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

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A MOSAIC LIFE OF ORDINARY UNIQUENESS

2

Tan Yun-shan -- A historical Role 

Tan Chung 


  1. The spirit of Hunan ox

  2. A Passage to India

  3. Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana

  4. Needle for Cultural Tapestry

  5. Anti-Japanese War

  6. Reunion with Past

  7. The Modern Xuanzang


 1.The spirit of Hunan ox

According to the Gazeteer of Chaling Country, Tan Yun-shan was born at the Shen hour (1500-1700 hours) on the 5th of the 9th moon of the Wuxu year of Emperor Guangxu's Era of the Manchu Dynasty, i.e. 1898. Tan Yun-shan was a man who was keen to embrace modern trends. He recorded the birth of all his children according to the solar calendar. This created problems for his second son, Tan Zheng, when he applied for passport to come to India in the 1970s. The Hunan passport office refused to believe that his date of birth was recorded in the solar calendar, as he was born in 1932. It promptly converted his solar birthday into another solar birthday. Few modern Chinese could imagine that Tan Yun-shan did this in the early decades of the century to his own birthday. One year, this 5th of the 9th moon coincided with the 10th of October which was the national day of the Republic of China. This gave him an occasion to switch calendar. Henceforth, everyone easily remembered that he was born on the "Double 10th Festival", forgetting the original date recorded in the lunar calendar.

His cradle was the Xiadong Village of Chaling County in Hunan Province -a place on earth which even today lies sleeping in the natural economy. Both his grand father, Tan Wenhan, and his father, Tan Hongmou, were village intellectuals with a smattering of scholarship but no outstanding distinction. His father, Tan Hongmou, earned an honorific imperial title of the lowest 9th rank which, of course, was something to boast of in the village surroundings of the 19th century. Economically, the family might be rated as "rich peasants" if only to apply the criteria of the Land Reform Movement of the early 1950s. Judging from the standards today, the word "rich" would be a total misnomer.

His grand father, Tan Wenhan, survived both son and daughter-in-law who passed away just a few years after they got their third son, Tan Yun-shan. This was the 4th child in the family after quite a gap between his birth and that of his two elder brothers and one elder sister. In my boyhood, I saw my elder paternal aunt, but never my uncles who were probably too old to journey from Chaling to Changsha (a matter of several hundred kilometres) to be our guests. But, their sons did come, and they were at least twenty years my senior. It was obvious that they inherited the poverty and rustic manners of their parents.

Tan Yun-shan was first given the name "Qixiu" while his elder brothers begot "Qiding" and "Qicai" respectively. (The sister probably had no name to herself as per China's male chauvinist tradition). The common syllable "qi" in all the three names represents the generation. Traditionally, a Chinese family adopted a passage of the classics the word-order of which became the order of the genealogical growth -a word in the passage is used as the marker of a specific generation according to the order of words which enshrines the generation sequence. While "qi" was the marker of my father's generation, mine is marked by another character "ke". But, father never passed the genealogical passage down to me, hence I could not use the marker of my son's generation. My son who never had any chance to work in a Chinese language environment, hence does not actually need a Chinese name. But, father named him "Fatian" which is the Chinese translation of "Brahma".

Coming back to the birth names of my uncles and my father, the eldest son was christened "ding" which means "population", the second son's "cai" meaning "wealth", while my father's "xiu" denotes "talent". Here is a reflection of the typical traditional rural aspirations of China. When the first son arrived, the parents were assured that the genealogical tree would grow. But, my grand father (and also the great-grand-father) wished that the growth should he exuberant which was depicted in Chinese as "Rending xingwang", i.e. "a thriving population". While my first uncle was named "population", the arrival of the second uncle evoked an additional hope for richness. While my second uncle's name was "wealth", my father's arrival after a considerable gap of the three births (of two sons and a daughter) made the patriarch of the family invoke the icon "talent" (xiu), betraying his further ambition of getting a member to distinguish in the Imperial Examinations. ("Xiu" stood for "Xiucai" which was the name of the title conferred on a scholar who passed the first stage of the three-tier Exams,) Father was, indeed, a material for such a distinction. But, by the time he was old enough for the Exams it had already been abolished for quite a number of years (in 1905).

According to Chinese tradition, every man must have two names, one used officially and publicly, and the other to be addressed only by family members and intimate friends. When we were young, we saw mother marking all the household furniture by four characters of "tan qi xiu tang", meaning "the household of Tan Qixiu".

We thought "Qixiu" must have been father's second name. Actually, it was his first, while his second name was "Lianke" which we never saw him using anywhere. But, "lianke" denotes "to qualify the Imperial Exams" which all the more reflects the family expectations of his academic excellence. As my father had ultimately distinguished himself in the academic world, that too in a foreign country, his christeners' wishes were over-fulfilled. But they (my grand father and great-grand-father) never lived long enough to know this.

I checked up the students' rosters of the First Normal School of Hunan (with the kind help of Mr. Zhao Lei who used to work for the China Association for International Friendly Contacts), and found the two names of father being "Yunshan" and "Shaoshu", none of which seems to originate within the family. Father entered the

First Normal School at Changsha after completing his studies in the First Senior Primary School of Chaling. He was listed as "Tan Yun-shan" in the roster while his other name "Shaoshu" was noted in parentheses. Who gave him these names cannot he historically ascertained now.

But we know another development of father's early life. Ironically, after christening him "Qixiu" (talent of the Qi generation) and "Lianke" (qualifying the Imperial Exams), my great-grand-father (my grand father passed away early) was too poor to send the talented orphan boy to school, There was a relative named Huang Wuren living in a neighbouring village of Huangtang who was well to do. Huang (who probably had no son) virtually adopted Tan Yun-shan as his own son, and sent him to the local First Primary School of Chaling. Tan not only studied well, but eventually qualified the entrance exams of the Hunan First Normal School at the capital city, Changsha, which was not only the highest educational institution of the province at that time, but was extremely difficult to get in. It was likely that Huang Wuren had named him "Shaoshu" while sending him to school, and Tan himself adopted the name "Yun-shan" after entering the First Normal School.

Sources from his village trace the name "Yun-shan" (denoting "cloud mountain") to a famous hill in Chaling named "Yunyang" Hill. But, "yunshan" was a favourite imagery of classical poetry, having employed by famous Tang poets like Li Bai and Wang Wei, and many others. Wang Wei composed a poem in Hunan while he was only 19, depicting a legendary ideal society which is known as "shiwai taoyuan" or "the peach-blossom land beyond our world". In the poem, Wang Wei wrote: "Shizhong yaowang kong yunshan" describing the utopian "peach-blossom land" as an "illusory cloud mountain" when looked from our human world. In these lines, the ancient Tang poet showed that he had already adopted the Buddhist philosophy of Sunyata. As Tan Yun-shan had surely read Wang Wei before entering the First Normal School, and as he was also inclined to the Buddhist way of life, it was possible that he discarded all his given names, and used "Yun-shan" (the cloud mountain) to mark his entrance into a new world of hope and challenge.

          During and before Confucious' times the pale of Chinese culture concentrated along the middle and lower streams of the Yellow River. Hunan, a region which lay south of Yangtse, was conceived as a part of "Nanman" (southern barbarians). I have, a little earlier, alluded to Taoyuan, a part of northern Hunan, being conceived as a happy and peaceful land beyond the hustles and struggles of China. This myth was created by a scholar from neighbouring Jiangxi, named Tao Qian (or Tao Yuanming) (365-427). Tao's famous essay "Taohuayuan ji" (An Account of the Origin of the Peach Blossoms) presented this part of Hunan as the habitat of ancient Chinese refugees who knew nothing about the Han Dynasty. This was probably an indication that Hunan was hardly integrated into the mainstream of China by the powerful Han Empire (206 BC - 220 AD). During the post-Han period, there was large exodus of Chinese northeners into the areas south of Yangtse, and Hunan began to have Buddhist temples built at its scenic spots which, in turn, attracted famous writers of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) as tourists. But, it was only in the last couple of centuries that Hunan distinguished itself as a cradle of talented people both on the civilian and military fronts.

Situated at the centre of the country, and the midway station along the Yangtse river with a railway passing through it from Beijing to Guangzhou (Canton), Hunan was not cut off although deep in the interior. In 20th century, its capital city, Changsha, was humming with new trends, new ideas, and new-wave activities. For instance, my mother, Chen Naiwei (1905.1980), was born in a village in the Dongshan hills north of the old small city of Changsha (but now very much a part of the enlarged Changsha city). Her grand father, Chen Xiaolou, was one of old China's millions of ambitious rural intellectuals who was unlucky in qualifying the imperial Examinations. But, he decided to play an active role in his rural surrounding, teaching youngsters and also treating the sick with his self-made medical expertise. Unlike others in his profession, he travelled to the houses of his patients without being carried by the palanquin, without accepting fees and gifts. When Dr. Sun Yat-sen rose in rebellion against the Manchu Dynasty in the southern neighbouring province of Guangdong, the senior Chen emulated Sun's example to cut his own pigtail (which was the symbol of enslavement forcibly imposed upon all Chinese nationalities by the ruling Manchu race). Under his influence, his eldest son, Chen Zihoe, resigned from his government job in the High Court of Hunan and joined the communist movement, and died a martyr in 1927. Chen Naiwei was the eldest daughter of Chen Xiaolou's fourth son, She and her younger sister were among the first Chinese women to enlist themselves in public schools. When she started teaching during her teenage in the Taokan School in Xiangxiang county not far away from the birthplace of Mao Zedong, the village urchins used to regard her as a rare animal - an unmarried young woman running away from home, teaching other's children in a strange place, unheard of in the thousand-year-old tradition of China!

In comparison, father's own village was not so advanced. But, the moment he landed in Changsha (to Study in the First Normal School) he became thrilled by the new things he saw. Incidentally, this was also the school where Mao Zedong and a host of other revolutionary leaders had had their education. Father was all admiration for Mao. He joined the Xinmin (New people's) Society, a revolutionary organization founded by Mao's and often followed Mao to his swimming exercise in the rivers. One episode he told his children was Mao's not fighting shy of changing his underwear after swimming in front of a group of young men and women. This was abominable enough (according to Hunan's conservative decorum) to earn him the nickname of "Madman" (fengzi) even by his close friends and admirers.

As if following Mao's footsteps, Tan Yun-shan went for further studies in the Chuanshan Academy in Changsha which was founded by Hunan's first great scholar, Wang Fuzhi (better known as Wang Chuanshan) (1619.1692). Tan also was the President of the Hunan Students' Union, and his close associates, Xia Xi and Guo Liang both became activists of the communist organizations in Hunan, and died young. Tan bid his farewell to his Maoist friends in 1924 when he went to Malaya to join one of the two movements beckoning the intellectuals of Hunan. The first movement was, again, launched by Mao and his associates, to mobilize young students to go to France to work and study which was a boon for China's having sent workers (not soldiers) to join the anti-German front during the World War 1, Out of this movement arose famous leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), like Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, Deng Xiaoping etc. The second movement was to help educating the children of China's diaspora in Southeast Asia who had been sold to the British and other European colonisers as indentured slave- labourers (nicknamed "Pigs"), but turned to be nouveaux riches after gaining freedom from their colonial masters. Tan's initial plans were to join both these movements, He made his first step to Singapore, waiting for an opportunity to travel further to Europe. Spiritually, he did not actually break away from the movement led by his cynosure - Mao Zedong - in his formative years. ne entirely different road he ultimately took was because of new developments in Singapore.

