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Life Sketch of Tan Yun-shan 

Tan Lee 


1898 Oct.10

Born in Chaling County, Hunan Province, China, youngest child of a Confucianist scholar and teacher.


Early education at home from father who ran an atelier in traditional Chinese style. Studied Szu Shu, the Four Books of Chinese Canons.


Father passed away suddenly. 


Sent to study in the county school Wen Chiang Shu Yuan under Master Chen Lan-Chi. Studied the first three books of Wu Ching or the Five Canons.


Mother passed away. 


Went to study in the district school Mi Chiang Shu Yuan under Master Lung Tzu-Yuan. Besides completing the last two books of Wu Ching, studied ancient and modern Chinese philosophy, history and literature, e.g. Lao-Tzu, Chuang-Tzu, Mo-Tzu, Kuan-Tzu, and Hsun-Tzu; the four Dynastic Histories Shik-Chi, Han-Shu, Hou-Han-Shu, and San-Kuo-Chi; and select ancient and modern books of poetry and novels such as Hsi-Yu-Chi, Shui-Hu-Chuan, San-Kuo-Yen-Yi, Ju-Lin-Wai-Shih, Hun-Lou-Meng, etc. 


Studied in Hunan Teachers’ College, Changsha, graduating in 1919. First contact with western education imported mostly from France and United States. 


Post-graduate studies in Comparative Chinese and Western Education. 


Joined the Chuan-Shan Academy in the Provincial Capital of Changsha and carried out advanced studies and special research in Western Culture, Philosophy and Thoughts. 

During this period, wrote a number of articles, stories and poems and published them in local newspapers and magazines. Organized the “New Literature Society”, edited a weekly named “New Literature” as the Sunday Supplement to the daily newspaper “Hunan Jihpao”. 

At the same time, Tan was active in the progressive students movements and served as Head of the Provincial Students’ Union and the College Students’ Union, each for one year. Edited and compiled the Union mouthpieces and other publications. Joined Mao Zedong in two of his organizations: “Hsin Min Hsuch Hui” or ‘New Peoples Learning Society” and “Hsin Wen Hua Shu She” or ‘New Culture Book Depot’“. Later, organized and headed a third society called “Chung Hsin Hsuch She” or “New Cultural Society”. 

Tan also had a baptism in Buddhist Studies under Rev. Tai Xu, the leading exponent of Buddhism in modern China. 

Four main movements had engulfed China, two political and two cultural. First, the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party led by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. Second, the Kungchangtary or Communist Party led by Mao Zedong. Third, Movement to South Sea Countries to spread Chinese education and culture. Fourth, Movement to Europe, particularly France, to learn modern European Culture, Not being politically inclined, Tan chose the last two. 


Went to Malaya with a plan to teach there for four years, go to India to seek Buddha-Dharma and Arya-Dharma for five years, then travel to Europe for three years, and finally return to China to continue work in the field of educational and cultural inter-change between China and India. 

Taught in Vocational School of Industry & Commerce in Singapore. Also worked as part-time teacher of Chinese Philology in Singapore Chinese Girls’ Normal School. Visiting teacher at Chinese School of Kuala Muar, Johore State and Chinese School of Kuala Trengganu, Trengganu State. 

Pioneered Chinese literature in Malaya and championed modern ideas among overseas Chinese. Wrote articles and poems and published them in the three Chinese daily newspapers in Singapore, Lex Pao” or the “Journal of Singapore’, “Kuo Min Jih Pao” or the “National Daily Newspaper” and “Shang Pao” or the “Commercial Daily”. Edited a Sunday Supplement called “Hsin Kuang” or “New Light” to the “Journal of Singapore” in 1925. Later, edited a new supplement called “Sa Mo Tien” or “Oasis” to the “National Daily Newspaper”.



Spent four months in Johore State on an extraordinary and emergency assignment for the Government of Malaya. 


Met Miss Chen‘ Nai-Wei, native of Hunan who had come to Malaya to teach, first at Kuala Lumpur, then at Matubahar, Johore as the Principal of Aiqun School. 


Met Rabindranath Tagore in Singapore for the first time in July. Tagore invited Tan to come to Santiniketan to teach. Tan and Chen got married in Singapore. 


