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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 14:58, August 09, 2005
'Harmonious but different', 'coexistence of civilization'
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The thought of Confucius and Confucianism on "the policy of harmonious benevolence" and on "harmonious but different" is of significance to the administrator of a country and to the leaders of the developed countries (particularly the United States) in the world today.

A "policy of benevolence" "running the country and bringing peace to the world" requires that a "policy of benevolence", and a "benevolent government" should be implemented, and "rule by force of dictators" should not be practiced. The practice of "policy of benevolence" and "benevolent government" should be carried out, which makes it possible for the coexistence and development of different cultures. "Rule by the force of dictator" will evoke the conflicts of civilizations, and thereby leading cultures toward unilateralism and forming cultural hegemony.

If Confucius' theory of "benevolence" is used for handling the relations between different civilizations, then there will be no conflicts and even war between different civilizations, and the "coexistence of civilizations" will be realized.

Confucius said, "Gentlemen are harmonious, but are different, while base men are same, but are in disharmony." In his opinion, ethical and knowledgeable gentlemen, who regard "peace as treasure" and thus practice the principles of "benevolence and loyalty", should ensure that they live in harmony despite difference; a person who is immoral and unlearned often forces others to accept his view and thus fails to live in good terms with others.

If we use "harmonious but different" as a principle for handling the relations among different cultures, then it would be of extremely positive significance in solving disputes between countries and between nations, particularly between different countries or between nations, conflicts would arise due to cultural difference (for example, difference in religious beliefs and in the concept of value), it should be more significant in using "harmonious but different" as a principle for solving disputes.

The loftiest ideal of traditional Chinese culture is that "all beings on earth should grow together and not harm each other", the "path runs parallel to and not goes against each other". "Harmony" means "all beings on earth grow together" is "different" from the "path runs parallel". This kind of ideology has provided inexhaustible ideological sources for the coexistence of diverse cultures.

People of insight in Western countries have come to know that different cultures should be able to coexist, and should not touch off conflicts and even war due to cultural difference.

They believe that different nations and countries can achieve a certain kind of "consensus" through cultural exchanges and dialogs in the course of dialogs and discussions. In a sense this represents a process of proceeding from a kind of "difference" to mutual "recognition".

This kind of mutual "recognition" does not mean one side eliminating the other side, nor does it mean one side "assimilating " the other, instead, a connective point should be sought between two different cultures. And, on this basis, promote the development of the two sides' cultures, this is precisely the role of "harmony".

Different nations and different countries have formed varied cultural traditions due to geographical and historical reasons, it is because of the cultural divergence that human cultures are rich and varied, and they have formed a complementary and interactive pattern in the long process of human history.

Cultural divergence may cause conflicts and even war, but one must not think that "difference" would necessarily spark conflicts and war. Particularly under the circumstance of the high development of science and technology of today, perhaps a large-scale war, if breaking out, will ruin humankind itself.

In view of this, we must strive to pursue realization of getting along well with each other between different cultures through dialogs. The Confucian principle of "harmony but difference" based on "peace is valuable" should be the basic principle for handling different cultures.

The "harmonious but different" principle should be used to handle relations between countries and between nations with different cultural traditions, this is of positive and active significance in eliminating contradictions, conflicts and even war, it is also a force driving the development of the cultures of various countries and nations in the process of exchange.

Written by Tang Yijie, professor with the philosophy department of Peking University, the article is translated by People's Daily Online

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