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Proessor Tan Yun-shan 

The Man and His Mission 

V G Nair 



Among the few notable names  associated with the movement of reviving Sino-Indian cultural  relations in India during this century that of Professor Tan Yun-Shan, Founder principal  of Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana, in Santiniketan occupies an honoured place unparalleled in the history of resurgent  Asia. Thirty long years of ceaseless service in the cause  of strengthening Sino-Indian relations, the major portion of it spent in the sweet company of India’s beloved Poet Rabindranath Tagore, is the proud record of this Chinese savant who personifies all that is highest and noble in Sino-Indian culture. As the pioneer of the movement of Sino-Indian cultural Ambassador of modern China to the Indian people who has opened a new chapter of progress and reform in all affairs that affected the welfare of India and China. To the task of restoring  the broken cultural ties, of bringing together all that is best and noblest in Indian and Chinese races and of blending each other’s culture and force of his brilliant intellect and personality ever since he landed in India in 1928.

                A native of Hunan Province, Tan Yun-Shan came to Santiniketan at the instance of Gurudeva Rabindranath Tagore with the mission of creating better understanding between India and China. And in collaboration with the Poet he organised the Chinese Department, Cheena-Bhavana, in the Visva-Bharati University and initiated the Sino-Indian Cultural Society in India and China. In this endeavour he succeeded in enlisting the active support of such leaders  like Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other well-known personalities  of India. As a close associate and trusted colleague of Poet Tagore, his work in India brought  him into intimate contact with the leaders and people of all nationalities and religions. He was especially fortunate in winning the esteem of Gandhiji  with whom he was in constant  contact for several years. Gandhiji had promised him on several occasions that he would visit China the moment India attained independence. And while Tan Yun-Shan was in his motherland a few months before Gandhiji’s martydom, he had made all arrangements with the Chinese Government and leaders to invite Gandhiji to China. But shortly after came  the tragic  news of the Mahatma’s passing away. In Gandhiji’s moral weapon of ‘soul force’ Tan Yun-Shan saw the most powerful implement ever invented by the wisdom of modern man for rooting out all evils and alleviate  human sufferings. He is also one of the trusted friends of Jawaharlal Nehru, whose inborn passion for all that is best in Chinese culture and civilization has become almost proverbial in India. It is no wonder that our prime Minister has become capativated with the magnetic personality of Tan Yun-Shan, because he could be rightly chosen as the Mahatma  of China.

                Tan yun-Shan is of varied temperments; silence being his golden rule in every day life mingled with occasional  flashes of polished talks on culture and wisdom. He is spiritually a Buddhist, intellectually a Confucian, a Humanitarian in social outlood and Gandhian in daily life. A college  mate and personal friend of Mao Tse-Tung, the supreme leader of New China, he is held in high esteem by all parties and people of China. A firm believer in the “one word” ideal of Confuius, China’s ancient Sage, it is his conviction that  this life preserwing ideal could be realized only through the adaptation and practise of Gandhiji  in the Socio-economic and political affairs of mankind. It is his wish that every one should learn and understand more about the fundamentals of the Confusian precept, “All within the four seas are Brethren” which according to him is intrinsically based  on the doctrine of Ahimsa expounded by the Buddha, Mahavira and Christ in the ancient times and propagated by Gandhiji   in modern times with such far reaching and glorious achievement for the peace and progress of India and the World.

                Professor Tan Yun-Shan can rightly claim as the foremost Chinese savant of all the past ages who has lived in India for over thirty years in pursuit of Indian culture and wisdom, not only for his own enlightenment but also for the benefit of the entire mankind. By his long stay in India, he has eclipsed the record of Huien-Tsang, the celebrated Chinese Buddhist monk of the 6th Century A. D. who lived in India for about fourteen years studying Buddhism at the Nalanda University in Bihar and visiting educational centres and holy spots hallowed with the memory of the Buddha.

                May the mission of Professor Tan Yun-Shan, the Sage of Santiniketan meet  with everlasting success in sustaining human brother-hood and world peace is my ardent prayer to the Omnipotent Power that moulds the destinies of mankind.


