by Prof. Zhu Shanlu 
Chairman of Peking University Council

In March 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping articulated at UNESCO Headquarters the new thinking on civilisation -“Civilisations have become richer and more colourful with exchanges and mutual learning”. It is noteworthy that such thinking is based not on “clashes”, but on “exchanges and mutual learning”. Only by viewing civilisations as “diversified, equal and inclusive” will the “seeds of the idea of peace sprout, take root and grow in the hearts and minds of the world’s people”.

A year later, President Xi Jinping reiterated during his visit to Pakistan, our shared undertaking to “strengthen inter-civilisation dialogue so as to jointly promote the wisdom of the East and Asian values”. The Sub-forum shows how China’s commitment fructifies - it is no less an important achievement of bilateral cultural exchanges than a great boost for the new thinking on civilisation.

Cultural diversity is an objective reality of our society. No civilisation is superior or inferior to any other, and mutual respect and learning is the fundamental prerequisite for inter-civilization dialogue.

As Tang Yongtong, a noted master of Chinese culture, put it: “Different peoples across the globe develop their philosophies in their own ways, yet they tend to identify with one another through constant exchanges.The thoughts of any two peoples must have something in common, as endemic morality blends itself with alien ideology.” Inter-civilisation dialogue is a gradual and inevitable process in which horizontal interaction synchronises with vertical evolution.

Taxila, in northern Punjab, Pakistan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apollonius, an ancient Greek philosopher, described Sirkap City in Taxila as a vibrant place where different peoples, languages, cultures, religions and gods co-existed and merged. The decoration of pagoda pedestals, together with the Babylonian-style double-headed eagles roosting on the roofs of Greek, Hindu and Buddhist temples, are but a few lasting embodiments of the seamless merging. The stories of Taxila epitomise the history of Pakistan, a land where different civilisations interact and co-prosper.

In a similar vein, the development of Chinese civilisation is a process of “opening doors” and “going global”. Our contact with exotic civilisations has really helped us grow. “Opening doors” means assimilating the essence of other peoples around the world while maintaining our own outstanding traditions; “going global” means guiding the flow of Chinese civilisation into the international mainstream. So far, the bi-directional process has been going on and on.

History enlightens us that exchange and mutual learning adds colour to various civilisations and enables different peoples to enrich their cultural life and create more options for their future.

In February 2014, leaders of our two countries agreed to jointly strive for more friendly political relations, stronger economic bonds, deeper security cooperation and closer people-to-people contact, and work together for the goal of the “China-Pakistan community of shared destiny”. Our strategic partnership was thus pushed to a new historic high. 

Last year, President Xi Jinping published an article via Pakistani media, arguing that on the basis of our excellent political ties, we should “build a momentum of people-to-people exchange and set a good example of mutual learning and friendly cooperation between different civilizations”.

Currently, both countries are committed to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which extends southward from Kashgar to Gwadar. Linking the Silk Road Economic Belt to the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, the Corridor constitutes the first movement of “One Belt, One Road”(OBOR) symphony composed at the instance of China, and with the help of Pakistan, among others. It is bound to boost the multi-directional connectivity and pluralistic win-win situation of our two countries, and in turn build a community of shared opportunities and destiny.

The deep-rooted, leafy tree of China-Pakistan friendship should be nourished as much by cultural exchanges, as by the Karakoram Highway straddling our border.

Cultural exchanges are an enduring endeavor, and the dialogue between scholars is an integral part of cultural exchanges. Standing at the cutting edge of knowledge and ideas, institutions and technology, academic elites serve as the trendsetters and powerhouses of our society.

In May 2014, the inaugural Urdu-Chinese Dictionary was published in our country after 30 years of lucubration by Urdu specialists under the leadership of Prof. Kong Julan at Peking University. With 65,000 entries and 1.7 million Chinese characters, the 1,450-page dictionary includes a broad spectrum of well-translated cultural terms, historical events, folk legends and proverbs, meeting the urgent needs for people-to-people exchanges. At the launching ceremony, President Mamnoon Hussain spoke highly of the dictionary’s role in bridging the gap between our two cultures and languages. It is no less a fruit of scholarly wisdom of several generations than a proof of academic efforts in cultural exchanges.

As the old Chinese saying goes, “The man who can use the forces of all is matchless in the world; the man who can use the wisdom of all is fearless before a saint.” Academic exchanges help scholars draw on each other’s strength and expand the scope of collaboration. It behooves cross-border transfer of knowledge and global sharing of wisdom to play a more prominent role in the dialogue between civilisations.

Beijing Forum provides an internationally influential platform for cultural and scholarly exchanges. Committed to the dialogue between civilisations, it constellates elites from various countries to promote academic development in Asia-Pacific and assimilate high-level findings from all over the world.

And the forum, with the theme of “Harmony of Civilisations and Prosperity for All - China and Pakistan in the Community of Shared Destiny for All Mankind”, encompasses the cultural, economic and political aspects of such exchanges. With the mutual efforts of scholars, the Sub-forum, we believe, will lend itself to the celebration of the 65th anniversary of China-Pakistan diplomatic relations. It will contribute to the OBOR initiative and bolster the economic benefits, political trust, cultural interaction and academic prosperity of Northeast Asia and South Asia.

A Pakistani friend once told me that near the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant, a China-Pakistan joint venture, lies a road without end. Locals believe the road, named Shahrah-e-Dosti, symbolises the abiding affinity between our two countries. As our friendship eternally renews itself, so will our cultural exchanges go down the forever road. I hope scholars and people from all walks of life in both China and Pakistan will team up to make greater contributions to our society.