[Press] Tackling the global threat through the ¡®Tianxia Gongsheng (ô¸ù»Íìßæ)¡¯ print   
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Tackling the global threat through the 'Tianxia Gongsheng' (ô¸ù»Íìßæ) 

The Hankyoreh | December 2, 2013


Seoul National University Emeritus Professor and sociologist Sang-Jin Han took part in the first workshop for the ¡®COSMO-CLIMATE¡¯ research project held at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research on November 20th to 21st of 2013. Professor Ulrich Beck of University of Munich, famous for his theory on ¡®Global Risk Society,¡¯ is spearheading the project, which is fund-ed by the European Union (EU). This project deals with cosmopolitan risk community through the comparison of the Western world and East Asian soci-eties. This article notes Professor Han¡¯s participation in the workshop as an East Asian resource person and scholar.



There are a few routes to entering ¡®second modernity¡¯. The first route is to construct risk governance that starts from a fundamental reflection of global risks and guarantees citizens¡¯ life-safety. The second route is a historical change that we call ¡®individualization¡¯, and the third is a cosmopolitan change which comes after the age of ¡®nation-state¡¯.

The communication revolution enabled by new media is also very important.

In this context, the first workshop for the ¡®Cosmo-Climate¡¯ project held in Potsdam concentrates its focus on the third route. However, my feelings towards the issue were rather intricate. The West had already established the EU and made its significant second-modern transition, whereas East Asia, still stuck with the past history of the region, is facing a state of conflict and mistrust which is getting worse. In order to ensure the survival of the human race and protect the safety of citizens upon the trend of roaming capitalism, deteriorating ecological condition and widening polarization, a path of cosmopolitan cooperation which transcends nation-state and national sentiments must be taken. Contrary to this, isn¡¯t East Asia going towards the opposite direction?

However, a few breakthroughs came to me while I observed this debate with ambivalent feelings. The most important one was a suggestion by Professor Beck. He suggested that we should look at global risks such as climate change with a view of ¡®emancipatory catastrophism,¡¯ rather than with fearsome apocalyptic views. Easily put, his perspective explains that the more keenly future threats are recognized, the stronger the movement to overcome such threats by a new solidarity becomes. This is also in sync with the long tradition of critical theory which perceived crisis as the basis of hope. Professor Beck suggested that with this perspective, we should examine where the main energy for transformation comes from today covering from structure, region and culture to actors.

In response to this suggestion, David Tyfield of Lancaster University, England presented the most impressive thesis. As a sociology professor with a bachelor¡¯s degree in chemistry, he specializes in scrutinized tracking of climate change trajectory. However, he noted that there is a conspicuous limitation to deal with the climate change issue by prescribing science and tech solutions, leaving public opinion led by nation-state, and applying hegemonic international politics. Instead, he emphasized the importance of searching for a truly harmonic model of cosmo-politics which transcends national borders, race and cultural difference by shedding new light on the view of Chinese Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and the source of Christian civilization, Judaism.

Spurred by this inspiring debate, the spotlight was shone on the lineage of East Asian culture. First of all, the translation issue of the word ¡®Cosmopolitanism¡¯ was raised. Though the terminology is seen as distinguished from the term ¡®globalization¡¯, it is tricky to make an appropriate translation of the word ¡®cosmopolitanism¡¯, given the well accepted translation of globalization. Thus I suggested that the term be translated into the concept of tianxia gongsheng (ô¸ù»Íìßæ) in East Asia. Roughly translated as ¡°symbiotic cosmo-politics¡±, this translation is a combination of tianxia, meaning ¡°the world¡± and stemming from Confucianism, and gongsheng, meaning ¡°symbiosis¡± and stemming from Taoism and Buddhism. I also went on to note that this translation may be more able to grasp the full senses of cosmopolitanism than the conventional usage of the term in the West. Tianxia gongsheng excellently demonstrates the ecological interdependence of every entity in this world along with the relations between human beings, between nation states, and between humanity and nature. Can there be any other concept which is more culturally imaginative and capable of dealing with global risks such as climate change?


