By Wang Wenwen

As the world faces rising populism and the hyping of the clash of civilizations, the appeal for cultural exchanges is stronger than ever. On May 15, the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations (CDAC) opened in Beijing, with the goal of boosting mutual learning and understanding among Asian civilizations.
Global Times interviewed participants of the conference who shared their understanding of the mission of the event. They said that peace, not clashes, has always been the mainstream and cultural exchanges are needed to fight the dangerous trend of mistrust and intolerance. 

Nada Al-Nashif 

Assistant director-general for Social and Human Sciences at UNESCO

When cultural diversity is not sufficiently understood, when the power to enrich culture is resisted, when there is fear, discrimination and racism in the world, it is hard for us to get along and understand. That’s why we need some very good examples, and understand the richness and extraordinary cultural interactions of Asia, and the conference is an important way of trying to overcome what is going on in the world.

We look at the technical issues like how to write historical narratives and how to explore religious exchange. We also look at exchanges between people, academics, civil society, activists, decision-makers and policymakers, which are going to be enduring. These conversations do not stop when people go back to their countries.

We have a lot to learn from Asia. This is why we are here and why we are investing so much in understanding, whether it is the ancient Silk Road or modern interpretations of what ASEAN or other economic blocs are trying to do. We have to try to understand what brings people prosperity and how we can grow together in a mutually reinforcing way. 

Ali Moussa Iye 

Chief of the History and Memory for Dialogue Section, Social and Human Sciences Sector of UNESCO

It is always very difficult to see how Asian civilization is distinctive from European civilization and African civilization. There are differences, but there are commonalities. I am African. When I learned a little bit about traditional Chinese culture, I saw a lot of commonalities, such as the way we respect our ancestor and the way we pay tribute. Traditional Chinese wisdom sometimes is very close to that of Africa. These commonalities are what bring people together and facilitate dialogue and the perception that we have a shared future.

The idea that different civilizations are bound to clash is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. Civilizations don’t clash. It is human beings that clash. Even in the case where countries are fighting, the cultures of these countries exchange and interact. Civilization is about communication and exchange. The war came from the government, the military and people who have power, but not civilization. The clash of civilization is an ideological idea to justify domination but has nothing to do with historical reality. 

The world now faces multiple threats. The most imminent are prejudices and ignorance about other cultures and peoples. Another threat is a system that only focuses on profits which doesn’ put human beings at the center. The ideology of domination and exploiting others for resources constitutes a threat to the present-day international order.

We are witnessing a lot of mistrust, hate speech and intolerance, which is a dangerous trend. The way to fight them is first through education, knowing better about other cultures and developing tolerance and mutual understanding. In my work in UNESCO, we want to show the history of how different religions – Buddhism, Islam and Christianity – communicated, shared and sometimes even borrowed the others’ values. By showing this, we try to fight against intolerance and exclusiveness of some cultural thinking. 

Ning Qiang

Professor at the School of History, Capital Normal University

When China invites all the Asian countries together to have a dialogue, we talk to each other and understand each other, and then we probably would reach a conclusion that we are neighbors. The neighboring art has its own diversities and identities. But at the same time, we would find people and art in this region have a lot of common features. This dialogue is a way to bring neighbors together and form an Asian art community. In such a way, we would have a more harmonious community and neighbors would learn from each other and appreciate each other’s cultural traditions. 

Art is a way to soften contradictions and melt the ice of difference. The common will of people on the earth is to look for happiness and good life instead of fighting or arguing with each other. We come to share experiences and cultural accomplishment of different countries in the region. 

The theory of clash of civilizations has limitations by putting too much attention on the “clash” side, instead of the “peace” side. The history of Asian civilizations shows us that the mainstream is peace and people’s wish for beauty, harmonious lifestyle and living together.  

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