The Contemporary Value of Marx’s Practice of Civilisation

By Bao Zonghao

Karl Marx’s practice of civilisation was used as a reference to this article. However, this is not the full and systematic explanation like the original one authored by him. Rather it is about the judgment that “civilisation is a practical thing,” which supports the logical reason: why the building of culturally advanced cities has been long going on extensively nationwide over the past ten years. Furthermore, has become a cornerstone theory in China in the new era.


I. The Practical Nature of Civilisation

Marx made a systematic and complete analysis of civilisation. According to incomplete statistics, the term “civilisation” was used more than 2,600 times in volumes one to thirty of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels.3  His research on the origin of civilisation was based on the results of Lewis Henry Morgan’s research on differentiating civilisation and barbarity,4  but it is not limited to the history of the origin and evolution of civilisation. On the contrary, it exposed the origin of the human social civilisation by integrating history and logic based on the practice of human labor. It was believed that human civilisation originated in the biggest division of two kinds of labor—the division of material and intellectual labor; and that the division of labor was an important symbol of the era of civilisation and represented the exploitation of one class by another. Marx studied civilisation as part of the practice of it and based on the connection between the development of civilisation and certain production modes and between its development and the resulting class relations.5


1. In essence, civilisation is a practical thing.

Marx said, “Civilisation is a practical thing.” This means civilisation falls under the category of practice and is practical in nature. Practice is the material activity through which people transform the objective world. Labor is the fundamental form of practice. Without labor, there would be neither labor practice nor humanity and human social civilisation. Practice did not only enable humanity to create civilsation but also promoted the development of social civilisation. In their (labor) practice, there exists a dual – relationship interaction between subjects (humans engaged in practice) and objects (the objective world in the field of practice): The objects constantly turn into subjects, and the nature at ease becomes a humanised nature while the subjects keep becoming objects, leaving their prints on nature and turning into materialised objective targets. This dialectical unity between subjects and objects in practice shows that while transforming the objective world and creating the material world, people are also changing the objective world and creating a material world. The combination of these positive material and intellectual results are civilisation—a state of progress at certain stages of the development of human society. In this sense, civilisation is essentially the material and intellectual result of people’s essential strength becoming the target in the process of practice (labor practice, interaction practice and creation practice). This result reflects the state and tendency of civilisation. This is why in this sense; civilisation is essentially a practical thing.

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About the Author

Bao Zonghao is a professor of philosophy at the School of Humanities, East China University of Science and Technology; president of Shanghai Academy of Huaxia Social Development Research; distinguished research fellow at Urban Culture E-institute of Shanghai Higher Education.


1. The mid-term result of the major project “Research on Promoting the Balanced Development of Material Progress and Cultural and Ethical Progress: The Theory, Practice, and System of Culturally Advanced Cities over the Past Ten Years” (Approval Document No. 15ZDC007) funded through NSSFC.
2. About Author: Bao Zonghao, Professor of East China University of Science and Technology,  President of Shanghai  Academy of Huaxia Social Development Research
3. Collected Works of Marx and Engels, Chinese ed., People’s Publishing House, Beijing, vol. 1, 2009, p. 97.
4. Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society, Chinese ed., The Commercial Press, Shanghai, 1977, p. 28.
5. Collected Works of Marx and Engels, Chinese ed., People’s Publishing House, Beijing, vol. 3, 2009, p. 258.
6. Bao Zonghao, “Research on Civilization in Contemporary China from a New Perspective,” Academic Monthly, No. 5, 2011.
7. Bao Zonghao and Xiang Kun, A New Model of Urban Civilization in Contemporary China, Xuelin Press, Shanghai, 2015, pp. 40–41.
8. Bao Zonghao and Xiang Kun, The Civilization Index of Chinese Cities, Xuelin Press, Shanghai, 2015, p. 31.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of All China Review.