Ulrich Beck emphasizes ¡®Emancipatory Catastrophism¡¯

Forecasts seaport cities will lead the ¡®second modernity¡¯

Focuses on the role of ¡®citizen groups¡¯ with grassroots identity


Such debate unexpectedly sparked vitality into the workshop. Initially, the purpose of the workshop was to define the genuine meaning of ¡®cosmopolitan change¡¯ and figure out how it differs from globalization.  However, this was a difficult task. In this situation, the concept of tianxia gongsheng (ô¸ù»Íìßæ) as derived from East Asian cultural traditions made it possible to consider values such as diversity, universality, spontaneity, openness, interdependence, ecological justice and global justice as main indices of cosmopolitan change. Professor Beck welcomed this discourse and commented that the debate helped to set the agenda and direction of future workshops.

Another good result was that whether we talk of tianxia gongsheng  or ¡®second modernity¡¯, the main spheres of implementing such ideas are cities, especially seaports, rather than nation-states. Ports are originally open in terms of commerce, foreign visitors and cultural exchanges. They are also sensitive to the global changes. Furthermore, seaport cities are adjacent to seas, which enable them to share deep interest in global warming, sparked by climate change and rising ocean levels. Unlike the rigid central government, regional governments are much more flexible in signing treaties and reaching co-development agreements with cities abroad. In unison, these cities aim to become ¡®green cities¡¯ and ¡®ecologically friendly cities¡¯. Therefore the proposition of cities, not nations, taking the role of main players of the cosmopolitan change seems plausible.

In regard to the issue, Professor Anders Blok from the University of Copenhagen has shown pioneering research results. From various data- bases, he collected environmental, ecological, construction, traffic, and energy-related statistics pertaining to 16 East Asian and European cities. The former includes Osaka, Yokohama, Taipei, Shanghai, Tianjin, Singapore, and Seoul (Incheon), and the latter includes Marseilles, Oslo, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Hamburg and London. He then composed an index called the ¡®city climate-politics index¡¯. His research is in the initial stage, but Seoul is ranked 4th in the quantity of related projects. Other cities participate mainly in 60~70% of the projects and the rest are partaken by enterprises, the central government, or NGOs. In Seoul, on the other hand, the city government leads every single project. Therefore, participants showed considerable interest in Seoul¡¯s role as a pioneer of ¡®second modernity¡¯ and cosmopolitan change.

The methodological debates were also impressive. Despite the leadership and the role of Professor Beck in the research, Professor Sabine Selchow of the London School of Economics pointed out the lack of a consistent and systematic methodology. Drawing attention to how the idea of ¡®risk community¡¯ is socially constructed from a Foucaldian approach to discourse analysis, she argued that we can properly introduce the action-theoretical dimension of agency into Beck¡¯s theory.

Through such discussions, we were able to deal with the moral resource operating in the global risk communities. Regarding the issue, I exemplified the Fukushima disaster of 2011 with the conceptual distinction between a reactive trans-national approach to help the victims and a proactive approach to preventing such disasters. As to the latter, I also distinguished ¡®techno-morality¡¯, which is sensitive to energy, and ¡®cosmo-morality¡¯, which is sensitive to global risk. I then analyzed the 2012 citizen survey data from Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo by intersecting the safety of nuclear power plants and attitude towards increasing the number of such power plants.

Surprisingly Beijing citizens showed a strong inclination to energy-sensitive ¡®techno-morality¡¯ whereas Tokyo citizens were strongly inclined to risk-sensitive ¡®cosmo-morality¡¯. The differences were very significant. Furthermore, one common point from the three cities was that ¡®cosmo-morality¡¯ is consistently much stronger among the ¡®grassroots segments¡¯ of both middle class and low class than any other social groups. This vividly demonstrates that citizen groups who have acquired the ¡®grassroots¡¯ identity spearhead the second modern as well as cosmopolitan changes in East Asia

After the debate, the participants agreed to have a second meeting in Seoul in early July 2014 with the participation of East Asian partners corresponding to each research theme. Therefore, following the East Asian Workshop held in Tsinghua University late September of 2013, and the workshop in Potsdam (November), an earnest debate regarding the historical transformation of the ¡®second modernity¡¯ linking the West and East Asia is slated to be held in Seoul in 2014.

December 2, 2013
Translated by: Sae-Seul Park


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