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One amongst the most ancient civilizations in the world, the Chinese civilization is spread over a large extent of area in East Asia. The culture in itself is very old, continuing from thousands of years ago. The discovery of silk about 5,000 years ago is attributed to China (Scott, 1993). It was the Chinese people who gifted silk and the knowledge of producing silk to the entire world. China’s customs and traditions even vary greatly between its different provinces, cities and towns. According to Lyons (2017), the Chinese language- Mandarin- is said to be the toughest to learn among all the known languages in the world. Its dialects also vary from region to region within China itself. Some salient features of ancient Chinese culture are its advances, mastery and proficiency in making one of the best ceramics in the world (Savage et al., 2009). This novel pottery style of China had a profound influence on the pottery in Europe in later times. China’s unique pagoda architectural styles and its distinctive music, dance and literature also remain alive in today’s popular culture. The martial arts of China, the oldest of which is Shuai Jiao, are extremely fierce and deadly in nature.
Shaolin, Tai Chi and Kung Fu are also familiar names of Chinese martial arts (Rousseau, 2018). Some of these martial arts are still being taught by Shaolin gurus, since ancient times, in regions of China with dense forests, to those who seek their asylum. Other distinctive features of Chinese culture are its cuisine, famous all over the world as “Chinese food”. Rice forms a major part of the staple diet of China. The visual arts which have emanated from ancient China are popular throughout the world and also inspire its modern artistic culture. Chinese philosophy, the most famous contributors to which were Confucius, Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu among a host of others, is highly unique and supreme. Modern Chinese culture is driven by the philosophies of these philosophers. Religion used to be an important aspect of Chinese life in the ancient and medieval times. There used to be believers of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam among others in the region. Now, however, the trend has changed. The recognized religions in China today are Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Protestantism and Islam (Albert, 2018).
Ever since the advent of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949 under Mao Tse Tung, the practice of religion was more or less not allowed in China. The CCP is officially atheist. Though the Article 36 of the Constitution of China states that people are free to practice, or to not practice any particular religion in China, it is far from the truth. Those who openly exhibit their religious inclinations in China are persecuted and punished. Practice of religion is only allowed indoors in China, within the confines of people’s homes. Anybody found prostrating to God in public is punished, jailed, investigated, tortured or even executed. The government’s control, torture and persecution of the Uighur Muslim community in the north-western Xinjiang province of China is the worst kind of an example of ethnic cleansing being carried out these days anywhere in the world. They are being executed and discriminated against because they belong to a different religion and have a different language and culture from the normally wealthier and more influential Han Chinese people, who have hatred and prejudices against this community and simply do not want to accept them as part of the Chinese society.
This is analogous to Hitler’s Germany when members of the Jewish community were massacred in millions. Several dynasties have ruled China since ancient times with the Qing dynasty ruling it as recently as from around 1636 to 1912, when the it was removed and the Republic of China was proclaimed. Afterwards, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed by the leader of the CCP- Mao Tse Tung- on 1st October, 1949 from Tiananmen. China has been under the rule of CCP since then. This government’s ideology has since been highly inclined towards socialism and communism and to such an extent that it is essential for all government office bearers in China to read Marxist-Leninist philosophies in depth and weave threads from these ideas into the social fabric of China. The policies of collectivisation promoted by Mao Tse Tung resulted into disastrous failures and brought upon misery and hardships in the lives of the Chinese people.
Producers were forced to produce commodities, which were collected by the government, and these producers were not paid anything in return. From being a thriving agrarian society for thousands of years, China was reduced to the status of a politically unstable region with a severe agrarian crisis, a dwindling economy, rising poverty and internal conflicts. It was only after Deng Xiaoping’s accession to the supreme leadership of China that some sort of stability was started to be witnessed. However, socialism and communism continued to be the guiding principles of the Chinese society. These ideologies shape the economic and political landscape of China even today.
In ancient times, China had achieved tremendous advancements in medicine and arts and culture, and even in technology (Wong & Wu, 1932). When Deng Xiaoping took over the reins of the country after the death of Mao Tse Tung in 1976, he furthered Chinese endeavour in technology (Denmark, 2018). He assumed the title of “paramount leader” of China and is also referred to as the “Architect of Modern China” because of his successful efforts at leading China into an all-embracing market-economy (Faison, 1997). He tried to transform China and even succeeded in doing so through his reforms in the economic sector which fostered China’s growth from being a closed economy to one which could have trade relationships with the rest of the world. China had always remained an agrarian economy since ancient times. It was under the leadership of Xiaoping that science and technology was not only promoted, but focussed on and stressed upon, which are sole reasons for China being a superpower today. According to Silver (2020), China’s economy today is only second to the US in the world with its Gross Domestic Product at approximately $13 trillion.
