Dialogue April-June, 2010, Volume 11 No. 4
Buddhist Values and Confucian Mindset of China (a personal narrative)
Prof. Lokesh Chandra*
Father, Prof. RaghuVira studied Chinese at the School of Oriental and African Studies London in 1928. He was impressed by the beauty and complexity of Chinese characters. He came from a background of Sanskrit philosophy and grammar. The Sanskrit grammar of Panini is very intricate. Father saw Panini in the complex visual forms of Chinese ideograms. At the same time, back home, India was seeking new dimensions to her freedom movement in terms of what would be the nature of the independent state. China, Japan and other countries of East Asia were independent. One of the attraction points for father was to understand as to how Chinese civilization had been able to sustain her independence over five thousand years, as well as maintain her cultural identity. He was fond of chinoiserie and our home was overflowing with Chinese paintings, books and other objects. I started learning Chinese characters in 1937 at the age of ten. I asked my father: where are the consonants and vowels in them? There are no letters like A, B, C, D? How do the Chinese read? Father had a book on the Chinese script by Karlgren titled Sounds and Symbols in Chinese published by the Oxford University Press in 1929. It is a fascinating account of how the Chinese characters have evolved. It shows how early pictographs were sophisticated into manifold characters: sometimes on the basis of phonetics and sometimes by putting two characters together, e.g. sun and moon for bright. Chinese language is not only complex but it is a mirror of their thinking processes. The addition of elucidative classifiers was great fun for me. The syllable shan means mountain as well as shirt. To surmount the difficulty a classifier is added: tso ‘site’ in i tso shan ‘one site mountain’ means a mountain, while kien ‘article of dress’ in i kien shan ‘one article shirt’ means a shirt. The simplicity of Chinese grammar and the absence of an involved syntactic structure are characteristic. Father said it was not sufficient to study only Chinese characters to learn the language but it was important to practice Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy fascinated me. All other languages are written either with a pen or a pencil, but Chinese is calligraphed with a brush. It has its own aesthetic value. Chinese calligraphy gave me an insight into their aesthetics. When father visited China in 1955, Premier Chou Enlai gave him a brush. It was a gift from Chairman Mao Tsetung, with a poem of Chairman Mao sketched on it.
Ours was the only Indian home lined with Chinese printed texts and rare woodprints. The wood-printed books were different from Indian books. Their binding style was pleasing, the print was clear and the paper was light. It had a feel different from the normal paper that we used. The texture of the paper showed that Chinese are a different people, a people who had treasured their classical identity both in the style of binding and in the manufacture of paper. They adored the perfume of their culture. Culture brings beauty to life; it is the aesthetics of life.
Sacred land and Sutras .
Father asked me to read Chinese writings on India. The first book that I read was the travel account of Fa-hsien who came to India in 400 AD. Thereafter I read the other two Chinese pilgrims Hsuan-tsang and I-tsing in English and later on in Chinese. It was interesting to feel the devotion extraordinary of Chinese pilgrims to India. Despite having a developed language and a rich culture, they sought fine arts and philosophic thought in India. They wanted a cultural enrichment of their hearts, minds, and aesthesis as a euphoric evolution of their mighty state. China has been the only continuous ‘nation state’ in the world for the last five-thousand years, both conceptually and politically. Moreover, it is a rare phenomenon that the Chinese have documented their history for these five thousand years in the ‘Twenty-four Dynastic Annals’ till 1911. The contrast between India as a cultural entity with several kingdoms and China with more or less a single state conceptually is important to perceive the Chinese mindset. The Chinese historical tradition has lessons for us. About 3000 texts were translated from Sanskrit into Chinese from the 2nd to the 13th century. They are collected in the Chinese Tripitaka. Many of them have been lost in Sanskrit originals and so they are unique for Indian history. As a historian of India’s culture, father was fascinated by what he found in Chinese, as their Sanskrit originals had been lost. For him Chinese was a rich source on Indian art and thought, literature and history. About 250 Indian teachers went to China from the 2nd to the 13th century, till Islam conquered Central Asia when Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and the pilgrim route died down. He was curious to see how Chinese had preserved all these texts for such a long period of time. India’s archaeology would not be complete without Hsuan-tsang. When Alexander Cunningham mapped the archeological sites in India in the 19th century, his patron saint-scholar was Hsuan-tsang. Likewise Aurel Stein was also guided by Hsuan-tsang in his archeological expeditions to Central Asia.
