I don’t know whether we can succeed or not, but what we can do is try our best.
Disintegration and Doom of Chinese Cultural Structure
However, some others hold that culture can exert a positive impact on economic development and they give as an example the economic takeoff in the Confucian cultural region of
Some more optimistic people argue that the present Chinese culture is not a simple return to the tradition. In their opinion, it has mingled and fused with Western culture and is going through a positive, substantial transformation, thus repossessing a higher vitality and quite possibly showing a new way out to the mankind that has on the whole come to a dead end.
I am not that optimistic. On the contrary, just because I attach great importance to the decisive role culture plays in a society, I am very pessimistic. I certainly agree that Chinese culture has undergone and is undergoing tremendous changes, but changes are transformation and the whole thing may fall apart again. If the culture of a nation is seen as a structure, I think Chinese culture is at this moment showing clear signs of an irrecoverable disintegration.
Aesthetic activities, entertainment, creation of wisdom, dissemination of knowledge and many other utilitarian functions of culture are no doubt key components of culture, but in my opinion, the most important function of culture is to integrate a society, that is, to regulate and adjust on the most extensive level the relationship among its social members. This integrative function can only come from the whole structure of culture. Without this structure, even with more Peking operas, qigong, joss stick burning before Buddha, calligraphy and paintings or large roofs with upturned eaves,
Disintegration of cultural structure is not a problem contemporary
After the May Fourth Movement and the first cry of “Down with Confucius and sons!”, in groping the way to make China a powerful nation, to choose Marxism or to choose capitalism both meant in nature a kind of conscious or unconscious sublation of Chinese culture. The core of Chinese culture lies in the “family” which extends from the family to the clan and then to the country. “Loyalty”, “filial piety”, “benevolence” and “uprighteousness” are four pillars which surround the “family” core and build up Chinese cultural structure, and most of meanings, values, ethics and moral systems in Chinese culture derive from these four pillars. “Loyalty”, “filial piety”, “benevolence” and “uprighteousness” used to support one another in all directions and form an organic framework that could not be broken up, but the Chinese government established in 1949 regarded family and clan as a threat and began to destroy the last three pillars in an uprooting manner, leaving there only “loyalty” pushed to the extreme. The entire nation was brought into the only “big family” and loyal to the only “patriarch”. The destruction was quite a total one: “Filial piety” gave way to “class consciousness”, “benevolence” was hypocritical and “uprighteousness” was bad. All actions against family were considered exemplary. Father and son became enemies; husband and wife fell out; relatives turned each other in and made a clean break with one another; nongovernmental societies were eradicated and all social cells were brought into the state system.
The experiences of those years manifest from the opposite side the integrative power of Chinese traditional culture: “loyalty”, the only thing left, could still make Marxism based on it in
With the death of Mao Tse-tung was gone only the authority that belonged solely to him, which he did not share with others in his life and therefore could not pass to anyone after it. But the reform launched by Deng Xiaoping who had been persecuted several times by Mao, in order to reach the pragmatic goal of economic takeoff as soon as possible, started to cut off the “loyalty” to the “Central Authority”. While a marked economic achievement has been made, the central authority also dissolves sociopsychologically and the “loyalty” already on its clay feet is at last hacked down.
The framework that used to support the cultural structure now totally collapses, and the social ethics that clang to it cannot exist on a void. The rampant materialism comes as a further blow and the “single child” policy makes the structure of Chinese traditional family culture crumb into piece from its foundation. Today, the integrated system of human relationship that was built up in the past by ancestry, generation, marriage, relatives, friends, hereditary house and neighbours has virtually ceased to exist or has been distorted. And because of the disintegration of the family cultural structure, the Chinese families, though the number of which ranks first in the world, have only an animalistic meaning of mating and breeding and become like scattering sands in structure.
By saying all these I do not mean that the cultural structure should only remain fixed and need no transformation. The traditional Chinese culture indeed contains quite a lot of unhealthy things and finds it especially hard to adjust itself to the modern world and international society. It should not remain unchanged and nor can it remain unchanged. But the problem is that if the old structure is destroyed and at the same time a new structure has not yet come into being to replace it, the society will be faced with a crisis for want of a cultural integration.
Law, system, organization and powerful institution are all the means to integrate a society but to integrate the scattered individuals born with animal instinct into an orderly, cooperative, human society on a large scale with everyone in his proper place, the most effective force can only come from the inner heart of every social member. Only when there is a “conscious judge” sitting in the inner heart of every social member can social balance and stability be secured and a good economic and social development be possible. This is where culture performs its decisive function in human society.
The crisis brought about by the disintegration of cultural structure can be described figuratively as “brittling”. The relationship of social “molecules”, or in other words the interpersonal relationship, has lost its adhesive quality; random collisions between these “molecules” build up into a general tension(“brittling”). Though law and police can keep the society in order for a short while, they are actually like iron chains tied upon glass containers. Once there is a tremor such as from a falling, they will, instead of preventing those containers from being broken, help break them.
Authority was an important mechanism of social integration in the traditional
Up till now, all social structures of mankind are three dimensional, in which exist hierarchy, stratum and division of labour. For such societies, cultural integration is indispensable. Only law and hatchet men cannot keep the hierarchical structure stable. In the old
The passenger train that travels the longest distance in
The disintegration of the cultural structure has removed the “doorkeeper” of the inner heart of every individual, and thus unprecedented human lust and greed gush out. Timed by 1.2 billion population, this kind of greed can be the strongest and most terrible one in the world today. If
For these reasons, I think the most realistic prospect and the most serious crisis of future
Of course, the disintegration of the cultural structure will not lead immediately to the disintegration of the society. Lives of several generations are just a blink in the long river of history and one perhaps may not feel doomed in his everyday life. Put a frog into the boiling water and it will at once jump out, but heat the cold water up slowly and the frog will drift in the water, fall to sleep comfortably and finally die unawares. So many splendid great civilizations have declined and fallen in the human history and it is not without reason to believe this will happen again.
All this is sad enough, but in fact crisis does not exist only in
So I think, in order to escape this doom, we should again look for inspiration in the ancient wisdom, but we must also always bear this in mind: we have gone too far and behind us has already appeared a huge, impassable gap. Even if we have by now realized again the value of conservation, there is really not much left for us to conserve. Perhaps we have to start from scratch, and only by moving forward can we find the way out of the ruins.
I don’t know whether we can succeed or not, but what we can do is try our best.