In the thousands of years of history and culture, lies a rich history of cultural collisions with other cultures. This has allowed China to be a much more splendid and pluralistic civilization. Therefore, what does the word “West” mean in historical events such as “Monk XuanZang’s Journey to India”, “Zheng He’s Navigation to the Western Oceans”, “The Eastward Dissemination of Western Learning”, “Zhang Qian to the Western Regions” and others? How does it differ? How did the East and West come to know each other? How did they initiate communication? The course “Cultural History of the relationship between East and West” lectured by Professor Zhang Guogang from the Department of History at Tsinghua University strung together the complexity of the various historical events and through texts and visual images; students were able to have a better understanding of the blend of cultures throughout the history of China.
In this course, Professor Zhang Guogang focused on the contacts and collisions between different civilizations as well as understandings and misunderstanding to make interpretations of the history of such exchanges through focusing on various historical periods. His focuses on three core issues- “the unique quality of Chinese civilization (particularity), inclusiveness in Chinese culture (universal civilizations), and the complexity of the Chinese and Western cultures”. As he tackles such issues, he focuses on the Old, Han-Tang, Song-Ming, Late Ming–Early Qing Dynasties, the exchanges between East and West, spanning thousands of years and across different geographical areas. That way, students are able to have a profound understanding and exploration of how two civilizations collide, the universality and particularity of civilizations between integration, conflict and tension and through such tension, understand the cultural, spiritual, institutional cultural differences. Apart from his teachings from an academic standpoint, Professor Zhang also shared his views on the practical challenges and nature of China’s “One Belt – One Road” initiative.
In Professor Zhang’s lessons, some historical figures who made their mark in the history of cultural exchanges are Alexandria the Great, Zhang Qian, An Lushan, Marco Polo, Matteo Ricci, Emperor Kangxi, Zheng he, Voltaire and more. Regardless of which religious faith they helped to spread or the part they played in the change and expansion of materials such as tea, silk, porcelain, art and more, the precious videos and images shown by the professor allowed his students to gain greater analytical skills. Such resources achieved great teaching results and as a result, Tsinghua, Beijing Municipal Government and the Ministry of Education rated his course “Cultural History of the relationship between East and West” as a state-level course. Professor Zhang also edited his materials and published it into a textbook. Since 2008, it has been revised twice and the book has been reprinted six times by 2015.
Professor Zhang’s research focuses on Chinese ancient history, the theory and history of cultural exchange between East and West especially on the Sui and Tang Dynasties, European Sinology and the history of cultural exchanges between the East and West. Due to his remarkable achievements, Professor Zhang was selected in 2003 as a member of Tsinghua’s “100 Talents Program”. He became a distinguished Professor of Chang Jiang Scholar Program in 2006.