Tagore went to China in the 1920s and was welcomed enthusiastically. Father was influenced by him and knew him personally. Sporadic correspondence was exchanged between them. Poet Tagore established the Cheena Bhavan at Shantiniketan and Chinese studies were initiated in India for the first time. Father collaborated with Poet Tagore to found the India-China Friendship Association.
Chinese poems and sketches of Ahimsa
Monk Feng Tzukai, a friend of Chairman Mao, wrote poems and drew pictures on Ahimsa. Father translated its first volume in English. Feng Tzukai was a Buddhist monk, calligrapher and artist. A Chinese scholar has done his doctorate thesis on his art some decades ago.
Ahimsa was a central concept in our freedom struggle. Gandhiji was impressed by this book and that the Chinese also believe in Ahimsa. Father wanted to strengthen Sino-Indian friendship on a cultural footing that could absorb the shocks of political. misunderstandings. Gaps of communication could be tided over by such an approach and could generate an ambience that allows us to see beyond parochial politics.
Multiple identities operate in different domains of life. These poems were written in the context of Buddhism. The Chinese have a Confucian identity, enriched by a Buddhist identity. Their non-violence is kindness to animals on special days. The vast Buddhist population of China is keen for pilgrimage to the Land of Lord Buddha. China always had a special place of respect in the minds of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru as a great country, a neighbour and a cultural comrade. Father was a rare Indian who had studied the language and culture of China. The sinological expertise of father brought him respect at the national level. Mahatma Gandhi, Pt. Nehru and other leaders were thrilled by fine details of India’s contacts with Chinese culture.
Three Monkeys of Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi had Japanese monks at his Ashram at Wardha. They were reciting the Chinese text of the Lotus Sutra or Saddharma-pundarika-sutra. Gandhiji wanted to know its Sanskrit original and English translation for which he invited father to Wardha. Father gave him both the Sanskrit original and its English translation. Gandhiji was happy to know that the Chinese had translated thousands of texts, and with devotion. Gandhiji had a long conversation with father, including the three monkeys on his table. The monkeys are sacred to Buddhism, as a monkey had made an offering to the Buddha and as a consequence he was reborn as the Great King Ashoka. An offering mentioned in the Buddhist texts became so important in the culture of East Asia that the Three Monkeys found a place on the table of Mahatma Gandhi.
Ramayana in China
Father translated a brief version of the Ramayana from Chinese into English. It had been translated into Chinese from the Sanskrit Shat-paramita-sutra on the six perfections by monk K’ang Seng-hui of Samarkand in 251 AD. Sanskrit was a language of international commerce and intellectual expression in Central Asia with which China had active contacts. During the struggle against British imperialism, Indian scholarship thought of the global contacts of the country and father found Chinese studies a valuable tool to comprehend the international role of India in antiquity. Samarkand was an important center for India-China exchanges. The people in Samarkand knew both Sanskrit and Chinese. The Buddhist monk-scholars of Samarkand translated several texts from Sanskrit into Chinese. Central Asian monks from other kingdoms also contributed to the spread of Indic traditions to China, as they had trade relations with China. The horses of Ferghana were sent for the Chinese cavalry. Buddhist monks came on these horses. Central Asian monks were expert horsemen. They knew to train them, to treat them if injured or ill, and were experts in veterinary medicine etc. They became crucial to the Chinese defense system.
In 1983, I went to see the monastery where K’ang Seng-hui lived and wrote. The ancient monastic structure does not exist, but a new monastery has been constructed at the site to pay homage to him and to the long tradition of translating Buddhist Sutras.
Li-yen and Kalidasa
Chinese works prove that India and China have been friendly neighbours who have coexisted peacefully despite ups and downs of communication. A Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary compiled by Li-yen in 782 AD gave a clue to the interpretation of a verse in Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsha. It made known that Dvipantara of Kalidasa means Indonesia. Indonesia was central to the way of the Buddha in 7h and 8th centuries and her fame traveled as far as China. Tagore speaks of Tepantar (Dvipantara) in his poems entitled The Crescent Moon as a fairyland “where the pair of wise old birds have their nests”. Indonesia lived on in the amnesia of our legends, until the dictionary of Li-yen made her a geographical entity in Sanskrit literature. We can also appreciate the international vision of the greatest of our classical poets Kalidasa who exhorts the beloved of Hemangada, the King of Kalinga to “sport with him on the shores of the sea..... where your drops of perspiration will be cooled by breezes of clove flowers wafted from the Indonesian isles”. What a lovely cultural texture of Sanskrit, Chinese and the Indonesian waters: like the Net of Indra (Indrajala) in which many mirrors reflect each other in multiplied and re-multiplied reflections.
