Culture: Foundation for Mutual Understanding Between China and Western Countries

Culture: Foundation for Mutual Understanding Between China and Western Countries
The Asien-Pazifik-Wochen (Asia-Pacific Week) Berlin 2001, having lasted for two weeks, will be closed on September 30. China, with the rich and colorful programs, has successfully held this largest cultural exchange activity.

If the stone-carved Buddhist image unearthed in the ruins of the Qingzhou Longxing Temple of Shandong Province and the 600-odd-year-old Kunju (opera of Kunshan in Jiangsu Province) represent the long-standing tradition of Chinese culture, then modern art exhibition and the opera staged by Guangdong Modern Dance Troupe give expression to the development of Chinese culture in modern time; if the play The General Bids Farewell to His Concubine and the performance given by the Inner Mongolian Chorus are the result of the meticulous work of artists, then the fire performance and shadow play staged by Shaanxi art troupe as well as Shandong Province's Zibo festive lanterns that decorated the streets under the most magnificent pipal bo-trees in Berlin are the personification of folk aesthetic temperament and interest.

Over the time of the two weeks, China comprehensively introduced its past and present cultural features to Berlin, to Germany and to Europe as a whole.

Chinese culture was once the object admired by Europe. Leaving aside how the great masters of European culture including Voltaire and C.W. Leibniz highly praised Chinese culture, even in today's Berlin, people still feel the flavor of those years.

Culture: Foundation for Mutual Understanding Between China and Western Countries
In the Charlottenburg palace, a hall was built specially for the collection of Chinese porcelain. In the Prussian Kings Summer Palace-the Potsdam carefree garden, there is a "Chinese pavilion". Those resplendent and magnificent pillars and sculpture of characters reflect Europe's imagination of China in the early 18th century, the bronze incense burner of a man's height made in the first year during the reign of Emperor Shizong of the Qing Dynasty has stood on the lawn of the garden for over 200 years. On the outer wall of the Pilnitz Palace of Dresdner is drawn with a picture of China's daily life. When this writer visited the marble stone palace in the Potsdam carefree garden, I came to learn that the bright yellow silk wall cloth was formally called "Beijing" by Westerners, apparently this is because yellow color was exclusively used by the royal family.

If one takes a careful observation of the influence exerted by outside culture on Prussian culture, then the country which comes first should be France, and that which comes second will possibly be China. Later, if China's door were not forced open by European powers, if there were not the "self-importance" psyche of the "imperial court" in China at that time, cultural and material exchanges would have been established on the basis of equality, and it would have been quite possible that there was no need for us to wait till now to introduce the facial make-up of Peking opera and the drinking way of green tea, and Europe wouldn't need to wait until a decade ago before it could generally bring in China's tin pans for frying tea.

Due to geographical barriers, the cultures of Europe and China developed respectively under a relatively closed environment over the long years against different backgrounds and of different characteristics, their concept of value and mode of thinking are different and their artistic appreciation is also different, can these two ancient cultural systems engage in exchange, learn from each other's strong points to offset one's weaknesses and can they merge?

One Western philosopher once expressed his pessimistic view: "West is West, East is East, West and East will never come together". Certain modern scholars, such as Samuel Huntington, have even asserted that the relationship between cultures is one of struggle against each other.

However, according to this writer's observation and impression, as German President Johanners Rau's congratulations on China's cultural festival, "The things we share are much more than what we are aware of in our daily life."

Take the modern art exhibition and the Guangdong modern dances brought by the cultural festival this time as an example, their methods of presentation were transplanted from the West, but they have become China's own things.

Gao Chengming, leader of the Guangdong Modern Dance Troupe, told the reporter that modern dance has a history of only a dozen years or so, most of the audiences quickly developed a liking for it. Chinese dancers used the Western method to present the Chinese people's impression on life, although they used different language, Western audiences could understand it fully and share the same feeling.

The performances given in Berlin drew enthusiastic responses from the audiences. There is no lack of examples showing that pure Chinese cultural things have genuinely entered the daily lives of the Westerners.

A case in point is the "Asia-Pacific Cup" dragon boat race held at the opening ceremony of the Asien-Pazifik-Wochen Berlin 2001. Maybe we people from the land of dragon boat race do not know that dragon boat race has become a popular sport activity in the West. In Berlin alone, the dragon boat club already has a history of 10 years and its sponsor was exactly the leader of the then German tourist group to China.

Today, dragon boat club exists not only in Berlin, but also in Dresdner, Schwerin, Magdeburg. World dragon boat competitions have been held several times, Germany's Hamburg, Italy's Florence, Canada's Vancouver, Britain's Nottingham all had once been the venues of dragon boat contests. Today, it is said that dragon boat race is the most welcomed sports games second only to football game. Facts have proved that cultural exchange can go out of the scholar's study into the world arena.

As a matter of fact, some Chinese once held that Chinese culture is so broad and deep that it is beyond the Westerners to understand it. As a result, for a long time in the past, Peking operas introduced to the West were no more than acrobatic fighting in Chinese operas, such as "Creating Uproar in the Heavenly Palace" and "A Fork in the Road", with the result that Westerners misunderstood the Chinese culture as "only so so".

Later, Chinese cultural departments changed their method, sending their complete operas with singing and acting to the West. To help Western audience to have an appreciation base, they had the lines translated into foreign languages and displayed them in captions. Before the opera began, a brief introduction to its plot was given to the audience, as a result, while watching the opera "Pipa Xing", some audiences were moved to tears. During the performance in Berlin, the sponsor observed carefully and found that only two to three parents, who had to bring their children home, left before the performance was over. What does this show? It shows that people's hearts are linked.

Zhao Qizheng, minister of the Information Office under the State Council, said that culture is the foundation for countries and nations to understand each other. China and Europe have their respective rich, time-honored cultures, to get a profound and comprehensive understanding of the other side cannot be accomplished at one stroke.

Moreover, the West will never remain at the level of Beethoven, neither will China remain forever at the level of Mei Lanfang. A cultural festival of an unprecedented scale is necessary, but what is currently needed is a never-ending trickling, we need not only innumerable theatrical performances, but also more multi-level dialogs and discussions.

People's Daily Online ---