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Zhang Meiying: Chinese Culture Contributes to World Peace

date:2014-07-03

Speech at the Third Annual Conference
of Taihu World Cultural Forum
Zhang Meiying
Vice Chairperson of the 11th CPPCC
Honorary Chairperson of Taihu World Cultural Forum

Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently pointed out that “There’s no gene for invasion in Chinese people’s blood, and the  Chinese people won't follow the logic that ‘might is right’.” The ancient China, in the history of human progress, had been a nation with great strength and wealth, but instead of seeking hegemony, it developed good relationships with nations near and afar, made friends with various countries across the world, and proposed that the world should be like a big family of universal harmony.

Since ancient times, “peace” has been a cultural concept widely acknowledged and upheld by the Chinese. Numerous household rules and instructions, family traditions and letters in Chinese society have shown that the Chinese are born and brought up in a culture and social values featuring peace and harmony which later become their lifelong conviction. A constant cultural gene formed in thousands of years, has been passed down from generation to generation, testified by the thousands of years of Chinese history, especially by the great peace cause of Zheng He(1371–1433) who commanded the seven expeditionary voyages to Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa from 1405 to 1433. Zheng’ voyages were an exemplary effort by a culturally strong China sending a message of peace to the outside world to build a peaceful and harmonious international order. The world cannot understand the real China if it does not understand the cultural gene of “harmony and peace being most precious”.

I would like to begin by introducing two central manifestations of the Chinese cultural gene.

1.  Harmony without uniformity, great inclusivity and tolerance are inherent to Chinese culture.  

Thousands of years of merging and integration of all ethnicities has fostered a diverse and open, vibrant and lasting  Chinese culture. The two thousand years old Analects of Confucius advocates harmony without uniformity, believing that harmony generates and uniformity stifles vitality and that diversity is the foundation of evolution. Harmony without uniformity is the core of traditional Chinese culture, reflecting respect for and tolerance of differences. The essence of harmony lies in accommodating and harmonizing divergence and difference. Therefore, harmony, accommodation, inclusivity underpin the Chinese culture and manifest China’ s soft power. Professor Fei Xiaotong, a famous Chinese anthropologist, discerning the common challenges accompanying globalization, especially the challenge of civilizational clashes resulted from cultural diversity, put forward the proposition of “cultural self-awareness” whereby people learn to appreciate the culture/values of others as do to their own, and the world becomes a harmonious whole, showing an elevated level of philosophical thought in Chinese culture. And such a cultural stance is surely very different in nature from the cultural hegemony of pursuing spiritual neo-colonialism by promoting cultural unilateralism and wielding soft power.

2. Do unto others as you would be done by is an important principle of Chinese culture.

Compassion is a key element of Chinese culture, meaning “love”. Someone who is compassionate knows how to love. And this love starts from but is not limited to the love of his relatives. It takes root in the household and spread among the society. Do unto others as you would be done by has been a universal social ideal acknowledged and upheld by different schools of thought throughout different times in Chinese history. It is an ideal that has become an age-old cultural heritage with particular modern relevance. It emphasizes the intimacy of hearts, putting oneself in other’s place, and admonishes not to impose one’s will on others---which are bottom lines of moral principles and ethics. I believe doing unto others as you would be done by is a consensus of human society, because it applies to today’s inter-state relations. In the contemporary international order, hegemony still exists through which one nation seeks to impose its will on others and holds self-serving double standard characterized by pride and prejudice.

Confucius compassionate love, Mohist impartial love, Buddhist benevolent love, and Christian fraternal love are shared human values and ideological sources of world peace.

In his speech at the UNESCO headquarters, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that “A civilization carries on its back the soul of a country or nation,” “All human civilizations are equal in terms of value,” “No one civilization can be judged superior to another,” “If all civilizations can uphold inclusiveness, the so-called ‘clash of civilizations’ will be out of the question.” His insightful remark tells us that civilizations look different through different mode of thinking. Hegemonic thinking is likely to generate conflict while peace thinking foster harmony.

Nations and peoples aspiring for world peace have noted President Xi Jinping’s reiteration of the Chinese Dream. The Chinese cultural gene has determined that the Chinese Dream is a dream of a prosperous and strong country, a dream about different civilizations thriving alongside each other, and a dream of mankind working in concert toward world peace.

Fifty years ago, an American black person told his fellow Americans: I have a dream.

Fifty years later, more than a billion Chinese is telling the world: We have a dream.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was about racial equality.

The dream of the Chinese people is for their motherland to achieve democracy and prosperity, and for the world to enjoy enduring peace.

The Taihu Cultural Forum has changed its name into the Taihu World Cultural Forum. It is by no means a casual change. It derives from the Chinese idea about harmonious culture amd from the age-old Chinese thinking of the world as a harmonious whole.

As we all know, Taihu has been famous since ancient times for its expanse and bountiful resources which feed the lands of rice and fish of Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. When “Taihu” is reaching out to the “world”, I would like to say a few words about “water” in Chinese culture. Speaking of water, one idiom that crosses the Chinese mind is “The highest good is like that of water.”It comes from Lao-tzu’s classic Tao Te Ching. Lao-tzu believed that the virtue of water lies in its utmost softness as well as utmost firmness. It does not have form but takes the form of whatever contains it. It lies low rather than reach for high. It remains wet and never goes dry. It go with instead of against. It irrigates the farmland and carries the boat. But the water that bears the boat might also be the same that swallows it up. Once it wages a storm, the sea which converges millions of drops of water can overrun everything in its way. One may conclude that the character of Chinese culture is just like that of water. It stores dynamism in its staticness. It overcomes the strong with its softness. It retreats in order to move forward. It conquers nothing yet nothing conquers it. It is static, peaceful, soft, and inclusive. 

Professor Fei Xiaotong once characterized the spirit of Taihu like this: “It holds the water from hundreds of rivers and offers its generosity to hundreds of thousands of people. ” He also commented that “Taihu does not seek returns for its generosity. Sometimes instead of gratitude, what it gets in return is pollution. But Taihu does not grudge its generosity for being polluted. What a fine virtue in water!”

From Lao-tzu to Fei Xiaotong, though two thousand years apart, their admiration for water originated from their appreciation of the spirit of peace, cooperation, and inclusivity in Chinese culture. Today’s China, despite the talk of “China Threat” that tarnishes its reputation, will not alter a bit of its cultural gene of peace, amity, and harmony. I think that Professor Fei Xiaotong’s characterization of the Taihu spirit also applies to the spirit of this forum and the spirit of Chinese culture that the forum upholds. Nourished in Chinese culture, we believe that it is important for us to put forward and discuss propositions about soft power to promote peace and development for mankind, and equally important to analyze the factors, origins, structure and functions of soft power, and more important to explore how to exercise and where to apply soft power, and most important to enhance soft power with a view to promoting and safeguarding peace for mankind.

It is my sincere hope that the Taihu Forum with a new name will confidently open a new window to world cultures, take on the unshakable responsibility of promoting worldwide cultural exchanges and solidifying the achievements so far in the pursuit of world peace. And I sincerely hope that the Forum can make use of multiple approaches to deepen the international community’s understanding of China, and at the same time provide more opportunities for China to draw on the fruits of all civilizations to complement its own and achieve cultural self-awareness, so as to better adapt to a changing world and make greater contribution to mankind’s enduring peace. 

I am convinced that not only is peace a consistent expression of the age-old Chinese cultural gene, but also it will become the common aspiration and concerted behavior of diverse cultural groups in the 21st Century.