socialist spiritual civilization

socialist spiritual civilization
Political concept
In line with the social changes under Reform, the Party-state has attempted to formulate new values and concepts that aim to raise the ideological awareness of the Chinese. The most important element in this learning process is the building of a system of ‘socialist spiritual civilization’ (SSC). Deng Xiaoping first raised the concept in 1980, and it subsequently has become one of the main planks of Jiang Zemin’s political programme.
SSC should reflect and match the improved material conditions in large sections of society, and at the same time should guide people in the social transformation taking place. SSC was to create a superior moral civilization that would raise the people’s political consciousness and morality by fostering revolutionary ideals and discipline without giving in to ‘bourgeois liberalizing influences’. Many old ideals had to be redefined and given new meaning; they had to be represented in a new and fresh manner in order to be applicable in this ‘New Era’. Moreover, SSC had to serve as a brake on the severe social dislocation and the various negative social aspects of nihilism, commercialism, hedonism and consumerism that arose in the course of modernization.
Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought remained at the core of SSC. To update this core and to provide the modernization process with a semblance of a theoretical basis, Jiang added Deng Xiaoping Theory in September 1997. Moreover, Jiang set out to leave his own ideological footprints in 2000. Important elements of Jiang Theory are the so-called ‘Three Represents’ (Sange daibiao), which attempt to replace ideology with loyalty to the CCP without doing away with it altogether.
As part of SSC, the Party-state has taken important steps to harness Chinese history to the project. In pre-Reform China, the notion that Chinese history basically was at the root of all that was wrong, and responsible for everything that was feudal or backward, was widespread. Now, the past is reappraised and presented as the foundation from which the reforms in the present logically have sprouted. Similarly, China’s historical development inexorably had to result in the founding of the CCP and the leading role it plays in society. Moreover, by appropriating history in this manner, the Party can truly present itself as the sole heir to the Chinese tradition.
To bring about this reappraisal, many important icons and personages of the non-Communist past have been brought into play to instil feelings of national pride. Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, for example, the foundation figure of all Chinese history and civilization, is no longer seen as an element of folklore, as a metaphysical figure that needs to be criticized, but is in fact lauded as the unifier of the nation. The most remarkable of the rehabilitees (see revivals and other ‘re-’ words) is probably Confucius, who became the focal point of mass criticism in 1974 (see Confucius (recent interpretations)) In 2000, however, it was officially admitted that efforts during the Cultural Revolution to erase Confucius’ influence had proven unsuccessful.
The rehabilitation of Confucius is even more significant when we look at its wider consequences in the international arena. It enables China to join the ranks of neighbour states that invoke Confucian culture to strengthen their position versus the decadent and potentially dangerous influences of Europe and the United States. This gives more credibility to the Chinese desire to strengthen its position in the region. Moreover, the economic successes of Japan, South Korea and Singapore have not led to the same social dislocation to which China has fallen victim. The influence of values such as self-control, stability and conformity is seen as one of the major reasons behind the social cohesion in these countries. It testifies to certain redeeming qualities in the Sage’s teachings that may find application as a way to fill China’s moral and ethical void. Hundreds of Chinese public schools have started offering classes in Confucianism since the late 1990s, attracting some 2 million students.
SSC has failed to manifest itself as a new superior moral civilization, if only because the CCP itself lacks a clear moral framework. Moreover, the use of CCP-defined socialism as the controlling and sanctioning ideology to guide SSC has turned it into a self-defeating process. Instead of acting as a facilitator, the CCP has turned into a stumbling block for the type of modernization that more and more Chinese want. Over the years, the values of collectivism and altruism have been replaced by private and material desires, which require instant gratification. Party rule and tight control, in particular in the cultural and the political arenas, are considered impediments to the realization of these desires.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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