I’ll start by apologizing for what might be seen as presumption on my part. I am fully aware that you couldn’t possibly engage directly with a letter written by an individual citizen, and even more, one from a faraway country.
Nevertheless, please allow me to express to you in writing the great love that I have for your country, to which I have dedicated almost a whole lifetime of effort and research, which began back when China was not yet a major power that the world had to reckon with, while it already possessed the strength that comes from a history and civilization spanning millennia.
It is that civilization, Mr. President, that has always fascinated me, and it is that civilization that I would like to talk about.
I am a university professor teaching Chinese language and literature, and I am also director on the Italian side of the Confucius Institute at the University of Turin. I know very well what university students are like, I know the power of their dreams and the extraordinary energy they devote to their demands when they want to change the world around them.
I know those who are studying Chinese here in Italy especially well, and I know how much personal effort I have been putting into teaching them to see China without ideological prejudices, learning to understand before rushing to judgment.
That doesn’t mean always agreeing, and it doesn’t mean giving up their own values—above all, democracy and the right to express their ideas.
Our so-called “Western” model of society is, of course, not the only possible model, but we cannot give up on these fundamental values. They are part of our history, as contradictory and certainly not free of errors and tragedies as it is.
I firmly believe there is a common ground for dialogue between China and the West, and that it should not be confined to merely speaking the language of business interests. I’m sure that you also believe that young people, including the young people of Hong Kong, are an extraordinary heritage, a treasure that every society must protect, safeguard and nurture.
First of all, by listening to them. I am not speaking ex cathedra, of course, Mr. President: I know how deficient our societies are as well from the perspective of young people. But I would ask you to listen to the young people of Hong Kong. Go seek them out, Mr. President.
Don’t send in the police: go yourself. China has a first-rate leadership class, and I believe it can handle an encounter with the young people from the Fragrant Harbour.
Listening to them wouldn’t mean having to agree with them, but it would mean demonstrating that the great civilization that your country embodies doesn’t shrink before the challenges of the present day, and is able to develop values which are shared, and can be shared, with the rest of the world.
We all await the end of this crisis, without bloodshed, in the name of and respecting the tenets of the “Renaissance” that you often recall in your speeches, and which certainly brings us together.
Stefania Stafutti is Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Turin and the Italian Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Turin.
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