Is Chinese culture currently undergoing a renaissance?



Jamie Cawley, LIved in China 2012-2018, now Hong Kong

When I arrived in China, six years ago, it seemed to me there was a clear divide:

everything modern was western

everything Chinese was old (or a copy of old things)

This is still overwhelmingly true: As an exercise I asked my design students to give me any ideas for what a Chinese car would look like - that is an identifiably Chinese car as opposed to a copy of existing western-derived model styles and they really came up with nothing: no idea how to start thinking about this concept. Not interested either.

Embarrassingly, I have seen some western designers make a perfectly decent job of such an exercise with Chinese-style office furniture.

However, before I left Beijing I started to see a few glimmerings at 798 (and what a great place that is!) of original Chinese modern design which was very exciting.

My perception of TV, music and movies is as above as well, still copying western genres with the exception of those inspired by ancient Chinese legends - even the ‘kung-fu’ is a western idea of China (from the original TV series and HK Bruce Lee movies) copied back. Maybe someone will correct this but I do not accept that the huge number of period soaps with wicked Japanese are any kind of distinctively Chinese culture.

I am told that the position in fashion is better, with much more Chinese+modern input but do not personally follow this area.

At the moment the students I deal with remain just uninterested in the idea of developing a modern Chinese culture - being able to get up there with western ideas is what they want, so I think it may be a while before momentum develops behind Chinese culture.

I would love to be wrong, Paul, but so far my attempts to observe and promote a contemporary Chinese culture have largely failed. I hope your question with throw up some counter examples.












Joseph Holleman, CEO of Magister Technologies Inc., Author of "The Prosperity Clock" book series.

I would suggest that China is not undergoing a renaissance but is just now starting one.

In fact, Donald Trump may have inadvertently been a catalyst for this by galvanizing the Chinese people to see that their own culture of thousands of years, their own collective creativity, their own innovativeness (at least at this point in time) is just as good, if not better than what there is in the West and it is time to stop wanting to emulate Western ideals, economic policies, and politics.

Not to imply that those sentiments did not already exist, just that now with Trump threatening them with a trade war, threatening major Chinese companies, etc., that now the entire population is thinking it is time to become completely independent of the West and go their own way.

The long term cyclical work I have done for my books suggests that the Eastern world often lags one cyclical stage behind the West, at least until that part of the world emerges as the dominant region.

So now you have a period where the US just recently exited its own renaissance period and has entered into its next cyclical stage which is a “secondary crisis” period where established institutions tend to be torn down and experience a period of “disintegration”. This will likely be the opening that the East, primarily China, needs to emerge as the dominant economic power in the world in the upcoming decades.

In the East, however, because of this cyclical lag, we should see China and the rest of the East now beginning its own 40 to 50 year Renaissance period while the West struggles with a period of internal crisis.








Godfree Roberts, Ed.D. Education & Geopolitics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (1973)

Don’t confuse two very different things, culture and cultural artifacts.

We typically call cultural artifacts ‘art,’ like music and painting, poetry and furniture and architecture. Their form is influenced by the culture that produces them (German classical music is bombastic and martial, for example) but there is no strict 1:1 coherence between a culture and its artifacts. As cultures grow more prosperous they tend to produce more and better-quality artifacts, as you see during China’s Song and France’s Enlightenment periods.

A culture, on the other hand, is the pre-solved environment in which a society lives and needs no artifacts to survive. Being nomadic, Australia’s Aborigines had few artifacts but nevertheless sustained a sophisticated psychic culture for a thousand years. The Chinese people went through a hellish century that destroyed many of their artifacts but their culture was untouched.

One reason China’s culture remained untouched is that it is so old. It was designed 2500 years ago and first implemented 2100 years ago and has been constantly refined ever since. The current dynasty is still rebuilding it (on the same foundations) after the century of humiliation and, in the process, is refining it even more by, for example, making corruption impossible and insisting that Confucian ren, compassion, means that ‘no one is poor and everyone receives an education, has paid employment, more than enough food and clothing, access to medical services, old-age support, a home and a comfortable life’. Confucius would be extremely pleased at those refinements and they’re signs that China’s culture is currently undergoing a renaissance.






Callan Chua, Been Learning how to make it in China for the past 10 years.

This answer took me awhile to put together. To actually see if there is a cultural renaissance going on, there is a need to identify trends from previously to now. I also need to define Chinese culture which is really hard as the term culture itself is so broad base.

These are important when defining culture as it means that the Chinese culture, from a conservative outlook of technology during the Qing Dynasty, has underwent major changes to one that is very open to new technology. It would not be silly if we predict that in the future, the term “Very Chinese”, can be used to describe the characteristic of willingness to try new technologies. Somewhere along the lines of very Japanese when it comes to politeness or very European for socialist ideas. I think it’s very possible for future Chinese culture to be understood in that manner.

If we also take food as culture, Chinese food has mainly remained the same in essence and the changes is mostly only in presentation. Surprisingly, I don’t see a lot of cultural change to chinese food. I was expecting more from the chinese in terms of changes to the taste or methods of cooking which would mean a fundamental change in food culture. Or maybe I have not eaten enough yet? I think a better explanation would be that the food renaissance has always been going on or might already be over for the chinese, the variety of real chinese food in China is proof of my conculsion.

So yes, I think Chinese culture is largely going through a period of renaissance, but it’s awareness and recognition is still rather domesticated within the borders. It will spread internationally once it reaches critical mass…and the Chinese with a very big domestic market has a lot of mass.





Traditional Chinese Caligraphy




Traditional Chinese Dance



Modern Chinese Dance



Traditional Chinese Instruments



Modern Chinese Instrument? (Yes I’m told it is, despite it looking like a dish rack)



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