- Roots of Chinese Culture
- Common Ideals
- The 3 World Views
- Buddhism and Christianity
- Protecting face
- Harmony - Yin and Yang
- Singing together in a park in Guangzhou
- Awareness of hierarchy
- Official examination
- This Side
- Shoulao - The god of longevity
- Han expansion 200 BC.
- China in comparative cultural research
As Chinese culture (Chinese 中華文化 / 中华文化, Pinyin Zhōnghuá wénhuà) can be considered the totality of cultural aspects specifically found in China, such as ways of thinking, ideas and conceptions as well as their realization in everyday life, politics, art, literature, painting, music and other areas of human life. This means that it is the totality of all forms of life in the ethnological sense. To a considerable extent, Chinese culture has influenced the culture of other East as well as Southeast Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea and Vietnam in particular, and was influenced by them in reverse.
Roots of Chinese Culture
Chinese culture has three origins: the civilization on the Yellow River, the civilization on the Yangtze River and the Nordic steppe culture. In terms of thought, social life and its effective values and views, it is rooted in a number of different ideological and philosophical traditions which, in connection with geographical, ethnic, historical and political conditions, present a diverse picture of China. At present, changes are taking place in all areas, the effects of which are neither predictable nor foreseeable.
According to the sinologist Schmidt-Glintzer, the actions of the actors are likely to be shaped by the way in which changes were managed in the past. Members of Western societies would find it difficult to understand how completely openly the Chinese conceive of their "New China". But the discourse on this has long since begun.
Common ideals and multi-ethnic state
China, which covers almost ten million square kilometres and whose inhabitants came to China thousands of years ago over a period of centuries from the areas surrounding it today, nevertheless appears homogeneous at first glance. Its present inhabitants - according to the authors of a China handbook - agree that the same basic ideals apply to them in terms of culture, religion and society. It is conceivable, so Schmidt-Glintzer, that this uniformity was due to the Chinese written culture, which had caused the idea of a Chinese culture. About 92 % of the inhabitants see their roots in the time of the Han Dynasty at the beginning of the Christian era. Other peoples such as the Hui, Mongols, Manchu and Zhuang and many more of the 56 peoples are inhabitants of China. Minorities are expected to fit in if they want to have a future in this country. But China had never been a nation in the European sense, but a world shared by many peoples, or "a cultural area in Eastern Asia" with a permeable border. Relations with its neighbours were probably mainly cultivated at eye level.
In addition, the geographical and, above all, the agricultural conditions of the country are considered to be formative factors of a way of life common to most of the inhabitants, which shaped the everyday attitudes and the way of life of the inhabitants for centuries. Sinologists also consider China's "irrigation system" to be one of these formative conditions. This system enabled sufficient harvests in this country with low rainfall and created traffic routes that benefited the inhabitants and created an infrastructure that promotes community. Socio-politically very effective was also the family system that functioned well into the 20th century and was one of the best organized in the world. Values that were developed and lived through the relationships between family members successfully shaped social relations and developments. It is even said that the Chinese advanced culture is the only one of the early advanced cultures that has survived through and with the various social changes. According to Schmidt-Glintzer, the past is also effective in the present and China's present can only be understood in the discourse about the past.
Three world views
In the 2nd millennium B.C., when the Shang Dynasty ruled, the world view of the then living inhabitants was shaped by shamanistic beliefs and the belief in natural deities (sun, moon, earth, mountains, clouds, rivers, etc.). Ceremonial acts, especially oracle questioning for future questions and interpretations of phenomena of the natural deities (such as star constellations) were practiced, which were experienced by the individual and the community as help and support for everyday life (see also Fangshi). Concepts from these practices have had an effect on later phenomena of Chinese culture, especially popular belief, and to this day in the fear of ghosts. Also the ancestor veneration and the need for a natural way of life in harmony with the cosmos might have had their beginning in them.
