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March 31, 2021

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Celebrating diversity in the age of disarray

In the arduous fight against a once-in-a-century pandemic, countries around the world have adopted various measures that are tailored to their different indigenous economic and social conditions.

This takeaway from battling the unprecedented outbreak is not just about public health, but also cultural and philosophical — that it is diversity, not universalism, that helps humanity prevail against a common enemy.

“As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature,” the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.

In practice, however, cultural diversity is often forgotten, and sometimes despised. At the personal, community and national levels, many have lost the appetite to embrace differences.

Symptoms vary. Some did it quietly. Some picked up the idea of “the clash of civilizations.” Some expressed outright discrimination against particular groups of people.

Recently, nationwide protests erupted across the United States after eight people, six of them women of Asian descent, were shot dead at three Atlanta-area spas. Demonstrators gathered to stop surging anti-Asian hate crimes in the country, and shouted messages like “Asians are not a virus.”

The horrible Atlanta shootings serve as an epitome of xenophobic violence, and a cruel reminder of how a lack of inter-cultural understanding, coupled with political manipulation of ethnicity, can breed a massacre of the innocent.

Arrogance and prejudice are at play. The stubborn refusal to respect differences is a product of a self-centered perception that the global neighborhood, instead of celebrating diversity, is a place where everybody should follow one certain set of superior values and do things in the so-called “right” way. This is mind-slaving colonialism.

Call them cultural colonists, who fervently pursue the annihilation of differences in thinking and ways of life by forcing their culture upon others.

“There are 200-odd countries and regions, over 2,500 ethnic groups and a multitude of religions in the world today,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech delivered at the UNESCO headquarters in 2014. “We can hardly imagine if this world has only one lifestyle, one language, one kind of music and one style of costume.”

Xi also warned at the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations in 2019 that “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.”

“Harmony fosters diversity, homogeneity undermines sustainability,” ancient Chinese philosophy argued more than 2,500 years ago. Indeed, what makes the human civilization unique and great is its ability to protect and promote diversity. That ability itself is in dire need to be preserved today.

The author is a Xinhua writer.


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