Scholarly article on topic 'Cultural Gifts'

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Academic research paper on topic "Cultural Gifts"

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Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 7576-7578

Selected Papers of Beijing Forum 2004

Cultural Giftsi

Yuan Xingpei

Professor, Peking University

If we look back on the origins of several ancient civilizations, we'll find Chinese civilization was not the oldest, but it is the only one whose historical progress has been continuous. Chinese civilization is composed by Han civilization, which was located in the Yellow River and Yangzi River basins, depending on agriculture as main living resource from an early time; as well as several nomad minority civilizations. Its present great family, formed by 56 ethnic groups, is united in the history of the Han's syncretizing with other nearby civilizations. Chinese civilization is a multi-cultured civilization, but its progress of evolution is not a history of mutual extinction, but of mutual syncretion, which, in a great degree, could be regarded as the progress of uniting into a holistic one during exchanges of civilizations among different areas and nations. The pattern of "diversity whole" was formed in no later than Western Zhou Dynasty; afterwards, though China endured wars and splits, new factors of civilizations attended instead of severing from its memberships. Thus, this great pattern kept its integrality without being broken. From this aspect, the development of Chinese civilization is a history of syncretism of nations.

The development of Chinese civilization is activated by its contact with foreign counterparts. Indian Buddhism, for example, manifests its influence in many aspects of Chinese thinking and conventions. The convergence of Buddhism and traditional Chinese culture had brought into existence Zen Buddhism, which became an important part of the latter culture. Western civilization was carried by missionaries into China during the mid-Ming Dynasty; but over a long time, it was only a complement of traditional Chinese civilization in parts. After the Opium War, amidst the voices of "saving China from extinction," intellectuals started to introduce and learn from the advanced Western civilization. This change was represented by Wei Yuan (^M), who, in his Maps of Ocean States ( «^H MM} ), advocated the idea of "Learning the advantages of the foreigners" ("ffi^^fe"). From then on, the learning of the West underwent a progress of promotion in levels: starting from that of science and technology to that of politics and humanities. New tendencies, such as abolishing the bureaucratic civil examination, setting up schools of Western learning, studying abroad and running newspapers, emerged rapidly, tiding that time, activating the continual advance of Chinese civilization.

However, Chinese civilization was, after all, born in a relatively closed geographic environment. The natural surrounding barriers on the one hand protected it from invasions and thus ensured its independent progress, but on the other hand also limited its exchanges with other civilizations. Generally speaking, the opportunities for cultural exchanges were rare, and the areas in which exchanges occurred were not far-reaching. Thus, when Chinese civilization developed to its maturity, especially when some other civilizations had undergone the modernization, it was in urgent need to amplify itself by absorbing the advanced achievements of others. However, just at this historical moment, the Qing government adopted a closing policy of stuffiness and conservatism, which made Chinese civilization lose its historic opportunity, be excluded from the main trend of world civilizations, drop behind and even fall to a condition of being invaded and exploited. This was a tragedy in retrospect of the history of Chinese civilization, and a bitter historical lesson that we should forever learn by heart.

Now an unprecedented change has occurred: economic globalization, which is having a great impact on the progress of human civilization. This situation, however, should not be allowed to lead to the extinction of the traits of local culture. In 1998, I advocated the idea of "cultural gifts" at the international conference on sinology held at

1877-0428 © 2010 Beijing Forum. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.05.125

Peking University, and my idea was endorsed by many scholars. What I mean by "cultural gifts" are creative activities among civilizations, during which every nation is glad to present its own cultural resources to others, and to receive vice versa. Based on the attitude of mutual respect—i.e., to respect the choice of others without urging— the course of presenting and accepting is a course of adopting others' advantages to make up for one's own disadvantages, and of convergence and absorption. Undoubtedly, it will result in the mutual convergence and communal development of civilizations, leading to the prosperity of a multi-cultured global civilization. Because of their proper traits or their different angles, degrees or manners in accepting foreign civilizations, the syncretized human civilization would remain multicomponent, and our world more diverse.

