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Tan Yun-shan and the Renewal of Sino-Indian Cultural Interaction

W. Pachow 


1.  Poet Tagore's Visit to China and the Sino-Indian Cultural Society

2.  Professor Tan Yun-Shan and the renewal of Sino-Indian cultural activities

3.  A Gift of the Chinese Buddhist Tripitaka

4.  An Appeal for India's Independence

5.  A Proposal for World Peace

6.  His friendship with Poet Rabindranath Tagore

7.  His friendship with Mahatma Gandhi

8.  The Sino-Indian Good-will Missions

9.  Professor Tan's way of Life

10. Conclusion

The early cultural contact between India and China could be traced back to abouyt 2,000 years ago. The Buddhist missionaries from India and the pilgrims from China braved the hazardous journey of the Gobi deserts and the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. The did not seek fame, riches or conquest but edeavoured to promote the Buddhist message of peace and compassion, and to collect sacred scriptures for translation. As a sequel it is recorded in the Taisho edition of the Chinese Tripitaka (1929) that there are 3283 titles of sutras, sastras, vinayas, commentaries, compositions and other items bound in 85 volumes. The size of this collection is ten times thicker than that of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Undoubtedly this is a monumental achievement of cultural cooperation between the two countries. Among the Chinese participants the names of FA-hsien (399-416 A.C.), Hsuan-tsang (630-642 A.C.), and Yi-tsing (671-695 A.C.) are well-known, and their counterpart from India such as Paramartha (546-567 A.C.) Kumarajiva (401-413 A.C.) and Amoghavajra (723-756 A.C.) were outstanding. The contents of these translations cover not only Buddhist philosophy and literature, but also Indian philosophy, religion, literature and art including the concepts of karma and rebirth. Thus, Indian influence penetrated deeply into the daily life of the Chinese people, and in due time there emerged many new sects known as the T'ien-T'ai, Ch'an (Zen), Hua-yen and Pure Land in Buddhism, and the school of Mind along with the school of Li (reason) in new Confucianism. They came into existence from the 6th to the 11th century. Initially China was the beneficiary. However, owing to this development Indian Buddhism has been enriched and transformed to a great height. For instance, the essence of Ch'an (Zen) is fundamentally different from that of Indian dhyana, and the Platform Sutra of Hui-neng, a Ch'an classic has received the same veneration as that of the Saddharmapundarika Sutra or the Bhagavad Gita. These are the successful stories of international cultural cooperation, and we are proud to declare that it is a glorious chapter in human history. Unfortunately the law of mutation (anicca) remains constantly in motion, and nothing in the world is free from its subjugation including the fortune of nations. Over the centuries both India and China were subjected to tremendous vicissitudes on account of foreign invasions or internal strife. In the case of India, she suffered a spell of misfortune from the Muslin (1526-1858) and the British domination (1858-1948) which lasted for 422 years. A nation that loves freedom and spiritual emanicpation it was natural that Indian patriots sacrificed everything in order to regain their independence. Due to this and other factors the opportunity of dispatching Budhist missions abroad was not available for many centuries. In the case of China she suffered from a similar fate, namely, the Yuan dynasty replaced the Sung rulers in 1206 until 1368, and the Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1909) dethroned the Ming dynasty (1368-1638) in 1644; Thereby the Manchu rulers took control of the Chinese empire until 1909.  Under these circustances from the 15th century on down nothing was heard of the cultural interchange between the two countries. Indeed, for the sake of freedom everything else has to be kept on the back burner. 

1. Poet Tangore's visit to China and the Sino-Indian Cultural Society

In the 20th century there are many conveniences of communication, the general public are able to travel freely to distant destinations. On feels as if all of a sudden the earth has shrank and the metropolises in the world have become one's nextdoor neighbours. This is and blessing of the modern age.

