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Chinese Scholars on European Civilization

Chinese Scholars on European Civilization

Author:Def author From:Site author Update:2017-08-21 13:43:59

According to Chen Lemin and Zhou Hong, "European civilization" is equivalent to "Western European civilization” to a large extent. Although Greece, Rome, Christianity are also the cultural sources of Europe, Western Europe is the first to enter modern society and imposed more effects on Europe than eastern European countries. They believed that "European civilization" has two main features. First, "European civilization" is characterized by "identity in diversity" and "diversity in identity”. "Identity" oriented "Europeanism" and "diversity" produced "nationalism". For example, the establishment of European Union is attributed to the combination of "Europeanism" and "nationalism". Second, in terms of development trend, "European civilization" is towards "modernization" and linked to "globalization" process. In other words, in its history despite ups and downs, twists and turns, "European civilization" has always been moving forward in promoting social progress throughout Europe.[1]

They also believed that in terms of its own development of "European civilization" the Middle Ages is commonly considered as the starting point of the whole European civilization, and European civilization reached the peak in the nineteenth century. In addition, the two scholars agreed that the civilization that really promoted Europe’s social development and progress mainly includes philosophy, ethics and aesthetics deriving from ancient Greek thoughts advocating genuineness, benevolence, and virtue; political science, economics, law emphasizing the social performance; the Christian spirit cherishing human life, nature and personality perfection; science and practice aiming at exploring the universe, transforming nature and bringing benefit to mankind.[2]

Zhang Hua said the source of western civilization has a poetic name, the Aegean Sea. These diamond-like scattered islands and the peninsula in the azure waters raised the initial wisdom and character of Europe. In his view, western scholars today find the origin of their own civilization in Greece, but it can not be ignored that Greece has a genius Egyptian father and a Mesopotamia mother. Eastern Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and India established a glorious civilization earlier than Greece. The early Mediterranean civilization is not so much a part of the west as the East. [3]

Zhang Hua also gave a comprehensive account to the myths and legends in the Aegean region, the art styles in several different periods and the dynamics of the formation of these arts styles, the Greek daily life and the socio-economic development at that time.

Ye Mengli stated in his book that Greece is the cradle of European civilization. Greek civilization originated from Aegean civilization, whose center was Crete and Mycenae. Thanks to the discovery of Aegean civilization, the history of ancient Greece can be traced back farther in time, so that Greece is well-known as one of the cradles of world civilization. Ye Mengli also believed that the city-state system in ancient Greece is not only the result of evolutions of a series of historical events also an important stage of the development of Greek civilization. From the 8th century BC to 6th century BC, the formation of Greek city-states greatly promoted the development of Greek economy, maritime trade and large-scale colonial movement, which, in turn, contributed to the evolutions of Greek civilization.[4]

Gao Jiujiang said that Enlightenment and the Renaissance greatly influenced the process of European civilization. He stated that the Enlightenment started while the capitalism production relations were stably growing and the bourgeoisie was rising. The Enlightenment originated in the United Kingdom, flourished in France in the 18th century, and then spread to Western Europe. Obviously, it is a political trend sweeping Europe and a monument to the progress in human history. [5]

Gao Jiujiang spoke highly of the role the Renaissance played in the process of European civilization. In his view, the Renaissance was the prelude to the Enlightenment. And the Enlightenment is a continuation of the Renaissance, a succession and development of the spirit of humanism, and even the larger, more in-depth and thorough revolutionary new era of Renaissance. The Renaissance gave birth to some great men of that era Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and so on, who created some unprecedented scientific, literary and artistic achievements. [6] Chinese scholar Kang Tianyi also thought highly of the important role the Renaissance played in European history. He said the Renaissance has greatly weakened the feudal system and the rule of Church, promoted the emergence and development of modern capitalist culture and made the necessary ideological and public opinion preparations for the modern bourgeois revolution. Consequently, a radical transition in human history and a new era followed.[7]

Gao Jiujiang concluded that Enlightenment inherited and developed European civilization, and exerted its influence on all areas of social life. As a result, a complete set of ideology and theory on politics, moral, culture, religion, philosophy and social system took shape. Thus Europe created stunning philosophy civilization, science civilization, education civilization, art civilization, moral civilization and political civilization. So we can say Enlightenment was the most glorious era of the spiritual civilization of the bourgeois capitalism and produced a great impact on world civilization.  

