Xi Jinping Thought on Culture has far-reaching global implications

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2024-01-12

At a national meeting on the work of public communication and culture held in October 2023, Xi Jinping Thought on Culture was introduced for the first time. To explore the theoretical implications and values of this thought, CSST recently interviewed Mohammed Saqib, secretary general of India China Economic & Cultural Council; Humphrey Moshi, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania; and Michael Braddick, a fellow of the British Academy and professor of history at the University of Sheffield.

To these three scholars, the proposal of Xi Jinping Thought on Culture demonstrates Xi’s efforts to coordinate national governance from a cultural perspective. These endeavors are expected to imbue China with a new cultural posture and enhance its cultural appeal in the new era. Profound ideas are often the source of inspiration for great endeavors. Guided by this system of thought, China is poised to steadily advance on the path of turning itself into a country with a strong socialist culture and building a modern Chinese civilization.

New approach to governance

Moshi noted that national governance requires planning and layout, and cultural considerations play an irreplaceable role in this process. The social and economic development of any country does not take place in a vacuum, and the same applies to politics. These aspects are underpinned by culture. Xi clearly perceives this point and crystallizes it into a complete system—Xi Jinping Thought on Culture. This understanding is also reflected in Xi’s style of governance. In the sense that the world is curious to know and learn the cultural traits which are propelling that success, Xi’s cultural thought is helping to spread Chinese culture worldwide.

According to Saqib, the proposal of Xi Jinping Thought on Culture marks a significant move on the national level. It signifies Xi’s deep understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture, history, and traditions, in which he takes great pride. It also indicates that China recognizes the fundamental role of culture in national governance. This strategy is unique in that it respects the influence of culture on shaping a nation’s values, beliefs, and identity, while affording culture equal importance to the economy, politics, and diplomacy.

Stressing that Xi Jinping Thought on Culture is a crucial concept, Braddick said it represents a new approach in terms of governance. The proposal of this approach signifies China’s official integration of culture into its governance framework, marking a major breakthrough as China progresses towards becoming a cultural powerhouse.

Grand, far-reaching cultural visions

“He [Xi] has a deep love for Chinese culture, and rich knowledge of Chinese literature. He often quotes famous sayings from classical Chinese literature and philosophical works—this makes his speech profound and thought-provoking,” Braddick said.

Moshi believes that an individual’s thoughts are inherently a product of his cultural background and behavior. This being the case, the proposal and establishment of Xi’s cultural thought reflects Xi’s personal cultural views as a leader and as a champion of the people.

“Xi’s cultural views are formed for two basic factors,” Moshi explained. “One, he is very knowledgeable on a wide range of issues—a clear testimony that he reads a lot to make himself conversant with world issues. This makes many of his opinions very profound and thought-provoking. Two, he is innovative, and comes up with a lot of new ideas and concepts regarding China’s domestic development and international cooperation, which also involves the sector of culture. During the national governance process, Xi practices his own ideas and perception about Chinese culture. This is clearly observable in his book titled Up and Out of Poverty.”

“His wisdom draws from historical and cultural sources. He is always emphasizing the importance of continuity between China’s past and present. He appears as a leader who is deeply rooted in Chinese culture, promotes national identity, and is proud of its culture. It also establishes his credibility as the leader of a proud nation,” Saqib said.

Saqib continued to say that Xi Jinping Thought on Culture demonstrates grand and far-reaching cultural visions. His governance style is not only influenced by fine traditional Chinese culture, but has also incorporated elements of Marxist thought. While Marxism provides the thought foundation, Xi has incorporated elements of fine traditional Chinese culture, such as emphasizing social order, discipline, and moral values.

Saqib added that Xi Jinping Thought on Culture represents an enrichment of Marx’s cultural viewpoints, rather than a direct continuation or development of them. Marx views culture as part of a superstructure that is shaped by the underlying economic base. In inheriting this concept, Xi’s cultural thought incorporates a more nuanced and integrated approach. While still upholding Marxist principles, Xi emphasizes the significance of cultural confidence, national identity, and moral values within the context of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

As Saqib noted, Xi recognizes the dynamic nature of culture. In Xi’s view, culture should evolve in tandem with the trends of the times and societal progress. He therefore emphasizes the inheritance of traditional Chinese culture and the cultivation of a new culture aligned with modernization. Xi realizes that the “new culture” pertinent to contemporary China should not only be rooted in the soil of Chinese civilization, but also reflect China’s actual national conditions and the distinctive features of the current era. This requires a dynamic interplay between the old and the new for balance between historical continuity and contemporary relevance.

World-scale significance

“China’s success can be attributed largely to its emphasis on cultural cohesion and solidarity, which has substantially influenced various aspects of society,” Saqib said. He pointed out that Western cultural systems have also contributed to the significant advancements of Western countries. However, Western culture has obvious shortcomings by prioritizing individualism, free democracy, and individual rights. In contrast, China has always prioritized the common good over special interest groups, and has always been dedicated to reducing social inequality and injustice.

Braddick echoed similar sentiments, noting that to a certain extent, Western culture is rooted in individualism that presumes people will disagree with one another—it is a marked feature of British culture that political dissent is a form of self-expression. The existence of governments is perceived as a threat to individual freedom. Britain’s national identity revolves around the celebration of “national character” rather than a constitutional moment.

In China, where the culture is more attuned to constitutional principles, divisions may have been easier to settle. People’s patriotism forms the basis for political solidarity and stability. Culture promotes individual belonging and individual fulfilment, while also promoting collective life and social integration, Braddick said.

As Moshi perceives, the Chinese cultural traits of perseverance, honesty, hard work, discipline, modesty, and saving have immensely contributed to its success, which is admired worldwide. A good illustration of the fact that a strong culture contributes to a strong nation is the pace of China’s development since reform and opening up. The pace of economic growth not only led to the development of requisite infrastructure in cities, both hard and soft, but has also led to substantial reductions in poverty rates in rural areas. Clear evidence of China’s rise can be seen in the mushrooming of Chinese restaurants and Confucius Institutes around the world.

Saqib commented that a nation’s cultural soft power plays a decisive role in its internal cohesion and global influence, and cultural prosperity is therefore integral to national rejuvenation. Given this, Xi values the importance of enhancing China’s cultural “soft power” and cultivating a sense of national identity. He has directed the Chinese government to implement this at the national level as an important strategic plan, thus driving China’s economic growth, stimulating social vitality, and exerting a substantial and far-reaching impact across various fields in China today.

“Xi knows clearly that cultural prosperity includes the preservation and promotion of traditional Chinese culture, the development of contemporary arts and sciences, and the advancement of cultural industries. The Chinese government took measures to preserve and promote traditional Chinese culture while investing in the development of contemporary culture. This has led to the rise of cultural and creative industries, ensuring a vibrant and inclusive cultural sector, and has enhanced China’s global cultural influence while fostering a sense of pride and identity among the Chinese people,” Saqib added.

Xi has always regarded fine traditional Chinese culture as the “root” of the wisdom of Chinese people, and has carefully protected it, Saqib said. This reflects an openness to dialogue and collaboration with nations of varied cultural backgrounds, promoting understanding and goodwill. By emphasizing cultural diversity, Xi’s approach aligns with principles of diplomacy and soft power projection, aiming at a more cooperative, equal, and harmonious world order. His views are not isolated, but are intricately connected to his broader worldviews, influencing China’s role in global affairs.

“The proposal of Xi Jinping Thought on Culture has far-reaching global implications and world-scale significance, and will contribute to China’s engagement with the international community,” Saqib summarized.

Editor:Yu Hui

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