As he never gave up his Hunan accent, Tan had also remained a Hunanese till the end of his life in many ways. The Hunanese have been known in modem times among fellow Chinese as people extremely hard working, honest, loyal, stubborn, courageous, with a fighting spirit against injustice. A befitting nickname for them is "Hunan niu" (Hunan Ox). Tan Yun-shan had all these traits. The "Hunan idiosyncrasy" was also decided by its geographical location. Their's not being a frontline province, the Hunanese seldom stood out as a pioneer, blazing a new trail in any movement. Yet; Hunan's being a province which was well connected with the frontline regions, these Hunanese showed great sensitivity to new movements, and always ready to join them. I term this as a "rear- wave tendency" which could give a strong backup force to the pioneers. Tan Yun-shan had such an idiosyncracy as well.

I must mention another special feature of Hunan, i.e. a strong impact of Buddhism both in the great and little traditions. There was a famous saying which might or might not originate from Hunan, but well known to the Hunanese. The saying goes:

Shishang haoyan Fo shuojin, tianxia mingshan seng zhan duo.

"All good words have turned out to be the Buddha's sayings,

Most of the famed mountains are in the monks' possessions".

Tan Yun-shan had developed a positive response to such a pro-Buddhist culture of Hunan, and learnt to recite many Buddhist scriptures which came easily to him just like the Bhagwat Gita to an Indian intellectual who has a traditional inclination. This cultural inculcation from his home province played no small part in his choice of settling down in India - which was quite unthinkable not only to his contemporaries, but even to so many Chinese today. Every time when Tan was in China, whether in the 1920s 1930s, 1940s or 1950s, he was invariably greeted by an unbelieving inquisitive: "You live in India?!" And after his demise, this greeting has now passed on to me. "There is a famous Chinese saying: "As water flows downwards, man climbs upwards." Going abroad is called "dujin" - to gild - but only to the affluent countries and the Western Hemisphere. In modern times and among the modern Chinese, going to India is almost unheard of, and incomprehensible, Gone is the ancients' enthusiasm in modern China in the pilgrimage to the "Country of Buddha". To Tan Yun-shan who had grown up as one of the millions of modern Chinese eager to embrace the Brave New World across the Pacific and Atlantic, his choice for settling down in life was still a pilgrimage unaffected by the earth-shaking changes of the 20th century-while nothing short of abnormality and imbecility according to many a materialistic modern Chinese.

2. A Passage to India

I have already written elsewhere about the invisible linkage between Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore and two modern Chinese personalities. One of them was Guo Moruo who was, as it were, China's Tagore or Gorky, and the other was Tan Yun-shan. One commonality between the two was when Guo was studying in Japan and Tan working in Singapore, both were fond of going to the sea side. Facing the sea's endless expanse, both Guo and Tan developed a feeling of frustration and uncertainty about their own future, while their own country was in shambles. Both, it so happened, could not suppress an idea of either committing suicide, or renouncing the world as a Buddhist monk. That both of them were rescued from mishap was partly because of Tagore. Readers who want to know how Tagore had saved the life of Guo Moruo and given China her own Tagore may read my article, "Tagore's Inspiration in China's New Poetry" in Tan Chung (ed.), Across the Himalayan Gap: An Indian Quest for Understanding China, New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 1998.

That Tagore was the turning point of Tan Yun-shan's life and career I shall now spell out. Tan was a bunch of contradictions when he sauntered on the sea shore, Various voices from the sea waves were calling him -an ambitious young Chinese in quest of future career. He had left behind his schoolmates and close companions who had dedicated their lives to the creation of a new nation. He would not shed tears for the ancient regime, but he had grown up from a great tradition which became endeared to him, while what shape the new order of China might take he could not see clearly.

Hunan, as has been alluded to above, had deeply ingrained in the young mind of Tan Yun-shan not only a strong dosage of Chinese cultural tradition, but also a strong fancy for India - through Buddhism. Besides a strong desire among the Buddhist-inclined Chinese intellectuals to pay homage to the "Country of the Buddha"

(Foguo), there was even a wider tradition (call it superstition if you like) to wish the deceased to ascend to the "Western Heaven" (xitian) -which was a synonym of "Foguo", i.e. India. (The catch phrase is "Rong gui Xitian", i.e. "May the departed soul return gloriously to the Western Heaven" and it has been a standard condolence message for more than a thousand years which survives even today among the Chinese both in the mainland and overseas.) Of course, as I have alluded to earlier, it is also true that the progression of the 20th century in time and space means that all roads of China are leading to the Western Hemisphere. Tan may be regarded as one of the last Mohegans (sic.) who had preserved in him the potential to tread the faded footsteps of Xuanzang and other ancient Chinese pilgrims.

That India had lost her age-old charm among the modernites in China was also due to her being enslaved by British colonialism. Those Indians who appeared in China from the 1840s onwards begot India an image of "a country that has died" (wangguo). They came to China to serve their colonial masters as soldiers, police, watchmen, cooks, and domestic servants without dignity, giving a strong exogenous shock to patriotic Chinese that never should they follow the negative example of the Indians - existing only as "wangguonu" (slaves of a country that has died). Yet, there came the surprising news that one among such Indians "Taige'er" (Chinese transliteration of Tagore) won Nobel Prize in 1913, and that this "Tage'er" was busy travelling in the western countries lecturing to the royal families and ruling elite of the Western powers whose representatives were treating the Chinese in China as dirt-not allowing "Chinese and dogs" into their public parks. Tagore had set fire to the brambly fields of Europhiles in China. When he embarked on a lecture tour there in 1924, educated Chinese youths greeted him as if a god had resurrected. Meanwhile, some leftists were deeply worried that Tagore would prevent the Chinese youths from responding positively to the call of revolution, hence they made a point to disturb Tagore's lectures. (See Sisir Kumar Das, "The Controversial Guest: Tagore's 1924 Visit" in Tan Chung (ed.) op cit.)

Tan Yun-shan belonged to those who regarded Tagore as a god-figure. But, when Tagore sailed to China, he was onboard of a ship sailing away from China. He lamented the loss of the opportunity to see the "saint-poet" ("shizhe", as Chinese called him). But, what had been slipped away turned to be a godsend - Tagore came to Singapore to lecture in 1927. Tan availed of the first opportunity to meet Gurudeva and was given a warm audience by Gurudeva. It so happened that the latter had already been trying to get a suitable Chinese scholar to start Chinese studies in Visva-Bharati.

Just at that time Tan Yun-shan fell in love with a fellow Hunanese with whom he got married. Mother was an ardent admirer for father's writings (for, in addition to teaching in a school in Singapore, father was helping the couple of Chinese language newspapers there to start literary supplements, and also used the papers to publish his prose and verse). Mother was the Principal of a new girls' school named Aiqun (loving the humanity) at Matubahar in Johore (still there even today) north of Singapore. She encouraged father to go alone to India after hearing his exciting account of meeting Gurudeva. Her sister was also staying with her, which made father feel safe in leaving behind the newly married and pregnant wife (with me on my way) to the care of a loving sister and a school of helpers. Her handsome salary from the Principal's post made mother a reliable backup to father's new adventure.

Far from being an established university, Tagore's Visva-Bharati was only an ashram in disguise in those years. Not only were the students sending in their contributions (however meagre they might be), but even the teachers volunteered their services without salaries. They were provided with a subsistent living in addition to a free supply of stamps for letters to be sent out of the Santiniketan post office. Tan Yun-shan, however, was given a special treatment by Gurudeva, being allotted a room in the most luxurious facilities of the then "Tata Building" (now "Ratankutir") with free lodging and boarding. He was given a choice to opt for Western food which he declined. Why? His explanation was: "I would not have the heart to eat Western food even if I wanted particularly after seeing the frugal life of the professors." One of such professors was Vidhushekara Shastri, the pillar of Visva-Bharati, veteran Sanskrit scholar who was the "in-charge" of research. Tan had these descriptions about the pandit:

"What I admire him most was his frugal and disciplined life as well as his hardworking spirit. Like Gandhiji, he covered himself with only two pieces of coarse cloth, He ate two vegetarian meals a day all cooked by himself."

(All the above and the ensuing quotations are from his book in Chinese, entitled "Yindu Zhouyouji", !.c. An Account of My Travels around India, Nanjing, 1933.)

No sooner had Tan Yun-shan made the option for Indian food from the Tata Building which was served in his room than he began to regret. For neither did it appeal to his gourmet humour, nor was its hygienic standard approvable. But, Tan's "Spirit of Hunan Ox" now rose to the occasion. He not only got used to it, but also composed a poem for self-amusement:

"As if the broom on the floor sweeping

That's the bearer gets your plate clear;

Rice served amidst plenty of sands

Falling as the bell's "ding dong ding".

Potatoes with ingredients boiled

And tree leaves make a depressing hue,

There is curry always with bean soup

Thus everyday your food stares at you.

Meal time is ritual, you remember past sages

(Yan Yuan's frugality echoes Confucius' praises.)

After food you never forget the innumerable poor.

When you are fed what happiness you want more?

Aren't you one who is really privileged,

Hardship isn't the adjective for how you live."

Gurudeva appointed Tan Yun-shan as a Professor of Chinese Studies when the latter was merely thirty, He had the most learned scholars at Santiniketan enlisted as his students in the Chinese language class. Everyone on the campus of Visva-Bharati respected and showered affection on him. However, such a lifestyle was not what Tan had been looking forward to. His plans were first to learn, not to teach. He wanted to learn Sanskrit and Indian cultural traditions. He wanted to travel and see India. Though he was prepared to spend five years for a settled life, but two of the five at Mahatma's Sevagram at Sabarmati, and the rest three at Gurudeva's Visva-Bharati. It looked like that such a plan of pilgrimage would come to naught.

Another distraction was domestic problems. After all, he had just got married, and a baby son was born in his absence. His wife, sister-in-law, and baby visited him at Santiniketan once in 1929 which was only a very brief reunion. It was an express telegram from Malaya which made him decide to leave India after a three year sojourn at Santiniketan. He returned to his wife and son, but left them immediately to work in Rangoon as the chief editor of a Chinese language newspaper. Then, there was a mission for him to accompany an aged and sick Hunanese to go to Lhasa to deliver government documents to the Dalai Lama. He brought the mission to a successful conclusion although the elderly emissary passed away on the Himalayan tracks. After that, he paid homage to Gandhi's Satyagraha Ashram, met the Mahatma to fulfil his dream, and also to convey the Dalai Lama's blessings as he had promised in Lhasa. After all this, he left India and took his family back to China.

This first phase of Tan Yun-shan's three-year sojourn in India had virtually transformed his vision, and his ambition. He was fascinated by the Indian civilization about which he had had only bookish knowledge before, but had now gained an insight into it. He was fascinated by the Gurudeva, by the Mahatma, by what little he had Learnt about the Indian cultural tradition, particularly its spiritual culture and its holistic perspective. He began to write about India - with curiosity and affection. His writings earned many readers' sympathy for India, and earned himself a reputation of an "Indian expert' - an entity which was virtually non-existent in contemporary China. His Yindu Zhouyouji (cited a moment ago) and a later book Yindu congtan (A Discourse on India) had been, for many decades, the best introduction and reference on India for the beginning scholars. In 1957, when Premier Zhou Enlai visited the Cheena-Bhavana Library, and saw on exhibition a copy of Yindu congtan, he opened its leaves and exclaimed, "Why, I have not seen this book!" Tan Yun-shan readily allowed him to take the book away for reading. But, this was the only copy he had left. Later, he often regretted that he had allowed the book to be taken away, or he had not made attempts to retrieve it. Since then, the family library has lost this book for ever.

