A core Course of General Education An outline of the Traditional Chinese Culture 中国传统文化概览 Shandong University Contents


Culture in the Dynasties of Wei and Jin, and the Northern and Southern Dynasties



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Culture in the Dynasties of Wei and Jin, and the Northern and Southern Dynasties

This period was important in the development of the Chinese culture. The unity of the Qin and the Han was broken. Tumultuous division was typical most of the time. Against this political background, emerged the culture of the influential and privileged families of scholar-officials, plus the cultural conflict and fusion of different nationalities.

The culture of shizu, the influential and privileged families of scholar-officials was the dominant ideology at that time. The founding of the system of shizu and menfa, the distinguished family of hereditary power and influence, established shizu’s mastery in every social sector. Profourd Learning (Xuan Xue) was the embodiment of their academic culture characterized by the appearance of being morally lofty, aloof and proud. Profound Learning was fresh and succinct, ingenious and elegant, transcending the worldly desire and attaining sainthood. It was the reflection of the image of shizu in the learning. Aloof from petty politics and material pursuits, the literati were indulged in fantasy and idle talk, i.e. philosophical disputes completely divorced from reality. They were fond of an unconventional way of life expressed in elegant, refined, carefree and witty conversations. Shaking off philistine scholasticism in the study of Confucian classics in the Han Dynasty, they entered the mysterious realm of abstract reasoning. The birth of Profound Learning greatly elevated the level of abstract thinking in Chinese ideology. The culture of shizu found the outward expression in the family culture. The elementary feature of shizu was to pass on paternal teaching and influence from generation to generation in a family. During the dynasties of Wei and Jin, and the Northern and Southern dynasties, which were plagued by internecine wars among the states, the knowledge handed down from father to son enabled the Chinese to pass on the torch of learning from generation to generation continuously. This was the ever-lasting historic contribution made by the culture of shizu. The eminent clans became the representatives, undertakers and defenders of the national culture at that time, for example, Wang family in Langya, Xie family in Chenjun, Xiao family in Lanling, and Yan family in Langya.

This period also witnessed in the north an upsurge of ethnic groups integrating. Due to the havoc wrought by successive wars, the northwestern nomads had been crossing the Great Wall and had been pushing on to the plains ever since the time of the Eastern Han. The wholesale migration to the hinterland of the ethnic minority groups in the northern frontier regions led to the inhabitation by both Han nationality and minority nationalities. The five major minority nationalities including Huns, Xianbei, Di, Jie and Qiang are also called “the five Hu nationalities”. During the turbulent civil strife at the end of the Western Jin Dynasty, the upper strata of the five Hu nationalities dispatched troops to set up separatist regimes by force of arms. As a result of this there emerged in the Yellow River Valley sixteen kingdoms and the large-scale contention between nationalities in the Northern Dynasty. Although the five minority nationalities conquered the Han nationality by force, they were finally assimilated by the advanced culture of Hans. The developed agricultural civilization and feudal system in the Yellow River basin gradually tamed the primitive and wild nature of the five minority nationalities. The simple customs and passionate impulse of the nomads invigorated the ancient Han civilization. The intermarriage between Han and Five Non-Han nationalities infused fresh blood into the vein of the Chinese nation’s development. The cultural collision between different nationalities was bound to realize their integration with the result that the development of Chinese civilization went a step further.

Cultural integration was also embodied in the gradual integration of Buddhism into the Chinese culture. Buddhism monasteries first appeared in China at the end of the Western Han Dynasty, but it was only until the Wei-Jin period that Buddhism began to spread and flourish. The profound reasoning of Buddhism influenced Chinese traditional philosophy. At its heyday, sculptures and frescoes bearing images of Buddha and based on Buddhist tales were in vogue. Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes, Datong Yungang Grottoes and Luoyang Longmen Grottoes were all dug during this period. Each of these grottoes was decorated with exquisitely executed Buddhist images and was world-famous for their engravings. Among the eminent scientific feats during this period were the figure of π– worked out by Zu Chongzhi, which, by then was the most precisely calculated figure in the world, Qi Min Yao Shu (Important Arts for the Peoples Welfare), an agricultural encyclopedia compiled by Jia Sixie of the Northern Wei Dynasty, and Treatise on the Pulse written by the noted physician Wang Shuhe.




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