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Forum calls for dialogues and exchanges among nations

By Ma Zhenhuan and Qi Xiao in Taizhou | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-11-08

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Dialogues, exchanges and seeking harmony without uniformity among different civilizations are key to addressing the common challenges of the world, said officials, diplomats and experts on Tuesday at the 2023 Global Forum on Hehe Culture in Tiantai county, Taizhou city of East China's Zhejiang province.

Exchanges between civilizations and cultures have never been more necessary to protect the common interest of humankind, after three years of pandemic and in the wake of regional instability and humanitarian crises, said Du Zhanyuan, president of China International Communications Group, in a video address at the forum.

"Peace and security have been the most basic needs for humankind and the common aspiration of people of all countries since ancient times," he said. "The realization of world peace requires the right decisions and actions of governments and international organizations."

With peace as a core part, Hehe culture and Hehe spirit can serve as an effective antidote, Du said.

"Hehe" is a combination of two Chinese characters with the same pronunciation. The first "He" refers to peace and harmony, while the second denotes cooperation and integration.

Themed "Hehe Culture and Global Civilization Initiative", the annual Global Forum on Hehe Culture, the third edition this year, gathered some 500 participants from home and abroad in Tiantai county, the permanent site of the forum. The county is widely regarded as the cradle of Hehe culture.

Hehe culture embodies the concept of harmony but not uniformity, said Irina Bokova, former director-general of UNESCO, at the forum.

"It asks people to practice multilateralism, respect differences between different civilizations, support different countries to choose their development paths, insist on win-win cooperation and adhere to humanism," she said.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), a hermit poet known as Hanshan, or Cold Mountain, was said to have traveled all the way from the then capital Chang'an (now Xi'an city) to the Tiantai Mountain. There he met and befriended Shide, a monk from the local Guoqing Temple.

According to folklore, they were like brothers, invariably together. Whenever inspired, they would scribble their thoughts in poetry on rocks and walls. Over time, the close relationship between the two grew into a folk symbol of Hehe. Then in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Yongzheng emperor bestowed on them the title of the "Two Gods of Hehe".

Indeed, over generations, paintings and images of the two have been ubiquitous, in which one holds a lotus flower and the other a treasure box as presents to greet each other — both "lotus" and "box" have the same pronunciation as "he", or peace and harmony.

"In light of the current international situation, the 'heart of peace' is needed now more than ever," said Yukio Hatoyama, former prime minister of Japan and president of the East Asian Community Institute, in his speech.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict and the recent crises in the Middle East remind people of the importance of peace and harmony, he said, and Hehe culture should serve as a guide in the call for mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual cooperation among different nations.

In fact, throughout history, the "Two Gods of Hehe", Hanshan in particular, have exerted a long-lasting impact that has gone far beyond China.

With a simple and much more colloquial language, Hanshan's poetry is characterized by its unique style and rich layers of meaning, especially the idea of Hehe. The poems — a little over 300 survived — still remain popular in Japan after they were first introduced there in the 11th century.

Apart from the poems' literary influence on Japanese haiku, tanka (short songs), drama and painting, among others, they are believed to have helped Chan (or Zen) Buddhism further spread in Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia and then onto the Western world.

In the 1950s, Hanshan's poem collection became an instant hit in the US, where it was first translated into English and Hanshan himself was idolized at the time by leading American authors such as Jack Kerouac.

In Cold Mountain, a 1997 historical novel that won the US National Book Award for Fiction and was adapted into an award-winning movie in 2003, Charles Frazier, the author, not only borrowed Hanshan's name for the book title, but also two lines from one of his best-known poems for the book's epigraph: "Men ask the way to Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain: there's no through trail."

"Looking at today's international relations, it is a fact that countries differ in their views," said Martha Mavrommatis, the Cyprus ambassador to China.

"Hehe culture and its deep meaning of harmony could contribute to the bridging of the existing differences between countries and create a background for achieving a global peace and common prosperity," she said.