Tan Yun-shan's three year sojourn at Santiniketan was also a very special experience which one could not easily find anywhere. Though a quiet campus of simple living, it was the habitat of a world famous poet -a cynosure to writers and intellectuals all over the world. The tiny post office at Santiniketan was one of the busiest in the world, with letters of admiration and inquiry arriving like snowflakes. Visitors tracked their ways to the tiny village of Santiniketan which had had no motorabie road until the middle of the 1950s. It was here that Tan Yun-shan could get the acquaintance of all kinds of people from all over India, and even from the remote corners of the world. Inside Tan Yun-shan's young mind. Tagore had implanted his huge magnet. Though physically he was compelled to be away, his heart had stuck in Santiniketan. He had decided to come back, come what may. Of course, the seniors of Santiniketan had already been endeared to him, and he to them - a spiritual bond had been lined up. That was why after returning to China he was so eager in writing about India, about Tagore, about Santiniketan, about the Mahatma, as if this was his own country. The fish that was reared up in Hunan Province in China had now been turned into an amphibian - at home both in the Chinese and Indian Cultural milieu.

Another discovery of Tan-Yun-shan was the virtually non-existence of understanding about China on the part of Indian intellectuals. Through he was not the most educated and most knowledgeable representative of China, he was treated as one. People, including very learned scholars at Santiniketan, and sometimes from other places, came to him to ask very elementary questions about China, about China's sages and philosophical thought. In such interactions, Tan Yun-shan discovered a great deal of commonalties and similarities between both India and China. In Santiniketan, he lived in a life of human and spiritual concord between  the two great civilazations. Echoes from both the civilizations became his daily intake of spiritual food. His being treated as a "Professor" in status and an expert of China in reality made him feel the need of studying more of his own cultural traditions. Moreover, he also could deepen his understanding about his own cultural heritage when he was forced to explain it to others. So often, when you are inside the cultural milieu you take everything for granted, never really giving deep thought to them. But, now, in a foreign country, when you look at your own traditions you took at them from a distance. You are putting yourself in the position of a bystander which helps you to inject an element of objectivity in your analysis. All this was very rich living experience and exciting mental exercise for Tan Yun-shan. His stay at Santiniketan was three years of an immersion course in cultural interface and synergy. All this has predetermined that he would be back, and would settle down in India in life.

 

3. Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana

When Tan left Santiniketan in a hurry after receiving an express telegram from his wife in Malaya, he could not bid goodbye to Pandit Vidhushekara Shastri (who was like a Registrar, particularly when Gurudeva was away staying at Calcutta). He only left a note behind. This attracted a desperate and near-angry reply from the senior who wrote: "Your absence will very keenly be felt by us and specially by those who have been directly connected with you ... I do not know what will now happen to our Chinese Studies in the institution. Only the other day it was arranged that a student would come to us from Nepal to learn Chinese." But he added with affection: "When are you coming back? We shall always be looking for your return:" Incidentally, a few months later (after Tan had completed the mission to deliver the Chinese governments documents to the Dalai Lama at Lhasa), Tan did return to Santiniketan and stayed for eight days. Prof. Kshiti Mohan Sen was so excited that he took the trouble to go to Calcutta to escort Tan back. After affectionately embracing him, Prof. Sen asked with anxiety: "What would become our plans, and how to put them into practice?"

The "plans" had been cooked up in the previous three years between Tan Yun-shan, Vidhushekara Shastri and Kshiti Mohan Sen on how to translate into reality the Gurudeva's dream of creating a strong centre for Chinese studies at Visva-Bharati. Gurudeva himself had tried to persuade his Chinese hosts and whomsoever he had met in China in 1924 but to no avail. After Tan had landed at Santiniketan, he also tried to contact people in Singapore and China. He had written to millionaire Hu Wenhu of the "Tiger Balm" fame asking for a couple of ten thousand dollars to build an institution of Chinese studies at Santiniketan, and did obtain a prompt reply that "it's not a big sum, there wouldn't be any problem". Yet, this promise never turned into cash. Tan also wrote to Cai Yuanpei (who was then the President of Beijing University) and a few other influential intellectuals without even getting any reply.

Returning to Kshiti Mohan Sen's question about the "plans", Tan, with his typical innocent optimism and the Hunan Ox spirit, hastened to offer a reply: "Our plans would be transformed into reality only after I return to China." There was laughter before Tan's words had died down. Clearly, no one took what he had promised seriously. The only exception was Tan himself.

To look back, Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore's idealism about reenacting the pilgrimage of ancient times between India and China would have remained only in the conceptural stage if no powerful human and material push arrived in practical life. Under the circumstances of Tagore's time such a push could not have come from India which was still a British colony ruled by predatory colonial masters. As the famous Chinese abortive reformer, Kang Youwei, had insightfully realized in Darjeeling and other places in India, the country was simply the paradise for the Britons and hell for the Indians. (See Prof. Lin Chengjie's article in this volume.) Even rich Indians were in a pitiable situation of sharing some leftovers of the British spoils. No Indians, individually or collectively would be able to render much help to Tagore to realize even a fraction of his dream of an India-China fraternity. The other and only possibility of the push would have to come from China.

Tagore had realized this and had tried to create a congenial atmosphere for such a human and material push to emerge, In this respect he did have considerable success. The Chinese intellectual atmosphere after Tagore's 1924 visit was favourable to the launching of a programme to strengthen cultural interactions between China and India. What Tagore had failed in the same trip was in finding a concrete person - a Chinese comrade of his idealism - to convert the favourable atmosphere into material input. In Singapore, when he met Tan Yun-shan -a young immature idolatrous idealist - Tagore might have cherished some illusions, but there was nothing from Tan that could assure Gurudeva that the Chinese comrade he had been looking for had arrived.

Nor was Tan Yun-shan himself sufficiently sure when he made the promise in his parting words to prof. Kshiti Mohan Sen. That he had finally made it was because of two factors: his unearthing the potential among the Chinese ruling elite to render spiritual and material support to Tagore's agenda, and his own spirit Hunan Ox. This can be illustrated by a letter addressed to Tagore from Cai Yuanpei, the first Executive President of the Sine-Indian Cultural Society:

"Academia Sinica

Brenan Yuyuen Road,

Shanghai China

February 5th, 1936

Sir Fiabindranath Tagore,

Uttarayan,

Santiniketan,

Bengal, India.

Dear Sir Rabindranath,

Owing to my prolonged absence from Shanghai on account of health, I did not see Prof. Tan Yun-shan until the beginning of the present year when he transmitted to me your charming letter of the 28th September. At one time India exerted an overwhelming influence upon the culture of China. Although intellectual contact between the two countries has become less intimate during the past few centuries, nothing is more welcome to us who value our cultural heritage than to resume that contact in order to learn from your country the ways and means of adapting an ancient culture to the conditions of the modern world.

All of us are grateful to you for your great kindness in allowing the Sino-Indian Cultural Society to use your university at Santiniketan as its headquarters. I will do my little part in cooperating with Prof. Tan Yun-shan in his courageous effort to work for the endowment of a Chinese Hall, although the present financial conditions in China are bad enough to discourage a less brave man than Prof. Tan..."

(This letter seems to have disappeared from all the archives in India and China except a hand- copied version preserved by Wei Fengjiang, the first Chinese student sent by the Sino-Indian Cultural Society to Visva-Bharati. See his Wade laoshi Taige'er (My Guru Tagore), Gulyang: Guizhou People's Publishing House, 1986, pp. 127-8.)

In this letter, Cai Yuanpei has objectively testified to the fact that there was a favourable atmosphere in China to help Tagore revive the ancient intimate cultural interactions between India and China on the one hand, and the bad financial situation of the country to be materially of help on the other. But, he also saw a ray of hope in the unusual courage and perseverance on the part of Tan Yun-shan. Indeed, Tagore's comrade had arrived after Tan Yun-shan had made the courageous promise to Prof. Sen at Santiniketan in 1931.

As the chronological sequence of Tan Yun-shan's near-heroic efforts in first getting the Sino-Indian Cultural Society founded, and then mobilizing the requisite funds and books for the establishment of Cheena-Bhavan (the "China Hall") has been given by Tan Lee in the preceding "Life sketch of Tan Yun-shan", I shall only make a few observations to help put the important episode in proper historical perspective.

I should view Tagore, Nehru, Tan Yun-shan, Cai Yuanpei, Tai Chi-tao and many other intellectuals of India and China as representing a historical force generated by the close proximity of two great civilizations of the word- the force of befriending each other and even closing ranks with each other to face the daunting tasks of repulsing the oppression of the Western Hemisphere as well as finding their rightful places in the modern word. Such a historical force was led by Gurudeva with a strong support from Nehru and other enlightened Indian public leaders. But, its field army was first recruited and commissioned in China around the standard of Sino-Indian Cultural Society whose avowed aims are:

Pursuing Sine-Indian Studies,

Linking up the cultures of China and India,

Forging Sino-Indian fraternity,

Uniting the nations of China and India,

Creating peace in humanity,

Making the world a utopia of Datong (Ramarajya).

These words are my translations of their Chinese equivalents which were obviously penned by Tan Yun-shan. This was Tan's composition giving full play of what he had understood from the inspirations of Gurudeva.

I wish to dwell a little on this last the noble ideals of the pioneers of Santiniketan becomes a total loss, Ours is a mundane materialist world in which consumerism has taken command in all spiritual and intellectual arenas. People praised Tan Yun-shan because he had helped Tagore erect an impressive monument at Santiniketan. But, if Cheena-Bhavana is to last as a shining monument the spirit behind its creation should never die - or more accurately, be given a burial as developments seem to point to that direction.

I have earlier highlighted Tan Yun-shan's spirit of Hunan Ox to attribute it as a vital factor to his success in creating the Sino-Indian Cultural Society and Cheena-Bhavana. However, the Tan Yun-shan as the creator and founder-director of Cheena-Bhavana would never have arrived without Gurudeva's idealism which is clearly spelled out in his two famous letters to the "Chinese friends". In his letter addressed to "My friends in China" dated April 23, 1934, Gurudeva wrote:

"The truth that we received when your pilgrimage came to us in India and ours to you, -that is not lost even now.

What a great pilgrimage was that! What a great time in history! It is our duty today to revive the heroic spirit of that pilgrimage, following the ancient path which, is not merely a geographical one but the great historical that was built across the difficult barriers of race differences and difference of language and tradition, reaching the spiritual home where man is in bonds of love and co-operation."

(See Tan Yun-shan ed., Twenty Years of the Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana 1937-1957, Santiniketan: Sino-Indian Cultural Society of India, p. 37.)

In another letter addressed by Gurudeva to the "Chinese friends" who were members of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society dated April 18, 1934, he wrote:

"There was a time when India and China stood very near, when they joined their hands and their hearts in one common homage to the spirit of Love and Renunciation, Today when the world is being divided into hostile camps, each ready to strangle the other, let us recall that spirit, which still lives among us and permeates our being, and prove in our relations that the forces of love and understanding are greater than those of hatred and aggrandisement."

(Ibid. D. 36.)

