Ancient civilisation gets more civilised?

China's National Centre for the Performing Arts (the Egg) in Beijing. Photo by Stuck in Customs on flickr.
30 October 2013
China's National Centre for the Performing Arts (the Egg) in Beijing. Photo by Stuck in Customs on flickr.

It’s one of the world’s oldest civilisations, but how is China making itself a modern, global civilisation?

That’s the key question in a new book, China Story Yearbook 2013 Civilising China, published by the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW) to be launched at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

Co-editor and CIW Director Professor Geremie Barmé said that China’s contemporary efforts to modernise and be like ‘the West of us’, are not only having impacts at home, but across the globe.

“The Chinese Communist Party uses the expression wenming or ‘civilisation’ within China to improve civic standards, promote patriotism, evoke flexible cultural and political traditions and limit dissent,” he said.

“And as China becomes wealthier and more confident on the global stage, it also expects to be respected and accommodated as a major global force and a formidable civilisation.

“But how does one go about ‘civilising’, (read modernising in the image of the West) one of the world’s most ancient civilisations? And can ‘the West of us’ fairly expect China to be and behave like the ‘rest of us’?”

China’s recent efforts at ‘civilising’ cut across many aspects of everyday life, including the natural and built environment, economics, law, foreign policy, the Internet, gender, and the place of ethnic minorities.

In recent years it has also seen the rise of government sanctioned education and propaganda programs which have called for the cessation of spitting in public, the formation of orderly queues, and the denunciation of the defacing ancient artefacts, be it in China or elsewhere by tourists.

Civilising China portrays some of the complexity of the international environment which China is working,” said Professor Barmé. “Many countries want China to become more and more part of the international community, and respond and behave according to an already established system.

“But, China believes the world has to make room for its civilisation; the way it sees things, the way it believes things should happen and the way it does things.

“Within China there has been a movement now for many years towards civilising the country – that is along with the creation of a modern, wealthy, prosperous, material civilisation, there’s a belief that there has to be other aspects of civility and civilisation.

“And what is happening now links to a long-standing movement to make China a traditional yet modern, internationally engaged, yet particularly Chinese environment.” 

Civilising China will be available for free download after Thursday at

More: watch a video of Professor Geremie Barmé discussing China's 'civilising' mission.

Updated:  16 October, 2013/Responsible Officer:  Web Communications Coordinator/Page Contact:  Web Communications Coordinator