Speech by H.E. Xi Jinping President of the People’s Republic of China At UNESCO Headquarters
Paris, 27 March 2014
Your Excellency Madame Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to have an opportunity of visiting the UNESCO headquarters. Let me begin by offering Madame Bokova my heartfelt congratulations on her re-election as the Director-General of the Organization and paying my sincere tribute to UNESCO for the extraordinary contribution it has made for greater exchanges and mutual learning among human civilizations.
UNESCO was born 69 years ago when the smoke of the World War against Fascism had barely dissipated. The grisly horror of war forced mankind once again to reflect on the nature of war and peace. Throughout the centuries, people have yearned for lasting peace, but war has haunted mankind every step of their progress. As we speak, many children on this planet are subjected to the horror of armed conflicts. We must do our utmost to keep war as far away as possible from mankind so that children across the world can grow up happily under the sunshine of peace.
The stone wall at the entrance to the UNESCO headquarters carries the inscription of one single message in several languages: Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.
As long as the idea of peace can strike deep roots and the sail of peace can be hoisted in the hearts and minds of people all over the world, a strong defense will be built to prevent and stop war. People hoped to promote inter-civilization exchanges, equality of educational opportunities and scientific literacy in order to dispel estrangement, prejudice and hatred, and spread the seeds of the idea of peace. This is precisely why UNESCO was established in the first place.
The aspiration and vision as such deserve our renewed commitment. Not only so, but we must also step up inter-civilization activities in education, science, technology and culture across border, time and space to spread the seeds of the idea of peace far and wide so that they will sprout, take root and grow in the hearts and minds of the world’s people, and provide the planet we share with more and more forests of peace.
Since its inception in 1945, UNESCO has faithfully lived up to its mandate and worked untiringly to enhance trust and understanding among the world’s peoples and promote exchanges and mutual learning among the various civilizations. China attaches great importance to its cooperation with UNESCO and stands ready to get more involved in its activities. As a token of its support and assistance to Africa, China has decided to increase the number of candidates for the Great Wall Fellowship program provided to African and other developing countries through UNESCO from 25 to 75 each year. We will also work with UNESCO to continue the program of Funds-in-Trust to support Africa.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Civilizations have become richer and more colorful with exchanges and mutual learning. Such exchanges and mutual learning form an important drive for human progress and global peace and development.
To promote exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations, we must adopt a right approach with some important principles. They, in my view, contain the following:
First, civilizations have come in different colors, and such diversity has made exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations relevant and valuable. Just as the sunlight has seven colors, our world is a place of dazzling colors. A civilization is the collective memory of a country or a nation. Throughout history, mankind have created and developed many colorful civilizations, from earlier days of primitive hunting to the period of agriculture, and from booming industrial revolution to the information society. Together, they present a magnificent genetic map of the exciting march of human civilizations.
“A single flower does not make spring, while one hundred flowers in full blossom bring spring to the garden.” If there were only one kind of flower in the world, people will find it boring no matter how beautiful it is. The Chinese civilization and other civilizations in the world are all fruits of human progress.
I have visited the Louvre Museum in France and the Palace Museum in China, both of which house millions of pieces of art treasures. They are attractive because they present the richness of diverse civilizations. Exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations must not be built on the exclusive praise or belittling of one particular civilization. As early as over 2,000 years ago, the Chinese people came to recognize the truth behind the saying that “it is only natural for things to be different”. Greater exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations can further enrich the colors of various civilizations, heighten people’s enjoyment of cultural life, and open up a future with more options.
Second, civilizations are equal, and such equality has made exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations possible. All human civilizations are equal in terms of value. They all have their respective strengths and shortcomings. There is no perfect civilization in the world. Nor is there a civilization that is devoid of any merit. No one civilization can be judged superior to another.
I have visited many places in the world. The best thing I wanted to do is to learn about differing civilizations across the five continents, what make them different and unique, how their people think about the world and life and what they hold dear. I have visited Chichen Itza, a window on the ancient Maya civilization, and the Central Asian city of Samarkand, an epitome of the ancient Islamic civilization. It is my keenly-felt conviction that an attitude of equality and modesty is required if one wants to truly understand the various civilizations. Taking a condescending attitude toward a civilization can not help anyone to appreciate its essence but may risk antagonizing it. Both history and reality show that pride and prejudice are two biggest obstacles to exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations.
