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Culturelink review, no.20/November 1996 - contents - imprint - archive

I.   The Historical Perspective on Development: Modernization and Traditional Culture
     (1) The Case of China, (2) The Case of Korea
II.  The Ethical Perspective on Development: Material Growth and Moral Standard
III. The Environmental Perspective on Development: Harmony Between Man and

IV. The Open Perspective on Development: Cultural Identity and the Global Approach

Culture and Development:
Macro-Cultural Reflections on Development

(Prepared for publication by the CULTURELINK Network)

Original paper: UDC 008:316.4:338.92

This paper is a study of world development in general and Third World development in particular. The over-emphasis on, and excessive preoccupation with, economic and material growth has resulted in a crisis of development. It is necessary to take a macro-cultural approach to development so that progress in integrative human civilization - material as well as moral - can be attained. This approach is explored in four major areas: the relationship between modernization and tradition, the relationship between material growth and moral standards, the relationship between Man and Nature, and the relationship between national and global cultures.

In the postwar years, the question of development became a vital issue of universal concern. However, world development today is still faced with dilemmas and difficulties, and in some respects the problems are getting more complicated.

We need to raise once again the fundamental question of the concept and definition of development. Development should be regarded as progress in integrative human civilization, material as well as moral, of a given society. Therefore, the macro-cultural approach to development is most important. Of course, this includes not only culture in its narrow sense (art and literature, academic activities, etc.), but also culture in its broadest sense. The macro-cultural approach to development is a holistic exploration of the developmental process, material and moral, current and historical, partial and total. It will study, in addition to material progress, the national identity, historical traditions, ways of life, and value system of a society and their intrinsic interconnections with material progress. Thus, the macro-cultural approach to development emphasizes studies of the development process, development goals, and development results in close connection with the integrative civilization of human society, against the background of the integrative environment of the whole society, and taking into consideration the integrative criterion of people as the centre of society. Genuine, healthy and sustainable development will hopefully be realized gradually.

I. The Historical Perspective on Development: Modernization and Traditional Culture

The macro-cultural approach to development will primarily relate to the question of an objective attitude towards tradition and the relationship between traditional culture and modernization development. This is especially important in Third World countries.

Tradition is what a society inherits from its history, which forms the norms of morality, concepts of value, modes of behavior, methods of thinking, ways of life, custom and habits, ideas of aesthetics, etc. This is the foundation of the cultural identity of that particular society. With the vicissitudes of ages, progress of science and technology, tempo of life, speed of communication, etc., many traditional things and ideas will naturally turn outmoded and conservative in modern times. However, tradition as a whole is not to be equated with obsolescence and backwardness. On the contrary, many traditional factors (spirit, morality, thought and custom) are positive inputs for social progress and modernization today. Therefore, all development processes should pay attention to respecting tradition, inheriting tradition, and promoting good heritage of traditional culture. This is the historical perspective on development, i.e., to provide a stable, firm and sustained cultural foundation for the development process and, hence, a consensus and coherence of the whole society.

But, in the practice of development, there appear many misleading phenomena. For the Third World countries, to modernize their national economies, to raise productivity, to improve the living standards for their people, and so on, are the urgent goals and trends in their development processes. Since the industrial revolution and technological progress of the West have been the pioneering factors of modernization, and since Western thinking and models of modernization dominate the present world, the Third World countries often identify 'Modernization' with 'Westernization'; moreover, this is also the direction that the mainstream development models of the West have tried to sell. Meanwhile, as the Third World countries are anxious to shake off the situation of backwardness and underdevelopment, they tend to regard traditional and indigenous culture as backward and outmoded, or merely as exotic commodities to attract tourists. They set tradition in opposition to modernization and copy or imitate indiscriminately from the West the development strategy, industrial structure, technological choice, consumption patterns, as well as political institutions, etc. Many Third World countries have experienced, or are now experiencing, this lesson in their process of development.

