《The Third Annual Conference》

Ye Xiaowen: Out of the "Thucydides' Trap"


Ye Xiaowen, First Vice President of the Academy of Chinese Culture


An ancient Greek wise man, Thucydides, once predicted that when a rising power competed with an established ruling hegemon, the danger to both sides would mostly end in war.


This seems to be a magic spell.


In recent times, the spell showed "epiphany" in the rise of great powers, challenging 15 existing powers and causing 11 wars. Let’s save the situation in farther lands, but rather focus on that in Asia, Japan in particular, which quickly embarked on the path of militarism after the rise of the Meiji Restoration.


Today, the spell still haunts. People have entered the 21st century, but some of them are still stuck in the past when the mentality of "departing from Asia for Europe" and beggar-thy-neighbor reigned; when colonial expansion and hegemony ravaged; when the old framework of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games existed; and when the so-called "rebalancing" emerged as they fancied to be the boss of the world and Asia but has long been stretched to the limit.


Some people are worried that with the rapid rise of China, the magic spell will come again, and an emerging China will collide head-on with the established powers.


But humanity has evolved to the present day, therefore, they should be smarter than ancient Greece so that they would not be killed by a magic spell.


If we were to travel back in time and invite Thucydides to join us in today's high-level dialogue, I believe that several wise people here both at home and abroad would be able to refute him.


Mr. Ervin Laszlo, the founder of the Club of Budapest, said that humanity, who are currently at the crossroads of extinction and emergency, will effectively change its current lifestyle and way of thinking and achieve a "revolution in consciousness" and "cultural transformation", thus establishing a new ecological values and ecological ethics.


Chairman Yan Zhaozhu of Taihu World Cultural Forum said that the living conditions and future destinies of peoples of the world have never been more closely intertwined than today. The only way out is to strengthen dialogue and exchange in mutual respect, close cooperation, and mutual help.


Former French Prime Minister de Villepin said that in today's world, "sharks" and "seagulls" coexist, and he added that "sharks represent power and strength, while seagulls represent justice and order", and "the shark tosses the sea and kills its prey, while the seagull soars in the blue sky and listens to the voice of the world."


What voice to listen to? Master Xingyun from Taiwan, China, said that only through compassion and respect can each other be integrated. This way, we can turn anger into peace and violence into peace.


Hear the call of many wise men, is it not enough to counter the spell? Is it not enough for modern mankind to get out of the "Thucydides' trap"?


Since the Renaissance, the economic development of modern powers has come at a prize of industrialization and urbanization, which inevitably involved a huge demand for non-renewable resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas, and called for markets expansion and resources exploitation. The modern Western world, in the process of its rise, met this demand by plundering resources with invasion, enclosure of land, and enslavement of others. While this has contributed to the prosperity of the Western world in modern times, it has also sowed hatred with the rest of the world. The rise of the so-called "Great Powers", i.e., the developed nations of the contemporary West, is largely attributable to the Renaissance, which greatly liberated the productive forces. However, the conflicts caused by this liberation process have become the shackles that must be broken in the further development of productive forces. Although the Renaissance has greatly liberated "humanity", "they have paid a great price.


What is the way out? At a point of transformation from quantitative change to qualitative change, the human crisis needs the inheritance and development of humanism in the sense of negation of negation, calling for a new Renaissance of civilization. Mr. de Villepin said: "The first globalization of the Renaissance was dominated by Spain; the second globalization of the Industrial Revolution was dominated by the Anglo-Saxon countries. Isn’t it possible that the third globalization, with its identity, culture, and symbols, will lead to a renewed burst of French ambition?"


The great process of national rejuvenation of China is equally charged with the mission of the times to promote a new Renaissance of civilization. China also has the ambition to embrace this new era of civilizational Renaissance, which is no less important than the historical one. Comparing the development of various civilizations around the world, Toynbee points out that China, a great Eastern power that has never unleashed imperial ambitions beyond its borders, has traditionally been a large nation without hegemonic intention. "China, with a unique way of thinking cultivated during its history of two thousand years, is the most prepared nation on the path to avoid human suicide." The core of this unique way of thinking is "harmony" cherished by all ancient Chinese dynasties in carrying out ritual ceremonies.


Napoleon Bonaparte once said that China "is a sleeping lion," and "when China wakes up, the world will shake." The sleeping lion has woken up, what should the world do? When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Europe recently, he sincerely told the world: "This is a peaceful, amiable, and civilized lion."


This is a statement that the shaking people do not buy in. But those who think with their heads will believe it. "I was a little shocked to hear this analogy," said French Ambassador to China, Sylvie Bermann. "In China, people always perform dancing lions to celebrate the opening of new stores. Watching the lion dance, the onlookers are smiling, peaceful and joyful." The opening of a new store is supposed to be a time of congratulations, with firecrackers and lion dances in great joy. Humanity lives in the same global village in which all parties are intertwined. It is inevitable to be "a little shocked" at first but please wait this emotion to turn "peace and joy".


The lion of China has awakened, but it is a lion of peace. The Chinese people know too well the scourge caused by war and have a tireless pursuit of peace. China's pursuit of peaceful development is not an attempt to convince, please, or deceive anyone, but a strategic choice based on its own basic national conditions and cultural traditions. We must be steadfast on the fundamental and long-term interests of its country. China is developing itself both by striving for a peaceful international environment and by promoting world peace through its own development.


China, the lion, is awake, and it is an amicable lion. China's development is not self-serving for unilateral win. "Man of wisdom should establish others while establishing themselves." China is committed to pushing the world to a new type of global development partnership that is more equal and balanced, where we all consider the legitimate concerns of other countries in the pursuit of our own interests and promote the common development of all countries on the course of our own development in harmony sharing weal and woe.


China, the lion, has awakened, but it is a civilized lion. A civilized person is anything but ignorant, shallow, narrow-minded, rude, and barbaric. A civilized person should have the temperament and mind of person with noble character. China is a country of persons with noble character. As Chinese sayings go: "Just as heaven keeps moving forward vigorously, a person with noble character should strive continuously to strengthen himself"; "a person with noble character seeks harmony without conformity; a person without seeks conformity without harmony"; and "a person with noble character treats everyone as equal, while one without is vice versa". The ancient character "bi" (conformity and clique), written in seal script, mimics two identical persons who make themselves as the standards when making friends and doing everything. This is a petty person, not a noble person. As another saying puts out: "a noble person is open and honest, while a petty is constantly complaining"!


China is a peaceful, amicable, and civilized lion, but after all, this lion has "regained its prime". The fact that it does not show off its muscle does not mean that it is weak. It will never cause trouble, and nor will it be afraid of trouble. There is no need to shake for it, but ignorance to it is also ill-advised.


Mr. Laszlo said: Although human development is a non-linear system, full of unpredictable factors in its evolution, but like the human life, this system has its own organizational capacity, which is a "self-regulating mechanism".


This "self-regulating mechanism", based on cultural consciousness, diversity, dialogue, and exchange, will promote a new "revolution of consciousness" and "cultural transformation", helping us rid the spell and get out of the "Thucydides' trap".


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