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Traditional Roots of Modern China: How an Ancient Worldview Drives Today’s Foreign Policy

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, April 15, 2023 - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2254
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Jiaxiu Pavilion on the Nanming River, Guiyang, China

The relationship between the United States and China has never been easy. Although the two countries viewed each other as threats during the Cold War, attitudes flipped quickly after the establishment of diplomatic relations. From 1979 until roughly 2016, China and the United States saw their co-evolution as mutually beneficial. Now, however, Beijing and Washington view each other with profound distrust and both sides are planning for conflict even as they say they hope to avoid it.

China scholar Robert Daly traces China’s 21st-century drive for wealth, power, and status to beliefs, geographic influences, and social and cultural practices rooted in its earliest dynasties.

10 to 11:15 a.m.  Pangu’s Bones: How Geography Shaped Chinese Culture

How did China’s location at the southeast corner of Eurasia shape its agro-bureaucratic state? How did cycles of stability and disaster give rise to folk culture and Confucian thinking? How did one of the world’s most dynamic and diverse regions produce the myth of an eternal, unchanging China?

11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.  The Struggle for Harmony: Qi and Chinese Attitudes Toward Nature

An introduction to Chinese cosmology, with a focus on Taoism; the action of Qi in architecture, poetry, painting, calligraphy, food, and medicine; and the pursuit of harmony and fear of chaos in Chinese tradition.

12:45 to 1:15 p.m.  Break

1:15 to 2:30 p.m.  Culture, Technology, Wealth, and Power

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, China’s relative social stability and cultural cohesion made it one of the world’s most innovative nations. In the 19th century, China was shocked to discover that its technology was inferior to that of the West and Japan, and that this weakness made it vulnerable. Now, China is again a manufacturing and technological powerhouse.

2:45 to 4 p.m.  Three Ways to Look at China

When we speak of “China,” we refer to one-fifth of humankind, to a history and culture, and to a nation-state. Distinguishing among these distinct meanings is difficult, but it must be attempted, says Daly, if Americans are to analyze China accurately and avoid war.

Daly is the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

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