The religious culture of the Shang became, so Schmidt-Glintzer, the basis of "all Chinese culture of the later centuries", which was bound to the state structure and the personal way of life of the people. It thematized a world of gods, a world of ancestors and a world of the living. In the following Zhou period these worlds and their interaction were the cause for philosophical and political reflections. The ideas of natural deities changed over the centuries under Confucian and Daoist influence to more abstract ones, such as that of the "sky" (天 tian), which could thus serve as a location for "everything under the sky" for the territory of the Chinese emperor. Together with the practice of traditional rituals it formed the Chinese conception of the world until the 19th century.
In the 5th century B.C. under the impression of the wars in the time of the Warring Empires Confucianism developed, which is often regarded as epitome of the Chinese culture at all. This philosophy teaches the responsible self-control by learning, which should benefit the social life. At the same time Confucianism took up traditions - which concerned e.g. agricultural procedures and relations between landlords and farmers - in order to maintain the continuity of everyday life. According to Feng Youlan, Confucianism was the philosophy of social design and therefore it had become the philosophy of everyday life. He encouraged people to be socially responsible by promoting proven human relationships as the foundation of society.
Daoism, founded by Laozi some fifty years earlier, puts the life of every human being in harmony with nature in the foreground and stimulates what works naturally and spontaneously in man. In this way it also opened up the possibility for the individual to escape the pressure of society and to shape his life according to his own values. Han Feizi propagated legalism shortly before the turn of the century around 200 B.C. after centuries of war between competing tribal princes: "Even if some extraordinary people can be successfully ruled with kindness, the majority needs control by the law," legalists said.
Under the rule of the Qin dynasty, this philosophy, in accordance with its idea, became the means to induce people to live a life conforming to the state through control and punishment. In the Qin period, it served for the first time in the classical period of an administrative policy determined exclusively by the emperor, which, for example, carried out arbitrary and forced unification of weights and measures, monetary currency and writing. According to Schmidt-Glintzer, this new type of administrative policy had in the long run developed into an effective state idea, although it was in contradiction to the Chinese tradition of individual activity and responsibility (subsidiarity):
The rule of the Qin ended in 209 BC under the peasants' revolts. In the following Han period Confucianism became the generally recognized philosophy. In Confucianism the preservation of the values and world views of the past from the Chou period was of central importance. Under Confucian influence the appreciation of the past became a dominant element of Chinese thinking. In this way, according to the sinologist Nakamura, the Classical Writings saved the Chinese from unbound individual thinking and thus saved the Chinese.
Buddhism and Christianity
Already in the Han period (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) the teachings of Buddha reached China by sea and via the Silk Road in the 1st century A.D. This religion, which, according to the sinologist Kai Vogelsang, "was to leave its mark on the Chinese Middle Ages", began as a subculture. The doctrine that originated in the 5th/4th century B.C., which in contrast to Chinese views claimed that there was something otherworldly in contrast to the worldly, had already undergone some changes on the centuries long way to China. The first import was of individual texts and related teachings, which were represented by Indian and Central Asian monks. With the end of the 3rd century A.D., the Buddhist teachings covered larger parts of the Chinese population. Buddhism, which had originated in India, was the first to integrate a foreign element into the Chinese culture. Buddhist teachings were completely transferred into Chinese and - similar to ancient texts by Christian translators - interpreted and sinified. The translation work was carried out by Indians, Sogdians, Persians and Central Asians who knew Sanskrit and Chinese. Chinese assistants further edited the text.
These translations were also used as graphic-literary products in the various Buddhist-Chinese schools and temples. Some of these were stylized diagrams or aphorisms or reports of events. The differences in content between the adopted and disseminated teachings were irrelevant within the Chinese Buddhist schools. Among Chinese Buddhists, knowledge of Sanskrit was rare even in the marriage of the Buddhist religion.
The Buddhist teachings on the other side were well received. They offered - in contrast to the Confucian and Daoist teachings - clearer ideas about life after death, as well as explanations for personal fate. These ideas appealed not only to the people, but also increasingly to the literary and philosophical educated of the court and nobility. Around 400 AD, the Eastern Jin Empire may already have had 1700 monasteries and 80 000 nuns and monks. For several centuries Buddhism was the predominant religion. It was a social factor and became a power in the state. The associated political influence became too strong for the imperial house. Thus, in 845 A.D., Buddhist monasteries were expropriated and monks and nuns were dismissed to the lay class. Even if, as the sinologist Volker Häring and his co-author Françoise Hauser wrote in their China Handbook, Buddhism never recovered from this blow, a good ten percent of all Chinese still profess Buddhism today. Considerably larger, according to the authors, is probably the number of "casual Buddhists".