Tan travelled to India for the first time. Joined Tagore’s International University, Visva Bharati, Santiniketan as Professor of Chinese Studies. Classes in Chinese started in September with five students: Sri Prabhat Mukherjee Prof. F. Benot, Sri Sujit Mukherjee, Dr. Chowdhury, and Sri Pate. Free discussion sessions were held regularly between Tan and Pandit Vidhusekhar Sastri. At the same time Tan started to take lessons in Sanskrit from Pandit Kshiti Mohan Sen. He also helped linguist Mark Collins in his study of Lao Tzu. 

During the next two years, Tan wrote a number of poems and articles on Indian culture, religion, philosophy, customs and manners. These were published in various journals in China. Of particular note was the article ‘In-Du Quo-Chi Ta-Hsueh” or “The International University of India”, which appeared in “Tung-Fang Tsa-Chih” or “The Eastern Magazine” in Shanghai, The other was an article on the Indian National Movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Tan’s poems were published in a booklet entitled “On the Indian Ocean” by the Youth Book Shop in Guandong 

Eldest son Tan Chung was born on April 18, 1929 in Matubahar, Johore State. Mother and son visited Santiniketan in 1929 for a few months. 

Tan had numerous meetings with Tagore to discuss ways and means of raising funds to build a permanent Hall for Chinese Studies, Re wrote letters to friends and well wishers in China and South-East Asia soliciting help. The response was mixed. Promises from a major donor in Singapore failed to materialize. 


Took leave of Tagore and Visva-Bharati to go back to Singapore on a fund-raising mission. Stayed in Singapore for only two months. 

Went to Rangoon, Burma to assume the editorship of the local Chinese language newspaper as an interim vocation. There he continued to promote the vision of the Chinese Hall in Santiniketan. 

Left the editor’s job and joined Mr. Xie Guoliang, Special Chinese Envoy on his mission to Tibet. Xie died on the way. 


Tan continued to Tibet and was guest of the 13th Dalai Lama at the Potala Palace. Tan delivered the government document to the Dalai Lama. Dalai Lama in turn asked Tan to carry a message from him to Mahatma Gandhi. 

Mar. 7

Reached Kalimpong on his overland trip on horseback from Lhasa to India. 

Mar. 23

Returned to Santiniketan but left soon after on a tour of India. Visited all the major Buddhist Centres of pilgrimage. 

Apr. 27

Met Mahatma Gandhi at his Sabarmati Ashram, and delivered Dalai Lama’s message. Gandhi and Tan had prolonged discussions about relationship between India and China and India’s freedom movement. Gandhi encouraged Tan to adopt vegetarianism. 

May. 15

Left Calcutta for Singapore. Met up with wife and son to take them back to China. His plan was to stay in China for a few years to promote his vision of Sino-Indian cultural exchanges and to raise funds to build the China Hall in Santiniketan. 

1931. Sep.

Returned to China with family. Started to teach at the Lida Academy, Shanghai. Commuted between Shanghai & Nanjing (interim Capital of China) to canvass for establishing a Sino-Indian Cultural Society as a vehicle to realize Tagore’s dream. Was successful in obtaining solid support from Tsai Yuan-Pei, President of Academia Sinica, as well as Tai Chi-Tao, President, Examination Yuan (China’s Public Service Commission), and others. 


Second son Tan Chen was born in Changsha on August 10, 1932. 


The China Chapter of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society formally established in Nanjing, with Tsai Yuan-Pei as its first President and Tan Yun-Shan as the first Secretary. On February 18 Tan wrote to Tagore advising him of the progress much to the delight of the Poet. 


Returned to Santiniketan in February to organize the India Chapter of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society. The Society was established in September with Tagore as its first President and Rathindranath as the General Secretary. 

In October, Tan returned to China to raise funds for construction of the China Hall and to secure books most essential for research activities of the institute. The response was overwhelming. With strong support from Tsai Yuan-Pei, Tai Chi-Tao and Rev. Tai Xu, adequate funds were raised for the building and furnitures. The Sino-Indian Cultural Society purchased over 100,000 fascicles of Chinese books on Buddhism, Classics, History, Philosophy, Literature and Arts. More books were donated by friends and publishers. 


Third son Tan Lee was born in Shanghai on November 30,1934. 


Returned to Santiniketan with Rs. 50,000 and 100,000 books. Tagore was thrilled and allocated a prime piece of land at the heart of the campus for the Institute of Chinese Studies or “Cheena Bhavana”. Construction started immediately under Tan’s personal supervision. Suren Kar, the noted resident architect provided aesthetic touch to the functional plan chalked out by Tan. Biren Sen was the building contractor. 