Rabindranath Tagore, the famous Indian poet, winner of the prestigeous Nobel prize for literature in 1913 was invited to visit China on a lecture tour by the intelligentsia and universities of Beijing. When he arrived at the Ch'ien-men station in the Spring of 1924 he was accorded an extrordinary welcome by a large number of people outbursting of enthusiasm which was beyond all precedent. Prof. Liang Ch'i-Ch'ao, a prominent scholar, in his welcome speech addressed him as the Indian sage and pooet-philosophre, and expressed the sentiment that China had looked upon India as an elder brother, in that she had learnt from India various branches of arts and sciences. In addition, he pointed out that there were 187 Chinese pilgrims, who had visited India, in order to return the courtesy calls of 37 Indian missionaries in the past. He urged that the friendly cooperation which had existed previously between India and China should be renewed, and the poet's visit should mark the beginning of a new era.

While in China Gurudeva Tagore visited many cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjiang, Hongchow including a visit to Pu Yi, the ex-emperor in the Forbidden Palace. Wherever he went he was showered with love and admiration. At the Chinese scholars' dinner party in Beijing Mr. Lin made this remark:

"We cannot tell him how moved and touched by his preseence. His appearance, his eyes, his deportment, his beard, his clothes -- everything abhout him is poetic. He is in fact poetry itself."

As a token of affection he was given a Chinese name 'Chu Chen - tan' engraved on a seal stone. 'Chen-tan' is a translation of 'Rabindra' = Sun and thunder and also a poetical name for China, 'Chu' is the Chinese term for India derived from Sindu or Hindu. Thus it signifies the unity of India and China in the great personality of the Poet. He was much delighted to be honoured in this fashion.

During his lecture tour in China Poet Tagore many a time focused his attention on the cultural renewal between the two countries. The following quotation may illustrate his genuine concern on this subject:

"My friends, this is my mission. I have come to ask you to reopen the channel of communication which I hope is still there; for though overgrown with weeds of oblivion, its lines can still be traced. I shall consider myself fortunate if, through this visit, China comes nearer to India and India to China, -- for no political or commercial purpose, but for disinterested human love and for nothing else."

---- Address to students at Hangchow.

At a fare-well party the Poet was assured by Dr. Hu Shih that his mission to China was a great success, and many skeptics had been coverted to support the renewal of cultural ties between the two great peoples. He stated that his visit was a successful beginning which would grow and show results far beyond everyone's expectation in ages to come. This prophecy came to pass, and it came much soonr than expected. Within a decade of this visit, the Poet actually realized his great dream of Sino-Indian cultural coopration before his own eyes.

2. Professor Tan Yun-Shan and the renewal of Sino-Indian cultural activities

If Gurudeva Tagore was a finger post, then, Prof. Tan Yun-Shan was a construction worker, who laid down the building blocks piece by piece, and built a bridge leading to the forgoten path of cultural fellowship between India and China, although that channel of communication had been covered with wild weeds of oblivion for centuries. We may say that Gurudeva Tagore was the teacher and guide, and Prof. Tan was his chief disciple. Together they formed an ideal team in erecting an edifice of cultural exchange in the name of Visva=Bharati Cheena-Bhavana.

Professor Tan Yun-Shan was born in Ch'a-lin, Hunan provience, China in 1898. In 1927 he had the opportunity of meeting with Gurudeva Tagore in Singapore. On that occasion the Poet informed him in detail of the objective of the Visva-Bharati University, viz., it is a center of learning which promotes the best in world culture, upholds the ideal of universal brotherhood and welcomes everyone to participate in this endeavour. Besides, it does not discriminate in terms of race, nationality, colour, religion, caste and other prejudices. He also revealed a plan which was formulated in 1924, in that it would initiate an exchange of professors to teach Sanskrit and Chinese at Beijing and Santiniketan respectively. However, it did not matrialize.

