Europe-China Cooperation in the Digital Era by R. Prodi

by on Monday, 13 September 2010 Comments

On September 10, Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission and former Italian Prime minister, was the guest of the Xu-Ricci Dialogue Institute at Fudan University, Shanghai. Together with Professor Melloni, director of the John XXII Foundation for Religious Science in Bologna, he was introducing to a Chinese audience the flagship project of the Foundation: a database regrouping the editions of all Ecumenical Church Councils, in all languages and writing systems in which they had been acted

What follows is a slightly abridged English version of the speech he pronounced in Italian on this occasion:


Cooperation in humanities research

Anyone who has followed the relations between Europe and China during the last decades has been observing a steady growth in all areas. First should be mentioned economics, on which were built close ties that now have changed the very production apparatus of both partners. Political relations should also be mentioned: China has sought a partner that it has not always found, but - I hope - will definitely find in the future. Scientific cooperation has developed in science and technology. Today, this cooperation has created a business system of which Shanghai is the new capital.

However, less advanced has been the cooperation in the humanities - from history to philosophy, through literature, history and sociology. This situation is partly due to mistakes made by the economic sector, which often thinks that understanding cultures is secondary for achieving its objectives. On the contrary we know that economic development needs common cultural background as well as a deeper understanding of the others and their history. And this is especially true when, as now, debate and dialogue between different cultures prove to be an indispensable tool for the understanding and rapprochement between people and governments. The cultural separation between Europe and China has in fact created deep scars, still remaining.

On the one hand there is the united force of the great Chinese tradition and self-awareness of this "Middle Kingdom" that for millennia has perceived itself and acts as a great and unified agent. On the other, there is the force of European diversity, united from the fact of being a collection of minorities who, after centuries of wars, have very recently decided to join in a common entity. This agent has not yet been able to become a leading player in the international political scene, but not only has it ensured economic prosperity and equal rights to all citizens, but also has avoided that the great transitions of these last decades be consumed in a blood bath, as we saw it happening in the Balkans.

These two very different systems of thought and culture have an extreme need of humanistic knowledge for understanding themselves – they need historians, philosophers and philologists. And over time we will see that their works, apparently so distant from the economy, are its most effective and necessary fertilizer.


The value of a universalistic approach

For enhancing such cooperation tools are obviously needed, such as the universities and research and centers that have been implemented here in Shanghai. But this is only a step. What is now needed is a generation of scholars who can tackle global issues of global nature, and who can study their own history and the one of the others at the same time –scholars who can operate an active and open exchange of knowledge.

In short, we need a model of cooperation that aims not only at producing “Orientalists” in the West and specialists of Western studies in the East - figures of which there is a dire need but who play a different role. We need also cooperation among specialists able to work on historical sources, literary, legal, cultural and political commonalities, able to understand their world and the ones of the others so as to offer the necessary synthesis.

The project on the sources of Councils held by Christian churches of all confession, of every ages and in every language that we present here today in the prestigious Fudan University that greets us, in front of leading scholars, is a case of best practice.

The project, initiated by the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna, is certainly very specific: Councils are the instrument by which the churches have reached a consensus on the doctrine to be accepted or rejected and have built their community. But the simplicity of this tool that crossed the history of all churches leads one to deal with sources in all languages and alphabets, and to measure oneself with all cultures, including the one of China. I want to point out that, in the second decade of the last century, Bishop Costantini, apostolic delegate and Italian (and therefore certainly not the bearer of colonial ambitions) estimated that the appropriate way to put in closer contact world Christianity and China was to promote a Chinese National Council.

The project, supported by the Emilia-Romagna region as well as by institutional donors in Tuscany and important Italian companies, is also an example of good cooperation because it is associates the work of philologist working on textual critique with computer engineering so as to maintain a database with many different alphabets and a mountain of data.


Cooperation instruments

I do not enter further into this fascinating topic, but I stand on what I know best: my experience in European policies. To increase cultural cooperation in research, in sciences as in the humanities, and to make such cooperation become am essential point of contact between the European Union and China, we need great qualities of personal commitment by all of those who promote it as well as the vision of donors capable of writing their names on projects that will define the 21st century. Still, I am convinced that all this is not sufficient and that three conditions affect scientific policy.

First it is essential to rely on the patience of friendship: to create a climate of trust - and partnership requires time perspective. I can myself testify to the fact that, 25 years ago, my interest in China was considered eccentric by the ones who now realize that, with a partner such as China, only time makes us able to distinguish between small bets and large-scale purposes, such honoring the past and future of our relations.

Second institutions must show long-term vision and make long-term investments, so that these relationships may continue to grow. The world of science - and even the humanities - is now extremely articulate in both Europe and China. Students’ exchanges are a first step, but we also need PhD exchanges, exchanges of professors, relations between research centers of international standing such as those promoted between Bologna, Beijing and Shanghai on the occasion of this event

Thirdly we need a certain vision from the part of the business world that today is confronted with difficulties often dramatic, but which should know that in a world like China you may truly enter only with cultural credentials and if you are able to think of this huge market not as a land to conquer, but as a world where Harmony is a golden key.

In this perspective the project of which we speak here - research on the Councils - is meaningful for everyone. Councils are both the heirs of the Roman Senate and the forerunners of modern parliamentary assemblies. Studying them means to enter into something that is certainly unique to the Christian tradition but which has also a universal resonance of political, legal and theological character. It means trying to understand how to produce an experience in consensus (or in harmony, as one says in China). Such work requires much faith: a faith in the fact that we can overcome divisions, find clarity and unifying factors - and this is what the whole world, including the world of relations between Europe and China, needs most today.



Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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