China and the ancient Greece are among the world’s most important cradles for human civilizations. More than 2,000 years ago, the two ancient civilizations still had some indirect exchanges despite being separated by the vast Eurasian landmass. The ancient Greek people even had a name for the Chinese at that time: Seres, which means the silk-people.
In today’s world of interdependence, it is of great historical and contemporary significance for China and Greece to promote exchanges and mutual learning between the two civilizations and also push forward the development of civilizations in other countries.
Last week, the Center of Greek and Chinese Ancient Civilizations was officially inaugurated at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA). Partnering with the Center of Chinese and Greek Ancient Civilizations of the Southwest University in China, the newly-opened institute aims to promote bilateral exchanges of scholars and students to advance the study of the two civilizations.
A deeper exploration of Greek and Chinese civilizations, two of the most ancient ones, will benefit the whole world, said professors from Greek universities involved in founding the new center.
“We believe that in this world, which is fragmented, where values are in crisis, it would be very beneficial for all of us, not just for China and Greece, but for the whole world, to look at the legacy of these two great cultures and look at them in a comparative way,” said Stelios Virvidakis, president of the Steering Committee of the Center of Greek and Chinese Ancient Civilizations.
A JOINT INITIATIVE
Back in 2019, during his state visit to Greece, Chinese President Xi Jinping and then President of Greece Prokopis Pavlopoulos visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Xi said the tour left him a beautiful and memorable impression, and deepened his understanding of ancient Greek civilization. He said he felt the impact of history and further realized that China and Greece, as two ancient civilizations, have much in common.
During Xi’s visit, the two leaders jointly advocated exchanges and mutual learning between civilizations. After the visit, the two sides started to build centers dedicated to what the two leaders proposed.
The deepening of cooperation between Greece and China through this new venue opens a new world, a new era, said Apostolis Dimitropoulos, former general secretary of higher education at Greece’s Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs.
Recalling his visit in 2019 to Qufu city in Shandong Province of China, the birthplace of Confucius, Dimitropoulos said he realized at that time that it was of great significance to start from a comparative study of the philosophies of the two countries when exploring the two ancient civilizations.
Confucianism has great influence on the eastern civilization, “while ancient Greece has saved the western civilization. By studying the foundations of the two in a comparative perspective, I think we could understand more the foundations of the globe,” Dimitropoulos told Xinhua.
The initiative to build the research centers brings together eight universities from Greece and China, and was warmly supported by the Chinese president.
Xi has recently replied to a letter from Virvidakis and four other Greek scholars, extending congratulations over the founding of the Center of Greek and Chinese Ancient Civilizations.
“I am very happy and honored and moved that the Chinese president has responded to our letter and has pledged to support and sustain our joint efforts of the two centers, the center in Greece and the center in China,” said Virvidakis, also professor emeritus of Philosophy of the NKUA.
A MIRROR TO EACH OTHER
Nikos Kazantzakis, a giant of modern Greek literature who had visited China twice, commented that “Confucius and Socrates were two masks that covered the same face of human logic.”
For Virvidakis, each civilization is like a mirror to the other.
Greeks feel that Chinese are friends, and China is another self of Greece, Virvidakis said, referring to a quote of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who said that a friend is another self.
“My colleagues and I believe that the Chinese are real friends who can share our worries, and our dreams, hopes and vision for the future. I do believe that they are like a mirror that makes us understand ourselves better here in Greece and in the West to the extent that the whole West has been influenced by Greek thought,” he explained.
“From now on the partnership between China and Greece will have a very different character,” said Pavlos Kontos, professor of Philosophy at the University of Patras. He added that the University of Patras in Greece and the Southwest University in China will jointly launch a master’s program which will begin in September.
“It is on Chinese and Greek civilizations and it is the first one worldwide that introduces a comparative approach to these two civilizations,” Kontos said.
A COMMUNITY WITH A SHARED FUTURE
In his letter to Greek scholars, Xi said in order to promote the development of human society and jointly build a community with a shared future for mankind, we must deeply understand and grasp the age-old origins and rich contents of different civilizations and let the essence of all civilizations benefit the present generation and all mankind.
The world today is undergoing profound changes unseen in a century, Xi said, adding that to solve outstanding contradictions and problems facing the mankind, it is necessary to rely on material means to overcome difficulties and rely on the strength of the spirit to rectify mind through thinking with sincerity.
“We think it is a very sound and correct advice. Because we do believe in the power of the spirit and in the importance of values … The idea is that the people, the scientists and the administrators and politicians who work on solutions, can be inspired from the teaching of great thinkers,” Virvidakis said.
“In our civilizations, both the Chinese civilization and Greek civilization, we have concepts which provide us with guidelines to more harmonious cooperation in our world,” former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told Xinhua in a recent interview in Athens.
“We do believe that if people from different cultures get together and exchange ideas, this will benefit the whole world. If two big cultures, like Chinese and Greek cultures, get together and exchange ideas, then the hope is that people from other traditions may join,” Virvidakis said.
“China and Greece have showed the way for this convergence of people and developing new solutions,” he added.