For almost two thousand years after Buddhism, no comparably strong impulses were added. The existing, at times fiercely competing schools of Confucianism and Daoism were continuously reinterpreted. The efforts of Christian missionaries since the 16th century to establish their religion in the Middle Kingdom were unsuccessful and did not gain a lasting influence on the Chinese culture.
It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that a new doctrine succeeded in entering China for the first time again with communism. From 1949 until the early 1980s it was the all-dominant state doctrine. At the height of its influence it culminated in 1966-1976 in Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, which owes its name precisely to the questioning and combating of the millennia-old Chinese culture and especially its Confucian core. In the end, this undertaking was not very successful in relation to the victims. Compared with the Chinese cultures in Hong Kong, Taiwan or the numerous overseas communities untouched by the Cultural Revolution, the comparatively smaller importance of religious customs and other traditional values and rituals is nevertheless noticeable. Furthermore, classical Chinese culture is currently experiencing a certain erosion in the course of globalization and the associated levelling of lifestyles.
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A number of characteristic features of Chinese culture can be found in interpersonal relationships. Their general meaning has the character of tendencies or patterns. They were, for example, not equally pronounced at all times and not in all parts of China. In addition, as in other cultures, there are differences between ideals and the reality of life, which can sometimes be very pronounced.
From a Western perspective, mindfulness could prove its worth in the following three interpersonal areas as the key to understanding Chinese behaviour and developing appropriate responses:
Protecting face (面子, miànzi)Maintaining relationships (關係 / 关系, guānxi). Practice "politeness" (禮貌 / 礼貌, lǐmào). However, the extent to which these characteristics and the traits described below are reflected in the behaviour of the individual is primarily determined by the group affiliation of the participants.
Group Thinking and Insider-Outsider Discrimination
Certain sociological theories such as groupthink and insider-outsider discrimination are used to describe central elements of Chinese culture from a Western perspective. These theories, in conjunction with empirical data, determine to what extent and in what situations the other cultural characteristics are reflected in social life. The latter can be shown in a multitude of often unmanageable and objectively hardly identifiable borderlines. Based on these theories, social limitations and possibilities of intercultural communication are discussed.
Relatively obvious in China is the distinction between family members (家人, jiārén) and non-family members (非家人, fēi jiārén), which is also common in other cultures. This is followed by the distinction between "own people" (自己人, zìjǐrén) and "outsiders" (外人, wàirén - "the outsider, the foreigner"). The criteria for distinguishing who belongs to which group are very complex. They can range from regional origin, clan affiliation or family name, membership of social groups to departmental affiliation at the workplace or the employer or Danwei. For outsiders, these criteria and the exact course of the resulting boundaries between groups are usually difficult to understand. The most extreme and easily understandable distinction is that between Chinese (中國人 / 中国人, zhōngguórén) and foreigners (外國人 / 外国人, wàiguórén). In many cases a more or less clear distinction is also made between Han Chinese (漢人 / 汉人, Hànrén) and members of other ethnic groups within China.
Their own ideas, expectations and behaviour are changed as a matter of course along these borderlines. At each of the border lines shown, there are also extremely pronounced prejudices or aversions of members of different groups against each other (outgroup bias). Above all, the need for harmony, which is closely interwoven with Chinese culture, then recedes into the background and can lead to the uncompromising enforcement of the interests of one's own group (in-group interests) (e.g. the interests of family members, one's own people or Han Chinese) against the interests of other groups (outgroup interests) (e.g. the interests of non-family members, outsiders or non-Han Chinese). Within the respective groups, on the other hand, harmony striving and group thinking generally dominate.
