By – Supradip Das;
India and China are considered as the two Asian Giants in respect of demography, economic resilience, and strategic partnerships. The Sino-Indian ties could be looked through profound historical interactions and cultural contacts for more than 2000 years in which the Buddhist monks, political envoys, scholars from various walks of life devoted their lives to understand and propagate the components between the two countries for thousands of years. Through profound historical ties, both countries also established trade exchanges much before the establishment of the diplomatic relationship. The great Chinese diplomat and philosopher Hu Shih said that “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.” Such a statement is often regarded as the manifestation of long-standing cultural ties between the two great ancient civilizations.
Looking through the eyes of glorious history
China and India have been leading the way of civilizational exchanges in Asia since ancient times.
There are early mentions of China in ancient Indian literature dating back to the 2nd century BCE, when cultural interactions between China and India began. One of India’s two great epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana mentioned “Zhina” many times as the horse and soliders of ‘Zhina’ The Sanskrit pronunciation of “Cina” is similar to the Chinese “Qin” (秦), which the honorific name was given to China by the ancient Indians. Therefore, most scholars have speculated that this is a transliteration of the Chinese character “秦” of the Qin Dynasty. In this way, the exchange of civilizations between China and India can be traced back to the Qin and Han dynasties.. By the Warring States Period, China’s silk had become well-known both at home and abroad, and it also spread to India. There is also the word “Cinamsuka” in Sanskrit, which means “Chinese clothes, silk clothes”. “Cinaja”, which means “steel” in Sanskrit, is called “Zhina Sheng” (支那生) in Chinese, which means “Made in China” in modern terms. It can be seen that the popular term “Made in China” has already existed in India. According to the records of the Book of Han, since Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, China and the Kashmir of India have established diplomatic ties and conducted a large number of materialistic exchanges. At that time, the items introduced into China from India included pearls, white jade, crystal, agate etc. It is evident from these instances that the material civilization between China and India has a long history .
Spiritual connections for a prosperous world
During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, many Chinese monks and scholars traveled to India for study and exchanges. The most famous of them was Xuanzang, the eminent monk of the Tang Dynasty, who went to “Tianzhu” (天竺Ancient name of India) to collect the Buddhist scriptures. This has become a well-known story in the history of Sino-Indian civilization exchanges. In 645 AD Xuanzang ended his famous Journey to the West and returned to “Chang’an” (ancient name of the Chinese city of Xi’an). He brought back a lot of Buddhist scriptures from India, as well as a large number of relics, Buddha statues, and other sacred items. He also authored the book “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域记)”, which introduced the local customs and historical events of India to Chinese people. With the spread of Buddhism in China, Indian culture has brought a great influence on China’s politics, economy, and culture, such as philosophy, morality, medicine, art, which had greatly enriched the Chinese culture. In places like the Dunhuang Murals, White Horse Temple, Yungang Grottoes, we can still witness the active spirit of mutual learning and fine integration of the spiritual civilizations of China and India.
Linkage in the sufferings
In the middle of the Qing Dynasty during 18th century the two countries resumed trade relations. But unfortunately, this trade was established passively, and the leading character of the trade was opium. The Britishers produced opium in India and smuggled it into China. After the Qing government launched the widespread anti-opium campaign, the British government launched the Opium War twice, forcing the Qing government to legalize the opium trade, which plunged the modern Chinese people into the abyss of humiliation and disaster. China and India became weak and impoverished domestically. They were plundered by the rising Western colonial powers and fell into a deep national crisis. China gradually became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, while India was forced to become a vassal state of British colonialism. The exchanges between China and India were directly dominated by the West, changing from active and positive to passive and negative, and even interrupted several times.
A friend in need is a friend indeed
In the first half of the 20th century, through mutual sympathy and support, the people of China and India became brothers and sisters and developed a profound friendship, while facing the colonial regime. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet and the first Nobel laureate of Asia made the British colonists in an essay called “Chine Maraner Byabasay”(Bengali name) or the “Trade of Killing People in China”. Tagore visited China twice in 1924 and 1928 and made friendships with pioneers of Chinese literature and art such as Xu Zhimo, Lin Huiyin, Xu Beihong, Liang Shuming, Gu Hongming, Mei Lanfang. Through the joint efforts of Tagore and the great Chinese scholar Tan Yunshan with whom Tagore met in Singapore, the first Institute for Sino Indian Cultural Exchange “Cheena-Bhavana” (中国学院) was established at Santiniketan in West Bengal, India. This was a major development in the cultural and educational exchanges between China and India in modern times.
