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Cultural self-consciousness pinpoints relationship of Chinese society, world

Author  :  Fang Lili     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-02-12

Since the end of the 20th century, one of the major challenges that humans have faced is the advent of globalization. Given that globalization has become the indispensable social condition underpinning contemporary life, everyone could be counted among the first batch of citizens of the global age.

As a responsible major country, China first proposed “a community of shared future for mankind,” a concept that is precisely defined and presciently insightful, in reaction to globalization, which signifies the increasingly interrelated political, cultural and economic interactions between nations, countries and regions, while with ineluctably accompanied frictions and conflicts. Almost any issue of a single country, region and nation could possibly become global.

Who am I? Who are we? These questions of great concern for humanity must be answered in the age of globalization. And the process of answering them—a preoccupation with oneself—is a process of gaining cultural self-consciousness, a proposition put forward by Fei Xiaotong, a pioneering Chinese scholar of sociology and anthropology, for the first time in the Second Senior Seminar on Social and Cultural Anthropology hosted by the Institute of Sociology and Anthropology at Peking University in 1997.

As Fei said in his speech at the seminar: “I proposed these words ‘cultural self-consciousness’ to summarize what we are discussing today in this seminar. The term embodies how China’s intellectuals respond to economic globalization, and expresses the public’s desire to know about how the mentality of humans could be changed in the process of cultural interactions between different places all over the world. With such a long history of human development, we need to know where the cultures of each nation come from, how they are formed, and what their essences are.”

The first scholar to bring forward this concept as a result of his profound contemplation of globalization, Fei’s thinking has deeply influenced Chinese intellectuals and laid a solid foundation for Chinese people today to have confidence in their own culture.

In his lifetime, Fei had high expectations that Chinese scholars could make their voices heard on the major theoretical breakthroughs that are globally influential. It was his hope that Chinese intellectuals could apply the experience and wisdom of their country to global development.

Twenty years ago, he said: “The rising currents of cultural self-consciousness are brewing and spreading to many other countries. China should grasp this historical opportunity to promote this new academic trend. From the time of the Renaissance to the 19th century, there was the awakening of human self-consciousness in the West, which wrote an important chapter for the cultural development of mankind, while the 21st century will be the time when the cultural self-consciousness emerges in the world. In the new span of the history of human culture, there should also be a chapter written by the Chinese nation about fulfilling their cultural self-consciousness and this should play a leading role in world culture.”

Echoing Fei’s expectations, scholars at a symposium commemorating the 20th anniversary of Fei’s concept of cultural self-consciousness expressed their thoughts on the continuation and deepening of the idea. Lian Ji, president of the Chinese National Academy of Arts, pointed out that cultural self-consciousness, a forward-looking sociocultural concept with scientific foresight, was proposed at a time when Western values flooded into China in the context of global economic integration.

He contended that perceiving Chinese culture within the framework of cultural self-consciousness is a process of rational thinking, understanding and reflection. Professor Li Youmei noted that when analyzing the pluralistic ethnic relations of the Chinese nation and the interrelations between Chinese society and the external world, the concept of cultural self-consciousness places China within the vision of the globe and pinpoints the issue of how different countries and nations across the world get along with each other.

Many notable scholars from the field of sociology and anthropology reached consensus at the symposium that cultural self-consciousness is of fundamental cultural significance and it neither implies any regressive, vintage inclination, nor does it mean a reversion to past culture. Instead, it looks forward to the future.

Cultural self-consciousness is closely associated with a huge cultural matrix: tradition. Tradition now has a completely different meaning. While continuing and altering the tradition, people can see that diversified values of different spaces and times have been simply squeezed into the present moments. The frequent and intensive cultural and information communication today has caused our lifestyles to diverge from those of the past.

Therefore, new world orders and culture should be established, in the process of which, though friction and pangs may appear due to the collision and integration of various cultures as precursors of cultural interactions that are of global importance. For Chinese scholars, they should strive to establish a set of values, systems and philosophical notions that are with Chinese wisdom in participating and fostering world cultural development, which is the basis for a strong China and the prerequisite for the rejuvenation of Chinese civilization.


This article was edited and translated from China Culture Daily. Fang Lili is the director of the Anthropology of Art Institute at the Chinese National Academy of Arts.

Editor: Yu Hui

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