2024 International Symposium of Monumenta Serica:

“Encounter of Africa and Chinese Culture: Classics, History, Religion and Images,” 20–21 June 2024



20–21 June 2024, Fu Jen Catholic University, Taiwan

Organizer: Monumenta Serica Sinological Center (Fu Jen University), Center for Chinese Studies of the National Central Library (Taiwan), and the Monumenta Serica Institute (Germany)

Subsidized Unit: The National Science and Technology Council (Taiwan)

This symposium, organized by the Monumenta Serica Sinological Research Center at Fu Jen, dealt with the encounter of Africa and Chinese culture and wanted to measure the contribution of African Chinese Studies to the knowledge of China. This undertaking, however, turned out to be a most difficult one for many reasons. Especially, the short-term cancellation of participation in the symposium of some scholars was pitiful. Historical and present cultural relations between Africa and China were analyzed, and the African experience of Chinese culture as well the image of China in Africa were shared in lively discussions.

Zbigniew Wesołowski SVD (Wei Siqi 魏思齊):

Lecture: “In Search of Wisdom in China and Sub-Saharan Africa: The Value of the Past”



For us human beings, Africa seems to be the common cradle of humankind. According to paleontology, early hominid skull anatomy was akin to that of the present-day gorilla and chimpanzee. ten million to five million years ago, these hominid species must have adopted a bipedal locomotion and thus freed hands, which was a crucial advantage for living in both forested areas and on the open savanna. The fossil and genetic evidence manifests that Homo sapiens must have developed in Southern and Eastern Africa by around 350,000 to 260,000 years ago and gradually migrated across the African continent in various waves. Between 60,000 to 50,000 years ago, their expansion out of Africa began the colonization of the entire planet by modern humans.

“Wisdom” is an ancient and time-transcending concept that developed long before our modern age of technologically advanced information and artificial intelligence. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Wisdom is usually defined as the capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct and the soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends, esp. in practical affairs. Knowledge is usually understood as a body of facts, theories and rules available to individuals or groups that are characterized by the highest possible degree of certainty, so that their validity or truth is assumed. All peoples, whether non-literate or so-called civilized, have sought to pass their wisdom on to following generations by means of religious beliefs, myths, stories, songs, and even cave paintings that date back 30,000 years. Wisdom has always been a way of life and at the same time that of survival. That is why Chinese culture and sub-Saharan cultures still exist.

In China, we see the highest way of a search of wisdom, i.e., through an enormous literacy and even a more formidable commentarial tradition (Confucian Classics, Daoist Classics, Buddhist Sutras, and Classics of other traditions in China). However, the most powerful tradition in Chinese history, Confucianism, was severely criticized at the beginning of the 20th century. Lu Xun 魯迅 (1881–1936) in his short novel Kuangren riji 狂人日記 (Diary of a Madman; 1918) was the first to call Confucianism cannibalism.

Sub-Saharan people belonged in the past to so-called non-literate cultures which generally have had (complex) oral traditions, and later oral literature and narratives. Similarly, illiterate people in today’s literate cultures have knowledge and education in the form of stories (e.g., modern legends) and oral literature (orature) despite having little or no literacy skills. The wisdom of sub-Saharan people is embodied in so-called human universals, like ancestor worship (religiosity and spirituality) and family structure. 

Our search of wisdom in China and Sub-Saharan Africa eventually leaves us with two basic questions: (1) How much wisdom must a human being have in order to live his or her life with dignity? (2) Where does the value of the past lie?