What is Chinese Culture? Or Any Culture?

Culture is, according to one definition in  Merriam Webster, the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence  shared by people in a place or time. So What is Chinese Culture?

First, what are the problems in the U.S. culture?  Pride, individualism, intolerance by the ‘tolerant’, and nationalism, to name a few.   I hate to read comments in yahoo news as they show how bad off my country is in some ways.  Samuel Tung is  from Hong Kong and lives in the States. He has strong words about problems in Chinese culture on the mainland. Let’s not take them too literally. Also take a look at Chinese cultural strengths.

What is Chinese Culture – The Dark Side

Samuel Tung in China Law Blog at LinkedIn said, “People, well foreigners, always say China is a great country because it has 5000 years of culture. I say “no, China has 5000 years of history. It hasn’t had any culture since 1911, and the only culture now that exists is of money, greed, corruption, ostentation, and misplaced bravado.” Humility doesn’t exist in their vocabulary, which is why Shuan can’t take one step back and acknowledge any mistakes, and has to go on the offensive. “Thugs & goons” as Jack Cafferty once said. ”

He has a point here though I can find many Chinese people here who are not that way at all. At minimum he is noticing some real cultural traits standing alongside interdependence, kindness, and understanding that we in the West can learn from.  These problems in Chinese culture stem largely from low self esteem. Low self esteem largely comes from criticism being the primary tool of parents to raise children and schools adding to the problem. This is changing, but it is the reason, I believe, Samuel has seen bad cultural traits too often.

Let me here frame the problem of culture.

I sense some people want to  preserve culture.  That was going on strongly in China up to May 1919 as I see it, and China was struggling. Preserving a ‘pure’ culture is meaningless. By building walls and keeping everything out, China simply missed out on a lot of good ideas and fell behind. It was more pure and more backward.

The U.S.  is a big country and like China does not listen to others, but has the advantage of 2 million immigrants a year giving new life to an otherwise too inbred culture.

Culture Grows or Dies

To put it another way, culture is like a tree.  If it is not growing, then it is dying. When the West idolized Aristotle long ago, it could not grow past his good and bad thought. China did the same thing with Confucius, and Mongolia with Genghis Khan.  To grow, we need to stand on their shoulders and not under their rules.

China will never cease being Chinese no matter how many Hollywood  or South Korean movies they watch.  Lots of Chinese watching these things will bring some change. Change can be good, but it is often bad.  No change is bad.  Change needs new thought, and we all need that.

I think Samuel has hit on a real problem.  Chinese culture did gain life with change and openness in 1911, 1919, and 1978, but the direction was not always clear.  We, as people of the United States, need to ask what is good and what is bad in our culture.  We need to make the good better and walk away from the bad. We need to learn from other countries like China to make something better than we have.  It is a big task.  One person, one positive action is how it works.

China is the same.  China needs to learn broadly and look outside itself.   It needs cultural opinion leaders who can then model a path that will bless the world and not create push back against China and being Chinese.    China and the U.S. both need to do better in this area.

Each culture should not fear change in the culture.  Its people  should seek to bring life to their culture by change in a positive direction.

Wrap up With Hope

Let me end with a quote from a European first century writer,” Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.  ”   May China and the U.S. do this more and more.

Yes, and then both our cultures will get better and have mutual benefit.

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Posted in: China, Chinese Culture

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