How ancient Confucian philosophy remains alive in modern China

Editor’s Note: In this special issue of The Hub, Wang Guan visits Confucius’ house for the 7th Nishan Forum on World Civilizations and a festival celebrating the ancient sage. Here, he chats with visitors to find out what is so special about Confucian thought and why it continues to have such a strong influence in contemporary China. Confucian philosophy permeates Chinese culture and the way its people view the world, with a strong emphasis on seeking harmony and seeking cooperation with others – a prospect often misunderstood by those who view the world. outside.

Welcome to The Hub and the birthplace of Confucius, whether you are a fan of his teachings, you cannot deny the fact that two thousand years later, this man remains a singular cultural figure and his influence is found through the boards, classrooms. and trade fairs around the world.

This is a ritual that dates back to the 1980s … people used to come to Confucius’ hometown to celebrate the life of this ancient Chinese philosopher. It is officially known as the China Confucius International Cultural Festival which is held annually in Qufu, Shandong Province. This year 2021 marked the 2572nd birthday of the Chinese sage.

Along with the Confucius Festival, the 7th Nishan Forum on World Civilizations was also held. 180 academics from around the world attended the forum, where they discussed the relevance of Confucianism in healing wounds in modern societies.

As a native of Shandong, coming home to attend the forum was very important to me. The topic of our discussion was how different civilizations can learn from each other. Ye Xiaowen, deputy head of the Culture, Historical Data and Studies Committee of China’s supreme political advisory body, CPPCC, lamented the situation, acknowledging that although a neutral learning among the world’s civilizations is desirable, in reality the world is witnessing clashes of civilizations. His comment echoed Samuel P. Huntington’s scholarship, who argued that in the post-Cold War world, it will be cultural differences rather than economic and political differences that will set people apart.

The outspoken Chinese official has said bluntly that the global battle against COVID-19 has been challenged by a “political virus.” He said China has useful experiences to share when it comes to containing the virus, and the global community should work with China to overcome this together.

Roger T. Ames, better known in Chinese academic circles as 安子哲, said that Western cultures value principle and justice, while Chinese culture desires “harmony,” which leads to scenarios win-win where people are not just individuals competing in zero-sum games. , but community members are working towards common interests.

Yang Huilin, former vice president of Renmin University, explained the concept of “harmony without uniformity”. He believes this approach is essential in bringing different cultures together as it emphasizes similarities while recognizing that each culture is unique.

After the dialogue, I sat down with Ye Xiaowen, the senior Chinese official of the CPPCC.

Looking at reality, do you think civilizations can really coexist or are they doomed to clash?

Now there is a force in the world, globalization. The United States wanted to develop its economy and at first favored this trend, but now it seems that the United States is more interested in maintaining its leadership position in the world. Stirring up tensions with China and its allies is one way of suggesting this. But hegemonism is dangerous. In the first half month after September 11, 20 years ago, I wrote an article explaining that hegemonism and terrorism reinforce and thwart each other. The practice of hegemonism gives rise to terrorism, so the wars against terrorism waged by the United States cannot kill all threats, let alone its huge military spending. We are indeed faced with the challenge of an opposite trend of globalization, of a world order determined by the power of a country. But the development of globalization cannot be stopped. It is only through peaceful dialogue among all civilizations that conflicts between countries and peoples can be alleviated.

How would you explain to our viewers around the world that China is not a threat, because it is a very popular point of view?

The United States now believes in a theory, the Thucydides trap. This Roman historian wrote a book called History of the Peloponnesian War. Take the example of ancient Athens and Sparta, their competitions intensified and both eventually collapsed. However, in the United States, many people fall into the trap of this Thucydides. President Xi Jinping vowed that China will stay on the path of peaceful development and pursue a strategy of mutually beneficial openness. China has no intention of replacing the United States, and the Chinese never want to threaten anyone.

The perception of China is becoming more and more negative, like it or not. If you look at Pew Research, the Gallop Hub highlighting the reality that in Western Europe and America more people than before have negative opinions about China, why and what can China do to reverse this reality?

