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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA

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Introduction 

 

Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore has become a “multi-national” in the sense that he has authored the National Anthem of two separate sovereign countries -- India and Bangla Desh, and is regarded as the common cultural savant of both the nations. When friends in Beijing started preparing for the Memorial Function-Cum-Seminar for Tan Yun-shan’s birth centenary (scheduled for October 27, 1998), they accepted my request not to designate him as an “Overseas Chinese”. Yes, Tan Yun-shan was a Chinese diaspora, but he is also owned by India and has become a “multi-national” -- like his “Gurudeva” Rabindranath. It is quite interesting to note that after accepting Tagore’s invitation in 1927, and arriving at Santiniketan in 1928, Tan Yun-shan started following the footsteps of Gurudeva, and has gone so far with Tagore to become a common asset of two sovereign countries. This phenomenon has also registered the borderlessness between India and China in his being (during his life time), and in his symbol (after his demise).

                On the surface, my taking initiative and also the troubled pleasure (or pleasant-trouble) in Tan Yun-shan’s centenary celebrations seems in accordance with the filial piety of a Confucian Chinese tradition. But, the enthusiastic support from my Indian friends, particularly Rashtrapati (President of India) Honourable Mr. K. R. Narayanan’s warm blessings for and gracious participation in this celebration has taken it beyond the narrow boundary of nation-state, let alone nationalism. Like Gurudeva, Tan Yun-shan was no nationalist from a narrow perspective. His loyalty alway belonged to two nations -- India and China. China was his first motherland, India was his second; China was his cradle, India was his cremation ground. He lived for 85 years of which nearly half a century was spent in India. Among his seven children, India and China have claimed an equal share of their birth places:  3 born in China, 3 born in India, one born in Malaya), and only the first two enjoy Chinese as their mother-tongue -- the rest five have been essentially Bengali and English speakers. When we asked our late-lamented sister, Tan Wen, to write about father more than a year ago, she felt it better that the memoir should be couched in Bengali -- which was practically her first language and strongest forte, although she had emigrated to the USA for nearly ten Years because of her marriage with a US citizen of Bengali descent. All this speaks how national boundaries have become blur in the Tan family.

                Why I should dwell on this point is to drive home another point that Indian and China should become one entity in the schema of TanYun-shan’s spirituality which is basically not different from the Tagorean spirituality. The only unmatching element of the former to the latter is that while Tan Yun-shan’s spiritual universe was largely that of two countries (India and China), and two civilizations (Indian and Chinese), Tagore’s was of far greater dimension encompassing the East and the West -- the entire humanity.  Yet, this Tagorean schema of the “universal man” was not alien to Tan Yun-shan’s intellectual and spiritual networking. For Tan had written the Chinese term “Datong” into the aims and objectives of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society, and christened the school he and his wife, Chen Naiwei, had jointly founded at Changsha in 1948 with it. This “Datong” is the abbreviation of “Shijie Datong” which means “one world” -- the world of the Tagorean “Universal Man”.

                All this has helped me to exorcise the element of narrow family piety and even narrow national jingoism fro the Tan Yun-shan centenary project. I think, humans are such cultural animals that they love symbolism, that they have a human touch in any spiritual wave or movement. The name “Tan Yun-shan” has already become a symbol, just as “Tagore” “Visva-Bharati”, “Santiniketan” have become powerful symbols. The “Tan Yun-shan” symbol, of course, is a mini-symbol in comparison with the other three. It is a symbol that has linked up with Cheena-Bhavana which is but a portion of Santiniketan, and an integral part of Visva-Bharati’s institutional structure. It is befitting that the birth centenary is celebrated at  Santiniketan on November 7, 1998, and is inaugurated by the President of India in front of the erstwhile residence of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. (When I pen this sentence, there comes the exciting news that Prof. Amartya Sen whose birthplace is Santiniketan has been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Economics. Santiniketan, thus, has the unique honour of producing two Nobel laureates, and, surely ranks highest in the world now in terms of the per-acre share of Nobel Prize.)

                Yet, in a sense, the “Tan Yun-shan” symbol has also gone beyond the boundaries of Santiniketan if the Beijing Centenary Celebration on October 27, 1998 is any indication. In this book, we have used another symbol -- that of “Xuanzang” (spelled variously as “Hsuan-tsang”, Yuanchwang”, “Hien-tsang” etc). This symbol, though quite endeared to Indian culture, Indian history and the Indian people, is essentially a Chinese symbol. It is the symbol known as “Xitian qujing”, i,e. “The quest for truth (Buddhadharma) from the Western Heaven”. This has been a symbolism that has had a powerful appeal among the Chinese intellectuals. Its spell has overpowered thousands or even millions of Chinese intellectuals, including Tan Yun-shan. There are three elements in this symbolism. First, to China India is the fountainhead of spiritualism. Buddhism is the essence of this spiritualism, no doubt, but out of a thousand Chinese who used to be under the spell of the Indian spiritualism only one had donned the Buddhist robe. Spiritual Buddhism, as Tagore, Nehru and many Indian savants had conceived, was acceptable to all Indians (even all foreigners) irrespective of their religion -- if we care to separate spiritual  Buddhism from monastic Buddhism. That the national flag of the Republic of India bears the dharmacakra is a ramification that in modern India spiritual Buddhism still survives.

