“Tradition moves to the museum, culture becomes a memory”: Mr. Han sounds the death knell of traditional culture! (Part 1)

“Tradition moves to the museum, culture becomes a memory”: Mr. Han sounds the death knell of traditional culture! (Part 1)

April 21, 2009 by Old Tibetan (Laozangmin) (See the original article in Chinese)

Blogger’s comment:
Recently, Southern Weekend reporter exclusively interviewed Han Fangming, the Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPPCC National Committee. The article from the exclusive interview, “To Protect Tibetan Culture, Guard Against the Two Extremes” was published in the March 26, 2009, E31 edition of Southern Weekend. The blogger comments on this piece, in order to call into question and discuss Mr. Han Fangming’s views (The blogger’s own comments are in red and in brackets).

Tibet receives a lot of attention because of its distinctive cultural traditions and belief in religion. Throughout the world, whether it is mainstream culture or minority culture, the conflict between modernization and tradition almost can’t be avoided, therefore when it comes to the protection and development of Tibetan culture, not only is it an important topic for present-day China’s social research and practices, it is also one of the key subjects of the international community. Here, Southern Weekend reporter has exclusively interviewed Han Fangming, the Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPPCC National Committee.

Southern Weekend: According to my knowledge, you’ve always had a soft spot for Tibetan culture, and have for a long time paid close attention to and called for the appropriate maintenance and protection of Tibetan culture. Can you please tell us about your understanding of the situation?

Han Fangming: Over many years, I’ve had regular discussions and contact with Tibetan farmers and nomads, including reincarnate lamas (tulkus), handicraft workshops, Tibetan intellectuals, and even Tibetologists. While observing and coming to understand the outstanding traditional culture of Tibetans, and seeing many remote areas, because of clinging to some ancient lifestyles, Tibetan people’s material life has been at a rather low standard for a long time.

I also continue to call for the maintenance and protection of Tibetan culture. In recent years, I’ve successively lobbied some well-known enterprises to finance ways to change the lifestyles of poverty-stricken Tibetans, like improving traditional childbearing methods of women and hygiene practices in rural areas, and financing some poverty-stricken university students from Tibetan areas to go inland on study tours.

Those Tibetans who have gotten out, especially the younger generation of Tibetans, in the process of understanding, having contact with, and doing business with other nationalities, have increased their experience, broadened their thinking, become more intelligent, and have much stronger viability. I’m also really glad to see that on the internet, there are more and more young Tibetans who wish to go online to express their own opinions, and communicate and exchange with the outside world. I have not a few Tibetan friends who have started their own blogs online.

Southern Weekend: When it comes to protecting traditional culture or nationality culture, it’s easy for people to get caught up in a couple extreme arguments: Either advocate completely giving up old things from the past and accept an entirely new world, or resist the impact of modern civilization on traditional culture, and advocate returning to the past. What is your view?

Han Fangming: Actually, these two existing kinds of opposite extremes, in reality neither can be achieved. One place, one regional community, people integrate traditional knowledge and ways of life as part of their own cultural identity; this is reasonable. Speaking for a lot of nationalities, maintaining one’s own traditional knowledge systems for the future benefit and maintenance of cultural vitality, of course has very important meaning. However, this does not equal being complacent and conservative, to refuse humankind’s common achievements of civilization, to refuse the exchange and merging of different civilizations.
(Referring to the above text, the intention of lobbying and financing is not one of encouraging Tibetan people to protect and maintain their own cultural traditions, but is one of persuading them not to refuse “ humankind’s common achievements of civilization”, not to refuse the “exchange and merging of different civilizations.” What does “humankind’s common achievements of civilization” refer to? — The global economic integration of materialism and money worship. What kind of language is “exchange and merging of different civilizations”? — Cultural imperialism! From the start, Mr. Han talks about “common” and “merging”, he apparently can’t wait. In the “couple of extremes”, Mr. Han guides modern civilization first from emotion. “Tibetan people’s material life has been at a rather low standard for a long time” — He is coming from within a materialistic value system to persuade people how they shouldn’t refuse modern civilization. Young Tibetans “become more intelligent, and have much stronger viability”. — Calling for the happiness of welcoming integration and merging by embracing modernization. He is not the “Research Fellow at the Beijing University World Modernization Process Research Center” for nothing. Whatever you sell, you shout out!)

Southern Weekend: According to your observations, how do Tibetan compatriots view their own traditional culture?

