IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
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?
am Golden-Millet Maiterya’s next life.”
Tan Chung, Classical Chinese Poetry
in the Classics of the East
series, Calcutta: The M.P. Birla Foundation, P. 143, with translation
“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
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
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced any manner without written permission of the publisher.