In 1928 Prof. Tan visited India for the first time. In the beginning he had the intention of going there as a pilgrim to pay homage to the sacred sites associated with the life of the Buddha, such as Bodhgaya and the Deer Park (Sarnath) near Benares, and to study Indian philosophy and religion at Santiniketan. On hearing of the Poet's grand scheme of cultural revival and at the request of Prof. Vidusekara Bhatacharya, director of post-graduate studies, he gladly agreed to start a Chinse class at Santiniketan with five students. Among them three were college teachers and two researchers, and among the teachers Prof. Prabha Mukherjee, a wellknown Benegalee writer and librarian of the Visva-Bharati University was one of his pupils. This was the official introduction of Chinese studies, although earlier Mr. Lin Wo-chiang had taught Chinese for a short time.

In 1931 Prof. Tan returned to China taking with him Gurudeva Tagore's blessing and inspiration in regard to the cultural renewal. For the sake of the noble cause he visited many eminent personalities, intellectuals, scholars and educators and urged them to support the Sino-Indian Cultural Society by becoming active members. As the response was overwhelming and beyond his expection, the said society was successfully inaugurated in Nanjing in 1933. Soon after that he returned to India in 1934 to report to the Poet the successful story. In the same year under the guidance of Gurudeva Tagore the Indian branch of the society was established with greater speed and success. The Poet was very pleased to assume the presidency of the society and Prof. Tan became its Secretary-General. The ideal and objective of the society are as follows:

1.                To study the advanced learning of India and China.

2.                To facilitate the understanding of Sino-Indian culture.

3.                To enhance the friendly fellowship between Indian and China.

4.                To unite the two nations of India and China.

5.                To create a lasting peace among mankind.

6.                To promote a World Commonwealth.

It appears that the first four in the list concentrate on the improvement of relations between the two peoples through the study of their cultures and languages, and the last two are aimed at achieving a lasting peace and creating a World Commonwealth. If there is peace, then there will be happiness among mankind.

According to the schedule the next important step was to acquire books and to collect funds in order to build an edifice for housing the China Institute, the Library and other facilities. For this Prof. Tan returned to China in 1934 for the third time. He stayed there for over a year and was able to collect sufficient funds to start the required construction work, although the total receipts were below the original expectation. On the other hand, the collection of Chinese publications including the Buddhist scriptures amounted to a total of 500,000 faciculi. It was an unexpected success. Thus the Cheena-Bhavana library is the only facility that has the richest collection of Chinese books in India.

These are some of the initial activities.

The Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana (The China Institute-Chung-kuo Shuehyuan) along with several structures was undertaken by the local contractors. In the course of time all were completed. The official inauguration of the Cheena-Bhavana took place on April 10,1937 which coincided with the Bengalee new year’s day. Gurudeva Tagore presided over the function with great joy, because his vision of a cultural renewal between the two nations had been translated into reality, and the Cheena-Bhavana is a living symbol of this reality. Earlier Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, president of the Indian National Congress had consented to preside over the celebrations;owing to a sudden indisposition he was unable to travel, and had to deputize his daughter Srimati Indira Nehru to represent him instead. She read her father’s inspiring message which states:

“It is a very rare opportunity in my life to participate in such a grand ceremony. Therefore, with infinite delight I made a promise to come and take part; I firmly believe that I must come and join in the celebrations. Because the greatness of this ceremony does not confine itself to the ever lasting memories of these two countries in the past, but also points to the great expectation of their friendship in the future. Thus, it will forge a new link which will enable our two countries, India and China to come closer to each other in due time.”

Besides, Mahatma Gandhi also sent a message to bless this historical event. His cable says:

“I hope this Cheena-Bhavana is a symbol of renewed relations between India and China.”

The newly established China Institute known as the Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana at Santiniketan, India is an imposing concrete building consisting of a ground floor and an upper story. It houses an auditorium, a library, offices, class rooms, a reading room, research rooms and living units for students and staff. Owing to its symbolic significance linking the two great nations, it has been a show piece for visitors to Santiniketan.