During China’s War of Resistance against Japan, Dr. Dwarakanath Shantaram Kotnis(柯棣华), an Indian doctor was sent to China in 1938 as a member of the medical group sent by the Indian National Congress (INC) to help the Chinese soldiers. At that time, China was facing an acute shortage of medical practitioners, Dr. Kotnis treated and saved many Chinese soldiers, later he also joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1942 and took an active part in the Chinese Revolution, and then died due to epilepsy just at the age of 32, in China. His contribution to the friendship of China and India is the glorious testimony of humanitarian spirit which can be considered as an essence to carry forward peace and prosperity in Asia and the World.
Many other Chinese intellectuals also had deep feelings for India. For example, Liang Qichao, who had a strong interest in Indian culture all his life, wrote many articles on Buddhist scriptures and Sino-Indian cultural exchanges, scholars like Sun Yat-sen, Cai Yuanpei, Tan Yunshan, Ji -Xianlin have also made significant contributions to the exchanges between China and India. These predecessors have gone through hardships in the turbulent trajectories to establish many connections between China and India.
Friction, confrontation, and stalemate
Due to the border issues leftover in history, there had been few incidents of military conflicts along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which is a major setback in the bilateral relationship. The previous conflicts had been resolved through political and governmental intervention but for the present situation there are a lot of serious repercussions for the common people of both nations. The Covid-19 pandemic has already created a huge impact on the normalcy of the relationship by hindering mutual visits of scholars, students and people-to-people exchanges. But as for the aftermath of this military confrontation, India has also banned which were the backbone of connecting the people through social interactions. At present both sides are engaged to find a mutually acceptable solution at various levels for the resolution on the friction points along the LAC.
Ironing out the inhibitions
Besides the diplomatic relationship, cultural exchanges between two nations are often regarded as major linkage next to intergovernmental exchanges. Cultural exchanges can also act as a soft power that can create innovative ideas for upholding the strong bond between the countries. As for India and China which are the two civilizations germinated from the same Asian cradle with homogeneous traits, can surely do more cultural exchanges to not only resolve the ongoing tussle in the border regions but also can reinvigorate the diplomatic relationship. The two neighbors have multifaceted cultural values, which emphasize self-conscience and harmonious interactions between nature and humanity. In China, the culture of Yoga and the spread of Indian movies have become new attractions for Chinese youths. These types of mutual exchanges undoubtedly shortened the distance between the people and enhanced mutual understanding and trust. The Bollywood movies such as Three Idiots(三傻大闹宝莱坞) Dangal (摔跤吧! 爸爸), Secret Superstar (神秘巨星), Hindi Medium (起跑线) gained immense popularity in China which are some examples of stories tell about the ways of dealing with various social issues which always make Chinese audiences feel familiar. These films not only created an impact on the young minds but also on the people of every generation in China. Chinese movies such as “Lost in Thailand” (人在囧途之泰囧), “Chinese Zodiac” (十二生肖), “Kung Fu Yoga” (功夫瑜伽), a movie with an ensemble of Chinese and Indian actors, “Dying to Survive” (我不是药神) are also gained an immense response from Indian audience. While keeping these examples in mind both sides must try to find a mutually acceptable path for solutions through reactivating the cultural interactions.
The two sides must abandon their prejudices and rebuild a deep understanding and recognition of each other. In the 21st century, both, China and India are in a period of transformation, where both, opportunities and challenges coexists. The two countries should keep in mind their splendid achievements in history, engage in discussions, settle disputes and renew the vast frontier of China-India friendly relations. Throughout China and India, the amiable friendship dominated by people-to-people exchanges since ancient times has actively promoted political, economic, and cultural cooperation. Through cultural exchanges, the Fractured Himalayas will rise again and only act as a geographical hindrance in the Sino Indian border through the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (World is One Family) and Shijie Datong世界大同 (World in Grand Harmony).
Supradip Das is a student of Master’s (Final Year) in Chinese language and China Studies at the Department of Chinese Language and Culture (Cheena-Bhavana), Visva-Bharati University. His focus is to foster in-depth knowledge of China Studies along with the language. He pursued one year of advanced training in the Chinese language from Beijing Language and Culture University, China, under the joint scholarship program of MHRD, Govt. of India, and China Scholarship Council Govt. of PRC. Besides his studies, Supradip is currently engaged as a Chinese language instructor in an NGO named the UMRAN Green Perspective Foundation based in Madhubani, Bihar & Istanbul, Turkey. The main areas of his interest are – Traditional Philosophies of East & South-East Asia, India-China Civilizational Exchanges, Influence of Tagore in China, Evolution of Cultural and Historical Spheres in China.