However, respect for tradition does not mean the wholesale acceptance of everything past. Traditional culture needs to be renewed constantly. Mao Zedong said: 'Our national history goes back several thousand years and has its own characteristics and innumerable treasures..... We should sum up our history from Confucius to Sun Yat-sen and take over this valuable legacy.'1 He also said: 'A splendid old culture was created during the long period of Chinese feudal society. To study the development of this old culture, to reject its feudal dross and assimilate its democratic essence is a necessary condition for developing our new national culture and increasing our national self-confidence, but we should never swallow anything and everything uncritically.'2 The South Commission pointed out: 'Culture is not only an inheritance of the past. In order to survive, a culture needs to renew itself so as to cope with present day issues. Indeed, some traditional cultural traits are inimical to development, and even to human dignity. People in the South should face the challenge of cultural renewal. A good starting-point would be the objective study of their own history. This would help them to reassess traditional values with a view to emphasizing those conducive to renewal and progress.'3

The Third World countries must make a serious effort to study and know their own history. This will help them to make an overall appraisal of their own traditional values and heritage for the benefit of the modernization process. Many elements of Third World traditional ideas, such as the sense of ecology, sense of community, sense of social obligation, attention to human relations, cohesion of family bonds, etc., are all factors that are lacking in modern industrial societies and great care should be taken to preserve and popularize them. And needless to say, we should learn to recognize the importance of protecting the brilliant heritage of traditional art and literature and science and technology of different countries and nations.

On the question of the correct understanding and correct analysis of tradition, I may give two examples here.

(1) The Case of China

In China, at various major historical turning points or critical periods, there often occurred heated debates and polemics on the question of the relationship of traditional culture and modernization.4

We can see that those discussions and debates first took place against the background of an Old China faced with domestic oppression and foreign invasion, as well as the strong shock of the Western culture and material strength. This situation compelled many concerned scholars, out of an urgent need of national salvation, to rethink China's cultural pattern and development model as a response to the national crises. At first, the goal was simply to achieve an invigoration of China (modernization of China) through imitation of the West, as the impact of the West inevitably triggered a clash between the cultures of the East and the West. Thus, in modern Chinese history, there were rounds of debates on the question of the relationship between modernization and Westernization, the relationship between modernization and tradition, the relationship between Chinese culture and Western culture, and the orientation of modernization in China. Many theses and ideas were raised, such as 'Europeanization' (or 'Westernization'), 'Russianization', 'Chinese Value, Western Utility', 'China-West Complementarity', 'Modernized Confucianism' or 'Neo-Confucianism', etc., as well as 'National Salvation through Industry', 'National Salvation through Science', 'National Salvation through Education', 'Rural Construction', and so on, while the centre of the question was the relationship between tradition and modernization, or cultural identity in modernization.

Since the drive for reform and opening to the world in China and the inflow of Western influences, especially since the mid-eighties, the academic circles have once again had several rounds of discussions and debates on Chinese culture, focusing on the relationship between the Chinese traditional culture and China's modernization development. To sum up, the following major views were expressed:

