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Asian Civilization Dialogue: the path to self-define one's culture

2019-05-16 17:10:00 Source:China Plus Author:
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By Harald Buchmann

The Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations currently being held in Beijing is taking place against the background of the end of the West’s unchallenged dominance of world affairs, which has lasted for almost 500 years. Western scholars have written the world’s history, and Western values have dominated the assessments of whether governments and nations are good or bad. This state of affairs has existed for so long that many people in the West believe any shift away from the dominance of Western values must be a regression into the Dark Ages. The West has brought a lot of great thought and knowledge to the world, but it has often lacked an awareness of the damage it has done to countless other civilizations.

The Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations is unique in that it doesn’t try to rewrite the Western view of history. Rather, it is encouraging Asian nations to define their own cultures and make their own assessment of their contribution to humanity. This provides a constructive rather than a confrontational approach for the next phase of de-colonialization. Not all of the countries taking part in the conference were fully colonized, but most suffered attacks by colonial powers, and they were certainly affected by the cultural dominance of the technologically and economically advanced West. As a result, some of the people in Asia have found it difficult to shake the view that Western culture is superior to their own. The conference gives formerly colonized peoples the opportunity to take part in a participative process of self-determination that fosters dignity by allowing them to define themselves. How these countries define freedom and what political systems they choose to establish are decisions that nations must take themselves, as people should be free to decide which values they want to take in from other cultures.

This may be hard for some Westerners to accept. It may help to remember that 500 years ago European missionaries went out into the world to save souls by converting them to conservative Christian beliefs, which most Europeans of today would reject. Through this process, the West learned that it can only offer its ideas – the people in each country need to decide for themselves what they will absorb and what they will reject.

Peace is a prerequisite of economic growth and the improvement of people’s lives, and prosperity is the prerequisite for the continuation of a civilization and the development of a vibrant and modern culture. The conference has a commercial aspect, in so far as it could encourage tourism and the trade of cultural products. But these short-term profits are far outweighed by the value of the bigger goal of the conference, which is to create an environment for Asia that is multicultural, prosperous, diverse, and peaceful.

Note: Harald Buchmann is a Swiss economic analyst and business advisor based in Beijing.

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