In regard to the excellent collection of Chinese books its library has four different editions of the Buddhist Tripitaka such as the Chi-sha edition of the Sung (960-1278), the Dragon edition of the Ch’ing (1644-1909), the Shanghai edition or P’in-chia edition and the Taisho edition (1929) along with many valuable publications concerning Chinese philosophy, history, classics, literacture and other classifications amounting to over 150,000 volumes. No other educational institution in India can claim to own such a rich collection of Chinese texts.

As Cheena-Bhavana is a special research department of the Visva-Bharati University, its primary objective is to enable Chinese scholars to study Indian philosophy, religion, history, literature and languages, and to render assistance to Indian scholars to carry out research on Chinese philosophy, literature and other subjects including the study of Chinese language. As a necessary tool Chinese scholars are encouraged to learn Sanskrit or Pali and modern languages like Hindi or Bengalee. Most of the students from China have followed this guideline and it is to their advantage.

It may be noted that the study of Buddhism occupies a prominent place in the research program of this institute, in that the translation of Buddhist texts from Sanskrit or Pali to Chinese and vice-versa is encouraged. As a sequel many scholars from India, China, Ceylon or other countries devoted themselves to this area in the early years. For instance, Aiyaswami Sastri translated the Ch’eng-shih lu = The Satyasiddhi Sastra of Hari Varman from Chinese to Sanskrit as the original Sanskrit text was lost; Sujit Kumar Mukherjee translated the Vajrasuci Sastra into English from Chinese; V.V. Gokhale edited a Sanskrit manuscript of the Abhidrama-kosa-karika in the Roman script; P.V. Bapat who did not go to China, but joined the team of researchers of the Cheena-Bhavana to continue his comparative studies. Later, Prof. Bagchi was appointed Vice-chancellor of the Visva-Bharati University and Prof. Bapat became the director of Buddhist Studies at the Delhi University.

Among the Indian scholars, who went to China to study Chinese, were Amitendra Nath Tagore, a great grandson of Poet Tagore’s younger brother, K. Venkata Ramanan from Southern India and Paranjpe from Western India. Having completed their studies in Beijing, Amit Tagore in due time was appointed to teach Chinese at the Oakland University, Michigan, U.S.A; Ramanan continued his study on the Madhyamaka Sastra philosophy  at Santiniketan and Paranjpe served as a diplomat of the Indian embassy in Beijing. These were the scholars, who went to China, through the official channel. An exception, however, was the visit of Mr. K.K. Shina. In 1943 the Kun-ming Oriental Languages School, Yun-nan, China requested Prof. Tan to an Indian scholar to teach Hindi there. Mr. Sinha, who had been a student of the Cheena-Bhavana, was selected to take up that appointment. He stayed in China for a period of three years (1943-1945). Here we see an opening to new opportunities, viz., Hindi, the national language of modern India was introduced to China for the first time. It signifies that progress has been made in accordance with the changing times.

Among the recepients, who had been selected to go the India for advanced studies, were Shen Chi, Wang Han-chung and Wei Kuei-sun. In a few years time they received the Ph.D. degree from their respective Indian universities. Later, the first two in the list returned to china and served in various official positions while Dr. Wei Kuei-sun preferred to remain in India and continued his studies in the Cheena-Bhavana.

Apart from the official exchange of scholars, from the inception of the Cheena-Bhavana in 1937 until the late 1960s there were about 40 known researchers or students from India, China, Japan and Ceylon who had, at different times, studied in the Cheena-Bhavana. Consequently most of them returned to China to engaged in academic pursuits, and three of them were invited to the West to teach Asian studies in American and Canadian universities. We regret that space does not permit us to go into details.