  • A group of scholars believed that the Chinese traditional culture is incompatible with modernization, that a fundamental rupture with tradition is unavoidable in order to realize modernization in China. The advocates of this approach said that the Chinese traditional culture was formed mainly by its dominant element - Confucianism, plus the small peasant economy, patriarchal clan system, and the idea of a centralized unified domain. Therefore, it clashes in many aspects with modernization and development. The following types of conflict were recognized:
    • The conflict between the traditional peasant economy of subsistence and egalitarianism and the market economy of a modern society;
    • The conflict between the tradition of the rule of man and modern society with the rule of law;
    • The conflict between the institution of hierarchy and the principle of equality;
    • The conflict between patriarchal ideas and democratic spirit;
    • The conflict between the mentality of conservatism and demand for creativity;
    • The conflict between autarky and openness;
    • The conflict between the principle of ethics and the principle of material interest;
    • The conflict between the sense of frugality and self-restraint and demand for consumption and pleasure;
    • The conflict between communality and individuality.
    They were mostly younger scholars, also a small number of older and middle-aged scholars with radical views. They hoped to see a quick change in China and blamed traditional culture as the main subjective obstacle to China's modernization. They called for a faster and more radical reform.
  • Another group of scholars advocated a renaissance of the Chinese traditional culture. They held that Confucius' days marked the founding stage of Confucianism; the School of Principle (or Legalists) of the Sung (960-1280 A.D.) and Ming (1368-1644 A.D.) dynasties marked the climax of the second stage of Confucianism; and the current period represents the third stage of Confucianism, namely, a 'renaissance of Confucianism' or a 'renaissance of Chinese traditional culture'. They believed that the orientation of the world culture would not be to melt Chinese culture into Western-type modern culture, but rather that the Western-type modern culture would came closer towards Chinese culture. They argued that Confucianism as the centre of the Chinese traditional culture would continue to contribute importantly to China's modernization development, that the Confucian teaching not only stands in no opposition to modernization, but even provides indispensable historical motivation, and that Confucianism could actually become the ideal ethical goal for the rest of the world.
    They were mainly older and middle-aged scholars with a good training in Chinese classics. More specifically, this was the view held by the 'Neo-Confucianists' based in Hong Kong and Taiwan and other places. There were also a few famous representatives of this school in mainland China. They had more direct experience of social problems and cultural dilemmas of the Western world.
  • A third group of scholars stressed that Confucianism played a leading part in Chinese culture and was still the most important part of it. Over a period of more than two thousand years, Confucianism has mingled with ideology, ways of thinking and norms of behaviour of the Chinese people. It has become a hereditary gene, a component part of the Chinese national character. In this sense, the influence of Confucianism is ever present. In the process of modernization in China, the Chinese national culture and the modern Western culture are both needed. It is important to combine the scientific spirit of the West and the integrative perspective of the East, to combine the Western approach of external exploration and transformation of the world with the Eastern approach of internal-external coordination and harmony between the body and the mind. A 'new culture' would thus be created as a result of that East-West synthesis and a 'creative transformation' of traditional society to modern society would be realized.

The advocates of the third view tried to avoid the extremes of the other two groups. Their reasoning was based on the confirmation of the Chinese traditional culture, while not denying the important contribution of Western culture. They stood for a combination of the two. They were the scholars holding more practical and moderate attitudes towards China's reform and modernization efforts. It seems that this group is growing in present-day China.

The first view listed a number of points of conflict between Chinese traditional ideas and modernization. They are undoubtedly important conflicts but not necessarily unchangeable and irreparable. The fatal weakness of this view was a lack of profound analysis, so it flatly denied the significant value of the Chinese traditional culture, regarded it as completely backward and believed that it could only pose an obstacle to the modernization of China; hence the wrong conclusion that it was necessary to discard the traditional culture completely in order to realize modernization.

The second and the third views both fully confirmed the important value of the Chinese traditional culture. But it is necessary to further stress the following points:

  • What we should confirm in the traditional culture is naturally its good essence and values, and not just anything and everything. In the long history of China, there were backward, feudal, and even reactionary elements and dross, and they should definitely be negated. But, as to what is good essence and what is dross, a careful distinction should be made on the basis of a conscientious, practical, historical, scientific and dialectical study.
  • The cultural tradition of any nation and region in the world, no matter how brilliant and how old, is a component part of the integrative human civilization and belongs to the common heritage of the humanity. All nations of the world, big and small, old and young, contribute their due part to the world civilization. As far as the East and the West are concerned, the Eastern culture has its advantages as well as weaknesses, and the Western culture has its advantages as well as weaknesses. The human society should be able to incorporate the cultural advantages of all nations and societies.
  • The world civilization is a pluralist entity. The process of opening to, exchange with, and incorporation of other cultures on the basis of the cultural identity of each nation and society should be the best step towards the development of its own culture and of the world. Once again, the important point is that all these should be based on, and proceeded from, one's own cultural identity.

