Importance of festivals in international relations

Updated: 2010-12-24 18:49
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The festive season is upon us. First comes Christmas and then the New Year party time. One wonders how Chinese cities became so international. We can find Santa greeting us at every public place, whether shopping malls or city squares or Metro stations. Christmas trees are glittering and omnipresent. Shops are flowing with wrapped gifts made for your near and dearest.

On Tuesday evening, our university gave us a Christmas banquet, which has become an annual tradition, as a growing number of foreigners are choosing China as their working place and cannot return home on this special occasion for family reunions.

In the reform era, China has shown considerable religious tolerance by embracing people and their cultural festivals from across the religions and nation states. The mantra is, "All are welcome," with the condition that you observe and respect Chinese local laws and regulations.

These changes in China have created a positive image of the nation across the world. For better or worse, foreigners do recognize that Chinese civilization, after all, is not a homogeneous one.

Chinese civilization is made up of many ethnic groups, which all claim different faiths and cultural traditions, including Islam and Christianity, which is well practiced by a significant number of the Chinese population.

In today's world, when we divide people across nation-states and religions, one must appreciate the openness of Chinese culture and its capacity to absorb foreign cultures in its own way.

Buddhism is a great example of the same tradition. It came from India and got along well with Chinese Confucianism and other schools of thought without much tussle and conflict. And it co-exists with all of them in its long history.

The so-called Clash of Civilizations theory was a scar on international relations, and sooner or later society will reject it. Brazilian author and UN peace messenger Paulo Coelho denounced this Western myth last week and said: "I don't believe in it. It's something some political leaders tried to use, and that the media tried and are still trying to sell us, in order to simplify the world and their work."

Honestly speaking, we do not see any imminent clash among Chinese civilization, Roman-catholic Civilization, Islamic Civilization and Indian civilization. It has been created only in our minds by those who falsely claim to represent the opinion of "International society." It was devised with some conspiracy theory against Islam and other religions, which has been exposed recently.

In a world full of strife and mutual hatred, China has set an example by embracing different festivals and celebrating them as their own.

Other countries should follow the trend by celebrating Chinese festivals. This will be a great positive step in promoting cultural exchange and mutual understanding across the great civilizations.

This will also be very helpful in creating a harmonious world as propounded by Chinese President Hu Jintao. These festivals will play an important role in creating more peaceful and tolerant international relations in the 21st century.

 So to all the laowai (foreigners) celebrating Christmas in Beijing, I send you the following beautiful passage from '静夜思' Jing ye si (Thoughts on a tranquil night) from the Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai:

'床前明月光, 疑是地上霜;举头望明月, 低头思故乡.'
Chuangqian mingyueguang, yi shi dishang shuang; Jutou wang mingyue, ditou si guxiang.

The moon shines bright,
Upon the bedside,
Frost on the floor,
I see the bright moon,
When I raise my head,
My head drops down and I miss my home.

The author is a faculty member at Beijing Foreign Studies University and may be reached at