In the past thirty years, China’s global influence has grown with its embrace of globalization and the resulting increase in cultural exchange. Carnegie-Tsinghua’s Zhang Lihua hosted a panel of experts and government officials to discuss how China’s cultural values influence its foreign policy and the role of the government in its interaction with other cultures.

Chinese Cultural Values

  • Emphasis on Peace:  Peng Lin, a professor of history at Tsinghua University, argued that traditional Chinese culture respects other cultures and differences between people because it centers on love for all human beings. Peng cited the Confucian concept of creating a cosmopolitan world through kindness and love as a prime example of Chinese culture’s peace-loving nature.
  • Harmonious: Zhang emphasized that the Chinese concept of harmony is different from the Western concept. While the Western concept of harmony entails a lack of conflict, the Chinese concept is based around the concept of yin and yang, which are opposing yet necessary forces to maintain order in the universe. In this way, Chinese culture allows for cultural differences and does not seek to impose its views on others.
  • Influence Through Morality: Unlike Western cultures, Chinese culture leads through moral example and not through force, said Zhang. China will neither start conflicts nor use force without reason, and will instead dedicate itself towards mutual benefit, cooperation, and global unity.

Current Government Initiatives

The Chinese government has been the main driver in raising awareness of Chinese culture in other countries. At the same time, the government strives to improve understanding internally of traditional Chinese cultural values.

  • Rise in Cultural Products: Liang Chengxi, deputy director at the Chinese Ministry of Culture, noted that China’s global market share in cultural products, such as traditional souvenirs, has doubled since 2001. Using commerce to improve cultural understanding not only benefits both government and private businesses, but also contributes to China’s continued economic growth, he added.
  • Cultural Exchanges: Liang noted that China currently has thirteen cultural centers internationally and holds high-level meetings for cultural exchange every year. In addition, Confucius Institutes, which spread cultural and language awareness, play a significant role in Chinese cultural exchanges. He estimated that there will be fifty cultural centers around the world by 2020, with an overall goal to have a center in every single major city and country.
  • New Platforms: Liang indicated that the Ministry of Culture has used new platforms, such as the Amazon Kindle e-reader, to offer books on Chinese culture. The ministry is also developing cell phone applications that will make the Chinese language and the culture around Chinese festivals more accessible to younger generations and foreign audiences.

Policy Recommendations

Panelists argued that China must continue to better understand its own culture, improve cultural and education exchanges, and work to determine the strategic role of China’s cultural values in its foreign policy.

  • Spreading Modern Chinese Culture: Wang Tianling, a counselor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that China must focus on spreading not only its traditional culture, but also its modern culture. He cited the global popularity of Korean popular music and the regional appeal of Bollywood movies as examples of how popular culture has led to a stronger national image for Korea and India respectively.
  • Educational Interaction: Silvia Menegazzi, a student at China Foreign Affairs University, argued that educational programs with greater international cooperation, such as double-degree programs, would encourage cultural exchanges through education. Wang Ning, a professor at Tsinghua University, suggested that intellectuals in both China and abroad must work to translate both classical Chinese works and new academic results in order to boost mutual understanding.
  • Addressing Gaps in Western Culture: Qi Yongfeng, a professor of cultural economics at the Communication University of China, argued that China must complement Western culture to solve global problems. He argued that the 2008 financial crisis has decreased the attractiveness of the Western development model, and that China must both continue to learn from the Western model and spread its own culture to create a more universal and mutually beneficial international system.

Discussants included: Peng Lin, Liang Chengxi, Wang Ning, Wang Tianling, Qi Yongfeng, Wang Zulei, Silvia Menegazzi