Confucianism is the core of the Chinese traditional culture. It has profoundly influenced not only China, past and present, but also other societies of Sinitic culture, such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, etc. There are many elements of valuable heritage in the Confucian tradition; at the same time, many negative and backward elements were inevitably accumulated over thousands of years. Therefore, a serious study and analysis of tradition is a necessary prerequisite for the understanding and inheriting of tradition, especially for a society with a history as long as China's. The important step in studying the Chinese traditional culture, with Confucianism as its centre, is to understand its nature and to find its original essence.

Confucius (551-479 B.C.) lived in the years of great upheaval, the periods of Spring and Autumn and of the Warring States. Confucius endeavoured to transform the chaotic social situation of tyrannical rulers and oppressive politics, suffering people and degenerating morality. So, Confucius was first and foremost a reformer of his day, a reformer of man and governance, a reformer of culture and education. Confucianism was first of all a product of reform and change. The Confucian philosophical classics I-CHING (or the BOOK OF CHANGE), for instance, contains many basic propositions advocating change and renovation of great importance. But in the later years, after Confucius' death, Confucianism was distorted and abusively utilized by feudal rulers of different dynasties, who turned it into a tool to stabilize and support their feudal dictatorial rule. The anti-autocratic ideas favouring equality and democracy in Confucian teachings were suppressed or watered down by feudal rulers and officials in their service, while the elements of feudal hierarchy and patriarchy were played up. Much of the true essence of Confucianism was lost or minimized. It was precisely against this background that Confucius and Confucianism became the target of struggle of all anti-feudalist movements in Chinese history. But many outstanding anti-feudalist scholars and statesmen maintained a clear mind in this respect. For instance, Li Dazhao, a pioneer of the New Cultural Movement and the May Fourth Movement in the earlier years of this century, and a founder of the Communist Party of China, said: 'Confucius was indeed the backbone figure in the society of his days and indeed a great sage of his time.....Therefore, my denouncement against Confucius is not targeted at Confucius per se, but on the authoritative image of Confucius constructed by the ruling monarchs of different dynasties, on the spirit of autocratic politics.'5 Lu Xun, the great writer and pioneer of new literature in China, pointed out in one of his articles that after Confucius' death, 'various persons of power and influence put all kinds of white paints on him as makeup'.6 This indicates that they made a distinction between the genuine Confucius and Confucianism and the distorted image of Confucius and Confucianism created by the rulers of different dynasties after Confucius' death.

A correct understanding of tradition can be attained through conscientious study and analysis. Since 1949, China has adopted a policy of 'assimilating the essence and rejecting the dross', and not a policy of complete negation of traditional culture. But during the ten years of the 'cultural revolution', the teachings of Confucius and Mencius, and all traditional culture, were strongly denounced as downright reactionary. Now, however, since the beginning of the drive for reform and opening-up, the desire to inherit and take over good traditions is again recognized as legitimate and important. Much attention has been paid to the study of the contemporary and historical conditions in China. With the ever greater opening up of China, various aspects of society - moral standards, social ethics, lifestyles, ways of thinking, etc. - are more and more directly exposed to external influences, and it is all the more important to stress the protection and inheritance of the domestic tradition.

