In Athens, the anticipation is palpable as Professor Stelios Virvidakis maps out his next educational tour across Chinese provinces like Chongqing, Sichuan, and Shandong. This excitement isn’t without reason. Virvidakis, a professor at the University of Athens, alongside four esteemed Greek scholars, inaugurated the Center of Chinese and Greek Ancient Civilizations earlier this year. Since its inception, the center has already played host to international academics, including two from China lecturing on its rich history, a guest from Israel discussing Chinese medicine, and a French scholar delving into ancient Chinese mathematics.
The lectures were met with enthusiasm from students. Virvidakis elaborates on the profound cultural connections, “Greece and China share so many similarities. The potential for our cooperation and exchange is immense, with numerous uncharted avenues awaiting exploration.”
Earlier in 2023, the Chinese President Xi Jinping communicated his accolades for the foundation of the center. He underscored how, over two millennia ago, Greek and Chinese civilizations illuminated opposite ends of Eurasia, making pivotal contributions to the ascent of human civilization. While Greece’s golden era saw the emergence of philosophical titans, China experienced a flourishing of diverse philosophical schools.
History reveals these connections. By the 4th century BC, Greeks recognized China as ‘Sērikḗ’. Moreover, the 16th century saw the introduction of Euclid’s Elements in China, initiating a long tradition of Sino-Western scientific dialogues. Greek classics by Plato and Aristotle also found their way into Chinese academic circles.
For Virvidakis, China’s cultural allure is undeniable. Be it their meticulous art, evocative poetry, or thrilling detective tales, the charm of Chinese culture is manifold. Films by directors like Zhang Yimou, featuring Gong Li in masterpieces like “Farewell My Concubine” and “Raise the Red Lantern,” have also gained significant traction in Greece.
The professor believes that while the West may initially perceive China as exotic, many soon discover its resonating beauty. Delving deeper, he addresses perceptions of ideological clashes, especially concerning governance. The West, he observes, emphasizes individual rights, while China values societal harmony. However, Virvidakis dismisses the “clash of civilizations” theory, believing that mutual respect can foster peaceful coexistence.
At the center’s inauguration, Virvidakis delivered a compelling lecture titled “Philosophy is a Way of Life.” He expressed that philosophy, both in Greece and China, wasn’t merely theoretical. Instead, it provided guidance on attaining happiness and fostering relationships. Comparing Western philosophy with Eastern counterparts, he identifies shared notions between thinkers like Confucius, Socrates, and Aristotle.
In conclusion, Virvidakis’ passion stems from his inherent curiosity. As he poignantly states, “When you are a teacher in your whole life, you’re going to be a student.” Through the center’s endeavors, ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations find a new meeting ground, enlightening generations about the universality of human sentiment and thought.