Professor Zhu Shoutong: Cultural Ethics is the Key to Introducing Chinese Traditional Culture into Campus

Editor’s Note: General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed in his presidency of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on deepening the study of the Chinese civilization exploration project that “Chinese civilization has a long and profound history. It is the unique spiritual mark of the Chinese nation, the root of contemporary Chinese culture, the spiritual bond that connects Chinese people around the world, and the treasure of Chinese cultural innovation.”

The closing ceremony of the first “Celebrating Traditional Chinese Culture” project was recently successfully held online. The event was co-organized by the China Education Innovation Institute of BNU, China Education Innovation EXPO and the China Education Channel ( What is the relationship between red culture and Chinese traditional culture? Why is Chinese civilization the only one among the four ancient civilizations surviving today? What is the key to Chinese traditional culture in entering schools and colleges? The China Education Channel planned the first “Celebrating Traditional Chinese Culture” project learning activity series and interviewed Professor Zhu Shoutong, Head of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, and Director of the Centre for Chinese History and Culture of the University of Macau, and Executive Vice Chairman of the Overseas, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Chinese Calligraphers Association, to explain the above issues.

Professor Zhu Shoutong, Head of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, and Director of the Centre for Chinese History and Culture of the University of Macau (CCHC), and Executive Vice Chairman of the Overseas, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Chinese Calligraphers Association, interviewed by

“People-oriented” is the spiritual core of Chinese traditional culture

Interviewer: How do you understand the traditional Chinese culture?

Zhu: Chinese traditional culture is all-encompassing. Confucianism, Taoism, Mohism, Legalism, and other parts of classical Chinese thought and cultural wisdom form the core of Chinese traditional culture, which the idea of “people-oriented” can summarize. This core of people-oriented thinking may be expressed differently in various historical periods and political contexts, but the spiritual direction it embodies must be the same.

Interviewer: Can you elaborate on the spiritual core of the “people-oriented” traditional Chinese culture?

Zhu: Chinese traditional culture is represented by Confucianism, of which the formation of the spiritual core of Chinese traditional culture should be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, when a hundred thoughts were contending. The core of Confucianism, Mohism and Taoism can be summarized as “benevolence”, Confucius’s “people-oriented”, Mencius’s “benevolent government”, Mo Tzu’s “Doctrines of Universal Love and Antiwar” Lao Zi’s “Heaven and Earth are ruthless; To them the Ten Thousand Things are But as straw dogs” are all about “benevolence.” The highest degree of overlap between different schools of thought is the idea of “benevolence”.

Interviewer: What is the relationship between the Chinese traditional culture and the cultures of other nationalities all over the world?

Zhu: Every great nation in the world has a great culture, and the greatness of a nation is due to the greatness of its culture. The core of a great culture should be a culture that is in line with the direction of human civilization. The idea of “benevolence” in Chinese traditional culture contains values such as “The Benevolent loves the others” and “Doctrines of Universal Love”. There are many similar values in the West, such as “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity (Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité)”. Although the expressions and connotations of “fraternity” in Chinese and Western cultures are relatively different, both sides point to respect, affinity, and love between people.

Interviewer: In your opinion, what makes Chinese civilization the only civilization that has persisted to the present?

Zhu: Among the four ancient civilizations in the world, the Chinese civilization is the only one that has not experienced a break in the flow of literature or a cultural fault line. This is due to various factors such as history, geography and culture, and it is also closely related to the spiritual energy of Chinese culture that can adapt to different historical periods, modes of production and social structures. Whether it is the 3,000-year history of Chinese civilization recognized by the international community or the 5,000-year history of Chinese culture that can be proved by archaeological data, the Chinese nation has always been able to move forward bravely through the twists and turns and maintain the distinctive characteristics of Chinese civilization in the exposion to natural disasters and foreign invasions.

It can be said that the excellence of Chinese civilization lies in its strong benevolence and influence on foreign cultures. During its tortuous development, Chinese civilization has been constantly challenged by other cultures. However, most of foreign cultures were accommodated by the Chinese civilization and became part of the new Chinese civilization in the end. The Chinese traditional culture in all aspects, especially in the field of religion, has always maintained a tradition of openness and benevolence, which provides a precious reference for other civilizations worldwide.

Interviewer: What suggestions do you have for promoting Chinese traditional culture?

Zhu: There is a certain degree of deviation in the public’s knowledge of some aspects of Chinese traditional culture. During the May Fourth Movement, the intellectuals at that time put forward a lot of critical views on traditional Chinese culture from the perspective of modern civilization to promote the development of the new cultural movement. Nowadays, most of the traditional culture that the public is exposed to and cognizant of is based on the various viewpoints accepted from the texts interpreted by modern people rather than the contents expressed in the original texts of Chinese traditional culture.

