Born in the west coast of Guangdong Province, I was brought up by the gentle wind and endless waves of South China Sea, constantly surrounded by the salty taste of the ocean. Every time I behold it, the famous line of Alexander Pushkin would hit me, “Oh, homeland of my spirit’s choosing!” Nevertheless, an ocean means way more than melancholy. For centuries, it has been highly extolled by people for its magnificence and its most inexhaustible resources. It is so vast and inclusive that it has carried millions of Chinese along with its ebbs and flows to explore a bigger world. Ancient stories took place here, where people set sail and the unique Chinese culture was spread.
Curious about the legends of our ancestors on the ocean years ago, I asked my father to take me to the Maritime Silk Road Museum in Yangjiang City, which exhibited the 800-year-old wreck ship Nanhai No.1. The ship carried a wealth of time-honored commodities, including all sorts of delicate porcelains, silk products, etc. I was stunned by the remarkable exhibition and came to realize the significant role of the Maritime Silk Road in shaping people’s life at that time and also our life now. The ship dated back to the Southern Song Dynasty and it was at that time that cities in the west of Guangdong Province like Yangjiang City and Zhanjiang City developed into important ports boosted by the business opportunities enabled by the Road. Then early in the Ming Dynasty, fascinated by the prosperity of trade and business in these cities of western Guangdong, an influx of residents from the Pearl River Delta, Chaoshan area, and southern Fujian area, moved and settled here. Along with them were not only the rich resources, but also their various dialects and cultures. Hundreds of years later, those dialects from outside gained a dominant position here, mainly composed of Cantonese, Hakka, and Min Nan dialect. Residents like me have a good command of all these three dialects and our cultural life is profoundly influenced by the inward immigrants.
Meanwhile, the achievements of the Maritime Silk Road were not limited to the domestic cultural integration. It has also drifted our colorful and unparalleled Chinese culture to remote corners of the world. As ambitious businessmen set sail to make a fortune, the richness and diversity of our culture, the extraordinary splendor of our arts communicated with those of others and took root there on the back of this well-established route. Even in the 21st century, the Maritime Silk Road is still in place to connect different cultures and reshape people’s perceptions of other remote parts of the world, therefore encouraging a more beautiful combination of diverse cultures.
If we take a look at the Rio Olympics, we would immediately understand how far Chinese culture has gone. After the swimming star Michael Phelps won the gold medal of 4x100 meter relay, a bunch of purple circles on his skin attracted the public attention. The circles looked like bruises, but as BBC explained in its report, they were the signs of cupping, which is an ancient Chinese medical technique that is still used and popular today. It helps to accelerate the circulation of blood, therefore relieving the physical pain, which paves the way for its popularity with athletes. Tracing back the world history, we learn that traditional Chinese medicine, to which cupping belongs, was broadly spread to various countries along the ancient Maritime Silk Road. It has taken root in Southeast Asia, South Asia and even Europe, occupying an indispensable part of their medical science. Today, with the unprecedented opportunities brought by the modern Maritime Silk Road, Chinese culture would generate more impressive results.
For other important elements of Chinese culture, the Maritime Silk Road also endows them with vitality and color. In Africa, Chinese martial art gains great popularity and exerts a subtle influence on their lifestyles. In India, learning Chinese characters, a carrier of Chinese culture, has become a main trend, inspiring many to go to China to taste the attractive culture. And in Thailand, Chinese opera, originated from Chaozhou, is adapted into Thai language and welcomed by the local people. While absorbing the favored part of other cultures, we are now confident in our traditional culture again.
The blue ocean is never meant to cut off the connections between peoples. Instead, it is the channel that people apply to better communicate and understand each other. With the ebbs and flows in the Maritime Silk Road, stories are taking place and Chinese culture is making its way to the world. In awe of the vastness and inclusiveness of the ocean, we set sail to explore a new era where Chinese culture would blossom robustly.
(By Xu Mengfei from Jinan University)