What is culture? As a product of human thought, the word "culture" encompasses a great deal. During the ancient times, in China and other foreign countries, "culture" has constantly been brought about and discussed, and yet no unitary agreement has come out for its definition.
A system of thought and theory is known as ideological culture, which is the theoretical base underlying various modes of culture.
In ancient China, ideological culture usually involved Confucianism (advocating the rule of rites, with the accent on the traditional feudal order of importance and seniority in human relationship); Taoism (upholding nature, tranquillity, non-action, or letting things take their own course, and opposing struggle); Legalism (encouraging the rule of law and opposing the rule of rites); and Buddhism.
As early as Confucius' time, culture was talked about as "文" (wen, learning ) and "质" (zhi, nature, character), the opposing side, which was supposed to be "the moral behavior and the norms that the learned should have". So today the collocated saying "文质彬彬" (wenzhi binbin) implies "the state or the desired world that gentlemen (men of learning, being cultured, together with his moral behavior)" are expected to reach. In China "文化" (wenhua, culture) was probably first used in West Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-24 A.D.), when "culture" was used then to mean "Civil Administration" (文治, wenzhi) as opposed to "Military Administration" (武治, wuzhi). In Jin Dynasty (265 A.D.-316 A.D.) in China, according to history, "culture" only means "the Civil Administration of the country", which implies "a mean of state apparatus", and that obviously does not take the sense as it has in modern society.
However, when "天文" (tianwen, astronomy) was used in ancient China to refer to the natural phenomena and the related laws of nature, "人文" (renwen, the humane) was soon started to be used to refer to "the kinds of existing social phenomena" then, which is, to some extent, similar to the concepts of "culture" that people usually have in mind today for its broad sense.
But, "culture" is again difficult to define, because in different situations "culture" seems to have been defined in different ways. In social communication, for example, "culture" has been used for diversified purposes and taking more than 260 meanings. (See 沈锡伦, 1993). As far as education is concerned, for instance, people sometimes say "没有文化", (...meiyou wenhua) which always suggests that "he/she is illiterate"; but "学文化" (xue wenhua) means "learning from the very beginning", usually refers to the process of learning to read, to become literate from books. Then the saying "文化水平高" (wenhua shuiping gao) always tells that "someone has learned a lot from books" and implies, therefore, "he/she is more knowledgeable than others". So, "culture" is often the symbol for book knowledge and education.