Clearly, Tagore's aim of establishing a Cheena-Bhavana in Visva-Bharati was to revive the ancients' spirit of "Love and Renunciation" exemplified by the pilgrims - Indians to China and Chinese to India. The word "Renunciation" has a reference to Buddhism, but Tagore had no intention, and Tan Yun-shan did not mechanically understand it to mean turning Cheena-Bhavana into a monastery. Gurudeva mentioned it along with the predatory world-order of modern times which had not only hopelessly divided our earth into "hostile camps", but such mutually hostile components of the modern world were doing their best "to strangle" each other. Toga, of course, would not like India and China to fall into such a jungle, instead would let his Visva-Bharati become an exemplary place for international amity and cooperation in general, and Cheena-Bhavana to dedicate to the amity and cooperation of India and China in particular. Tagore had mentioned in his 1924 talks in China that his Visva-Bharati was meant to be "a meeting place for individuals, east or west, who believe in the unity of mankind and are prepared to suffer for their faith". Such a conviction he had repeated in his address at the inaugural function of Cheena-Bhavana on April 14, 1937.

Why "suffer for the faith"? The answer is found in his above mentioned inaugural address in which Tagore said:

"It is indeed true that we are weak and disorganised, at the mercy of every barbaric force, but that is not because of our love of peace but because we no longer pay the price of our faith by dying for it."

(Ibid, p. 44.)

It is in this spirit that we should understand Tagore's emphasis on "renunciation", i.e. renouncing the human cowardice before the barbaric forces, and renouncing the obsession for material values.

All this is not to blind us from Tagore's positivism and healthy and optimistic expectations for the establishment of Cheena-Bhavana. Let us review what he had said when he inaugurated Cheena-Bhavana:

"Let us therefore abide by our obligation, to maintain and nourish the distinctive merit of our respective cultures and not he misled into believing that what is ancient is necessarily outworn and what is modern is indispensable ... can anything be more worthy of being cherished than the beautiful spirit of the Chinese culture that has made the people love material things without the strain of greed, that has made them love the things of this earth, clothe them with tender grace without turning them materialistic? They have instinctively grasped the secret of the rhythm of things, -- not the secret of power that is in science, but the secret of expression. This is a great gift, for God alone knows this secret, I envy them this gift and wish our people could share it with them."

(Ibid.)

While Tan Yun-shan had helped Tagore to build up a Cheena-Bhavana at Santiniketan, Tagore, in turn, empowered Tan Yun-shan to run this newly created institution with a free hand, not as an ordinary organization paying attention to quotidian affairs only, but as a monument of noble idealism. Tagore had particularly given Tan Yun-shan a difficult task of implanting into the campus of Santiniketan the "Chinese secret" of caring for material pursuits without becoming materialistic - the ramifications of this secret was even difficult to find in China in the days of Tagore and Tan Yun-shan, let alone today.

Other authors of this volume have detailed what Tan Yun-shan had built up at Santiniketan in terms of material achievement. I think we ought to scrutinize Tan's achievement by the criterion of Tagore's noble idealism especially his wishing to transplant the spiritual excellence of Chinese civilization onto the soil of Santiniketan. An immediate satisfactory answer to this exercise may not be expected from this essay. But, I have two points to offer. One, I think Tan Yun-shan had understood Gurudeva's message, and had tried to make Cheena-Bhavana a living temple of Chinese civilization howsoever imperfect it might be. For some time, Santiniketan did have a mini-China Town because of Cheena-Bhavana (and a part of it was made up by the family members of Tan Yun-shan). This mini-China Town offered a favourable comparison to its big sister -the China Town in Calcutta just a hundred miles away. At its best times, Cheena-Bhavana did live up to the expectations of Gurudeva although he was no more there to see the fruition of his own idealism. Another point I would wish to make is that Cheena-Bhavana did make Tagore's Visva-Bharati a place true to its name - as an international commonwealth. Conversely, had Cheena-Bhavana not existed, Santiniketan would have been very difficult to justify its claim as an international university. Uptil several years ago, "Cheena-Bhavana" had remained as the only "foreign" member of Tagore's international community. Even today, the second "foreign" member, the Nihon Bhavana, is only the symbol of a building without much cultural contents and academic activities. These two points, I think, make us cherish the memory and contribution of Tan Yun-shan when we commemorate his birth centenary.

Many eminent Chinese monks a millennium ago visited India and went back to build spiritual temples in their country according to the idealism of the Indian saints - the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas symbolizing them. Tan Yun-shan had traced their footsteps to India. Instead of going back to build a temple of spiritualism in his own country, he build it in the "Land of the Buddha". In the past, an Indian monk saw a hill in Hangzhou and claimed that it had flown there from Magadha. Tagore saw the hill (which was named the "Hill of Heavenly India") and was told the story. He hailed it as an example of unity of hearts between the peoples of the two countries, in building up a Cheena-Bhavana at Santiniketan, Tagore had virtually got a Chinese hill flown to India. In the past, people did take pride of Cheena-Bhavana; scholars would go back to China or move to other countries claiming their pilgrimage to Cheena-Bhavana, to Visva-Bharati. Today, not only has Cheena-Bhavana ceased to enjoy such a reputation, but even its name has been erased from the administrative infrastructure of Visva-Bharati -only a Department of Chinese Language and Culture exists. The climb down from the holy hill of Cheena-Bhavana to today's diminished Department of Chinese Language was partly because of the departure of its dynamic founder-director, but more due to the loss of Gurudeva's spiritual dealism. This saddens people more than the loss of reputation. There is a Chinese saying: "Ai mo dayu xinsi:' - Nothing is sadder than the death of the heart. I wish we pay attention to the problem of how to revive Cheena-Bhavana when we commemorate the birth centenary of Tan Yun-shan, and how to revive the idealism of Gurudeva that had conceived Cheena-Bhavana, and that had been transformed into practice by Tan Yun-shan.

Another point I must highlight is that from its inception upto 1949 the expenses for running Cheena-Bhavan  were not from the treasury of Visva-Bharati, but was remitted from China to Visva-Bharati for the management of Cheena-Bhavana. In other words, Visva-Bharati was only at the receiving end, but how money

had come was entirely Tan Yun-shan's personal effort with the blessings of the Government of China. There was a delicate relationship between the Visva-Bharati authorities and the Director of Cheena-Bhavana, and between Visva-Bharati and the Government of China. Much of the success of Cheena-Bhavana during this period was due to its generous Chinese donors (including the government) in contrast to the financial difficulties of the university particularly after the passing away of Gurudeva. In 1951, Visva-Bharati became a national university, while the Chinese government had ceased to finance Cheena-Bhavana since 1950. Yet, the semi-autonomous status of Cheena-Bhavana was still maintained so long as Tan Yun-shan was its director (till 1967).

Because of this semi-autonomous status of Cheena-Bhavana, it could function as an open house. Scholars were welcome to visit and stay in Cheena-Bhavana from a few days to a few years, and were provided. Tan Yun-shan obtained donations from China and built many living quarters behind Cheena-Bhavana for the visiting scholars from China. Students could live in single rooms inside the Cheena-Bhavana building as well, In this way, Cheena-Bhavana gathered a good concentration of Chinese - scholars and students, They, in turn, attracted a lot of Indian intellectuals (scholars and students) to benefit from the rich resources of Chinese studies housed in Cheena-Bhavana. Today, such a character of Cheena-Bhavana is totally lost and impermissible. In fact, how a modern Indian university can observe discipline and simultaneous enjoy a degree of permissiveness (not in sexual sense) of an autonomous institution is a problem that has belied solutions. Under a rigid regulation it may he impossible to revive the past glory of Cheena-Bhavana.

The Cheena-Bhavana that was created and moulded by Tan Yun-shan was, in fact, a multi-national institution with an element of cultural infiltration into India from China. But, this was in partial fulfilment of Gurudeva's dreams. In ancient times, there was never an immigration office anywhere, and no visa was required for entering into any country. It was as the Chinese saying describes: "There is you in me and I in you,"

(Nizhong you wo, wozhong you ni.) This, I think, is the true spirit of the global village, and was strongly advocated by Gurudeva. Cultural infiltration is the requisite for building the ideal society of Datong (Ramarajya) as advocated by the Sino-Indian Cultural Society. This would inevitably clash with the policy that jealously guards the educational and cultural sovereignty against the infiltration of foreign influences (including the influence of the Almighty Dollar). One could debate on this issue (whether it is wise to maintain a dog-in-the-manger attitude) when we consider the revival of Cheena-Bhavana.

4. Needle for Cultural Tapestry

As cited above, Tagore's idealism of reenacting the ancient Sino-Indian pilgrimage had a much greater dimension than building a monument at Santiniketan. He wanted to bring the two ancient civilizations together, In his inaugural address, he made it even more clear about the direction which the activities of Cheena-Bhavana should head to:

"The Hall [Cheena-Bhavana] which is to be opened today will serve both as the nucleus and as a symbol of that larger understanding [between India and China] that is to grow with time. Here students and scholars will come from China and live as part of ourselves, sharing our life and letting us share theirs, and by offering their labours in a common cause, help in slowly re-building that great course of fruitful contact between our peoples, that has been interrupted for ten centuries."

(ibid, p. 42.)

The moment when Tan Yun-shan completed the work for Tagore to inaugurate the historic Cheena-Bhavana, he himself, became a part of the historical task set forth by Tagore, i.e. to embark on the "great course of fruitful contact" between India and China. Looking from inside the complex of Cheena-Bhavana, Tan Yun-shan, from 1937 onwards, was the head of a new family within the joint family of Visva-Bharati. If weighing with the tasks propounded by Gurudeva there would be no great responsibility falling on Tan Yun-shan's shoulders, but as the head of such a unique institution, he was already transformed into a tiny needle, and his role was weaving a tapestry of Sino-Indian cultural contact. The two dimensions of this "great course" were:  (a) events developing within and around Cheena-Bhavana, and (b) those beyond Cheena-Bhavana and Visva-Bharati - but we see the thread of the Tan Yun-shan needle. Both these dimensions have been detailed in other articles of this volume. I shall just summarize the broad significance of the events and activities.

Cheena-Bhavana may be likened to a hen which performed two duties: laying eggs, and hatching eggs into chicks. When it celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1957, Cheena-Bhavana could parade a list of 44 Indian and Chinese scholars (including Tan Yun-shan himself) who had been associated with it. Barring a few exceptions, all of the scholars have not only distinguished themselves in the academic fields, but a distinctive contour of the "great" course of Sine-Indian cultural interactions has been drawn through the efforts of these scholars. All their writings, whether written at Santiniketan or elsewhere, have enriched the field of "Sino-Indian Studies", a term originally conceived by Gurudeva, but more vigorously introduced to the academic public by Tan Yun-shan - all studies about the great civilizations of India and China with a Sino-Indian perspective belong to the arena of Sino-Indian Studies.

While with no intention to discriminate, I wish to highlight the achievements of a few of the ex-Cheena-Bhavana scholars alluded to above. Cheena-Bhavana was fortunate to have the association of Dr. PC. Bagchi who himself represented a movement of marrying tndology with Sinotogy. Had he not died on duty as the Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati in the beginning of 1956 - living only 57 years A he would have made much greater and more significant contributions to the development of Sino-Indian Studies. His joining the Cheena-Bhavana for two years (1945-47) signified the confluence of two streams -that of Begchi and Tan Yun-shan.

