Asian civilizations conference embraces cultural diversity, highlights shared desires for peace, prosperity
(LI MIN / CHINA DAILY)
A10th-century image of Ganesha, the elephant-head Hinduism deity. A human figurine from Saudi Arabia dating back 7,000 years.
A Buddha statue from Pakistan, and a perfume bottle from the United Arab Emirates, both from about the third century AD.
These are just some of the 451 cultural relics and modern artworks from 47 Asian countries as well as Egypt and Greece at The Splendor of Asia: An Exhibition of Asian Civilizations, which opened at the National Museum of China in Beijing on May 13.
Running through Aug 11, it is one of several events celebrating, and staged under the framework of, the two-day Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC) in Beijing on May 15-16.
“Such a large number of top-level exhibits and participating countries have never been seen before in one exhibition in China,” said Guan Qiang, deputy director of China’s National Cultural Heritage Administration.
“Asia is the most populous continent with the greatest ethnic diversity,” said Luo Shugang, Chinese minister of culture and tourism. “The history of the past millennia has witnessed ancient civilizations rise and thrive along the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, the Indus and the Ganges, the Euphrates and the Tigris, as well as in Central and Southeast Asia.”
Many of the exhibits reflect the prosperity of the ancient network of trade routes traversing the continent.
Nasrin Belali, a curator from the National Museum of Afghanistan, said: “We have a long and good relationship with China thanks to the Silk Road, which means our cultures are related.”
Delivering a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the CDAC on May 15, Chinese President Xi Jinping said humanity requires cultural strength, besides economic and technological strength, to tackle common challenges and head toward a bright future.
Under the theme “Exchanges and mutual learning among Asian civilizations and a community with a shared future”, the CDAC is a new platform for advancing equal dialogue and mutual learning among civilizations in Asia and the rest of the world, Xi said.
Being one of the earliest human settlements and a major birthplace of human civilization, Asia covers one-third of the Earth’s surface, is home to two-thirds of the global population, and consists of about 50 countries and regions with more than 1,000 ethnic groups.
Geographically and culturally connected, Asian countries have experienced similar historical situations and pursue the same dream, Xi said. Countries should strive to turn people’s aspirations for a better life into reality, he added.
Xi expressed hope that all Asian countries will respect and trust each other, coexist in harmony, expand cross-border and cross-civilization exchanges, and jointly maintain peace. Civilizations will lose vitality if countries become isolated from the rest of the world, he added.
The president underscored the importance of mutual respect and equal treatment among civilizations, adding that it is foolish to believe that one’s race and civilization are superior to others, and it is disastrous to willfully reshape or even replace other civilizations.
The Splendor of Asia: An Exhibition of Asian Civilizations opened at Beijing’s National Museum of China on May 13 and runs until Aug 11. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations should be conducted in a reciprocal and equal manner, and be diversified and multidirectional, Xi said, noting they should not be compulsory or forced.
“We should consolidate the cultural foundation of jointly building an Asian community of shared future and a community with a shared future for humanity,” Xi said.
He noted that civilizations must keep pace with the times, adding that innovation should be encouraged to give impetus and vitality to the progress of civilizations.
Xi also pointed out that China is willing to implement an Asia tourism promotion plan with other countries. He said Chinese people made more than 160 million outbound trips in 2018, while inbound trips by overseas tourists exceeded 140 million, calling them “important forces for promoting exchanges and mutual learning among Chinese and foreign civilizations”.
Chinese civilization is an open system formed during constant exchanges and mutual learning with other civilizations, Xi said, adding that China aims to contribute more dynamic civilization achievements to the world.
More than 2,000 government officials and representatives from 47 Asian countries and other countries outside the region attended the opening ceremony and forums on exchanges and mutual learning.
Asian values, centered on consensus, social harmony, stability and discipline, are now more relevant than ever in the face of global challenges like protectionism and terrorism.
Joefe Santarita, dean of the Asian Center at the University of the Philippines, said Asian values promote a consensual approach and communitarianism rather than individualism, and they prioritize social order and harmony as well as respect for elders, discipline and a paternalistic state along with the primary role of government in economic development.
“Asian values are the salient ingredients on how to learn to work together through trust and consequently promote globalization,” said Santarita.
Although Asian values are steeped in ancient culture and tradition, it was only in the 1990s that they drew global attention as a public policy concept. Asian leaders at that time were championing Asian values as the ideal way to govern their countries, Santarita said, citing the late Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and current Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Lee and Mahathir maintained that in Asia, social order and strong governance are key to a stable and wealthy society.
This type of governance, as Santarita put it, succeeded in fostering rapid growth in Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and China. “Strong Asian leaders are effective because they serve their constituents and value mutual respect and discipline,” he said.
Analysts said the Asian emphasis on community and harmony can help resolve pressing international issues, such as territorial disputes, climate change and sustainable economic development.
Santarita said Asia’s emphasis on “respect for authority, respect for the environment and the discipline to control the use of resources” will also see Asian leaders pursuing a more eco-friendly development path and honoring their commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Xu Lin, deputy head of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and head of the State Council Information Office, called the CDAC “another major diplomatic event hosted by China this year”.
The conference would help advance the development of human civilization and contribute to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind, said Xu, who is also vice-president of the event’s executive committee.
He noted that the CDAC was not aimed at promoting confrontation among civilizations, but to boost exchanges and common understanding.
Ning Qiang, a professor at the school of history at Capital Normal University in Beijing, said that Asian civilization had made great contributions to human civilization in the past and is expected to play a larger role in the future. Countries in Asia should work together to safeguard cultural diversity and meanwhile avoid misunderstanding or distrust via dialogue, Ning said.
Laurence Brahm, founding director of Himalayan Consensus and an international research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, said increased race-based nationalism, zero-sum unilateralism and increased protectionism threaten to roll back advances made through global efforts in recent decades.
Not every nation wants to pursue this trajectory. The CDAC explores other options and offers alternatives.
“In a diverse multilateral world, different systems and approaches can and should coexist. There is no reason for one nation’s system to be unilaterally imposed on every other nation,” Brahm said.
He maintained that approaches to governance in Asia can differ from those in the West.
Moreover, given that each nation’s own experience — historically, culturally, socially and developmentally — is different, a multilateral view that embraces diversity may offer a more resilient and sustainable path for our planet and its people rather than a zero-sum game.
“The CDAC will draw upon the inherent principles shared across Asian civilizations to find commonalities in building a multilateral dialogue in the interest of each nation,” he said.
In Asia, consensus-building as the foundation of governance is consistent with the cultural values of integrated harmony and balance, said Brahm.
“Economic integration within Asia will be enhanced through the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said, adding that infrastructure and transport are key to achieving development.
Organized alongside the conference were an Asian Culture Carnival, Asian Civilization Week and an Asian Food Festival.
The Asian Culture Carnival presented song and dance performances by artists from around the region; Asian Civilization Week featured parades, cultural performances, a culture and tourism exhibition, a film week, and a joint exhibition of Asian cultures; while the Asian Food Festival was taking place in four cities — Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Chengdu.
Shared Inspiration, an exhibition featuring 130 paintings, lithographs and sculptures by artists from 41 Asian countries, opened on May 10 at the National Art Museum of China in Beijing. It runs through May 26.
Cai Hong, Zhao Xinying and Xinhua contributed to this story.
HONG KONG NEWS