Harmony - Yin and Yang
A defining characteristic of the Chinese imagination has always been the idea that the cosmos is in a harmonious balance that must be maintained and restored when threatened. It has found classical expression in Yin-Yang thinking, for example, or in the analogy of the Five Elements doctrine, according to which certain colours, seasons, moods, fabrics, planets and parts of the body correspond to each other and must be coordinated with each other. Later, especially Daoism comprehensively addressed the harmonious relations between heaven, earth and man. A special role in maintaining harmony was always played by the emperor as the "Son of Heaven", in whose Beijing palace quite a few buildings even bear the "harmony" in their names.
Analogously, however, harmony in human relations is also striven for. Conflicts are therefore basically perceived as a disturbance and one tries to avoid them as much as possible. Mutual support within the group is therefore appreciated and employees are encouraged to develop concepts together.
The uncompromising enforcement of one's own interests is considered immoral in China, even and especially when it is done with reference to binding "law", and is sanctioned accordingly. Instead, as a rule, attempts are made in lengthy processes to find a compromise solution that satisfies all parties involved. Of course, against this background, a brusque "no" is also out of the question, which of course often means that a "yes" cannot always be regarded as binding. However, criticism of the other party, overly violent expressions of emotions such as anger, annoyance, sadness or joy, as well as the disclosure of too much information about oneself (with the exception of financial matters) and the burdening of other people with one's own problems, worries or intimacies are also regarded as disturbances of harmony.
Quiet and reserved behaviour, calm to gentle speech, dignified gestures and composure in the face of annoyance are valued. The latter is particularly expressed in the frequently used phrase Méi yǒu guānxi (沒有關係 / 没有关系, wàiguórén - "It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter"). In some contexts, such as guest visits, exuberant praise is also expected.
As far as, in contrast to this, loud, reckless behaviour of Chinese people can be observed today, there is one reason in particular for this: the duty of harmony applies unreservedly only in the area of the own Danwei community, but not in the wider public. The jostling at the bus stop and ruthlessness in road traffic can therefore in no way be construed to indicate the behaviour of the same person in the family or at work.
In Chinese culture, the term face (面子, miànzi or 臉子 / 脸子, liǎnzi) is understood to mean not only the physical face, but also the opinions or reputation that others have about a particular person, or the esteem in which he or she is held. The Chinese traditionally attach great importance to their face.
People who do not meet the demands placed on them in their social role, for example as father, employee, student etc., "lose face". The loss of face is particularly severe when this deficit is also expressly identified by others, for example through criticism, rebuke, exposure, etc. in front of third parties, whereby in these cases the criticizing person usually also loses face. From childhood on the Chinese have a deep-seated fear of being excluded or "laughed at"; in this respect Oskar Weggel speaks of a Chinese culture of shame, which he contrasts with the Western culture of guilt. Ultimately, this attitude leads to an increased pressure to conform, which in turn strengthens the "ritualization principle" mentioned below. Violations of the above-mentioned harmony principle, for instance by showing anger and rage, also lead to loss of face.
Often the fear of losing face prevents Chinese people from taking even the slightest risks and dangers. Thus, for example, the timidity of Chinese hotel employees is hereby declared to (exceptionally) take on tasks in representation that have not been expressly assigned to them. Ignoring requests that could only be turned down is also often connected with the danger of losing face for both sides. One of the worst insults in Chinese is the phrase 不要臉子 / 不要脸子 búyào liǎnzi. What can be translated roughly as "being shameless" or "being without decency" literally means "not needing a face", i.e. "not having a reputation to lose".
Illustration for the novel The Robbers of Liang Shan Moor, 15th century. The principle of harmony as well as the doctrine of the face often force a considerable degree of indirectness in communication. It is avoided to "fall with the door into the house". "Hot irons" are not dealt with directly, rather the interlocutors move towards the actual topic in numerous twists and turns and general remarks. Central statements are often kept short and on top of that hidden in a less exposed place, for example in subordinate clauses. Non-verbal communication as well as the use of parables and symbols play an important role in this respect.
