8 – A Cultural Action for the European Participation in the New Silk Road

At the end of 17th century, the philosopher and scientist Leibniz wrote, in Latin, the work “Novissima Sinica”, what means “Last news from China”, which related about the twofold victory achieved  by Jesuits, both in Rome and in Cina and, obtaining, from the Pope, the  recognition of the “Chinese Rythes” and, from the Chinese Emperor, the right to preach and to convert in China under his high protection. In the foreword of “Novissima Sinica”, Leibniz explained why China and Europe are very similar, and that also Russia was trying to emulate Europe, so to become able to represent a bridge between Europe and China. These pages could have been written even today: “I consider it a singular plan of the fates that human cultivation and refinement should today be concentrated, as it were in the past, in the two extremes of our continent, in Europe and in Tshina (as they call it), which adorns the Orient as Europe does the opposite edge of the earth. Perhaps, Supreme Providence has ordained such an arrangement, so that as the most cultivated and distant peoples stretch out their arms to each other, those in between may gradually be brought to a better way of life. I do not think it an accident that the Muscovites whose vast
realm connects Europe with China and who hold sway over the deep barbarian lands of the North by the shore of the frozen ocean, should be led to the emulation of our ways through the strenuous efforts of their present ruler and their Patriarch, as I understand it, in agreement with him.”

According to Leibniz, the Chinese were inferior to Europeans as to mathematics, but were superior for their ethical virtues and for their political culture. Albeit he appreciated immensely the mission of Jesuits as mediators among Europe and China, he would have preferred that not only Europe had sent its  missionaries to China, but that also the latter would have sent its own missionaries. A thing which is now happening, with Confucius Institutes. Also today we should carry out an activity of cultural enlightenment between Europe and China, like the one of Jesuits and Leibniz.

In fact, our “Western” culture, unbelievably self-centered, operates as if it were surrounded by an artificial  screen, impeaching us to see what is happening in the “world outside”, especially in the Asian continent. We are suffering, thus, because of three types of limitations:

-a disproportion between our information about “Western modern” and the one about the rest of the world;

-a disproportion between information about our limited “Nation-States” and the one concerning the rest of the West;

-Western cultural arrogance, which pushes us to consider anything “Western” and “Modern” to be superior to anything “Eastern” and “Ancient”.

Whilst most Europeans ignore even the names of all the member States of the European Union, cultivated Europeans often ignore the names of the capital cities of  such States. Only a few specialists in Italy know something of a language different from Italian and English, and, moreover,  some intellectuals know something about extra-European States. Under these conditions, it is almost impossible to discuss seriously with anybody in Europe about world politics or economy, or to work out any credible corporate strategy. This is the first and foremost reason why European integration has reached so poor results, and why European companies are not able to effectively compete with international groups of other Continents. Americans have at least the presumption to understand everything of the other countries, also because they find always everybody able and willing to express himself in English.

On the contrary, Asian people are well acquainted with all parts of the world because, up to very recent times, education in their countries was based to  a large extent upon European curricula and ideologies, but, now, they have been obliged to study, at least partially, also their own history, language and culture, so that they are more able to understand what happens in a larger part of the world. This ability, essential today, is one of the main reasons for the success of China, India and some Arabic countries.

We should promote such effort of information also in Europe, what would prove useful in first instance to each of our fellow countrymen, and, secondarily, for a reasonable political re-orientation of Europe. Europe is now in a deep cultural, ideological, economic, political and social crisis. Having accepted a merely passive role within the West, we have lost our independence of judgement, the taste for autonomy, the objectivity of thinking.  Only going out of our closed world will we be able to detect which are  our real problems and try to solve them. The presence of, and the dialogue with, Asian people, will help us to accomplish this task.

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