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Philosopher's guide

By Wang Kaihao | China Daily | Updated: 2018-02-05 09:28
Daniel A. Bell, Canadian political theorist and philosopher. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Canadian scholar and advocate of Confucianism Daniel A. Bell receives the Huilin Cultural Award. Wang Kaihao reports.

His Chinese name is Bei Danning, which is based on the pronunciation of his English name, but it also indicates "simplicity and tranquility" in Mandarin, paying homage to ancient Chinese sages.

Daniel A. Bell is the dean of the School of Political Science and Public Administration at Shandong University in Jinan, a rare post on the Chinese mainland for foreigners.

Still, the Canadian political theorist and philosopher, who's best known for his studies on China, wants to be treated by locals as a "Chinese". Not to mention that he is married to one.

"It's about culture, not race," Bell, 54, says in Mandarin during a recent visit to Beijing Normal University.

"If foreigners who are not of Chinese ethnicity can come to appreciate that learning about Chinese culture is not just a hobby or a skill to help in business, but a matter of identity," he says, "then it can enrich our minds and fundamentally change the way we lead our lives."

In late January, he received the Huilin Cultural Award, an annual prize of Beijing Normal University given to both Chinese and foreign scholars who make extraordinary contributions to Sino-foreign cultural communication.

"That (shared culture) was a traditional understanding of what it means to be a Chinese," Bell says. "It will be healthy for both China and the rest of the world to revive it and reinterpret it in modern times."

He credits the open-mindedness to history-China embraced people from overseas as early as in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

"Some of the values in mainstream Chinese culture had been deliberately marginalized since the 19th century for bad reasons," he explains. "It was just because China then didn't have as much economic and political power as Western countries, and these values were viewed (by the West) as maverick," he says.

"But they should be promoted for social and philosophical reasons as China's economic and political power is rising nowadays."

Born in Montreal and educated at McGill and Oxford, Bell, an advocate of Confucianism, has continued research on that ancient Chinese philosophy in the past 20 years or so by visiting and teaching at institutions such as Princeton University in the United States, Tsinghua University in Beijing, the National University of Singapore and the University of Hong Kong.

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