A popular technique is the so-called shadow shooting, in which criticism is formally directed not at the actual addressee but at another person; it is often also called "pointing to the mulberry tree, defaming the acacia". A classic example of this is the "Anti-Confucius Campaign" of 1974, which by no means turned against the ancient philosopher, but rather against his prominent contemporary admirer, the politician Zhou Enlai. Also the drama "The Deposing of Hai Rui" from the pen of the deputy mayor of Beijing, Wu Han, by no means criticized the Ming Emperor Jiajing, but rather the great chairman Mao Zedong himself, who in 1959 had deposed a "modern" Hai Rui from office - namely Marshal Peng Dehuai.
But even the technique of shadow shooting is traditionally reserved for influential personalities who are firmly in the saddle. The common citizen has to make any criticism even more subtle and is often limited to describing his own suffering without explicitly referring to the action of the indirectly criticized person that produces it. Examples can be found in the works of the writers Mao Dun and Ding Ling. In the film "Bitter Love", even the portrayal of a person who paints a big question mark in the snow led to a month-long campaign by the CCP against the author and director.
CollectivityIn the thinking of Chinese societies, the community has always been more important than the individual. Symptomatically it is already expressed in the Confucian moulded family, but above all in the Danwei (單位 / 单位), small, manageable collectives that can exist for instance in a village community, a company, a university, an army unit or the like.
Traditionally, the Danwei takes care of all the concerns of its members, but often interferes in their private affairs to a considerable extent: Depending on the period, the tasks of the Danweis could include, among others: Allocation of housing and work, distribution of wages, bonuses and ration cards, provision of local infrastructure, marriage, divorce and schooling permits, recruitment for militia service, recreational activities, political education, exercise of censorship, mediation of disputes, minor judicial tasks. Despite all the control, however, the Danwei also offers the individual a certain degree of democracy, participation and co-determination, from which he is excluded in the so-called Trans-Danwei area, i.e. at national level.
Membership in the Danwei is in principle lifelong, a change to another Danwei is normally not provided for. The Danwei also expects unconditional loyalty and solidarity from its members. Significantly, the Confucian moral duties apply in their entirety only in the Danwei area, but not in the Transdanwei area - which can lead, for example, to people being relatively reserved and indifferent to the suffering and misfortune of people who do not belong to Danwei, and certainly not to helping.
The Danwei character is still strongly pronounced in the countryside today. In the cities, however, a split has already taken place a long time ago in that the individual belongs to a Danwei who lives and works in different places and has different tasks. After the importance of the Danweis had reached a historical peak under Maoism, a decline has been observed since the early 1980s in the course of economic reform policies.
Singing together in a park in Guangzhou
The collective thinking deeply rooted in the Danwei being leads to the fact that the Chinese still prefer collective activities to individual ones. Work, life and leisure activities take place largely within the group. Loners and individualists are traditionally little appreciated. Accordingly, "privacy" is less important in China than in the West. At least within the own Danweis, unannounced visits or questions that are "intrusive" from a Western point of view are quite accepted.
Awareness of hierarchy
Confucius had already divided human relations according to asymmetrical superordination/subordination relationships such as father/son, husband/wife, master/servant, master/disciple and developed a complex hierarchical structure on the basis of these relationships. Even in the imperial family, a strict distinction was made between the ranks of the various wives, concubines, concubines and princes. After them came the officials, who were themselves divided into 18 ranks, followed by the peasants, the various trades, then the merchants, who were divided according to their merchandise. Even the socially declassed at the lower end of the scale ranked whores even higher than actors. Even within the sibling ranks of a family, brothers were sorted by age, and sisters were ranked after them. The inferior one owes obedience, respect and support to the superior one, while the superior one owes protection and instruction to the superior one.
Even today, hierarchical consciousness is still deeply rooted in the thinking of most Chinese. Within a Danweis every member has a fixed place and rank, which is to be respected by internal and external persons equally. In many cases, they are protected by meticulously monitored status symbols such as the size of the office, desk or company car. At conferences it is expressed in the seating arrangement: at long tables, for example, the heads of the delegations sit opposite each other in the middle, with the 2nd man on their right and the 3rd man on their left in the order of precedence. Changes in the external seating, standing or marching order are inevitably interpreted by the Chinese as shifts in the power structure. When, for example, Liu Shaoqi came through the door on official occasions at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution not as the second behind Mao as before, but only as the seventh, this was generally regarded as a political death sentence. Subordinate members may only take part in the trial with the express permission of the head of delegation. They may also not be addressed directly by the opposing party, but only in strict compliance with the official channels. The value of gifts distributed to members of the delegation must reflect their differences in rank.
