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Exchange and Harmony

by RO on Saturday, 09 September 2006 Comments
“Harmony” is a central concept in China’s spiritual as well as social thought. Although similar concepts and ideals can be found in the West they might not play as decisive a role as is the case in the Chinese context. The decades that followed 1949 had seen a sharp decline in the use of the term, as political circumstances made the central government emphasize the role of “struggle” in the process of building-up a new social model. However, “Harmony”, as a spiritual ideal and a regulating social concept, has been progressively revived and investigated anew. In this line, the emphasis now put on “hehe wenha” (culture of harmony and cooperation) by several leading intellectuals and institutions is an interesting attempt at a conciliation between the traditional social thought and today’s realities.

Such conciliation is not an easy task. Anyone who wants to make use of the traditional “Harmony” concept meets immediately with a problem: the concept was fitting a homogeneous society with clear-cut levels of authority and firm control on external influences. Contemporary societies (be it in China or elsewhere) are characterized by their fluidity, their internationalization, a constant diversification in thinking and norms of conduct, and by the ever-increasing level of human, economic and cultural exchanges. In this context, if “Harmony” is still to be made use of, it certainly has to refer less to a state of things to which one should come back (a sheer impossibility) than to a new social ideal to be worked out, this throughout diversity, contradictions and exchanges. Two questions will stay with us for a long time: Can China learn from the way Western societies muddle through “Harmony” and “Conflict”? And does the Chinese concept of “Harmony” have something to teach to the rest of the world?

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