In other words, what the public knows is not the traditional culture in its original form, but it interpreted by modern people out of various needs of the time, thus making the original Chinese traditional culture’s dross magnified and causing people to have a negative impression of some of its contents.

Such one-sided cultural interpretations have been common in Chinese history. For example, the story of “Bury Son to Support His Mother”, which was included in the ”Twenty-four Stories of Filial Piety” of the Yuan Dynasty, is an interpretation that violates human nature and distorts the spirit of “filial piety”. In my opinion, the promotion of Chinese traditional culture should return to the original texts, and we should read and interpret the culture on the basis of the original texts.

Cultural Ethics is the Key to Introducing Chinese Traditional Culture into Campus

Interviewer: How to make Chinese traditional culture better implement on campus?

Zhu: For students of different academic levels and cognitive levels, there is a need to differentiate the introduction of Chinese traditional culture into campus. It is difficult for elementary school students to understand reading cultural texts.

In my opinion, one of the key words in Chinese traditional culture is “cultural ethics”, and Chinese traditional culture should be precipitated as an ethical and moral ability of human behaviour and human values. Ethics is not for others to see, but a sense of self-awareness and righteous judgment of right and wrong, and young people are in the critical period of cultural ethics formation, so they need to be guided. For example, “respecting others” includes respecting and understanding others. If parents affirm their children‘s retaliation for their classmates’ glares, they are not teaching their children to be benevolent, loving and friendly from a cultural and ethical perspective.

Interviewer: In what way should cultural ethics be introduced into schools?

Zhu: When cultural ethics is introduced into the campus, it needs to be integrated into the daily curriculum, rather than taking the form of activities.

For elementary school students, the activities tend to be formal and look busy, such as learning to respect their parents and assigning children the task of washing their parents’ feet. If they are cheeky, they will lose the influence of cultural ethics. Through the explanation of excellent traditional culture, the choices and stories of historical figures should be told so that children can intuitively understand the trade-offs and considerations of these historical figures in the context of the time. In this way, children will identify with Chinese traditional culture’s values at the cultural ethics level.

Therefore, the theme of this tribute activity is perfect, which is to “pay tribute” to the excellent traditional culture of China and to convey to the students an attitude and concept of maintaining respect for the traditional culture.

Interviewer: What are your feelings and gains from participating in the first “Celebrating Traditional Chinese Culture” project learning activities?

Zhu: The teams participated in this tribute with a very positive, serious and reverent attitude. The preparation of the text, the setting of the video, the collation of materials, and the planning of the display of each link are all reflect the appeal and intrinsic charm of this tribute.

Many people think that “Chinese traditional culture” and “young students” are not very relevant because the former is more relevant to experts, cultural researchers and teachers. By participating in this tribute, we will find that the excellent traditional culture is all around the youth. Not only do they need to learn it, but they need to experience it. This cultural form is a natural, cultural resource that is embedded in our Chinese bloodline.

The exchange and collision of civilizations is vital to keep cultures alive

Interviewer: Since modern times, the influential Western culture has had a far-reaching impact on the world. What can be learned from how Western culture is spread in relation to the spread of Chinese traditional culture?

Zhu: Historically, Western countries have spread their cultures through military, religious, educational and cultural exchanges. For us, what we can learn is to spread Chinese culture through education and cultural exchanges. During the May Fourth Movement, the Chinese people at that time accepted many Western things through the introduction of foreign writings and Western-style education.

Interviewer: Global cultures are constantly exchanging and colliding nowadays. How can Chinese traditional culture keep up with the times and innovate?

Zhu: To promote cultural innovation, we must consider the following three aspects.

First, the concept of “cultural confidence” advocated by our country is essential. The influence of culture is self-evident if a country wants to establish its position in the world and win its dignity. A country with cultural confidence can show its excellence on the world stage and win the respect of other nations and countries worldwide. Cultural confidence is a quality that every Chinese nation and every Chinese need to improve.

Second, a culturally benevolent and open attitude is closely related to cultural confidence. Only a country with full cultural self-confidence can truly treat other cultures with the attitude of openness and benevolence. On the basis of establishing ourselves and not losing ourselves, we can have a high degree of self-confidence to view, tolerate, examine and conditionally accept other advanced cultures because they are also essential resources for enriching and enriching Chinese culture. The exchange and collision between different cultures are important to maintain cultural vitality.

Third, under the state of globalization and openness, Chinese scholars need to use their language, habits, and oriental thinking to interpret the Chinese traditional culture, an advantage that no non-Chinese native-speaking cultural scholars have.

Article/ Jiang Lili

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