Fiftieth anniversary of Brazil-China diplomatic relations

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By FRANCISCO FOOT HARDMAN*

For global peace: bridges between Brazil and China on the path to a new era

Guiding question

Let's go straight to the topic that interests us on this journey: at the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Brazil and China, and 75 years after the war of national liberation and social revolution that founded the People's Republic of China, how could these two great countries, deepen their excellent relations in the sense of contributing, not only with words or good intentions, but with concrete projects and actions – several of them, in fact, that are already occurring in the practice of our exchanges, whether cultural, scientific, economic or policies – for the construction, from what is conventionally called the Global South, of an effective World Peace?

That in order to be Peace and be Worldwide, it must be based, in a real way, on a more egalitarian, freer and more supportive world, very different, therefore, from the scenarios that we are unfortunately used to witnessing in today's world?

General considerations

In the five essays that I have published, from 2016 to date, on the “unequal and combined” character of space-times in ancient, huge and complex countries like ours, a concept that is somewhat basic and current in the Marxist tradition, I highlighted the need to we overcome certain prejudices and simplifying dichotomies that we inherited from Westernist thought.[I]

Among the illusions to be overcome, I found geographic illusions (article from 2016) and chronological illusions (article from 2022). That is, we have to try to abandon the idea of ​​a homogeneous continuity between the spaces that make up our societies, as well as abandon the idea of ​​a continuous evolutionary linearity between different phases or periods of our histories.

These false dichotomies deny dialectical thinking and populate our humanities books. traditional x modern; community x society; center x periphery; rural x urban; global x local; national x regional; international x national; etc. To make our reflection more concrete, I will refer to some important authors on this issue. You may have already heard of the expression or neologism “Glocal” or “Glocalization”.

Among several authors who adopted and started to work with this term, let us remember the English sociologist Roland Robertson (1938-2022), who was a long professor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and who already at a conference in 1997, on “Globalization and indigenous culture”, established that “glocalization means the simultaneity – the co-presence – of both tendencies, that of universalization and that of particularization”. His greatest merit seems to have been “stealing” this neologism that appeared linked to marketing strategies in Japan and redefining it, in a broader dialectical perspective and adapted to the sociocultural changes resulting from the advancement of digital technology.[ii]

I must now highlight a Brazilian author who has always really pleased me. This is the geographer from Bahia, black, leftist and exiled from the military dictatorship, Milton Santos (1926-2001). For his last book, published in 2000, a year before he passed away, he proposed the title For another globalization: from single thought to universal consciousness. Fully aware of the problems we have summarized here, he, who was also a great scholar of urbanism, proposes a new modality of globalization that completely opposes the power of financial and abstract capitalism and focuses, instead, on places, communities and in people.

Such categories, in turn, are redefined and acquire a new historical and epistemological centrality. And we have to share the great news of the reissue of this book in Brazil, in 2021, with a preface by the contemporary black Bahian writer, Itamar Vieira Júnior, author, among others, of the award-winning novel Crooked Plow (2019). Geographer and INCRA employee, student of quilombola populations, Itamar Vieira Júnior is precise in this presentation, when he formulates, lucidly: “For another globalization deals with globalization as a fable and as perversity”.[iii] And we now know, too, that Crooked Plow can be read by the Chinese public, as it was translated into Mandarin by Augusto Souto Pestana and recently published here!

Finally, I must mention another Brazilian, a well-known sociologist and anthropologist, including here in China, who is Gilberto Freyre (1900-1987), a man with a conservative profile, who supported the fascist-colonialist dictatorship of Salazar in Portugal and the military dictatorship in Brazil . But despite all this, we find interesting aspects about our culture and society in his work. Among them, the concept of “rurbanization” or “rurban”, which he began using in 1945, but consolidated in an essay published in 1982, as a conception, beyond the rural x urban dichotomy, “defining an intermediate situation between purely rural and exclusively urban – as it defines it as a mixed, dynamic and conjugal position between the values ​​that those lives represent”.