Eldest daughter Tan Wen was born in Changsha on July 4,1936. 


Cheena Bhavana was completed in record time. Nandalal Bose assisted by Binode Behari Mukherjee and other staff and students of Kala Bhavana adorned the Hall with beautiful frescoes and relief work. Chinese calligraphy written by Lin Sen, the President of China, was placed centre-front on the building with similar calligraphy by Tai Chi-Tao at centre-rear.Tan meticulously planted many native species of trees around the building to provide shade to what was then a barren piece of property. 

Mahatma Gandhi was invited by Tagore to inaugurate the building, but could not come due to prior commitment to go to Belgaum. Jawaharlal Nehru, then President, Indian National Congress agreed to preside over the function but was prevented from attending due to sudden illness. Finally, it was left to Indira Gandhi to do the honours. On April 14, Cheena Bhavana was formally opened. Gandhi in his message to Tagore said: “May the Chinese Hall be a symbol of living contact between China and India”. 


Tan was appointed the Director of Cheena Bhayana, the first institution of its kind in India, but because of the financial straits of Visva Bharati (then a private university), refused to take a salary. Instead the Chinese Government provided him an honorarium. 

Tan continued his effort in fund raising. Seth Jugal Kishore Birla sent a donation of Rs. 5,000 to start some of the research projects with future donations to come. 

Tan maintained a dialogue with Indian leaders on issues of Indian independence and the sufferings of Chinese people at the hands of Japanese invaders. Attended International Parliament of Religions in Calcutta as China’s representative. 

Delivered a series of 5 lectures at Andhra University, later published as a book entitled “Modern Chinese History”. 

Nov. 23

Nehru wrote to Tan informing him that the Congress had started campaign to boycott Japanese goods. 


Returned to China to report to his Chinese supporters progress in the establishment of Cheena Bhavana. The news was welcome in government circles as well as among the intelligentsia. Tan saught further help from the Chinese Government in the form of research scholarships. 

Apr. 10

Nehru wrote to Tan prior to his departure asking him to convey India’s support to the Chinese people in their struggle against the Japanese. 

Apr. 12

Tagore wrote to Chiang Kai-Shek in support of China’s resistance to Japanese aggression. utter delivered in person by Tan to Chiang. 

1938 Apr. 23

Netaji Subhas Bose wrote to Tan asking him to convey the support of the Indian Congress to China’s resistance against Japan. 

Jul. 9

Tan met top leaders of China including Chiang Kai-Shek at Wuchang and discussed how China and India could support each other in their respective struggles. 

Jul. 14

Chiang wrote to Tagore from Hangzhou thanking him for his moral support to the Chinese people. 


Tan returned to Santiniketan accompanied by wife and third son Tan Lee and eldest daughter Tan Wen, leaving the eldest son Tan Chung and second son Tan Chen in Changsha, Hunan. 

Pandit Vidhusekhara Bhattscharya had looked after academic and research work at Cheena Bhavana during the absence of Tan in China. With his return, a major effort was made to recruit teaching and research staff. Those who responded included Dr. Vasudev Gokhale from Poona, Sujit Mukherjee, W. Pachow from China, Rev. Sumangala from Ceylon, Shih Shu-Lu from China, Wangdi from Tibet, Pandit Aiyaswami Sastri from Madras, and Chow Ta-Fu from China. 

Xu Beihong (Ju Peon), the leading artist of modern China came at Tan’s invitation and spent a year as Visiting Professor of Chinese Fine Arts. 

At the initiative of Tan, the Sino-Indian Cultural Society organized a visit by Nehru to China. On August 18,Tan sent a telegram to Chiang to inform him of Nehru’s arrival on August 20. Nehru spent August 20 to September 6 in China gathering support for India’s independence from British rule.


A close bond of friendship and mutual respect for each other’s mission was thus forged between Nehru and Tan. This bond was to continue for the rest of their lives. 

The first Chinese Buddhist Mission to India led by Rev. Tai Xu visited Santiniketan and spent a week as guests in Cheena Bhavana. Tan accompanied Tai Xu to Ceylon.