(2) The Case of Korea

Korea and many other Third World countries were often regarded as societies with a historical background of 'Oriental autocracy' and Asiatic modes of production. In the process of modernization of Korea, different views have been expressed regarding the assessment of its traditional culture and democratic heritage. People with a good insight of Korea relied on in-depth research and took a serious attitude towards the tradition of their own country. For instance, Kim Dae Jung, the celebrated statesman and scholar of democracy of Korea, made a profound analysis of the question of tradition and development. He said: 'The great success of economic development in the countries (areas) of the Sinitic cultural rim may be closely related to many features of Confucianism. Confucianism is a philosophy of governing. The executive institution established on the basis of the system of prefectures and counties acquired a tradition of paying attention to social order and diligent work. To one's surprise, all these features were established already two thousand years ago. The influence of Sinitic culture and Confucianism on the Sinitic-rim societies has its positive as well as negative aspects, and further studies are needed.'7 He pointed out also: 'Confucianism fosters numerous elements which are conducive to democratic development. For example, it stresses pragmatism, rationality, 'people-first' principle, orderliness, and especially respect for the freedom of expression.....All in all, Confucianism should not be dismissed as inimical to democratic development, as it is characterized by a number of democratic orientations and practice. It is not surprising, therefore, that during the 1,000 years of strong Confucian influence and rule since the Koryo Dynasty, the Korean people gradually developed a democratic consciousness....'8

Kim Dae Jung's view is a realistic and objective analysis on the Korean traditional culture. China and Korea have something in common in their traditional culture, yet with their own contents and features. The influence of Confucianism, though not completely the same in China and Korea, was a major element in the traditional culture of those two Oriental countries. Kim's analysis is appreciated not only because he emphasizes the importance of traditional culture in the process of modernization, but also because he discovered the proper essence of Confucianism, which agrees also with the understanding of the present author.

Now, let's look at the contemporary situation of Korea. As one of the 'Four Small Dragons' of Asia, Korea entered a period of high-speed development in the late 1970s, and scored even faster economic growth in the 1980s. But, in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, there was a sudden slowing down of the growth of the economy. Someone has named the present situation in Korea as a 'Korean Malady' - a comprehensive reflection of intrinsic problems, explicit and implicit, in political, economic, social, and national traditional areas. The phenomena include: political corruption and scandals, economic profiteering and serious inflation, ever-increasing unemployment, severe weakening of the spirit of hard work and diligence especially among the younger generation, pleasure-seeking and hedonism being the main phenomenon in social life, cold human relations and declining social ethics, etc. Faced with the 'Korean Malady', the new President, Kim Young Sam, who took office in February 1993, indicated his determination to seek a cure. He emphasizes attention to good historical tradition, advocates the style of hard work and diligence, stresses the education of the national spirit, determined to punish corrupt officials and rebuild the image of a clean government, and endeavours to improve the ethical situation of society. We can see that both the onset and the attempted cure for this 'malady' have something to do with macro-cultural questions.

Recognizing the significance of traditional culture for the current modernization process, some scholars have drawn the attention to the Confucian thesis: 'Personal integrity guarantees a harmonious family, the harmonious family brings about a well-governed state, and the well-governed state leads to a peaceful world.' They point out that this basic thesis reflects in a concentrated form the character of the Confucian philosophy as people-centered, ethical in nature, attentive to human relations, and stressing social obligation. Besides, the Confucian tradition of diligence, frugality, and trustworthiness, as well as its emphasis on education and study, etc., are all important cultural legacies which have a positive influence on the modernization process of the East Asian societies of the 'Sinitic Cultural Rim'. For instance, they pay attention to governmental regulation and participation, combining the 'invisible hand' of the market with the 'visible hand' of the government; they pay much attention to capital accumulation and savings as a major source for investment (much higher than in the Western countries); and education for the younger generation is always one of the top priorities of a family.