Or, alternatively: “A process of socioeconomic development that combines, as forms and contents of a single regional experience – that of the Northeast, for example, or national – that of Brazil as a whole – values ​​and styles of rural life and values ​​and styles of urban life. Hence the neologism: rurbanos”.[iv]

It can be seen, up until now, that these revisions of old concepts have always tried to relativize the traditional and Eurocentric dichotomies that dominated (and in part still dominate) the prevailing vision in the human sciences. And we also owe to the sociologist from the northeast of Recife, Gilberto Freyre, who, by the way, never traveled to China (he was only in India, a country he also greatly admired, especially the figure of Gandhi), for his luminous intuition, let's say , about the deepest cultural affinities between the Brazilian and Chinese people, to the point where he wrote his famous essay “Why Tropical China?”, in initial versions published in New York, in 1945 and 1959, within a broader set of works in which he proposed to rethink the civilizational foundations of a “new world in the tropics”, with Brazil as the center and China as the model.

It should be noted in this regard that, despite his basic conservatism, the author greatly valued, within a moderate nationalism, historical and cultural experiences that were far from both the USA and the main European colonialist powers, the exception, it is true, of his almost blind passion for Portugal and what he called Luso-tropicalism.

I clarify here that when I titled my travel chronicles, made and written between 2019 and 2020, My Tropical China, I intentionally inverted the terms suggested by Freyre in his aforementioned essay. Because, in my recent imaginary vision, it is, on the contrary, China that most resembles certain landscapes and cultural representations of Brazil.[v] In this case, the personal pronoun “minha” is a more subjective, literary reading mark; and, at the same time, inspired by, but different from, the great sociologist from Pernambuco.

To these references that I consider necessary, it is necessary to add two Chinese researchers of the greatest importance, one of whom we can now call “classic” and the other, our contemporary. I refer to the pioneering social scientist Fei Xiaotong (1910-2005) and the political scientist Qin Yaqing (1953-), currently a professor at Shandong University and former professor at the China Foreign Affairs University and also former director of the BEIDA Institute of Strategic and International Studies.

From the first of these authors, Fei Xiaotong, I highlight the beautiful collection of essays at the end of his career that the publisher Springer, from Berlin, published in 2015, entitled Globalization and cultural self-awareness. Its general spirit, in our view, has many points of contact and potentially productive elective affinities with the perspective of the work-testament of the Bahian geographer Milton Santos, in For another globalization, already mentioned.

In both thinkers we are faced with a profound criticism of the direction of abstract financial globalization, in favor of a new, “universal” or “cultural” consciousness, which is critical and capable of establishing peaceful bridges between people, places and communities. . That such potentially transformative perspectives were proposed by a Chinese author[vi] and another Brazilian, alone, already renew our hopes.

As for Professor Qin Yaqing, whose work is still under construction, he has the merit of proposing a “relational” or constructivist theory of contemporary international relations, by criticizing the linear and dominant realist paradigm in the usual studies in this area, still largely dominated by Western concepts.

His new theory, present in several works, such as, for example, A relational theory of world politics (2018), authored by him, or Globalizing IR theory: critical engagement (2020), as organizer, proposes a literally “disarmed” vision of geopolitical relations in the current world, trying to establish significant links with the policy implemented a decade ago by China, the so-called New Silk Road. Without a doubt, a broad and ambitious proposal, in its challenges, both on a theoretical and practical level.[vii]

Practical considerations about Brazil and China

I will not deal here, because it is not within my field of study, the obvious and significant curve of increasing expansion in trade between Brazil and China. China has been, for a long time now, and increasingly so, the major partner for Brazilian exports and imports. The framework is very relevant, whether in the context of Latin America and South America, or in the context of Europe. We hope it continues like this. And we believe that there are full favorable conditions for this trend to be maintained and expanded, in the current historical moment.