                Second, the symbolism of “Xuanzang’s quest for dharma from India” (Xitian qujing, as I have just now alluded to) is an urge by a materialistic civilization to gain spiritual input into it. I have written elsewhere that China had two greatest poets Li Bai and Bai Juyi of Tang Dynasty styling themselves as “upasakas”. Li Bai (701-762), whose poetic gems smell the aroma of Chinese whiskey, had left behind a poem “who am I?” which reads:

“Blue-Lotus Upasaka is my self-styled title,

An angel from Hevean I’m banished to this world,

My fame has been buried beneath the liquor of the pubs

And I have measured thirty springs with my wine cups.

Who am I ? Why on earth should anyone thus inquire?

I am Golden-Millet Maiterya’s next life.”

(See Tan Chung, Classical Chinese Poetry in the Classics of the East series, Calcutta: The M.P. Birla Foundation, P. 143, with translation modified.)

This “Golden-Millet Maiterya” was the powerful Indian legend, Vimalakirti whose Chinese name reads “wei-mo-jie” (the transliteration of the Sanskrit). Another famous Chinese poet, Wang Wei (701?-761) had a second name in “Wang Mojie”, i.e. he tried to demonstrate in both his names that he was “Wang Vimalakirit” -- “Wang” being his surname. Here we see Li Bai and Wang Wei vying with each other to claim themselves as the reincarnation of Vimalakirti who was the Indian symbol for a man higly enlightened (even more enlightened than the Bodisattvas) but remained married in the mundane world. I dare say that all the Chinese intellectuals who had self-styled themselves “Jushi” had cast themselves in this Vimalakiriti mould. Tan Yun-shan never self-styled himself “Jushi”, but was glad to be addressed as one, particularly by the devout Buddhists. Thus, we see a Chinese cultural drive from Xuanzang to Tan Yun-shan to synthesize spiritualism with materialism. We have included in this volume Gurudeva’s inaugural  address of Cheena-Bhavana in which he praised highly the Chinese culture’s perfecting the material life without lapsing into materialistic obsession. That means the above mentioned Chinese cultural drive had yielded a positive result, and Tagore was a witness of it.

                There is yet a third element in the Xuanzang Symbol, i.e. dedication and self-sacrifice. My Indian friends who have resurrected their memories of Tan Yun-shan have emphasized on this point.

                All in all, the symbolism that has embodied the life and career of Tan Yun-shan is a three-in-one entity: (1) Sino-Indian cultural affinity, (2) spiritual-material synthesis, and (3) dedication and self-sacrifice. It is such a symbolism that this volume intends to project -- through Tan Yun-shan’s centenary celebration. I must hasten to add that I have not consciously or unwittingly made any attempt to project Tan Yun-shan (who was my father) as a perfect saint. Because I know when we employ symbolism we only highlight the main strain. I may liken a human career to a river. In a river not every drop of water flows in the same direction, but the main direction of the flow is unmistaken. I want to make it crystal clear that there is no intention in this volume to eulogize Tan Yun-shan, but just to project him in a historical perspective, particularly in the spirit of promoting the “Xuanzang” or “Modern Xuanzang” symbolism.

                This volume is quite hurriedly assembled trying to interweave various items and segments into an integral whole. The first part of it contains five articles under the caption of “Life of Tan Yun-shan”. As they are written by five different authors, repetition and contradiction may be unavoidable. Tan Lee, who, in certain aspect, was the closest among all brothers and sisters to father, has taken pains to reconstruct the life sketch of Tan Yun-shan. In doing so, he has combined the information Tan Yun-shan himself had reluctantly revealved about himself under public pressure along with the little information that has trickled from China. There was no time to embark on a comprehensive research on Tan Yun-shan’s life (which will be left to future scholars), but what Tan Lee has produced can become a base for further inquiries. Tan Chung’s article tries to avoid repeating the “Life Sketch”, yet providing an overview with a touch of historical discourse. I know that the readers will not trust my objectivity, but may gain a little insight from my narrative.

                Mr. V. G. Nair was one time Tan Yun-shan’s secretary. He was very nice to have brought out a book titled Professor Tan Yun-shan and Cultural Relations between India and China: Commemoration Volume, published in Madras by Indo-Asian Publication in 1958. This is the first commemorative volume of Tan Yun-shan. His article included in our volume is taken from that volume. (While I am forever grateful to Mr. Nair for having projected my father 40 years ago when my father was in the prime of his life and career, I never have any opportunity to meet him, nor know his whereabouts. Thus, I have taken the liberty of using his article without his consent.)

                Prof. W. Pachow has specially written his piece for Tan Yun-shan. Though it is a mirror of how a favourite disciple remembers his most endeared guru, it covers almost all major dimensions of Tan Yun-shan’s life and career. Prof. Huang Xinchuan, on the other hand, is looking at Tan Yun-shan from a distance (not like Pachow’s close-quarter observations) with a macro perspective.

