Xinhua Insight: Global harmony-themed conference mulls Confucian wisdom
Updated: 2012-05-22 15:57:00
QUFU, Shandong, May 22 (Xinhua) -- Some 2,500 years after the great Chinese thinker Confucius put forward the concept of "harmony with differences," his teaching still resonates, providing guidance to people seeking peaceful co-existence in a diversified world.
At the ongoing Second Nishan Forum on World Civilizations in Confucius' birthplace - Qufu city in eastern China's Shandong province, experts on philosophy, theology and religious studies from different cultural backgrounds have gathered to discuss the way toward a harmonious world.
Participants agreed that Confucius' idea of harmony is not only an ideal to strive for, but also a tool for problem-solving in a world where conflicting beliefs sometimes endanger lives and cause grave problems.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Strategic Planning, Hans d'Orville said the world's political landscape is characterized by an intensified diversity of peoples, a positive attribute but also a potentially negative element disturbing the unity of society.
He noted that Confucius' message about harmony, which signifies an aptitude to maintain unity in diversity and build bridges between different places and people, is greatly significant in the modern world.
His observation was echoed by professor Kim Yersu, of Seoul's Kyung Hee University. The Korean academic believes that Confucianism has a mediating power that can help bring harmony to a society of plural belief systems.
Among the 50 million people in the Republic of Korea (ROK), there are 13 million Christians and more than 11 million Buddhists, while half the population live their lives in accordance with Confucianism, Kim said, adding that there are many Christian Confucianists and Buddhist Confucianists and people see no problem with the dual identity.
Thanks to Confucianism, as a country with a robust religious life, the ROK has seen no major clashes between different religions, he added.
When talking about the meaning of hosting an event dedicated to dialogue among different civilizations in the spirit of Confucianism, Xu Jialu, the founder of the Nishan Forum, said Confucius teaches people to respect others' faith and be open to different cultures.
Xu quoted the famous Confucian line "If three of us are walking together, at least one of the other two is good enough to be my teacher" to illustrate the Confucian spirit of inclusiveness and respect.
Under the leadership of Xu, a retired chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the First Nishan Forum was held in September 2010 in Qufu city. It was named after Nishan Mountain, onn which Confucius was believed to have been born. The forum traveled abroad on April 16, when the Paris-Nishan Forum on World Civilizations was held at UNESCO Headquarters in France's capital.
At the Second Nishan Forum, running from May 21 to 23, scholars are also reflecting on obstacles to the pursuit of harmony, and many noted that reaching mutual understanding among cultures is easier said than done.
Fred Dallmayr, professor of comparative philosophy with the University of Notre Dame in Indiana in the United States, noted, "Harmony cannot be reached by neglecting differences."
He said, though there are similarities on the level of ethics between Confucianism and Christianity, such as the Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have done unto you, there are intrinsic differences between the two that stand in the way of the dialogue between East West.
Confucius was a teacher with modesty who has inspired people to think without making final judgments, according to Dallmayr. Meanwhile, Jesuits approach people with the idea of a divine being who saved people through his death, and that can be uneasy for Confucians to understand.
Besides, Christianity's demand in ethical obligations sometimes goes beyond the principle of reciprocity -- for example, it asks people to "love and pray those who hate you," which is not appealing to Confucians, who ask people to "respond against evil with justice," he added.
Historical records show exchanges between Confucianism and Christianity in China started with the arrival of two Jesuits, Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci, who dedicated themselves to understanding Chinese culture by translating Confucian texts into Latin and other European languages, while Christian texts were published in Chinese.
But the so-called "Controversy on the Rites," caused by internal Christian divisions and misunderstanding of the cultural values of Confucian tradition, finally led to a Papal condemnation of the Jesuits' dialogue-based approach and expulsion of the missionaries by Qing Emperor Kangxi.
Missionaries returned during World War I, when China was mired in a crisis of identity as a feudal Confucian country that had prospered for more than 2,000 years and collapsed before Western powers dominated by Christianity.
Experts maintain people should respect and learn to understand cultural differences instead of struggling to make beliefs uniform, a claim reinforced by Dallmayr, who said, "We should not throw everything into one pot and stir it and make a universal answer."
Scholars at the forum repeatedly noted the importance of extending this debate from academic circles to the general public, especially young people - the engineers of the future world framework.
Students from different countries have accordingly been invited to come to Qufu and share their thoughts on cultural issues. One of them, Andrea K. Baker, from Michigan's Grand Valley State University in the United States, stressed young people have special advantages in promoting harmony.
The student pointed out that the Internet creates an unprecedented global village in which quick and easy communication is available, and young people are more keen on this new dimension of communication.
"As technology continues to break down former barriers, young people must energize this evolution to strengthen contact, communication, and respect with diverse cultures as a measure for peace and harmony," according to Baker.
Kelvin Chao, another student from the university said, in terms of dialogue between civilizations, one particular Confucian teaching -- A moral person will fix his or her mistakes instead of simply glossing over them -- works best.
"We must point the finger at ourselves, instead of each other; only then can we correct our mistakes," he suggested.
As part of the Nishan Forum, lectures on cross-cultural issues have been held in several universities in Shandong, and meetings between university students from different countries have also also organized.
Organizing Committee President Xu Jialu promised that the Nishan Forum will create opportunities to engage more youngsters in the dialogues in future.