I would like to emphasize here the fundamental role that cultural exchanges, including artistic and literary production in general, from both our countries, can play in this process. It is not just, as some economic analysts like to call it, the exercise of the so-called “soft power” at the level of China-Brazil exchanges. Because every disinterested cultural exchange, that is, beyond its market values, by contributing to mutual knowledge and friendship between peoples, will be a factor of peaceful, non-hegemonic influence and, therefore, against ideological conflicts and cold and hot wars, of which the 21st century has given us the worst scenarios…

But since we are here, and not by chance, on the campus of Peking University, a national and international reference, it is necessary to highlight, without any risk of exaggeration, the enormous power that higher public education and inter-university cooperation can bring and mean to our countries, exactly in this particular context of their urgent and irreplaceable functions, in the partnership and consensual leadership of this bloc called the Global South. Chinese teachers and students need to travel more to Brazil and get to know our country better. Brazilian teachers and students need to travel more to China, and get to know better the various facets of Chinese landscapes, society and culture.

When I traveled to China and Beijing for the first time, in 2013, the dream of expanding the teaching of the Brazilian Portuguese language was still taking its first steps. Today, more than a decade later, and even with the unfavorable conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic, this dream is already a much more tangible reality, not only here in Beijing, but also in several other cities across the entire country. In Brazil, faced with enormous challenges, and the threatening clouds of disinformation, interest in China, its language and culture, without a doubt, increases every day. This all implies tasks that are assigned to us with great potential for success.

 And to conclude this topic, I will talk about a sector far from our areas of study: the issue of agrarian development. In addition to President Lula's visit to China in 2023, now complemented, a few days ago, by the visit of Vice-President Geraldo Alckmin, I would like to highlight, in the context of the VII Meeting of the Sino-Brazilian High Level Agreement and Cooperation Commission (COSBAN ), the visits, around two weeks ago, by the Minister of Agrarian Development, Paulo Teixeira, and the Minister of Social Development, Wellington Dias, who participated in a Forum to Fight Poverty and Rural Revitalization.

The biggest novelty at this meeting, in addition to the expected authorities, was the presence and participation of the largest social and union organizations in the countryside in Brazil, namely: the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (CONTAG), the National Confederation of Workers in Family Farming in Brazil (CONTRAF) and the Small Farmers Movement (MPA).[viii]

I highlight this point not by chance. In addition to not having been announced by our mainstream media, the agrarian issue, both from the point of view of combating extreme poverty and from the point of view of environmental sustainability, is still, without a doubt, a central strategic issue in the projection of the Global South into towards a more habitable planet.

But, before finishing, I cannot fail to mention President Lula's accurate and inspired speech, on June 13th, at the opening of the International Labor Conference, of the ILO (International Labor Organization), held in Geneva, Switzerland, when the Global Coalition for Social Justice was launched. This important intervention by who is undoubtedly one of the great leaders of the Global South, was solemnly ignored by the mainstream Brazilian media. And what was important about Lula?

The growth of extreme poverty in the world, accompanied by precarious and informal work. On the other hand, extreme wealth, this is real polarization: “Never before has the world had so many billionaires. We are talking about 3 thousand people who hold 15 trillion dollars in assets. This represents the sum of the GDPs of Japan, Germany, India and the United Kingdom.” He stated: “The concentration of income is so absurd that some individuals have their own space programs. We don't need to look for solutions on Mars. It is the Earth that needs our care.” For those who are more interested, one of the alternative independent journalism blogs in Brazil, run by Luis Nassif, in a solitary gesture, posted this speech in full.[ix].

Final considerations

Friends: we know that in Science, as well as in Culture, there are no absolute or eternal truths. All university and academic research that can be considered of quality must admit the principle of good doubt and the uncertainties that accompany any “discovery”. In the so-called human sciences, this is quite accepted, although many people and institutions sometimes seem to forget this variable condition of our work, and hence what is shared science, even in its doubts, becomes religious, fundamentalist dogma and not subject to criticism or any questioning. It turns out, however, that the most appropriate punctuation mark for our work is actually a question mark, and never the full stop.

And in the face of a still turbulent world, due to so many wars of aggression and destruction, so much violence against human populations and, equally, against the richest biomes of the natural landscapes we know on Earth, we can only say that, sister countries like China and Brazil can and should join hands, reinforcing common lines of action in the so-called Global South, so that the world improves, towards the emancipation of still oppressed peoples – towards a more just, egalitarian, supportive and prosperous world.

