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Harmony Without Uniformity
Sino-French dialogue calls for inclusive exchanges among civilizations
By Ma Miaomiao  ·  2019-10-25  ·   Source: NO.44 OCTOBER 31, 2019
Jiang Jianguo, Vice Minister of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, speaks at the Sino-French Dialogue on Civilization in Paris, France, on October 21 (SCIO.GOV.CN)

As early as the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment in Europe, many French intellectuals, including Voltaire, developed a strong interest in Chinese culture and advocated that Europe should learn from China's rationalism. In 1688, French King Louis XIV dispatched royal mathematicians to China. Prominent scholar Gu Hongming (1857-1928), also known as Ku Hung-ming, wrote in his famous book, The Spirit of the Chinese People, that he thought the French understood the Chinese people and civilization best.

These are some of the examples cited by Wang Yi, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, to illustrate time-honored cultural exchanges between China and France at the Sino-French Dialogue on Civilization in Paris. "For hundreds of years, the two nations have appreciated each other, learned from each other and become a model for exchanges and mutual learning among different civilizations," he said.

Key agreements

The two-day dialogue ended on October 22 with more than 200 participants reaching consensus that people should cherish and respect every civilization and let the diverse cultures in different countries and ethnic groups bring vitality to the planet.

Both China and France are committed to maintaining the diversity of human civilizations, upholding multilateralism, improving the global governance system, maintaining world peace and stability, and promoting cultural progress, the consensus stressed.

The two countries should take the lead in enhancing dialogue and exchanges, addressing global challenges and promoting sustainable development, the document read.

The dialogue was hosted by China's State Council Information Office and organized by China International Publishing Group and the French think tank Bridge Tank, with the participation of senior officials, scholars, representatives from cultural and artistic communities, and business executives.

Dialogue among civilizations

Laurent Fabius, President of the French Constitutional Council, said at the event that both nations are active in preserving the diversity of world civilizations in the spirit of seeking common ground while shelving differences.

In 1964, France became the first major Western country to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. China set up its first cultural center in a Western country in Paris in 2002.

In March, during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to the country, French President Emmanuel Macron presented him with an original French version of An Introduction to the Analects of Confucius. The book was first published in 1688, and the soaring popularity of this Confucian classic in France is another good example of the longstanding cultural communication between the two countries.

According to Wang, the world today is facing great changes that have not occurred in 100 years. As two ancient civilizations, China and France should have a broader mind than the ocean and the sky, so that the light of human civilization of equality, inclusiveness and cooperation can shine forever, he added.

Former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin shared a similar view with Wang. Currently, he said, global political, economic, social and international relations are facing crises, which are also reflected in cultural fields. He called on the two countries to play an active role in promoting exchanges among civilizations.

According to Wang, they should persist in treating each other on an equal footing, and let different civilizations show their own beauty. China opposes any theories of the superiority of civilizations or conflict among civilizations. It advocates respect for the inheritance and development of each country's civilization, and its right to choose a development path in line with its own national conditions.

Openness and inclusiveness should be adhered to, while all countries should look at other civilizations and the progress of other countries in a rational and inclusive manner. Different countries and civilizations should respect each other, understand, help and accommodate each other, and achieve common development, Wang said.

Cooperation has proved to be the only right choice, self-isolation is anachronistic and unilateralism is unpopular, he added. Under the guidance of proposals such as the Belt and Road Initiative and building a community with a shared future for humanity, China is willing to adhere to and carry forward the concept of multilateralism, deepen cooperation with other countries and make unremitting efforts to promote the overall development and progress of human civilization.

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, said the Belt and Road Initiative has benefited the world, not only by promoting trade, but also as a driving force for innovation and people-to-people exchanges, adding that the dialogue's topics, such as cultural exchanges, protection of cultural diversity and promotion of multilateralism, are of great importance.

Visitors look at qipaos on display at an exhibition at the China Culture Center in Paris on February 8, 2018 (XINHUA)

Mutual learning

Jiang Jianguo, Vice Minister of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, shared his understanding of the interaction and mutual learning between the two cultures with several historical symbols at the event.

For instance, more than 2,000 years ago, China and France conducted friendly exchanges through the ancient Silk Road. The people of all the countries along this route continue today to appreciate the charms of different civilizations, and learn from each other.

Also, the Confucianism book Macron gifted to Xi reminds one of the history of mutual learning between the East and the West. The spread of Western learning to the East enlightened Chinese people, while the early translations of The Analects of Confucius inspired French thinkers like Montesquieu and Voltaire, Jiang said.

Some 100 years ago, he added, many Chinese youth pursued their studies in France, where the French people embraced them with enthusiasm, helping them gain knowledge and skills for the service of their own country. Among them, some became leaders of the CPC such as Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping while others became outstanding figures in science, technology, culture and art in China.

Charles de Gaulle, former President of France, once said that given the profound admiration and respect between the Chinese and French nations, the affinity they share will one day lead to ever-deepening cooperation.

While attending a meeting commemorating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-France diplomatic ties, Xi stressed, "I truly hope that our two countries and peoples will increase mutual understanding and extend mutual assistance in the pursuit of our respective dreams. Together, we will realize the Sino-French dream." His counterpart, Macron, during his first state visit to China in 2018, said that it is now an era in which China and France can share a dream. This shows the two countries' dreams are mutually compatible, Jiang said.

The Sino-French Dialogue on Civilization was held on the sidelines of the fifth meeting of the China-France High-Level Mechanism for Dialogue on People-to-People Exchanges. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said at the meeting that he believes the mechanism has become an important part of bilateral relations with remarkable results.

In the spirit of openness and mutual respect, France is willing to cement people-to-people bonds with China, Le Drian noted. The two countries should promote more results and more benefits for their peoples and jointly advocate dialogue between civilizations and mutual learning, he said.

France hopes to work with China to celebrate a year of culture and tourism in 2021, and advance exchanges and cooperation on the local and national levels in sports, education and other fields, and among youth and women, Le Drian added.

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

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