by Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki
The extensive relations with China have rendered Athens a meeting point of the Eastern with the Western civilization.
The Greek civilization was the cradle of the Western civilization and the Chinese civilization defined and continues to define the Far East.
Let us try to approach the relation of these two ancient civilizations, which although developed so far and in a different manner from each other, have common characteristics and a long multilayered interaction. They successfully survived and effectively responded to the challenges of history, dominated and influenced decisively neighboring peoples.
Beyond differences in mentality, the similarities are many. In philosophy and the intellect, the time Heraclitus, Plato, Socrates and Aristotle are presenting their thoughts in Greece, in China Confucius, Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu are putting their marks.
During the same period Minoans and Mycenaeans, develop Linear A and B, the Chinese writing is also formed. The Greek alphabet symbols correspond to syllables, while ideograms are used to imprint goods. Of particular interest is the comparison of these symbols with the first listed characters of Chinese writing during the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC – 1046 BC).
Furthermore, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian dialects and tribal languages of Indochina sprang from the Chinese language and writing. Similarly, the Greek alphabet was adopted by Rome, developed into the Latin alphabet and became the basis of European languages, while the Cyrillic alphabet derived directly from the Greek.
The course was parallel also in other fields: In painting, ceramics, pottery and metallurgy, medicine, inventions and discoveries. Even the decorative motif of the meander seems to have developed alongside in the two civilizations and many technical achievements bear the stamp of the Chinese or the Greek.
Chinese and Greeks have been great traders. They had to bridge long distances, to tame harsh weather, to carry their products across the world. A main trade road was that of the silk. The establishment of the main trade routes connecting the East and the Mediterranean basin, should be sought to Alexander the Great.
Trade and cultural exchanges with China continued in the Roman times, while from the 6th century AD official bilateral contacts between Byzantium and China are documented in historiography and archaeology.
The Greeks are considered a “maritime” nation, as seamanship has been the timeless trait. The islanders of the Cyclades archipelago were crossing the Aegean from the 4th millennium BC. Chinese ships with a unique stern rudder, able to sail against the wind, had conquered in the Middle Ages the seas in the East, fostering the “skill to be led by the stars,” the pioneering astronomical navigation. This confirms the long-term good relations of the two states.
In 2006, the relationship was upgraded to a strategic comprehensive partnership with a view to developing a consistently evolving, mutually beneficial cooperation.
The Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, provided an opportunity for exchange of visits and expertise, contributing to the hosting of the archaeological exhibition “Agon” in China with great success and acceptance.
The sea, which has been and is the connection element, led to declare 2015 “Year of the Greece-China Maritime Cooperation”.
Cultural collaborations, exchanges in issues of cultural heritage and contemporary art creation, will crystallize in the near future the fruitful progress hand in hand, while outlining a path which is forecast to be flourishing. It is up to us to move forward with quick steps. The prospects are very positive and promising.
(Maria Andreadaki-Vlazaki, the writer, is the General Secretary of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports.)