Celebrating differences through harmonious coexistence is adopted in cultures around the world. ELENI PHILIPPOU looks at how that is true in Cyprus and China

To live together in harmony and celebrate similarities and differences is the ultimate goal of any person, society or nation. In China, the local Hehe culture thrives in promoting harmonious coexistence among young and old, locals and foreigners, who take its philosophy on board and implement it in contemporary life. On our side of the world, civic projects in Cyprus are also on a mission to establish peace and cooperation. What can the two learn from each other?

culture hehe culture

Hehe culture

Hehe culture originated in the Tiantai mountain, in east China’s Zhejiang province. Harmony is one of its core values, which is widely appreciated in modern Chinese society today. The term Hehe consists of two Chinese characters that have the same pronunciation but different meanings: the first means harmony, and the second means convergence. In short, Hehe culture involves seeking common ground while reserving differences, and it means harmonious coexistence and coordinated development. A concept many strive for in Cyprus as well.

In an effort to share the important lessons of Hehe culture, China holds the Global Hehe Culture Forum in Taizhou City bringing together people from all walks of life to discover the ways Hehe culture can boost global development and how to embody them in daily life.

“This [Hehe culture] is very close to my heart because we talk about the concept of the win-win cooperation, mutual and peaceful coexistence,” doctoral student at the University of International Business and Economics Yasir Masood says. “It is how we can exist peacefully, how a nation and its neighbours can rise collectively. That is how China’s peaceful coexistence for such a long time has proved to be the recipe for China’s success.”

These insights into harmonious living do not just appear once a year when the Forum is held, they are widespread in China. In Xidi Village for example, in Yixian County in the city of Huangshan, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) building facade inscribed with the words ‘Take a step back’ has been attracting tourists who have heard the story behind it.

The story of a local official Hu Wenzhao shows how harmony is esteemed in Chinese culture. When Hu was renovating his ancestral home during the Qing Dynasty, he decided to round out its corners and pull back its walls by half a metre to provide more space for pedestrians. Many of his neighbours later followed his design, creating a more spacious and livelier neighbourhood.

“‘Take a step back’ is the ancestral motto of our Hu family. This sense of harmony can be found everywhere in Huangshan and its surrounding areas,” says Hu Aoli, a descendant of Hu Wenzhao and Head of Xidi Village.

“A step back is a step forward. Today, we draw inspiration from the old story to expand its application in urban management and international relations, in areas such as dispute resolution and peaceful coexistence, and we’ve found it works quite well,” Hu Aoli said.

culture an adhr workshop in nicosia

An ADHR workshop in Nicosia

In 2020, local authorities refurbished the time-honoured building and opened a mediation room in it, and mediators there successfully solved many disputes by following a harmonious manner. Cyprus is no stranger to resolving disputes and local initiatives strive to provide fruitful ground on the island for dialogue.

The Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) is an inter-communal, non-profit and non-governmental organisation that is well-known in Cyprus for its work on advancing dialogue, critical thinking, research and learning. It has been working in the UN Buffer Zone promoting the study and research of the history of Cyprus in a critical and comprehensive way, using education to encourage a culture of people and non-violence and sharing the importance of multi-perspectivity. Aspects that are important in Hehe culture as well, even if they are correlated unknowingly.

In 2011, the AHDR set up the Home for Cooperation which has been an active community hub for culture, art and education ever since, gathering citizens from across Cyprus’ divide.

“Through the provision of educational opportunities to people of diverse backgrounds,” says AHDR director Loizos Loukaidis, “from across the existing divide in Cyprus, the AHDR creates a much-needed space for dialogue, the exchange of ideas and a platform for establishing the basis for sustainable intercommunal contact.

“Taking into consideration that education in Cyprus has been an agent of division,” he adds, “rather than reconciliation, organisations like the AHDR fill the gap of engaging teachers, students and the general public in discussions on issues that would otherwise remain unaddressed, that is, issues related to the relations between the different communities on the island, controversial and sensitive topics and current challenges to democracy and peace.”

Whether a country is as vast as China or as small as Cyprus, issues in societies exist and as globalisation prevails and multiculturalism grows, it is a necessary step to move towards coexistence and understanding. Although worlds apart, and perhaps without even knowing it, the philosophies of China’s Hehe culture and AHDR’s consistent actions, align – to learn how to live together and take intentional action to find ways to move through differences.

View the video on Cyprus Mail’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTARaeJ4Izs


About Mirror of Culture

Mirror of Culture is a joint initiative of the Cyprus Mail and the Chinese embassy. It highlights the parallels between Cypriot and Chinese culture to set an example of acceptance, respect and understanding among the various cultural communities on the island, recognising the fundamental importance of culture.

Culture is the universal language that transcends many barriers, including language and geography. The aim is to work with diverse cultural communities in Cyprus to share and promote our vibrant cultures to further bolster the bonds among all the people of Cyprus and celebrate the diversity of cultures in the world.

Furthermore, the initiative understands the importance of cultural preservation, which is an important way for us to transmit traditions and practices of the past to future generations.