Yao Jiehou, Li Pengcheng and Yan Shen illustrated the importance of Western European civilization in Western civilization in a historical perspective. They said that Western European civilization with a 4000-year history is the oldest and main part of Western civilization. They divided the development of Western European civilization into five stages: classical civilization, medieval civilization, renaissance civilization, modern civilization and contemporary civilization. Why does Western European Civilization have such long vitality and continuously develop?

Yao Jiehou gave his own explanation that geographical environment, adversity and spiritual culture are the main causes and manifestations of the formation of Western European civilization. The fundamental reason why Western European civilization have deep and lasting historical and cultural traditions, and creative vitality is that it went through about 2500 years slavery  society, over 1000 years feudal society, and nearly 400 years capitalist society. These social forms and historical stages have been more fully developed. And what’s more, in different historical periods Western European civilization is good at learning from the other external civilization and absorbing outstanding cultural achievements, only to develop and expand itself.[8]

Qian Chengdan shed light on the relations between European civilization and national states. Qian Chengdan argued that the concept of nation formed when the light of civilization flashed in the Mediterranean. In an perspective of civilization evolution, Qian came to a conclusion that in ancient times Europe was gradually kindled by the light of civilization, and then the "civilized" nation diffused towards the "barbarous" nation. In the Middle Ages, this diffusion process continued. The process didn’t stop until the whole of Europe integrated into a great civilization (namely, Christian civilization, which includes two branches: the Catholic Western Europe and the Orthodox Eastern Europe). So the Middle Ages can be viewed as a cultural convergence and integration process, in which religion played an important role. [9]

Zheng Jinggao identified the relations between ocean civilization and European civilization. But he did not think that the European civilization is equivalent to European ocean civilization.

Zheng Jinggao gave two main arguments for his opinion. According to Zheng, European classical civilization generally refers to the ancient Greek and Roman civilization, the development of which is closely related to the special circumstances of the Eastern Mediterranean, but the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic, which had special geographical significance in the development of modern European civilization, did not show particular importance. It is obvious that Greeks create their own civilization. But it should not be overlooked that besides Aegean civilization and geography, West Asian civilization and North African civilization are also the components of ancient Greek civilization. In this sense, it is too simple to directly link Greek and Roman civilization to the natural and call that marine civilization.

Zheng also believed that the civilization of the Middle Ages in Europe can not be called ocean civilization. The civilization created by coastal nation is not necessarily called ocean civilization. The types of civilization mainly depend on the fact that the resources used by the development of civilization are mainly marine or terrestrial. In fact, European medieval civilization was built on the feudal hierarchy relations the basic elements of which are land and social status. Ocean was of no special significance under the feudal fiefdoms system. [10]

Zheng Jinggao concluded that the general characteristics of European civilization are not identical to those of general maritime civilization, but European ocean civilization is with European features. Moreover, modern and contemporary European civilizations are based on medieval civilization.

Liu Wenming pointed out that "civilization" is an important concept in the contemporary social sciences and the social life. Before the global expansion of industrial civilization, even if there existed a concept similar to the concept of "civilization" in several relatively independent pre-modern cultural circles in Europe, China, India and Islamic regions, the understandings were different. The concept of "civilization" widely used in today's world of to the notion that comes from Europeans’ understanding of civilization. Then, how did the concept "civilization" develop in Europe?

Liu Wenming believed that "civilization" concept in Europe went through a process of evolution, which originated from “courtoise” in late Middle Ages, took the form of “civility” in Renaissance times , and then the concept “civilization” was constructed in the 18th century and at last became a modern concept in the 19th century. In this process, the European cognition of civilization and the identification of their own civilization were enhanced by the interaction between the “civilized self” and the “barbarian other”, and by this way the concept of civilization was constructed on the base of European experience.[11]

According to Chen Huili, the expansion of European civilization mainly refers to the expansion of Europe’s religion, business and trade. Chen pointed out that Chen pointed out that the expansion of European civilization mainly refers to the expansion of European religion, business and trade. In 1517, Martin Luther began to openly oppose the statements and practices of the church, which led to the permanent division of the Western Christian into Catholic and Protestant camps. In the 16-17th century, the Catholic missionary activity reached a peak, and a Catholic network including more than 800 educational institutions in Europe, Asia and the Americas took forms. Western missionaries "Gospel Movement" is not a simple religious naturalization, as well as with its economic and political objectives.

