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China and the West: Crossroads of Civilisation

Goldsmiths, University of London

Room RHB 325, Richard Hoggart Building, 8 Lewisham Way, New Cross, London SE14 6NW
21 Feb 2018 4:30 p.m. – 6 p.m., Goldsmiths, University of London

Talk by Professor Peter Nolan, Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge


ABSTRACT: Human civilisation stands at a crossroads. There are urgent global challenges that need to be confronted, including destruction of the natural environment; climate change; inequality of income, wealth and life chances; industrial concentration and regulation of the financial system. Looming above all of these is the issue of how to avoid a ‘Clash of Civilisations’ and a New Peloponnesian War. Only by looking deep into the past can one better understand the possible direction that the long-term evolution of world civilisation might take. The relationship between China and the West will play a central role in the path that humanity follows in the decades and centuries ahead. In the Ancient World for around 2,000 years the evolution of civilisation in both China and West followed convergent paths. From the collapse of the Roman Empire in the fourth century AD until the early nineteenth century their paths diverged radically. In this era China continued to build in an evolutionary fashion on the foundations laid in the Ancient world while Europe followed a fundamentally different course from that which had been established in the Ancient world. The long era of the ‘first divergence’ left a deep imprint on the culture of both East and West. The Industrial Revolution in Britain signalled the start of a second era of radical divergence, which lasted up until the late twentieth century. In the long sweep of world history this era is of short duration, a mere 200 years, compared with more than 4,000 years of complex civilisation that preceded it. Since the 1980s the world has entered an era of renewed economic convergence between China and the West. However, there are still deep differences in the respective civilisations, which are inherited from the long sweep of history. These differences have the potential to result in conflict, producing global instability and violence, but they also have the potential to combine in a virtuous fashion that helps to construct a sustainable and peaceful global future for the whole of humanity.


BIO: Peter Nolan holds the Chong Hua Chair (Emeritus) in Chinese Development and is the Founding Director of the University’s Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge. He is the Director of the Chinese Executive Leadership Programme (CELP), which each year brings CEOs from China’s largest firms to the University of Cambridge for a three-week training programme, taught by a combination of academics and the leaders of international firms. He is Director of the China Centre, Jesus College. He has spoken at the Chinese Government’s annual China Development Forum since its inception in 2000. He has testified at the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission of the US Congress, lectured to the Board of the US-China Business Council and at the Group of Thirty (G30) Plenary Session. He was a member of the UK Government’s Asia Task Force and the China Council of the World Economic Forum. He holds an honorary doctorate from the Copenhagen Business School. In 2009 he was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) ‘for services supporting China’s integration into the global economy’.


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