And this, always with the aim of preserving the most favorable conditions for the habitat of humans and other living species on our Planet, as bequeathed to us by our ancestors, which in itself constitutes our responsibility to seek to do the same for our descendants.

We can say that it is a desire or challenge full of good intentions or “wishful thinking”. But we can also, with collective, reflected and articulated action, make this hope a shared reality in continuous progression. In the multipolarity we dream of, the world will see and the world will say.

*Francisco Foot Hardman He is a professor at the Institute of Language Studies at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of São Paulo ideology and the eternal modernists (Unesp). [https://amzn.to/45Qwcvu].

Text revised and adapted from the lecture given at Peking University – PKU or BEIDA – on 21/06/2024, on the occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Brazil-China Diplomatic Relations.[X]


[I] Cf. the following references by F. Foot Hardman: – Geographical Illusions: on the Volubility of the Notion of Periphery in Global Space-Time. Letterature D'America. Rome, vol. 161, 2016; – Where is the center? Notes on the Global Order of Malaise and the Age of Refugees. In: Birman, D.; Foot Hardman, F. (Ed.) Exodus: shifts in literature, cinema and other arts. Belo Horizonte: Relicário Eds., 2020; – Simultaneism and Fusion in Chinese Landscape, Culture and Literature. In: Musse, R. (Org.). Contemporary China: six interpretations. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2021; – Chronological Illusions: Ethereals who want to be eternal. In: Saliba, ET (Org.). Modernism: the opposite side and the other sides. São Paulo: Eds. SESC, 2022; – Brief Comments on “Unequal and Combined” in Contemporary Intercultural Relations. TLA: Works in Applied Linguistics. Campinas, IEL-Unicamp, 2024 (thematic dossier III Exodus+GEDLit International Colloquium).

[ii] Among Roland Robertson's many references on the topic, I would like to mention his article published in Brazil: National identity and globalization: contemporary fallacies. In: Globalization and national identity. São Paulo, Atlas, 1999. Cf. Alejandra Aguilar Pinto: “Counter-hegemonic” Cultural Globalization in Cyberspace: the case of indigenous peoples. Brasília, IPEA, 2010 (https://www.ipea.gov.br>pdf GT4.Art5. Alej).

[iii] See Itamar Vieira Jr., Preface In: Milton Santos, For Another Globalization: from single thinking to universal consciousness. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2021.

[iv] See the excellent edition organized by Edson Nery da Fonseca and presented by Vamireh Chacon: Gilberto Freyre, Why tropical China? In: tropical china. São Paulo: Global, 2013, pp. 155-179.

[v] Cf. F. Foot Hardman, My Tropical China: travel chronicles. São Paulo: Ed. Unesp, 2024, 104 p. illustr. The Chinese edition, bilingual and illustrated, is: My China Diary: current China through the eyes of a Brazilian. Beijing: PKU Press, 2021, 220 p.

[vi] See Xiaotong Fei, Globalization and Cultural Self-Awareness. Berlin: Springer, 2015. Collection of 23 comprehensive essays by the Author, from a critical and current perspective on the uses of “culture”.

[vii] See Yaqing Qing, A Relational Theory of World Politics. Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2018; Yaqing Qing (Ed.), Globalizing IR Theory: Critical Engagement. Abingdon, Routledge, 2020.

[viii] See Mauro Ramos, 'Brazil wants to transfer agricultural technology', says minister Paulo Teixeira on a visit to China. Beijing, Brazil of Fact, 08-June-2024, 15:10.

[ix] Cf. Camila Bezerra, Combating Inequality and Taxing Billionaires: Lula's speech in Switzerland. São Paulo, GGN newspaper, 13-June-2024, 20:08.

[X] I must thank colleagues Fan Xing and Min Xuefei and colleague Wang Yuan for this kind invitation. And to the postgraduate student Li Wutaowen, for the impeccable simultaneous translation.


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