Academic journal article China Perspectives

The National Studies Craze: The Phenomena, the Controversies, and Some Reflections

Academic journal article China Perspectives

The National Studies Craze: The Phenomena, the Controversies, and Some Reflections

Article excerpt

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Beginning in the 1980s, a new trend emerged in mainland China for the revival of traditional studies and culture, in particular a revival of Confucianism, giving rise to related activity such as the establishment of "national studies institutes" at universities and teaching children to read the classics. This intellectual trend and related activities are referred to as the "national studies craze." This article will use a brief description of the phenomena as a foundation for presenting and critiquing the controversies that surround them, and offering some of my own reflections, namely, using the angle of "universality" to view the national studies craze and analytically assess its rationality.

The phenomena of the "national studies craze"

How to treat "national studies," i.e., the issue of China's traditional culture, has constituted a focus of long-term and intense controversy in China's modern and contemporary times, a debate that has risen and fallen in line with China's political and economic terrain. Since the May Fourth Movement, it could be said that progressive and innovative intellectuals, especially the leading thinkers in the New Culture Movement such as Chen Duxiu (???), Hu Shi (??), and Lu Xun (??), maintained a critical attitude toward traditional thought and culture: "Down with official Confucianism!" was the slogan that emblemised this intellectual trend. By the time Mao Zedong (???) launched and led the Cultural Revolution, traditional Confucian thought was being labelled as feudalistic, conservative thought, an impediment that Mao had to demolish in order to push forward his own revolutionary thought and line, and it was subjected to organised, widespread criticism throughout the country.

With the end of the Cultural Revolution, the new national policy of reform and opening implemented by China from the end of 1979 onward, achieved impressive economic development, and national strength and its attendant national status were rapidly enhanced. In lockstep with this process, the cultural and social psychology of the Chinese public and government also underwent change. The road to China's modernisation was originally to succeed through "thought liberation movements," including the method of criticising traditional feudal thought, systems, and behaviour to clear away mental impediments, and through learning from the modernisation experience of foreign developed countries (such as market economy, etc.), and integrating it with China's realities in practical application. For this reason, the conflict between the traditional and the modern became especially pronounced during China's modernisation process. China was not like Western countries, which built on an existing foundation rooted in Christianity and ancient Greek culture to rejuvenate the values of their own intellectual circles through a process of Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, and thereby provided the intellectual and cultural conditions required for their shift toward modern society. Rather, China's modernisation movement was pushed from behind and outside (incited and urged on by external factors). Whether it was the Soviet model adopted during the Mao era, or the Western market economy model from which the Deng Xiaoping (???) era drew its lessons, China's modernisation process has always been launched and carried out under a series of ideological theories and social practices furnished by the outside world, rather than resulting from the selfrenewal of its own culture. For this reason, one of the resulting conflicts is that in this process of modernisation, China's traditional culture has been marginalised or even regarded as an obstacle that must be surmounted. Under these circumstances, a certain degree of antagonism and divergence has formed between traditional culture and modernisation, and between national character and modernity. In terms of the national psyche, this state of affairs is inevitably hard to accept, and particularly for people with nationalist sentiments, it increases the likelihood of antagonism toward Western culture and toward modernisation in general. …

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