#22 event report: The Question of Identity in Cultural China

December 4, 2012, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)

Prof. Dr. TU Weiming 杜维明, Director of the Institute for Advanced Humanistic Studies, Peking University


With Bridge Café more crowded than Beijing’s Line 2 subway at rush hour, Professor Tu captured the attention of listeners by recounting the intellectual history of “文化中国,” or “Cultural China.” His narrative moved from the field’s genesis among Malaysian Chinese researchers on Taiwan to concepts of an endless periphery of Cultural China, one in which there exists no center. Professor Tu then outlined his core philosophy regarding the three symbolic universes of Cultural China: First, the East Asian countries with Han Chinese ethnic majorities; second, the Chinese diaspora within and beyond East Asia; and third, most controversially, any person concerned about China in a long-term perspective, including diplomats, journalists, and those who attend ThinkIN China events. Professor Tu emphasized that membership in the third group is not limited to those with pro-China attitudes, as both “dragon-slayers” and “panda-huggers” are included.

The latter half of the lecture touched upon the tensions within contemporary Cultural China. Citing various statistics, Professor Tu noted the implications of varied cultural identification among Chinese living in Taiwan or Hong Kong, as many seem themselves as Chinese in the sense of “华人” but not as “中国人,” the latter term increasingly interpreted as a political identity affiliated with the mainland government. He also noted the need for diversity as a prerequisite for harmony. In closing, Professor Tu highlighted the two most pressing challenges within Cultural China that Communist Party leaders faces. First, he argued for a reevaluation of religion and the need for a serious dialogue between religion and science as guiding forces in China’s development. Second, Professor Tu extoled the need to develop culture alongside the economy, particularly in light of what he deemed the death of the five main Confucian values and the unhealthy growth of a “market society” alongside the market economy.


Audience questions sparked intriguing anecdotes regarding Professor Tu’s first interactions with skeptical Tibetan exiles as well as deepened intellectual discourse on the syncretic nature of Confucian philosophy. In addition, Professor Tu noted that despite his American citizenship, he does identify as a “中国人.” With time running short, Professor Tu received a standing ovation before the discussions continued at a year-end celebration