在世界中国学大会召开之际，Chinese Social Sciences Today发表了北京语言大学世界汉学中心主任、一带一路研究院院长徐宝锋教授的署名文章 Chinese knowledge played constructive role in world civilization，阐述了中华文明对世界发展的重要贡献和未来愿景。
For centuries, knowledge of the world has been confined to a discourse center occupied by the West. China, as a nation in the Far East, has always been regarded as a heterogeneous “other” in the landscape of world civilization. The westward transmission of China’s civilizational and cultural influence since the Qin (221–207 BCE) and Han (206 BCE–220 CE) dynasties has been overshadowed by Western clout, with Chinese knowledge’s role in shaping the world discourse system long neglected.
Influence on the Enlightenment
When Chinese knowledge was disseminated in the West, Chinese culture, represented by Confucianism, had a profound influence on the Western Enlightenment for its rich political theories and moral doctrines. Chinese culture’s core view of the universe and epistemology were learnt, directly or indirectly, by Western thinkers, and considered a comparable intellectual system to the Western knowledge system.
In his preface to Novissima Sinica (Latest News from China), renowned German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz acknowledged that the Chinese were far ahead in what he called “the percepts of civil life,” despite the European cultures’ superiority to China in “logic and metaphysics,” “knowledge of things incorporeal,” and “military science.”
A review of the Enlightenment’s history suggests that most of these European sages were inspired by Chinese learning in one way or another. In a sense, ancient Chinese civilization had unintentionally sparked the flame of the Enlightenment in Europe as an “enlightener.”
Infiltration of aesthetic notions
In the 7th to 6th centuries BCE, Chinese culture began to filter through to the West as the Scythians migrated westward. In the era of King Mu during the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE), the degree and scope of this cultural influence gradually grew and widened.
Following Chinese diplomat Zhang Qian’s expeditions to the “Western Regions” in the 2nd century BCE, the ancient Silk Road allowed both Chinese commodities and aesthetic genes of Chinese culture to flow from East to West.
In the 15th century, navigator and diplomat Zheng He’s fleet brought more Chinese craftsmen and artifacts to the West. In the 16th century, as Europeans gained maritime access to China, Chinese porcelain goods, silk, and furniture were exported to Europe in large amounts. European missionaries in China also introduced the architectural style of Chinese palaces, temples, and gardens to mainstream society in Europe. In the subsequent two centuries, imitating Chinese gardens and palaces was widely popular in Europe.
The philosophical approach of interacting with nature respectfully, and seeking harmony between humanity and nature, a distaste for intense religious worship, and rich ethical orientations of Chinese aesthetics set off a China wave within the Western art world.
Traces of Chinese culture in the Western aesthetic realm, though not as obvious as in architecture, utensils, and gardens, can also be found in paintings and literature. Dao (tao), chanyi (Buddhist mood), and xuwu (emptiness) in Chinese aesthetics, alongside xieyi (freehand brushwork) and shiyi (poetic qualities) in idea-scape creation, have been evident in Western paintings and literature.
Awakening modern consciousness
Due to Western centrism, China has long been viewed as an “other” in modernization, but in fact, the West absorbed rich inspiration from Chinese culture as the modern consciousness was budding. At the beginning of Western missionaries’ stay in China, conflicts between the church’s traditional approach to handling China issues and the Jesuits’ new model of interpreting Confucianism had already shown traces of modern consciousness.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Jesuits in China introduced more than 700 Chinese works to the West. The ancient Chinese thoughts contained in these works set the stage for Western modern consciousness to emerge, and spawned many new ideas and values to some extent. The resultant Enlightenment’s thorough criticism of old traditions fostered the tradition of rationality in Western modernism, and finally fueled the rise of the modern consciousness.
In Chinese culture, the unique notion of tianxia, or all under Heaven, which encompasses sihai (the four seas), is not an explicit geographical concept, but a cultural space outlook with wild historical imagination. The ancient texts Shang Shu (Book of Shang) and Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) had clear expressions of hainei (within the four seas), haiyu (areas bordering the sea), and haiwai (beyond the four seas).
Ancient Chinese made sense of the world through the concept of sihai, which was bounded by hainei but looked outward, haiwai; this framework formed the distinctive views of the country and the world in Chinese culture. The views represent a unique civilizational outlook formed in certain geographical and historical conditions, and a civilizational norm that can bring “harmony among all nations.” It hints at a desired vision of shared governance and harmonious coexistence. On this basis, tianxia has become a crucial foundation from which the Chinese understand the world, people, matters, and culture.
Under the broad premise of the tianxia outlook, which advocates for and respects the diversity of world civilizations, the Belt and Road Initiative that aims to bring global benefits, and the grand vision of building a human community with a shared future are rationally responding to and gradually abating the claim that the Western civilization is superior to others and the “clash of civilizations” thesis, as different development paths converge between China and the West.