Global Civilization Initiative promotes world peace, devt
Published: Oct 10, 2023 10:44 PM
A scene of Xi'an, China (left) and a scene of Milan, Italy.Photos: VCG

A scene of Xi'an, China (left) and a scene of Milan, Italy.Photos: VCG

Editor's Note:

China and Italy are representative of Eastern and Western civilizations. In the eyes of 75-year-old Italian sinologist Pier Francesco Fumagalli (Fumagalli), who has dedicated decades to promoting cultural exchanges between China and Italy, the Global Civilization Initiative proposed by China holds great vision for constructing a new global civilization and mobilizing a worldwide renaissance. In a recent interview with the Global Times (GT), Fumagalli shared his story of learning Chinese, his understanding of the Belt and Road Initiative, and the prospects of China-Italy relations.

GT: When did you start learning Chinese? We know that you have also studied various other Eastern languages. In comparison, do you find Chinese difficult to learn? What makes it unique?

I wanted to learn Chinese when I was studying at the University of Milan in the 1970s, but there weren't as many opportunities to learn Chinese back then. I remember that the Israeli government provided me with a scholarship, so I went to Jerusalem to study Hebrew and Arabic. After a year, I returned to Milan and studied Eastern languages and ancient Indian languages at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart. After graduating, I pursued a doctoral degree at the Biblioteca?Ambrosiana. The librarian at the time hoped I could engage in Sinology research. He not only introduced the library's collection of ancient Chinese books to me but also gave me a Chinese dictionary that was over a hundred years old. I truly began learning Chinese in 1994 at the Istituto Italo Cinese Vittorino Colombo and went to China for the first time in 1995 to study Chinese at the School of International Cultural Exchange (predecessor of the School of International Education) of Northwest University in Xi'an.

Since I have dabbled in many languages in the Eastern region, I find learning Chinese not too difficult, but mastering it requires a great deal of effort. In my opinion, each language has its own difficulties. For example, Chinese characters and pronunciation are relatively challenging, so one needs to practice writing and speaking more. However, the grammar is relatively easy. Most other Eastern languages are spelled using alphabets, which makes writing easier, but the grammar is more difficult.

GT: Besides Chinese, what else do you need to study and understand to become a sinologist?

As a sinologist from a European country, I believe that besides learning Chinese, one should also understand various fields such as China's history, art, technology, culture, economy, politics, etc. If conditions permit, one should also learn Go and calligraphy. Of course, it is also important to understand the culture of ethnic minority regions in China and neighboring countries. As Confucius said, "Isn't it a pleasure to study and practice what you have learned"?

GT: From your first visit to China until now, what changes in China have impressed you the most?

The scene of my first visit to China is still fresh in my memory. I flew from Milan to Beijing and then to Xi'an. The plane was brand new, with few passengers, and the flight attendants were very friendly. After arriving in Xi'an, I was picked up by a special car from Northwest University to the campus. The teachers and classmates at the International Cultural Exchange School were very polite to me, and the learning atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. I also made many friends. This experience left a good impression on me. I am still in contact with many teachers and classmates, and in 2003, Professor Zhou Jiaxiang from Northwest University published a monograph on ancient Chinese literature at the Braidense National Library. Every time I go to Xi'an, I visit them.

From 1995 to 2019, I visited China more than 30 times, sometimes three times in a year. I think China has changed a lot! In 1995, there were many bicycles on the streets of Xi'an, but few cars. I remember some villages in Shaanxi were still using oxen to plow the fields. On Wangfujing Avenue in Beijing, I experienced riding a "huangbaoche" (a type of traditional Chinese taxi) for the first time. When I visited a friend's house, they lived in a 60-square-meter house with four people, but now it is 160 square meters!

GT: Has your interest and research in Chinese culture also influenced your family? 

My family also loves Chinese culture. My nephew also studied in China. Every time my Chinese friends come to Italy, I invite them to my home. My family is very happy, and both sides are very enthusiastic when they meet.

GT: You have published Biblioteca Ambrosiana with Sino-Western Cultural Exchange, could you talk about the original intention of publishing this book? What kind of cooperation does Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the oldest library in Milan, have with China? What Chinese books or artworks are collected?

This book was published in 2008 and was a 60th birthday gift from Zhejiang University and Zhejiang International Cultural Exchange Association. It brings together my speeches and papers from Northwest University, Zhejiang University, Chongqing University, and the University of Hong Kong over the years. The purpose is to let Chinese students understand Western culture and carry out exchanges and cooperation with Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan.

The Biblioteca Ambrosiana was established in the early 17th century and includes academies, library, art gallery, and museum, all of which are closely related to the Renaissance. The academy collaborates with universities around the world to study global cultures, technologies, arts, religions, and philosophy. The library is open to students and professors from all over the world, providing free access to classical and modern materials. The art gallery and museum collect artworks and manuscripts from many Renaissance masters such as Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Caravaggio.

In addition, we also collect ancient books and cultural artifacts from around the world, such as ancient Indian artifacts, feather cloaks made by the Tupinambá people in South America, and the Arabic Koran. The collection related to China includes classic works on the Ming Dynasty's bureaucracy, the Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the Earth during the Ming Dynasty, and a table said to be brought back from China by Italian voyager Marco Polo.