In connection with the above cases relating to traditional culture, we may further explore the question of macro-cultural adjustment in the process of Third World development. We have noticed that in the Third World countries (areas), when economic development proceeds and reaches a certain level, it is inevitable for them to experience adjustments, macro-cultural in nature, before they can promote their development effectively. The above-mentioned adjustment in Korea is such an example. In other words, the symptoms of the 'Korean Malady' are quite common in Third World countries (areas), though perhaps in varying degrees. Such adjustments can take the form of political, economic, social, cultural, financial, educational, and ethical adjustments or their combination, while the general purpose would be to improve the ethical situation of society: emphasis on traditional morality and spirit, opposition to scandals of corruption, promotion of democracy, punishment for economic crimes, eradication of feudal superstitions, reduction of income polarization, protection of rights of women and children, improvement of social justice, attention to environmental protection, etc. Apparently, these adjustments, in their totality, belong to the category of macro-cultural adjustments. Singapore, Taiwan, and many other Third World societies have had that experience, and so has China.

II. The Ethical Perspective on Development: Material Growth and Moral Standard

The moral or ethical question in the course of economic development has become an outstanding issue in the Third World and the world as a whole. If no adequate understanding is attained and no due attention is paid to it, setback and distortion will eventually be suffered in development, social stability and popular welfare will be damaged, and the development process will probably be misoriented. We can see that in many countries, in the course of their material growth, there often emerge repeated cases of political scandal, economic crime, social crisis, family tragedy, loss of value of life, etc. All those, in the final analysis, have a close relationship, direct or indirect, with the question of ethics. Therefore, the ethical perspective on development is an inseparable part of integrative development, which relates to many aspects of social life: political ethics, vocational ethics, commercial ethics, work ethics, academic ethics, communal ethics, ethics in human relations, family ethics, etc., which are all complementary factors in the process of material and economic development.

Some scholars have studied the relationship between ethics and development. Denis Goulet, an American scholar, for instance, introduced a new concept, 'Ethics of Development', in his 1971 book The Cruel Choice: A New Concept in the Theory of Development, thus pioneering the exploration of this topic. He pointed out: '....for developed and underdeveloped societies alike, basic questions are neither economic, political, nor technological, but moral.'9 He asked: is the fullness of good compatible with an abundance of goods? is human development something more than a systemic combination of modern bureaucracy, efficient technology, and productive economy? Undoubtedly, he made a penetrating analysis of the importance of the ethical dimension of development, which had been more or less neglected in development studies.

Value systems and moral standards can be different in different societies, but a society can maintain the stability of its political, economic and social order only when it acquires a system of ethical norms which is accepted by the majority, if not all, of its members, and only when its moral justifiability is recognized by them. Therefore, this is not a purely theoretical question, but also a practical issue for all countries. Moral education and moral construction are of universal importance in the process of development. Thus, China stresses the 'spiritual civilization', Korea combats the 'Korean Malady', Singapore emphasizes moral education, Honduras carries out a 'moral revolution'. These and the anti-corruption movements in many countries all confirm the need for an ethical perspective on development.

III. The Environmental Perspective on Development: Harmony Between Man and Nature

One of the key points of the macro-cultural approach to development is to explore the relationship between Man and Nature, i.e., the question of the environment and development.

In modern history, the dominant views on the relationship between Man and Nature have stressed the ideas of 'controlling Nature' and 'conquering Nature'. One of the reasons for the emergence of such ideas was the illusion and misconcertion resulting from the rapid development of science and technology and all material achievements. This has been more marked in the Western societies. The Western culture has rationalism as its core, and the modernization process in the West was built on the cultural values of individuality and competition in the struggle for survival. Thus, it is believed that people are able to satisfy their needs with their ability to understand and control Nature through rational struggles. It is undeniable that the rapid development of science and technology and improvements to material products have made, and will continue to make, important contributions to world development and human civilization. But all these have to be established on a correct understanding of the relationship between Man and Nature, between the environment and development. Only in this way can mankind enjoy a healthy globe and maintain sustainable development. Unfortunately, many modern development concepts view the relationship between Man and Nature incorrectly, while developing countries who are anxious for, and greatly preoccupied with, growth at all cost are influenced heavily by those tendencies. The environmental situation and ecological balance of the whole world have become increasingly serious problems and contradictions. The macro-cultural approach to development advocates understanding of the Laws of Nature and the promotion of a harmonious relationship between Man and Nature. This is the orientation that the process of world development should follow. This is a positive orientation along which there is an active Man-Nature coordination. Nature, ecology and the environment for human survival are thus protected, and sustainable development can be realized.

