Topics for debates - 中欧社会论坛 - China Europa Forum

Topics for debates

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Objectives of the workshop

The workshop will thus have a dual descriptive and normative aim. Descriptive by comparing the evolution of ethical reference points in the two societies and the consequences that this evolution entails, normative by seeking to affirm common principles on which they can agree in order to contribute to peaceful co-existence of human beings and nations, and of precautious management of the planet.


- Since the spring of 2008 Euro-Chinese relations have become tense and serious events have occurred one after the other. The delivering of the Olympic torch was disturbed in France. The annual summit meeting between the Heads of State of Europe and China to take place in France, were cancelled by the Chinese Government. The French President Sarkozy insisted on meeting with the Dalai Lama. And European media covered with a slanted view Uygu’s disturbances… Why is Europe –in spite of seemingly not having fundamental conflicts of interest with China- clashing with China ?

- Dr. Lionel Vairon, a French Sinologist and a former journalist and diplomat, author of “The China Threat ?” argues that the divergence between China and Europe is basically cultural rather than political. In his view it is the result of different religious and cultural backgrounds and a lack of mutual understanding. He thinks that the West has had a strong superiority complex that takes for granted that no matter what the economy, politics or religion and culture, the West feels superior to non-western civilisations. He maintains that the West neither understands traditions of China nor understands present China 1. This implies that there is an urgent need for Western people to make the unavoidable effort to finally start learning seriously and humbly from and about China.

- For many Chinese intellectuals who are both cosmopolitan and, at the same time, patriotic, learning from Western modern civilisations with a critical attitude, is one task. But being reflective about Chinese cultural tradition in order to retain its essence is another and also urgent concern.

- To engage in a trans-cultural dialogue, it is necessary to focus on understanding the core-values of both Europe and China and to understand the different worlds of concepts and ideas. 2 If only because that is where the basic underlying misunderstandings come from. Borrowing from anthropological methodologies, we both comprehend the mental unity of human beings in cultural comparisons, and we come to understand the divergences of cultures and the reasons for those divergences. Dialogue is meant to reach mutual understanding. Examining other cultures helps us to understand the limits of our own, and puts us on the road towards greater potential for peaceful co-existence.


- 1. What are core-values in Western modern culture ?

The popular thinking among Western scholars is that after Enlightenment modernity is either equal to the emancipation and legitimation of man’s desire for material goods or it means the decisive development of productive forces. Anthony Giddens typically states that “discontinuity” should be the approach to studying modernity. 3 However, when anthropologist Marshall Sahlim deconstructs modernity, he traces back to the western-specific cosmology shaped in the Old Testament. The basic elements of Western modern culture like being need-driven and self-pleasing were regarded as man’s free will in Western tradition, and it became a rational choice after the Renaissance. 4 Thus, Western culture is deeply rooted in its cultural history.

- 2. What are core-values in Chinese modern culture ?

Using the same approach to reflect on the core values of Chinese culture, we should scrutinize which are the fundamental elements emerging from Chinese historical tradition. Particularly values like ren, yi, zhong and xiao of the Confucian school. 5 Values stressing the state of free mind, true living, being tolerant and others promoted by Daoism. 6 To what extent are these cultural traditions still influencing modern Chinese societies ?

- 3. Rescuing historical tradition while integrating into modern civilisation – in China and in Europe

The core values of Chinese modern culture do not only refer to Confucianism, but consist also of Marxism, Leninism and Maoism, and liberalism… These influences should also be examined to understand contemporary China.

Discussing on the one hand the rejuvenation of civilisation, Chinese scholars criticize that since the 1980s, the core values of the whole of China were set on the reform and the re-opening of China to the outside world, focussing merely on the issue of material wealth. Later in the 1990s the focus was rather on the overwhelming pursuing of social stability. And now nationalism seems to become the core value among the Chinese youth. On the other hand, China has been lacking some crucial elements of modern civilisation like the spirit of democracy, the sense of human rights and citizenship, scientific and law traditions, and so on. Therefore, the task for China in the rejuvenation of the country has many aspects. There is a need to rescue the essence of historical tradition, but also to integrate with modern civilisation.

In Europe that has integrated with modernity, we see the reverse side of unbridled search for economic growth, efficiency and material wealth. Modern Western societies are marked by fragmentation of the social fabric, a loss of the feeling of belonging, a loss of a common base of values, a growing loss of a recognition of individual and collective responsibility not only for other human beings but also for all forms of life on Earth, a loss of self-limitation in ever further specialisations within the sciences, in short : a loss of sense in the two meanings of the word : meaning and direction.

- 4. Can Chinese and European cultures be inter-subjective ?

Based on the above examined questions about the core-values of Western and Chinese cultures, the question must be asked whether Chinese and European cultures can be inter-subjective so that we can reflect on our own culture and on cultures of others.