By Fan Zongding
“Civilizations only vary from each other, just as human beings are different only in terms of skin color and the language used,” declared Xi Jinping in his May 15 keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC) in Beijing, to a boisterous response. “No civilization is superior over others,” he continued as the enthusiasm swelled. “The thought that one’s own race and civilization are superior and the inclination to remold or replace other civilizations are just stupid, to act them out will only bring catastrophic consequences.” The Chinese president’s remarks prompted thunderous applause.
Timeless Asian Civilizations
At the CDAC, government officials and representatives from 47 Asian countries and other countries outside the region gathered to deepen interaction and mutual learning among civilizations, seek strategies to address pressing challenges of the time and achieve harmonious development—to pool the “power of civilizations” to build a community with a shared future for mankind.
Gleaming with pride for the East’s historical footprint, President Xi listed a number of key cradles of Asian civilizations and expounded on their legacies—from the Tigris and the Euphrates in the Middle East to the Yellow River and the Yangtze in China, from The Book of Songs to One Thousand and One Nights, from Chinese paper making and printing techniques to Arabic numerals, and from the majestic Great Wall of China to the spectacular Taj Mahal of India. The Chinese president showed deep respect and love for Asian civilizations.
After the remarkable successes of Western civilizations in modern times, Eastern civilizations have become marginalized in many academic circles. Some scholars have claimed that Western civilization began dominating the world as early as China’s Shang Dynasty (c.16th Century-11th Century BC). Some have even presented faux-scientific but actually baseless evidence with an aim to destroy the cultural confidence of Asian people. The broad consensus of historians holds that for quite a long period, Eastern civilizations had surpassed the West in both economics and military might. Only those who understand historical truth are qualified to predict the future. With profound insight on and deep affection for Asian civilizations, President Xi shared enlightening remarks at the conference: “As we review our past and look beyond Asia, we should have greater confidence in our civilizations. We may build on the rich heritage of our forefathers, stay engaged with other civilizations and increase mutual learning. By doing so, we will add new glory to Asian civilizations.”
Clash of Truth
As President Xi mentioned, instability and uncertainties are mounting, and the global challenges faced by humanity are becoming ever more daunting. Surging waves of unilateralism and protectionism are threatening global growth not only economically, but also spiritually. Discussion of this topic is incomplete without mention of the concepts of “universal values” and “clash of civilizations” advocated by some Western scholars.
Many believe that democracy gave birth to the first industrial revolution in Europe, driving the continent to completely surpass the East by creating the most brilliant civilizations in the history of mankind. However, the truth is upside down. A European had already invented the steam engine—the icon of the first industrial revolution—before the continent began gradually developing a democratic system of modern governance. Their scientific and technological rise was the cause, rather than the result, of “universal values.”
Though quite aware of all this, Western developed countries have twisted history to support a big lie after establishing a comprehensive and seemingly fair global order: They refused to provide access to sophisticated technologies, the real advancement drivers, to less developed countries, as they exported the idea that learning from Western civilization via a democratic system is the sole elixir for tackling any problem.
Thus, alongside widely mimicked Western electoral systems, McDonald’s burgers and Hollywood blockbusters prevail in almost every corner of the world, which has cultivated a generation of youth desperate to pursue Western culture over their own heritage as core technologies remain protected by Western countries.
The global prevalence of American and European cultures has clearly satisfied the West’s insatiable hunger to some extent, a satisfaction that gradually evolved into arrogance that paints outside civilizations as backward and barbaric. Consequently, campaign to establish “Demintern” amid the smoke of war began. “Demintern” was a concept introduced by American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington before his hypothesis of “clash of civilization.” Thus, we can conclude that the “clash of civilization” theory is inherently exclusive and closely associated with the so-called “universal values” advocated by Westerners.
Mutual Learning for Development
President Xi is probably the first person in the East to stand up against Western arrogance and lies. “If human civilizations are reduced to only one single color or one single model, the world would become a stereotype and too dull a place to live in,” he remarked. “Diversity spurs interaction among civilizations, which in turn promotes mutual learning and their further development.”
Clashes of civilizations and even conflicts and wars are doomed to be wiped out by tidal waves of human history. They will eventually be ousted by a new era that upholds peace, development, diversity and communication.
The Philippines, a nation that endured a long history of colonization by multiple Western countries, had already developed a splendid civilization before Europeans arrived. Ancestors of modern Filipinos had already navigated the surrounding seas via colossal self-crafted sail boats in the B.C. era. More than a thousand years ago, the Philippines was already maintaining close trade and economic ties with China’s Song Dynasty (960- 1279).
Today, to promote the Philippines’ economic growth by strengthening relations with China, President Duterte launched his own campaign against drug trafficking and endeavored to give the country a louder voice in international affairs and ensure that the world understands the Philippines and the ASEAN region by elaborating thoroughly on the differences between Eastern and Western civilizations, as he has done on many occasions. These efforts, however, were quickly demonized by the West as “infringement of human rights” and “tyranny,” and the influence of the country, which otherwise could have been recognized by the international community, especially Southeast Asia, were harshly suppressed.
As the Philippines turns a page on its history, the country hopes to maintain its traditional friendship with the United States and other Western countries while advancing hand in hand with its ASEAN neighbors and China on the path of high-speed development. As Xi Jinping stressed, China looks forward to an open and better-connected Asia known for peace, stability and common prosperity. Asian civilizations are splendid and equal because of development fueled by self-confidence. In the future, through interaction and mutual learning with the West, Eastern countries hope to create a new world of civilizations void of hubris and prejudice.