The fundamental idea of Oriental philosophy is harmony between Man and Nature. The basic tenet of the ancient Chinese philosophy is the 'integration of Man and Heaven' as formulated by Confucianism, which stressed a harmonious unity of Heaven (Nature) and Man. This proposition was not advocated by Confucianism alone - Taoism and Mohism held similar views on the relationship between Man and Nature. In the ancient Indian thinking, a similar idea is expressed of the 'oneness of Brahman (Nature) and Atman (Man)'. I believe that this can be a sound philosophical foundation for world development. The Africans and the American Indians also have similar beliefs of harmony between Man and Nature. At the same time, the rational thinking and scientific spirit of the West will remain an important factor for world development and the well-being of the humankind. The combination of the two - the East and the West - and the incorporation of the merits of both are necessary and possible.

In fact, the idea of harmony between Man and Nature is winning the attention and consensus of more and more Western scholars. We hope that this idea will become a common goal and ideal of the whole of mankind. In addition to the formulations to be found in traditional philosophy and world outlook of the East, some Western scholars, too, have expounded similar views in their critical reflections on the conventional development thinking, in their understanding of social development and the ecological system, and in their analysis of the relationship between ecology and Man and ecology and culture.

For instance, the British scholar E.F.Schumacher said: 'Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it. He even talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.....and many people, albeit only a minority, are beginning to realize what this means for the continued existence of humanity.'10

The Report of the Dag Hammarskj"ld Foundation of Sweden proposed a development perspective of 'Another Development'. That 'other development' must necessarily take into account the environment: 'Survival and solidarity with future generations prohibits the transgression of the 'outer limits' of the biosphere. At the same time, the ecosystems, respected and used with imagination, can contribute, in particular at the local level, to the satisfaction of needs. These two themes are both a warning and a promise, reminding one that social relations and relations between social and natural systems are inter-related.'11

The Swedish scholar Bjorn Hettne, while presenting and commenting on some new views on the question of ecology and development, examined this important trend. He pointed out that the notion of ecodevelopment was born at the UN conference on the environment in 1972, and later the concept was developed and popularized by Ignacy Sachs. 'According to this view, a 'backward' country should not look for the image of its own future in the 'advanced' country but in its own ecology and culture.....Development, according to this strategy, must make efficient use of those resources which happen to exist in that particular area, and in a way that both sustains the ecological system (outer limit) and provides the people living there with their basic needs (inner limits).....Sachs mentions three pioneers behind this emerging tradition:.....Benjamin Franklin represents innovation, the attitude of making the most efficient use of resources existing in the surroundings; Mahatma Gandhi symbolizes the ethical imperative in development, the principle that development first of all must improve the conditions of the poorest;.... and Ren‚ Dubos advocates the symbiosis between Man and Nature, a symbiosis that avoids both growthmania and ecologism.'12

The core of the development thinking based on ecological and environmental protection is harmony between Man and Nature, which is in line with the macro-cultural approach to global development. But this should not be allowed to lead to the extremes of ecologism. This misleading view was also one of the causes of the pessimistic trend in global development in the early 1970s, represented by the so-called 'Doomsday' theory.13 It should be noted that harmony between Man and Nature is the fundamental guarantee of sustainable and prosperous development for the global environment and human civilization. It is a mistake to pursue development at the cost of sacrificing the environmental and ecological balance, while it is equally undesirable to oppose development under the excuse of protecting the environmental and ecological balance. As Hettne pointed out in the same book: the path forward consequently leads somewhat between growthmania and ecologism.

