Former Chinese Ambassador on Cross-Cultural Exchange

On September 5th 2006, shortly after the 2006 Beijing Cross Cultural Communication Forum, the People’s Daily Online published an exclusive interview article entitled Significance of cross cultural communication can’t be underestimated, Wu Jianmin, highlighting the roles and importance of intercultural exchange in development and peace.

Wu Jianmin was the former Chinese ambassador to France and currently is the President of the Chinese Foreign Affairs University. The points made in the interview are useful references since it represents in many aspects China’s official views on intercultural exchanges. Here is the report.

Reporter: Culture is a component of China’s soft power strategy to develop national strength, and culture can only extend its influence through communication. What do you think is the significance of cross-cultural communication in soft power building?

Wu Jianmin:Cross-cultural communication is a major task for China and the world today. The development of cross cultural exchange is essential to building a harmonious society as well as an internal force promoting world peace, development and cooperation. Obstacles hindering China’s development may be removed and speculation on the “China Threat Theory” resolved through frequent cultural exchanges. The world might understand the true goals of China’s peaceful rise and appreciate the benefits and opportunities made available to them because of China’s development. I think it will greatly contribute to the building of the harmonious society President Hu Jintao envisages.

Reporter: China’s comprehensive national strength has grown remarkably, and it has increased its international status and influence. However, the cultural differences between China and the rest of the world have intensified. What do you think we should do to resolve this contradiction and develop soft power?

Wu Jianmin: China should confidently display its true colors to the world. I personally believe that most foreign opinions on China are purely speculation. Throughout history, the rise of a nation was based on expansion, aggression and colonization. Nearly all the current powers have moved through those stages.

I want to say that China has never done that; it has never gained power through aggression. Historically speaking, China, once the largest and most powerful country in the world, has an incredible history and splendid culture. Dating back some 600 years, with an enormous and powerful fleet, Zhen He set out on his first voyage to Malaysia (nearly 28,000 miles south of China), taking with him the wonderful Chinese culture. He taught locals how to dig wells, cultivate rice and cotton as well as build houses. The quality of water from wells was better than river water, and rice and cotton greatly improved the living standard of the locals. Furthermore, he also passed on China’s knowledge of construction.

owever when the Portuguese arrived on the island country in 1511, they built blockhouses and exploited and enslaved the aboriginals.

These examples show that China has never bullied other countries even in its most powerful and prosperous period. I may safely boast that Chinese culture is a peaceful culture.

In modern times, China has achieved much since it adopted a policy of reform and opening-up in 1978. China has shared its economic growth with people across the world. With its policy of attracting foreign investment, China has welcomed advances in skills, equipment and managerial expertise. China has cooperated with foreign countries for common development, creating a win-win situation that benefits all parties.

Reporter: The large cultural deficit in China’s external cultural exchange and communication is an abnormal phenomenon. As an experienced diplomat and a cultural envoy, could you elaborate on the long-standing mistakes made in soft power building?

Wu Jianmin: The cultural deficit has not happened by chance. It is common that countries with a flourishing economy will have a strong cultural influence on countries with a sluggish economy. The export of cultural products by developed countries will outstrip that of developing countries. But I want to mention two areas of error that China must be aware of.

Some people believe it is difficult for the situation to change in a short period of time, but I don’t think so. Altering such passiveness cannot be realized in one step. I think many Chinese still do not understand the true meaning of Chinese culture. They often think their cultural products will be accepted worldwide. Others believe that such a problem can be resolved by directly addressing the issue in talks, or if necessary, warfare.

Internally speaking, soft power is a kind of cohesive force; externally speaking, it is a feeling of affinity, and it can’t be imposed upon others.

Reporter: How do you define the relationship between cross-cultural exchange and soft power building?

Wu Jianmin: Culture is the essence of China’s soft power, and cross-cultural exchange implies communication between two different types of cultures.

First of all, we need to know what Chinese culture is and why we should develop it. China’s social and cultural development cannot be separated.

Secondly, we need to understand others’ cultures. A Chinese idiom best illustrates my meaning: if you know your enemy and yourself, you can fight a hundred battles without defeat.

We can absorb the best of foreign culture through comparison and soft power building, and strengthen cross-country communication. Soft power building is developing and progressing. We should combine culture from both home and abroad, propelling the healthy and rapid development of cross-cultural exchange and soft power building.

So, what do you think?

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