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Li Fang:What Are the Four Great Spirits of the Chinese Nation?

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Author:Li Fang | Source:English Edition of Qiushi Journal October-December 2019|Vol.11,No.4,Issue No.41




A country’s prosperity depends on the hard work of its people, and a nation’s strength is inseparable from the spirit to which it holds.

On March 20, 2018, Xi Jinping, after being unanimously re-elected as the President of the People’s Republic of China, delivered an important address in the Great Hall of the People. He spoke of four great spirits – the spirit of creation, the spirit of struggle, the spirit of unity, and the spirit of the Chinese dream – as he expounded on the Chinese national spirit and passionately depicted hundreds of millions of Chinese people building together their shared spiritual home. The great spirit of the Chinese nation, as an essential element of Chinese national heritage and culture, has been deeply infused into the soul of all Chinese people, becoming a rich source of nutrition.

I. The great spirit of creation

More than 380,000 kilometers from the earth, the moon sits distant. The far side of the moon, beyond the reach of human eyes, has been a limitless source of imagination and fantasy for humankind.

On January 3, 2019, a clear image of the far side of the moon went viral on the world’s major media outlets. It is the first close-range picture of the far side of the moon taken by human beings, but what most shocked the world was that this picture, which is destined to become part of a rich and colorful chapter in the history of human space exploration, was taken by Chinese scientists.

On that day, the Chang’e-4 lunar probe successfully landed on the far side of the moon and sent back to the earth high-definition images of steep mountains and uneven impact craters. Eight days later, the Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover sent back photos of themselves that they had taken of each other. This was a moment that highlighted China’s rapid advances in science and core technologies.

Mao Zedong breaks ground on the Monument to the People’s Heroes (photo taken on September 30, 1949). Located at the center of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Monument to the People’s Heroes commemorates all the heroes who laid down their lives for national independence and the freedom and well-being of the people from the Opium War in 1840 to the War of Liberation in 1949. It stands as a figure of both China’s countless revolutionary martyrs and the indomitable spirit of the Chinese nation. For more than half a century, people of all ethnic groups from across the country have stood before the monument to remember the souls of those who laid down their lives and pay their highest respects.


Although humans first set foot on the moon in the 1960s, our knowledge of it has remained limited. To land on the far side of the moon and carry out field exploration is of great scientific value and has long been a dream of scientists all over the world. Today, a Chinese probe has successfully completed a world-changing landing on the surface of an extraterrestrial body, thus turning into reality yet another great dream of humanity.

In ascending the ladder of time, this dream has flown up the rungs, seemingly becoming reality in the blink of an eye. However, the truth is that every step up the ladder has been the result of hard work by countless Chinese people working day and night.

Time is like a riddle without an answer, casually concealing its secrets one day and suddenly revealing them the next.

The name “Jixia” can be found in the Records of the Grand Historian. The Jixia Academy, the name of which was derived from the Gate of Ji, was founded during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) in response to the historical trend of reform and revolution. In 376 BC, faced with the reality of a reign in need of consolidation and a shortage of talent, Duke Tian Wu of the State of Qi continued the fine tradition of respecting and recruiting talented people and established a grand academy near the Gate of Ji in the state capital. The academy invited a broad range of literary figures and speakers to teach and give lectures, becoming a hub of activities for various schools of thought. Thus, the Jixia Academy was born, which later became known as the Jixia School. For a time, Jixia was the home of all academic achievements. It represented a miracle of Chinese civilization; even more than that, of world civilization. Dynamic thinking and abundant creativity fostered a platform upon which a hundred schools of thought could contend, created an atmosphere of cultural inclusiveness, and formed a landscape of diverse thought.

Members of the Chinese women’s volleyball team celebrate after winning the FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Cup on November 16, 1981. The Chinese women’s volleyball team was reigning champion in the World Cup, the World Championship, and the Olympic Games between 1981 and 1986, becoming the first team in volleyball history to win the title of world champion five times in a row. As an important symbol of China’s national spirit and spirit of progress, the Chinese women’s volleyball team became a source of inspiration for Chinese athletes and the nation as a whole.