                In the galaxy of eminent Chinese savants whom the Han race has produced during its long history of Sino-Indian relations commencing from the first century A. D. onwards, Tan Yun-Shan, collaborator with Gurudev Tagore in inaugurating the Sino-Indian Cultural Society of India, and Founder-Principal of Cheena-Bhavana, the Department of Sino-Indian cultural studies in Visvabharati, occupies the is not only an erudite scholar and Buddhist philosopher widely known in this country, but he is also the twentieth century’s standard-bearer of Fa-Hien, Hsuan-Tsang and I-Tsing, the three celebrated Chinese Buddhist monks, who were the pioneers in the field of Sino-Indian cultural co-operation, and who first blazed the trail into India across the Himalayas  to realise  this objective  followed by the exchange of pilgrims and scholars between the two greatest  countries of Asia. Tan Yun-Shan can be rightly called the HsuanTsang of Modern China, for it is he who is responsible for reviving the broken cultural bonds of India and China after an interregnum of nearly one thousand years. Unlike Hsun-Tsang, who came to India to learn and carry her wealth of learning and philosophy  for utilising them to the benefit of his countrymen, Tan Yun-Shan not  only drank deep into the fountain of Indian culture but lidi a true Confucian, imbued with the thoughts of benevolence and charity, he made India hes second home, and settled down at Santiniketan for teaching Indians the glories of Chinese culture and civilisation. An ardent Buddhist  scholar of rare merit, deeply religious, unassuming and silent, he represents all that is best in Chinese  civilisation. The Poet’s bosom friend, collaborator, disciple and co-worker, Tan Yun-Shan is not a visionary, but a man of action. He is undoubtedly the most fascinating personality to-day in Visvabharati. He is still in the vigour of youth and has many years of active service before him.

                It was by accident that Tan Yun-Shan came to India. Gurudev Tagore discovered him in Malaya in 1927, just three years after his historic cultural mission to China. Inspired with Gurudev’s message of achieving world peace through international co-operation Tan Yun-Shan came to Santiniketan in 1928 and took up cultural studies among such intellectuals  and stalwarts as Abanindranath Tagore, Vidushekhara Sastri, Kshitimohan Sen, C. F. Andrews and Nandalal Bose. After a few years, the idea struck Gurudev and Tan Yun-Shan to organise a permanent institute in Visvabharati which should serve as a nucleus for the interchange of students and professors between India and China. With this object, Tan Yun-Shan visited China in 1931, to acquaint  his countrymen with the ideals of the Visvabharati and appealed to them to support the movement of Sino-Indian cultural co-operation. The response to the call was good; and the Sino-Indian  Culture Society was initiated by him in Nanking in 1933. He returned to India the next year and in collaboration with Gurudev Tagore, the Sino-Indian Cultural Society was organised in 1934. The Cheena-Bhavana, with its imposing building and huge library, which is considered to be the biggest in the whole of Asia, outside China, came into existence at Santiniketan in 1937. 

                The Chinese Library in Cheena-Bhavana owes its existence to professor Tan’s herculean efforts. It consists of 100,000 Volumes including the Sung Edition  (10th Century A. D.) and the reproduction of the CH’ing or the so-called Dragon Edition (1936) of the Buddhist Tripitaka along with many separate volumes of important Buddist works and a large number of selected Chinese works representing the Chinese classics, history, philosophy and literature. Ten sets of the Shanghai edition of the Chinese Buddhist Tripitaka were presented to the library by the Chinese people of whichProfessor Tan has presented nine sets to the universities in India.

                This edition of the Tripitaka contains 1916 different books consisting of 8,416 Fascicles of which most were translated from Sanskrit and the originals are now lost in India. It took about twelve hundred years to translate them into Chinese. The translators numbered more than two hundred, all of them were great scholars, both Indian and Chinese. The translation word was executed underthe patronage of Chinese Emperors who lavished millions of money for this noble cause. These books are bound into414 combined volumes and packed withCamphor boards into 40 bundles. The present collection of Chinese books in the Cheena-Bhavana deserves to be described as magnificient and unique. Due to the destruction of Universities, libraries and publication  depots during the war some of these books have kept in twenty double-faced glass cases in the first storey of the main hall in the Cheena-Bhavana.

                Tan Yun-Shan, who is mainly  responsible  for this great  achievement within a short span of time, was born in the province of Human in a distinguished family of scholars. Before coming to India, he devoted himself to several years of vigilant studu on Chinese classical literature and philosophy. If he had settled in China, there is no doubt that he would have proved a valuable asset to the ranks of public men of that country;  but China’s loss has been the gain of India. Though he is confined to Bengal, he is not parochial. He has presided  over several cultural and educational conferences in various parts of India.

                Tan Yun-Shan is essentially a man of peace. He is not an orator, but he is gifted with the power of expressing his views in  a simple and straightforward way which always capture the imagination of this audiences. He is not a prolific writer, but he like writting to the Press whenever time permits him to do so. He has contributed a good numbers of articles to Indian journals and peridicals, some of which have been published in book forms. Of his publications in English and Chinese, noteworthy are his speeches on the political, historicals, social and religious evolution of China delivered by him at the Andhera University, which are published by Kitabistan under the title of “Modern China”. Among his several Chinese works, the most signigicant are his “Gandhiji’s  Hind Swaraj” “Saint -Philosopher Gandhi” and “Poet-Saint  Tagore”, all of which had a popular reception in China.

                He is simple in habits. He never smokes and eats only meagre food. Always an early-riser, he could be seen in his study amidst his voluminous books. Sometimes , a distinguished scholar, or cultural leader from the remotest part of India or fromsome foreign country , steps in for a discussion on Cunfucian classics, Lao-Tse’s philosophy, or on the intricacies of Chinese metaphysics. He satisfies his hearers with his sober arguments. Polite  in conversation, he makes an unforgettable impression in the minds of those with home he comes into daily contact .

