T16a The challenges and advantages of Euro-Chinese dialogue and intercultural dialogue (WT13) - 中欧社会论坛 - China Europa Forum

T16a The challenges and advantages of Euro-Chinese dialogue and intercultural dialogue (WT13)

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Launched Version 10 January 2010


- Preparatory documents for the workshops - meeting in Paris in July 2009

- China-Europa Forum catalogue

Workshop presentation


Thematic Workshop T 16A on The challenges of Intercultural Dialogue

8/9/10 July 2009

At Xiamen University, Jingxian

- Ethics is the set of criteria that refer to what are just and good choices that guide our behaviour. As such ethics is an expression of the requirement of making decisions and choices in accordance with the idea one has of man and of society, and also in accordance with the preservation of the future of societies as well as the future of the planet, in order to preserve their harmony and to ensure their survival. Ethics is not the declaration of a list of values to which each person would adhere. Nor can it be reduced to a series of precepts like « you shall do; you shall not do ».

- Ethics can be understood well only through the resolving of ethical dilemmas, when two values in which one equally believes become inconsistent, forcing people either to give priority to one over the other, or to look for new practices that would reconcile the two.

- Ethics is a major component of culture. For this reason, in each society it is endowed with a certain lasting quality. But ethics is also evolving, even if only because concrete situations that require ethical choices, are themselves constantly evolving. To mention only the facts that nowadays our societies are faced with new questions concerning the balance between humanity and the biosphere which are irremediably interdependent; the impact of scientific and technical activity on life, along with the development of molecular biology and of nanotechnologies.

- We are accustomed to saying, in China as well as in Europe, that our times are marked by individualism, consumerism and egoism. Each of these seems to invite one to pursue one’s own happiness and one’s own interests with relative indifference to those of others. Moreover, the market economy ideology pretends that the pursuit of individual interest is profitable to common interest. This pretension too raises ethical questions.

- How do these evolutions influence the future of Chinese and European societies ? In order to participate in the management of our unique planet which is populated, fragile and limited in natural resources, it is necessary for both of them to agree on a set of common principles. In which sense are traditional values evolving so as to be relevant for modern times ? Can these relevant values and ensuing choices and principles to guide our behaviour –as they are prevalent in China and Europe today- meet ?

Topics for debates

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.

About us

Chinese Prime Mover :Dr. Song ping (宋平), professor in the department of Anthropology and Ethnology, Xiamen University, China . She has been teaching graduate students focusing on the areas of Globalization and Anthropology, Trans-national Anthropology, Modernity and Chinese Civilization, among other courses. She also teaches Chinese Culture and History to international students. Her research is focused on the issues of Chinese migrants trans-national social practices and Chinese new trans-national migrants as cultural subjectivity in the global context.

European Prime Movers: Mrs Edith SIZOO and Mr. Hendrik Opdebeeck

Ms Edith Sizoo, Dutch, Socio-linguist, worked within the framework of the Cooperation for development in Hong Kong and in India, at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the Director of the Dutch Federation of the NGOs, then at Brussels with the network « Cultures and Development » as an international co-ordinator and responsible for the programmes « Languages and intercultural communication » and « Feminity and social changes ». Since 2003, she has been coordinating the International Committee for the Charter of Human responsibilities.

Mr. Hendrik Opdebeek is Professor of Ethics and Economy at the University of Antwerp, Belgium and co-founder of the European Forum for Spirituality in Economics and Society.

Assistant in China :Mr. Zhao jin (赵晋), from the Department of Anthropology and Ethnology, Xiamen University, China

Workshop’s news


December 2009/January 2010 :

- 1.Finalising Presentation of the workshop by SONG Ping, Edith Sizoo and Hendrik Opdebeeck

- 2.Selecting 10 Chinese and 5 European participants for the Workshop

February/March 2010:

*1st round of two questions/answers to participants :

To Chinese participants :

- 1. In your opinion which core values that were central in the past are still relevant in the present context of China ?

- 2. Please write an essay on only one of these core values describing its evolution towards being relevant in modern times ( no more than 3 pages)

To European participants :

- 1. In your opinion which core values that were central in the past are still relevant in the present context of Europe ?

- 2. Please write an essay on only one of these core values describing its evolution towards being relevant in modern times ( no more than 3 pages)

Answers and essays have to be sent to prime movers before 31 March 2010 and will be sent to participants early April 2010

April 2010

- 1. Participants’ essays are translated into respectively Chinese and English

May 2010

- 2nd round of question / answer to participants :

“On the basis of reading all the essays :

which issues would you like to be discussed during the workshop ?”

June 2010

- 1. On the basis of the answers to the 2nd round of question/answer : the prime movers will frame a proposal for the programme of the workshop and distribute this proposal to all.

7 – 14 July 2010 : China-Europe Forum

7 July : arrival in Xianmen

8/9/10 July : workshop

11 July morning : decisions on follow-up

11 July afternoon: departure for Hong Kong

12-14 July : Plenary sessions at Hong Kong University.