3. A gift of the Chinese Buddhist Tripitaka

There is a saying in Buddhism that the best gift is the gift of Dharm. The introduction  of Buddhism to China was a gift of Dharma. It preaches the message of peace, compassion, love and emancipation which is similar to the teachings to Laotzu and Confucius. Through the uninterrupted effort of both Indian and Chinese scholars a monumental achievement was created in the form of a collection of Chinese translations of Sanskrit or Pali texts known as the Buddhist Tripitaka. In terms of time it took more than 15 centuries, in terms of human labour, many thousands of people had engaged in this project as volunteers, and in terms of value, it is absolutely priceless. It has been regarded as the national treasure by many Asian countries, and if we appreciate the moral and ethical teachings of ancient Asian sages, we ought to pay profound respects to the said Tripitaka. Under these considerations it is appropriate for China to offer India a gift of the Chinese Tripitaka as a token of gratitude. Besides, the original Sanskrit texts which had been lost in India a long time ago, were carefully preserved in these translations. If China was not in a position to offer India anything in return, the gift of this Tripitaka should receive a warm ‘welcome home’ from the people in India.

On the basis of the above Prof. Tan Yun-shan urged the highest authorities in China and the ministry of education for their sponsorship of donating ten sets of the Shanghai edition of the Tripitaka known as the P’in-chia edition to ten cultural and religious organizations in India. It consists of 1916 titles amounting to 8416 fasciculi, bound in 414 volumes. For the sake of easy handling every 10.35 volumes are kept in a champhor-board binder. The whole set has a total of 40 boundles.

The following is a list of beneficiaries in India :

1.                The University of Calcutta, Calcutta, Bengal.

2.                The Uiversity of Patna, Bihar.

3.                The Hindu University, Benares, The United Province.

4.                The University of Andra, Andra.

5.                The Bhandharkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, Bombay Province.

6.                The Venkateswara Oriental Institute, Tirubhati, South India.

7.                The International Indian Cultural Institute, Lahor (Now in Pakistan).

8.                The Maha-Bodhi Society, Sarnath, Benares, The United Province.

9.                The Buddhist Association of Bengal, Calcutta, Bengal.

10.                The Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana, Santiniketan, Bengal.

From the point of geographical distribution there are three sets in Eastern India (Nos. 1,9,10), two in Southern India (Nos. 4,6), three in Central India (Nos.2,3,8), one in Westren India (No.5) and one in  Northern India (No.7). The reason for selecting them was that there were scholars in some of these centers of learning, who had shown a keen interest in Sinological studies. The names of Prof. P.C. Bagchi and Prof. V.V. Gokhale were well-known in this regard. To have a set of the Tripitaka it would facilitate their research on Buddhism and strengthen the Sino-Indian cultural activities.

4.  An appeal for india’s independence

On many occasions Prof. Tan declared publicly that the Sino-Indian Cultural Society would remain strictly non-political. This guideline had been faithfully observed. However, during the second world war he wrote an article entitled, “An appeal to conscience” fervently appealing to the concerned parties. It was published in the major Indian newspapers including the Modern Review. At that time, India was still under the control of the British, inspite of the fact that her southeastern corner had been raided by the Japanese. The enemy stationed an imposing army near the boarder, waiting for the right moment to advance into Indian territory. In the meantime some political parties planned to utilize this opportunity to regain independence and expel the British Raj from India. It was reported that in order to achieve that goal they would even cooperate with the Japanese invaders. On the othr hand, Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress Party would tread the path of non-violence to achieve the same objective. It was a critical moment for India, the Alliance and mankind. Can one imagine what would happen if the Axis had won and Japan had become the master of the whole of Asia? It would mean a victory for aggression and defeat for justice and righteousness. Fortunately the outcome was in favour of the democratic forces.

