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[Beijing Forum 2014] Borderless Civilizations: Lessons from History

Peking University, Nov. 7, 2014: On the Nov. 7 morning, the 11th Beijing Forum kicked off. Professor Wang Gungwu gave a keynote speech titled “Borderless Civilizations: Lesson from History”. Wang stressed that the civilizations are borderless and we can learn from each other, which is a lesson from Chinese history.


Wang started with that some civilizations were aggressive, which started attacks and wars with an excuse of "culture difference”.  In his view, civilizations are borderless, and he took some examples from China, whose tradition and history of knowledge could provide different lessons to other civilizations.


He said that Confucius culture was different from Islamic culture or Christian culture. Western culture was very much based upon the religion of Christianity and the Greco-Rome civilization. Prof. Wang pointed out that it’s misleading to consider Chinese culture as threat to the western culture.


History shows that China had no direct contact with the western society until 1840. While along with the open of Chinese entrance by the western big power of firm ship and advanced artillery, Chinese people quickly began to appreciate, understand and study the modern west civilization.


It took China tens of, thousands of years to answer a very basic and vital question that was “what all knowledge means”. Totally differing from the “One God and one Holy book” culture, Chinese people established a distinctive hierarchy of knowledge featured by the Confucianism’s predominance. Human knowledge with Chinese characteristics was still in progress and showed a direction for the future.


In the face of the modernization and globalization, Chinese people had to reconsider and revise the Chinese culture. According to Prof. Wang, knowledge was man-made and could only keep its eternal vitality through adjusting the knowledge and creating new ideas in relation to the changes of the world. This was exactly what Chinese culture has achieved.


The history of Chinese culture underscored and illustrated one truth that for the purpose of sustaining one culture and its value, we should seek for a right balance between the heritage and the new development. We must inherit the active factors of traditional culture as well as create new ideas that match the times.


Background Information: Wang Gungwu (born in October 9, 1930), is Professor and Chairman of the East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore. Wang is University Professor at the National University of Singapore, and also Chairman of the Managing Board of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Wang was a Distinguished Professorial Fellow at theInstitute of Southeast Asian Studies where he is now chairman of the board of Trustees. He is also an Emeritus Professor of the Australian National University, Canberra.


Prof. Wang Gungwu is a prominent Australian historian of Asia. Select publications: “Another China Cycle: Committing to Reform”, "China and Its Cultures: From the Periphery”, “Chinese Civilization and China’s Position”, "Interpreting China's Development”.


Reported by: Wang Qian, Xiao Yunyun

Edited by: Zhang Jiang