Cultural understanding strong bond for B&R success

By Zamir Ahmed Awan Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/25 23:23:41


Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT


The Belt and Road (B&R) initiative is a mega plan for the century. It will be a game-changer for the whole region, improving economic and security conditions. It will have a far-reaching impact on the geopolitical scenario of the region as well.

Unlike other existing alliances such as the EU, Gulf Cooperation Council, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and African Union, which are based on common cultural backgrounds, the B&R initiative includes countries and regions with diverse cultures, religions, languages and political systems. Some of the countries are based on the socialist political system, while others follow the capitalist system. The initiative includes countries with Islam as their religion, as well as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and secular nations. Some of the countries are developed, some are developing and a few are underdeveloped. Their languages also vary widely.

Their cultural values are not only different from one another: sometimes they are direct opposites. For example, in China when people are happy, they drink alcohol and celebrate, while in Muslim countries it is prohibited to drink alcohol. In some countries, it is common practice that people criticize their governments, but in other countries it is improper or even forbidden to speak against the government or the leadership.

Given all these differences, implementation of the B&R initiative could be much more difficult than other alliances of the world. Below is a case study of Pakistan and China. We tried to find common cultural values in both nations as a basis for a strong bond for the overall success of the B&R initiative.

Despite having different political systems, religions, languages and so forth, both countries enjoy an ideal relationship. This relationship is based on cherished values of international law including non-interference, equality, justice, mutual benefit and mutual respect. The Sino-Pakistan relationship has grown stronger and proved to be a role model in international relations for the rest of the world.

In China, like Pakistan, family is the basic unit of society and Chinese believe in strong family bonds. Parents take care of their children even after their marriages. Grandparents have a very special love for grandchildren, too. Traditionally the marriage bond has been very strong and divorce was considered a curse. Elderly parents were looked after by their children until they died.

However, recently under the influence of Western culture, the marriage bond has weakened in China and the divorce rate has increased. Old parents also face difficulty in living with their children. The same is happening in Pakistan and Western culture has been visible in our society too. Women in both countries are the financial managers of the family, responsible for spending and saving.

In both societies, traditionally marriages were arranged by parents or elders of the family. But these days, youngsters get to know each other and marry with or without the consent of their parents. Traditionally, red dresses were used for brides in China as is still the case in Pakistan. Recently however, white dresses have become more common under Western influence. Before marriage, functions were arranged during the day and lunch was served. Now such functions are held in the evening and dinner is served, although there could be exceptions in rural areas of both countries. Chinese people usually give gifts of hongbao during marriage ceremonies and so do Pakistani people. The difference lies in the colors of the envelopes.

Also, Chinese hospitality is proverbial and they entertain their guests with the best possible food and gifts, even if they can barely afford it. Friendship is valued very highly in Chinese culture. While at the dinner table in a restaurant, friends often quarrel over paying the bill. This behavior is very common both in Chinese and Pakistani society.

Both countries have taken several initiatives to promote understanding between the people of two countries. Nearly 20 universities in Pakistan have established China Study centers with the aim to bring awareness about China among the youth of Pakistan. Four Confucius centers have already been established in Pakistan by the Chinese government for teaching Chinese language and culture to Pakistani nationals. A few more will be established in the near future.

Exchanges of youth and professional delegations between the two countries have become a very regular thing. A sector under special focus is the media, with frequent seminars, workshops and study trips. More than 20,000 Pakistani students are enrolled at Chinese universities in various specializations, including engineering, agriculture, social sciences and health. They are learning these subjects in addition to Chinese language and culture. When they return to Pakistan, they will bring Chinese culture.

Through films and TV series, both sides are narrowing cultural gaps. Many Chinese universities are teaching the national language of Pakistan (Urdu) to Chinese youths. Several universities in China have established Pakistan Study centers. The Chinese Embassy in Pakistan and Pakistani Embassy in China are promoting public diplomacy.  Enhanced people-to-people contact will help mutual understanding.

In view of these commonalities and initiatives, it is natural that the two countries are close allies and enjoy a friendship "higher than mountains, deeper than occasions, sweeter than honey, stronger than steel." Our cooperation will even grow stronger and closer day by day. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will be a success story and role model for the rest of world and ensure the success of the B&R initiative.

The author is a sinologist and researcher with the Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad, Pakistan.


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