Cultural Relations between India and China: The Tradition ofContinuity
History of Cultural Exchanges
Both India and China, are not mere societies; they are civilizations. We do not know exactly when and how they started exchanging their cultural elements, but what we do know is that they grew in parallel and shared their cultural traits since the beginning of human history and this tradition of sharing has been continuing ever since.
Even before the transmission of Buddhism, the Shang-Zhou civilization and the ancient Vedic civilization in 1500-1000 B.C. showed some evidence of conceptual and linguistic exchanges. For instance,"wumingzhi" (nameless finger) in Chinese is called "anamika" (nameless) in Sanskrit and in Pali. Similarly, some ancient Indian literature mentions "chinas" referring to the Chinese people. The Mahabharata of the fifth century B.C. contains reference to China. Chanakya of the Maurya dynasty (350-283 B.C.) refers to Chinese silk as "chinamsuka" (Chinese silk dress) and "chinapatta" (Chinese silk bundle) in his Arthashastra. Likewise, the Record of the Grand Historian of Zhang Qian and Sima Qian has references to "Shendu", may be referring to “Sindhu” in Sanskrit.
In sixth century B.C., the birth of Confucius and Sakyamuni opened a new period of exchanges between the two civilizations. Emperor Ashoka’s propagation of Buddhism after his conversion in 256 B.C. brought both civilizations even closer. Ashoka’s bilingual (Kharoshti and Greek) edict points at extension of Buddhism in the direction of China and Central Asia. The trend continued in first century A.D. during emperor Kanishka’s period. His empire, with its capital at Purushpura (now Peshawar inPakistan), enabled Buddhist pilgrims and scholars to travel on the historic “silk route”. Kashyapa Matanga and Dharmaratna made the White Horse monastery at Luoyang their abode. Along the silk route, Khotan Turpan and Kucha became prominent centers of Buddhism and India-China exchanges. The great scholar Kumarajiva initiated efforts to collect and translate important Buddhist texts at a great Buddhist conclave in Chang’an (present Xi’an) where he stayed until his death in 413 A.D. and managed to have 98 major Buddhist canonical works translated into Chinese. He is widely believed to be responsible for bringing in Mahayana Buddhism and Madhyamika doctrine into Chinese philosophy. In the beginning of the fifth century A.D., Dharmakshema, an Indian Buddhist scholar came to China bringing with him the “Mahaparinirvana Sutra” which was translated into Chinese about the year 415 A.D. Meanwhile, the Chinese Pilgrim Fa Hein had left for India along the Silk Route and arrived there in 405 A.D. Batuo (464-495 A.D.) and Bodhidharma visited China; Xuan Zhang (604A.D.) and I Ching were students at the prestigious Nalanda University. All along, the Silk Road played a significant role in facilitating India-China cultural, commercial and technological exchanges. It also connected both of us with the people of ancient Persia and the Mediterranean.
Both civilizations also shared scientific knowledge. In eighth century, Indian astronomer Aryabhata's astronomical signs were translated into Chinese in the book "Kaiyuan Zhanjing" compiled by Gautama Siddha, an astronomer in Chang'an of Indian descent. It is also believed that he translated the Nabagraha calendar into Chinese. During the Ming Dynasty, navigator General Zheng. His arrival at Calicut in early 15th century is also a testimony of China’s ancient maritime linkage with India.
Modern Phase of Cultural Exchanges
Our exchanges continued during the days of our struggle for self governance. In early 20th century, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited China twice, in 1924 and in 1929. Since 1911, Chinese scholars and intellectuals have been visiting and revisiting Tagore’s life, works and philosophy. During this year, which marks his 150th birth anniversary, there are efforts by Chinese publishing houses to bring out collected volumes of these writings on Tagore in the last one hundred years. Institutions are preparing to stage Tagore’s plays in Chinese language for easy comprehension of Chinese audience. As part of Gurudev’s 150th Birth Anniversary celebrations, Mission collaborated with Chinese institutions like Peking University, Chinese Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), Yunnan University and many others to hold seminars, exhibitions and movie screenings in his honour. A fully Chinese production of Gurudev’s famous play- Chitrangna, opened to packed houses at Lanzhou University in March 2012. For the first time, in May this year, a full Chinese transcript of Rabindra Sangeet in Chinese was released by the Ambassador of India at the Central Conservatory of Music.
Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, whose mortal remains rest in the North China Martyrs' Memorial Cemetery in Hebei Province, sacrificed his life in the service of the Chinese people during the Sino-Japanese war. A part of the 1938 medical team of five Indian doctors, he stayed on in China working in mobile clinics to treat wounded soldiers. He was eventually appointed as Director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital built by the Eighth Route Army. In June this year, an old friend of India, Ms. Guo Qinglan, the wife of Dr. Kotnis passed away at the age of 96 in Dalian.
Both India and China began their journey of independent governance almost at the same time, India in 1947 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In 1955, the first Indian cultural delegation headed by then Deputy Minister of External Affairs Mr. A. K. Chanda visited China which was warmly received by the Chinese leaders and people during their tour. In the 1960s and 1970s Bollywood movies such as Do Bigha Zameen, Awara and Sree 420 of Raj Kapoor and Noorie struck an emotional chord in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. Even today, people on the street hum the tunes of the songs of these films. Movies like 3 Idiots and The Life of Pi have been well received in recent times. In 1986, a film delegation from India visited China and since 1988 both countries are bringing their people together through structured Cultural Exchange Programmes.
