6 – Italy alongside the Silk Road: 2000 Years of Interchange

The HouHanShu  (the Annals of Later Han) defined Rome, Italy, the Roman Empire, as “DaQin”, the Great China, in the same way as Ancient Greeks defined Italy as “Megale Hellas” (“the Great Greece”). This was a sign of respect and communicated a sense of commonality. What the Han  admired in the Western Empire were, from one side, the nature of its citizens, which were “tall and upright”, that means “kaloikagathoi”, according to the Greek ideal, which corresponded to the Confucian concept of “Junzi”. From the other side, the perfection of its organisation, from the monarchic institution, to urbanism, to transportation and post, up to agricultural production. Especially, Rome and Italy have always been active in the exchange with the Far East. As the Weilue says, the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius had sent an embassy to China. Under Trajan, the Roman fleet dominated the Indian coasts. In the Middle Ages, Italian merchants were specialised in commerce with the East. The trip of Marco Polo is famous both in the East and in the West. Marco Polo arranged, on behalf of the Pope,  the creation of a catholic  ecclesiastical seat in Beijing . The first bishop of the city, Giovanni da Monte Corvino, translated the Gospel and the Psalms into the Chinese Language. Mostly Italian Jesuits played a crucial role in Ching Empire, with Matteo Ricci writing books in Chinese and creating the so-called “Chinese Ryths”, Intorcetta translating Confucius, and Castiglione introducing the Italian pictorial and architectural style. Italian Jesuits defused Chinese culture in Europe and influenced especially the philosopher Leibniz, the main admirer of that culture. The City of Torino hosts the most important Egyptian Museum of the Wold after Cairo. The Italian musician Giacomo Puccini composed two operas (Turandot and Butterfly) which express the spirit of the Silk Road, whilst the writer Emilio  Salgari created, already at the end of the XIX century, fancy novels extolling  the struggles for independence of South-East Asia. Umberto Tucci was an important scholar of Asian cultures, and the writers Pasolini and Moravia appreciated Indian culture. Prime Minister Gentiloni has been the first leader of an important Western country to participate in the Silk Road Forum in  Beijing in 2017.

Chinese enterprises are very active in Italy. The Bank of China has a shareholding in all most important public companies in Italy. Moreover,   the Chinese rating company Dagong has on office in Milan. Finally, Chinese companies control the tyre manufacturer Pirelli, whose brand new corporate governance represents a model of independence of local management and continuity of employment and local corporate culture.

All the above shows that Italy is a crucial point for the relationships of China with the rest of the world, and especially with Europe. Notwithstanding the above, knowledge of China in Italy is not widespread, and most Italians are not realising how important the relationships with China are for economy and culture.

There is a huge space for cultural action.

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