Distinguishing Between “Civilization” and “Culture” in the New Culture Movement

  • Weigui FangEmail author
Part of the Key Concepts in Chinese Thought and Culture book series (KCCTC)


Even after the start of the New Culture Movement, extremely few Chinese intellectuals learned to distinguish between the “civilization” and “culture” concepts. The “culture craze” after the May Fourth Movement reflected the replacement of one concept by the other concept. Based on statements in several leading magazines of the period, it can be shown that the term 文化 was gradually replacing 文明, thus becoming a mainstream expression. Besides, even though their understanding of 文明 deepened and their criticism of it increased, the early modern Chinese intelligentsia never stopped praising and promoting the 文化 concept. By that time, people had come to understand the West’s distinction between “culture” and “civilization” and the new perspective it entailed. They not only recognized the “culture” concept in its broad sense (for example “national culture” and “Chinese culture”), which emphasized the differences between nations and collective attributes and normally referred to lifestyles, but gave prominence to “culture” from a spiritual height as well. The latter was a concept of “culture” in its narrow sense.


The New Culture Movement Static/dynamic dichotomous view Kulturismus 

Copyright information

© Foreign Language Teaching and Research Publishing Co., Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

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