The essence of Chinese culture is 'Hehe' – Harmony and Cooperation

Today, the world is by no means trouble-free. Regional flashpoints, local conflicts and terrorist attacks continue to flare up.

Global economic recovery lacks speed and momentum. Some people are even pessimistic about the future of the world. It is common sense that with increasing connectivity, no one can remain immune from such negative factors.

Yet, how should we ride out these storms? Particularly for major countries, it is a must to bear responsibility and take bold actions. 

Facing such a situation, China states it has been pursuing the greater good for humanity, based on President Xi Jinping’s Thought on diplomacy for a new era, which is grounded on “Hehe” or Harmony and Cooperation.

What’s the origin of Harmony and Cooperation? How has it evolved? What does it mean?

First, where does “Hehe” come? Going back millennia, there were so many dynasties and rulers in the history of China. Yet, having gone through ups and downs, the country is home to 56 ethnic groups, as if a garden where different local cultures blossom together.

An ancient Chinese saying references the vast ocean embracing all rivers running into it. So does China. 

Specifically, “Hehe” can be traced back to Confucian thought on harmony, much of which stresses three principal harmonious relationships.

First, harmony between human and nature. In Chinese culture, human life is part and parcel of nature.

Second, harmony among people. In Confucius’ eyes, an individual cannot live without community and society. Interpersonal harmony, hence, is crucial for us.

Third, harmony within oneself. Chinese thinking highlights that people should not only understand the external world but more importantly, uplift their internal state of mind or pursue the inner world of “Junzi,” also known as a virtuous man.


All of the above mirrors the essence of Chinese culture and resonates with universal human values. This is perhaps why Confucian thought in the 21st century still retains the interest of not only the Chinese but also people in other parts of the world.

Then, what does “Hehe” mean? The concept is still embodied in Chinese people’s daily lives. Take two examples. One is about Chinese cuisine, authentic Kung Pao Chicken involves multiple layers of flavor like being sweet, sour, salty, and spicy, but combines all these complementary or even opposing flavors so “harmoniously.” Thus, its name has been spread globally. 

Another is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It offers a holistic picture and worldview, which means that our bodies coordinate with the environment and the universe. Our visceral organs comprise a physical universe in which they also need to be in harmony with each other. Therefore, Hehe has been already reflected much in Chinese people’s everyday lives.

But, now, due to trade frictions and political tensions, uncertainties and destabilizing factors seem to crop up every day. Should we opt for confrontation or cooperation? Should we opt for harm or harmony? Problems are rising, hence, so is the need for cooperation and harmony,

“Hehe.” This is the time. This is the place. We are the decision-makers.