Chen Huili said the European expansion of business and trade began in the 16th century. Under the pressure of economic competition, all European countries watched greedily the spices flowing into Portugal and amounts of gold and silver flowing into Spain. French, Dutch and Britons were keen to break the Portuguese monopoly in the East and all wanted to build their own colony. Chen Huili thought it is worth mentioning that in 17th century European demands for Chinese goods such as Chinese porcelain, silk and tea were very high and the increase was amazingly fast. The steady flow of Chinese goods into Europe simulated Europeans’ consumption and roused their interest in and yearning for Chinese society. Because of the "Gospel Movement" and the stimulation of economic profit, European society began to expand to China. In the expansion, the two societies strengthened mutual understanding and exchanges. [12]

Tian Dewen thought that the driving force of globalization lead to European civilization expanding in the globe, and other civilizations for a long period had accepted the rules, orders, production mode, lifestyle and our thinking way. The role played by European civilization in the globalization process is backed by the power of capital.[13]

Zhu Huan, a professor in the Northeast Normal University, said that the rapid development European civilization in recent years is due to the synchronization of two transformations: civilization transformation from agricultural civilization to industrial civilization and social transformation from feudal society to capitalist society, which greatly liberated productive forces, and aroused the people's enthusiasm and promoted the maritime and industrial and commercial development. It is the first time that the two transformations simultaneously occurred and mutually reinforced each other in human history. Furthermore, he believed this is one driving force of the rapid development of modern European civilization. The other one is the revolution of natural science set off by modern western scientific revolution itself.

Zhu Huan also believes that the European civilization characterized by valuing commerce and industry and navigation originated from Crete-Mycenae civilization, the nature of which is different from the large river valley civilization on the other continents and which falls into the category of marine civilization.

Therefore, Zhu Huan concluded that it was because Europe had a strong material foundation and rich historical traditions, and was abundant in talents with good knowledge of business management, maritime transportation and modern science and technology that Europe could seize the development opportunity, promoted the simultaneous occurrence of the two transitions (civilization transition and society transition) and established modern European civilization.[14]

Fu Qiong discussed Francois Guizot’s idea on the development history of European civilization. He thought the most gorgeous part of Guizot’s thoughts is his idea about the progress and history of European civilization. The formation of his idea depends on the social reality and his own academic growth process as well as his genius. The wide recognition of the concepts “Europe” and “civilization” and the emergence of the nationalist thought provide the foundation and momentum for the making of his historical ideas on European civilization. And the ideologists, such as Gibbin, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Kant, Herder, St. Simon etc., offered academic nourishment to his idea. Guizot demonstrated the dynamics, endurance, harmony of the development process of European civilization in the form of civilization facts. By providing facts in civilization, Guizot fully demonstrated the progressive process, the tendency and the direction of the history of civilization in European society.[15]

As for the origin of European civilization, Zhou Hong made a comprehensive discussion. Prof. Zhou said the European civilization we now understand formed in the late Middle Ages. Greek classical philosophy started the human beings’ exploration of the inherent quality of nature and rational judgments that "Everything has its principle". According to their needs of social life, Romans institutionalized the principles as law, which protected private ownership and commerce; however, in view of requirements for national rejuvenation, Hebrews personified the principle as Christ. Christianity is the successor of Greek and Roman civilization and also a rebellion against Greek and Roman civilization. Lastly, by conquering Rome Germans brought these civilization legacies into the medieval Teutonic rule. The basic elements of civilization, which grew in the process of civilization integration and conflict, still affect the thinking, actions and feelings of Europeans until now. [16]

Zhou Hong held the view that the sources of European civilization’s spirit consist of Greek civilization, Roman civilization, Christian civilization, Germanic civilization and commercial civilization. Indeed, European civilization is unique in that it is not only unique to other major human civilization, but also unique to its derivative civilizations, such as American civilization.