It is not hard to imagine that at some point in the depths of time past, a group of vigorous people with a sense of mission employed their wisdom, standpoint, views, and methods to observe, deliberate, judge, and finally create. They added vibrancy to human civilization, sparked flames of imagination and aspiration among the young, and gave rise to a hundred flourishing schools of thought.

Our ancestors may not have expected that more than 2,000 years later, notions conceived at the Jixia Academy would survive the contending among different schools of thought, and would spread into the bearing and character of the Chinese nation. It is exactly this kind of cultural thread and civilizational tradition that have, since ancient times, imbued the Chinese people with a spirit of creation.

Throughout the magnificent history of the Chinese nation, our people have always drawn inspiration from everyday life and wielded the pen to record the truth. China has produced world-renowned thinkers including Laozi, Confucius, Zhuangzi, Mencius, Mozi, Xunzi, Han Feizi, Dong Zhongshu, Cheng Hao, Cheng Yi, Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming, and Wang Fuzhi and great literary works such as The Book of Songs, The Songs of Chu, the rhymed prose of the Han Dynasty, the poetry of the Tang and Song dynasties, operas of the Yuan Dynasty and the novels of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and has passed on great moving epics such as the tales of King Gesar, Manas, and Jangar. Such a vast cultural heritage has, over thousands of years, shaped the Chinese people’s cultural ideal and their understanding of family and nation.

Following this remarkable historical thread, the Chinese people have always worked hard and engaged in innovation. China invented papermaking, gunpowder, printing, and the compass, all important scientific and technological advances that have had a profound impact on human civilization, and our efforts have also been fruitful in many other fields, such as agriculture, medicine, astronomy, and arithmetic. Creativity, as the ceaseless endowment and strength of the Chinese nation, has both shaped the splendid Chinese civilization and is deeply influencing the development of today’s China. Cutting-edge achievements have emerged one after another, such as high performance computers, quantum communications, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, and deep-sea manned submersibles, and there has been an explosion of major innovations. Today, China’s scientific and technological capacity is undergoing an important transition from quantitative to qualitative growth and from individual breakthroughs to comprehensive upgrading.

Continuing along this vibrant historical and cultural tradition, the Chinese people have always worked diligently and tirelessly to make our country strong. We have constructed magnificent projects including the Great Wall, the Dujiangyan irrigation system, the Grand Canal, the Imperial Palace, and the Potala Palace. In the new era, China’s infrastructure is developing rapidly to realize unimpeded information flow, a network of highways, dense railway coverage, towering dams, west-to-east gas transmission, south-to-north water diversion, high-speed rail, huge ships, modern airplanes, and grand bridges turning deep chasms into thoroughfares. China is now the world’s second-largest economy, largest manufacturer and trader of goods, and second-largest consumer of goods and destination for foreign investment, and our foreign exchange reserves have been the largest in the world for many years running.

Truly, everything becomes clear with time. From the collision of ideas at the Jixia Academy to the incredible exploration of outer space, it is undoubtedly the great spirit of creation that is the powerful force making our dreams come true. It is this force that drives our great nation to achieve remarkable feats and write glorious chapters.

II. The great spirit of struggle

This year marks the centenary of the May Fourth Movement. After 100 years, the pulse of China’s youth continues to beat through time and space, as strong as ever. Youthfulness does not age, and youthful passion never dies. On May 4, 1919, in an hour of national crisis, thousands of young Chinese who loved their country asked, with deep reflection, the question of where China was going. They shouted, “Chinese territory must not be forfeited and Chinese people must not bow their heads,” and “Annul the Twenty-One Demands and refuse to sign the Treaty of Versailles.” Their passionate patriotic expression exploded into the May Fourth Movement, which drew the attention of millions of people. Like the first clap of spring thunder, the May Fourth Movement awoke Chinese people’s belief in fighting for the future of the nation and sparked the pursuit of a new culture and fresh ideas, and became the strongest voice of that era.

