September 24, 2014
Xi Jinping's Speech in Commemoration of the 2,565th Anniversary of Confucius' Birth

by Xi Jinping

Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the International Conference in Commemoration of the 2,565th Anniversary of Confucius' Birth and the fifth Congress of the International Confucian Association


Xi Jinping

Sept. 24, 2014


Distinguished guests,
Experts and scholars,
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

"Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?" Today, distinguished guests, experts and scholars from home and across the world come together here in Beijing, participating in the International Conference in Commemoration of the 2,565th Anniversary of Confucius' Birth and the fifth Congress of the International Confucian Association. This is a great event of the international academic community as well as Confucian studies community. First of all, let me extend my warm congratulations on the opening of the meetings! And sincere welcome to all friends! 

The theme of the conference, “Confucianism: World Peace and Development”, reflects humanistic concerns about the future of the world and fate of humanity. It is a subject of profound realistic significance. 

Peace and development are the main theme of our time, and two major subjects concerning the happiness and wellbeing of people in all countries. People all over the world wish to live in auspicious and harmonious atmospheres, and want war and violence to get away from humanity. People of all nations wish to live in safe and peaceful environments, and want hunger and poverty to stop pestering us. However, the real world is not as perfect as what we hope it is. Far from that. Regional wars keep arising one after another. Poverty and famine remain prevalent. Incessant flames of war and extreme poverty continue threatening the very lives and subsistence of numerous human beings. In particular, many women and children are still struggling desperately in the shadows of war and poverty. Our hearts are full of sympathy and responsibility at the thought of those unfortunate people. The international community should join hands and make concerted efforts to preserve world peace, and promote common progress, so that we can see hope of peace, hope of development.

Preserving world peace and promoting common progress entail multi-pronged approaches and synergy of all parties, of which a very important aspect is establishing the idea of peaceful development. I visited headquarters of the UNESCO in March. The words engraved in multiple languages on a stone tablet in front of the main building impressed me deeply: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” It makes a very good point. I believe it is crucially important for realizing peace to firmly establish the love for peace in people’s minds.  

The Chinese nation has always been peace-loving. Our love for peace is also deeply rooted in Confucianism. Since ancient times, Chinese people have held in esteem ideas preaching peace: “Co-ordinate and seek harmony with all nations”, “Associating with the benevolent and befriending neighbors is a precious virtue of the state”, “Within the four seas, all men are brothers”, “A far-off relative is not as helpful as a near neighbor”, “neighbors wish each other well, just as loved ones do to each other”, “A warlike state dies inevitably, no matter how big it is”. The love for peace has been embedded firmly in the spiritual world of the Chinese nation, and remains China’s basic idea in handling international relations.

From the Opium War in 1840 to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, the Chinese nation had suffered foreign aggressions and domestic turmoil rarely seen in human history, the Chinese people had endured unprecedented tribulation. We were once on the brink of national subjugation and genocide. In the Chinese War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression alone, our nation paid a heavy price of 35 million deaths and injuries. Having been through the long-term miseries in modern history, the Chinese people have the keenest understanding of the value of peace and the importance of development. The Chinese people are deeply aware that peace is essential to humanity just like air and sunshine. Without air and sunshine, things cannot survive and grow.   

Don't do unto others what you don't want others do unto you. China needs peace, loves peace, is also willing to do its utmost in preserving world peace, and sincerely help people haunted by war and poverty. China will resolutely follow its path of peaceful development, and hopes all countries in the world commit to such a path and implement the idea of peaceful development in our respective policies and actions.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

This year marks the 2565th anniversary of Confucius’ birth. As an important component of traditional Chinese culture, the Confucian philosophy he created and the Confucian ideology established thereafter have exerted profound influences on the Chinese civilization. Along with other intellectual achievements that have been generated in the formulation and development of the Chinese nation, Confucianism recorded the Chinese nation’s spiritual activities, rational thinking and cultural achievements in building their homeland, reflected spiritual pursuits of the Chinese nation, and provided a key source of nutrition for the survival and continuous growth of our nation. The Chinese civilization has not only profoundly influenced China’s own development, but has also made significant contributions to the progress of human civilization as a whole. 