As the cradle land of European civilization is concerned, Yang Ting thought Greece is the birthplace of European civilization rather than Paris. He said: "Any book on European history will definitely tell us ’the origin of European civilization is Greece’”. The great British poet Shelley once said with deep emotion:" We are all Greek; our laws, our literature, our religion, our art, have their origin in Greece". In spite of some exaggeration in Shelley’s statement, but Greece is ‘the origin of European civilization’ is an indisputable fact." [17]

Zhu Guangfu noted that daily life of the Europeans reflects European civilization. For instance, the Europeans’ gentlemanly manners, courtesy, enjoying the sun and loving nature are all the embodiment of European civilization. Zhu Guangfu said: "As soon as we set our feet on the soil of Europe, the ancient buildings in the Middle Ages, churches and frescoes of various styles will be easily seen, but actually very few modern high-rise buildings are found. Thanks to this, people feel the depth and mystery of European civilization." He believes that European civilization is the inevitable result of economic development. As we experience European civilization, we may enjoy the unique culture and sense the difference between Eastern and the Western cultures.[18]

 

  (Translated by Li Gang)



[1] Chen Lemin, Zhou Hong, ouzhou wenming de jincheng (The Process of European Civilization), Beijing: Sanlian Press, 2003.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Zhang Hua, ouzhou wenming de qiyuan --- xila yishu (The Origin of European Civilization —— Greek Art), Beijing: China Film Press, 2005.

[4] Ye Mengli, ouzhou wenmin de yuantou (The Western European Civilization), Beijing: China Press, 2001.

[5] Gao Jiujiang, qimeng tuidongxia de ouzhou wenming (The European Civilization Driven by the Enlightenment), Beijing: China Press, 2000.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Kang Tianyi, wenming de kuangbiao jijin shidian: wenyi fuxing shidai de ouzhou wenming (A Progressional Era: European Civilization during the Renaissance), Beijing: China Press, 2000.

[8] Yao Jiehou, Li Pengcheng and Yan Shen, xi’ou wenming (The Western European Civilization), Beijing: China Social Sciences Press, 2002.

[9] Qian Chengdan, ouzhou wenming: minzu de chongtu yu ronghe (European Civilization: Ethnic Conflict and Fusion), Guizhou People's Publishing House, 1999.

[10] Zheng Jinggao, “haiyang wenming de lishi jincheng——jianlunouzhou wenming budengyu haiyang wenming” (The Historical Types of Ocean Civilization——A Statement that European Civilization is not Equivalent to Marine Civilization), fujian luntan (Fujian Forum), Humanities and Social Sciences Edition, No. 6, 2004.

[11] Liu Wenming, “ziwo, tazhe yu ouzhou ‘wenming’ guannian de goujian——dui 16-19 shiji ouzhou ‘wenming’ guannian yanbian de lishi renleixue fansi (Self, Other and Construction of European Civilization Concept——A Reflection in the Perspective of Historical Anthropology from the 16th to 19th Century), janghai xuekan (Academic Journal of Jianghai), No. 8, 2008.

[12] Chen Huili, “cong shijie wenming tixi kan 16-18 shiji zhongxi wenming zhijian de zhenghe”(A Study on the Integration between Chinese and Western Civilizations from the 16-18th Century in a Perspective of World Civilization System), Fujian luntan (Fujian Tribune), No. 1, 2005.  

[13] Tian Dewen, “ouzhou wenming he quanqiuhua”(European Civilization and Globalization), shijie jingji yu zhengzhi (World Economics and Politics), No. 6, 1995.

[14] Zhu Huan, “jindai ouzhou wenming yu qi gongshang lishi chuantong guanxi de sikao” (A Review on the Relation between Modern European Civilization and its History and Tradition of Industry and Commerce), Shixue jikan (Collected Papers of Historical Science), No.4, 1999.

[15] Fu Qiong, “ouzhou yu wenming: jizuo ouzhou wenming jinbu shiguan chutan” (“Europe” and “Civilization”: An Exploration of Guizot’s Historical Ideas of the Progress of European Civilization), ouzhou yanjiu (Chinese Journal of European Studies), No. 2, 2007.

[16] Zhou Hong, “ouzhou wenming suyuan”(The Origin of European Civilization), ouzhou (Europe), No. 4, 1998.

[17] Yang Ting, “bali shi ouzhou wenming qiyuandi ma?” (Is Paris the Cradle land of European Civilization?), yuwen jianshe (Language Planning), No. 8, 2000.

[18] Zhu Guangfu, “ganshou ouzhou wneming” (Feeling European Civilization), zhujiang shuiyun (Pearl River Water Transport), No. 3, 2006.  

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