Snake has succeeded dragon to knock at the door of Chinese families, ushering in the spring of the lunar Year, or the Year of the Snake, and bringing a fortune more of intelligence than of power. Though the lunar New Year’s Day has just passed, the Chinese people are still immersed in the festival mood.
On New Year’s Eve, the whole family, including the elder and younger generations, sits around a table of steaming dishes to share in the year-end feast and wish each other good luck in the coming year. This is the happiest moment of the family; it is also the most precious memory for those family members who pursue livelihood or studies thousands of miles away from home to find their spiritual sustenance. Every year, hundreds of millions of Chinese people brave freezing conditions and strenuous journeys to travel home in what is dubbed the “largest human migration on the earth.”
Overseas, more and more local people in different countries are attracted to Chinese communities to watch lion dances and eat jiaozi (dumpling) at Chinese restaurants during the lunar New Year holiday. In the past Spring Festival, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US President Barack Obama and many other world leaders delivered messages of good will to Chinese throughout the world. Some of them even pronounced a few Chinese words in the speech, bringing a sense of affinity.
This is a reminder of “smart power”, a concept frequently referred to during the tenure of former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Essentially, smart power consists of both hard power and soft power; a nation’s soft power grows from three resources. First, is a nation’s culture that appears attractive to other nations and people. Second, is a nation’s political values, which it practices both at home and in foreign relations. Third, is a nation’s foreign policy. While a nation’s foreign policy aims to protect its legal interests, it should also respect other nations’ interests and accord reverence to their space of existence – Live and let live. Only by doing so, can one make friends. Nowadays, culture has become a major source of cohesion and creativity for a nation. It is also a vital part of a nation’s competitive power.
Both America and China boast splendid cultural heritages. The Chinese culture has been eclectic and inclusive in its development over 5,000 years. It values harmony and emphasizes the sharing of joy. As I understand it, American values endorse change, innovation, free competition and public statement of individuality, emphasizing that men are created equal and human effort is capable of anything. These values empower men to make progress. These beliefs appear in contrast to such traditional Chinese concepts as harmony, benevolence and “do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.” However, they are complementary to each other.
Today, “universal values” are a common concept. Both the idea of encouraging human subjective initiative and that of advocating harmony between man and man and between man and nature are universal values, which need to be studied thoroughly. This is also an important part of cultural exchanges between China and the United States. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell once said, "Contacts between different civilizations have often in the past proved to be landmark in human progress". Both official contacts and non-governmental exchanges are needed in the dialogue between Chinese and American civilizations. NGOs and media should also commit themselves to mutual understanding and co-operation between the two nations.
Chinese poet Du Fu (712-770) wrote: “At night drizzle sneaks in with wind; Silently it moistens everything.” The poem is often quoted as a metaphor of unnoticeable influence. The exchange between Chinese and American cultures should also be a course of evolution. No human civilization could exist without its tangible heritage, or its “body”; nor could it be passed on without its intangible heritage, or its “soul”. It was just because of this soul that the Chinese culture has been passed down from generation to generation. A nation fosters its core values during its development by combining heritages and innovation. Developing a cultural model that accords with a nation’s social development and spreads its cultural characteristics is vital for successful cultural exchange with other civilizations.
As the tides of economic integration sweep across the globe, it has become imperative for China to make its culture and core values known to the rest of the world. China respects cultural diversity and holds that only by co-existing in harmony can all creatures grow and develop. The harmony is like a chord; a single note will not make music. It is also like the budding vegetation in spring. The green comes in different tints to make a vibrant spring of lives. Like biodiversity, cultural diversity is an essential characteristic of our beautiful world. It is also a major force propelling human progress. Deepening the cultural dialogue between the two great peoples of China and the United States should become the main content of cultural exchange and deserves attention and practicing by insightful leaders from both sides.
Wu Sike is a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and member on the Foreign Policy Consulting Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affair.