Similarly, Cheena-Bhavana was enriched almost from its inception by the contributions of Dr. PV. Bapat, Dr. Vasudey Gokhale, Prof. Prahlad Pradhan and the famous American scholar Dr. Carrington Goodrich (in 1953-54). These and some others were the creators, not products of Cheena-Bhavana. Among other names that Cheena-Bhavana has proudly associated is the great Chinese painter Xu Beihong (Ju Peon) who was also a founding member of the Sine-Indian Cultural Society. Xu's brief association with Cheena-Bhavana (1939-40) resulted in the entrance of Indian flora and fauna, landscape, and Santiniketan personalities (including Tagore) into his artistic creation. Xu Beihong's immortal paintings, thus, also immortalized Tagore, Santiniketan, and India. But for the needle of Tan Yun-shan such a fraternization would not have taken place.

Ambassador C.V. Ranganathan related to an interesting evening in Beijing when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's special envoy, Mr. PN. Haksar, and a Chinese scholar, Prof. Wu Xiaolin vied with each other in reciting verses from Kalidasa's Meghdoot. (See Tan Chung ed., Across the Himalayan Gap, p.443.) How Gurudeva would have smiled if he had come to know this small realization of his "Great Course". Prof. Wu learnt to read Sanskrit in Cheena-Bhavana (in 1941-45). He led a group of Santiniketan-returned scholars to build up Indian studies in China for which he was awarded Desikottama by Visva-Bharati (which was, incidentally, presented by Ambassador Ranganathan in the Indian Embassy in Beijing.)

I must particularly mention two more cases which belong to the "products" category, Dr. W. Pachow had had a long association with Prof. Tan Yun-shan and Cheena-Bhavana whether he was in or outside India. Buddha had only five disciples when he first turned the Dharmacakra (the wheel of truth). When Toga started his ashram at Santiniketan, he also had only five students. Tan Yun-shan started Cheena-Bhavana also with this lucky number, while a young intellectual who had just taken off the robe of a Buddhist monk was one of the five. His name was Pachow. Now, he is retired in USA after distinguishing himself as one of the leading Buddhist scholars in modem times. Another young man, Jan Yun-hua, arrived from Hong Kong at Santiniketan in the early 1950s. When Prof. Tan Yun-shan first initiated him into Buddhist studies, he found it a totally unknown field. Now, he is one of the world's greatest authorities in religious studies, particularly Buddhism. People nave been proudly talking about the rich collection in the Cheena-Bhavana Library of Chinese classics and other books of the civilization that had invented paper and printing, that had produced more books than the rest of the world before the middle of the 18th century. No one had more efficiently used this Cheena-Bhavana Library than Jan Yun-hua when he was also the custodian of it in the 1950s and 1960s. I saw with my own eyes how even university professors of eminent standing went to Prof. Jan to ask for information, and how the latter just offered it from his finger tips. In Prof. Jan Yun-hua we see the true value of Cheena-Bhavana if people want to encash it. Both Prof. Pachow and Prof. Jan have given me encouragement in organizing the centenary activities of Prof. Tan who had always treated the two as his most favourite disciples.

I have already touched upon both the functions of the Cheena-Bhavana hen. It is not only modern India's first institution of Chinese Studies and Sino-Indian Studies, but has had no predecessor in the long history of Sino-Indian cultural intercourse. Partly because of the fame and importance of Tagore and Santiniketan, and partly due to the proactive spirit of Tan Yun-shan in disseminating Chinese studies to other parts of India, Cheena-Bhavana has assumed the role of a lead-point in expanding the study of China and teaching of Chinese language all over India. After independence, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, whenever there was the starting of an academic project and a course on China or teaching Chinese language anywhere in India, the advice of Tan Yun-shan would be sought. He had associated himself in various manners in helping selecting teaching staff, drawing up curricula etc. In some cases, when the requisite certificates were wanting for academic appointments, a testimonial in Tan's signature could enable the Vice-Chancellor or Director of an institution to exercise his emergency power to make a recruitment. In such cases, the needle that was Prof. Tan was transformed into a Stamp.

Tracing the cultural needle of Tan Yun-shan to activities that moved far away from Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana, the China visit by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan during the war time have often been cited as eminent examples. In this volume, Prof. Lin Chengjie, famous authority on Sino-Indian friendship and comradeship in modern times, has cited a telegram which was sent from Santiniketan by Prof. Tan informing the Chinese leaders in Chongqing about the exact date of Nehru's arrival in China. In the same telegram, Tan wrote that he had already welcomed Nehru to China on their behalf, which is rather interesting, reflecting the important role of an intermediary.

I myself never have had such a privilege in becoming a bridge between political leaders of India and China, but have, nevertheless experienced the performance of an intermediary, and the amount of anxiety involved in such activities. But, to an intermediary, every successful interaction or intercourse between India and China becomes far greater satisfaction than any personal achievement. In this way, I am able to appreciate what father had been doing almost all his life and career. A self-centred person might remember the famous line of the Tang poetry: "Wei taren zuo jia yichang" (stitching wedding dress for other girls). But, Tan Yun-shan took up such a role with wholehearted enthusiasm. History though written by millions of unsung heroes would never recognize them. Tan Yun-shan did not mind to be one of such unsung heroes. As Prof. Huang Xinchuan has observed, perhaps such a mood was inseparable from his embodiment of the Mahayana tradition of the altruist Bodhisattva.

I have already alluded to the want of basic understanding of China among Indian intellectuals when Tan Yun-shan first arrived at Santiniketan in the end of 1920s. Today, of course, things have been vastly improved. Cheena-Bhavana has, indeed, played the role of disseminating information and knowledge, building bridges between the two great civilizations. In playing his role as a needle, Tan Yun-shan had had the disadvantage (which was also an advantage) of not being educated from a western university. Disadvantage it was because a section of Indian intellectuals would always like things presented in an impressive western package, whether or not the content was good or genuine. Neither did they show much appreciation for Tan Yun-shan scholarship, nor was Tan mindful of that. He, in fact, took great pride in presenting things with his Sino- Indian perspective which was immensely appreciated by Gurudeva and the old generation Ashramites of Santiniketan. Of course, owing to heavy administrative duty, Tan did neglect in writing what he had conceived as the cultural affinity between India and China. Much of this insight he had carried away to his Heavenly abode without benefitting the posterity. Even what he had penned and published might not have been agreed universally because of his strong accent on the positive side - the brotherly feelings between the Indian and Chinese peoples.

Today, we see the Indian intellectual world sharply divided on the perception of China which remind us the ancient debate between Mencius and his contemporary, Xunzi (also spelled as Hsun-tsu). While Sunzi thought human nature was evil (something like the Christian belief of man being born in sin), Mencius strongly refuted it and forcefully expounded Confucius' basic idea that "Men are by nature inclined towards each other, but social practices created a distance between them". (Xing xiangjin ye, xi xiang yuan ye.) It is also like the Rama and Ravana dichotomy in the Indian religious preachings. (In north India Ravana is a devil, but in south India and Sri Lanka he is a hero.) At the root of such controversy we see Sino-Indian understanding much influenced by the views, perspectives, information, disinformation, distortion etc. that have infiltrated through the western-culture-dominated mass media. But, all those who have cared to study China based on truth and true information are @ by and large agreeable with the Tan Yun-shan school that the two great civilizations are not poles apart, but are closest cultural cousins.

We are fortunate to have a few contributions from eminent Chinese scholars who are in the forefront of Indian studies in present China. They all testify to the influence from Tan Yun-shan's writings in their formative years, and the inspiration from him to promote Sino-Indian understanding. Prof. Lin Chengjie and Prof. Huang Xinchuan, with their vast knowledge of Chinese source materials, have revealed things about Tan's impact which 1 have not heard of (perhaps Tan Yun-shan himself had not too). One instance was an exchange of correspondence between Gandhiji and H.H. Kung (Kong Xiangxi or Kung Hsiang-Hsi), Vice-Premier of the National Government of China, both of whom had used Tan Yun-shan as their messenger. In 1939, when Tan returned to India from China (via Chongqing or Chungking), H.H. Kung asked him to carry a letter to the Mahatma wishing to strengthen friendship between the two peoples. In 1940, when Tan again visited Chongqing, he carried with him a reply from Gandhiji which said that Kung's desire for strengthening India-China friendship had evoked a strong response from his heart." (See Lin Chengjie's article in this volume.) 1 have searched the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, but have missed this letter which, as Prof. Lin informs us, was carried by Xinhua Ribao (Xinhua Daily which was the mouth organ of the CPC) on February 13, 1940 and created a strong impact among the people of China.

Although being alluded to in this volume by others too, I should not omit mentioning the most important errand in Tan Yun-shan's life as a messenger of important messages. This was his carrying a letter from Toga to the head of state of China, Chiang Kai-shek written on April 12, 1938 in support of China's fighting against the Japanese aggression, The letter was delivered personally by Tan when he was given an audience by Chiang at Wuchang on July 9 of the same year. Chiang's reply to Tagore was dated Hangzhou July 14. In this letter, Chiang addressed Tagore as "Gurudeva" which was quite unusual. One can see the needle of Tan Yun-shan working, trying to make friendly contacts between the great personalities of the two countries more affectionate, and striking a greater echo. One cannot but point out that the Nationalist Government of China showed great sensitivity in cultivating friendship with public leaders of India, like Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru, and many others. This paid rich dividend, particularly in winning the sympathy of the Indian public for China's Anti-Japanese War. Here, once again, we see the needle of Tan Yun-shan moving. On February 18, 1933, when Tan informed Tagore about the establishment of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society, he also told Gurudeva that he had had an audience with Chiang Kai-shek who was supportive of the idea. Later events showed that Chiang was generous in sanctioning funds and even donating from his own pocket for the creation and maintenance of Cheena-Bhavana. It is immaterial how much credit should be given to Tan's efforts in enlisting Chiang Kai-shek's government as a strong supporter to Tagore's endeavours in Santiniketan. That the needle of Tan Yun-shan could reach the high circles of the two countries is all what the chroniclers should take cognizance of. It was Tan's and many others' needles which have created a tapestry of Sino-Indian cultural interface and synergy.

 

5. Anti-Japanese War

Just after Santiniketan had given birth to the new institution of Cheena-Bhavana, Japan donned the mantle of an anti-China imperialist power and launched a full scale war against China. "There is not a single peaceful desk in the entire North China" was the description of the Chinese response to the new situation at that time. Tan Yun-shan's new desk in Cheena-Bhavana was equally disturbed even before he had time to settle down in his work.

I was in Changsha at that time just an 8 year old boy. Father had sent money and mother had got a two-storeyed red brick house built up outside the Northern Gate of the city. Tne house was surrounded by green vegetable fields. After starting the war on China, Japanese planes raided the interior of the vast country hitting civilian targets with the aim of demolishing China's anti-Japanese fighting morale. Our house became an eminent target of this senseless Japanese bombing. I still remember vividly that one day when my mother took four children and a maid hiding in the anti-air-raid shelter, leading the kids to chant the name of Avalokitesvara to pacify the nervousness that had seized all of us, there was such a tremendous explosion nearby what I thought was the announcement of the doomsday. After the alarm was lifted, we rushed outside to see what had happened, Our house which had been locked had its doors broken open. All the windowpanes were smashed. It was as if the God of Death had inspected the house, The Japanese pilot missed the aim of our house by about ten yards, killing a peasant working in the field. Mother was panicky and immediately sent a telegram to Santiniketan. In this way, Tan Yun-shan and the newly established Cheena-Bhavana ware cast under the shadow of the Japanese aggression against China.