Third, civilizations are inclusive, and such inclusiveness has given exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations the needed drive to move forward. The ocean is vast for it refuses no rivers. All civilizations are crystallizations of mankind’s hard work and wisdom. Every civilization is unique. Copying other civilizations mechanically or blindly is like cutting one’s toes just to fit his shoes, which is not only impossible but also highly detrimental. All achievements of civilizations deserve our respect and must be treasured.
History tells us that only through exchanges and mutual learning can a civilization be filled with vitality. If all civilizations can uphold inclusiveness, the so-called “clash of civilizations” will be out of the question and the harmony of civilizations will become reality. This is like what we Chinese often say, “Radish or cabbage, each to his own delight.”
Having gone through over 5,000 years of vicissitudes, the Chinese civilization has always kept to its original root. As the unique cultural identity of the Chinese nation, it contains our most profound cultural pursuits and provides us with abundant nourishment for existence and development. The Chinese civilization, though born on the soil of China, has come to its present form through constant exchanges and mutual learning with other civilizations.
In the 2nd century B.C., China began working on the Silk Road leading to the Western Regions. In 138 B.C. and 119 B.C., Envoy Zhang Qian of the Han Dynasty made two trips to those regions, spreading the Chinese culture there and bringing into China grape, alfalfa, pomegranate, flax, sesame and other products. In the Western Han Dynasty, China’s merchant fleets sailed as far as India and Sri Lanka where they traded China’s silk for colored glaze, pearls and other products. The Tang Dynasty saw dynamic interactions between China and other countries. According to historical documents, the dynasty exchanged envoys with over 70 countries, and Chang’an, the capital of Tang, bustled with envoys, merchants and students from other countries. Exchanges of such a magnitude helped the spread of the Chinese culture to the rest of the world and the introduction into China of the cultures and products from other countries. In the early 15th century, Zheng He, the famous navigator of China’s Ming Dynasty, made seven expeditions to the Western Seas, reaching many Southeast Asian countries and even Kenya on the east coast of Africa. These trips left behind many good stories of friendly exchanges between the people of China and countries along the route. In late Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty, the Chinese people began to learn modern science and technology with great zeal, as the European knowledge of astronomy, medicine, mathematics, geometry and geography were being introduced into China, which helped broaden the horizon of the Chinese people. Thereafter, exchanges and mutual learning between the Chinese civilization and other civilizations became more frequent. There were indeed conflicts, frictions, bewilderment and denial in this process. But the more dominant features of the period were learning, digestion, integration and innovation.
Buddhism originated in ancient India. After it was introduced into China, the religion went through an extended period of integrated development with the indigenous Confucianism and Taoism and finally became the Buddhism with Chinese characteristics, thus making a deep impact on the religious belief, philosophy, literature, art, etiquette and customs of the Chinese people. Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang), the Tang monk who endured untold sufferings as he went on a pilgrimage to the west for Buddhist scriptures, gave full expression to the determination and fortitude of the Chinese people to learn from other cultures. I am sure that you have all heard about the Chinese classics Journey to the West, which was written on the basis of his stories. The Chinese people have enriched Buddhism in the light of Chinese culture and developed some special Buddhist thoughts. Moreover, they also helped Buddhism spread from China to Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and beyond.
In the course of some two thousand years and more, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity have been introduced into China successively, which allowed the country’s music, painting and literature to benefit from the advantages of other civilizations. China’s freehand oil painting is an innovative combination of China’s traditional painting and the Western oil painting, and the works of Xu Beihong and other masters have been widely acclaimed. China’s Four Great Inventions, namely, papermaking, gunpowder, movable-type printing and compass, led to changes in the world, including the European Renaissance. China’s philosophy, literature, medicine, silk, porcelain and tea reached the West and became part of people’s daily life. The Travels of Marco Polo generated a widespread interest in China.
I assume you have all heard of China’s terracotta warriors, the buried legions of Emperor Qin. After his visit to the site, President Chirac of France said that a visit to Egypt will not be complete without seeing the pyramids, and that a visit to China will not be complete without seeing the terracotta warriors. In 1987, this national treasure of China, buried underground for over two thousand years, was put on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list. There are many more proud Chinese achievements that have been included in the World Cultural Heritage list, the World Intangible Cultural Heritage list and the Memory of the World list. Here, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to UNESCO for its contribution to the preservation and dissemination of the Chinese civilization.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, we live in a world with different cultures, ethnic groups, skin colors, religions and social systems, and the people of various countries have become members of an intimate community of shared destiny.
