t we absorb and Sinicize our invaders?

  23. August 24th, 2012 at 12:31 | #23

    @dan
    To be honest, ‘四合院’ suited Chinese culture much more. I rather live in one than a Spanish villa style house. I am a rather private person and prefer that style as the recreation area is surrounded but it is too expensive to build one now. However, I do feel that there can be more Chinese element build into modern building, the same goes for Islamic, Hindu design etc. If the whole world adopt the same modern theme it would be sad for humanity.

    The 20th-21st century would definitely be remembered as centuries of revolution and where China try to reinvent itself again. I say again because a unified China has been destroyed and rebuilt over many times. Have you ever read the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”? The intro pretty much sum up Chinese historian view of China.

    For me, I actually feel that too much indulgence in one’s past histories or glory could be detrimental to a civilization. The average Chinese in all of China, are already fairly familiar with one’s history and culture. As JJ has pointed out this month is Qingming. And today’s Chinese still celebrate Lunar new Year (on a calendar over 5,000 yrs old), Duanwu, Chongyang, Mid Autumn etc which are easily a few thousand years old. Have you ever row a modern dragon boat? It is made of fibreglass.

    In many ways, I see it as positive because modern Chinese has learned and incorporate many foreign element and maintained Chinese. Of course, it might not be the level some want but I sincerely believe that there is no one size fit all. I prefer a Chinese society that is a mixture Buddisht, Daoist, Christian, Muslim, Confucian etc. Also some Chinese can be very westernized but some are not. In my view Chinese cultures always incorporate foreign element and is always evolving.

    JJ,
    It is very common to offer paper Mercedes, even iPhone to the dead in overseas Chinese society nowadays.

  24. Rhan
    August 24th, 2012 at 22:50 | #24

    I tend to agree with JJ, but this phenomenon is common just like when Europe once had great esteem to possess China procelin and tea. But what really annoy me is how some China made movie or series that portray anything modern and good were definitely a Western brand or concept. This use to be the idea adopted in HK made, but at least HK were once under British and Anglophile is everywhere, not sure what is wrong with the Chinese.

  25. JJ
    August 25th, 2012 at 06:03 | #25

    @Ray

    Oh, just to clarify, Qingming is actually around April (in the Gregorian calendar), and that’s to celebrate your ancestors. This month is Ghost Month/Festival, which includes praying to your ancestors, but I think the main objective is to make offerings to “hungry ghosts” that have no family members to do so.

    In a way, it’s an act of charity to give these lost souls proper treatment, because the folklore behind it is that if your relatives or friends don’t specifically give you offerings, then you’ll have nothing to eat.

    And as you can see, these traditions show a very strong sense of unity and family.

    – – – – – – –

    It is very common to offer paper Mercedes, even iPhone to the dead in overseas Chinese society nowadays.

    Ha! Yeah, I’ve seen these too 🙂

    Also, I think parts of Taiwan are starting to shift from this a little because of Tzu Chi’s influence. They’ll still make offerings, but because of environmental concerns, they no longer burn incense or paper. And instead, they feel that the incense is “in your heart and through your actions,” i.e. in essence, the good works and charity you do will help and inspire the lost souls move on.

    Of course this is only in a few places, as the majority still burn incense and paper, but I have seen a gradual change and hopefully more in the future.

  26. August 25th, 2012 at 07:46 | #26

    @JJ
    Ya, it slipped my mind. Qingming and Chongyang’s dates correspond to the Gregorian calender.

    Yes, the ghost month comes into being with respond to Mulian’s saving of his mother from hunger in hell. Although there is a Daoism legend too. 道教稱為中元節,佛教稱為盂蘭盆節

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maudgalyayana

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Moggallana_saves_his_mother.jpg

    I agree, offering should be from the heart. Nowadays, less burning is encouraged and only vegeterian food is used for offering.

  27. Rhan
    August 25th, 2012 at 08:52 | #27

    i think is Qingming and Winter Solstice, not Chongyang, correspond to the Gregorian calender, i don’t know why though. It seem only Southerner celebrate Winter Solstice, do Northerner celebrate 冬至?

  28. August 25th, 2012 at 09:10 | #28

    @Rhan
    You are right again. LOL. It is indeed the case. I can’t believe I forgot Qingming since I attended one this April.

    Notherners also celebrate Winter Solstice but I believe only southerners eat tangyuan.

  29. JJ
    August 26th, 2012 at 02:45 | #29

    @Ray

    Ah, thanks for the background. Asian history is filled with acts of great compassion and hopefully these traditions will remind us of that.

    …and only vegeterian food is used for offering.

    I see this trend too and it’s quite interesting. I actually saw an offering that was looked like a pig but was made from tofu!

    Also, there seems to be a rise in all-vegetarian banquets for weddings. The idea is that you don’t want to start a new union by killing all these animals 🙂

  30. August 26th, 2012 at 06:46 | #30

    In some sense, the Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore and Taiwan are more culturally Chinese than mainlanders because they never suffered through the cultural revolution and are in general wealthier than mainlanders so they can devote themselves to learn about Chinese culture.

    I often see all vegetarian restaurants run by Chinese Buddhists in Malaysia etc but in mainland China, few people even know about vegetarianism or know anything about Buddhism or Taoism. It’s really quite sad.

  31. August 26th, 2012 at 08:18 | #31

    @melektaus
    Well, it is too early to say that. As JJ noticed, when people become more wealthy, educated and have better sense of awareness, they will forego indulgence.

    The vegetarian culture is quickly catching on in the mainland too. In Chinese wedding an 8 course meals used to be the norm. Now there is trend towards simpler meal.

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