One in every five people in the world is Chinese. As you read these lines, almost a billion and a half Chinese people all around the world have been celebrating the beginning of the Chinese New Year.
These New Year celebrations are among the most important traditional Chinese festivals. To me, seeing Chinese New Year celebrations in a Chinese majority society is one of the “must dos” in life. It is one of the most colorful and culturally rich celebrations I have ever seen in my life, and I have seen a lot. I wish all my Chinese friends around the world a blessed new year. May this new snake year be a peaceful and prosperous time for all.
Modern celebrations of Chinese New Year provide many rich and helpful insights in terms of how Chinese culture is on the rise and becoming increasingly globally known and recognized. Everybody knows by now that China is becoming a global powerhouse, economically and technologically. However, I think very few of us are reflecting on how this future superpower will look in the manifestations of her soft power. How will its mind-blowing economic and technological achievements manifest themselves in art, music, humanities, media, film and more? I believe in front of our eyes we will not only see the People’s Republic of China’s rise to the world stage as one of the potential super powers, but we will also see the emergence of a new global cultural paradigm that goes beyond the borders of PRC.
I welcome this emergence with excitement and delight as I have so many high expectations of this new world player. For many centuries Muslims were the global dealmakers. For the last couple of centuries, European nations have been the global powerhouses. This is the first time that a Far Eastern civilization is potentially rising to be a global mover and shaker. This is in many ways exciting and promising, as this new global giant is ethnically, culturally, linguistically, religiously and in many other ways significantly different than the former ones.
Many of the future predictions of what the potential Chinese global hegemony will look like focus on worst-case scenarios. I find most of those fearful predictions very biased, unwise and unfair. Many of those predictions are also embedded in a patronizing tone in relation to Chinese culture. They take the nature of Chinese government and its certain policies as their main focus and frame of reference. They often ignore the millennia-old accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the Chinese people and reveal very low expectations of them.
I think more best-case scenarios of these future predictions are needed. As someone who lived and traveled extensively in that part of the world for eight long years, I am more hopeful than many. I hope and pray that this new and very different global dealmaker will do a better job of achieving global peace and harmony than her predecessors. She will learn from the many mistakes and failures of the past and will strive to raise the bar in terms of ethical and moral standards of super powers. This new and different global boss will humble and inspire the rest of the world through the enlightening teachings of her cultures and religions.
We, people living in the West, do not know much about the cultural milieu of the Far East in general and Chinese culture in particular. More importantly, what we know of it is highly problematic. A Duke fraternity’s deeply troubling and distasteful early New Year’s present to the Asian/Chinese community provides a painful but helpful window of what we make of the culture of the people of the Far East. How often we mystify and reduce this rich and meaningful cultural world into a few silly things! I do not know what is more troubling in this sense—what the fraternity folks did or how many people reacted: “Whats the big deal!” I am so proud of those members of the Duke family who turned this scandal into a learning moment for many through their inspiring protests and civil demands of apology and correction.
However, I hope this will not remain a one time reaction to what a few people did. This crisis shed light on a larger issue that we have to deal with. I hope we will keep the momentum and healthy tension of this recent issue and use this spark of energy to open up many more helpful doors for future conversations.
But for now, a heartfelt happy and blessed New Year to all.
Abdullah Antepli is the Muslim Chaplain and an adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies. His column runs every other Tuesday. You can follow Abdullah on Twitter @aantepli.