West-Eastern Dialogue – An Approach

In: West-Eastern Mirror
Free access

Intercultural encounters have always been a challenge. History has taught us that intercultural encounters should be understood as cautious and inconclusive approaches. In earlier times this insight was not common. The idea that one can fully understand the other has turned out to be not only a deceptive illusion but it has also become apparent that such deterministic approaches are often due to colonial strategies of domination. By transforming the other into the image of what one had imagined through one’s own perception, the other often became a controllable counterpart, especially from a Western European perspective. This controllable counterpart was all too often a subjugated object that was considered culturally deficient and inferior. An increased understanding in the recent decades of this history of cultural and economic colonization has highlighted our difficulties in adequately understanding each other due to our (mostly subconscious) cultural attitudes and influences.

On the horizon of globalization, intercultural encounters and intercultural understanding take on a new systemic meaning. Economic and political systems must function pragmatically. Goods are traded all over the world. Political agreements are forged worldwide – with varying degrees of commitment and force – with the intention of minimizing armed conflict, securing adequate living conditions for all people and ensuring the international trade of goods and services. Global economic relations are so tightly intertwined that it no longer seems possible to partition one part of the world off from another. The economy and politics in particular must inevitably operate along self-evident cultural patterns. The others may not be the same as us, but they must appear similar enough for us to believe that we can make reliable arrangements with them. This functions more often than not but is frequently accompanied by the discomfort of uncertainty as to whether the other really is what he or she is ‘supposed’ to be.

In this context, the call has become louder again to affirm that the cultural conditions are correct. These cultural preconditions consist of a set of vertices with a historical depth and a systematic horizon. Upon closer examination of both history and systematics, the question arises of how commonalities and similarities on the one hand and the discovery of differences on the other can be put into a meaningful relationship. Keywords such as cultural identity or cultural difference have been controversially discussed in recent years. One indisputable fact becomes clear: understanding cultural influence is one of the central challenges.

Against this background, German scientists from the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (FSU) and Chinese scientists from the East China Normal University Shanghai (ECNU) have begun to work closely together in recent years. The joint task was to discuss this historical and systematic dimensions between German-European culture and Chinese culture. Since July 2015, the “Research Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences ECNU-FSU” has provided an institutional framework for these discussions. This research center is based on a cooperation agreement between the East China Normal University Shanghai and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, which, among other things, provides for the supervision of doctoral studies. The center is integrated into the Si-Mian Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities of the East China Normal University. On the Jena side, the Institute for Philosophy and the Institute for Education and Culture are particularly involved. As part of this cooperation, several joint conferences have been held in Shanghai and Jena.

In November 2014, there was a conference on “The Three Teachings: Traditional Chinese Philosophy and German Idealism”. A meeting on the topic “Current Issues in Education Reform Chinese-German-Dialogue” followed in October 2016. In July 2017, the topic “Virtue and Morality in the Philosophical and Pedagogical Tradition. A Chinese-German Conversation” was discussed. The present volume “West-Eastern Mirror. Virtue and morality in the German-Chinese Dialogue” emerged from the latter conference.

This volume discusses the formative cultural traditions in Germany/Europe and China with a special focus on the increasingly important aspects of “virtue and morality”. The first part deals with cultural imprints in Europe and China (Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism) with reference to interpretation patterns that exist currently or originated through “ancient” traditions. In the second part, the focus is on a dialogical confrontation of European philosophy with a focus on Rousseau, Herbart, Gadamer and Hegel. The volume thus offers an overall important impulse to examine both the bridges and lasting otherness in the German-Chinese conversation.