The First Seminar on Chinese Culture and Idea Change – Study and Promote Idea Change
Jin Rui （Guangming Daily 1992.7.6）
The rapid advancement of modern science and technology revolution and the deepening of China’s reform and opening-up has brought about profound changes in all sectors of our economic and social life. Against this backdrop, the update and change of cultural ideas, as the objective demand and inevitable result of China’s socialist modernization drive, are attracting ever wider public attention. To this occasion, the first seminar on Chinese Culture and Idea Change, sponsored by the Institution of Chinese Culture and Idea Change, organized by the periodical office of Democracy and Legal System
and Beijing Modern School of Management, was held in Beijing Jingxi Hotel where nearly 40 experts had extensive discussions about the change of cultural ideas.
What is culture? What is the essence of culture? According to incomplete statistics, by 1970s, there have been over 170 definitions on culture. Xiao Qian and Chen Zhiliang pointed out that Marxism proposed an integrated understanding of the essence of culture. Marxism considered humanization the essence of culture, that is, mankind giving humanized form to material and spiritual products, and human behavior and lifestyle in its effort to transform nature, society and mankind itself. They argued that culture is usually used in both the broad and the narrow sense. Culture in the broad sense refers to humanization, reflecting the extent and manner of the material and spiritual power of mankind in the course of historical development. Culture in the narrow sense refers to concept systems with social ideology as the main content. Xiao and Chen argued that culture in the broad sense was featured by humanized forms, sociality and diversity, and that its structure can be the subject of multi-level analysis.
2. Form of the change of cultural ideas
The form of the change of cultural idea is one of the hot topics discussed in this seminar. The ideas of Chen Yanqing and Wang Nanshi aroused the interest of many. They argued that cultural ideas were conserved in two different cases. In the first case, a certain cultural idea absorbs heterogeneous cultural ideas, integrates factors different from itself, and thus evolves into a new cultural idea. In this case, the original cultural idea has its possibilities broadened, itself reinvigorated and conserved in part in the newly formed cultural idea. In the second case, rigid and cultural ideas that have lost their vitality serve as nourishment for the evolution of other cultural ideas. With their positive ingredients absorbed into other new cultural ideas, these rigid cultural ideas are conserved only partly and selectively. In the first case, cultural ideas involved are conserved actively while in the second passively. It’s easy to see that though cultural ideas involved are conserved in both cases, the results are entirely different. Unfortunately, people often fail to notice the significant differences between these two cases.
3. Change of philosophical ideas
According to Marx, true philosophy is always "the essence of the spirit of its times". Therefore, philosophical ideas, both in the broad and the narrow sense, are of pivotal significance in the change of cultural ideas. Gao Haiqing talked elaborately about this topic. He argued that the change of philosophical ideas is in essence the development of philosophical theories whose basis and origin lie in the change and development of practices. Our discussions about change are to realize the consistency of theoretical ideas and practice development. We are living in a striking imbalance between theoretical ideas and practice development. Compared to the vigorous and booming practice of ours to develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, the development of our philosophical theories has lagged far behind. To reverse this imbalance, Gao argued that we should emphasize two points. The first is to continue to break away from the traditional idea of perennial philosophy. This idea has prevailed for over two thousand years. It has such a profound influence that we equal involuntarily eternity to truth and science and consider changes of philosophical theories a sign of non-truth and non-science. The second point is to understand “practicing” in a scientific manner. There have always been two ways of “practicing”, one being to practice vigorous philosophical theories in the development of life practices, the other to isolate philosophical theories from life practices and practice them only in the abstract principles written in books. The former is innovative while the latter dogmatic. We now have already developed the philosophy of practice that has proven fruitful in guiding our practices of reform, which has laid a firm foundation for us to develop Marxism philosophical theories. We should tap fully into this foundation and promote change of philosophical ideas, bringing philosophy back to practice, focusing on life practices and driving forward development.
4. Reform and opening-up calls for the change of ideas
Many attendees talked about the significance of the change of ideas to reform and opening-up, integrating the spirit of the important speeches of comrade Deng Xiaopin in his tour to the south. All attendees agreed that over a decade’s of reform and opening-up has brought about profound changes of the mindset of Chinese people. As reform and opening-up enters into a new stage now, the change of ideas is urgently needed. Sha Hong, director of the Institution of Chinese Culture and Idea Change, and Zhang Shaohua, deputy director, talked about multiple ideas in need of change in the course of reform and opening-up. For instance, the idea that socialism and capitalism in complete opposition needs change, and the idea that socialism and capitalism are in both opposition and integration needs to be promoted. Sha and Zhang argued that though it is without doubt that profound oppositions exist between socialism and capitalism since they are two totally different social systems, their opposition is relative rather than absolute. To miss this point would be a big mistake. Sha and Zhang also argued that we need to break away from the stale idea that “left” is better than right and rather “left” than right, and liberalize our mind and promote the idea of seeking truth from facts. They analyzed the damage “left” had done to our revolution and construction, and pointed out that “left” is as capable as right of ruining our cause of socialism and that “left” was never better than right.