Father was interested in cultural relations with Indonesia. He had become an intimate friend of an Indonesian student in Utrecht in 1928. He was a solitary Indian student in the Netherlands. Professor Willem Caland introduced him to an Indonesian as a compatriot Indian, Priyohoetomo by name. When Indonesia got independence, Priyohoetomo became the Principal of the Police Training School, Jakarta as he spoke Dutch and had a European education. There were few Europe-educated modern Indonesians, and they came to occupy important places in governance. Priyohoetomo used to teach Yoga as a part of the training of policemen. He came to see my father who was a Member of Parliament. Father related to him that the Sanskrit-Chinese Dictionary of Li-yen gave the precise interpretation of the word Dvipantara in Kalidasa as Indonesia. Priyohoetomo was delighted to learn that Kalidasa spoke of his country. Chinese works provide solutions to problems of interpretation.
There are several other Sanskrit-Chinese dictionaries, like the Mahavyutpatti, which gives Buddhist technical terms in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese. These four are classical languages and they are a must for original research in Buddhist studies. The Mahavyutpatti stands out among others as it has the largest number of terms, many of which are not found in other Chinese dictionaries. I edited this lexicon in 1981.
Chinese theatre and Kalidasa
In China very few Sanskrit texts have been discovered. There are four palm leaf folios, which narrate the life of Kalidasa. Yang Yin-shen discovered the fragments of the Shakuntala drama of Kalidasa in the Kuo-ch’ing monastery on the T’ien-t’ai Mountains near Wen-chou. These fragments belong to the 8th century and are the earliest known fragments of Kalidasa. It is the place from where Chinese theatre developed. The Chinese revered Sanskrit sutras and they translated some 3000 Sanskrit texts in Chinese from the second to the thirteenth century. Indians participated in this translation over a thousand years. Chinese poets write about the scripts on palm leaves as holy: they have the feel of the West and West means India. The sandal wood incense is the fragrance of India. Frankincense and palmyra were the smell and feel of the Dharma of the warm West. The Chinese emperor I Tsung, who ruled from 860 to 873, himself chanted the Sanskrit Sutras from palm leaf books kept in the palace. What beautiful memories of our relations with China.
Transmission of sugar technology from India to China
Three Chinese pilgrim scholars are famous for their travel across the whole of India to study at various universities. They have left valuable accounts of the social, economic, political, and academic conditions, which have become a bedrock of Indian history. Fa-hsien journeyed overland to India in AD 400, while Hsuan-tsang left China for India in 629, and l-tsing traveled to India in 671. There were several others whose travel accounts have been lost. For example, Chih-meng started from the Chinese capital Chang-an in 404. He stayed the longest in India, for 43 years. He mentions the names of places, kings, sects and communication routes. They are important for the cultural, economic and political history of India. Another pilgrim T’ang Wu-chieh started for India in 422. He mentions a number of Buddhist monasteries of Central Asia. He is the first Chinese to mention ‘stone honey’ (or ‘granulated white sugar’ as distinct from ‘brown sugar’). It attracted every Chinese visitor to India, as honey was the only sweetening agent known to China. T’ang took a ship from the estuary of Ganga to Sri Lanka and thence to Sumatra to return to Kuang-chou in South China. It is a rich source for the history and geography of early Classical India.
In a meeting of the EPG (Eminent Persons' Group: India and China) a Chinese scholar said that chini or sugar came to India from China. I had to correct him that according to the T’ang Annals sugar technology was taken to China from Magadha. When Hsuan-tsang went back to China he spoke to the Emperor about the stone honey. In 647 Emperor T’ai Tsung sent a mission to Magadha to study the process of boiling sugar and it was adopted by sugarcane growers of Yang-chou.