                He is well-versed in Yoga philosophy and practises the Asanas daily in the daily early dawn. He observes Wednesday as his day of silence.

                The life work of this “Chinese  Mahatma” , as some of his numerous disciples and admirers lovingly address him, is centred round Sino-Indian cultural co-operation.  Inthe realisation of this great ideal, he foresees a Greater India and Greater China, rejuvenated and united in common bonds of fellowship and love, the forces of which, he believes, will undoubtly contribut e to a larger extent towards the making of a new world of peace and security.

                In the course of a message, Mahatmaji once described the Chinese hall in Visvabharati as the “symbolises Mahatmaji’s ideal of that  ‘living contact’ in the human form which is so rare a phenomenon to witness either in China, India or in any part of Asia.

                A great legacy has been left to the world by Gurudev Tagore in flesh and bones in Tan Yun-Shan, the Chinese Saga of Santiniketan.


                A trusted friend, collaborator, disciple and co-worker of Poet Rabindranath Tagore is Prof. Tan Yun-Shan, the Chinese savat of Santiniketan , popularly known as the Hsuang-tsang of modern India, Tan Yun-Shan’s life mission is to futher the cause of Sino-Indian cultural understanding, Ahimsa and world peace.

                Tan Yun-Shan came to Santiniketan in 1928 and took up Indological studies under the guidance of Gurudev Tagore. His colleagues and co-workers were C. F. Andrews, Rabindranath Tagore, Tucci, Kshitimohan Sen, Indira Rani and Nandalal Bose. Inspired by the Gurudev, Tan Yun-Shan founded the Sino-Indian Cultural Society of  India and the Cheena-Bhavana, the department of Sino-Indian Cultural  Studies in the Visva-Bharati University. As the Principal of the Cheena-Bhavana he has trained many Indian and Chinese scholars who are now holding high positions in the educational and cultural life of India and China.

                “What is the most unforgettable episode in your life”? I asked the Professor. After some thoughts, he said smiling “It was my first meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. I went to Bardoli in April1931 to see the Mahatma . “Deliverance of China and the world is through Ahima--pure and uadulterated” was Gandhiji’s message to me. “I was alsoGandhiji’s Ambassador of peace and goodwill to Tibet. During my visit to Lhasa in 1930, the 13th Dalai Lama gave me a message to Gandhiji. The Mahatma later replied  to it in Gujarati” said the professor.

                Tan Yun-Shan is essentially a man of peace. “Culture sees no colour, race or political denomination. It is universal” -- emphasised the Professor. The present  century’s standard bearer of Fa-hien, and Hsuang-tsang, the Chinese  Buddhist monks who come to India centuries ago in pursuit  of learning and inaurated the era of Sino-Indian cultural understanding,  Tan Yun-Shan is responsible for reviving the broken Sino-Indian cultural bonds after an interregnum of more than one thousand years.

                A calligraphist, poet, essayist, author and writer, Tan Yun-Shan is also a linguist. He is a devoted Mahayana  Buddhist and a Confucion scholar of distinction. He is  well versed in the Jaina and Yoga philosophies. He practises the Asanas daily and observes Wednesday as his day of silence. To his large circle of students, friends and admirers, he is known as the Chinese Mahatma of India.

                Tan Yun-Shan has visited China serveral times on his mission of peace. About last year, he was specially invited by Premier Chou En-Lai to visit New China, In recognition of his services to the cause of Sino-Indian cultural understanding, the People’s Republic of China nominated him as a Member of the people’s Political Conference. It is the highest honour to be conferred on an overseas Chines national who has distinguished himself in developing  international understanding and world peace.

                Professor Tan Yun-Shan symbolises the Confucian concept  of the universal Man. He is a citizen of the world  and not of a particular country. He has crossed the barriers of religion and nationality. He is a humanitarian, an internationalist, a Man of Peace and an ardent devotee in the Temple of Universal Spirit.

                The following message to the people of India given to me-in response to my request on the completion of his thirty years in this country contains  the Gospel of Tan Yun-Shan, the Universal Man:

                “Among all the races of the present world, the Chinese and Indian amount to about nine hundred millons, and their cultures have also spread over half of mankind; so it is the duty of these two races to create a Universal civilization for the present world.

                The total amount of the people of India, one fifth of the world population and those of china, one fourth, is nearly equal to a half of all mankind in the world. Such a big number of honest souls, the well  combined and struggling for the common fecility of human life, must have a herculian force and be able to produce a marvellous effect.. The time has now arrived for the Indian to join hands with the Chinese for producing that long expected marvellous effect which will save civilization from total annihilation”.

May all Living Beings Be Happy.

Diwali Day,                                                V.G.NAIR.            

November, 10, 1958

(Reprint from V.G. Nair, Professor Tan Yun-Shan and Cultural Relations between India and China, Madras, 1958.)


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