China needs to build its cultural soft power

I recently read an Economist article about China’s cultural soft power. The topic is intriguing. The phrase “soft power” was coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard University in 1990 in his book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. Interestingly, this concept reminds me of the central theme of Confucian philosophy: Ren (kindness). Kindness is just the opposite to violence and force, which are often used nowadays to solve conflicts. Confucius suggested the emperor of a nation put himself in the shoes of his people and resolve conflicts by educating his people in this way.

China’s has amazed the rest of the world with its dramatic growth over the years, and the country is playing an increasingly important role in the international community. However, the ethics and moral values of Chinese people are deteriorating at an equally amazing speed.

Little Yue Yue’s accident is a cruel yet real illustration of the selfishness and indifference of the general public in China. In a society where everything is measured in money, interpersonal relationship is become weaker and weaker. At the same time, China’s legal system is far from protecting citizen rights. If you help the little girl, you might get punished by her family. And no one will stand out to defend you. Some Chinese people reminisce the commune system where brotherhood and mutual development was in place. But rapid economic growth is bound to create inequality, especially under the Chinese administrative system with high immobility and great regional differences.

Moreover, the social unrests from 50s to 70s have made many Chinese to doubt or even desert the traditional values. People are reluctant to hold onto the once cherished morals of kindness and help.

As a Chinese student studying abroad, I’m very concerned about the rapid outflow of talents from China. The youth enjoy more opportunities and choices than their parents. They can leave if they don’t feel like to stay. Without a friendly and reliable cultural environment, they feel reluctant to come back.

For a country to be strong and influential, it has to hold onto its own values and develop sustainably. Hope one day when we talk about China, we will think about happiness, equality, safety, and realization of individual potentials.


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