                The second section: “Fond Memories” has gathered the rememberance of 18 persons, including 2 relatives, 3 children of Tan Yun-shan, 7 who had worked, studied, or lived as neighbours with Tan Yun-shan, 2 ex-Indian ambassadors to China (who knew Tan Yun-shan from the files), and 3 Chinese India experts to whose indological careers Tan Yun-shan had provided the first lesson.

                Ms. Chen Laisheng is my mother’s younger sister who has been congratulated for her 90th birthday two years ago by the leaders and public of Hunan province. She is respected as a model teacher and social worker for the welfare of women. In 1929, immediately after my birth, she accompanied my mother to carry me to Santiniketan to meet father and to pay homage to Gurudeva. As she is too old and weak, I did not tax her too much, but what she has written which is included in this volume is itself a piece of document. Prof. Yang Yun-yuan (Y. Y. Yang) is my mother’s first cousin. He, too, is over 80, and has lost quite a bit of his memory. But, his recollection are it quite valuable, not in the know of any one of us in the family. As Tan Yun-shan’s life and career involve many dimensions that, too, are geographically scattered, no single person can possess information to all these dimensions. But Prof. Bhudeb Chaudhuri, Prof. Kalyan Sarkar, Mrs. Juthika Sarkar, Lama Chimpa, Prof. Karuna Kusalasaya, Prof. B. K. Roy Burman, and Mrs. Bina Roy Burman have given us titbits of insight into the personality and character of Tan Yun-shan. These are supplemented by the three pieces of recollections of brother Tan Lee, and Tan Arjun, as well as sister Tan Wen. In all these accounts, we see mother Chen Naiwei’s image as an avant-garde path-opener being transformed into a traditional “good wife and good mother” (xianqi liangmu) just because of her marriage to Tan Yun-shan. This reminds me that when I was studying in Hunan in the middle school, and when friends saw the handwritings of both father and mother, some of them remarked that my mother’s hand was superior to father’s.

                Though this slightly hurt my imagination of father’s “greatness”, I was assured that mother, in her own right, was the material for a great career. But, she sacrificed her own to accomplish that of her husband, Tan Yun-shan.

                In the next section, “India and China”, we have 5 solicited articles  specially for our volume in addition to the  one  written by Prof. Kalidas Nag for the 20th anniversary of Cheena-Bhavana in 1957( which we have reproduced from Kalidas Nag, Discovery of Asia, Calcutta:  The Institute of Asian African Relations, 1957, pp. 9-13.)

                The name of Dr. Sampson Shen seems a little strange, but he is well known in India as Shen Chi (Shen Qi). After obtaining his Ph.D. from India, he joined the Nationalist  Government of China and later distinguished himself as the Foreign Minister of the Taiwan regime. The article is an excerpt from his Ph. D. thesis entitled, “Tagore and Confucianism” with his consent.

                Prof. Prasenjit Duara’s is a modified version of a published article from his book, trying to examine nationalism and culturalism in depth from the developmental experience of India and China. It helps us to understand the cultural ecology  in which the generations of Tagore, Tan Yun-shan and later intellectuals of India and China have grown up. Prof. Manoranjan Mohanty’s focus is very similar but sharply focussed on the issue of colonialism and the Indian and Chinese discourse of it.

                Prof. Lin Chengjie’s article is a modified version of what he had written for the ICCR journal, Indian Horizons, in 1994. He has provided valuable information and insight about the echoes in China of what Tan Yun-shan and others had done in India or in between India and China. He is, I dare say, the most knowledgeable scholar about India-China friendship in modern times, particularly in the present century. It is his camera that has enabled  us to see the role of Tan Yun-shan from a historical dimension. Dr. Haraprasad Ray’s article, on the other hand, has focussed on a narrower area of the academic field.

                In the next section we have included important writings not only by Tan Yun-shan himself, but also by Tagore and Nehru and others that can help understand the large dimensions participated in by Tan Yun-shan in the India-China relations. I also include an introduction to the Sino-Indian Cultural Society which, as President Narayanan has pointed out, enrolled the first three Presidents of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan,  and Dr. Zakir Husain, as ordinary members long before their election as the Indian heads of state. President Narayanan’s “Message” which enshrines the beginning pages of this volume helps us to realize Tan Yun-shan’s role in bringing India and China together through his close contacts with leaders of the two countries.

                We have photoproduced a few letters of the Indian leaders addressed to Tan Yun-shan, in addition to one addressed by Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, to me expressing condolence for Tan Yun-shan’s demise. These letters are meant to strengthen the historicity of Tan Yun-shan’s career and our commemoration of this career.

                As I have alluded to earlier, this volume is not the fruition of research, but can serve as original and second hand source materials to future researchers to inquire into a chapter of India-China intercourse which has not been given adequate scholarly attention. I hope this publication will deepen mutal understanding between India and China, using the symbol of Tan Yun-shan as a “golden bridge” -- as Prof. Ji Xianlin has so kindly described in his “Preface”.

October 16, 1998                                                                                                                  

TC 

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