Tan was instrumental in organizing a visit by Dr.Tai Chi-Tao to India and Santiniketan. Tai, a profound scholar in Buddhism, had been a staunch supporter of Tan’s efforts. He was also a great admirer of Tagore and Gandhi. Tai donated Rs.lO,OOO of which Rs. 6,000 was to be used to build a quarter for the Tan family, Rs. 3,000 for a memorial to Maharshi Devendranath, and Rs. 1000 was to go to the Visva Bharati Relief Fund. As Tan had already built a modest home with his own money, the Rs. 6,000 was used to build quarters for other staff. 

Second daughter Tan Yuan was born at Santiniketan on August 5, 1940. Tagore named her Chameli, the first child to bear an Indian name. 


Tan requested Government of China for more funds to expand Cheena Bhavana so that the valuable collection of books can be properly cared for. The Government of China responded by donating Rs. 13,000. 

Wu Hsiao-Ling joined Cheena Bhavana as research scholar and lecturer. He spent four years and returned to China as a Professor in the Academia Sinica. His wife Shi Suzhen mastered the Bengali language and subsequently joined as Professor in the Institute of Foreign Literature, at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing. 


Chin Ke-Mu spent several semesters in the Cheena Bhavana between 1941 and 1945 and returned to Beijing University as a Professor of Sanskrit. 

From Thailand came Karuna Kusalasaya who spent two years as a research scholar and Assistant to the Director. He returned to Thailand to become Professor of Sanskrit at the Buddhist Academy in Bangkok as well as an Advisor to the Indian Embassy. Rev. Pannasiri came from Ceylon and spent five years in research work. 

Tagore taken seriously ill in Calcutta. Tan spent several days by his bedside praying, but his Gurudeva could not be revived. Later, Tan was to lament that with the passing of Tagore, he lost the one person who could truly understand the scope and significance of Cheena Bhavana. 


But the task entrusted on Tan had to go on. He-devoted all his energies to fulfill the dream that he was privileged to share with his beloved Gurudeva. 


In the midst of the raging war in China, Generalisimo Chiang Kai-Shek and Madam Chiang decided to pay a strategic visit to India. Because of their awareness, they made a special trip to Santiniketan to see Cheena Bhavana. They were pleased with the progress of the institution that had already received financial support from China and announced a further donation of Rs. 50,000. 

Tan helped in organizing a series of meetings between Chiang and Nehru which were of importance to China’s destiny during the war with Japan. 

Jul. 8

Nehru conveyed Chiang’s anxiety to Mahatma Gandhi and persuaded the latter to reply to Chiang with an assurance that: “whatever action I may recommend will he governed by the consideration that it should not injure China.... and ....must lead to the strengthening of India’s and China’s defence”. 

Rev. Fa Fang, a prominent disciple of Rev. Tai Xu joined Cheena Bhavana as a Research Fellow in Indian Buddhism. After three years he went to Ceylon to study the Southern School and returned to Santiniketan and taught for two years before going back to China. Wu Bei-Hui, another protege of Tai Xu joined Cheena Bhavana. He studied and did research in Sanskrit and Hindi for ten years prior to returning to Beijing University as a Professor of Sanskrit. 

During this time, Tan became concerned about the education of the-children of overseas Chinese. Tan was drawn to the large Chinese population in Calcutta and helped them with fundraising for the Chinese Medium School. He was also instrumental in establishing a Chinese School in the hill station of Darjeeling. 

At the same time, Tan’s deep-rooted interest in Buddhism drew him to places like Bodh Gaya and Sarnath. He became intimately involved in fundraising and construction of the Chinese Buddhist Temple and Lodge in Bodh Gaya. In the City of Calcutta he became a frequent participant in the activities of the Maha-Bodhi Society where his dear friend Rev. Jinaratna ran its affairs. 


Fourth son Tan Ajit was born on April 3,1942 in Santiniketan. 

The research staff was strengthened with the addition of Santi Bhikshu Sastri and Kris Kinkar Sinha. 


Through Tan’s efforts, the Government of China sent ten students to study their chosen subjects in various universities in India. Three of them, Shen Chi, Ou- Yang Chung-Yang and Wei KweiSun came to Santiniketan. After some months they transferred to Benares Hindu University, University of Allahabad and the Aligarh University repectively to obtain their doctorate degrees. Wei Kwel-Sun subsequently joined Cheena Bhavana and retired as Professor. 

A Chinese Cultural and Educational Mission visited Cheena Bhavana and donated some funds for its library. 

The fifth son and youngest child Tan Arjun was horn in Santiniketan on August 6, 1943. 

