Cultural Dimensions of Xi Jinping: Governance of China III

Release of the third volume of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China provides a coherent narrative of China’s voice from the top down.
by Ole Döring
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Visitors check the embroidery skills at the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei culture collaborative development exhibition area in Cultural Services Exhibition of the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services (CIFTIS) in Beijing, capital of China, Sept. 7, 2020. The CIFTIS runs on Sept. 4-9 in Beijing. (Xinhua/Lu Peng)

The most important message of this mosaic of thought spread across 650 pages in 92 sections is: peace, justice, and wealth can be aligned to benefit. Chinese culture is a program for learning of the rules of propriety. It tolerates diverse cultures which pursue the same cause via different methods if they are regulated by general rules of order such as those set by the United Nations.

This cultural matrix derives from different Chinese traditions. It processes present treasures to reinvigorate sound livelihood for the future. It operates under the assumption that evolution can be influenced by human endeavors. This culture has anticipated the scientific emergence of “Anthropocene”: an age in which human activity becomes a terraforming cause. This master gardener must observe the highest-quality standards.

Over centuries, Germany emerged as a cultural hub of central Europe. In 1795, Immanuel Kant published the philosophy book Perpetual Peace, which foretold enlightened global citizenship and anticipated the idea of the United Nations. A German born in the 1960s, however, would have a more difficult time talking about national culture. Raised to reflect on our culture in a mirror preserving the evils committed under German fascism, we learned that authority must be suspicious and that culture can be a tool of oppression. Based on such lessons, enlightened intellectuals crafted “constitutional patriotism” to tie the soul of the nation to basic human rights. In the 1990s, this guiding culture (Leitkultur) was hijacked by trans-national libertarianism which effectively confused its values.

Today, Germans greet Chancellor Merkel’s call for a “welcome culture” with reservation. Many citizens, even among those who honor inclusion and care, reject embracing a shared culture because it stands at odds with multi-cultural lifestyles that dominate public narratives. Solidarity is appreciated as a matter of personal choice, but disconnected from common social values and virtues.

The Chinese “soul” that glues the country and people together has created a home for hearts and minds and values. The culture presented in the book builds on coherent reflection and draws from tradition of cultural experience. Xi defines the social roles for collaborative sharing of responsibility to bring this soul to life. Expressly, Xi recognizes younger generations, emphasizes the key task of education and learning, and acknowledges the foundational contributions of philosophy, literature, and arts. As custodians of history and tradition, analysts should be encouraging virtues and creativity among all strata of society because innovation benefits all. Notably, these ideas are not only directed at the upper echelons of the Party and state, but fanned out to the entire constituency and international community.

This “soul” is designated to unite, provide momentum, and steer ethical navigation. Discourse of just, humane and efficient regulation of relational collaborations is the yeast of Confucian culture, which seeks to foster good order and prosperity “under Heaven.” In the context of cyber technology innovation, Xi summarizes the shared roles and tasks of cyberspace governance: The Party leads, the government administrates, enterprises shoulder responsibilities, the public supervises, and netizens discipline themselves through deployment of economic, legal, and technical means.  

This nuanced balance of leadership, sharing, and mutual support in the governance model Xi depicts ultimately engenders common well-being. This commitment is partly self-fulfilling because it generates trust, solidarity, and confidence. Such a political message is hardly ever heard among Germans. The disarray of modern life makes leadership and credible orientation attractive, as an alternative to cynicism or aggression. Acknowledgement of normative discourse has faded from public awareness. Collaboration between Germany’s political and cultural leadership had been spirited, with unique peaks under Chancellor Brandt in the 1970s. Since then, trust and respect have eroded, and participation in politics became pragmatic arrangements, detached from struggles over goodness.

A note of caution: even a short text in the book deserves careful study. It not only communicates content, but also presents symbols of strength and justice, formal rituals of legitimacy, and important context. This makes it significant, both politically and culturally. The English edition is a rich resource and generous offer for foreigners who desire a window into the thinking that steers China’s development. However, capturing the soul of the text requires educated and sympathetic reading.

Xi Jinping: The Governance of China III is a cultural testimony and not just “a politician talking.” Its outlook presents a reality test for domestic growth and global development. This work offers a prime opportunity to get closer to the Chinese mindset.

The author is a German sinologist, philosopher, and professor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He is also a founding member of the Berlin Institute for Global Health and the European Center for Chinese Thought.