The Hindi word chini is Sanskrit sini, which means white and sini has become chini or white sugar as opposed to brown sugar. The word chini has no connection with China. It deceptively sounds Chinese and makes some think that sugar has its origin in China. Even Pliny refers to the sugar of India as a kind of honey obtained from canes without the agency of bees. Sugar and sugarcane were the prosperity of the Ikshvaku dynasty of Ayodhya whose outstanding kings are the epic heroes King Dasharatha and Lord Rama. The dynastic name Ikshvaku is from ikshu, which means sugarcane.
The flow of technology between the two countries for more than 1500 years has to be studied. A lot can be found in the volumes of Needham’s Science and Civilization in China. The Chinese feel that Indians are strong in the IT sector. They have always felt that Indians have excelled in mathematics and astronomy. In the 8th century the Imperial Board of Astronomy in China was presided over by Indians. Indians calculated the time of imperial rites on the basis of zero and trigonometry, which were new to the Chinese and gave more precise calculations.
Chinese annals have preserved accounts of maritime lanes, e.g. of the developed shipping technology of Indonesia. Some of the Chinese pilgrims to India went by sea, took the ship from Sri Lanka, from Sri Lanka to Indonesia and from Indonesia they sailed to China. Though indirect, it was a safe and sure route. Moreover, it had regular sailings from Indonesia to China. The Sanskrit-Chinese dictionary Fan-fan-yu is fascinating for overland routes, shipping lanes, and so on. It is valuable for its word entries from the English word man is from man i.e. to think. In Sanskrit manu and pashu are opposite terms. Manu means ‘man’, or one who thinks and pashu means ‘animal’, or one who merely sees. Manu becomes manushya. In Latin the word human is from humus i.e. soil, man is a creature of the earth while in Sanskrit man is the thinker. These words show different perceptions in expressing the same semanteme.
I am busy editing the materials of father on the creation of scientific terminology of Botany, Zoology, Nuclear Physics, Chemistry, etc in Chinese. They help us to understand the translation techniques. Father collected dictionaries of important languages for his work on technical terminology in Indian languages. He had over 300 odd Chinese dictionaries on different scientific subjects as well as of the Classical Chinese compiled from the second century to our times. As Chinese was different from other languages of the European linguistic tradition based on Greek and Latin, it became a ray of new light in every semanteme. The basis of naming a concept was so different in various linguistic families that it was a fundamentally different perception of reality.
Confucian perceptions of polity
Pandit Nehru promoted China by introducing Chou Enlai to all the Asian leaders at the Bandung Conference. India was one of the first countries to set up an embassy in Beijing. The Chinese got a sizable plot for constructing their Embassy in New Delhi. In the early· 1950s the relations between the two countries were exceptionally cordial. However with the passage of time, the classical Han perceptions of international relations turned this cordiality into hostility in 1962 ..
China was an inspiration to father as well as a concern. He saw Chinese maps and aggressive intensions evidenced by them. He wrote a detailed letter to Pandit Nehru on these maps. Pandit Nehru felt that India and China are good friends, both are socialist and they would never go for aggression. Father held that they are first Confucianists and then communists. Pandit Nehru was quiet. Now our bilateral relations are again happily positive and we hope that they will lead to a better academic environment for sinological studies.
We have seen China through Western interpretations. The understanding of China as a modem state does not take into account their Confucious perceptions. China is a travel accounts of Chinese pilgrim-scholars which have been lost. It had been transcribed, Sanskrit words restored, and translated by father Prof. RaghuVira along with his Japanese disciple Dr. Chikyo Yamamoto in 1938. It was lying scattered in notes and scribbles for the last seventy years. I completed it in 2008 as a mark of filial piety in true Confucian fashion. The Chinese text has also been given along with the English, so that Sinologists can make better use of it. The lexicon was compiled in 517 AD.