Han Fangming: I found signs of potential, that is, they are quietly differentiating, the first is undoubtedly the beginning of ideas and concepts, followed by their ways of life. For instance, the handmade furniture made by folk craftsmen in the past, are exquisite works of art, wonderful in appearance, and on top of that, durable. Of course it takes a lot more time and energy to produce these. However, now they have found that machine-made furniture is more sophisticated and tasteful, and moreover, cheaper. In reality, they also have some differing views of other aspects of Tibetan cultural traditions.
China is a multi-ethnic country, 56 nationalities are all following the progress of the times, continuously receiving influence, self-improvement, continually merging together. In merging together, advancing and developing, finding one’s own new position, revealing one’s own new appearance.
(Except for “finding one’s own new position” there is only “merging together”? Negating the healthy development of multiculturalism, who blends into whom? Imagine this: What kind of prospect is the outcome of a “new appearance”?)

In this process, some traditional customs that are behind the needs of the times will gradually fade out of life, fade out of our awareness, or some ancient folk crafts, traditional ways of life or forms of organization, will all be transferred to museums, or recorded in old books, becoming a memory of civilization.
(All along Mr. Han’s so-called “protection” was nothing more than a “fading away” of civilization’s memory to be put in a museum! Allowing “more sophisticated and tasteful, moreover, cheaper” modernization to replace “exquisite works of art, wonderful in appearance, and on top of that, durable” traditional civilization. Mr. Han’s cultural stance reveals everything.)

Actually, it is precisely in Han Chinese areas where many people also crave traditional culture and ways of life. People on holiday dress up in Han Dynasty clothes, read ancient books, write ancient poetry, but this simply won’t be the social trend of the current mainstream, just a kind of nostalgic performance art. The times have developed, people can’t wear changpao dagua (long, traditional robes) forever, otherwise it’s not easy even to ride a bicycle. This may sometimes appear cruel for those who love ancient cultures, however, we can’t subjectively resist the trends of modern progress, we can’t reverse the direction of the progress of history.
(He repeatedly reiterates the “direction of history” that must not be resisted and cannot be reversed. This shows that in reality, deep down, Mr. Han approves of a same quality, singular direction of “modernization”.)

Modernization is not destruction
Southern Weekend: Some say, modernizing Tibetan people’s ways of living and living environment is destroying Tibetan culture. What are your views?

Han Fangming: To use a vivid analogy, modernization is like a fast-approaching train, we can dodge it, but there is no way to stop it. Modernization is a kind of trend, and also a process, it will have important impacts on every region, every area’s original ecology, original ways of life, original understandings of the world. People in the beginning won’t be willing to receive this kind of impact and change, because at least for a period of time it will cause them to feel discomfort and insecurity.
(Again he is persuading: Slowly you will become numb, you will adapt to modernization’s “discomfort” and “insecurity”.)

There are no more than two kinds of possibilities for the influence of modernization of production and life on traditional nationality culture and nationality consciousness: One type of possibility is that the cultural differences between each nationality will decrease, parts of traditional nationality culture will gradually disappear, nationality consciousness will weaken; the other kind of possibility is that traditional culture continues to develop, nationality consciousness is strengthened. This kind of historical change, has taken place for thousands of years in Chinese history and world history.

In view of the understandings and analysis mentioned above, there are inevitably multiple choices before us: Do we choose the first kind or the second kind. But in reality, whatever we choose, modernization cannot be excluded.

There is no way for traditional culture to avoid facing its challenges, often it is not the destruction of one group or individual, but the law of natural selection in the progression of modern development. Survival of the fittest is the universal law of nature, and also a general rule of the development and advancement of human society, almost no person can prevent or change it. Even the strongest country in the world today cannot change this reality of competition and natural selection.
(Degenerate reactionary view of social Darwinism. It’s hard to imagine that this came out of the mouth of a 21st century official and scholar!)

In reality, as a nationality, its most important characteristic is not in its writing, language, clothing, or lifestyle, but is in its unique psychological quality, namely the psychological identity.

Southern Weekend: For the immediate situation of Tibetan cultural protection, can you give an overall assessment?

Han Fangming: Except for the ten years of the “Cultural Revolution”, the central government, I believe, spared no effort investing in cultural protection in Tibetan areas, and achieved a lot of good results. For example, in the restoration of Tibetan Buddhist monastic architecture, a “restore old as old” plan was adopted, which not only strengthened its sturdiness, but also maintained its original antique artistic style, even better than the work done in many inland areas. The production and development of folk handicrafts also received the support and financial aid of the government; following the increasingly liberal and confident government, policies for freedom of religious belief are increasingly implemented. Last year when I was investigating Diqing Tibet Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, I found that many government officials, whether they were Han or Tibetan, could freely go to monasteries to worship.
(The flavor of foreign affairs propaganda is too strong.)

I have always believed that development is the best safeguard. Whether spiritual or material, old or brand new, all must pass this hurdle of modernization. Those that have passed this hurdle, will certainly continue to exist. Any person who serves to undermine or resist is committing a kind of crime against history.
(How does one seek safeguards in development? It’s too abstract, too rigid, too arbitrary! “Modernization is like a fast-approaching train, we can dodge it, but there is no way to stop it”. If it is as devastating and unstoppable as this, how is safeguarding possible?)