cross-cultural learning and ecological civilization

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Students from Fudan University and Queen’s University at their first orientation session

Below us the text of a speech I gave at the orientation day for the Queen’s-Fudan semester in Shanghai program.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this orientation event.

Each person who participates in this program has their own reasons for being here. For some of you it may be to improve your language skills, for some, to go beyond your comfort zone, and to test yourself to see what you are capable of, for others to make friends with people from different cultures and countries. I hope all of you get from this program something of what you hoped it would be. But what I do know is that in addition to what you want, you will also get something else. I don’t know what that something else will be for each of you, but I do want you to be open to receiving it.

I first came to China more than twenty years ago. China was a completely different country then, and for those of you who were not alive then, you cannot possibly imagine the depth and breadth of transformation that China has achieved in a single generation. And in twenty years time, when you, like me are in your 40s, China may be yet again a completely different country. But it will be your privilege, just like it has been my privilege, to be part of the story of China’s engagement with the world.

Because of this program you are not simply witnessing the forces of globalization as bystanders, you are directly experiencing them in your daily life. And more than just experiencing globalization, in your classes and in your research projects, you are actually creating globalization. And by creating, and not simply witnessing globalization, you have a chance, a chance to be always ahead of the curve and not behind it.

For me, my lifetime’s work in creating cross-cultural understanding by bringing knowledge of China’s culture to the West has opened up for me a career, and more than that a rewarding life, and more than that a kind of wisdom that, like China, I can always change, I can always do more, and be more than anything that I possibly imagined when I was a 19 year old boy from a small town in northern England fresh off the plane in Beijing. And it is my hope that this program will enable you to be successful in your life and career and personal development in ways that you cannot fully imagine today.

But this program is not just about you. The world has entered an era of ecological crisis born from the pressures of population growth, development and consumerism. The Confucian philosopher Xunzi over two thousand years ago warned that without the restraints of proper civilization, natural human desires would run amok, leading to violence and disaster.

求而無度量分界,則不能不爭;
When people seek to satisfy their desires, if there are no limits or boundaries, then there is bound to be contention;

爭則亂,亂則窮。
When there is contention there is bound to be chaos; and when there is chaos there is bound to be poverty.
(Xunzi 19)

Xunzi’s solution to this key problem of the human condition was to insist on returning to the wise ways of old, the rites and customs 禮 of the former kings of the Zhou dynasty.

But the human and ecological crisis confronting the world today is without precedent. We cannot, like Xunzi, look to the past for answers. We must create new customs, new rites 禮, new ways of relating, to speaking to, engaging with and understanding each other.

This is what you are creating in this program. Not only are you learning skills that will be of enormous value to yourself in your life and career, you are also creating the patterns of cross-cultural civilization that are necessary for seven billion people to live together on this planet. To live together without 爭 contention; without 亂 chaos, and without 窮 poverty.

I wish you all the best in your endeavours and look forward to returning in December to see what you have accomplished.

  1 comment for “cross-cultural learning and ecological civilization

  1. Tammy Gottschling
    September 7, 2013 at 10:34

    I’d like to share your speech on LinkedIn with your permission, James. Thank you for your scholarship and dedication re cross-cultural learning.

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