During the Cultural Revolution the principle of hierarchy was turned into the complete opposite. Lower-ranking Chinese were expressly encouraged, often downright urged, to rebel against the traditional authorities. An extreme example is the students who formed "red guards" to mock, humiliate or even beat up their teachers. Although these conditions did not last long, they can still be observed in today's hooligan literature, works by young Chinese who defy all authority.
Another basic feature of Chinese culture is ritualization. Many actions and processes of daily life are or were subject to strict regulations that must be strictly observed. They are mostly given by tradition and thus in the end by the ancestors and/or the master, whereby the circle to the already mentioned hierarchization is closed. The high esteem for learning is just as much a part of this as the bureaucracy, which has always been very pronounced in China.
Deviations from the guidelines are at best ridiculed, but often sanctioned. Spontaneity, improvisation, originality or self-fulfilment are largely frowned upon in this respect, which, together with the fear of losing face, leads to increased pressure to conform and to the low prevalence of eccentrics in China. Against this background, however, the copying of role models is expressly regarded as desirable, praiseworthy and by no means reprehensible, which helps to explain the flourishing product piracy in China today.
Examples of rituals include the various traditional greetings and bows, which had to be aligned exactly with the status of the person opposite, the way food is served, tea is poured or business cards are handed out. Also when writing their characters, the Chinese usually pay meticulous attention to the exact order in which the strokes are drawn, even if this can no longer be determined or understood from the "end product". In the Imperial Exams for Civil Servants, too, the candidates were expected to have a meticulous knowledge and rendering of the Confucian classics. As a pious Confucian son one had to mourn after the death of the father - independently of the actual mood - exactly three years.
In many cases this explained the astonishingly static character of the Chinese community for centuries. In fact, paintings or stories from the Qing Dynasty, for example, are often stylistically hardly distinguishable from their models from the Tang period; the same applies to philosophical or political ideas: At the latest from the turn of the century onwards, the classical teachings of the Axis period, i.e. Confucianism, Daoism and legalism, were only reinterpreted; however, due to the "veneration" of the old, nothing groundbreaking new was added. In the middle of the 19th century the "rigidity" created by it was admittedly to contribute to China's falling behind in relation to the West and thus to the decline of the empire and its fall into semi-colonial dependence.
A further characteristic of Chinese culture is its strong orientation towards the here and now. There questions like structure and origin of the cosmos, the fate of the human soul or the entire topic around sin and redemption were from the outset never in the foreground; rather the master dealt predominantly with the human living together according to the principles of morality (禮 / 礼, Lǐ).
In general, therefore, the wishes of the Chinese are not directed towards a "better life after death", but rather towards the longest possible duration of life. Death is regarded by the Confucians as a negative factor, which explains the extremely long mourning period of three years. The traditionally strong ancestor cult serves primarily to ward off the soul of the deceased in the hereafter threatening challenges, whose consequences in extreme cases can fall back on the surviving relatives.
Shoulao - The god of longevity
In view of the negative evaluation of death, longevity (壽 / 寿, Shòu) has traditionally been a central goal for the Chinese; there is hardly any other term in China with so many symbols (including crane, deer, pine, peach and many more). The increase of this is immortality (不朽, bùxiǔ), which was, however, especially aimed at by the Daoists.
But also for the time of life itself mostly material wishes are in the foreground, for example happiness (福, Fú), wealth (富, Fù), a lucrative position (祿 / 禄, Lù) and sons (兒子 / 儿子, Érzi). Thus, people wish each other "ten thousand times happiness" (萬福 / 万福, Wànfú), give each other calligraphies with the sign "Long Life", or pray to the "God of Wealth" who can be found in every village temple. While in the Qing period whole novels were still concerned with a young man's attainment of a civil servant's rank, for the up-and-coming Chinese youth of today the lucrative job with a transnational company has taken their place. The traditional Chinese appreciation of good food and demonstrative consumption also belong in this context.
