Wang Shuo on Chinese Culture

Anybody see this piece on Thanks to my friend Nick for forwarding it to me. Food for thought, and a great translation, by the way. … essay.html

The Wasteland
Chinese culture sounds like it’s vibrant and refined. One problem: it doesn’t exist

By Wang Shuo

I think it was rocker Cui Jian who mouthed the phrase Chinese culture to me while talking about his music during a party at some German guy’s place in Beijing. Another Chinese friend of mine, his breath reeking of booze, leaned over and asked me, “What’s Chinese culture?” Being well stewed myself at the time, I didn’t say anything. But if you’re going to make me answer, all I can tell you is, “I don’t know.”

You’ll hear foreigners say that Chinese culture is Confucian culture. What is Confucian culture? In the official media it’s the Doctrine of the Mean: elders and juniors each in their places; being tolerant and restrained and yielding; doing unto others and all that. All of which just tells you how to avoid getting the short end of the stick in the world’s most crowded of crowds: keep your head low and you’ll survive. Then there’s the philosophy for retirees: Taoism, unity of heaven and man, becoming one with nature. Sounds great, and every Chinese person can rattle off a couple of paragraphs of the stuff. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to say that the one line of Confucius you just can’t beat is: “I’ve never seen the man who loves virtue as well as sex.” In the end, this philosophy is about telling people to act one way or another. Give someone a chance, and his first instinct is to go straight for the sex. Or the money. That includes me.

I was born under Maoist rule, and the first time I heard the word culture was in “Cultural Revolution.” Our only cultural sage, the writer Lu Xun, who had been dead for 10 years by then, taught us “Don’t forgive anyone” and “A perfect fly is still just a fly.” If only we had listened.

Just look at what passed for culture at the time, and see how little it’s changed today. Back then, children sang, “Mommy and daddy can’t compare with Chairman Mao, the greatness of heaven and earth can’t compare with the great kindness of the Party.” The slogan board on the door of the police headquarters read in big red characters, “Resolutely support the righteous anti-imperialist, anticolonial struggles of all the peoples of the world.” The slogan on the door of the crematorium read, “Increase production, decrease population.” It’s been more than 20 years since those days. Now the slogans are new, but they’re still a series of orders. “Open a bottle of Hennessy and let the good times roll.” “Your choice, Sprite.” In the stores and restaurants, you see, “The People’s Police advise you to keep an eye on your wallet and other personal articles.” In the public toilet the sign reads, “Please urinate in the trough, please flush after defecating.” Jiang Zemin says, “Represent advanced culture.”

A friend of mine says Chinese people are the smartest. I ask my friend, “But what culture do they possess?” Beyond firecrackers and paper

Nice one. Thanks for the re-posting!

Given that my research focus is Chinese literature with pepperings of Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist thought, I read the title of this article with a bit of alarm. I’ve assumed for some time that what I’m studying, aside from being intrinsically fascinating to me, has relevance to the modern world.

I think that Wang Shuo is saying that modern Chinese culture holds to very few of the ideals of the great philosophies that have shaped it over time. I agree to a large extent. My girlfriend recently relayed a theory about what I call MRT culture (shoving, pushing, no concern for the elderly, very young, or handicapped) that boiled down to Confucianism in modern times giving people the idea that unless somebody was inside your circle of important relationships, the hell with them. Made some sense to me.

I agree with Wang Shuo that the social products of Maoism are largely rotten. The extent to which he used human insecurity and threat to manipulate a huge society puts my ex-mother in law to shame, and she was pretty damned nasty.


Reminds me of Brave New World

With the interests expressed in this link, broadly speaking, I have to recommend [color=red]The Tyranny of History: The roots of China’s crisis by W.J.F.Jenner.[/color] It is as the author, my former prof, announces in the intro, a collection of random observations (my words now) from someone who as looked at it from the bottom to the top.

W.J.F.Jenner spent a year in Peking in the late 50’s translating the “offical” autobiography of the last emporer. He also translated the classic “monkey” book - [color=darkred]Journey to the West[/color], an abridged version’s about.

Great stuff.


Anyone know the Chinese title of that Wang Shuo essay?

Wang Shuo is one of the few modern Chinese writers I want to read. I picked up one of his novels in translation and was immediately impressed - but I want to read the originals when I’m next in mainland - I need some good reason to read those detestable simplified Charcters.
But I am curious - does he have any kind of popularity here in Taiwan (in as far as anyone here gives a Monkey’s about lit.)?

man that is some impressive
This comes from before I was born!

i think the problem i’ve had with chinese culture, in particular, the polemic Confucian institution, is the orthodoxy and its restrictions on free thinking and discovery. some dead guys have decided what’s right and wrong, what’s proper thought and what we should invest time in and what to think about and what not to think about - these people reach across time and space and suffocate humanity. and it happens with many cultures - think of arab culture in 1000AD, at the height of science, astronomy, math and based on neoplatonism, and then a imam comes along and says, we don’t need to concern ourselves with this - it’s the devil’s work, and forever changes the course of arabic culture, science and thinking, and still felt today; he froze those people, he halted their development in one aspect and deformed them. (see

I think its a big mistake to identify a historical figure and his pronouncements with any insititution supposedly based upon those pronouncements that later appears…
for example, I think Christ would have a big problem with the Catholic Church and the Pope (which is what the Reformation was all about)…
In any culture its likely that any group with aspirations to political control will seize upon some historical body of thought as a basis to suppport its policies… and of course in China the obvious choice is Confucianism…
I think the biggest tragedy in Chinese history was when the politically controlling group used a foreign ideology (Marxism) to bolster its legitimacy, and in the process was forced to launch an unprecedented attack on Confuciamism and its role in Chinese society…

and as for those backwards Arabs, we have them to thank for the big advances in European culture in 11th-13th centuries… Plato etc in those days was being translated from Arabic, not the ancient Greek…

This seems a good recommendation for Wang Shuo… … s_land.php