The formulation and development of China’s traditional culture, that of its core component, intellectual achievements, in particular, has roughly undergone the historical periods of pre-Qin contention of different schools of thought, rise of Confucian classics studies in west and east Han dynasties, prevalence of metaphysics in Wei, Jin, South and North dynasties, co-existence of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism in Sui and Tang dynasties, and Neo Confucianism in Song and Ming dynasties. From the historical process lasting more than 2,000 years, we can see several characteristics. First, Confucianism and other schools of thought in Chinese history have competed with and complemented each other, constituting unity of opposites. Despite its long dominant status, Confucianism has been in a state of harmonious co-existence with other theories. Second, like other schools of thought that have existed in Chinese history, Confucianism has morphed with times, and evolved in accordance with corresponding conditions, constantly refreshing itself while responding to demands of times. Which is why it has such lasting vitality. Third, Confucianism and other schools of thought in Chinese history all adhered to the principle that theories must serve the management of state affairs and benefit real life, emphasized giving play to culture’s educational and enlightening functions in cultivating fine personalities, and combined the cultivation of individuals’ and society’s moral qualities with management of state affairs, fulfilling the goal of mutually complementing and mutually facilitating interaction.     

From the perspective of history, all the fine elements of traditional Chinese philosophies, including Confucianism, have contributed tremendously to the cultivation of the Chinese civilization and its uninterrupted continuation in the past thousands of years, to the formulation and preservation of the political situation of unity and unification of China as a country, to the formation and consolidation of China as a big harmonious family of dozens of nationalities, to the generation and enrichment of the Chinese national spirit, to the inspiration of Chinese men and women to safeguard national independence and resist foreign aggression, to the facilitation of Chinese social progress, and to the balancing of social interests and relations in China.

In the present-day world, human civilization has made amazing progress both materially and spiritually. The material abundance, in particular, is beyond the wildest imaginations of ancient times. Meanwhile, contemporary human beings face such outstanding problems as widening wealth gaps, endless greed for materialistic satisfaction and luxury, unrestrained extreme individualism, continuous decline of social credit, ever-degrading ethics, and increasing tension between man and Nature. Resolution of such conundrums not only entails utilization of the current wisdom and strength of mankind, but also calls for that of the wisdom and strength human beings have accumulated over time. 

Some people of insight believe that the fine traditional culture of China, Confucianism included, contains important inspirations for solving the troubles facing us today. Such as the ideas of following the intrinsic nature of matters and integrating Nature and man, of the whole world as one community and a world of full equality, of persistent self-improvement and cultivation of profound moral characters worthy of rich material reward, of taking people as the state’s fundamental as well as pacifying, enriching and pleasing the people, of governing with moral principles and uprightness, of perpetual reform, eliminating obsolete practices and setting up fresh mechanisms, and advancing with the time, of adopting a down-to-earth attitude and seeking truth from facts, of making knowledge and theories meet society’s practical needs, combining theory and practice, and practicing what one preaches, of drawing on collective wisdom and absorb all useful ideas, of loving others and upholding moral principles, of treating people with sincerity, and fostering rapport by upholding good faith, of governing with clean hands and engaging in public affairs diligently, of being frugal and faithful to moral principles and adopting strict self-discipline against extravagance, of restraint and appropriateness, seeking common ground while reserving differences, harmony but not sameness, and harmonious co-existence, of keeping in mind dangers and disasters in times of safety, destruction in times of survival, unrest in times of stability, and being prepared for danger in times of peace, etc. The profound reserves of philosophical deliberations, humanistic concerns, educational values and moral instructions in the fine cultural heritages of the Chinese nation offer useful inspirations for understanding and transforming the world, handling state affairs, and improving society’s moral wellbeing. We should inherit and carry forward contents of traditional culture that are suitable for adjusting social relations and encourage people to improve themselves and pursue good in accordance with conditions of our time, and give them new meanings. I hope Chinese and overseas scholars can communicate and consult with each other, conduct in-depth research on the subject, and let the fine traditional culture of China bring benefits to humanity along with those of the rest of the world.    

