Modernization Needs Culture 现代化需要文化
I visited Paris and Madrid recently, and after a few museums and historical buildings it looks to me like medieval European culture by the 1100’s was every bit as advanced as Chinese culture of the time if not more advanced! We’ve all been misled by those mistaken comparisons of the primitive castles of the Medieval kings with the grandiose imperial palaces of China of the same era, and come to the erroneous conclusion that culturally the Europeans have been far behind China until the 1700’s. Not so: the grandeur of Medieval Europe is not to be found in the kings’ abodes, but in the cathedrals and religious monuments. The proper comparison should be made between say, the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, which was at the time “the parish church of Europe’s kings”, and the contemporaneous Song Dynasty imperial palace of the 1100’s. The Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral wins in terms of technology: it’s far taller, and it’s got all those huge, gorgeous stained glass windows!
Sigh! So many “China scholars” tell us that Europeans had no culture; they just somehow came into possession of some better ships and some guns some time starting around the 1500’s, and then they conquered the world on that! Not true at all! No, they had a lot more, they had a deep, high culture based on Christianity, just like China used to have a deep, high culture based on Confucianism. The West hasn’t just been advanced for a couple of hundred years; they have been advanced for 1,000 years! The West’s modernity is deeply based on advanced cultural traditions that stretch back 1,000 years.
So this proves to me that the thinking that China can disregard and even throw away all that high culture we’ve had for a couple of thousand years back and just somehow modernize, is wrong. The West has built its modernization upon a foundation of a thousand years of Western high culture; can China build its modernization without the foundation of past Chinese high culture? No, for China to modernize, China needs to come to terms with and embrace its past high culture, then add to it where it’s deficient and build on it where it’s advanced or even superior.
Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明