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Tearing Down Cultural Walls


  Building a University without Walls for Intercultural Communications: A Dialogue between European and Chinese Scholars

The 2nd EU-China High Level Cultural Forum was held at China National Museum in Beijing on Oct. 27-28, 2011. The forum is a new platform for wider and deeper communications between Chinese and European scholars. The topic for the forum this year was “Inventing Cities.” During the activities of the event, PhD Liu Yue (LY), reporter of CSSN, invited two famous scholars from France and China to have a dialogue on how to increase intercultural communications and benefit each other between Chinese and European cultures. Alain Le Pichon, a French anthropologist, is the president and co-founder of Transcultural International Institute. Yue Daiyun, a professor of Chinese and Comparative Literature, is the Director of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies and the President of the Chinese Comparative Literature Association in Peking University. The following is the text of the video we made from the dialogue. — Photography by Meng Fanjie /Photographs by Zhang Guochan /Video Produced by Zhao Yue

LY: Here are some questions for both of you, as experts. There is always a war between Eastern and Western cultures. And now the situation has changed so much and these amazing changes require a lot of effort from all experts. As one of the experts who work on the transcultural issues, could you tell me how to let the war fade away step by step?

Yue Daiyun: We have actually cooperated with each other for almost 20 years already, and we began with intercultural dialogues. By then we had the idea that Chinese and French cultures are very different cultures. How are we going to co-exist? We thought that we should see the differences that exist, and based on the differences we should take each other’s good things and merge with each other. At that time, after I knew Alain’s idea, I really looked after him. He doesn’t speak Chinese, but he loves China so much and spent a lot of effort and fortune in China. France is an important cultural country, and China is an important cultural country. He did a lot of work on it.

  He has been cheated and lost a lot of money, but still insisted on cultural exchange. He actually had the idea to not only act at the level of experts, but to also go down to the people. He had the idea of building a university without walls. The place you built at European Transcultural Institute (university without walls) is actually going pretty well.

Alain: I can say a few words. I told you before, the first time we met a very long time ago, when we were at a meeting in Zhongshan University in 1991. Prof. Yue Daiyun told me, as I asked her, do you think we could have a seminar about the wall between cultures. She laughed so nicely. She said yes, it is possible. Two years later, she organized it on the Great Wall. We went with one of the best European historians. We had fantastic discussions about misunderstanding in the research of the universal. That means what we try to find in a university without a wall. You see it’s really university without wall, as it started from the Great Wall. Now this is a network which has been developed to the point that we were asked to organize a forum -- your Chinese cultural forum. I want to say that Prof. Yue Daiyun was a pioneer. Absolutely. So this is the starting point. We are not at the final point, I think there is a great way in front of us, except perhaps that there is a difference. I told you that when we met, I was absolutely sure, thanks to Prof. Yue Daiyun, and also thinking quite a bit about the future of China, that China would be in the position she wanted. That means, we are turning into a country with great cultural power. But Prof. Yue Daiyun agrees that the transcultural is a Chinese concept. So I was sure that this transcultural approach would have its main base in China. I don’t mean we should have worked more for that in the West.

LY: So in this case, China, in a cultural perspective, can really help you. Is that what you meant?

Alain: Unfortunately, I have to add that, today, the crisis in the west is that we are much weaker, and it’s a problem. It’s a problem of balance. Twenty years ago, China was rising and Europe seemed to be extremely confident, and Europe was not completely stable and united, but we were believing in it. Today, we have the crisis, and we are in great danger of splitting. So this means that being transcultural is more important than ever. But for our Europeans, it is also more difficult. You’ll see it tomorrow if you are there, the big question is how Europe will exist tomorrow. I think we have to look at the reality, to face it. I believe the chance for Europe lies in being united and strengthening relations with China. This is what we thought from the beginning.

LY: From the European crisis, we feel that the whole world is in a big trend of globalization. The crisis makes us doubt a little bit about globalization already, we really feel that transculturalism is kind of like stepping back. How to stay in this stage and make it better? As you said, can China help a little bit in this case?

Alain: I do think so, of course. In French, we say “Aide-toi, le ciel t'aidera” -- we have to help ourselves and heaven will help us first. But I’m sure China can be of great help. I believe in a real alliance between China and Europe. This is in the interest of Europe. This is my proper conviction.

Yue Daiyun: I have very much confidence in Europe, because you have very good talented people. You have so much experience. For example, Alain is an expert in African studies. He was the national professor in African Studies. He also has so much experience in China. In the global period, you can unite Africa, Asia and Europe together. Only you can do that, I don’t know anything about Africa. You are very special for being able to do that.

Alain: I’m very happy to hear that, and I trust Yue Daiyun not only as a great friend but as a great spirit. Let’s hope she’s right and Europe has the means to face this crisis. Today it is absolutely clear that we are in a very difficult situation. Nevertheless, I believe more than ever that we should have transcultural relations with China. Transcultural relations means not only respecting each other, but also working on the main concepts, respecting and discovering the main differences and being inspired by the concepts of the others. First is to recognize the differences. The future is, we hope, to live with the differences. Not only to live with the differences but also through the differences, creation of new things. I believe Europe and China can do it. We can create new things. This is why we properly started inventing the cities. But inventing the cities doesn’t mean a globalized city, the joint space; it should mean inventing things differently. But this is a big challenge, because through globalization, you also have disappearance of the differences. I think this is one of the greatest challenges we have to face in transculturalism.