The passage of time continues, and 100 years have gone by. Although the tempest and rallying cry of the May Fourth Movement are gone, the movement’s spirit of patriotism, progress, democracy, and science has been immersed in the blood, sweat, and tears of the Chinese people, surging into a mighty tide of reform and becoming a landmark of the Chinese national spirit. This spirit has inspired the Chinese people’s endless struggle to save the nation from destruction, preserve national dignity, and rally national strength.

Heroes are born of struggle in times of great misfortune. All those who fought for the independence and liberation of the Chinese nation, who fought to free the Chinese nation from foreign colonization and aggression, and who fought tirelessly to create a new path of development so that the Chinese nation could control its own destiny, should now in modern times be hailed as national heroes and the pride of our country. They demonstrated a kind of patriotic sentiment that compels people to share responsibility for the fate of the nation; a sense of national integrity that empowers people to look death in the face and never yield; a heroic mettle that instills people with the courage to fight to the bitter end; and an unyielding and indomitable belief in victory. This kind of sentiment, integrity, mettle, and belief embody the Chinese people’s great spirit of struggle.

A nation that respects history and remembers the past should not forget the importance of struggle, and this is even more the case for a country striding forth toward the future and prosperity. In times of peace, when the smoke of war has cleared and peace has been restored, we must remember that it is because of the unrelenting resistance and constant struggle of the Chinese people that China is now independent, our nation is prosperous, and our people enjoy happy lives.

Sports carry forward the Chinese people’s dream of a strong, prosperous, and reinvigorated nation.

In 1981, China’s reform and opening up entered its fourth year. It was a time when boosting people’s morale and building consensus was much needed. In November of that year, the Chinese women’s volleyball team won the World Cup for the first time. Over the years that followed, the women’s team redoubled their efforts and won gold in the Olympics and the world championship, miraculously snatching the gold medal five times in a row. Even more thrilling than the championships was the spirit of struggle displayed by the team members, who through diligent training and tenacious competition were able to subdue their opponents and amaze their spectators. The inspiring motto of “learn from the women’s volleyball team and reinvigorate the Chinese nation” reinforced the love of country for countless people across China.

This strength of spirit has not only emerged in sporting highlight moments, but has also shone through the clouds of fate in times of crisis. In 2008, China was struck by the Wenchuan earthquake, which was the single most destructive earthquake with the most widespread impact and most difficult relief efforts since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. During the bitter fight against this natural disaster, the Chinese people were united as one with a shared purpose and relied on their own efforts with unfailing perseverance, thus demonstrating the dignity and beauty of humanity in the greatest sense.

It is not hard to see that behind every creation, every effort to surpass an objective, and every attempt to stand firm amidst hardship, there exists the strength of spirit. The spirit of a nation is forged through the hard work and struggle of its people in responding to challenges.

The spirit of struggle runs through the course of the Chinese people. Everything that we have today is a crystallization of our wisdom and, even more so, a result of our hard work. Over 40 years of uninterrupted reform, 70 years of constant effort, and 5,000 years of continuously spurring ourselves onward; from beginning a new epoch to entering a new stage, and from standing at a new starting point to ushering in a new era, the Chinese nation has strived tirelessly forward. General Secretary Xi Jinping has emphasized the Chinese people’s spirit of struggle on multiple occasions. “Happiness is attained through struggle.” “Struggle itself is a kind of blessing.” “The new era is an era of people striving.” Xi’s interpretation of struggle as a blessing is the most powerful call to all Chinese people to work for realization of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.

The indomitable spirit of struggle permeating the soul of the Chinese people is a powerful source of aspiration for advancing China’s revolution, development, and reform. Socialism was established through action, and the new era will be no different. The new era belongs to people who strive; it is the era in which dreams come true. Struggle is the only way to realize our dreams. For myriads of ordinary people, the Chinese dream is the most rousing ideal, and “I struggle, therefore I am happy” are the most moving words. The Chinese dream is the goal, and struggle is the most tangible way to achieve it. Xi Jinping’s concept of struggle as a blessing says to every person that, as we endeavor to create this great era, we are also creating happy and fruitful lives for ourselves. In the new era, we must always maintain the spirit of struggle, and strive with endless and indomitable energy toward further progress in China’s reform and opening up and the goal of realizing socialist modernization and national rejuvenation.