Satiranjan Sen joined as a Research Scholar and became a Junior Research Fellow under Chinese Government Cultural Fellowship. Was sent by the Indian Government to beijing University for further Chinese studies. Founded Cheen Bharat Sanskriti in Culcutta. Amitendranath Tagore, likewise, was selected for a Chinese Government Cultural Fellowship and spent three years in Beijing University. On his return he became Lecturer in Modern Chinese Language and Literature. Later he became Professor of Chinese Studies in Oakland University, USA. 


Birendra Chandra Banerjee was hired by Tan as Office Assistant and later as Secretary to the Director. Subsequently, he went to USA for further studies and returned to take a library. A position in Visva Bharati. 


Further donations were collected by Tan for the expansion of the Cheena Bhavana Library. A second storey was added to the two single-storey wings of the main building to properly house the valuable collection of books which have now grown in numbers. 

New staff who joined included: Yang Yun-Yuan, Research Fellow and Lecturer in Chinese Language and Literature who later became Professor of Chinese at the School of Foreign Languages, Govt. of India and still later Professor of Chinese, Berkeley; Mrs. Yang Lo-Heng, Research Scholar & Assistant Librarian; Chang Jen-Hsieh, Research Fellow & Professor of Chinese Archaeology; and Hsu Hu, Research Fellow in Indian Philology & Professor of Chinese Literature. 


Following the War, Tan Yun-Shan was awarded the “Victory Medal” by the Government of China in recognition of his valuable services to the nation. 

The Government of China continued its strong financial support by starting a Chinese Cultural Fellowship for three years, worth Rs. 25,000 each year. 

Cheena Bhavana was strengthened by the addition of several senior staff. Dr. Probodh C. Bagchi joined as Senior Research Fellow and Director of Research under the Chinese Government Cultural Fellowship. He was later seconded to Beijing University as Visiting Professor of Indology. On his return he becaine the Principal of Vidya Bhavana and subsequently the Vice Chancellor of Visva Bharati; Dr. P V. Bapat joined as Senior Research Fellow and Professor. 

Haridas Mitra was hired as Research Fellow; Prahlad Pradhan as Research Fellow; V. G. Nair as Research Fellow & Assistant Secretary to the Sino-Indian Cultural Society; and S. K. George as Research Fellow & Joint Editor of the Sino-Indian Journal. 


The Ministry of Education, China, gave a special grant of Rs. 12,000 each year for three years for scholarships. Another Rs. 12,000 per year for three years was received through the Sino-Indian Cultural Society of China. 


India became independent with Nehru as its first Prime Minister. Tan attended First Inter-Asian Relations Conference, New Delhi as a Delegate of China. 

It was time for another visit to China. This time Tan was accompanied by his wife and the three youngest children. The family went back to Changsha where Mrs.Tan Chen Nai-Wei built the Datong School and ran it as Principal for two years. 

Sisir Kumar Ghosh joined the Cheena Bhavana as Research Fellow & Joint Editor of the Sino-Indian Journal. Ghosh later became the Head of the English Department, Visva Bharati. 


Tan returned to Santiniketan with an additional title of China’s “Cultural Representative”. By a letter dated August 26, Prime Minister Nehru congratulated Tan: “I hope that with your assistance and advice we shall develop further cultural contacts with China”. 


Under the leadership of Mao Zedong, a new People’s Republic was established in China. Not knowing what the future cultural relationship would he between India and China, Tan decided to bring his family back to Santiniketan in May. There was a temporary hiatus in cultural exchanges between the two countries, but not for long. At the same time, Tan’s honorarium from China stopped. 


Tan was invited by the Government of India to the Republic Day Celebrations in New Delhi as a representative of the Chinese people where he was received by President Rajendra Prasad. 

Tan wrote to old acquaintance Mao Zedong with three policy suggestions for the New Government: 1) Not to lean on one side; 2) Strengthen Sino- Indian friendship; 3) Find peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue.

A Special Donation of Rs. 500,000 was received from The Sino-indian Cultural Society of China for a new Central Library for Visva Bharati. 


Visva Bharati became a Central Government University. With this came structural and organizational changes to many of the institutes including Cheena Bhavana. Some of the primary goals of this unique institute charted by Tagore himself got lost in the euphoria of run of the mill university expansion. This, no doubt, caused great disappointment in Tan. His strong discipline in the tenets of Buddhism, Confucianism & Taoism permitted Tan to endure this in silence. 