First of all, I don’t think we should take an all-or-nothing approach to the many misunderstandings in the West that you just mentioned. The United States is a developed country, and I believe there are still people out there calmly and rationally who can think about what’s going on in the world. If a country becomes extreme and fanatic, its foreign policy will tilt towards fascism and internally it will become more divided. I hope that the United States does not take this path.

What can Chinese culture, Chinese civilization offer to the rest of the world when it comes to, you know, healing the wounds and solving the problems of today?

China’s 5000 years of civilization explained that the rise of China is peaceful, and Chinese culture allows differences in harmony. The Chinese do not stir up trouble, and we are not cowards when we are involved in it. As Mao Zedong said after the war of resistance against American aggression and the war to resist American aggression and help Korea. When organized, the Chinese cannot be disturbed. The Lishan Forum includes some topics that we have discussed and rekindles Confucius’ knowledge. Events like this communicate to the world that China is not a fearful adversary of the world and values ​​peace. Confucian ideas still greatly contribute to the world.

On September 28, the “Xin Chou Year of Confucius Public Commemoration Ceremony” was held at the Confucius Temple in Qufu, Shandong, a UNESCO site classified as intangible cultural heritage. We would be surprised to see how many people actually attended the event.

It was a solemn occasion. Scholars, officials and tourists walked through the temple, with the Analects of Confucius in the background, a collection of sayings and ideas about the fashions and virtues of life.

How does Confucian thought inspire Chinese policymaking? Can East and West finally get along? I sat down with one of the guests present, Li Xikui. He is vice president of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Considering the reality of global geopolitics and the interests of countries, do you think there is still a lot of room for interpersonal diplomacy or interpersonal exchanges to improve relations between countries?

Indeed, there are many institutional exchanges with foreign countries, including those between China and the United States, including exchanges between sister cities of the two countries. There are many mechanisms of communication now, but I think there may be more of that strength in our culture and education. For example, we have the China-South Asia International Cultural Forum. During our exchange, everyone talks about traditional Chinese culture and the influence of Confucian culture on its history. So I think events like this played a big role in cultural exchange.

As President Xi Jinping noted, telling good “stories of China” is very important. I think this is an area of ​​improvement for some of our institutions. How can we show the good characteristics of Chinese people, and how to make our stories responsive is a question in mind. Increasing coverage and making our voices heard is one way to change some of the West’s stereotypes about us.

What should the world know about Confucius, What should the world know about Confucian ideas?

When we attend the Nishan Forum this time, I think we can have a deeper understanding of Confucian culture. I think Confucian culture is wide and deep and should be well promoted, especially in the process of international exchanges. Because Confucian culture includes a lot of modern and universal values, and I think it is very important for us to think about how we can promote. Traditional values ​​such as wisdom, respect, and trust in Confucian culture are very practical in many countries around the world in my opinion. China’s development ideas, such as building a community for a shared future and harmonious symbiosis, can find references in Confucian culture.

On the one hand, at the level of non-governmental diplomacy, our job is mainly to interact with people. President Xi Jinping once said that friendship, which stems from close people-to-people contact, is the key to good state-to-state relations. It is very important to focus our work on the individual level. On the other hand, each country has its own culture, and I think countries should be open-minded to share their own culture with others. There should also be a greater tolerance for differences. Non-governmental diplomacy can play an important role in bringing cultures together.

The 2021 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy announced its winners at the China Confucius International Cultural Festival.

The program was created in 2005, with the aim of recognizing individuals, governments and NGOs around the world in extending education to regions and communities where illiteracy remains a problem.

This year, three programs from Africa and North America were awarded. Ain Shams University in Egypt organized online literacy classes to empower learners in rural areas. Local students are encouraged through incentives and training programs to participate in the project as teachers.

The Association of Literacy Teachers Using Information and Communication Technologies in Côte d’Ivoire helps women working in commerce to improve their reading, writing and numeracy skills through the use of communication technologies. information and communication. The Building & Growing program provides construction workers and their communities in Mexico with digital literacy training available on multiple devices and creates an immersive learning environment for them.

International students studying in China were also invited to this year’s cultural festival. For many, it is an eye-opening experience.


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