The cultural foundation of Marxism that works

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-10-23


The jade cong unearthed from the site of Liangzhu Photo: Zhang Zhe/CSST

The integration of the basic tenets of Marxism with China’s specific realities and fine traditional culture provides a comprehensive explanation of the process of adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of the times. The success of Marxism in China can be attributed to the fact that Marxism works when it is adapted to the Chinese context and the needs of the times. In a sense, the success of Marxism adapted to the Chinese context and the needs of the times owes to the profound cultural foundation of its process of practice.

Marxism has profoundly changed China because it serves as a guide for action. As such, it must be viewed in relation to the historical realities and cultural context in which it operates.

This is what General Secretary Xi Jinping said “To uphold and develop Marxism, we must integrate it with China’s fine traditional culture. Only by taking root in the rich historical and cultural soil of the country and the nation can the truth of Marxism flourish here.”

Obviously, in adhering to and developing Marxism, the members of the Communist Party of China have rooted the basic tenets of Marxism in the fertile soil of the historical and cultural traditions of the Chinese nation to allow the truth of Marxism to be integrated with profound foundations of Chinese history and culture.

First of all, fine traditional Chinese culture and scientific socialism are highly compatible in terms of value orientation, enabling the Chinese people to truly understand and agree with the theoretical concepts and value propositions of Marxism. Fine traditional Chinese culture is a product of agricultural society, while the rise of the West resulted from the Industrial Revolution. China had long been a leader in agricultural society, but lagged behind in the process of the Industrial Revolution. In a sense, the practice of revolution, construction, and reform in China, or the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, is to promote the development and progress of Chinese society and to catch up with the trends of world history. Since its founding, the CPC has held high the banner of Marxism, and has struggled tirelessly for the realization of national independence, the people’s liberation and wellbeing, and the prosperity of the country. The Party’s struggles have propelled Marxism to be embraced by the Chinese people and socialism to be chosen by Chinese history.

Secondly, fine traditional Chinese culture shares similarities in worldview and methodology with dialectical and historical materialism, enabling the Chinese people to accept and believe in Marxism. As General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out, “With a history stretching back to antiquity, China’s fine traditional culture is extensive and profound; it is the crystallization of the wisdom of Chinese civilization. Our traditional culture espouses many important principles and concepts, including pursuing common good for all; regarding the people as the foundation of the state; governing by virtue; discarding the outdated in favor of the new; selecting officials on the basis of merit; promoting harmony between humanity and nature; ceaselessly pursuing self-improvement; embracing the world with virtue; acting in good faith and being friendly to others; and fostering neighborliness. These maxims, which have taken shape over centuries of work and life, reflect the Chinese people’s way of viewing the universe, the world, society, and morality.” These maxims are highly consistent with not only the values of scientific socialism, but also Marxist worldview and methodology. Though Marxism originated in Europe, its fruitful results in the East are clearly related to the similarities between Marxist social ideals and Chinese cultural traditions. It is our hope that civilizations can exchange and learn from each other, just as Marxism, with its origins in Western Europe, has activated and enriched Chinese culture. China’s new form of human advancement can also contribute to the well-being of humanity.

Thirdly, theories and thinking of fine traditional Chinese culture bear resemblance to the materialist dialectics in the discourse system and language style. This similarity makes it easier for Chinese people to grasp the intellectual essence of Marxism, leading to its widespread popularity in China. Both fine traditional Chinese culture and Marxism tend to view the world as a universally connected, moving, and changing whole, so it is very easy to find theoretical soul mates for materialistic dialectics in China. The people-centered nature of Marxism gives this theory a common language with the Chinese Communists, whose Chinese discursive expression of Marxism further integrates it into the intellectual pursuits of the Chinese people. The extensive dissemination, acceptance, and development of Marxism in China can be attributed, in part, to the effective articulation of Marxist concepts in Chinese intellectual and cultural discourse.

Fourthly, the integration of fine traditional Chinese culture with Marxism has allowed advanced scientific theories to have the most basic, direct, and generative “Vorurteil structure,” enabling the Chinese people to utilize, innovate, and develop Marxism in practice. The Chinese nation, as the main reception subject of Marxism, must understand Marxism on the basis of their own cultural structure of understanding, and only within this structure of understanding can Marxism be understood. Only by understanding Marxism within this structure of understanding can the Chinese Communists and the Chinese people realize the power of truth within Marxism, apply dialectical materialism and historical materialism in the context of China’s specific practices, and effectively address the major questions posed by the times and practice, drawing from their acquired understanding of Marxism. It is only in this way that the CPC can ensure that Marxism in China maintains its vitality and vigor.

Obviously, the history of adapting Marxism to China’s context and the needs of the times proves the following: first, history is not merely a museum of what happened in the past or what was left behind. Cultural traditions, in particular, live on in the reality of social interactions. Second, historical traditions, once combined with the problems and theoretical reflections of the times, are capable of generating new ideas and values. Indeed, the fusion of Eastern and Western civilizations represents the future of Chinese culture. Third, the more historical depth a cultural tradition has, the more dynamic it is for cultural revitalization.

Adapting Marxism to China’s context and the needs of the times is a process that involves both integrating Marxism with China’s specific realities and integrating Marxism with fine traditional Chinese culture. The former process strengthens the practical foundation of adapting Marxism to China’s context and the needs of the times, while the latter establishes its cultural foundation.

In the sense of cultural development, Marxism has not failed fine traditional Chinese culture, nor has fine traditional Chinese culture failed Marxism. In this sense, fine traditional Chinese culture has not only been able to integrate with Marxism, but has also facilitated the historical process of integrating Marxism with China’s specific realities. This instills us with confidence and strength, affirming that Marxism, adapted to China’s context and the needs of the times, will guide Chinese culture to a more brilliant future.


Han Zhen is a professor from the School of Philosophy at Beijing Normal University.

Editor:Yu Hui

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