Tohtihan Kurban and her family together read a letter from General Secretary Xi Jinping on January 13, 2017. Kurban Tulum, a farmer in Yutian County, Xinjiang, who was affectionately referred to as “Uncle Kurban,” visited with Mao Zedong twice in the 1950s. Tohtihan Kurban, the eldest daughter of Uncle Kurban, expressed a fervent love of the nation, Xinjiang, and her hometown in a letter to Xi Jinping. On January 11, 2017, Xi Jinping wrote back, sending his blessings to Tohtihan, her family, and her fellow villagers, and expressing his hope that people of all ethnic groups remain closely united and join hands to create a better future for Xinjiang under the leadership of the CPC.


III. The great spirit of unity

A black and white photograph records the scene of Mao Zedong warmly shaking hands with Kurban Tulum on June 28, 1958. In the 1950s, in order to express his gratitude for gaining liberation, this ordinary man from Xinjiang named Kurban Tulum thought several times about “riding a donkey to Beijing to visit Chairman Mao,” and was twice received by Mao Zedong. On March 10, 2017, General Secretary Xi Jinping was attending discussions by the Xinjiang delegation at the Fifth Session of the 12th National People’s Congress, when Xinjiang deputy Mehmet Yibureyimu Memetmin handed the photograph to Xi, saying, “Uncle Kurban’s families have asked me many times to send you their greetings.” Xi looked closely at this precious photo, before enquiring after Kurban’s family and asking Memetmin to return the greeting. Prior to this, Tohtihan Kurban, the eldest daughter of Uncle Kurban, had entrusted her granddaughter Rukyam Maitisaidi to write a letter to Xi thanking the Party and government for their care and expressing a fervent love of the nation, the region of Xinjiang, and their hometown. On the eve of the 2017 Spring Festival, Xi replied to Uncle Kurban’s family and sent his blessings to Tohtihan, who was well into her 90s, and to her family members and fellow villagers, writing, “I’m delighted to hear that your large family of over 100 people all live happy lives now.” He also wrote, “Xinjiang is a wonderful place, where people of different ethnic groups live in unity as one big family.”

This story is a true reflection of the great spirit of unity of the various ethnic groups of China who understand, respect, accommodate, appreciate, learn from, and help each other.

Standing together in times of hardship, finding strength in unity, and sharing each other’s fate – this has long been the great spirit defining the Chinese nation. Over the past several thousand years, the Chinese people have always come together in good faith, establishing China as a unified country comprised of many ethnic groups. The “Chinese nation” is the general term for the 56 ethnic groups residing within China, and at the same time constitutes a self-aware ethnic entity of 56 ethnic groups remaining closely united, like the seeds of a pomegranate sticking together.

Love for one’s country is the most profound and enduring emotion in the world; it is the foundation on which a person may establish sound morality and accomplish merits. To safeguard our national unity and ethnic solidarity, we must promote the spirit of patriotism.

“Are you Chinese?” “Do you love China?” “Do you want to see China develop well?” These were the three questions proposed by famous educationalist Zhang Boling to students at the opening ceremony of Nankai University’s new school year on September 17, 1935. That was a time when the Chinese nation was in a state of peril and upheaval, and people had lost their sense of common purpose. As a patriot with a strong sense of mission, Zhang Boling was greatly disturbed by the situation. He felt it was necessary to speak to Nankai University students about the significance of education and about loving one’s motherland. He said, “If you are Chinese, if you love China, and if you want China to develop well, then for your home, for your country, and for the public good, you should unite in solidarity.” In an instant, these words sparked the students’ patriotic fervor.

