President Wang Jisi Participates in a Program of Phoenix TV: A Talk about Eastern and Western Civilizations under China’s Rise


Prof. Wang Gengwu and Prof. Wang Jisi talked about reshaping the order of Eastern and Western civilizations and Chinese and Western civilizations under China’s rise at Strategy Room of Phoenix TV on June 15, 2014. Here is audio transcript:

President Wang Jisi Participates in a Program of Phoenix TV.jpg

Qiu Zhenhai: Hello, everyone. Not long ago, our Strategy Room program invited two great scholars and thinkers of Chinese ideological community to talk about ideology and civilization. That time, what we discussed was challenges both at home and abroad and security dilemma faced by China. Today, we still invite the two great scholars and thinkers—Prof. Wang Gengwu and Prof. Wang Jisi—to discuss the Eastern and Western civilizations under China’s rise or the reshaping of Chinese and Western civilization order. Let’s start from overseas. Prof. Wang Gengwu, based on your perception of Chinese image and the international environment for China, including the feeling of ordinary Chinese, what kind of a country is China on earth?

Wang Gengwu (President of East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore): We have noticed that people admire and admit China’s economic achievement and they generally regard it very great that China could make it in almost 30 years. Speaking of China as an example, people will wonder why other countries can’t make it. Therefore, a large number of people will speak highly of China and its policies. It is undeniable that China is experiencing quick rise to become a big power, an economic giant as a result of the right policies implemented by the government, which makes people envious instead of jealous. Such perception is very positive. 

But on the other hand, we need to talk about Chinese people’s behavior. Most people who have come to China have a good impression on China, but the number is small and many people haven’t been to China yet. But now as a large number of Chinese go abroad, the influence of their behaviors is growing and may cause segregation in culture sometimes. Both sides make little preparation and know little about each other. They are very polite when they depend on each other, but they will cause troubles behind the scene which will generate negative influence if more are accumulated.

Qiu Zhenhai: Prof. Wang Gengwu has just mentioned two important keywords. One is that both sides lack preparation, which can be individual, collective or the two cultural systems of the two nations with heavy historical burden at the back. Have the two civilizations encountered at present by individual, collective and culture as Prof. Wang Gengwu just mentioned? If it is true, what is behind the territorial disputes and sovereignty, including our identification, values and institutional systems?

Wang Gengwu: I would also like to say that the international problem is between different countries and governments and they have got well prepared, and every country has experts to make preparation. Although they are in contradiction as it appears, basically most of them know each other well. It’s admitted and admired that Chinese culture has a great and long history. But generally, people of other countries only know part of Chinese culture; they particularly admire elite culture but know nothing about the culture of ordinary people at all. Therefore, if we do not make good preparation and introduce such culture to them, misunderstanding will arise. In fact, there is no cultural conflict. People can know differences of their customs by talking with each other. 

Qiu Zhenhai: Maybe there is no conflict in culture and individual food culture, but if culture becomes an order, the mind of western countries when they face the rise of China is different from that of that time when they were rising and China was declining five hundred years ago. The East rises on a sad past, especially China with 1.4 billion people, five thousand years of history, 9.6 million square kilometers and hundreds years of weakness and poverty was enslaved by the West. Now we not only stand up independently but also begin to rise. Our mind is proud and confident, but will we become overconfident?

WJisiWang Jisi (Professor of the School of International Studies (SIS), Peking University (PKU)): As educators, one of our important responsibilities is to present a complete image to the audience, including what you have said just now, such as our glorious history. All these are right, but other countries also have glorious history and the glorious history is different in different periods, such as Iran. Iran is powerful, and its civilization degree was higher than China when China was in the Spring and Autumn Warring States Period. Furthermore, Iran’s civilization had some manifestations. Iran people evolved from Ethiopian black, and their sculptures are still there. It was the centre of the world more than two thousand years ago, maybe it was not called Persian Empire. I can’t remember clearly.  

Ancient Rome has its glory, and long before that there was Egyptian glory, so every period has its own glory. But the glory didn’t overstep the boundaries close to it, such as Iranian glory, particularly Persian glory. Because of high mountains, its glory didn’t spread to China, and they didn’t know China’s glory, or Chinese people didn’t know their glory. This is relative. In terms of culture, country is its carrier, just as Prof. Wang Gengwu has mentioned, but country is not the only carrier, sometimes country is even not an important carrier. Speaking of Chinese civilization, China was called “China” until modern times. Now 60 million Chinese are living overseas, therefore Chinese civilization is not just represented by China as a country, nor is the English-speaking world. Thus, culture and civilization should appropriately be separated from country. 

