Visiting (the) Old, Learning (the) New「温故知新」

Lige Bao, Yuki Nagae, and Muhui Zhang

University of Tokyo IHS program (Integrated Human Sciences Program for Cultural Diversity), Japan

The present world has an unimaginable dynamic flow of technical innovation and inter-personal exchanges. In such a world, are there universal behavioral and spiritual qualities that contribute to a global citizenship identity?
Our answer is both YES and NO. As a team composed of Chinese and Japanese nationalities, we pay tribute to Western-originated values and uphold the concepts of human rights and freedom as our daily living principles. At the same time, we as East Asians take pride in our ancient and glorious civilizations. In the long journey of seeking global citizenship and a sense of community, we honor our history and traditions and explore our cultural treasures. Ancient Asian texts tell us to revisit the old and to learn the new. Aiming for a trans-cultural and globalized future, we must carry forward traditions with pride, and with a humble spirit.
To revisit the past implies to worship traditions and virtues.
The wisdom that guides us to a bright future does not always rest in the present time. The spiritual legacy of the past is always our best teacher. Hundreds of years ago, great European artists and thinkers learned wisdom from ancient Greece and Rome. This revival of classics contributed to a Renaissance that drove out the medieval darkness and sparked civilization. Where we come from, there is a weak tradition of religion but a strong tradition of ethics.
In East Asian societies, ethnic virtues such as loyalty, filial piety, harmony, benevolence, righteousness, and fidelity have long been respected. We do NOT discard these values in the present world. From childhood, we were taught to learn from our elders, to stay humble with our friends, to take care of our  family members, and to live in harmony with the rest of the world.
To revisit the past, is to revisit these traditional virtues and to make ourselves into fine people despite living in the rapidly-shifting modern world, where moral principles are in decline. These qualities are consistent with the core conceptual dimensions of global citizenship education, which we are now trying to promote. The qualities that will lead us toward a global citizenship identity in the future are not necessarily found in our modern technical and social innovations. Rather, the key may rest simply in a bow to elders and in a smile to friends.
To learn the new and to forge a global community in the future, the past cultural treasures and spiritual legacies from each of the world civilizations are of great guidance to us, no matter if they are Christian, Islamic, or Confucian in origin. To revisit the old is to live in awe of the nature and in respect for the others.
In East Asia, Buddhism and our traditional ethics teach us never to belittle others, but instead to venerate them because all humans beings, flowers, trees, or rocks that we see in our daily life are significant. This teaches us to live with the awareness of reverence and to never do to others what you do not want done to yourself. Because of this reverence, we must acknowledge the fact that our perspective may not be universally shared, and that potential for misunderstanding and conflict arises when we try to use our own point of view to interpret or evaluate the way of life, behavior, or beliefs of others.
The reverence that we learned as children helps us to acquire knowledge and to think about global issues. It teaches us respect for differences and for diversity, as well as giving a sense of belonging to a common humanity composed of empathy and solidarity. Through reverence we build respect for the rights of others, including the right to equal treatment and equal opportunity.
To revisit the old is not to stubbornly dwell in the past. The past is carved in memory. The past is the combined episodes of precious memories, but not a burden that restrains us from moving ahead. It is sad that East Asian countries remain entangled by miserable war memories and that people cannot get rid of their mutual hatred. The region has been abusing the historical perception and, as a result, constantly suffer from irrational and xenophobic national sentiments. The realization of a grand history reconciliation and regional integration is therefore difficult.
We believe that East Asia still has a long way to go towards the formation of a sense of supra-national community. Approximately 150 years ago, concepts and values such as sovereignty, nation states, and international law spread from Europe to Asia. Whereas the European continent is ceding these traditional values in favor of integrating into one Europe, through the weakening of national consciousness, and the dilution of national boundaries, values, such as territorial integrity and sovereignty, still take a predominant position in the mindset of East Asians.
It is common sense that developed countries should take responsibility for helping developing countries by the sharing of technology and resources. Similarly, regions with fruitful integration and community building practices should shoulder more responsibility for encouraging global thinking. The spiritual legacy of Europe, particularly in terms of its intellectual wisdom on historical reconciliation, bears priceless guiding significance to the governments and peoples of East Asia.
Visiting the old and learning the new. In Chinese, we say [Wen-gu-zhi-xin]; in Japanese, we say [On-ko-chi-sin]; in Korean, we say [On-go-ji-shin]. These previous teachings contribute to the decent functioning of well-meaning societies.
To revisit the past implies to worship traditions and virtues; to revisit the old is to live in awe of the nature and in respect for the others; to revisit the old also encourages us to learn from the past experiences and adopt future-oriented life attitudes. At the same time, the tragedy and pains from the past do not shackle us, and will help us go towards the future. We face new challenges with wisdom and courage which we absorb from the old.