Wang Meng, Chinese author. [China Daily]
Traditional Chinese culture is as extensive as it is profound, but it has often proved a difficult subject matter to encapsulate in print.
Chinese author Wang Meng uses vivid stories drawn from his understanding of traditional Chinese culture to help interpret its essence for younger generations.
Born in 1934, Wang is a former culture minister who also worked as editor-in-chief of People's Literature and as vice-executive-chairman of the Chinese Writers' Association. He is also a prolific author of literary works, including novels, essays and poems.
Wang's book Zhongguo Tianji (God Knows China) was published five years ago. The work demonstrated his profound understanding of Chinese history.
Now Wang is bringing his audience a companion piece - Zhonghua Xuanji ("Chinese recondite principle") - which provides a deeper insight into Chinese philosophy and traditional culture.
"Six years ago, I wrote about the role of predictability and unpredictability in modern and contemporary Chinese history, where tianji referred to the rule of inevitability," says Wang.
"But this time, xuanji can have many different meanings."
The Chinese character xuan can mean black or mysterious.
The book is a collection of Wang's 36 lectures and articles about traditional Chinese culture, which are divided into five sections - "personality", "soul", "social environment", "the world" and "people's feelings".
The fewer words used in a philosopher's texts, the more open to interpretation it can be - that's Wang's understanding of Chinese philosophy.
"Tao Te Ching, or Dao De Jing, a text written by Chinese sage Laozi around the sixth century BC, only has 6,000 characters, but it's one of the most influential philosophy books in the world," Wang says.
With a limited number of words, the principles set out are open to a variety of interpretations, and researchers can always find ways to dig deeper.
"So, it could take you more than a lifetime to finish studying Chinese culture," says Wang.
"Unlike more straightforward foreign tracts, Chinese philosophy tends to view things dialectically.
"We have a Chinese saying - One step back today for two steps forward tomorrow - which doesn't mean we will always have to take a step back, but rather that we are seeking a way to zigzag forward."
Taoism, Confucianism and Mencius' thought are not the only representations of Chinese culture. Chinese poetry from the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties are just as valid.
Wang believes Chinese culture is still apparent in daily modern life through simple things like the way people drink tea and their personal demeanors.
"We are talking about a living culture, not a dead historical site," Wang says.
Wang likens Chinese culture to a huge tree. "For example, Chinese poetry is like a tree with thick branches, full of flowers and fruit that attracts birds and cicadas," Wang says.
"When I read one poem, there are hundreds of poems singing together in my mind."
Wu Shulin, executive vice-president of the Publishers Association of China, says he is pleasantly surprised to see that Wang has written several books exploring traditional Chinese culture in recent years.
"He has precise understanding of Chinese culture, and all his books about this topic are based on his knowledge reserves built up over all these years," says Wu.
"When we read his book, we need to feel the xuanji through his life story. We need to take time to digest his examples of xuanji."
Li Jingze, vice-president of the China Writers Association, also believes Wang's explanation of traditional Chinese culture hails from his role as a writer, a poet, a politician and a normal person with a typical mindset.
"It's a book of cultural confidence," says Li. "It's a collection of our thousands of years of history and our combined philosophical thought.
"We can learn not only about traditional culture from his book, but also more about ourselves from our traditions." Wang hopes the book will bolster his readers' cultural confidence and broaden their outlook.
"When we talk about cultural confidence, it has to be based on our traditions and our practice of revolution and construction," says Wang.
Wang Meng's latest book offers an insight into Chinese philosophy and traditional culture. [China Daily]
(Source: China Daily)