Observations on the Renaissance of Chinese Culture and the West 观视中华文化的复兴与西方世界
“Live as an inspired person.” – This is a concept of being that is pursued by scholars and philosophers in ancient China, a period of the Chinese civilization in which a hundred schools of philosophy flourished (诸子百家) . Subsequent dynasties of Chinese history saw warring states, booming economies and excessive elitist indulgence in material and cultural living as well as peasants’ uprisings.
The history of China has been a periodic interlude of conflicts and stability that produced a great cultural heritage in arts and literature. The central theme of Chinese civilization has always been anchored to the establishment of harmony within the middle kingdom. The dream of renaissance has also been the common passion of Chinese people for many generations since the Opium War when imperial China was overpowered by the west at the end of the 19th century. On the foundation of an economic miracle in China, after a hundred years of soul searching struggle to save the Chinese civilization, China finally opens up with confidence to a world of globalised corporations, consumerism and western popular culture singing of technology. The Chinese have been examining the depth of their tradition, against the dynamic western civilization firstly in terms of social development. How to change China’s social structure from an imperial-feudal society to a modern nation? Generations of intelligentsia devoted their life to learn from the West in an attempt to save the Chinese civilization from decline and extinction which would have been a disaster for humanity. A culture that has been living in harmony with nature for five thousand years is learning a new concept of “transformation of nature and the world”, a dynamism which excited many thinkers and leaders of China that led to the acceptance of “Marxism” in order to transform China into a modern nation following Lenin’s October Revolution in Russia.
The forsaken road swept by Dr. Sun Yatsen in his 1911 democratic revolution overthrowing the Qing emperor did not result in China adopting a capitalist way of development despite nearly four decades of republicanism. Instead Mao Zedong was triumphant after a united war of resistance against the Japanese invasion and established the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949. A gigantic effort to transform China in accordance to the ideology of socialism was mounted for three decades, culminating in the final movement with the Cultural Revolution mobilizing the youth to change China. The rapid advance in the west with capitalized economy and social democracy brought the whole Chinese nation again to embrace the “open-door” policy of Deng Xiaoping in accelerating the transformation of China economically into a strong modern nation. Again and again, the Chinese people struggled and suffered but passionately threw themselves in this historic process of transformation, adhering to the famous words of Karl Marx “Philosophers of the past described the world, the point however is to change it.”
Following the open door policy of Deng in the spirit of his concept of “the cat that catches the mice”, China has been experiencing a miracle of economic growth and booming consumerism. However, after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, the Chinese people were shocked into rethinking the concept of “human transformation of nature” and revive their traditional value of “living in harmony with nature”. The globalisation process of our modern world is affecting China socially and economically. China’s current leaders are making clear that “living in harmony” with the rest of the world will be the central theme in their interaction with the outside world. One quarter of mankind is making a statement epitomized in the symbolic spirit expressed during the “Beijing Olympics”.
“We wish to integrate with the world with mutual respects and mutual interest for the advancement of human civilization”. The current general sentiment of the Chinese people is a historical announcement of the dawn of the renaissance of Chinese culture that has much more implication to the world than the Olympic spirit.
Tradition and modernism are now attempting to synergize in China, which may influence the rest of the world. The renaissance of Chinese culture will impact not just the intellectual development of ideas, arts, science and technology, but also will influence the future of economic, social and political geography that will shape the twenty-first century.
As a lifetime observer of China and the West, I have been continuously amazed by the unexpected twists and turns in the patterns of change in both East and West. During many exchanges between China and the West, the differences in attitude and culture often led to misunderstandings and conflicts. It is only in the face of the recent global economic crisis that the West looks to China for help in recovering from a possibly prolonged economic melt down. But for the Chinese the interactions with the West are not purely an economic expression, nor simply a political act. Instead, China’s main challenge will be her cultural heritage in contrast with the West. Chinese medicine represents the traditional wisdom that is seeking a modern interpretation relevant to our globalised scientific world. Throughout her 5000 years of recorded history, China has been evolving a social system, ways of life according to her philosophical traditions of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.
The Middle Kingdom (中国) or the central civilization (中华), as the Chinese identify themselves, has been protecting their agrarian civilization from historic nomadic tribes symbolized by the construction of the Great Wall. ‘Culture” was the distinction between her and her neighbors. Today, all the elements of Chinese culture are infused in the “herb concoction” of Chinese medicine with acupuncture piercing the intellectual bubbles of the West. Now the establishments of the West are reacting with the demands for safety, quality and scientific evidence to protect their interests. Yet at the same time, the general public is embracing a “return to Nature” by voting for Chinese medicine with their bodies and pockets. If this is the direction that characterizes the exchange between China and the West, then we need to urgently integrate our systems of medicine before healthcare becomes the battlefield between East and West in the coming bio-economic age.
Medicine involves not only people’s health, economic interests but also intellectual thoughts in the theory of knowledge, science and philosophy of life. In medicine, we will see a total encounter between China and the West. There are no geographic frontiers for medicine. In China, the debate between schools of thoughts enrages as vigorously as in the West for the validity of integration in medicine and other healthcare systems. The debate also transcends cultures and academic disciplines. The philosophical concepts of Chinese medicine are being confirmed by experimental particle physics and the theorems of the quantum physicists. Yet, this is an issue that affects all of us. Our health is paramount to our existence. We have only one life, one body. Do our doctors have the wisdom to keep us well without harming us? What sort of side effects would we get in our course of treatment with drugs or surgery? Can we be in charge of our own health again and have the freedom of choice for our own healthcare without relying on a “nanny” social system?
We live in a world of dichotomies. Maybe we should learn from Hegel and Lao Tse to become a peaceful being in the complex world. Before setting off to chair a session on medical education at Nottingham University, I leave you with some of the thoughts of the “life time observer”. After all, these questions are also relevant to him when he retires from observing! He should enjoy his birthday today and everyday thereafter.
Man Fong Mei
15th August 2009
THE MFM E-LETTER expresses the personal view of Professor Man Fong Mei on health, medicine and other East-West intellectual issues. He is currently the Chairman of the Chinese Medical Institute and Register (CMIR)，Chairman of The Chinese Medical Council, UK（CMC）, and Executive Chairman, Consultative Working Committee of the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS). Professor Mei has published and delivered numerous papers in the past two decades. He is also a professor and visiting professor at three Chinese medical universities and an active member of several medical specialty research committees. If you are interested in receiving future issues of the MFM E-Letter, please visit http://www.acumedic.com/email-updates/mfm_e-letter/ to subscribe for free.
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