Yue Daiyun: How much benefits can Chinese culture offer to other cultures? For example, Alain has already begun to do that. They find that the Chinese idea tianxia is different from European empire and nation. But Chinese always emphasize tianxia, everybody under the sky. I think some aspects of the Chinese culture can give other cultures some benefits and educate other cultures a little bit.

Alain: Yes, that’s very interesting and I do believe it. In the same way, I think we have some interesting concepts, but do we turn to these concepts and put them in perspective? Empire and tianxia are certainly very different. We can be inspired by tianxia. That means we can become a citizen of the Chinese empire. We can be inspired by this idea. You’ll refer to the African. It’s very interesting that an African colleague sees it in a different way. He said, well, this tianxia idea is so good we share it on the African side. He said, “grasp the world to be shared by altogether.” It is very interesting that the tianxia concept is so different that it is from our empire concept. It can be inspiring not for becoming a citizen of China, but for sharing and thinking of new concepts to be shared together. But those concepts would be laid out in a different way in European culture and in Chinese culture, this is what we hope, the diversity. So we have two different challenges. One is not only to respect diversity but also produce diversity. The other is of course to find harmony between those differences. This is a big challenge. In the state we are in Europe today with the crisis, it becomes difficult. Because when you are in crisis, you become aggressive.

Yue Daiyun: Another example is rationality. In the European thought, rationality is important. Rationality is a very important part of Western culture, especially in the US, which (is country where people are) chasing benefits, money and power, kind of like ruling everything. In China, we also emphasize emotions. We think that when a lot of crises go in the world, western cultures can take a look at Chinese traditional culture about how to put the two things together, and how to put a little bit more emphases on emotions in this way?

Alain: Yes, I do go along with you. Unfortunately, I’m so ignorant about Chinese culture because I do not speak Chinese. Nevertheless, thanks to my friends and thanks to this friendly exchange we have, I think I can say a bit of the richness of the Chinese culture, and certainly here is a very strong point of the Chinese culture. In fact, we do not ignore that in Europe. The Greek philosophers had this idea, not all of them, but some of them. The problem is that, there was a split in the philosophy. Progressively, rationality became more and more exclusive, and more and more moving towards the hard sciences and technology. This, with a sense of aggressiveness, is a part of the European culture which should be controlled, but in the past was not enough controlled. The result of that was this form of rationality progressively to be an advantage; the other side, I should call “practical reason”, which is present in the European tradition too, progressively disappeared, but not totally. This sees terrible results in the development of science. We have to face the reality when experiencing atomic bombs as the scientific experience was the case even if it wasn’t a war probably, because the scientist himself wants the experience to be done. This is the terrible face of European rationality, so I think it’s time to move and change, and the dialogue with your Chinese, which we try to do, can help Europe because you have this tradition.

  In every country in the world, human people can be aggressive, this is universal. But if I make this link between rationality and aggressiveness, it is also a very important point, which can appear in the development of technology and so many developments of science. So I do agree with you that this Chinese heritage… perhaps sometimes we also think China is entering the Western way. It can happen.

Yue Daiyun: My opinion is that we should see the difference between America and Europe. It’s different. America puts benefits and things concerning money on a high level. European and Chinese have more common places in cultural ideas. We already have a magazine in France, which you are in charge of edition and it’s already published 4 issues.

Alain: Yes, we published an interesting book. But this is another story. Yes, I think the stream came from Europe. Europe has developed. This returns to the previous question. European rationality was oriented in a very practical, technological and aggressive way. Together with this idea of business, this became a big stream in the United States and became something proper in American culture. We shouldn’t forget that its origin was in Europe. I should say, rather, in the Anglo-Saxon culture, and the source of that is Europe. Today, I believe personally this is not the position of transcultural international position. This is my proper position. We believe that we should make real alliances with China and Africa, rather than with America. Africa will be in a few decades extremely developed. They are poor countries, but I can be sure that within 40 years, you will see that Africa is growing and it will. What is interesting from an academic point of view is this transcultural approach with non-European cultures, and mainly China, but also Africa and India, rather than with American culture. I believe this is the future for developing new ideas and new concepts.

LY: I get the idea from both of you that we should see the difference between cultures, and from that, we should be inspired and try to learn from each other and make it better.

Alain: And try to create new patterns. That’s the challenge. It’s not easy. Unfortunately, we are depending also on the historical context. And the historical context in Europe today is bad. It’s not good, unfortunately.

LY: Let’s hope more and more people of new generations will follow the experts’ steps and make it better and better in the future. Let’s look forward in the future, OK.






Editor: Du Mei     Source:Chinese Social Sciences Net     2013-12-23 09:56:00

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