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《The Second Annual Conference》

Zhang Meiying: The Construction of Ecological Civilization from a Broader Cultural Perspective

 

Zhang Meiying, Vice Chairwoman of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and Honorary Chairwoman of Taihu Cultural Forum

 

Abstract: I thought that the ecological civilization advocated in this Forum is not simply about technological progress and moral issues but rather a deeper cultural issue. Among the profound Chinese cultural traditions, I would like to raise two points that are closely related to the topic of today's discussion: first, the cosmological view of the unity of heaven and humanity; and second, the humanistic view of the harmony.

 

Humanity has developed so far with barely the sense of self-recrimination and guilt of scourging the earth, but on the contrary, we still pursue luxury, overspend ecology, and indulge in overconfidence in understanding and dealing with problems. Why do I say so? Just witness the following reasons: first, at a time when humanity is far from fully understanding and reflecting on their development and prospects, they thinks they have mastered the laws of the nature, leading to an extensive and continuous movement that blindly defies science; second, at a time when humanity does not yet have the wisdom needed to distribute wealth fairly and justly, they have created huge amounts of wealth, forming a great gap between the rich and the poor with a social divide; third, at a time when humanity does not yet have sufficient capacity for resource regeneration and mechanism for guarantee, they exploit the resources on Earth to an dangerous extent; fourth, when humanity has not yet understood the way to get along with nature, they have destroyed the ecological balance, and more and more catastrophic weather has become commonplace thusly; fifth, when humanity barely comprehends the exchange among peoples and nations, they have created nuclear weapons. Now, is there any reason for us to be optimistic?

 

With our lives hanging by a thread, we should have the wisdom to save ourselves and redeem ourselves, which requires us to revisit the ideas and practical experiences of Chinese culture that are worth passing on and carrying forward. I think the ecological civilization advocated in the Forum is not simply about technological progress and moral issues but rather a deeper cultural issue. Among the profound Chinese cultural traditions, I would like to raise two points that are closely related to the topic of today's discussion: first, the cosmological view of the unity of heaven and humanity; and second, the humanistic view of the harmony.

 

"The unity of man and the nature" is a value dating back to the early period of Chinese civilization, the basic meaning of which is that man and nature belong to a community of life. Confucius put forward two concepts, "knowledge of heaven" and "awe of heaven", 2500 years ago. "Knowledge of heaven" requires people to know the nature and its laws, and to use natural resources to obtain the social welfare on which human beings depend. "Awe of heaven" requires people to be in awe of nature, to know and conform to its laws, and protect the nature. Taoism also holds that the universe is the macrocosm of the human body, and the human body is the microcosm of the universe, and that a better future can only be achieved if humanity lives in harmony with nature. "Harmony without conformity" is the core idea of Chinese humanism, which highlights that "difference" is the root of the development of things. "Harmony" aims to syncretize "differences" and to explore how different factors can coexist harmoniously in different relationships. As part of the four signatures of Chinese culture—Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Buddhism—Confucianism advocates the harmony among people, benevolence, and consideration of others, adding that different ideas, including religious beliefs, can develop together. As for Taoism, it emphasizes the harmonious relationship between humanity and nature, preaching "the unity of heaven and man" and "general tolerance"; and the highest ideal of Zhuangzi, a Taoist philosopher, is "the utmost harmony", which will consummate the world. Buddhism is about inner harmony of each person; a harmonious inner state brings about tranquil qi; tranquil qi leads to general wellness of a person; and general wellness of a person can be shared by the public; therefore, harmony of the heart is a crucial attribute of social harmony. Such a concept and practice play a pragmatic role in supporting and nourishing both the natural and human ecology. I think perhaps it is the reason why Chinese civilization has lasted for thousands of years in the long history of humanity without interruption.

 

At present, the Chinese government has developed the concept of ecological civilization in its practice and made it a national development strategy, which demonstrates that ecological civilization has become cultural self-awareness. Of course, Chinese culture is now infected with modern diseases, such as a bumptious consumerist culture and a hedonistic atmosphere, making development unsustainable. At the same time, people with vision around the world soberly reflect on this matter, making appeals and giving suggestions, expecting humanity to return to the original aspiration and calling for ecological consciousness. In some developed countries, ideas, and practices such as stoic and simple lifestyle have emerged in recent years, which also serve humanity on their way towards change. This Forum can bring together different experiences, rally individuals, and accumulate achievements of communities into a practice of beauty and coexistence, forming a broader cultural vision that help people find better ways for humanity to alleviate and overcome the challenges of common development.

 

I would like to share with you a Chinese story of several blind persons groping an elephant. In the story, each blind person did not touch the whole body, but a part, of the elephant. In this case, if each of them holds self-opinion, it is inevitable that there will emerge bias and conflict. When, on the contrary, they share self-opinions, they discover that together they have a accurate understanding of the elephant as a whole. Therefore, different ideologies, different political systems, different experiences, and different development paths are not the breeding ground for confrontation and conflict, but the basis and prerequisite for mutual learning that bolsters weaknesses though each other's strengths and boosts cooperating. Among the three bonds of international relations today, politics is often uncertain and economics is volatile at times, yet culture is an eternal bond that transcends political differences and economic interests. I expect and believe that Taihu Cultural Forum will be a good proof of this.

 

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