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Human civilizations have existed thousands of years. Each country, each nation has arrived at the present by taking over from the past and blazing new trails for the future. The world has become what it is today amid the exchanges and mingling between different civilizations of mankind. Promoting such exchanges and mingling as well as mutual learning and reference is an indispensable path toward a better world and better lives for people of all countries.  

Properly treating civilizations of different countries and nations as well as traditional and contemporary cultures is a significant subject for us to explore. I think we should mainly stick to the following principles:   

First, preserve diversity of the world’s civilizations. "It is an objective truth that all things are different from one another." Diversity is a natural character of the universe. The world is always diverse in thousands of ways, and presenting dazzling colors and hues. The development of things and progress of the world will come to a stop once all things become homogeneous. The civilization of each country and nation is rooted in its soil, with its own characteristics and virtues. We should preserve the diversity of civilizations of all countries and nations, enhance mutual communication, learning and reference, instead of mutual estrangement, exclusion, and even displacement. This is the only way to make the garden of world civilizations a vivid blaze of color.

Each of the rich and colorful human civilizations has its own values. Differences between the civilization of one's own country and that of others should be handled rationally, with the awareness that every civilization is unique. We must seek common ground while reserving differences, learn from others to make up for one's deficiencies, and refrain from attacking or disparaging other civilizations. Don't feel displeased or try to transform, assimilate or even replace other civilizations when they are different from your own. History has repeatedly proven that any attempt to resolve differences among civilizations by compulsory means is doomed to fail and wreck havoc on civilizations. 

Second, respect civilizations of all countries and nations. Civilization, ideology and culture in particular, is the soul of a nation. If a country or nation does not cherish its own ideology and culture, if it loses its soul, no matter which country or which nation, it will not be able to stand on its own. A country or nation must recognize and respect others' ideology and culture while valuing and preserving its own. Different modes of thought of different countries and nations are peculiar in their own ways, and there is no ideology or culture that is superior to others. Irrespective of its size and strength, each country’s ideology and culture deserve to be recognized and respected.

The emphasis on recognizing and respecting the fruits of a country or nation's own civilization does not mean to close the door to others, or to stand upon one’s pantofles. All countries and nations should modestly learn and draw on the strength and quintessence of other civilizations. This is an important condition to upgrading its own cultural self-esteem, self-confidence and independence.

Third, correctly conduct mutual learning and reference between civilizations. Civilizations become colorful thanks to exchanges, and rich because of mutual learning and reference. Any civilization, no matter which country or nation it originated from, is fluid and open. This is an important rule for the spread and development of civilizations. Throughout its protracted evolution, Chinese civilization has assimilated rich nutrition through exchanges with others, and in return made great contributions to the progress of human civilizations. The opening of the ancient Silk Road, the foreign envoys sent to China in the Sui and Tang dynasties, Fa Xian and Xuan Zang’s westward pilgrimages for Buddhist scriptures, and Zheng He’s seven sea-faring trips were all vivid examples of exchanges between Chinese and foreign civilizations.  

Confucianism originated from China. But it has long spread to the rest of the world, becoming a part of human civilizations.

“He who studies alone in the absence of peers ends up being poorly informed.” We should be ready to learn and borrow from all civilizations humanity has created, be they ancient Chinese, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Mesopotamian or Indian civilizations, or today’s Asian, African, European, American, or Oceania civilizations, and actively absorb their beneficial elements. We should make the fine cultural genes of all human civilizations adapt to and coordinate with contemporary cultures and present-day contexts, and advance and enrich the fine cultural spirit that transcends time and space, reaches across national boundaries, and has eternal charm and contemporary values. Mutual learning and reference between civilizations should proceed from the reality of one’s own country or nation, and be open and inclusive. However, such openness and inclusiveness don’t mean to lap up information without digesting it, or to confuse right with wrong, but to discard the dross and retain the fine essence, to sift the true from the false. 

