GAN Chunsong: Why did Chinese civilization evolve in the “coexistence” way while Western civilizations are characterized by “substitutability”?
Universal Beijing Resort opens to the public recently. The Transformers Metrobase, which is designed on the Hollywood blockbuster “Transformers”, has attracted huge crowds of audience. The conflict shown in the movie “Transformers” is considered to be a projection of the real world: will countries choose to be the “Optimus Prime” guarding fairness and justice, or to be the “Megatron” resorting to bullying and violence?
In China, the answer must be “Optimus Prime”. GAN Chunsong, professor at the Department of Philosophy of Peking University and Vice Director of the Confucianism Research Institute of Peking University, said to“WE Talk” of China News Service: “China, with an incessant history of thousands years, has taken the philosophy of ‘all nations should live in harmony’”(协和万邦). This philosophy is supported by the idea of “TianXia”. The term “Tian Xia” was used not only in the geographical and institutional context, but also in the value context, based on the Confucian understanding of harmony and order in which different civilization could co-exist through cultural transmission.
In GAN’s view, ideas of “A grand harmony” （天下大同）and “Coexistence of all in harmony” （协和万邦）are gradually formed in the course of history. In the process of competing for the dominance, the city-states of the time were more concerned with building a community with a higher civilization that would please those who come from afar and make those who come near satisfied.
Chinese civilization did not evolve in the same way as the early Western civilization in places like the Mediterranean. These civilizations, from Egypt, Rome to Persia, are largely characterized by “substitutability”.
For example, in Greco-Persian Wars, Persia was already expanding into mainland Europe and had subjugated Ionia, Thrace, and Macedonia by the beginning of the 5th century BCE, but next in king Darius’ sights were Athens and the rest of Greece. In 491 BCE, Darius sent envoys to call for the Greeks’ submission to Persian rule, but Greeks sent a no-nonsense reply. Darius’ then launch a naval of 600 ships and 25,000 men to attack the Cyclades and Euboea, leaving the Persians just one step away from the rest of Greece.
While in China, the Confucianism emphasizes “coexistence”— many ethnic groups assimilate and integrate with each other on the land of China, realizing the Chinese nation’s development in accordance to “diversity in unity”（多元一体）.
The order of the world was never based on territorial size, but on a benevolent order of moral exemplarity. From a historical perspective, hegemony and domination were never the world view pursued by the Chinese, and China was never on the path of “big powers always seeking hegemony”（国强必霸）, GAN said.