Professor Cong Riyun offers a general course on “General Theory of Western Civilization” at the China University of Political Science and Law, explaining the evolution and characteristics of Western civilization and, of course, comparing it to the historical process of China.
For the junior undergraduates, listening to his class was probably the same psychological process as being “inspired” and “destroyed”. Some students found it “refreshing,” others “hurt their fragile national feelings,” and some even reported it to the school.
“For example, the two British and French bandits burned the Yuanmingyuan, before the Qing government and the British and French allied forces after the breakdown of negotiations, the British and French delegation of 39 people, including journalists, Family members arrested in Beijing, mistreatment or torture, 20 of them were killed, the survivors are full of maggots, some crazy. The vast majority of students did not know about this episode.”
Cong Riyun wants students to understand the full history and to judge and think under conditions of historical accuracy.
“It is emotionally unacceptable for his common sense to be turned upside down, not to mention that there are many reasons to support the original judgment.”
“I want students to embrace a healthy patriotism,” said Cong Riyun, “Patriotism is a type of human love that should be settled in the sequence of love for others, love for community, love for nation, love for country, love for humanity and even love for the earth.”
“Be patriotic, but not in the form of blind hatred for others.”
Born in the remote countryside of Lingyuan, Liaoning Province, where school was closed in the fourth grade, Cong Riyun understood the confusion and plight of his students’ minds.
After graduating from high school and working as an accountant in a brigade, he was sent by his leaders to visit the red-hot Dazhai, where he found “traces of being dressed up” everywhere. The peasants in Dazhai were all like the four types of elements (“the rich and the bad”), with low eyebrows, and when they met the visitors, they avoided them in panic, and their eyes did not communicate with you, nor did they talk to strangers.
But at that Time, Cong Riyun found the problem by intuition and experience. “My spiritual world was initially shaped by the propaganda and Education of that era, and to think outside that framework, I had to resort to the appropriate resources of thought, but under those completely closed conditions, access to diversified information was impossible.”
For this reason, Cong Riyun has devoted himself to liberal education for many years, and the course “General Theory of Western Civilization” under his supervision is a compulsory course for more than 2,000 undergraduates every year. to think logically, and to be imbued with the values of modern civilization.”
In 2013, Riyun Cong delivered a speech entitled “Life is full of divergent paths, how will you choose?” that was widely distributed on the Internet. In the speech he admonished the graduates.
“You may face changes in society in the future, how will you choose? When you make your choice, are you a man of understanding? If there is another movement in China, will you be able to say no soberly? I hope that you will choose to stand on the side of reason and on the side of civilization when the tide hits ……”
Conversation with Cong Riyun
People Weekly: The “History of Western Political Thought” and “General Theory of Western Civilization” that you teach are not completely blank in the students’ knowledge structure, so is there a big difference between what you teach and their original knowledge?
Cong Riyun: Some students would exclaim, “I’m devastated” after listening to my first class.
People Weekly: What makes them collapse?
Riyun Cong: For example, I would tell them that “Western civilization was ahead in the modern era because of the plundering of internal and external affairs” is not historically accurate, and that the West entered modern civilization mainly as a result of internal accumulation of ideas, power, institutions, capital and technology. The latest research shows that the higher the level of modernization of a country, the lower the willingness to go to war. And so on.
People Weekly: When you talk about this, can students accept it?
Riyun Cong: Most of them can accept it. Some of them don’t agree with me, but they can tolerate what I say and listen to it. There are some who do not accept it, and even resent it. Since 1985, when I started to lecture at the university, the content of my lectures has been very different from the students’ existing knowledge, and there are always some students who do not understand and cannot accept it emotionally, and some of them will sue me.
It is better to be patriotic than to be selfish and self-serving, without any sense of public awareness. But how to be patriotic? Is it a healthy patriotism? Rational patriotism? Your love for the motherland must be based on an objective and comprehensive understanding of Chinese history and Culture, the cultural heritage of other civilizations, and the history of Sino-foreign relations.
People Weekly: Even if you just talk about specific historical facts, it will offend the national feelings of some students?
Riyun Cong: Yes, some students will say, “Why do you always say that the West is good, but is our China bad? Are you not Chinese? Don’t you love our country? This reaction of the student is based on an emotion, not a rational thinking.
Perhaps he could say, “Teacher, what is your basis? Is the information reliable? I think your inference is logically flawed, and I know of another argument that makes more sense than yours,” etc. If so, it is a rational discussion. But some students think emotionally, and emotion governs judgment. As soon as you expound on Western civilization in a positive way, he resents it.
People Magazine: Is this an isolated phenomenon, or is it common among students?
Riyun Cong: It’s not an isolated phenomenon, there are many students who react in this way. Especially among the new students, many of them still measure the content of the university classroom by what they learned in high school.
Many students believe that Western civilization is militant, and one of the bases is the Crusades. I will tell them about the distribution of Christianity in the late Roman Empire, and then the expansion of Islam, which occupied most of the former Christian territory, before the Crusades “recovered the lost territories. This is the complete historical process.
The Crusades were part of the common inter-ethnic and inter-religious conquests of ancient times, and they do not prove that Western civilization was aggressive. Another basis is that both world wars in human history were started by Westerners and centered in the West. I would explain to them that the fact that Western countries were small and involved their colonies in fighting each other, so that when they fought, it became a world war, does not in itself mean that Western civilization was more savage and warlike.
Once, I was talking in class about the peace achieved between Western countries and gave the example of the U.S.-Canada border, playing a picture of the Thousand Islands (Great Lakes) on the U.S.-Canada border. One student stood up and said, “Teacher, you’re wrong. I know Thousand Island Lake, which is especially polluted and not as nice an environment as our Thousand Island Lake!”
I was talking about the U.S.-Canada border, why did I mention pollution? It is to hear you say the West is good, he is not happy, seize the opportunity must say the West’s bad. In fact, the ecology of Thousand Island Lake in the United States is quite good.
People Magazine: There seems to be a pattern in the education students receive when it comes to the relationship between Chinese and Western civilizations?
Riyun Cong: Yes. For example, our textbooks say that Zhaozhou Bridge is the world’s earliest “single-hole open-shouldered large stone arch bridge”, which appeared in Europe five or six hundred years later. This statement makes students form an impression that our bridge building technology is hundreds of years earlier than the West, in fact, Zhaozhou Bridge is only a partial innovation in technology, two thousand years ago in ancient Rome’s large stone arch bridge is already very developed.
The most difficult thing for students to accept is the history of the relationship between China and the West. Our education simplifies the relationship between China and the West in the last hundred years as the relationship between the invader and the invaded, the robber and the victim, and exaggerates the sadness of the victim. In fact, the relationship between China and the West in the last hundred years is very complicated, and when you restore it, students cannot accept it emotionally.
People Weekly: The “General Theory of Western Civilization” that you lead is part of the school’s general education, why do you think it is necessary?
Riyun Cong: I understand that general education is human education and civic education, high-level civilization education and complete human education, the purpose of which is to cultivate people with modern civilization and responsible citizens, so it takes on the mission of spreading the basic values of modern civilization. It is one of the main channels of spreading the values of modern civilization.
We have entered a modern society and are building a modern civilization, so it is necessary to spread the values of modern civilization. Therefore, I believe that the basic work of spreading the values of modern civilization includes the work of “removing barriers, unblocking and correcting”, that is, learning to think correctly, uncovering what is obscured and correcting what is distorted.