Though India was not directly involved in the Sino-Japanese War, then, and the colonial masters - the British-were dubious in their attitude, the people of India, led by Tagore and others, were loud in voicing condemnation against the Japanese aggressor. Tan Yun-shan had contributed to this sympathy wave in India and also benefited from it. He sent reports and articles to China, conveying to the Chinese government and people about India's support which was no small encouragement as I have already alluded to. Meanwhile, Tan was instrumental to the obtaining of information and reports about the heroic struggle on the part of the Chines soldiers and civilians in resisting the formidable Japanese invasion. Furthermore, Tan himself joined a public campaign in India with speech and writing in support of the Chinese war effort and denouncing the Japanese aggression.

On October 13, 1940, Tan Yun-shan published an article in the Hindusthan Standard, Calcutta entitled "China and the European War". In this article, he wrote "in spite of all diversities, this small world of ours forms an integral whole". Then, "China needed and still needs much help, and she has got and is getting it from countries all over the world, excepting one - her own enemy. But China did not and does not depend on any country besides herself:" He continued, "The arrogant and rabid Japanese militarists thought that they could conquer China in three months. The outside world also was of the same wrong opinion:" After reminding the readers that China had already successfully resisted the Japanese aggressors for more than three years, Tan reiterated, "Under whatever circumstances and in whatever difficulties, China will not cease to fight, until she will achieve her ultimate victory. She will never stop to resist unless the Japanese themselves withdraw or are wiped out from China."

On June 13, 1943, Tan Yun-shan delivered the Presidential Address in the United Nations' Day Public Meeting organized by the Provincial National War Front of Bengal in which he made four points. First, the Anti-Japanese War was a world war, "very really our war, and we all must fight in it to the best of our ability". Second, the war was fought "between democracy and tyranny, between justice and injustice, between decency and indecency and between humanity and brutality". Third, "We must have complete faith and full confidence in the United Nations' victory." Fourth, "we must not only win the war but also win the peace", "we must not only win the war for the present time but win the war for ever".

In, another speech delivered on July 7th, 1943 at the meeting held at Santiniketan celebrating "China Day" and commemorating the 6th anniversary of China's Anti- Japanese War, Tan Yun-shan pointed out that the Japanese militarists were the most guilty among the three criminal states of the Axis. He listed 11 events of the crimes committed by the Axis in 11 years between 1931 and 1941 out of which 6 were committed by Japan. Responding to Real Admiral Yarnell's statement in the USA that "there is a possibility that the Chinese Nationalist Government may collapse unless effective aid is forthcoming soon", Tan wrote, "we want aid to come through our merit in the war, not through any kind of pity on the part of our allies. We want our allies to help us to defeat our common enemy but not for any charitable purpose. We can claim every aid and help from our Allies because we are also helping and aiding our Allies in the war."

These examples show that the Professor of Chinese Studies had transformed himself into a diplomat, even a spokesman of the Chinese Government which was very unusual of Tan Yun-shan's character. China was at the juncture of a life-and-death struggle, and almost all Chinese intellectuals got agitated and threw themselves into the national crisis. Tan Yun-shan did not lag behind such a national mood.

A significant thing Tan Yun-shan did was his issuing "An Appeal to Conscience" on September 24, 1942 which was carried by all the Indian newspapers, and was published as a special article in the Modern Review, Calcutta, and the Blitz, Bombay. The full text of the "Appeal" is included in this volume for the reference of our readers, It is a daring statement first appealing to the "Indian brethren" to join the international fight against the Axis, particularly Japan. He appealed: "My dear and respected Indian brethren, cease your present mass movement against the British Government, join the United Nations, and fight the aggressive Axis, especially the Japanese invaders!" Then, he appealed to the British Authorities to immediately declare India as an independent nation, and, then, handing over power to the Indian leaders. "if" Tan stated, "you declare India  independent and free just now, you will not only gain the heart of the 400 million Indian people, but also obtain the praise, enthusiasm, appreciation and admiration of the United Nations:' In the end, he appealed: "I most earnestly and humbly appeal and pray to you, far-sighted British statesmen, for everybody's sake and for many reasons, to declare India independent and free, and to form an Indian National Government, enabling the Indian people to join the war totally and wholeheartedly to finish the Axis as soon as possible."

I wonder what Gurudeva would say, if he had read Tan Yun-shan's appeal. But, Gurudeva had already condemned the Japanese aggression on China most strongly, expressed sympathy for the Chinese government and people, and demonstrated his confidence about China's final victory. This he did in various letter and statements, particularly his correspondence with the Japanese poet Noguchi (see "Poet to Poet" in this volume) The Japanese had tried their best to win support from Tagore (at least securing his neutrality in the Sino-Japanese War), knowing that Tagore not only had a great influence over Indian intellectuals and the common people, but also had enjoyed tremendous prestige among the international community. Japanese agents tried to present Tagore with valuable antics in order to "bribe" Gurudeva. However, Gurudeva was very firm in his attitude. Tan Yun-shan's vantage point vis-a-vis the Japanese in influencing Tagore, and Cheena-Bhavana's being a part of Visva-Bharati were not insignificant factors in defeating the Japanese efforts in winning Toga over.

There is yet another episode worth mentioning. Chiang Kai-shek, being the Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Theatre of the Allied Forces in World War II, wanted to secure the Indian rear to backup the war efforts. But, the deteriorating political situation in India worried him extremely. Thus, he and Madam Chiang Kai-shek visited India in 1942 to persuade the leaders of the Indian independence movement to see that the Indian situation would not become out of control. Initially, the Chiangs had planned to go to Sevegram to meet Mahatma "Gandhi, but the programme was cancelled (causing Gandhiji's displeasure). Chtang Kai-shek had no special interest in visiting educational institutions, while Tagore had already passed away. Yet, he made it a point to visit Santiniketan, and spent a couple of hours in Cheena-Bhavana. This might be interpreted as the Chinese governments recognition of the importance of Cheena-Bhavana's and Prof. Tan Yun-shan, but there was a secret agenda, i.e. to meet Jawaharlal Nehru. It was all arranged, and Nehru was there at the gate of Cheena-Bhavana to welcome the Chinese head of state and the first lady whom he had already met in Chongqing. Nehru and the Chiangs carried on talks from Santiniketan to Calcutta inside the special train for the Chinese head of state, accompanied by Tan Yun-shan who acted both as a liaison and also an interpreter, sometimes. The visit was fruitful because of Gandhi's special letter to Chiang later in June that year pledging that (a) "I would personally agree that the Allied Powers might, under treaty with us, keep their armed forces in India and use the country as a base for operations against the threatened Japanese attack", and (b)"whatever action I may recommend [for the Quit India Movement] will be governed by the consideration that it should not injure China, or encourage Japanese aggression in India or China". (See Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 76, pp. 223-26.)

Such a pledge not only stands in the history of India-China relations as an exemplary instance of friendship and self-sacrifice, but is also very rare among friendly nations of the world. Nehru had played a vital role in the whole episode, and Tan Yun-shan's contribution also cannot be denied. Perhaps, this was one of the main considerations for the National Government of China to award the "Victory Medal" to him after the victory of the War in 1945.

Tan Yun-shan's role as a weaving needle of friendly bonds between India and China continued. Dr. Basu, who was one of the five doctors sent by the Indian Congress and Nehru to the Chinese anti-Japanese war front (along with Dr. Atal, Dr. Cholkar, Dr. Kotnis, and Dr. Mukherji) once said talk in Delhi that when they reached Wuhan in central China they were looked after and helped by Tan Yun-shan who was also there. Tan told his children that the first thing he did for the Indian doctors was to give each of them a Chinese name. Name-giving is an art, particularly christening foreigners in Chinese. Tan used the transliteration method but also inserted the letter "hua" (meaning "China") in all the names. While other doctors left China one after another, Dr. Kotnis alone breathed his last in China's war front. Chinese leaders, from Mao Zedong onwards sent affectionate condolence messages, and there is now a Kotnis Memorial at Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province. Kotnis has become a household name in China. But, the Chinese know him not as "Kotnis", but "Ketihua" -the Chinese name created by Tan Yun-shan.

 

6. Reunion with Past

Tan Yun-shan's life and career in India had witnessed earth-shaking changes in both the countries. First, India obtained her independence, and many of his old acquaintances became the leading figures of the Government of India. Jawaharlal Nehru whose friendship with Tan could he traced back to early 1930s was free India's first Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. Moreover, Nehru took away from Santiniketan, Mr. Anil Kumar Chanda, Gurudeva's secretary, and the closest friend of Tan at Santiniketan, and made him Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Another interesting and significant happening was that all the first three Presidents of Republic of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. S. Radhkrishnan, and Dr.Zakir Husain had all joined the Sino-Indian Cultural Society as ordinary members before the Independence.

Things were developing from the Indian side in a manner that Tan Yun-shan was destined to play a greater role now that so many of his old friends had moved into the Indian government edifice. The Nationalist Government of China had realized this development. In 1947, when it appointed its first Chinese Ambassador to independent India (in the person of Luo Jialun or spelled as Lo Chia-lun), it also designated Tan Yun-shan as "Wenhua daibiao" i.e. the "Cultural Representative" of China. Tan told his family that some Nationalist leaders felt a little apologetic that he was not chosen as China's Ambassador to India. Here also there was some delicate relationship between Tan Yun-shan and the Chinese Government which father had confided to me. The President ship of the Chinese chapter of Sino-Indian Cultural Society, after the passing away of Cai Yuanpei, passed on to Zhu Jiahua (or Chu Chia-hua) who wasthe Chief Secretary of the Kuomintang (KMT). I remember when I was taken to the receptions for father in Hunan during his brief visits, many among the hosts were Kuomintang Party workers, perhaps because of the influence of Zhu Jiahua. As Tan worked so closely with the KMT leaders, there invariably emerged the desire to absorb him into the Party which Tan had repeatedly declined with polite firmness. Tan, in his early years had followed Mao Zedong and other progressive youths who had all distinguished in the CPC either as martyrs or as surviving heroes and leaders. That probably inhibited him a bit from joining the KMT. But, he was basically a man not cut out for politics, and he would like to keep himself aloof from the political struggles in China. When friends in Chongqing asked him whether he was unhappy to have missed the ambassadorship, he laughed and replied that never had he expected or aspired for that appointment.

Indian leaders welcomed Tan's new designation with warm feelings. Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari), the first Indian Governor General of independent India, said in his message of July 7, 1948 that "It gives me great pleasure to note the renewal of your office of cultures in India as representative of China:' Nehru wrote on August 26, 1948: "I am glad to learn that the Education Ministry of China have appointed you to act as China's Cultural Representative in India. I hope that with your assistance and advice we shall develop further cultural contacts with China."

But, there was no change in the function of Tan Yun-shan after donning the new hat, He continued to be a teacher, and an academician, the Director of Cheena-Bhavana in Visva-Bharati. He had always been (even when he was not officially designated) and continued to be more than a head of a department of an Indian university, and his activities continued to exceed the boundaries of the university and the country (which had started from day one when he had just been a man without government designations). Again, he continued to be a bridge between the two cultures, and a needle trying to weave cultural bonds between India and China. As usual, the funds for running Cheena-Bhavana continued to come from the Chinese government and public till the overthrow of it on the mainland. Of course, now that he was a government "representative" fund raising would become easier than before.