Metaphysical elements in Daoism and in Chinese Buddhism are more obvious. But also here in the course of time popular variants more strongly turned to the here and now have developed: Thus one tends to bother the Daoist deities quite often with highly earthly desires such as the desire for wealth or child blessings. Even the heavenly court around the Jade Emperor reflects the real conditions in the Chinese empire in great detail. The variant of Buddhism prevailing in China, the Mahayana school, provides - unlike the Indian original Hinayana - for the possibility of a vicarious redemption of man by Bodhisattvas (especially the much revered Guanyin and Buddha Amitabha), whereby the individual is required to have a considerably lower degree of spiritual maturity that can only be attained through asceticism and meditation, and a stronger turning to earthly life is made possible. In Chan Buddhism, too, elements of this world are relatively strong.
At the latest since the unification of the empire by the first emperor Shi Huangdi in the 3rd century B.C., China has felt superior as the centre of the world and to the - considered as "barbarians" - other peoples. Exemplarily this is already expressed in the self-designation Zhōngguó (中國 / 中国), which is translated in German as "Reich der Mitte". The origins of this thinking are cosmological conceptions according to which the world is a geometrically constructed disk with China, the imperial palace and finally the emperor himself, who as "son of heaven" has a special mandate. He potentially saw himself as the ruler of the whole world and had the task of ordering and ruling this world in the sense of "heaven". Civilization and a peaceful order were thought of.
Han expansion 200 BC.
Accordingly, over the centuries, more and more nomadic neighbouring peoples became tribute states until China finally reached an expansion of about twelve million square kilometres under Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century, extending from Siberia to the Himalayas. Other countries like Korea or Vietnam became vassal states. "The experiences and adaptations (adjustments) from these often warlike, but mostly cooperative relationships were an important prerequisite for the expansion and stability of the Later Imperial Era...".
In accordance with his "Heavenly Mandate" the emperor never dealt with foreign rulers on the same level, but rather demanded tribute payments for the protecting power China and, as an outward sign of respect, consistently repeated kowtowing. The request of the English King George III to establish equal diplomatic relations in 1793 therefore met with incomprehension and resistance. It was not until defeat in the First Opium War that the ruling Chinese emperor was forced to conclude a treaty with Great Britain, which the British regarded as a partnership, but which the Chinese called an unequal treaty.
The entire Chinese sphere of power was consistently "sinicized", i.e. adapted to their own culture. Conversely, the Han Chinese twice even succeeded in singling out the cultures of indigenous ethnic minorities that had gained power throughout China, namely the Mongols in the Yuan Dynasty and the Manchus in the Qing Dynasty. As far as foreign teachings were imported, some of them were sinicized so consistently that in the end they had little in common with their role model. Examples of this are Buddhism and, in more recent times, Communism.
Traditionally, people in China were convinced that everything useful and desirable had been discovered or invented in their own country and that foreign goods and ideas were therefore not necessary. Accordingly, Emperor Qianlong brusquely rejected the goods offered by the emissaries of the Macartney Mission in 1793. Insofar as cultural and technical imports were nevertheless permitted, for example during the culturally open Tang Dynasty or later by the European missionaries, the history of science was often ignored: A scholar was quickly found who proved that astrolabes and seismographs, for example, had already been invented by the Chinese before, but had then fallen into oblivion.
The sinocentric principle experienced a considerable collapse when China, humiliated after the First Opium War, fell into a status of semi-colonial dependence. More recently, it has been experiencing a certain renaissance, as China is about to regain its position as a leading nation, not least as a result of impressive economic growth.
China in comparative cultural research
The GLOBE study compared 61 crops. In a global comparison, China was distinguished by a high degree of performance orientation, uncertainty avoidance and collectivism. In contrast, the future orientation was low by international comparison. The study confirmed some of the results that the cultural scientist Geert Hofstede had already produced in his large-scale survey of IBM branches worldwide (1967-1973).