Chinese scientific terminology and India’s linguistic development
Father was engaged in the creation of new words for Indian languages. The word Sansad for parliament is my father’s contribution. He has given 200,000 new words to Indian languages. In this he was inspired by Chinese and Japanese linguistic traditions. The Chinese and Japanese have created new expressions for modem concepts and they share these characters. The Chinese have a long tradition of linguistic creativity in their translations of 3000 Buddhist Sutras. It was difficult to express abstract Buddhist concepts in Chinese, as it was a simple and concrete language, yet they had to provide new terms. This process of evolving a new terminology was of interest to father. I have around 500 pages of father’s notes on Chinese terminologies of different sciences like physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, nuclear sciences etc. How the Chinese understood modem sciences and made them a part of their own language was inspiring. He compared it to the historical processes of linguistic creativity in Chinese. The Chinese compiled a number of Sanskrit Chinese dictionaries, which are instructive from the point of view of generative linguistics. While they are valuable for the history of India as they transliterate the names of Indian cities and kings in Sanskrit, but which are translated into Chinese in other works. For instance, while the word Bodhisattva was transliterated, Avalokiteshvara was translated as Kuan-yin.
The word Samvidhan for Constitution, Vidhan Sabha for a State Legislature, and Nagarapalika for a municipality are father’s contribution to Indian languages. In his linguistic endeavour he consulted Chinese, to see how their unique genius expressed the technical terms of different sciences. Chinese is so different from the Indo-European languages that it gives a new insight into the formation of words. Different concepts are fundamental in the formation of words in various languages. To give an instance, the Confucian state. I regularly read the Beijing Review, which has a page on culture once in a while. Once I read that the word shi meaning ‘four’ is inauspicious, because death is also shi. People do not want figure 4 in their car number. Special computers have been installed in some cities to eliminate number 4 from car plates. Subtle cultural nuances are alive in the contemporary life of China.
Confucian classics have been introduced in schools. To understand China, Confucius is central as one who made Sino-centrism the dominant concept of the Chinese State. Confucianism has no theocentrism. Confucius was a social and political thinker. India needs a deep understanding of Confucian ideals as the political consciousness of the contemporary Chinese state. President Hu Jintao has invited Professor Tu from Harvard to establish a special center at the Peking University to teach Confucianism. The Chinese Professor was in India some time back and I had an opportunity to interact with him. We had an interesting dialogue about Confucianism and its role in China’s future political and economic perceptions, including the idea of the Central Kingdom vis-a-vis the Barbarians. The Chinese adage is “Sagely Within and Kingly Without”. China is sagely within but kingly towards barbarians. To understand China one has to study the Chinese psychosphere, which is central to its polity and economy. As Confucian ideas are basic, we must teach Confucianism in our academic curriculum as political theory and how it affects Chinese polity, life and academics.
The Chinese are conscious of their identity, both in their domestic and foreign policies, which are culture centric. The galloping speed with which they have developed their economy while retaining their identity is unmatched in any part of the world. Sino-centric culture is the heart of their identity. The Japanese got Buddhism from China, and brought their scriptures from China. Most Japanese cultural elements go back to a Chinese origin. When there was no male heir to the throne of Japan, they did not accept the young princess as the “would be” empress in the future as it was counter to Confucian traditions. Now they are happy to have a male heir to the throne. Chinese culture is the foundation of several countries and deserves a deep study.
The rise of population in Xinjiang province and in other minority communities is becoming a problem. The improvement of overall health and the growing number of older individuals will make them rethink on this policy. They need a younger population to run the country. Chinese are going to frontier provinces, and now they are moving to Tibet so that the Han population can expand. Space is not a problem. Han areas comprise one third, Xinjiang another one third, and Tibetan speaking region the remaining one third.
“You are the Hsuan-tsang of India” Premier Chou Enlai to Prof. RaghuVira
Father was moved by the ideology of Mao Tse-tung. He believed in social justice. Though never leftist, social justice was a sine qua non for him. He read Mao Tse-tung in extenso, and in1955 went to China as a guest of Premier Chou Enlai to collect Buddhist Sutras. Chou Enlai was delighted that an Indian had come to China to collect the Sutras. To him the collection of sutras was China’s privilege in history. Chou Enlai said to him: “you are the Hsuan-tsang of India”. My father came back with ten tons of books, paintings and other artifacts. Whatever work I have done in the field of Chinese studies is due to the rich intellectual legacy from my father.
I am working on father’s travels in China, his talks with Premier Chou Enlai, and a detailed analysis of scientific terminologies in Chinese. The documents and writings of father on our contemporary relations with China are the non-official views of an academic and the country needs to know them. I had a Chinese student who said that we could hear to this day the wailings of the Chinese who perished in the construction of the Great Wall of China. The nation is above an individual in Chinese tradition. The construction of the railway to Lhasa is an extension of the Great Wall in terms of human sacrifices that it entailed.
