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Wall-less world, still an illusion

16:41, November 10, 2009

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By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online

On the cold night of November 9 exactly 20 years ago, sections of the nearly 155-kilometer Berlin Wall were pulled down and knocked over, marking years of separation and anxiety finally melting into a wall-less Germany, and also signaling that the iron curtain fell with the end of bipolar confrontation and Cold War tension, giving way to the buildup of a brand new world.

As recalled later by Angela Merkel, Germany's first chancellor from the former East Germany, the once dark wall was suddenly opened, and everyone was given the chance to build something new, to make a difference, and to venture a new beginning.

Sure enough, the collapse of Berlin Wall opened a broader horizon for the German people who at the time were ready to embrace cultural diversities, and offered them a golden chance to understand and tolerate the people of the same ethnicity but brought up in utterly different societies. More important, tearing down the Wall helped the beleaguered German nation, riddled with gaping wounds and ill legacies since the World War II, have the momentum to regain the respect from the international community and, make a rapid recovery and a soaring advance.

But the pulverized concrete wall could by no means represent the eradication of the psychological borders or the total disappearance of the embedded bias in people's mind. When the Western Germans still complain people from East are lazy bones, while the Eastern Germans still pointedly criticize the people from West tend to be a greedy lot, and when they are physically united but mentally at odds or even in conflict with each other, the Berlin Wall, though invisible, will always remain there in between them and in reality.

Walls in all sizes and shapes are considered the most contentious invention in human civilizations. Before the modern times, walls were taken as defensive sheltering for civilization products. When the wheel of history entered 15th century, the pioneers who were crazy about navigating by sea began to dream of a free and wall-less world.

But it was not until the second half of the 19th century that it occurred to people that walls are nothing but barrier to the progress of human civilizations. Today, it is crystal clear that only by openness and dialogue can civilizations, big or small, time-honored or fledgling, dance together with hands clasped, and feet thudding on the cold concrete, to really and truly celebrate the fall of the mental wall marked by antipathy and gloom.

Beyond doubt, worldwide, a more tolerant environment is coming into being with the diversity of cultural elements and the free flow of global capitals. It is also noteworthy that the call for peace is sounding louder and penetrating to every corner of the world, that nuclear threat is waning, if not completely wiped out, and that the Internet communication is narrowing down the gaps of people-to-people, and culture-to-culture.

But in a stark departure from pulling down the concrete wall by rage and hammer, to knock over the Berlin Wall standing in people's mind needs the involvement of reason and thinking. If one cannot abandon the habit to always pit his own ideologies and values against others' and always feel superior to others, and if one is always comfortably intoxicated by the idea that 'might is right', The Berlin Wall will still be there in the dark corner of people's mind.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Gavin Jon MowatGavin Jon Mowat

Gavin Jon Mowat, editor and columnist for People's Daily Online.

As a graduate from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, UK, Gavin came to Beijing 2 years ago to study Chinese.

Enjoying the culture and traditions of the orient so much, Gavin has since left his home in Scotland and is now living and working in China.

Gavin uses his background in writing to share his experiences of China with you at People's Daily Online.