Mutual learning among civilizations
By Keith Bennett  ·  2023-07-21  ·   Source: NO.30 JULY 27, 2023

Humanity has a history of civilization dating back millennia. While civilizations have arisen and developed on different continents and at different times, they have prospered and innovated through mutual exchanges and mutual learning. The ancient Silk Road, which began in China, is one of the greatest examples of this.

Through this network of routes, Roman remains have been found in China and Chinese silk and coin remains have been found in the markets of ancient Rome. Admiral Zheng He (1371-1433) introduced the products of Chinese civilization to Southeast Asia and East Africa, while merchants and traders from the Middle East found their way to China, over time becoming part of the great, diverse but united family of the Chinese nation.

China's history is by no means devoid of conflict, but it was, above all, the global rise of capitalism and modern imperialism, which, from 1492 especially, fundamentally disrupted humanity's inter-civilizational relationships.

As Karl Marx put it in Volume One of his most celebrated work Capital: "The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production."

Exchange and cooperation between civilizations were replaced by conflict and oppression. Powerful forces in the West are still unable to fundamentally break from this essential paradigm. This, for example, is what animates the dystopian theory of the "clash of civilizations," put forward by the late U.S. academic Samuel Huntington, writing in the 1990s, in the wake of the dramatic events over the preceding decade, from the dissolution of the Soviet Union to the Iraq War.

There is one leader and one statesman in the contemporary world who is advancing a fundamentally different paradigm. One advocating common human values such as peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom. One insisting that different approaches to modernization can be pioneered and developed and have every right to do so.

On March 15, I was privileged to participate in the online CPC in Dialogue With World Political Parties High-Level Meeting and to hear Chinese President Xi Jinping unveil the Global Civilizations Initiative, the latest of his programmatic initiatives designed to realize a community with a shared future for humanity.

Xi noted: "All civilizations created by human society are splendid. They are where each country's modernization drive draws its strength and where its unique features come from. Transcending time and space, they have jointly made an important contribution to humanity's modernization process. Chinese modernization, as a new form of human advancement, will draw upon the merits of other civilizations and make the garden of world civilizations more vibrant."

Countries, Xi explained, need to keep an open mind in appreciating the values of different civilizations and they should refrain from imposing their own values or models on others and from stoking ideological confrontation.

This represents a fundamentally different concept and approach from that practiced by the various colonial and now neocolonial powers for the last more than 500 years, up to and including the present. However, it fully accords with the sentiments and interests of the vast mass of developing countries and their peoples, the overwhelming majority of humanity, and the inheritors of great, ancient and time-honored civilizations.

Moreover, it also accords with the objective interests of the great majority of populations in every country, whether developing or developed.

Existential threats to humanity, including impending climate catastrophe, pandemics, and nuclear annihilation, along with numerous other challenges, from terrorism and cybercrimes, to the challenges and opportunities of artificial intelligence, cannot be solved simply behind national barriers or with a beggar-thy-neighbor or winner-takes-all mentality. Nor can all peoples' need for peace and development be realized in this way.

As Xi has indicated on many occasions, socialism with Chinese characteristics offers a new option for those countries that wish to rapidly develop their economies while maintaining their independence. This is an important example of the contribution of Chinese wisdom and Chinese experience to the quest for sustainable solutions to the problems facing humanity. 

The author is a consultant and analyst on international relations and co-editor of Friends of Socialist China based in London. This is an edited excerpt of his article first published in China Today

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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