Father organized a splendid exhibition of what he had brought from China. Vice-President Radhakrishnan came to inaugurate it and suddenly Pandit Nehru came along to see what father had done in China. He was happy to see the success of my father’s expedition. He spent an hour to see everything. He brought with him the Maharana of Udaipur, the first Maharana to come to Delhi. The Maharanas had vowed that they would come to Delhi only when they had conquered it. Both the Maharana and the Maharani were glad that their centuries old vow had been fulfilled as India was free and they were happy to visit Delhi. The Maharana was gracious and delighted to see the exhibition along with Pt. Nehru.
Peoples Culture and Palace Culture
The Chinese achieved great projects in antiquity like the Great Wall. Chinese was a Palace Culture with civil service examinations, mandarins and an inherited nobility. Buddhism introduced the soft power of culture and the role of common folk, the poor, and the lowly. Anyone could join a monastery, study there, become a monk and follow a strict discipline. When one excelled one could jostle with the imperial household, the nobility and the mandarins. In the mandarin system only persons of a certain rank could sit for the civil service examinations and occupy important positions in the state. Buddhism established “People’s Culture” parallel to the “Palace Culture”. Monasteries became important as centres of learning for the common man; whom they endowed with the power of excellence. The monasteries remained powerful till 1911. They were for the people and by the people. In 1911 power came to be centered around political leadership. Monasteries were no more a counterbalance, and growing inequalities in society reflected the lack of institutional insight.
The creative paradigm of shunyata, paramita and anityata
The Buddhist shunyata or Void has been creative in China. It is not an absence; it is a Creative Void. Whenever a Void was felt, this lacuna gave rise to creative dimensions in China. There was nothing but forests on the top of mountains and the Chinese chose to construct monasteries there. Before communism came to power in China, every mountain peak had a Buddhist structure, which numbered around a million. Chinese would live there, meditate, paint, read or write. Habitation in desolate areas was a tradition in Chinese life, coming from the Buddhist radition that a monastery should be located in a secluded place. Later on it acquired a political dimension. When Chairman Mao came to power he started the construction of a Green Wall along the un-inhabited border areas for defence purposes, in imitation of the Great Wall constructed during the Qin dynasty in the second century BC. Provision of water was a difficult problem. Water had to be transported from far off mountains several kilometres away. Ancient techniques of water procurement were employed. The Great Wall of China has given the Chinese a sense of identity as well as of immensity. Magnitude is an important element in Chinese civilization. While the Ajanta caves are only 29, Dunhuang has 496 caves while some 1500 caves have collapsed over time. Chinese believe in Herculean construction projects, which are commensurate with their perceptions of greatness. Everything in China has immense spatial and temporal aspects. They have constructed the fastest bullet train in the world. A strong sense of perfection and colossal magnitude has given to China a distinctive excellence as well as phenomenal projects over centuries.
The concept of space in Chinese town planning is reminiscent of Buddhist ideas of space and void as they evolved during the golden T’ang period of Chinese history. Modem buildings, gardens, roads etc reflect the spirit of the T’ang era. In Japan T’ang aesthetic is very much alive and Japan is a must to understand classical China. The idea of empty spaces emerges from the concept of shunyata, which is an integral part of Buddhist philosophy. Shunyata is a spatial counterpart to the mathematical zero, so crucial to computers and all calculations.
Besides this Creative Void, China has another concept from Buddhism namely Impermanence or anityata. While both are negative linguistically, but semantically and philosophically they are super-positive. Impermanence in Chinese is that everything is passing away all the time and it has to be recreated, and thus creativity becomes a fundamental continuity. China is creative every moment without a hiatus. This basic Buddhist idea has been ingrained in the Chinese psyche and in their dedication to work.
Another element that conditions Chinese thinking is Perfection. A Buddhist image created in any part of world is different from the one done in China, for instance each and every pearl in the necklace of an icon of a goddess is finished to perfection without a parallel. A Chinese image has to be perfect, a symbol of paramita. Paramita is going beyond, transcending existence spiritually, and in/workmanship it is perfection to transcend previous standards. This perfection is not a commercial category but a visualization or sadhana. It is depth of the mind. The perceptions of China in India have to take into account their cultural aesthetics. No excellence can remain in isolation. Cultural excellence has become a tool of technological development. Cultural perfection has been put to technological relevance and the Chinese have done it perfectly. Designing is an important part of life and Chinese artists strive to so achieve that everything has an eye appeal. It is inspired by the Chinese ideograms. Calligraphy is a culture of the eyes.