In January 2019, while visiting Nankai University, General Secretary Xi Jinping spoke highly of Zhang Boling’s “three patriotic questions,” declaring them to be not only questions of history, but also questions for the present era and the future. China is what it is today thanks to the countless Chinese people who are born and raised on this land, and who are connected to it emotionally and see it as part of their identity. Deep patriotism and strong sentiment toward our motherland has long been part of our ethos, forged into the soul of the Chinese nation. To move on from a historical context in which our people spilled blood and faced challenges of life-and-death, and in which our nation’s very fate was at stake, it remains crucial that we, as ongoing generations of Chinese people, continue to ask and answer these questions. Only in this way can we have the fullest confidence in and provide the strongest support for China, as like a great ship she breaks the waves and sails into the distance.

It was precisely this reflection over the future of the Chinese nation and the promotion of our national spirit while our country’s fate hung in the balance that incubated the awakening of our great and ancient nation. Since the advent of modern times, our national spirit with patriotism at its core has been elevated to a new high point. In those early days, all aspiring and courageous Chinese youth were unquestionably patriotic. Upholding patriotism and motivated by the great spirit of unity, Chinese people of all ethnic groups stood shoulder to shoulder and fought bravely. They waged a bitter fight and ultimately defeated their brutal and vicious aggressors, jointly writing for the history books a magnificent epic of safeguarding the motherland and resisting foreign aggression. They enabled China to realize the historic transition from standing up and growing prosperous to becoming strong.

The Chinese nation’s great spirit of unity is as constant as the moon and the sun; it is a powerful source of strength driving the Chinese people to work in the same direction with one heart and one mind, and is a source of energy keeping our nation alive. As a pluralistic unity, the Chinese nation is not only based on shared geographical conditions and similar environments among different ethnic groups, but is also nurtured by the great spirit of national unity. The fine traditions of unity and solidarity fostered through the concerted efforts of all Chinese people further cultivate this great spirit of unity. The Chinese nation’s history of development is the history of people of all ethnic groups in China coming together to forge ahead. China owes its remarkable achievements in development to the concerted efforts of people from 56 ethnic groups who are united as one.

IV. The great spirit of the Chinese dream

One day in 1867, 13-year-old Yan Fu walked into Fuzhou Shipping School to learn how to drive, thus embarking on his lifelong journey of seeking ways to make China prosperous and strong.

In 1898, three years after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, Yan Fu’s Chinese translation of Evolution and Ethics was published. Within a short space of time, new phrases such as “evolution,” “natural selection,” and “survival of the fittest” were flooding newspapers and journals and becoming the most popular terms of social and cultural life. Under the influence of this book, more and more Chinese started going abroad to study the reasons for success of both Western and Eastern powers.

“Over the Snow-capped Mountains” (A Chinese painting by Wang Yingsheng and Dong Zhuo)

The year 2019 marks the 85th anniversary of the departure of the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army on the Long March. The Long March was one of the greatest feats in human history, and the great sacrifice of the Chinese Communists and Red Army soldiers made this feat possible. It continues to inspire us today. The spirit of the Long March is deeply ingrained in the soul of the Chinese nation, and is a concentrated representation of our tireless pursuit of self-improvement.

During those years, generations of Chinese people worked endlessly and unremittingly, and though different in their approaches, they all shared the same aspiration of saving the Chinese nation. They all loved the country deeply; their desire for national independence and people’s liberation, for the prosperity and strength of the country, and for the happiness of the people was both urgent and strong. However, they failed to find the source of strength that could turn the situation around, and the future of the Chinese nation remained uncertain.

Yan Fu died in 1921. That year also happened to mark the first national congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which was held on a red boat on the Nanhu Lake in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, and attended by a mere dozen or so participants. Twenty-eight years later, the CPC established the brand new People’s Republic of China.