Fourth, treat cultural traditions scientifically. We can only open up the future when we keep history in mind. We can only innovate when we are good at inheriting. Fine traditional culture is the fountainhead of a country or nation’s inheritance and development. Losing it will cut off the country or nation’s spiritual lifeline. We should be adept in making the advancement of fine traditional culture and development of contemporary culture an organic unity, pursuing simultaneous progress on both fronts.

During their formulation and development, traditional cultures are inevitably subject to the limitations of people’s knowledge, and conditions of the time and society. Obsolete elements, or even dregs, are thus unavoidable. This is why people have to make the past serve present needs, develop the new through critical assimilation of the old, and make sensible choices based on the needs of new practice and new time, instead of indiscriminately transplanting everything from the past. We should adhere to differentiated inheritance, rather than esteeming the past over the present, or disparaging the present by extolling the past. Through efforts to realize the creative transfer and innovative development of traditional culture, we should strive to integrate and interlink it with contemporary culture, so as to facilitate the mission to cultivate fine personalities with culture. 

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, 

Writings are for conveying truth. Writings are for cultivating fine personalities. Present-day China is the extension and development of the China of the past. The ideology and culture of today’s China is also the continuation and sublimation of traditional Chinese ideology and culture. To understand present-day China, to know the present-day Chinese, one must delve into the cultural bloodline of China, and accurately appreciate the cultural soil that nourishes the Chinese people.

Studying Confucius and Confucianism is an important approach to understanding the national characteristics of the Chinese as well as the historical roots of the spiritual world of the present-day Chinese. In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, Confucian, Taoist, Mohist, Agriculturist, and Warist schools of thought contended and compared notes with each other, presenting the magnificent cultural landscape of the contention of a hundred schools of thoughts, enriching the spiritual world of Chinese of the time. Although Confucianism has long assumed a dominant position in the field of Chinese ideology and culture, the development of Chinese ideology and culture has been plural and multi-dimensional. Reflecting the Chinese world outlooks, philosophies of life, values and aesthetics that have been shaped and inherited from one generation to another, the core elements of Chinese ideology and culture have formed the fundamental cultural genes of the nation. Such cultural genes are unique hallmarks that distinguish the Chinese from other nations.     

The ideals and struggles as well as the values and spiritual world of the Chinese people have always been deeply rooted in the fertile soil of the fine Chinese traditional culture, and have constantly advanced and been renewed in step with the times.

Members of the Communist Party of China are Marxists, who uphold the scientific theories of Marxism, and adhere to and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics. But Chinese communists are neither historical nihilists, nor cultural nihilists. We always believe that the basic principles of Marxism must be closely married to the concrete reality of China, and that we should approach traditional native culture and cultures of all countries in a scientific manner, and arm ourselves with all outstanding cultural achievements humanity has created. In the long historical practice of leading the revolutions, nation-building and reforms, the Chinese communists have always been faithful inheritors and upholders of the country’s fine cultural traditions. We have consciously absorbed nutrition from the teachings of Confucius to those of Sun Yat-sen. The Chinese people are working hard for fulfilling their “twin centennial goals”, of which the concept of “xiaokang”, or a relatively well-off life, an ideal state of society the Chinese nation has been after since ancient times, originated from The Book of Rites•Evolution of the Rites. Using the concept “xiaokang” in defining a national development goal not only conforms to reality of the country’s development, but is also conducive to mustering the broadest public understanding and support. 

In a word, we can do our present job well only through proceeding to the future from the past, and blazing new trails by sustaining the nation’s cultural lifeline. 

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends, 

Reviewing the past generates new insight. Knowledge handed down from our predecessors has accumulated the significant understandings and experiences of the relations among man, society and Nature. Knowledge created by today’s people embodies their wisdom and exploration in coping with the problems of our time. Both aspects of human knowledge are crucial for the inheritance of civilizations. 

Today, in the 21st century, all the conceptual knowledge and practical knowledge humanity has accumulated over thousands of years remain an essential foundation for mankind’s creative progress. Only by persistently exploring and utilizing all the excellent cultural assets humanity has created can we know the world, society and ourselves better, and open up a better future for human beings.

Wish the conference a success!

Thanks to all!