Skip to content Skip to navigation

Academic Events

Summary of Lecture on " Interpretation of Cultural Heritage: Symbols Decoding and Misinterpretation Analysis "

On December 2, 2020, at the invitation of the School of Social Development, Nanjing Normal University, Mr.Tao Siyan, a famous cultural scholar, a librarian of the Central Literature and History Research Library, a professor and PhD supervisor of the School of Art, Southeastern University, the director of the Institute of Oriental Culture of Southeastern University, and,offered a lecture entitled " Interpretation of Cultural Heritage: Symbols Decoding and Misinterpretation Analysis " in Room 213, Building 400, Suiyuan Campus, Nanjing Normal University. The lecture was hosted by Associate Professor Bai Li. Some teachers and students from School of Social Development, Nanjing Normal University attended the lecture.

Mr. Tao Siyan started with a speech on "Efforts to Build Archaeology with China’s distinct vision, style and values" recently delivered by President Xi Jinping to emphasize the importance of cultural heritage protection. At the beginning of the lecture, Mr. Tao first explained the meaning of "symbol" in the field of cultural heritage. Mr. Tao believes that as a symbol of the main manifestation of intangible cultural heritage, its essence is to "apply abstract feelings to sensibility, and turn real life into meaningful images." (Freitag) As an expression and interpretation of collective consciousness, symbolism originated from the primitive cultural stage.  When writing has not yet been invented and language is not yet mature, it is an effective means of communication. Symbolism expands the imagination of human thinking and stimulates the passion for artistic creation. As Hegel said in the second volume of Aesthetics: "Symbolism is the beginning of art in terms of its concept and its appearance in history..." Mr. Tao used the example of children changing teeth to show that some seemingly superstitious content is actually related to the "regeneration" of teeth in ancient times. Teeth are part of the human body and the "seeds of life".

Then, Mr. Tao explained the intangible cultural heritage. Mr. Tao believes that intangible cultural heritage is a symbolic cultural phenomenon. As a heritage of folk culture, intangible heritage can be expressed, recognized and passed on in a certain nation or a certain community with the help of apparent material results, dynamic cultural activities, sound language symbols and potential cultural spirit. The mental images or images contained in the intangible cultural heritage are often associated with objects and events. Although hidden and tortuous, they have their own interpretation of the symbol system and cultural logic. Mr. Tao used the Dragon Boat Festival's calamus, Artemisia argyi, zongzi and two original themes to give specific explanations. Acorus and wormwood can be used as cultural symbols of the intangible cultural heritage of Dragon Boat Festival. In the Dragon Boat Festival, calamus generally symbolizes the "sword", which has the effect of killing ghosts; while Artemisia argyi is shaped like a tiger's claw and is believed to have the effect of eating ghosts. Generally speaking, calamus and Artemisia argyi are cultural symbols used to ward off evil spirits in the Dragon Boat Festival. In addition, Mr. Tao believes that zongzi is not the same as it is used in the Dragon Boat Festival to remember the patriotic poet Qu Yuan or Wu Zixu. To be precise, zongzi is mainly a symbol of praying for rain.

Mr. Tao once again emphasized that cultural heritage, whether it is material culture, behavioral culture, language culture, or spiritual culture, depends on the application of symbols, which often become a brilliant summary of certain cultural patterns. Ancient Chinese philosophers contrasted "xiang", "xing" or "xiang" and "qi". The Book of Changes contained "images in the sky and formed in the earth", and "seeing is an image, and shape is an image." It also puts forward the proposition of “building an image to fulfill its meaning”. Cultural symbols are often manifested in the integration of physics, affair, psychology and philosophy. Mr. Tao explained that cultural heritage has the meaning of cultural symbols, and the nature of symbols is more prominent in cultural heritage.

After that, Mr. Tao returned to the definition and classification of cultural heritage, thinking that cultural heritage can be classified according to its existence form and cultural level. According to the different cultural heritages classified by levels, Mr. Tao gave specific examples and interpretations. In the symbol of material cultural heritage, Mr. Tao explained that people set lanterns during festivals to create a starry scene on earth. In the language and cultural heritage symbols, Mr. Tao used a funny joke of "get rich, promoted, and ingots" to illustrate the fun and lack of winning prizes. In the last part, Mr. Tao made a corresponding analysis of the misunderstanding of some current cultural heritage symbols. The current errors mainly include trendy errors, misleading literary works, forgetfulness of folk knowledge, ignorance of foreign cultures, and confusion caused by tourism and commercial activities. In terms of error analysis, he specifically carried out some interpretations of modern and contemporary folk culture that have been misunderstood, such as the misunderstanding of the inverted word "Fu".

At the end of the lecture, Mr. Tao shared some specific pictures with the students, and through the analysis of the pictures, he expressed his opinion on the current serious misunderstanding of folk culture: Many cultural phenomena are free for the public. Cultural interpretation, but for professional researchers, we still have to base on history and show the original connotation and original intention of folk culture. When studying, scholars still have to distinguish the difference between mass culture, mass culture and folk culture.

After the speech, Associate Professor Bai Li made a summary. Associate Professor Bai is very grateful to Mr. Tao Siyan for bringing such a wonderful lecture to the teachers and students of our school, and hopes that the students will follow Mr. Tao Siyan as an example. Afterwards, Associate Professor Bai Li and Teacher Yang Jianxiao asked Mr. Tao for advice on related issues, and Mr. Tao answered them patiently one by one. After the exchange session, all teachers and students once again expressed their gratitude to Mr. Tao with warm applause.