More than 4,000 years ago, the legendary Chinese ruler Yu the Great was said to have met with tribal leaders in today's Bengbu, Anhui province, thereby setting the foundation for a united country. Now the city has a new role: to witness communication of different cultures and exploration of a shared future for a much larger community.
Bengbu will be the permanent host of the Taihu World Cultural Forum, a key national-level platform promoting cultural dialogue between China and the world, it was announced on Wednesday during a news conference in Beijing.
The forum, launched in 2008, was named after Taihu Lake in the Yangtze River Delta. The annual conferences have previously been held in Suzhou, Jiangsu province and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province; Shanghai; the Macao Special Administrative Region; and Beijing. In addition, forum-affiliated, high-level symposiums on traditional Chinese medicine and traditional craftsmanship have been held over the past decade.
In 2019, a traditional craftsmanship exchange center affiliated with the forum was established in Bengbu when a forum was held there, attracting hundreds of politicians, scholars, entrepreneurs and cultural notables to share ideas and deepen mutual understanding among cultures.
"Choosing a permanent venue for the forum will give stronger confidence for the cultural circle," Yan Zhaozhu, chairman of the forum, said on Wednesday. "There's still noise and misleading information against China's development. With the forum, we want to break down ignorance and biases through truth, and the permanent platform for cultural dialogue can be a place to better display a panorama of China from more dimensions."
That explains in part why Bengbu was chosen as the permanent venue. The city is on the Huaihe River, which is generally considered to mark the boundary between northern and southern China. Yan said hosting the forum there will enable more people from overseas to see China beyond the developed coastal areas.
An expo park in Bengbu that features ancient residences was chosen as the main venue for the forum. Nationwide, about 450 traditional homes have been preserved and relocated to the park. Yan said the park's rich historical atmosphere can give people a better idea of the significance of traditional culture in a modern society.
"Communication and mutual learning among different civilizations is rooted in people-to-people exchanges," Zhou Shuchun, publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily, a co-host of the forum, said at the news conference. "The Taihu World Cultural Forum is devoted to establishing a platform for sustainable communication. … Through dialogues in various forms, we believe friendship among people from different countries can be deepened and can give lasting motivation."
Irina Bokova, former secretary-general of the UNESCO, said in a video clip played during Wednesday's news conference: "It is the deep humanistic vision of the Taihu World Cultural Forum that makes it so important."
"In these challenging times, it is again culture that will help us heal the distress of the pandemic, that will make social inclusion a reality, that will make us more confident in the common future of humanity," Bokova said.
Li Huilai, deputy director of the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs, said at the news conference, "Each country has its unique culture and history; not a single one is better or superior, and the difference is due to their characters and geographic regions."
Li added, "Human beings have been advancing through encounters between cultures.…The principle of equality, inclusion and mutual learning should be maintained today."
Huang Xiaowu, Party secretary of Bengbu, said the sixth edition of the annual conference of the Taihu forum will be held in October, and he praised the forum as an opportunity to accelerate the overall development of Bengbu.