Seeing the ideogram is important for its comprehension. While in other languages sound is crucial, in Chinese seeing a character is part of semantics. Thus the Chinese have a unique sensitivity of designing, for example the images of Ganesha made in China have a divine smile, so alluring and so inspiring. The images have been made for the Indian
market, but their smile reminds of Maitreya. This enigmatic smile can be seen in the murals of flying goddesses in the Dunhuang caves.
Modern life styles and Chinese culture
The current trend is to assimilate modern life styles and still be Chinese. They are linguistically Chinese and scientifically western. They differentiate between westernization and modernization. Westernization means adapting western lifestyles and modernization implies adopting modem technologies. Culture and civilization have to be differentiated. In China culture is Confucian, while technological civilization is essentially modem. They study in Chinese, eat Chinese food and yet can do modem paintings. In India we do not distinguish between culture and civilization. This difference has to be understood while studying China. Chinese culture comes to them as natural to life. The inaugural ceremony of the Beijing Olympics began with a presentation of the classic Chinese dance of the Thousand-armed Avalokiteshvara and with three thousand disciples of Confucius reading the Confucian classics from bamboo books that were prevalent in the period of sage Confucius.
Chinese self-identity is reflected in their language, which they have developed for all modern sciences. Though today they are studying English in a big way, the Chinese language will continue to evolve because it is their “Confucian ethics of work”, on which depends their economic miracle. For example, at the time of becoming the Prime Minister of Singapore Harold Lee changed his name to Lee Kuan-yu. He spoke of the Confucian ethics of work as a cornerstone of his policy. He succeeded in his mission of making Singapore a model state based on Confucian values of a precise vision and sustained action. If India wants to become a superpower she has to invoke the deeper values of history and culture as an inspiration for a glorious future, in line with the Confucian values in China. We must understand how China has molded the past, present and future in a unitary discourse. While Sino-centrism has aggressive implications, it definitely infuses a sense of pride and excellence in the Chinese people. The Chinese perception of the Central Kingdom versus Barbarians has been their preoccupation for going beyond other nations. Indian curricula on China focus on political and economic dimensions, which are highly important, but we need to look at their psycho-sphere that elevates them to heights. Economic and technological development is not merely workmanship but it also depends on the mind ground of a nation state. Chinese have
introduced the teaching of Confucian classics and T’ang poetry in their school curricula. Despite undergoing massive modernization and studying English in a big way, their curricula induces the new generation to feel proud to belong to a great Confucian tradition. Self-confidence and self-esteem comes from Confucius. The Chinese government emphasizes it, and it is going to spend 20 billion dollars for establishing 200 Confucius Centers in China and around the world. They want to teach Confucianism to their children and to the world. Indians must study as to what makes China great; what makes them excel others? The Chinese have a strong sense of self-image in contradistinction to the counter-image of Barbarians. Do we have a counter-image of the Chinese? They are still following the Classical path in contemporary dealings. We cannot understand China without knowing their perception of us in their own language. The study of China has to be on specific and general levels, keeping in view as to how culture has conditioned their political and economic life and strategic thinking.
Current Indian writing on China
There will always be a vast scope in the study of Chinese sources besides Western evaluations. Chinese sources in their original expression give a perceptive view of the cultural interflow over the centuries. The evolution of China Studies in the Indian context will have to take into account our nationat priorities in terms of competition and confrontation. The Chinese Railways are coming to Kathmandu, which will change the regional geopolitical scenario and may heighten tensions. The Chinese are creating their future on the Han concepts of international relations. As early as the second century BC the Chinese emperor sent Chang Ch’ien to find out details about Central Asia. He opened the world of Central Asia to China. He travelled as far as Bactria, whence he took Indian music, which became the 28 martial tunes of Chinese armies in the Han period. We have shared so many centuries with China in arts and culture. To have friendly relations with China, we have to be strong politically, diplomatically, economically and intellectually. The political will of China is Confucius in modem manifestation. Neo-Confucianism is conditioning contemporary developments.