Out of genuine love and concern for the Indian people, he passionately implored the British government, Indian leaders and the leftist parties to cease immediately all violent actions such as bombing, arson, robbery, assassination and other acts of sabotage. He argued that violence would benefit neither India nor the British, but the Japanese invader. He compared the aggressor to that of a fisherman, who captured both the victims, a kingfisher and an oyster, when they were in a heated dispute. He warned the parties that such a fate might be waiting for them, if they did not change their course of action. On the other hand, if they could cooperate with the Alliance, India would certainly regain her independence when the Axis were defeated. The second world war came to an end in 1945, and the dream of Hitler, Mussolini and the war criminals of Japan was shuttered to pieces. Indeed, this was a great victory of the good over the evil. In 1947 the British left India returning the empire to its rightful owners. India has been an independent nation ever since. We pay our tributes to Prof. Tan for his endeavour in this regard.

As for his appeal to the British, he beseeched the British authorities to declare immediately India an independent sovereign state, so that a nation of over 400 million people would gladly join hands with them to fight against the Axis aggressors; It would also tear asunder the mask of Japanese propaganda, “As the British will not give you freedom, we shall come to liberate you.” Further, he argued that such a move was not only the wish of the United nations, but also of the British people, and that being a nation of advanced culture, India would treat the English people with courtesy and kidness. If such a step could take place, it would definitely help the Alliance achieve a great victory, and a new link of friendship between India and the British would be forged.

At the end of the war, India was liberated from the British rule of over 150 years in 1947. There were many complicated factors involved in this subject, we hope, however, that Prof. Tan’s “Appeal to conscience” might have exerted some influence on either parties.

5. A proposal for world peace

The history books inform us that among men and nations war occurs constantly, and its consequence is the terrible sufferings of the unfortunate victims. They suffer from the loss of lives, of property, of happiness and of being separated from their loved ones. In examing the cause of war and its prevention, Prof. Tan concured with the Buddhist assessment that the three poisons, namely : Greed, Hatred and Ignorance are the root cause of all evil deeds including war. Being inherent in human nature, everyone seems to have desires for fame, riches, power, influence and sensual pleasures. When these wis are not fulfilled anger and hatred will arise within, and in turn there will be war, murder, arson, violence, death and destruction. These are daily occurences before our own eyes. All these activities may be ascribed to ignorance (Avidya) or stupidity. The individuals, who tread a path of evil, may be regarded as insane, such as Adolf Hitler and his associates. At the end of the second world war they were duly punished for their crime against humanity.

As a supplement to the three poisons Prof. Tan added the following six evil viewswhich should be discarded :

1.                The evil view of individual and racial superiotity.

2.                The evil view of private and national self-interest.

3.                The wanton embition for social and political power.

4.                The wanton ambition for personal and state vainglory.

5.                The stupid fears and suspicions of others.

6.                The stupid jealousy and envy towards others.

On the basis of the above, events concerning the strong oppress the weak, and the majority humiliate the minority have been reported daily, and the practice of discrimination regarding race, colour, nationality, religion, sex and so forth is still being observed in many communities. This would bring them misfortunes and strife. In view of the nuclear weapons race and its fatal consequences, Prof. Tan proposed the following 12 principles as a remedy and a prescription for world peace :

1.                Universal love.

2.                All equality

3.                Complete freedom

4.                Voluntary cooperation

5.                Reciprocal help

6.                Enduring tolerance.

7.                No state distinction

8.                No racil distinction

9.                No class distinction

10.                Non-exploitation

11.                Non-aggression

12.                Non-violence


We admit that some of these principles were preached by ancient sages in Asia, such as Motzu, the Buddha, Christ and others more than two thousand years ago. But it does not mean there has been ever lasting peace in the world. Naturally it is not the fault of the message of peace, to put this idealism into practice. However, we certainly appreciate the vision of Prof. Tan Yun-shan who pointed out the direction leading to an Utopian society of World Commonwealth.

