Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been heavily influenced by Confucianism and conservative philosophies. For much of the country's dynastic era, opportunities for social advancement could be provided by high performance in the prestigious Imperial examinations, which were instituted in 605 AD to help the Emperor select skilful bureaucrats. The literary emphasis of the exams affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy and literati painting were higher forms of art than dancing or drama.
A number of more authoritarian and rational strains of thought were also influential, with Legalism being a prominent example. There was often conflict between the philosophies – for instance, the individualistic Song Dynasty neo-Confucians believed that Legalism departed from the original spirit of Confucianism. Examinations and a culture of merit remain greatly valued in China today. In recent years, a number of New Confucians have claimed that modern democratic ideals and human rights are compatible with traditional Confucian values.
The first leaders of the People's Republic of China were born into the traditional imperial order, but were influenced by the May Fourth Movement and reformist ideals. They sought to change some traditional aspects of Chinese culture, such as rural land tenure, sexism, and the Confucian system of education, while preserving others, such as the family structure and culture of obedience to the state.
Some observers see the period following the establishment of the PRC in 1949 as a continuation of traditional Chinese dynastic history, while others claim that the Communist Party's rule has damaged the foundations of Chinese culture, especially through political movements such as the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, where many aspects of traditional culture were destroyed, having been denounced as 'regressive and harmful' or 'vestiges of feudalism'. Many important