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When the Chinese dream meets the European dream

15 Jul 2013 - 14:41

China’s relationship with the world is progressing from the period of China’s rise to the post-rise period. Europeans are no longer primarily concerned with whether or not China’s rise is peaceful, but rather are concerned about the rise per se.

In the past, the main challenge for Chinese diplomacy was to convince the world about what China was not (a threat), and what it would not do (behave aggressively). Now the key questions have become ‘what is China?’ and, in particular, ‘what does China want to do?’

Suspicions about China’s rise have led to the so-called China threat theory. Europeans worry especially about how China will use its rising power and what this means for Europe. The frequent references by Europeans to China as a threat emphasize the legitimacy challenge that China faces as it rises internationally.

The Chinese dream
To respond to this challenge, the Chinese government has put forward the concept of the ‘Chinese dream’. The Chinese dream’s main focus, of course, is to shape domestic consensus against the controversial debate about how to solve Chinese problems. However, it is difficult to divide internal and external concerns.

The Chinese dream refers to China’s main aspiration after its rise, which goes beyond modernization or rejuvenation. The essence of the Chinese dream is a desire not to be westernized (Americanized) in a Chinese way, but rather for China to aspire to be itself (Sinicized) in an inclusive way.

The dream exists at three levels: first, at the people’s level, it is a desire for Chinese human rights; second, at the national level, it refers to China’s national rights; and third, at the civilizational level, it is about Chinese soft power.

There is no zero-sum game in dreams
The Chinese dream is from China, but it belongs to the world (‘of China’). It is not only the Chinese people who should enjoy the dream, but is also for the rest of the world to enjoy. The Chinese dream is also to be achieved in a Chinese way (‘by China’). And while it is for the Chinese people, the Chinese nation and the Chinese civilization (‘for China’), its results will also benefit the rest of the world.

There is no zero-sum game in dreams. For instance, the Chinese dream is inclusive of the European dream. In fact, the world needs both the Chinese dream and the European dream. They share similar values, such as sustainable development, albeit through different approaches.

According to Jeremy Rifkin, author of the 2004 book The European Dream, his title refers to a world in which individuals find security not through individual accumulation of wealth, but through connectivity, sustainable development and respect for human rights. These elements are also echoed by the Chinese dream.

Co-transformation
What happens when the Chinese dream meets the European dream? Global cultural diversity calls for the rejuvenation of ancient civilizations, which both the Chinese and the European dreams are highlighting.

In recent years, China had already put forward the concept of ‘harmony with differences’ to indicate that respect for cultural diversity is a requirement for a harmonious world. As the only two ancient civilizations that are being modernized and secularized, China and Europe should jointly push forward a global governance style that relies not just on elements of modernity, such as international institutions or high technology. For instance, Chinese scholars are putting forward the ideas of ‘harmonious intervention’ and ‘constructive intervention’ to echo Europe’s initiative of ‘responsibility to protect’. In this context, the Chinese dream matches the European dream.

Cultural diplomacy underpins harmonious Sino–European relations in several ways. To begin with, China and Europe have already experienced the co-evolution of their cultures. Oriental learning inspired the West in past centuries, just as the eastward spread of Western culture from the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century influenced China.

Moreover, the co-evolution of China and Europe is being driven by their shared effort to bridge the gaps between economic globalization and cultural diversity, in order to guard against cultural globalization. Finally, the goal of the co-evolution of China and Europe is the great reconciliation between Eastern and Western civilizations, between modern and ancient civilizations.

The mission of Chinese cultural diplomacy towards Europe is to turn European universalism into a common system of human values, just as in the past China has absorbed Buddhism from India as Zen (禅) or as Chinese Buddhism (佛学). This is the mission of the Chinese dream at the civilizational level. However, both the Chinese and European civilizations need co-transformation in order to accomplish this.

The Chinese civilization needs to develop from a regional, agricultural and continental approach towards a global, industrial and maritime approach. Meanwhile, the European civilization should move away from the myth of universalism and functional as a regional civilization. In these ways, China and Europe need each other.

A new form of humanism
To deal with an uncertain world, the co-transformation of Sino–European civilization should entail joint initiatives for a new form of humanism that combines Eastern and Western wisdoms. It should renovate modern humanism by bridging the gaps between man and nature, between East (South) and West (North), and between generations.

The new humanism initiated by UNESCO and echoed by Chinese scholars such as Liu Ji and Yue Daiyun, who have urged that Chinese philosophy be included, has pointed the way. Together, the Chinese dream and the European dream will lead to a new form of humanism.

Beyond China–European relations, in order to build harmonious relations between China and the world, the key is to realize the world’s dream through the Chinese dream, and to lead the transition of human civilization through the transition of Chinese civilization.

Wang Yiwei is Director of the China–Europe Academic Network, Professor at the Centre for European Studies at Renmin University of China, and a Senior Research Fellow at the  Charhar Institute. He recently published the book海殇? 欧洲文明启示录 [Haishang? Implications of European Civilization] (Shanghai: Shanghai Publishing Group, 2013).

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