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May 21, 2019

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The world needs dialogue to achieve peaceful coexistenceEditor’s note:

On May 17, Liu Junyang took part in the Think Tank Forum On “Mutual Learning Among Asian Civilizations and Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind.” This forum is part of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations. Liu is an associate professor and deputy director of the Department of Culture and Communication, University of International Relations, Beijing. Shanghai Daily adapted the essay based on his speech at the forum.

In my university, I teach Chinese literature, Western civilization, soft power and clash of civilizations theory.

There are foreign and Chinese students in my class. I often organize dialogues of civilizations and the principle is: Be proud of your culture, and respect others.

In his speech at the opening ceremony of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations last week, President Xi Jinping said: “It is foolish to believe that one’s race and civilization are superior to others, and it is disastrous to willfully reshape or even replace other civilizations.”

In ancient times, many civilizations thought they were the center of the world, and that their race and culture were the best. While that attitude was somehow understandable at that time because of limited communications, it becomes foolish today.

Western colonization in modern times is a horrible example. While a driving force behind the discovery of the so-called “New World” might be “God, Gold and Glory,” many Asian countries were victims of Western colonization.

Samuel Huntington, author of “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” observes: “The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”

After the Cold War, many people in the West believed that non-Western countries would embrace the Western style of democracy, because it is “universal” and modernization is Westernization. Francis Fukuyama was one of them, as he predicted “the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Fukuyama’s teacher Huntington obviously disagreed with him. Many criticized Huntington’s theory for his prejudice against non-Western civilizations. However, he also provided a meaningful warning, as he wrote in the preface of the Chinese translation of his book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order”: “What I expect is that my efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of the clash of civilizations will help to promote dialogue among civilizations throughout the world.”

Peter the Great of Russia, Kemal Ataturk from Turkey, Carlos Salinas from Mexico and Paul Keating from Australia all have tried to redefine their country’s civilization identity. After an analysis of their failure, Huntington wrote to the effect that if non-Western societies were to modernize, they must do it their own way, not the Western way.

A dream

One day I dreamt a round-table meeting between Jesus Christ, Sakyamuni, Confucius, Plato and the Prophet Muhammad. What happened? They had a very nice and wise dialogue instead of fighting each other. I believe this dream is not irrational.

Of course, they have differences, but they all taught about love, peace, kindness and tolerance.

People from different civilizations have no reason not to coexist peacefully. To coexist we need dialogue among civilizations. The principle of dialogue should be to listen, to learn and to appreciate, not to convert, to convince or to influence.

As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed: “Without such dialogue, no peace could be lasting and no prosperity secure. Diversity had to be used as an asset. The use of diversity as a threat was the seed of war.”


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