Huxiang (Hunan) Culture is a distinctive and largely unchanged historical and cultural form that has been passed on for generations. The Huxiang Culture of the pre-Qin Dynasty (before 221 BC) and Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) is classified as another historical and cultural form, that is, Chu Culture. The poetry of Qu Yuan and the historical relics unearthed at Mawangdui are both of characteristic of Chu Culture. Since the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589), changes in the development of history, especially affected by the large-scale immigrations during the Song (960-1279), Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) Dynasties, greatly influenced the Huxiang people in terms of population, customs, lifestyle and philosophy. As a result, a new type of cultural form emerged: namely, Huxiang Culture. As one of the major sources of Huxiang Culture, Chu Culture exerted a significant impact on the development of Huxiang Culture after the Song Dynasty.
Outline of Huxiang Culture
As the Xiang River, the longest river within its boundaries, runs through it from south to north, the Province is called "Xiang" for short; and thus we have "Xiang Cuisine", "Xiang Embroidery", "Xiang Opera", and "Xiang Army".
The culture of Hunan is also called Huxiang culture. From the Shang Dynasty or Yin Dynasty (1600 BC-1100 BC), the second historic Chinese dynasty, to the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), the representative culture of Hunan was the Chu culture from the north, the Miaoman culture (the barbaric culture of the Miao nationality) and the Yue culture from the south and west. This is what Huxiang culture contains in a broad sense. However, since the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), the Huxiang School enjoyed the prosperity of Chu culture and the term Huxiang culture is now used in its narrowest sense.
Stemming from Northern Song Dynasty
Zhou Dunyi (1017-1073) was a Chinese Neo-Confucian philosopher and cosmologist born in present-day Dao County, Yongzhou, Hunan during the Northern Song Dynasty. He conceptualized the Neo-Confucian cosmology of the day, explaining the relationship between human conduct and universal forces. In this way, he emphasized that humans can master their qi ("psycho-physical force; vital life energy") so as to accord with nature. Although Zhou did not make a great impact on the philosophical academy when he was alive and he was not able to initiate an independent school, his academic and philosophical theories have become the ideological origin of the Huxiang culture.
Established in the Southern Song Dynasty
Dissatisfied with imperial politics and their associated policies, a famous scholar of the Southern Song Dynasty, Hu Anguo and his son went to Tanzhou (present day Changsha) and set up the Biquan Academy in Xiangtan and the Wending Academy on Hengshan Mountain where Confucius classics were studied and discussed without restrictions and worldly distractions. Many scholars were attracted here to pursue their study. Consequently, they founded the Huxiang School, the most influential school in the history of the li philosophy (a neo-Confucian philosophy). Later, Zhu Xi and Zhang Shi gave lectures and held academic discussions in the Yuelu Academy and Chengnan Academy in Changsha. These are historically known as the "Zhu-Zhang joint lectures" and had an audience of about a thousand. They contributed tremendously to the development of the Huxiang School. The School is well-known for both its special political and academic ideology and has made a profound impact on generation after generation. In political aspects, Hunan scholars were all ardent patriots who strongly advocated resisting aggression by the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) to reoccupy their lost land. It was in the period of Qiandao and Chunxi (1165-1189) that the Huxiang School reached its first climax. Its representative was Zhang Shi, the great synthesizer of the Huxiang School. People respectfully addressed him, Zhu Xi and L Zuqian as the "Three Worthy Men in Southeast China".
The scholars of the Huxiang School never stop learning from other different schools of neo-Confucianism in order to further their own development. The great philosopher of the late Ming, early Qing dynasties Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692, courtesy name Ernong, pseudonym Chuanshan) brought the Huxiang Culture to another climax. Wang was a follower of Confucius, but he believed that the neo-Confucian philosophy which dominated China at the time had distorted Confucius's teachings. He therefore wrote his own commentaries on the Confucian classics (including five on the Yi Jing or Book of Changes), and he gradually developed his own philosophical system. He wrote on many topics, including metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, poetry and politics.
Over hundreds of years, the outstanding performances of Huxiang's historical personages won extensive focus and confirmation for Huxiang culture. There are so many important figures who made a critical difference to the advancement of Chinese history. These included political reformers such as Tao Shu, He Changling and Wei Yuan, "Generals and Councillors of National Resurgence" such as Zeng Guofan and Zuo Zongtang, bourgeois modernisers such as Tan Sitong and Tang Caichang, democratic revolutionaries such as Cai E and Chen Tianhua, as well as neo-democratic revolutionaries and political gurus such as Cai Hesen and Deng Zhongxia.
Cultural Life in Modern Hunan
In recent years, Changsha has become an important creative center for TV and entertainment arts, with its many TV stations producing some of the most popular programs in China, including Super Girl, a Chinese female version of the UK Pop Idol or American Idol that is the most watched program ever to air on Chinese TV. These programs have also brought a new entertainment industry, including singing bars, dance clubs, theater shows, as well as related businesses like hair salons and fashion stores. Now it is not rare that some people will fly into Changsha to spend their weekends from as far as the northeastern City of Harbin.