IV. The Open Perspective on Development: Cultural Identity and the Global Approach

The macro-cultural approach to development pays attention to integrative development. Therefore, in temporal terms, it regards historical tradition, current development and future prospects as an inseparable continuity: in spatial terms, it never loses sight of national, regional and global development and their interrelations and interactions. Thus, it is open and compatible. The macro-cultural approach to development stresses cultural tradition and national identity, but it does not wish to negate cultural innovation, exchange, and convergence.

Tradition itself should be understood as a dynamic and open process; there never exists any static traditional culture. The Sinitic culture contains, in fact, elements resulting from the convergence and exchange of Chinese culture with Indian culture, Moslem culture, etc.; equally, Chinese culture itself contains elements resulting from the convergence and exchange among different nationalities of China; and the border nationalities of China have had generations of cultural convergence and exchange with the respective nations on the other side of the border. Therefore, the correct emphasis on cultural tradition and national identity should not lead to autarky and isolationism but to opening-up and active exchanges. Here I may quote the Dutch philosopher C.A.Van Peursen: 'Every old culture was like a closed system. But the experience, in biology as well as in human history, teaches us that closed systems have the tendency to grow old, to become obsolete, to suffer from arteriosclerosis. So in modern times cultures have to become open systems, open for interaction with other cultures and wisdom, open also for a common approach to the issues and problems of our technological time. A culture can become an open culture only if it is prepared to learn from others and to develop itself, not only in a material or economic way, but also in an esthetic and spiritual way.'14

Therefore, we need to foster cultural identity and to hold a global approach; we need to respect national tradition and to promote international exchanges. Both supplement each other. It is equally wrong both to refuse to open up in order to protect cultural identity and to reject cultural identity in order to go with the current of globalization and internationalization. The result will be detrimental to national culture as well as to international culture, to domestic development as well as to world development.

The Report of the South Commission pointed out: 'Concern with cultural identity does not imply rejection of outside influences. Rather, it should be a part of efforts to strengthen the capacity for autonomous decision-making, blending indigenous and universal elements in the service of a people-centred policy.'15

Of course, the opening-up process in the Third World countries cannot avoid clashes with the Western culture which occupies the leading position in the existing international community. In fact, opening-up and exchange with other countries will inevitably confront us with different cultures. Under the conditions of opening-up, the macro decision-making in a society should be aware of what to introduce and what to avoid, what to accept and what to reject. Here, two tendencies should be guarded against: on the one hand, an open policy does not mean accepting anything and everything from abroad and agreeing to the loss of indigenous culture and its numerous sequelae, which was the lesson learned by many Third World countries; on the other hand, too much taboo and restriction will lead to a situation of open in name and conservative in essence, which can only prolong the rigidity and stagnation of the local culture.

In the process of opening-up, attention should be paid to national autonomy, self-reliance and cultural identity; to social values and popular acceptability; to local conditions and historical tradition. Development will thus maintain its vitality and sustainability, and national culture will be renewed and vigorized. As long as the core of national culture maintains its vitality, opening to and acceptance of heterogeneous culture will not weaken but enrich the blooming and development of the core. Therefore, autonomy and openness can be compatible, tradition and innovation can be compatible, nationality and globality can be compatible. An open world is thus a world where national cultures enjoy most colorful and prosperous development, a world comprised of countries with their respective cultural identities and also global consensus. World culture is the totality of cultural diversity rather than cultural unanimity of different societies. This harmony in diversity is perhaps the goal of Confucius: A WORLD OF GREAT HARMONY.


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  • Gao Xian

    Gao Xian is a Professor and the Secretary-General of the Chinese Center for Third World Studies as well as a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. His address is the following:

    Office: Chinese Center for Third World Studies, 5 Jianguomennei Street, 100732 Beijing, China; Tel.: 5137744-2510 ; Fax: 00861-5138154

    Home: 4 Fuxing Road, 100038 Beijing, China