Teaching in China

Pier Cesare Bori, a

member of the Bologna

Worship Group in Italy,


I spent two months as a visiting professor

in a great university in Beijing. Much of

my time was spent in preparing a seminar in

which, with about ten advanced students, we

read and commented in English on Pico della

Mirandola’s Discourse on Human Dignity. Pico in

1486 wrote this Oration (the so called Manifesto of the

Renaissance) to speak of the freedom of man, and of

his calling to the highest vocation to be one with God,

through a path which comprises moral perfection, full

intellectual expansion, mystic union. He thinks that in

every culture such a path can be found. From image

to full likeness (Genesis 1, 26-28), this is his program

for every human existence. During the seminar a

translation into Chinese was provided by my students

(I taught in English, but used also a little of the Chinese

version), so that at the end of the seminar we had a full

translation of the text. It will be printed, and presented

at the Shanghai Expo on the 10 of September 2010.

What has all this to do with my Quaker choice?

Incidentally, I entered the Society nearly 20 years ago,

as an individual member, applying for membership

in London to avoid having to reject my catholicism,

which was generously accepted. First, my Quakerism,

following Rufus Jones and his Spiritual Reformation, is

humanistic, marked by a fundamental trust in human

nature and human insight (especially in his capacity to

interpret history and the past). Secondly, my teaching

is marked by the persuasion that a light enlightens

everybody. While as a historian I am concerned about

differences in cultures and languages, as a human being

and as a teacher I am convinced – and my experience

confirms it – that I can understand others, and they

can understand me.

Third, in a key passage of the Oration of Pico there

is a mention of “the true Apollo who illuminates

every soul that comes into this world”, which has a

deep resonance for me: here we are! And – the most

beautiful thing for me – both the Oration, and a

fundamental passage in the biography of George Fox

have in common the idea of the return to the Garden

of Eden and the vision of Paradise. Certainly it would

be more difficult to do what I have done without my

deep persuasions about the Light and the worship in

Spirit and truth, without that exhortation: “to walk

cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in

every one”.

But of course, explaining Christianity, Catholicism,

Protestantism, Quakerism and the varieties of it would

have been totally impossible…I in some way was all

that, but in that moment those categories had no real

meaning. The real thing was that we were together,

reading and understanding Pico, who spoke to us

from five centuries ago…and perhaps speaking a little

“in the same spirit”