The Chinese have long come to appreciate the wisdom of “harmony without uniformity”. Zuo Qiuming, a Chinese historian who lived 2,500 years ago, recorded in the Chronicle of Zuo the following comments by Yan Ying, Prime Minister of the State of Qi during the Spring and Autumn Period: “Achieving harmony is like preparing the thick soup. Only with the right amount of water, fire, vinegar, meat sauce, salt and plum can fish and meat be cooked with the right taste.” “It is the same when it comes to music. Only by combining the sounds of different instruments with the right rhythm and pitch as well as tone and style can you produce an excellent melody.” “Who can eat the soup with nothing but water in it? What ear can tolerate the same tone played repeatedly on one instrument?”
There are 200-odd countries and regions, over 2,500 ethnic groups and a multitude of religions in the world today. We can hardly imagine if this world has only one lifestyle, one language, one kind of music and one style of costume.
Victor Hugo once said, “There is a prospect greater than the sea, and it is the sky; there is a prospect greater than the sky, and it is the human soul.” Indeed, we need a mind that is broader than the sky as we approach different civilizations. Civilizations are like water, moistening everything silently. We need to encourage different civilizations to respect each other and live together in harmony while promoting their exchanges and mutual learning as a bridge of friendship among peoples, a driving force behind human society, and a strong bond for world peace. We should seek wisdom and nourishment from various civilizations to provide support and consolation for people’s mind, and work together to tackle the challenges facing mankind.
In 1987, 20 exquisite pieces of colored glaze were excavated at the underground chamber of Famen Temple in China’s Shaanxi Province. These East Roman and Islamic relics were brought into China during the Tang Dynasty. Marveling at these exotic relics, I thought hard and concluded that as we approach the world’s different civilizations, we should not limit ourselves to just admiring the exquisiteness of the objects involved. Rather, we should try to learn and appreciate the cultural significance behind them. Instead of satisfying ourselves with their artistic presentation of people’s life in the past, we should do our best to breathe new life into their inherent spirit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “There are only two forces in the world, the sword and the spirit. In the long run the sword will always be conquered by the spirit.” We should develop education more actively. Education can open people’s mind, impart knowledge, and cultivate temperament. The continued process of learning will enable our people to better appreciate the value of different civilizations. In this sense, education is an effective vehicle for the continuation and creation of civilizations. We should develop science and technology more vigorously. Scientific advancement and innovation can help people understand themselves and the world and be in a stronger position to change their society for the better. The continued process of exploiting nature will enable our people to master still more knowledge and skills. In this sense, science and technology are a powerful tool to make the world a better place for mankind. We should promote cultural undertakings more energetically. Cultural exchanges can help open our hearts to each other, broaden our horizon and build greater consensus among us. The continued process of cultivating people morally and intellectually will result in a higher standard of humanity. In this sense, culture is a big booster for human progress.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Chinese people are striving to fulfill the Chinese dream of the great renewal of the Chinese nation. The Chinese dream is about prosperity of the country, rejuvenation of the nation, and happiness of the people. It reflects both the ideal of the Chinese people today and our time-honored tradition to seek constant progress.
The Chinese dream will be realized through balanced development and mutual reinforcement of material and cultural progress. Without the continuation and development of civilization or the promotion and prosperity of culture, the Chinese dream will not come true. Forefathers of the Chinese nation yearned for a world of great harmony in which people are free from want and follow a high moral standard. In the Chinese civilization, people’s cultural pursuit has always been part of their life and social ideals. So the realization of the Chinese dream is a process of both material and cultural development. As China continues to make economic and social progress, the Chinese civilization will keep pace with the times and acquire greater vitality.
A civilization carries on its back the soul of a country or nation. It needs to be passed on from one generation to the next. Yet more importantly, it needs to keep pace with the times and innovate with courage. As we pursue the Chinese dream, the Chinese people will encourage creative shifts and innovative development of the Chinese civilization in keeping with the progress of the times. We need to inject new vitality into the Chinese civilization by energizing all cultural elements that transcend time, space and national borders and that possess both perpetual appeal and current value, and we need to bring all collections in our museums, all heritage structures across our lands and all records in our classics to life. In this way, the Chinese civilization, together with the rich and colorful civilizations created by the people of other countries, will provide mankind with the right cultural guidance and strong motivation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As an old Chinese poem goes, “When I glance at the visage of vernal breeze, I know that a thousand flowers of purple and red set spring aglow.” UNESCO will mark its 70th anniversary next year. I am confident that under the stewardship of Director-General Bokova, the organization will make still more achievements in its efforts to promote exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations and advance the cause of peace in the world.