The following is a short commentary by our co-editor Keith Bennett, which formed part of a year-end review by Beijing Daily on President Xi Jinping’s Global Civilisation Initiative.
Published on the Beijing Daily news client app under the title, “‘Clash of civilisations’ is essentially a racist concept”, Keith argues that there are currently two fundamentally different world views with regard to civilisations and the relationship between them. The ‘clash of civilisations’ concept, as advanced by the late US scholar Samuel Huntington, is at base, “a racist conception which constructs a hierarchy of civilisations… placing them in an adversarial and antagonistic relationship to one another. It provides an intellectual and ideological fig leaf for the weaponisation of immigration, Islamophobia, a new cold war, and wars of aggression against countries of the Global South.
“In stark contrast, the Global Civilisation Initiative advanced by President Xi Jinping makes clear that the history of humanity… has seen a variety of civilisations come into being, develop and thrive, and this has in return promoted the overall development of human society.”
An extract of Keith’s commentary was published among a selection of quotations carried in the print edition of Beijing Daily and the full text was carried on its app.
Beijing Daily is the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China’s Beijing Committee.
There are two fundamentally different outlooks with regard to civilisations, and the relationship between them, in today’s world.
In the western capitalist countries, ideas of a ‘clash of civilisations’, as promoted for example by the late Samuel Huntington, find a strong resonance, in more or less overt or covert forms. Huntington himself may be dead, but his malign influence lives on. At base, it is a racist conception which constructs a hierarchy of civilisations, elevating that of the West, which is actually the most recent major civilisation in historical terms, and placing them in an adversarial and antagonistic relationship to one another. It provides an intellectual and ideological fig leaf for the weaponisation of immigration, Islamophobia, a new cold war, and wars of aggression against countries of the Global South.
In stark contrast, the Global Civilisation Initiative advanced by President Xi Jinping makes clear that the history of humanity, spanning thousands of years, has seen a variety of civilisations come into being, develop and thrive, and this has in return promoted the overall development of human society. Diversity has been a prominent feature, and indeed a hallmark, of civilisations.
People therefore need to keep an open mind in appreciating how different civilisations perceive values, and refrain from imposing their own values or models on others, as well as from stoking ideological confrontation or politicising civilisational issues.
The world is facing both old and new challenges. This is all the more reason why we need to promote dialogue and exchanges among cultures and civilisations. The differences among civilisations should be seen not as a curse but a blessing – they enrich human society as a whole. Moreover, dialogue and joint study will increasingly reveal the common humanistic essence of civilisations, no matter how diverse the forms they might assume.
Exchanges and mutual learning among civilisations need to be promoted on a number of levels – among scholars, specialists and academics as well as on a people-to-people basis, particularly among young people. This will not only promote science and knowledge, but also mutual understanding, peace, and friendship, thereby helping to build a community of shared future for humanity.
China accounts for more than 20% of the global population. Its civilisation and culture are therefore by definition of very significant importance and influence for humanity. China’s culture and civilisation are also the oldest uninterrupted ones on earth and thus provide important reference materials for humanity as a whole. They have also exerted profound influence on the cultural and civilisational development of neighbouring countries in particular, as can be seen especially in Korea, Japan and the countries of both south-east and central Asia. They are also profoundly inclusive and have never hesitated to absorb, inherit, and incorporate, apply and develop, advanced ideas from outside, be they of Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) or of Karl Marx. This in turn helps create a dialectical interaction that can make Chinese civilisation and culture profoundly attractive to people throughout the world.
Confucius put forward the idea of the great harmony of all under heaven. This is something with which people in all parts of the world can identify with and aspire to. Indeed, faced with existential threats to humanity, it increasingly becomes a necessity.
Similarly, the Chinese concept of harmony between people and nature greatly echoes the sentiment and aspirations of many young people, in particular, in the West and again increasingly represents an imperative for human survival.