The birth of the CPC was an event of epochal significance. The glorious course of the CPC uniting and leading the Chinese people in an unremitting effort represents the historical struggle of the Chinese nation to realize its great dream. On September 30, 1949, on the eve of the founding ceremony of the People’s Republic of China, the foundation stone of the Monument to the People’s Heroes was laid. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Mao Zedong read the memorial inscription, which he had drafted himself, to mourn the heroes who had worked tirelessly to realize the great dream of the Chinese nation. The inscription read as follows:

“Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people’s war of liberation and the people’s revolution in the past three years!

Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people’s war of liberation and the people’s revolution in the past thirty years!

Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who, from 1840 laid down their lives in the many struggles against domestic and foreign enemies and for national independence and the freedom and well-being of the people!”

An ideal is an ideal because it is lofty, and a belief must be persistently held to be defined as a belief. During the course of building the People’s Republic of China over the past seven decades, the words “people” and “dream” have been frequently used in the context of our national rejuvenation.

In 2014, senior judge Zou Bihua, who had been revered as a torchbearer, died from sudden illness. His death came in the midst of judicial reforms; his age forever froze at 47. Four years later, at a commemorative event to mark the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up, Zou’s wife Tang Hailin accepted the “Pioneer of Reform” medal on Zou’s behalf, her eyes brimming with tears. As a former member of the CPC leadership group and vice president of the Shanghai Higher People’s Court, Zou Bihua embraced his mission and dream and devoted his life to reforming the judicial system, cultivating fertile testing grounds for judicial justice.

As long as there is light, one does not walk alone. There are many people like Zou Bihua who illuminate a path for others to help realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.

In August 1946, Cheng Kaijia went to study in the United Kingdom. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, he gave up his lucrative situation overseas and returned to China. In 1960, he joined China’s nuclear weapon research and development team, where he worked in obscurity for more than 20 years. From the moment he walked into Lop Nor in 1963 up until 1985, Cheng never left nuclear test sites. He worked without recognition and devoted all his energy and wisdom to developing China’s nuclear weapons and conducting nuclear tests. It was not until after his death that his name and accomplishments became known throughout China.

Over the seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic, there have been a great many people willing to be the “light in the darkness” across the country, moving the nation through ordinary deeds. Zhang Jiqing, an old man in Jiangyin, Jiangsu Province, has been doing good deeds under the pseudonym of “Yan Huang” for several decades, saying that, “I use a fake name and address because I don’t want people to recognize me.” After spending a night on the train, Zhang Qianmeng, a power-line worker and father-to-be from the generation born in the 1990s, finally arrived at his home in Wu’an, Hebei Province. After spending just 30 minutes with his wife while she was in labor, he returned to his post miles away. It is thanks to him and his fellow workers holding to their posts day and night that passengers are able to travel safely and on time. Miaogou Primary School of Maotang Township, Xichuan County, Henan Province is located deep in the mountains, and takes almost an hour to reach by motorbike from the township. Li Changmin has been working in this school for 40 years, guiding the children there to reach far and look out to see the world outside.

Just as a single drop of water can reflect the radiance of the sun, so too can a lamp illuminate the way ahead. These heroes, embracing their dreams and holding their lamps aloft, are like a fresh breeze dispersing the mist to reveal the path ahead, and little by little they enhance the spiritual bond that links all Chinese people.

Today, the great dream of the Chinese people is to build China into a great modern socialist country and realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. All sons and daughters of the Chinese nation are united in pursuing this dream, are inspired by this dream, and are striving toward its realization. It is the goal toward which we strive, and even more so it is what drives us forward. We will never allow anyone to stand in our way as we work toward realizing this dream, and no one will be able to deter us from our journey.

No matter how high the mountain or how long the road, as long as we continue to advance, we will reach our destination. The river of time flows on, and history does not wait for the hesitant, the undecided, the apathetic, or the weak. The Chinese people are a nation imbued with the great spirit of creation, struggle, unity, and the Chinese dream. We must resolutely carry forward this spirit, so as to realize the renewal of the Chinese nation and create a brighter future!

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 14, 2019)

From:English Edition of Qiushi Journal October-December 2019|Vol.11,No.4,Issue No.41

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