On top of this Tan had no income and refused to take a salary from Visva Bharati. It was at the insistence of his dear friend of long standing Anil Kumar Chanda that he finally agreed to receive a salary from the university. 

Around this time, Tan’s spirituality and interest in religious matters made him explore the fertile fields scattered throughout India. Gandhi had already made a deep impression in his mind. Although, not quite able to convert to total vegetarianism, Tan nevertheless curtailed his meat intake, relying more on eggs for protein. He also started to observe Wednesday as a day of silence following Gandhi’s lead 

Tan became interested in the work and writings of other spiritual leaders like Sri Aurobindo, Acharya Kripalani, Vinoba Bhave, and Sivananda. He maintained regular correspondence with them and visited the Aurobindo Asram in Pondichery on a number of occasions. At the same time Tan kept touch with several academics who were keenly interested in his efforts. Some of the leading thinkers with whom Tan maintained regular dialogue included Dr. Kalidas Nag, Dr. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Dr. Amarnath Jha, Prof. Humayun Kabir, Dr. Kamta Prasad Jain, Prof. Nikshoy Chandra Chatterjee, Prof. Sisir Kumar Mitra, Swami Satyananda, and Krishna Kripalani. 


Teaching of the Chinese Language to Indian students and Indian Languages to Chinese scholars continued at an accelerated pace due to the emerging geopolitics in Asia. Unfortunately, the earlier emphasis on research and retranslation of Buddhist texts were relegated to a lesser position. This turn of events disturbed Tan a great deal. 

However, Cheena Bhavana continued to attract new scholars. Some of the more recent arrivals included: Narayan Sen who taught for a few years; Jan Yun-Hua (1953), Research Fellow under Government of India Five Year Plan, who after completing his Ph.D. taught for a number of years before joining McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada as Professor of Chinese; Mrs. Jan who worked in the Cheena Bhavana Library; Sm. Ambulu Sastri (1953) Research Scholar who visited China as a member of Indian Professors and Students Delegation in 1955; Viswadev Mukherjee (1953), Research Scholar; Krishnanath Chatterjee (1953) Research Scholar. 

Dr. Carrington Goodrich, Dean Lung Professor of Chinese, Columbia University spent two years as Visiting Professor of Sinology (1953-54). 

Tan Chung, eldest son who grew up in China through the turmoils of the War expressed his desire to come to India to complete his studies. Tan obtained permission from appropriate Chinese and Indian authorities and Tan Chung and his wife Huang I-Shu were able to come to Santiniketan in 1955. After completing his Ph.D. Tan Chung taught at the NDA, Khadakvasla, then joined Delhi University as Professor of Chinese and subsequently became Head of the Department of Chinese and Japanese Studies in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. His wife Huang I-Shu also taught Chinese in Delhi University for several years. 


Zhou En-lai, Premier of China wrote to Tan extending his Government’s invitation to visit his homeland. In September, Tan made his first trip to China since the change. On this trip he was accompanied by eldest daughter Wen who had completed a B.A.(Hons) in Bengali, securing the top position in the class. In Beijing, Chairman Mao welcomed his friend in presence of other Chinese leaders, former teachers and fellow students who were familiar with Tan’s work in promoting Sino-Indian relations. Thus, the channels of communication with the Government of China were restablished much to Tan’s delight. Of the leaders who showed particular interest in Tan’s work, mention must he made of Premier Zhou, Minister Li Weihan, Minister Yang (Education) and Guo Mojo. 


On return to India, Tan reported on his China visit to Nehru and suggested that the Government of India invite Premier Zhou to visit India. This was duly arranged and in January, 1957 Premier Zhou became the first leader from Peoples Republic of China to visit India. Zhou came to Santiniketan to receive an honorary degree. He visited Cheena Bhavana & donated Rs. 60,000 for a Memorial to Tagore 

Daughter Wen was pursuing a Masters Degree in Bengali. Zhou offered her a job to teach Bengali in Beijing. However, circumstances did not permit Wen to accept this generous offer. 

K. Venkataramanan, Prof. of Philosophy, transferred from Vidya Bhanana to Cheena Bhavana.


158 Feb. 20

Tan invited to New Delhi where he was received by President Rajendra Prasad. 