Wang Gengwu: I agree with this quite important opinion. When I was teaching, I often saw the translation of Chinese culture and Chinese civilization in Chinese text. But it is wrong. Chinese culture is not restricted to China. South Korea, Vietnam and Japan are all influenced by it. Cultures with Confucianism, Buddhism or Taoism are the result of influence of Chinese culture. If you do have culture and your culture is really admired by others regardless of borders and countries, your culture is awesome. I want to learn it, and learn it well. I admire your awesome culture.


But for countries, the culture is different. This is my country, that is your country, the perceptions will be different. So if there is no differentiation or identification, I think many places have carried forward the Chinese culture. If culture is combined within country, such cultural influence will be lost. People of other countries will consider Chinese culture irrelevant to them. They will treat your country and culture the same way, which becomes so trivial.

Qiu Zhenhai: But sometimes it is hard to separate the hard entity and soft entity completely. In the past, when China was in weakness and poverty, Chinese culture and civilization declined. Now China is gradually becoming the second giant economy in the world, so Chinese civilization will develop naturally. One specific carrier is that more and more foreigners are learning Chinese and become interested in Chinese civilization which is known widely. Thus it is hard to separate them. Mr. Xiong, what is your opinion on the combination of the soft and hard entities? 

Xiong Hao (Observer): We must mention what you have just said about the encounter of Chinese and Western civilizations. When tea meets coffee, the taste may not agree with your own preference. Therefore, I think the true problem needs to be discussed. 

Qiu Zhenhai: Actually it is an interesting problem when tea meets coffee. In the past, the world was dominated by tea for a long time, later by coffee. Now tea is rising, and people may feel some discomfort. To be specific, in international politics what Prof. Wang Jisi are familiar with, we usually say Western Centrism, Sinocentrism, or American Centrism and European Centrism in the past, whether there will be Sinocentrism gradually. Probably many people would say we like to form Sinocentrism, eventually we are doing it. This is a very interesting problem, what’s your opinion on it, Prof. Wang Jisi?  

Wang Gengwu: The relationship between China’s rise in recent Ayears and culture remains to be discussed. 

Wang Jisi: That needs attractiveness in culture. Before the 80s, some intellectuals wondered why the backwardness of China was equal to the backwardness of our culture over a period of time. By learning western advanced civilization and marine civilization, China becomes a strong country, or at least much stronger than the past. We attribute these achievements to the splendid culture, while there is no necessary relation between them. The same culture may be poor and backward, prosperous and strong, thus culture and country should be separated appropriately. Furthermore, the concept of culture is more likely to be connected with nationality instead of country. 

Qiu Zhenhai:According to what we have discussed just now, you may feel our discussion is becoming more and more abstract. Prof. Wang Genwu has just said every Chinese also represents Chinese culture, and when you go abroad, what foreigners see is the image of China. He also talked about many problems during China’s rise and the way to study them deeply. What you are watching is a dialogue between Chinese thinkers. Next, we will discuss the reshaping of Chinese and Western civilization order under China’s rise. Just now, Prof. Wang Jisi said that most people attributed the decline of China to culture, but now the rise is also attributed to culture. Should Chinese culture be to be blamed or credited on earth? Prof. Wang Gengwu is smiling. Please enlighten me. In the past, we declined, so we think Chinese culture is bad, but now China is rising, Chinese culture is right or wrong on earth? What’s going on with Chinese culture?  

Wang Gengwu: The economic achievement of China has close relation with culture, which can’t be separated. Due to the culture, we pose many challenges towards modernization, achieve the development of science and technology and apply new inventions quickly. All these are attributed to the solid foundation of culture, and profound culture could quickly transform new things to improve the development of a country, which has direct relation with culture.

Qiu Zhenhai: There must be some cultural elements leading to the decline of China, what are they on earth? There must be some memes and cultural factors leading to the rise of China, economies of civilization or even civilizations, but what are such factors? 

Wang Gengwu: I can’t say it clearly. I don’t know whether people have analyzed it thoroughly or not. Chinese scholars may understand, but they do not explain it clearly to the outside people. So people just know you are good at making money and making quick progress in science and technology, but what kind of arts from culture are there? Outside people do not understand, and they just know scholars who like to read and study possess high level of education and have influence. Except these, what else? Please see clearly.


Qiu Zhenhai: What’s your opinion? 

Wang Jisi: I can’t either, if Prof. Wang Genwu can’t see it clearly. For example, overseas Chinese are more successful than other ethnic groups. They are not only successful in economy, but also in education, science and technology. There must be some cultural factors in it, but we need to make a good summary. It seems that there is no relation with state power, because when they were going abroad, China was still poor and backward. However, they also bring some good behaviors there, sometimes the natives may complain about them, such as their way to make money is not honest, but they succeed. 