Current Indian writing on China has to focus on the content of our relationship with China in the future and how we should plan for it in diplomacy and at the civil society level. China is staking its claim on Arunachal Pradesh and we need to elaborate the historical ties of this Pradesh with other parts of the country to counter Chinese claims. We need more detailed research on India China relations. Confucian thought
conditions the East Asian and South East Asian countries. We should have a political will and perception of the future grounded in our history. Our understanding of classical China is important from the cultural point of ‘view because it has a large Buddhist population, and there are many monasteries.
We must establish close relations with the Chinese Buddhists. They are friendly towards India, though they don’t have a political voice. We can invite the monks of the Shaolin Monastery to teach martial arts. The Buddhist population in China can help to maintain friendly cultural relations. Chinese Buddhists are poor; their poverty does not allow them to visit the Buddhist sites in India. Bilateral initiatives should promote Buddhist pilgrimage at the governmental and civil society level. We can invite Buddhist poets, writers, monks and experts of martial arts.
Chinese are turning towards Christianity, because their main attraction is the United States. They are going to the US for jobs and to them the United States is a vast area, which the Chinese can populate. In the long run, it may work out to be a demographic dominance of the United States. When Huntington went to the University of Osaka, Japan he asked the Japanese: why don’t you use English in your country. The Japanese responded: if we start using English we will be ruling the United States one day. The Chinese migration to the United States in large numbers may have a similar meaning.
As far as research funding is concerned, we need more funds for China studies because it is our most important neighbour. The global economic recession has slowed down US and Europe. Will China outspeed the West in pure research, as distinct from applied technology? Pure research has nothing to do with economic slowdown. The 19th and early 20th centuries were devoted to pure research. In the aftermath of WW II, research has become development oriented. Our studies of China have to analyze the factors that made the Chinese achieve stupendous development in a short span of time.
Our topics for research on China will be different from that of the West. It is necessary to discuss the topics of research on Chinese culture and their correlation to the present and to the future. One has to understand the Classical culture and its contemporary manifestations in China.
The Beijing Review discusses issues vital to the unique Chinese identity in the age of modernization. The Chinese were clear from the days of Chairman Mao that they were not going to follow the Soviet model blindly. They believed in their own model of development for agriculture, industry, infrastructure etc. They adjust according to their needs and not as per the theoretical constructs of the West. These issues need to be discussed with our Chinese counterparts and their responses can enlighten us. Chinese reactions will be mild, subdued, silent, and smiling. We have to read their smiles. We will understand China better.
There are no substantial academic exchanges between our two countries today. There should be a clearly defined agenda. Academic seminars are important, besides exchange of books. Few Chinese books are available in India. There should be a library of Chinese books in Delhi along with books on China from the US, Europe or Russia. The Delhi University has a good collection, but we need far more books in the Chinese language for the humanities, sciences and technology. Strengthening the collection at the Delhi University library would be a step towards our understanding of China in Chinese terms.
The Chinese are self-centered. They read foreign books rarely. Their libraries have few books in the English language. They concentrate on research in their own language that reflects a strong national identity and encourages widespread creativity.
Indian experts need to study how the Chinese achieved excellence and global standards in a short span of time. Chinese perceptions are formed by Confucian ideas and they are predominantly Sino-centric. China’s friendship with India will depend on our military and economic strength. We have to be super-strong in every respect. A Chinese journalist once said that India is a soft country; and Hinduism is a soft religion and they do not appreciate softness. He said that the South Chinese tie a living monkey to a stool, hammer his brain and eat it without cooking. He implied a lot in this short statement.
The dew on the grass
Recently I have translated the life of Lord Buddha from the Chinese biography entitled Shih-chia ju-lai ying-hua shih-chi. It was compiled by the Buddhist monk Pao-cheng of the Ta-pao-en monastery during the Ming period. Important episodes in the life of Lord Buddha are cited from Chinese Sutras and they are illustrated on opposite pages in fine line drawings. The drawings are like dew sprinkled on the grass as traces of a divine presence. Father was fortunate to find a copy of the xylograph. To him it was:
The magic of a
that illuminates in the gold,
the cloud in your minds horizon,
making your days glisten
with glimmering moments
Alas! Father was not to see it in print. It will appear half a century after his passing away.