In the last 30 years or so, both of us have made remarkable progress. We also face similar challenges. We are nations of youths, with hope, with dreams and with aspirations. Our leaders, realizing this, have carried forward the task of promoting people-to-people contacts sincerely, vigorously and diligently in the new millennium. Important projects have been completed. In 2003, Prime Minister Vajpayee had committed to build an Indian style Buddhist temple in Luoyang, Henan province and President Pratibha Devisingh Patil inaugurated the temple during her visit to China in May 2010. In February 2007, the Xuanzhang memorial hall has been inaugurated at Nalanda. In June 2008, joint stamps have been released, one stamp depicting the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya and the other depicting the White Horse temple at Luoyang. A Centre for Indian studies has been set up in Peking University in 2003. Chairs of Indian Studies have also been established in Shenzhen University, Jinan University and Fudan University. The 60th anniversary of the establishment of India-China diplomatic relations was celebrated with much fanfare in both countries in 2010.
The broad contours of the India-China cultural cooperation was laid down in the Agreement on Cultural Cooperation signed in May 1988, which provides for an executive Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP) for implementation. The latest CEP signed in December 2010 during the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India provides for cooperation in a gamut of cultural fields including exchanges of visits of performing artists, officials, writers, archivists and archaeologists, organizing cultural festivals, film festivals and exchanges in the field of mass media, youth affairs and sports.
In March 2012, during President Hu Jintao’s visit to India for the BRICS Summit, leaders of both sides decided to celebrate 2012 as the "The Year of Friendship and Co-operation" and both countries resolved to further strengthen cultural exchanges between our peoples. Youth exchanges have been encouraged. While young China expresses great desire to know Buddhism, Bollywood and Yoga, young India admires the Chinese economic miracle. In 2012, in February and then again in November, a 100 member Chinese youth delegation visited India. A 47 member Bollywood Song and Dance Troupe is touring China in December 2012. The Mission collaborated with the Central Music Academy of China and the National Centre of the Performing Arts for a lecture-demonstration on traditional Indian dance forms by Padma Vibhushan Smt. Sonal Mansingh. Noted Bharatnatyam danseuse, Ms. Lata Vaidyanathan gave well received performances in Beijing in March 2012. In order to connect better with the Chinese youth, the Mission has also opened an account at the popular micro blogging site, Sina Weibo, which has over 15000 followers. The Mission’s Flagship Chinese language publication- Jinri Yindu, has a readership base of over 20,000 and is still going strong. Government of India is making efforts to popularize teaching of Chinese language at school level. In this direction, the Mission facilitated the signing of an agreement between the Central Board of Secondary Education [CBSE] with the Chinese Han-Ban. Two new chairs to encourage teaching of Hindi in China were established in Guangzhou and Shanghai. In order to encourage the learning of Hindi in China, the Mission celebrated Vishwa Hindi Diwas on 10 January and the World Hindi Day on 14 September 2012. Chinese translations of popular Indian books- for instance noted Sinologist (late) Sh. P.C. Bagchi’s ‘India and China-One Thousand Years of Cultural Relations’ and Sarvodaya Trust Trustee Sh. P.A. Nazareth’s ‘Gandhi-A Life’ were brought out in Chinese this year. In order to facilitate greater interaction with the Chinese intelligentsia, the Mission organized a ‘Chinese Think Tank Summit’ on ‘India-China Relations’ in October 2012. Former President Bharat Ratna Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam had an interaction with the Indian community in China at the Embassy on 4 November2012. Popular Chinese arts curator and the director of ‘The West Heavens Project’, Mr. Johnson Chang gave a talk at the Embassy in February 2012. Noted Indian economists Professor Arvind Subramaniam and Dr. Eeshwar Prasad had a discussion on the current state of Chinese economy in February 2012 at the Culture Wing Auditorium. The Embassy also arranged book-talks by popular Indian authors like Padma Shree Smt. Nabaneeta Dev Sen and Sh. Kunal Basu. On 16 November 2012, the Mission organized a get-together for the community on the occasion of Deepawali. To popularize Indian cuisine in China, the Mission organized provincial food festivals from Rajasthan and Punjab in Beijing.
The new Culture and Information Wing of the Mission began functioning from January 2012 from the New Chancery Premises. Over the past one year, several activities have been held in the Culture Wing Auditorium to facilitate the learning of Hindi, classical Indian music, dance-forms, yoga and to popularize Indian movies, Indian tea and food-products amongst Chinese friends of India. In order to expose the Chinese people to various facets of India’s rich cultural tradition, an ICCR accredited Kathak dance teacher and a Hindustani classical music teacher joined the Mission in 2010. The Culture Wing also conducts several events every month, including lectures, film/documentary shows, performances, book talks, etc dealing with Indian culture and heritage. Increasingly, a number of Indian artists have been performing on private visits or participating directly on invitations of esteemed institutions like the Central Conservatory of Music, NCPA and Beijing Dance Academy. The Wing also has an open library with around 4000 reference books on India.
Both India and China have vibrant cultures and vibrant people. Buddhism, Xuan Zhang, Tagore, Dr. Kotnis, Nalanda, Yoga and Cinema are only symbols of our long tradition of exchanges. They are testimonies of our shared heritage. The momentum has been set and the pace can only increase in the 21st century.