Today China’s achievements, and many parts of economic achievement can be shared in the world, but it needs the deliberate thought of intellectuals. Many things are learned from western countries, such as some technologies and managerial experience. After learning them, we renovate them in creative ways. Therefore, we are doing better than the west in some aspects. Probably these aspects will become more and more in the future. But it needs to make a gradual summary.  

Qiu Zhenhai: But actually this year is the 120th anniversary of Sino-Japanese naval battle. Compared with some goals during the early period of Westernization Movement, the current goals can’ t reach spiritual world’s origin,right? For example, we haven’t found a framework of modernization and system. The situation of China at that time leads to the failure of modern China. We may leave something out, but many dregs of Chinese traditional culture are still working. To some extent, these dregs, such as indifference to civil and public rights, may make China left behind the world trend of modernization.


Wang Gengwu: It may have some relation with a value of Chinese traditional culture. That is the body of Chinese traditional cultural value existing for two or three thousand years and the usage of western culture. Now we do not say body and usage concept. According to many new things you have written, I feel that the Chinese still have the concept of body. 

Wang Jisi: If Chinese culture really possesses greater achieveness in the world, we should tell others that if you learn from our body, your culture should be as prosperous as ours. But now we haven’t done it well. Westerners say if you want to be in a democratic country, you can. Then many countries learn their democratic systems. But they are not so strong as western countries. Is western democracy bad or other countries do not learn well? They say that you just learn my usage, not my body. If you learn both body and usage, you could become better. While we still do not believe that. At the level of knowledge, maybe it is due to the leader of the Communist Party of China, cultural factors, people’s creativity and the useful and technological things that we have learnt from the west, it becomes comprehensive.


Qiu Zhenhai: After such discussion, we find a kind of academic lag to some extent. Because in any social phenomenon, when social science appears, we usually see phenomenon first, then development. Many scholars want to summarize the rules, but they fail. They make point 1, 2, 3 and 4, and 1, 2 and 3 are right. But considering the current development of China, and its impact on the world, we need the leadership to think out new ways or pioneer a new trail, instead of explanation. It may take the role of leading, but it must be prospective enough to explain and plan the future direction. This is an in-depth problem. Let’s see opinions of the two observers.


Wu Chencen (Observer): I feel that China has realized the importance of cultural rise and begun to promote culture. For example, we have established many Confucius Institutes. But in foreign countries I find that many Confucius Institutes are just language schools. When you ask runners of Confucius Institutes, or local workers engaged in media, they don’t know what kind of thoughts and values they are promoting. So sometimes I just wonder whether our Chinese culture has lost the inner cultural creativity or not. What kind of new thoughts and values we can offer to human to solve problems when we are imagining and facing the world.

Wang Gengwu: This is an important problem. But this has some relation with the place where Chinese are. No matter what you are doing, travelling or teaching, you represent the culture, the whole civilization tradition. If we just rely on the government and its promotion, the culture will lose its influence. Therefore, it’s very important for the culture to be brought out by individuals. Individual performance can be persuasive. When other people see your performance, they’ll know that you are excellent, or damire your behavior. Culture may infect and influence others. This is also government’s opinion, but people have different opinions. It’s a very hard problem, so I can’t explain it simply.

Qiu Zhenhai: In fact, culture is endogenous just like you have said, which is embodied one by one. Therefore, we may see many contradictions. The internatioanal community may see different China in the world. The so-called Chinese civilization is an acient China, the philosophy of Confusian classics. But now the individual image of every traveler is very chaotic, and we also feel confused about the whole image. Before having a rest, I hope you can think about a problem. When you are walking on the street, you see a westerner. Do you think he is a Chinese or a foreigner first? If you see a foreigner with some European facial characteristics, but he has Chinese passport, can you accept it? If you see a foreigner with white facial characteristics, but he has Chinese passport, can you believe him? It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not, I don’t believe, what about our observers?

Wu Chencen: I think most Chinese thinkers famous in the history advocate the absorption and inclusion, including the social commitment in our national spirit, which empahsizes the spirit of inclusion. But when we carefully think about which culture has broader inclusion, Western or Chinese? It’s hard to say. Just like what Mr Qiu has said, when a foreigner is walking on the street, it is hard to regard him as a true Chinese, even if his Chinese is very good and tells you that he was born in China.

Qiu Zhenhai: The key is that he tells you that he has a passport, not he was born in China.

Wu Chencen: He may hold a Chinese passport or has a Chinese wife, but many factors still make him unlike a Chinese. However, such difference is comparatively much less in Amecica or other western countries.

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