The epochal nature of culture

Author: Chen Xianda (honorary first-class professor of China Renmin University)

Everyone lives in his own time, and no one can surpass his own time. The epochal nature of human beings is also the historical nature of human beings, because any era is a stage in the historical process. People observe things and the world from their own times and personal situations, so historicity and epochal nature are not only the characteristics of human cognition, but also an insurmountable fate.

The creators of China’s traditional culture are not the embodiment of absolute spirit, but great thinkers, who are all realistic people living in specific times. Their thoughts are great because their ideas and theories not only reflect the requirements of their times, but also have wisdom beyond the times. Real thoughts have both the characteristics of the times and the eternity beyond the times.

Some people say that it is wrong to take the essence and discard the dross. Everything that can be handed down in Confucianism is the essence; Not the essence, it has long been eliminated by history. The same is true for the whole traditional culture. Is that right? It’s only half right. There are both the essence and the dross that have been handed down. Because the spread of traditional culture is not the culture itself, but the choice of people, especially the choice of the ruling rulers. They carry on the cultural inheritance according to their standards. The evolution of cultural tradition is not the evolution of culture itself that has nothing to do with society, but is filtered and screened by the times and history. The standards of filtering and screening cannot be divorced from the standards of class. Because the dominant thoughts in any society are the thoughts of the ruling class. Zhu Xi’s selection of The Analects of Confucius, Mencius, University and The Doctrine of the Mean as four books certainly has his own standards. There are also standards for the selection, deletion and revision of "Sikuquanshu" compiled by Qianlong. We are in socialist China, and we also have our own standards for traditional culture, that is, "take its essence and discard its dross".

Some people say that what is "essence" and what is "dross" cannot be distinguished. Indeed, unlike apples, culture can be divided into two parts at a glance, and the rotten ones can be removed and the good ones kept. Traditional culture is a complex organism. It is impossible to treat traditional culture simply by taking it. It must be chewed by oneself and digested by the stomach, which is reading and understanding. "Take its essence and discard its dross" is the traditional cultural view of Marxism. Not only do communist party people do this, but all dynasties have done it. It’s just that the standards of "essence" and "dross" are different in each era and class. In the process of culture development, there are both screening, reservation and increase, just like flowing water.

For us, the standard of distinguishing essence from dross is the standard of Marxism. Mao Zedong has long said that the factors that contribute to the establishment of a national, scientific and popular culture in traditional culture are the essence, and the opposite is the dross. In the construction of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, the essence is the factor that contributes to the establishment of advanced socialist culture and socialist core values, and all superstitious, backward and reactionary things are dross. The so-called creative transformation and innovative development of traditional culture is to absorb Chinese excellent traditional culture to build advanced socialist culture and make it an important ideological resource to cultivate socialist core values.

The interpretation of traditional culture is actually the interpretation of the reader. What can be read depends on the reader. The interpreter is in the social life of a certain historical period, and he has his own position, academic background or opinions. Therefore, it is very important to interpret traditional culture from what point of view. It is self-evident that there is a great difference between interpreting Confucianism from the west, interpreting Confucianism with Confucianism, or insisting on analyzing traditional culture from the perspective of historical materialism. In contemporary China, it is definitely a controversial issue whether the study of Confucianism should adhere to the basic theories and methods of Marxism. We believe that Marxism can’t replace Confucianism, but if the study of contemporary Confucianism still can’t go beyond the original perspective of Confucianism, then whether it is followed or continued, it is still confined to the traditional scope of Confucianism, at best, neo-Confucianism. If the study of traditional culture is still in the original tradition, and can’t produce new ideas that adapt to the times and are consistent with the direction of historical progress, then what is the significance of attaching importance to traditional culture? Tradition is valuable because it can generate new ideas through activation, collision and absorption. For contemporary people, excellent traditions are ideological soil and nutrients, not just edible fruits. We should bear contemporary fruits in the soil of traditional culture. We really need experts in Confucianism, but it is not under socialist conditions to cultivate a group of Confucian scholars who are still square and obedient and dare not cross the line.

Source: China Social Sciences Network-China Social Sciences News