GT: One time you saw the painting Taipingtu created by Chinese freehand flower and bird painter He Shuifa in 2010. The painting's juicy and vibrant apples quickly inspired you to invite him to speak at an academic festival in Italy. What attempts have you made to promote communication between contemporary art fields in Italy and China? What special feelings do you have? What is the perception of Italian audiences or readers toward art and artists from the East?

In May 2008, I went to Hangzhou and Beijing and invited scholars such as Ren Yanli, Chen Cunfu, Huang Shijian, who study Western religion, philosophy, and engage in cultural communication between China and the West, as well as painter He Shuifa, to join the newly established Chinese Cultural Research Center in the Ambrosiana Academy under the Biblioteca Ambrosiana. The center has become a new bridge for cultural communication and cooperation between Italy and China, serving the peoples of both countries. We introduce our cooperation in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana Yearbook "Asiatica Ambrosiana" every year.

Currently, our Academy has established cooperative relationships with 500 professors, scholars, and artists from around the world, including Wang Meixiu, who studies world religions, Wang Xiaochao, who studies foreign philosophy and religion, and artist Cui Ruzhuo. In 2022, we invited Professor Zhao Tingyang from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences to introduce his "Tianxia System" in Milan, which I believe is a very important event.

GT: China and Italy are outstanding representatives of Eastern and Western civilizations. China has held many exhibitions of Chinese-Italian cultural exchanges in recent years, such as the "Tota Italia - Origins of a Nation," held at the National Museum of China in 2022, which was well received by the audience. The leaders of both countries also attach great importance to such communication. What is your opinion on the Global Civilization Initiative proposed by China?

The Global Civilization Initiative proposed by China is an important initiative and shows great foresight in building a new global civilization. This initiative will help realize the Chinese Dream and promote world peace and human development, leading to a new renaissance in the world.

GT: China and Italy are respectively the starting point and endpoint of the ancient Silk Road. Over the years, you have been studying the cultural heritage cooperation and exchanges under the BRI. Since China proposed the BRI 10 years ago, it has not only made significant contributions to the world economy and the development of participating countries but also promoted cultural and people-to-people exchanges with relevant countries and regions. How do you view the cooperation between China and Italy, as well as China and Europe, over the past 10 years?

The BRI involves numerous countries and regions as well as various aspects, including culture, economy and trade, infrastructure construction, art, science and technology, and politics, among others. From the collection of the Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the Earth at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, I can see that the China-proposed BRI can also be called the "Ten Thousand Belts and Roads of the Ten Thousand Countries" (or "Multiple Belts and Roads of the World)". In addition to the trade-oriented "Belt and Road," the high-speed rail construction-oriented "Belt and Road," there are also the education-oriented "Belt and Road," the culture-oriented "Belt and Road," the science and technology-oriented "Belt and Road," the art-oriented "Belt and Road," and so on.

Both China and Europe have rich and ancient cultures and histories. China has 56 ethnic groups, while EU has nearly 30 countries. In terms of the prospects for cooperation between Europe and China under the BRI, I believe our cooperation is very significant!

GT: Like you, many senior Italian sinologists mostly have the experience of studying in China in the 1980s and 1990s. What advice do you have for the new generation of sinologists emerging in Italy or Europe, or for young people who are particularly interested in Chinese culture?

My dream is for young Italian and European sinologists to collaborate more with young Asian sinologists and young scholars from China to promote sinological research worldwide. These collaborations can take place through various research institutions, such as universities, technology companies, and medical institutes.

I hope that Italian sinologists can work together with Chinese experts to translate and publish Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus, a manuscript consisting of 12 volumes and 1,119 pages. This would be a collaboration that could last for many years.

GT: What are your expectations and suggestions for strengthening people-to-people exchanges between China and Italy?

I hope that communication among the public becomes more diversified, for example, by strengthening communication through news media, sports, music, and art. Even in Italy, clubs can be established for traditional Chinese culture and activities such as Go and Tai Chi. 

In recent years, we have collaborated with the Italy-China Association to organize exhibitions of Leonardo da Vinci in Beijing, Hong Kong, and other places. This December, thanks to the cooperation with the Italo-Chinese Institute of Milan, an exhibition about Leonardo da Vinci is planned to be held in Shanghai, while an exhibition featuring contemporary Chinese painter Zeng Fanzhi will be held in Milan.

GT: Finally, I'd like to ask you about China-Italy relations. How do you evaluate the cooperation between China and Italy in recent years in politics, economics, and other fields? What are your expectations for the future of the relationship between the two countries?

My new book, Estetica, Scienza e Fede: 400 anni dell 'esplorazione della Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Aesthetics, Science and Faith: 400 Years of Exploration of the Ambrosian Library), has just been published by Zhejiang University Press, and it contains my suggestions and expectations. In short, I hope that the friendship between Italy and China will deepen as major cities of both countries and friendly organizations continue to exchange in various fields. The Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan and the Italy-China Association will also be involved. Although the road ahead is long, I would like to use Chairman Mao Zedong's poem, "when the mountain flowers are in full bloom, she will smile mingling in their midst," to express my optimism about the further development of the relationship between the two countries.