Then, came the earth-shaking changes in China - the fall of the KMT regime, and the establishment of the People's Republic of China. A close friend and powerful patron of Tan Yun-shan, i.e. Tai Chi-tao (thinktank of Chiang Kai-shek), did not follow the KMT withdrawal to Taiwan. Instead, he committed suicide at Guangzhou, the last KMT bastion on the mainland, in 1949. This gave Tan Yun-shan the greatest shock in life.

The revolutionary change of China could be clearly visualised in India, while Nehru had already seen the writings on the wall even a couple of years before. Giving the special nature of Cheena-Bhavana and its close financial dependence on the KMT government, Tan Yun-shan's position became somewhat precarious, and he was prepared to withdraw himself from the scene. Nehru stabilized his unstable mind and asked him to continue to function as a bridge between the two cultures. However, whether he and Cheena-Bhavana could continue to play its erstwhile intermediary role in between the two governments would have to depend on the negotiations between India and the new Chinese regime in Beijing. Such a negotiation, unfortunately, never took place. But, Tan Yun-shan stayed on pursuing his work in promoting cultural relations between China and India irrespective of the changing political scene.

While the mental stabilization had to take a course, it had been very well known that Tan Yun-shan had shared the education of the same school with the top Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong - at the First Normal School of Hunan. People began to gossip, speculate, and some of it did feed back to Tan Yun-shan. Never an insensitive conservative or an ivory-towerish pedant, Tan was seized by turbulent surging emotions which resembled what he had experienced when he stood at the beach of Singapore almost three decades ago. The year 1959 was a difficult year for Cheena-Bhavana as its financial resources were cut off, and he had to go to Calcutta and Darjeeling to seek donations from the Chinese community to meet the maintenance expenses of the institution.

He composed a few poems in this year from which his unstable mind can be detected. One poem reads (in English translation):

"Confucius codified historical vicissitudes

With a spell of mighty canonical speech.

Buddhadharma dwarfed lords and empires

An eternal course to practise and preach.

With an un-erasable heart I tread sages' steps

For centuries and millennia never laid to rest.

Missions fulfilled, I am happy and my mind runs out,

Why on earth should I worry my whereabouts."

Another poem reflects a totally different mood, its translation reads:

"Lofty is the Heng Mountain shrine

With exuberant scenaries around,

Hunan abounds in rivers and ponds

Heroes innumerable beyond count.

I long for the romantic memories

Where are they now? I wonder.

Beyond the sea at the corner of yonder

Land the old country is beckoning to me".

In the first poem the idea of "whereabouts" (meaning where to go) was definitely haunting him, although he wanted to take refuge in the nobleness of missions that made him emulate the past sages like Confucius and the Buddha. But the second poem took his mind to his native province Hunan which was famous for the holy shrine at the top of the Heng Mountain. He was chasing the romantic memories out of which had emerged the innumerable heroes, some dead, some were now presiding over the state affairs of China.

Another thing Tan Yun-shan did in the same year was to address a letter to Chairman Mao Zedong with the aim of reviving the erstwhile acquaintance. Lest it would be taken as one of the thousands of self-seekers to touch the feet of the new masters, his was an entirely different letter with three serious suggestions:

(1) Stop leaning on one side (referring to Mao's famous essay of 1949 in which Mao had advocated leaning on the Soviet Union),

          (2) Pursuing Sino-Indian friendship,

          (3) Peaceful solution of the Nationalist-Communist dispute.

He waited and waited, for many years there was no reply. Later, when Mao received Tan in Beijing in 1956, Mao said two things. First, when he read the letter he could not connect the name of Tan Yun-shan with one of the old boys in his memory, but after some time he remembered. Second, about the three suggestions he decided only to accept the second. Then, he began to lecture Tan about the world equations, and how the new Republic could not afford to be without international support, and how the Soviet Union was truly reliable'. Tan was only too happy to meet the cynosure of his young days and to revive the lost association. He was not in a mood to defend his suggestions, nor to argue with this much greater Hunan Ox famous for his enormous self-confidence and obstinacy. Later, Tan was invited to Beijing for the second time in 1959. In that year schemism had started to develop within the Communist Bloc, and Mao had stopped reiterating his favourite "learning on one side". Unfortunately, Tan's itinerary had listed no meeting with Mao while he was dying to hear what Mao would have to say about his original suggestion of not leaning on one side.

Perhaps, Tan's letter which had suggested the strengthening of Sino-Indian friendship was treading on the territory of Premier Zhou Enlai who had been given a free hand in handling China's foreign affairs, while, on the other, Zhou was also on the look out for people outside the government who could help in strengthening China's diplomatic efforts in winning international friends. The two directions must have converged. However, the Chinese government was extraordinarily cautious in enlarging the sphere of its "united front", hence the long wait. Finally it was Zhou Enlai who signed the invitation to Tan to visit China. By that time, Tan Yun-shan had already stabilized his unstable mood, and started a new phase of his old role as the Director of Cheena-Bhavana on the payroll of Visva-Bharati which was now funded by the University Grands Commission. As Nehru was the Chancellor of the University, and during his annual visit to Santiniketan to preside over the Convocation he always made it a point to visit Cheena-Bhavana and talk to Tan Yun-shan for some time, the University authorities continued to allow Tan to operate beyond the boundaries of the campus, even to freely correspond with the Chinese government as he had been doing in the good old days.

Tan's two visits enjoying the hospitality of the People's Republic of China (by now the meagre salary of a university professor prohibited him from going to China at will as he had been doing before 1950) in 1956 and 1959 resulted in totally different impressions and moods - the first visit was extremely enjoyable while the second not so much. In his first (1956) visit because Chairman Mao's willingness to renew the past friendship, Tan had virtually met all the top leaders. Also the economy of the country was not as bad as in 1959, and the political stability of the new Republic in a much stronger position than in the later year. Another factor that contributed to the diminishing excitement of the 1959 visit was the mishap in the western sector of the India- China border resulting in the killing of Indian patrolling police, and the ensuing tension between the two governments. However, Tan had strengthened the friendship with Zhou Enlai whom he met for the first time in 1956. Zhou not only had a charming personality, but with enormous capacity in seeking and accepting suggestions from all quarters. He asked Tan for advice to improve relations with India in a long session in his office in 1956.Tan suggested the commemoration of Tagore's birth anniversary, and Zhou's visiting Santiniketan to see Cheena-Bhavana and receiving the Desikottama from Visva-Bharati in addition to minor things such as the famous silk factory at Hangzhou making special weaving portraits of Tagore, Gandhi and Nehru. All the suggestions were accepted and implemented. Zhou Enlai visited Santiniketan in January 1957, merely two months after Tan had returned from China. Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana, thus, has the rare distinction of being visited by two heads of state from China (Chiang Kai-shek in 1942, and Zhou Enlai in 1967) - an honour probably no other university of the world has enjoyed.

During Tan's 1959 visit, the border incident took place, and Zhou Enlai proposed that the security forces of both sides withdrew 20 kilometres from the disputed border, Just after this proposal was sent to the press, Tan was invited to Zhou's office and the two had a long session of talks. Zhou wanted Tan to tell Nehru and his other Indian friends that he wanted the border to be tranquil, and the two countries to maintain friendship while seeking a resolution of the border dispute. Marshal Chen Yi was the Foreign Minister at that time. He also invited Tan to his office and talked about Sino-Indian relations. In his typical unsophisticated manner and with a forceful Sichuan accent, the Marshal suddenly said: "You know I am a soldier. If there is fighting I would like to join. But we don't want to fight with India:' After his return to India, Tan tried to convey to his friends in the Indian government his conversations with the Chinese leaders, except, of course, what the Marshal had said about "fighting".

The Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962 had wounded many lives and many hearts of those who had been advocating amity and friendship between the two countries. Those who cherished Sino-Indian friendship more than others also suffered heavier pain. But, Tan worked as usual. Earlier, when Zhou Enlai visited Cheena-Bhavana (in early 1957) his portrait and that of Prime Minister Nehru made by the Hangzhou Silk Factory in fine weaving were hanging on the wall of the Cheena-Bhavana library to welcome the rare Chinese guest, They were still hanging there after the 1962 War. Cheena-Bhavana was such a place during the time of Tan Yun-shan that it was daily visited by scores, sometimes hundreds, of tourists. Reports began to get into Tan Yun-shan's ears about some visitors' objecting to the hanging of Zhou's portrait. Tan ignored them initially. Later, when anti-China atmosphere was on the rise, he thought it wise to remove Zhou's portrait. But, he did not want to do injustice to Zhou, so he asked both Nehru's and Zhou Enlai's portraits to be removed simultaneously.

Nehru, on the other hand, did not want Tan's usual work to be affected by the governmental enmity, The most moving scene took place at Santiniketan when Nehru was there to preside over the convocation hardly a month after the war was over. Naturally, Nehru felt very angry and humiliated by the War, and people expected that he would talk about the War and severely criticize the Chinese government during his speech. But, swing Tan Yun-shan sitting in the crowd, his heart melted. His speech was mild and friendly, as he said the following:

"...while performing the duty of protecting the country, we should keep in mind the principles which form the basis of Indian culture.

In the Visva-Bharati, for instance, you have got the various departments. You have got the Cheena-Bhavan, under a distinguished Chinese scholar [Tan Yun-shan]. That is a good thing to remind you always that you are not at war with China's culture or the greatness of China in the past or in the present. You have no bitter feelings against the Chinese people as such.You are against a certain deed which the Chinese Government has done which is very wrong ,.. if you think that China as a country or the hundreds of millions of her people are your enemies, let me tell you they are not...

That is why I am glad that you have got here a symbol of international co-operation, of co-operation between India and China in the Cheena-Bhavan. While we fight the aggressor, we do not fight culture and we do not fight the people who are friendly to us..."

(Jawaharlal Nehru Speeches, 1957-1963, vol. 4, New Delhi: Publications Division, Government of India, 2nd ed., 1983, p. 27, 28.)

The speech moved Tan Yun-shan who could not hold back his tears. And the moving scene was reported by all the Indian newspapers the next day. Perhaps, this episode would be remembered for a long time to come.

Five years after that Tan Yun-shan retired from Cheena-Bhavana. More earth- shaking changes took place in China, while Tan Yun-shan felt very confused. But, as usual he hoped for the return of friendship between the two countries, much as he hoped China to maintain stability and good progress towards prosperity, He spent a lot time in reading newspapers, and whatever was about China he would cut it out. When we cleaned his drawing room after his demise, there was a huge pile of such cutting which we could not dispose of but to burn them. I stood beside the fire for hours thinking that I was burning father's longing for his motherland that he had never visited after 1959.

 

7. The Modern Xuanzang

Calling Tan the "Modern Xuanzang" is a spontaneous phenomenon in both India and China. My friend, Zhao Lei, told me the excitement expressed by the people he had interviewed in Hunan while talking about Tan Yun-shan. They called Tan the "modern Xuanzang of Hunan". The comparison between Tan Yun-shan and Xuanzang is both valid and inappropriate. Xuanzang declined the offer of a top imperial post made by the all powerful Chinese Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty so that he could remain in the holy order to concentrate powerful Chinese Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty so that he could remain in the holy order to concentrate on translation of Buddhist scriptures and dissemination of the Buddhadharma. In this way, Tan Yun-shan belonged to an entirely different world than that of Xuanzang. However, the two had some commonality in their dedication to the promotion of Sino-Indian amity and understanding, in taking both the countries as their homeland, in their concentration and confidence in the noble cause of working towards a better future for humanity. Another similarity between the two was their acquaintance and personal friendship with the leaders of both the countries. On the whole, what Tan Yun-shan had done in his entire life and career was to revive the "great pilgrimage" described by Gurudeva, in which Xuanzang was the most brilliant symbol. Tan's journey on earth was the continuation of the same journey of Xuanzang. Tan was treading on the footsteps of Xuanzang.

