Harmony in diversity, explained
Roger T. Ames
The Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations will be held from May 15 to 22 in Beijing. With the aim of promoting exchanges among different civilizations, participants from 47 Asian countries and some other countries outside the region will be attending. Ahead of the conference, Roger T. Ames, humanities chair professor at Peking University, shared his understanding of Chinese civilizations with CGTN.
CGTN: China is one of the world's four ancient major civilizations. Compared with other ones, what's so special about it?
Ames: The distinctive feature of Chinese civilization, I think, is its thickness. When we look at ancient Greece, Plato and Aristotle, ancient Greek culture has very little to do with the modern state of Greece. When we look at even Rome and Italy, it doesn't seem to be connected.
But the strength of the Chinese tradition is a kind of intergenerational transmission. You have the older and the younger generation after generation embodying the culture and then passing it on to the next generation.
Each generation produces a commentary on the classics. It's a combination of the sense of responsibility of each generation to build a connector to the next generation. "A man can enlarge the principles which he follows," the idea of the transmission of "Tao" is really very important.
The story of China is really the story of hybridity, the notion in Chinese today is "Harmony in diversity" (aims at harmony, and not at uniformity.)
The notion of "Harmony" doesn't mean harmony in a simple way. "Harmony" means a kind of optimizing of difference.
The concept of "harmony" is all about difference.
You can either be afraid of difference, "同而不和" (aims at uniformity, and not at harmony) or, you can activate difference to create diversity. And so the strength of the Chinese tradition has been that it's inclusive.
The Belt and Road Initiative is really a contemporary expression. In the old days, you talked about "Tian Xia" (the world), a concept of the geopolitical order. The modern version of "Tian Xia" is when you talk about "win-win" and "world community."
CGTN: Now we hear a lot about the "Clash of Civilizations." What's your take on this? Do you think it is inevitable?
Ames: It's inevitable only if you believe in truth.
The Western tradition begins with the Bible and the idea of one true religion, one true God. The Western tradition has been truth seekers, they quest for certainty.
But China has been a way seeker. China wants to find "Tao". The "Tao" is not something that is fixed and certain. The "Tao" is something always under construction, something that is always changing, something that is always evolving. 
I think the conflict comes out of asserting the truth. When we look at Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, everybody has the same Bible, but everybody is fighting.
When we look at Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism in China, we find "Three traditions as one."
In Chinese tradition, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism are not in competition, they are complementary. Truth is, as soon as we make something into one, it becomes oppressive. It becomes dangerous.
CGTN: What could be done to encourage constructive dialogue and cooperation between various civilizations? How can China help in dispelling the fears?
Ames: The kind of issues we face today, global warming, environmental degradation, food and water shortages, pandemics, all of these problems are not individual problems.
What we need is to move from an ideology of individualism and individual states to the idea of cooperation, to the idea of collaboration from winners and losers, to winners and winners, or losers and losers. So we need a new model. And that model is really consistent with traditional Chinese culture “己欲立而立人” (wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others).
China has not had its voice in the world for two hundred years. Chinese culture can't solve all of the problems of the world. But Chinese culture ought to have its voice, ought to have its place at the table and ought to make its contribution.
The rise of China was made possible because of the stability in the world. That stability was coming from Europe and coming from America, too. And China had the chance to grow its economy and to lift people out of poverty.
Right now, America is withdrawing from international relations. Europe is very beleaguered; then, now it's China's turn to provide stability in the world because of civilization, because of the culture, because of the values.
Reporter: Wang Naiqian
Creative planning: Wu Chutian, Wang Naiqian
Videographer: Bo Tao, Zheng Chenlei, Wang Zeyu
Video editors: Wu Chutian
Producer: Wen Yaru
Chief Editor: Lin Dongwei
Supervisor: Pang Xinhua
(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)