159 Sep.


Again invited by Government of China to visit. Received by President Prasad before leaving for China. In China Tan again met major leaders in Government including Mao‘Zhedong, Liu Saochi, and Zhou Enlai. Tan had many discussion with Premier Zhou focussing mainly on Sino-Indian cultural relations but also on the border dispute. 


On his return to India, Tan was received by Prime Minister Nehru in New Delhi.They discussed Sino-Indian relations and the tensions at the border in the presence Anil Kumar Chanda, Deputy Minister of External Affairs. Tan reported on his discussions with the Chinese leaders. 


Border skirmish flares up between India and China. Tan was devastated. He felt his life long dream and efforts were about to crash. Question was raised at the Parliament of India regarding the activities of Tan, a Chinese national. Nehru made a strong defence of his old friend of thirty plus years. 


At the Visva Bharati Convocation Nehru spoke passionately about the border war. Spotting his friend Tan in the audience, Nehru hastened to add that despite the border conflict which has to be resolved between the two Governments, the people of China would always be India’s friends. Tan openly wept. 

1963- 1970

In spite of the mental anguish weighing heavily, Tan continued his teaching and research work. Years of disciplined life kept him in good health. He was given several extensions in service. Meanwhile daughter Wen completed her Ph.D. in Bengali in 1964, the first Chinese ever to achieve this distinction. One of Tan’s cherished dreams was realized. 


Retired from Visva Bharati Cheena Bhavana. Donated the house he built with his own money to the University however, the University was happy to let Tan live in it as long as he wished. Tan’s mind, however, was drawn to a new challenge, an even bigger dream. 

1972-I 978

On one of his ocean voyages, Tan had this other vision. He started preparing for the establishment of the World Buddhist Academy to be located in Bodh Gaya. Through his connections with Chief Minister Sinha of Bihar, Tan was able to acquire the necessary amount of land next to the Chinese Temple that he had helped build many years ago. This time, however, he decided to build the institution entirely from private donations. 

Despite his advanced age, he was once again on the road, travelling to Hong Kong and Singapore to raise funds for the Buddhist Academy. And funds did pour in from many sources such that construction of the Academy could start. It would be a 4 storeyed building with a total floor area even larger than Cheena Bhavana.To most people much younger than him, the very scale of the building would be a formidable task, but not to Tan. He was always used to thinking big and no undertaking was insurmountable as long as the cause was justified. Tan took on the life of an ascetic living in a small room at the Chinese Temple. He was finally able to fulfill his earlier vow to Gandhiji of becoming a true vegetarian. A villager brought him a Spartan ration of some vegetables and pancakes. Tan plugged along and the Academy took shape. 

In the meanwhile, the second son Tan Chen, who had remained in China also wished to come to India. Arrangements were made and he and his family came to Santiniketan in 1976. Tan Chen taught Chinese in Cheena Bhavana from 1979 to 1987 before emigrating to USA. 


The University of Nalanda conferred an Honorary Doctorate on Tan. 


Visva Bharati conferred the honorary degree of “Deshikottama” on Tan. 


His wife and companion of 54 years passed away. This was the ultimate shock of his life. But his second mission had to continue. Despite pleadings from his children he could not be pursuaded to come away from Bodh Gaya. 


The Academy building by now had its roof on. But for the flooring, it was essentially complete. A large statue of Lord Buddha carved in stone donated by a devotee in Singapore, had been flown in and installed. On a visit from Canada by his third son, Tan talked to him about how to get the work of the Buddhist Academy started. Tan by now was weak in health from years of neglect and deprivation, but his spirit was strong as ever. Tan took his son to each room of the. Academy and explained how he planned to use the space. He appeared almost etherial, being totally immune to suffering and pain. He was bent on finishing his mission. Perhaps he realized time was running out. But the good Lord had other plans. 

On to the small village of Bodh Gaya descended the Dalai Lama and his entourage. Thousands of Tibetans from all over India flocked to Bodh Gaya to get his “darshan”. They had no place to stay. Tan opened the gates of his Academy gladly to give them shelter and they remained there long after the Dalai Lama had left. That his Buddhist Academy could give shelter and warmth to devotees of the Lord must have given Tan a final satisfaction. 


At the ripe age of 85 Tan breathed his last in Bodh Gaya, the seat of Buddhism which drew him to India in the first place, his pilgrimage of life completed.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in her message of condolence said:

“Gurudeva and my father had affection and regards for him. He identified himself with Santiniketan and contributed immensely to a better understanding between the civilizations of India and China”. 


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