China today is not only an economic power, but also a military power, a science and technology power which files the greatest number of patents in the world every year and also a space power. China always had the potential, the human capital and the necessary resources for being a force to reckon with, but this dream of the Chinese people was only realised as recently as about fifty years ago when Xiaoping decided to change the face and the fate of the nation. Fan (2000) has highlighted that today, the Chinese cultural traditions encompass varying and sometimes clashing schools of thought, like Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism among other regional cultures. Confucianism is the most powerful and dominant school of thought in China and it defines the Chinese way of life to a great extent. Confucius taught about relationships between humans, structures of society, virtue in behaviour and ethics in work. His teaching basically exemplifies the behavioural and moral doctrines for every individual to imbibe and follow. Buddhism and Confucianism have the lion’s share of followers in China, running into hundreds of millions for each.
Though it is said that modern Chinese medical education is unparalleled anywhere in the world today, the Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM, which is almost 3,500 years old is still practiced in China and has attracted the interest of the worldwide medical community. TCM is the contemporary with Traditional Indian Medicine (TIM), also known as Ayurveda, and both are amongst the world’s ancient-most systems and practices of medicine. China has successfully promoted its therapies by conducting more and more researches and by applying science-based approaches (Patwardhan et al., 2005). However, TCM is mostly only administered to the inhabitants of China.
To make a place for itself in the global markets, TCM must address some indispensable determinants of success like carrying out more researches, innovations, wide-scale clinical testing, formalization and commercialization of this sector. Also, as recently as in December, 2019, a deadly coronavirus, called the ‘nCoV-19’, transmitted the CoViD-19 disease to millions of people worldwide resulting in a pandemic and a huge loss of lives. The epicentre or the origin of the virus was traced back to the Wuhan city of China. CoViD-19 has since then killed millions of people in total from almost every country of the world, for which today, China is being blamed by the entire world community for the rise of this deadly pandemic (Silver et al., 2020). Even as of today, i.e., 19th August, 2020, the pandemic continues spreading its tentacles over the entire world. There are nationwide lockdowns being implemented in many countries, the global economy has suffered massive shocks and people are continuing to die.
China has seen its ups and downs, but the Chinese culture has matured, evolved and conserved by its people through ages. Mandarin, pagoda-style architecture, literature, dance, music, painting, visual arts and beautiful, smooth and fine ceramics-making art of China are all still promoted to date in the country and serve to the world marvellous examples of regional cultural customs and traditions for their uniqueness and attractiveness. Skinner (1985) has highlighted that the Chinese economy has changed dramatically. As the world’s most populous country with approximately 1.4 billion people in 2020, China has no dearth of manpower. Its agricultural, manufacturing and services sectors are all performing extremely well in contrast to the times China has seen as a purely agrarian economy until the 1980s.
As an economic power, China has trade relations with most countries in the world including the US with which it is involved in a trade war. However, China’s protectionist policies and its expansionist agenda of making the lesser developed nations fall prey to its debt-trap are frowned upon by most nations in the world today. China’s peoples are highly driven by the philosophies of the Buddha and Confucius for thousands of years- a trend which has not seen much changes except for some religious practices being banned and religious communities being persecuted by the state. The current Chinese establishment is repressive for pro-democrats and promoters of freedom of speech, not allowing any kind of an entity within the borders of China to criticize the Communist regime in any way, whether it be through writings, speech, films, photography or paintings, or through actions (Amnesty International, 2019). As such, China remains the world leader in giving the highest number of death sentences among its citizens, killing thousands of people every year.
To conclude, it can be said that China has very well been able to preserve it culture with respect to its arts, customs and traditions, cuisine and the spiritual philosophies that drive its masses. However, there have been significant changes as well. China has become one of the superpowers in the world with a ginormous economy. The machinery within all its sectors is well-oiled. What is of concern to the world community today with regards to China is the violation of human rights, that of freedom of speech, expression and religion in the country and China’s aggressive expansionist behaviour and tactics.
Albert, E. (2018). Religion in China. Retrieved from: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/religion-china
Amnesty International (2019). China 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/china/report-china/
Denmark, A. (2018). 40 years ago, Deng Xiaoping changed China- and the world. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/12/19/40-years-ago-deng-xiaoping-changed-china-and-the-world/
Faison, S. (1997). Deng Xiaoping is dead at 92; architect of modern China. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/20/world/deng-xiaoping-is-dead-at-92-architect-of-modern-china.html
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Rousseau, R. (2018). An introduction to Chinese martial arts styles. Retrieved from: https://www.liveabout.com/chinese-martial-arts-styles-2308295
Savage, G., Silbergeld, J., Sullivan, M., Gorlinski, V., Higgins, J., Kuiper, K. & Sinha, S. (2009). Chinese pottery. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/art/Chinese-pottery
Scott, P. (1993). The book of silk. New York, USA: Thames & Hudson Inc.
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Silver, L., Devlin, K. & Huang, C. (2020). Americans fault China for its role in the spread of CoViD-19. Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/07/30/americans-fault-china-for-its-role-in-the-spread-of-covid-19/
Skinner, G. W. (1985). Presidential address: the structure of Chinese history. The Journal of Asian Studies, 44(2), 271-292. DOI: 10.2307/2055923
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