6. His friendship with Poet Rabindranath Tagore

The awakening of Sino-Indian cultural renaissance in the 20th century is mainly due to the vision and effort of two great souls : Gurudeva Tagore and Prof. Tan Yun-shan. Poet Tagore was the finger post and Prof. Tan a bridge builder. Through their cooperation they translated a dream into reality, and brought the peoples of India and China closer to each other. In this chapter we shall learn of the relationship between these two personalities. The following may serve as an illustration :

When Poet Tagore visited China in 1924 Prof. Tan was teaching in the Southseas. Therefore, they could not meet at that time, but three years later. However, before the said date he had read many of his works in English and Chinese translations as well as his lectures delivered in China which were published in the papers. Literally he was watching his every move during his tour in China. Through these writings he felt as if he had known the Gurudeva for ages, except for a personal interview. Thus, a seed of friendship was sown, eventually it will grow, bloom and yield beautiful fruition in time to come.

In 1927 they met for the first time in Singapore. Prof. Tan enthusiastically supported Gurudeva Tagore’s mission of renewing the cultural ties of these two nations, and declared his unconditional devotion to serve him and the good cause. According to him that the Poet’s deep concern over, and understanding of China surpassed that of everyone including the Chinese themselves. He cited Gurudeva’s advice to the Chinese people that the Russian type of communisim should not be blindly imitated, as no benefit would be derived from it. He believed that the Poet loved China as much as his love for India, if not more. Moreover, as the Buddha was born in India, he regarded Gurudeva Tagore to be the most outstanding representative of the Buddha’s kingdom. For these reasons he joined the Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan in 1928 at the invitation of the Poet. He worked there wholeheartedly until his retirement in 1971. While at Santiniketan Prof. Tan had the opportunity of seeing the Poet almost daily. He was a trusted friend, collaborator, disciple and co-worker of Gurudeva Tagore. However, he never attempted to beg favours of him, nor put questions to him like other visitors, but paid sincere respects to the Gurudeva. In turn, the Poet receprocated with warm affection and trust, and he would occasionally initiate an interesting topic for conversation. We shall cite a few in the following page :

One day the Poet showed Prof. Tan a book entitled, “My country and my people” by Lin Yu-tang, and enquired whether Prof. Tan would like to make a comment. “This is a very fine and interesting book, but you may not like it” the poet added. In response, Prof. Tan said, “I also like it. But it does not interpret the whole and the real aspect of my country and my people.” The poet rejoined : “That is why I say you may not like it. Perhaps I should say you may not appreciate it.” This exchange suggests how profound and penetrating was the Poet’s understanding of China and the Chinese people. As a token of gratitude Prof. Tan wrote in “My dedication to Gurudeva Tagore” showing an outburst of appreciation : “O beloved and revered Gurudeva, you indeed grasped the soul of my people, and embraced the heart of my country.” It was written on August 7,1942 in memory of Gurudeva Tagore’s first death anniversary.

At a later date touching on the topic of the Poet’s passing away, Prof. Tan told a friend : “Alas, only he understood me in India. Now Gurudeva is no more and I am like Krishna’s abandoned flute.” With tears flowing from his eyes. We are moved by his heartfelt sorrow and love for Gurudeva Tagore.

On another occasion, the discussion was centered on whether people from different  cultures would consider ‘beauty’ differently. Prof. Tan quoted a saying from Mencius : “All men’s eyes agree in recognizing the same beauty.” To this the Poet did not concur and said, “No, it is not always so.” Then, he related a story, saying, “The young poet Susima (Tse-mo Hsu) who came here, you know, who was quite a handsome person. I asked our girls if they appreciated his beauty. All of them said ‘No.’. At this juncture Prof. Tan advised him that the girls might not be trusted if they were shy. Therefore, they did not frankly admit having appreciated the young Chinese poet’s beauty. This explaination caused an outburst  of laughter among all those who were present, including Gurudeva himself.

