ㄑ Belt and Road ㄑ Opinion

Belt and Road helps cultural exchanges

China Daily | June 26, 2023

In early June, at a meeting on cultural inheritance and development, President Xi Jinping called for "shouldering new cultural missions and building a modern Chinese civilization". This statement may appear paradoxical, but it will not appear to be contradictory if we understand the Chinese civilizational and cultural evolution. In its 5,000 years of development, the Chinese civilization has evolved and renewed itself continuously while remaining faithful to its social structure and moral character.

Chinese civilization has been marked, in my humble opinion, by three distinct features: evolution with continuity, inclusiveness, and receiving and sharing the goods of civilization.

On the evolutionary nature of Chinese culture, President Xi has said: "With unwavering cultural confidence, a profound sense of mission and a spirit of relentless endeavor, we must unite our efforts to create a new culture for our times."

China's modernization process over the past four decades has created a new context in which there is a symbiosis between the ancient and modern, generating something new and genuine. China is not a stranger to this evolutionary process. It adapted "socialism" to the Chinese context, devising socialism with Chinese characteristics taking into consideration the changing Chinese and world reality.

With regard to inclusiveness, Chinese civilization has been open to positive outside influences, as proved by the inclusion of Buddhism and Islam into Chinese society. China has always welcomed the positive aspects of other civilizations while contributing its civilizational achievements to enrich other civilizations. Chinese music did not shy away from adopting musical instruments from the Middle East, like the fantastic pipa, and making it an integral and beautiful part of Chinese musical culture.

When it comes to sharing, one of the greatest gifts China gave to the world through the ancient Silk Road was the technology of making paper on an industrial scale, which revolutionized the spread of science and philosophy in the Arab and Islamic world all the way to Europe beginning in the 8th century.

This new technology was as important then as the internet is today for dissemination of knowledge and communication. In Baghdad and other cultural centers during the Islamic renaissance, there was a massive intellectual outpouring, which without the Chinese invention of paper, would have been limited in scope.

China's confidence in its own culture today is a powerful incentive to carry the mission of modernization and at the same time open a dialogue with other civilizations and cultures. China's amazing economic and technological advancement and modernization have meant a great deal for the world economy, especially since the launching of the Belt and Road Initiative. China's advancement of a modern civilization based on its cultural roots has spill-over benefits for the rest of the world, as China shares its discoveries and innovations in the realm of art, science, poetry and music.

The Belt and Road Initiative is not merely hard infrastructure development, it is also a means to promote civilization exchanges. The Global Civilization Initiative proposed by President Xi in March 2023 is an integral part of the Belt and Road Initiative. One clear example of the complementarity of culture and economy was shown recently in Xi's meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders, where he emphasized the cultural aspect of the Belt and Road Initiative and Sino-Arab cooperation.

Xi said that China and the Arab countries need to enhance interactions between our peoples, increase cultural exchanges, draw on each other's fine cultural achievements, and promote the rich values of Eastern civilizations, so as to contribute to the development and progress of human civilizations.

He listed a number of ambitious joint projects, including cooperation among 300 universities and schools in Gulf Cooperation Council countries. The two sides will provide 3,000 "Chinese Bridge" summer/winter camps and Chinese language learning centers, and hold a China-Gulf Cooperation Council language and culture forum and compile a bilingual library to promote people-to-people and cultural exchanges and mutual learning.

For us outside China, especially here in Europe, to understand China and to avoid the pitfalls of misunderstanding which could lead to conflict, we need to have a genuine and deep understanding of Chinese civilization, of its past, present and future.

The author is Hussein Askary, vice-president of the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden and a distinguished fellow researcher of Guangdong Institute for International Strategies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.