Tan Yun-shan was a man of very regular and simple living habits. His Public activities, particularly moving with great personalities of both countries, had invariably involved him in many drinking and feasting sessions. But, he did not drink (only wet his lips symbolically when the occasion demanded). Whatever delicacies on earth where a total waste on him. He never discussed cuisine just as he never bought a novel. Everyday, he got up before daybreak, and climbed on the roof of Cheena-Bhavana to start his daily "lesson" (gongke as he called it). This was a course of physical-cum-mental exercise combining Indian and Chinese philosophies. During the exercise, he merged himself with the universe. Alas, much as he was eager to pass this exercise down the family line he did not succeed. I, being his eldest son, having maximum contacts with him than all other brothers and sisters after I came to India, was the culprit. I was young and believed nothing in body and mind cultivation. More than once did he express his regret that I had declined the cultural gift passed down by the two great civilizations.

Santiniketan knows nothing about the word of "pollution". When he stood on the roof of Cheena-Bhavana, it was that hour of the day when the sky revealed the most genteel, kind, harmonious, and affectionate face of Mother Earth. The air was at its purest best, and there was no hustle and bustle on the ground, He stood there to great the rising sun with gentle movements of torso and limbs according to a course which he had invented himself. The exercise was, in fact, to integrate his somatic existence with the rhythm of Nature, It was a kind of Kungfu (martial art) cultivating not the physical power, but the mental steadiness, stability and strength. It took the best part of an hour for him to finish. When he walked down from the roof top, his face was radiant, and his movement resembling that of a walking Bodhisattva. But, his "lesson" was finished only by half. You would see him entering his study, and, then, hear a bell ringing gently. He had, by that time, lit a bunch of incense, and begun to pay homage to his "gods" who included the Buddha, Confucius, Ramakrishna, and Sri Aurobindo. He would gently chant a Buddhist sutra (in Chinese) or say his prayers silently. He prayed for the safety of all family members, friends and colleagues, for smooth conduct of work in Cheena-Bhavana, for success of children's examinations and careers, but never for himself. Money never entered his mind during his communion with his "gods".

By nature he was wedded to ahimsa and santi. "Auntie Zhang", a lady who was with him in Singapore (who later treated me like her own son while I was in Changsha), told me that in the early years of Singapore, everyone was harassed by bedbugs. Tan Yun-shan would diligently get up at midnight, hunt for the bugs, catch them, but not hurt them. He threw them out of the window. Auntie Zhang used to tell him: "In this way, you only send them to bite others!" But, he would not change his temperament of non-killing - not even a bug. This obsession of his with ahimsa sometimes created problems for family members, particularly mother, In Chinese cuisine, chicken soup was believed to be the safest and not-too-expensive tonic for health, and mother made it a point to serve this to father regularly. But, killing the chicken was an idea repulsive to father. So, mother had to ask the maid to do it in the faraway corner of the garden.

if there is one element in which the Indian and Chinese civilizations hold contradictory positions, it is "simple living and high thinking" in India, and almost the exact opposite among many Chinese people, Tan Yun-shan, as alluded to earlier, was at once struck by the examples of "simple living and high thinking" among the learned pandits, the moment he arrived at Santiniketan. Later, he became an ardent admirer of Gandhiji -another ramification of "simple living and high thinking". Tan who had promised to be a vegetarian in the face of Gandhiji, tried to emulate the Mahatma by maintaining frugality in life in addition to observing a day of silence on every Wednesday (the Sunday of Santiniketan). This sometimes caused inconvenience to the family, particularly when visitors from Calcutta made it a point to call on the Tans on Wednesdays. So often, like what Gandhiji did, he would carry on conversation with a pen. But, there were also occasions that he had to break his silence if the visitor turned to be important, or a VIP, or had come from afar. Short of the Gandhian spirit of "walking alone", Tan Yun-shan tried his best to walk on the borderline between the spiritual and the quotidian worlds.

Included in this volume is Prof. Yang Yun-yuan's (Y.Y. Yang) article remembering Tan Yun-shan, the elder fellow-Hunanese who had married his first cousin. Prof. Yang dug out from the old files many Chinese poems presented by Tan Yun-shan to him. One of them reads (in translation):

"Exciting meetings atop holy mountains,

Long ago event now I reckon.

How many times have I stood on high

All surrounding scenes before the prying eyes?

Let our Saha-lokadhatu metamorphosize

Into the Pure-Land Paradise,

Where the West Wind succumbs

The East Wind is blowing strong."

In this poem, Tan remembered his going to the Heng Mountain to pay homage to the Buddhist shrines in the company of Yang Yun-yuan in early 1930s. Then, his thought travelled to the present and future. While he revealed that his world-view was basically that of a Buddhist, he also paraphrased Mao Zedong's famous words: "the East Wind prevails over the West Wind" (Mao launched this "East wind" wave in China after the successful Soviet launching of the sputnik in the latter half of 1950s). Here, the eclectic mind of Tan Yun-shan comes to light, trying to synthesize the spiritual with the mundane. Just like Gurudeva, Tan also believed strongly in cultural synthesis and synergy. By quoting Mao, he had no intention to involve himself in the Cold War stuggle between the Communist Bloc and the Western Capitalist Bloc. He was simply using a modern metaphor to advocate the revival of the Eastern spiritual values.

There was yet another poem of Tan Yun-shan cited by Prof. Yang which, too, can help us understand the inner ambitions of the former. The translation of the poem reads (as quoted from Yang's article in this volume):

"Riding on the white horse I head

Towards the path trodden by old sages;'

Something I hold close to my chest:

My great ambition yet to manifest.

Gone are the Tripitakas into antiquity,

Supplementaries are needed for posterity.

Who is ready to undertake the task

To make moderns better than men of the past?"

In this poem Tan Yun-shan revealed himself the ambition to surpass Xuanzang and other historical pilgrims and translation masters. The "great historical pilgrimage" described by Gurudeva has bequeathed to us the Tripitaka literature which is a vast literary treasure embracing all historical writings of past Buddhist masters, most of which are Sanskrit- Chinese translations. Tan Yun-shan's ambition was to compile the modern Tripitakas, i.e. to reconstruct a Buddhistic culture that could be relevant to the modern social conditions. If any individual or a group of individuals could achieve this, as Tan thought, they would certainly surpass the achievements of the past pilgrims. Of course, he himself would not have been excluded from the task. However, the poem also shows that such an ambition still remained only in the conceptual stage.

With such a mind, and his never-say-die spirit, Tan Yun-shan embarked, after retirement from Cheena-Bhavana (in 1967), upon another ambitious plan of building up a "World Buddhist Academy" at Bodhgaya. Starting from early 1970s he got busy by going to Hong Kong and Singapore to collect donations, and to, begin construction at the site of the Chinese Temple just a few hundred yards from the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodhgaya. After the building was almost complete, the money was exhausted, and Tan was too old to get further work going. Virtually, the project was stopped, but he still insisted on staying in the temple. Every summer vacation when my sister, Tan Wen, my wife and I went to Bodhgaya to take him to Santinketan, he had already been reduced to a skeleton. After reaching Santiniketan he was sleeping day and night as if making up all the lost hours of rest during the previous months. Then, with rest and nutritious food his usual healthy and active self returned. But, not many days later the three of us had to go back to Delhi to teach, while he was firmly determined to return to the Bodhgaya temple. Next year, the same thing repeated. In the third year I decided to stop this vicious circle. There was a Seminar in the Department of Buddhist Studies coming up in the Autumn, and he agreed to be taken to Delhi to attend the Seminar. It all went on very well for a few months. But, after the Seminar was over nothing could make him stay away from Bodhgaya. He had no health problems, and with good rest and good food would have enjoyed many more years of life. The life of the temple was too hard for an octogenarian (He had corssed to the wrong side of 80 by the end of 1978). It was sheer want of food and care that had hastened the arrival of the end. I felt terribly sorry about it for not giving every care to him judging from the standard of filial piety in the Chinese tradition. However, as Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi rightly said: "It is a befitting close to his life of devotion that he should die at Bodhgaya:' It was the attraction of the Buddha that had defeated all the affection and attentions of his children. But, he did not suffer before his heart beat stopped. When we rushed to his death bed with great lamentation and inner disturbance, he was sleeping there so tranquil and unperturbed as if still doing his daily exercise. He was really in the state of Nirvana.

The life of Tan Yun-shan tells us that the life-span of an ambitious person falls too short to realize what one wants to do in life. Yet, if without ambition life is not even worth living. Those who equate life only with enjoying comfort and luxuries is no different from the white tiger in the zoo. That majestic show piece is but a pitiable beast who knows nothing about the meaning of living. Achievement can be great or small, but one must leave some mark behind when one bids farewell to mankind so that people will continue to remember you. Today, we commemorate the birth centenary of Tan Yun-shan only because he had left behind some mark, and there is something to write about him, to appreciate what he had done.

Tan Yun-shan could not be compared with Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore. But, it was Tagore that had attracted him to India, to commit three generations of his family to embrace India. When my younger brothers and sisters. Tan Lee, Tan Wen, Tan Chameli (now Chameli Ramachandran), Tan Aujit, and Tan Arjun meet or speak over the phone, they always speak in Bengali because that was how they had started talking to each other since birth. My parents had tried to arrange Tan Lee and Chameli to marry a certain girl and boy from the Chinese families of Calcutta, but failed. Tan Lee, Tan Wen, and Chameli all married Indians - their own choice. India and China are married to each other within the family of Tan Yun-shan. They are also married in the mind and heart of Tan himself, his wife, and everyone of his children. The great union of India and China that was the dream of Gurudeva is realized in a capsule form in the Tan family. This can be regarded as the best dedication of Tan Yun-shan to Gurudeva.

However, when we look again at the aims of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society, we feel that very little has been achieved, and a lot much remains to be done. This is not meant to be any criticism of Tan Yun-shan or Gurudeva, or his followers at Santiniketan. In the long course of the river in which time flows, Gurudeva, Visva-Bharati. Cheena-Bhavana, Tan Yun-shan, and all those who had gathered around them were just the first swell of waves. They just made a beginning to work for the "Pursuance of Sino-Indian Studies", the "Linking up of the cultures of China and India", the "Forging of Sino-Indian fraternity", the "Unity between the nations of China and India", the "Creation of peace in humanity", and the "Preparation for a utopia of Datong (Ramarajya) in the world". Not much has been achieved in our continuous endeavour after the pioneers have passed away. Let us hope that the examples of Gurudeva, Tan Yun-shan, and many other examples before us can stimulate generation after generation of Indian and Chinese intellectuals to work ceaslessly towards the realization of the idealism which the name of Gurudeva, the name of Tan Yun-shan have symbolized. Let us hope, more Gurudevas, more Tan Yun-shans, more Cheena-Bhavanas and the Chinese counterparts of Cheena-Bhavana would emerge in the coming century and millennium. Let us hope that when people are called upon once again hopefully in the not-too-distant future to commemorate Gurudeva, Tan Yun-shan and others, there will be something to console the departed souls: "May you rest in peace. For, your dreams have now become a part of our living."

 

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1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi

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