On this important issue concerning the fate and future of mankind, in order to preserve the diversity of civilizations, every scholar of conscience should take the lead in practicing mutual respect, taking charge of mutual cultural presents, and influencing his own government to seek the coexistence of civilizations in peace. Indeed, the economy of China is rapidly growing, its comprehensive national strength is growing every stronger, but a developed and mighty China would not be a threat to others. I speak as a scholar. From many years of study, I have concluded that the desire of peace is an intrinsic value of Chinese civilization, which is capable of protecting itself when threatened by others, but not interested in threatening others for revenge. A civilization with such a character is indispensable of future world peace.

Given the general tendency of economic globalization, the future of Chinese civilization is something I am anxiously concerned with.

First, we should welcome wider and more profound cultural exchanges accompanying economic globalization, and digest all the advanced achievements of human civilizations on our own initiative. In the past, Chinese civilization absorbed and adapted aspects of foreign civilizations through their contacts with such, to amplify and develop itself. Now, and in the future, it should and could do the same thing even better.

Second, Chinese civilization should embrace the world more actively. Though Chinese understanding about the world is not sufficient yet, the world's understanding about China is even less, and more superficial. Raymond Dawson, in his well-known book published in 1967 titled Chinese Chameleon: An Analysis of European Conceptions of Chinese Civilization (London: Oxford University Press, 1967; its Chinese translation was published in 1999), introduced in detail all kinds of opinions existing in the West about China, and concluded that, in the eyes of the West, the image of China seemed to vary between two polarities: utopia on the one hand, and symbol of stasis and underdevelopment on the other. The Chinese were sometimes described as rich, advanced, wise, nice, mighty and honest; then again, sometimes as poor, uncultured, foolish, ugly, frail and crafty. From this book we see that the West's understanding about China differs greatly from the reality. The attitude toward China shown by many Westerners often seems as though they feel they are the only ones authoritative enough to interpret the East. Here, we will not tangle with Western biases toward the East, including China; instead, we deduce from these biases a conclusion that, with the progress of economic globalization, Chinese civilization has now a broader space to present fully and clearly its real image to the world. With globalization, and especially the growing prosperity of the Chinese economy, the world needs to understand China, and Chinese civilization is going to require more ways to embrace the world. Thus, economic globalization is much more an opportunity than challenge. We should understand this situation clearly, grasp this historic opportunity, foster and promote our national spirit, and make a greater contribution to the development of human civilization.

Third, we should insist the autonomy of each civilization. Whether the goal is to absorb the advanced achievements of other civilizations or to embrace the world, it should be determined by our own will. History offers a good example of autonomy—the generosity of Han and Tang dynasties to foreign cultures, as well as their free adaptations of others' as their own, which in the terminology of Lu Xun was called an attitude of "generous freedom" (Modern Western civilization was imported into China by missionaries during the mid-Ming Dynasty and tided since the Opium War, influencing Chinese historical process in over a hundred years, but Chinese civilization has not lost its power of autonomy yet. Today, we should become even mightier to enhance the degree of our autonomy and to decide our own fate.

Considering the tendency of economic globalization, we should, on one hand, take firm and realistic methods to preserve the national character of Chinese civilization, and, on the other hand, understand that the so-called national character exists only in comparison, and the more comparisons are made with others, the more manifest it becomes. Meanwhile, we should understand that the national character of a civilization is not unchangeable; some

characteristics would be embodied in exchanges with others, while others fade out or even disappear. We should provide proper conditions to accelerate the formation of new national characteristics adapting to the Zeitgeist.

In conclusion, what accompanies economic globalization should neither be a mono-cultured global civilization nor a clash of civilizations; rather, it should be the autonomy and mutual presents of civilizations and the prosperity of a multi-cultured global civilization. The appearance and formation of this new zoology of civilizations would be a landmark in the progress of mankind, signaling a higher level. The Chinese would seize this opportunity to realize its great renewal. The Chinese would re-create its own image in the world with a highly advanced civilization. The Chinese civilization, with a history of thousands of years never broken, would make even greater contributions to the progress of mankind.

(Trans, Yang Zhiyi)

' Speech at the Closing Ceremony of Beijing Forum 2004