On August 6, 1942, one day before the passing away of the great poet, Prof. Tan went in a hurry to Calcutta to see him at his residence. He was in a critical condition ad there was hardly any hope of recovery. Prof. Tan sat by his sickbed silently; He prayed and recited Buddhist sutras for several hours. He hoped that the blessing of the Triple Gem would prolong his life. As the physicians could not render any appreciable improvement, Gurudeva Tagore passed away on August 7, 1942. The sad news spread rapidly to every corner of the country and the world. At that time all florist stores sold out their stock of wreaths and flowers, and one could not purchase any garland at any price. As a token of love and veneration he took off from his own hand a string of amber beads and placed it in the hand of Gurudeva Tagore. This may symbolize the intimate friendship between the two great nations, and the final offering from his devoted Chinese disciple.

7. His friendship with Mahatma Gandhi

In modern India there were two great leaders : Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. The former was a bright star in the spheres of culture, literature, poetry, art, music and social reform, and the latter a national hero and a firm believer in Non-violence (Ahimsa) with which he achieved independence for India without shedding a drop of blood. He was lovingly addressed as ‘the father of Indian freedom’. In reality he was a saint, a holy man and an extrordinary politician. They had their own spheres of influence. Such being the case there were many people from far and near eager to seek his darsana. When Prof. Tan visited India for the first time he intended to pay his respects to both of them along with a pilgrimage to the sacred sites of Buddhism. His appointment with the Mahatma had many changes of time and venue. It was from Delhi to Sabarmati, and from there to Bardoli. The changes were necessary because Gandhiji had several urgent calls requiring his presence at those locations. Anyway, they finally met at Bardoli in April, 1931.

We must, however, report an important event which altered Prof. Tan’s travel plans. In the Winter of 1930 he was suddenly requested to visit the 13th Dalai Lama in Lhasa on certain official business. While staying in the Residential Palace (Noblingone) of the ‘Living Buddha’, the late Dalai Lama and his high officials were very keen to learn of the various activities of Indian political leaders, especially of Gandhiji’s way of living and his satyagraha movement. On his return to India, His Holiness entrusted him with a personal message to be delivered to the Mahatma. As this was an important mission he requested Gandhiji to grant him a darsana, and that was readily given.

On the day of their first interview Prof. Tan solemnly handed over the letter to Gandhiji from the Dalai Lama. It was discovered, to the surprise of everyone, that the letter was written in Tibetan. As no one was able to translate it into English Gandhiji could not know what was the message. In a flash the Mahatma said that he would send an acknowledgement to his Holiness in Gujarati (the mother tongue of Gandhiji) so that the Dalai Lama would similarily be unable to know what was the response. As one was a ‘Living Buddha’, and the other a ‘Great Soul’ (Mahatma), perhaps they could communicate with telepathy, and would dispense with the conventional practice. However, Gandhiji’s letter was sent to Lhasa, Tibet, through the postal service in May, 1931.

During the interview Prof. Tan informed the Mahatma how the Chinese people had expressed their deep veneration for him and Poet Tagore, how they prayed for his success in regaining India’s independence, how they aspired to renew the historical ties between the two countries, India and China and how they hoped to invite him to visit China. In response to the last point, he said that he could not and would not leave India until she was free. He also stated that he had great admiration for China and the artistic living of the Chinese people. Then, he referred to Chinese food. He was under the impression that all Chinese people were found of meat-diet. To this Prof. Tan corrected him and said that was not the case. According to him cows used for agriculture were not slaughtered, and the country folks used to eat meat only on rare occasions such as the new year or wedding celebrations;  The folks living in big cities would have frequent access to a meat-diet. On the whole more vegetables were consumed than meat. At this point Gandhiji enquired of him whether he was a vegetarian, if not, whether he could become one? In response, Prof. Tan said that he would endeavour to become a vegetarian on account of the Mahatma’s personal advice, and he would dedicate his conversion to vegetarianism to the happy occasion of meeting with the Mahatma. On hearing this Gandhiji was highly pleased.

Before his departure from Bardoli he quested the Mahatma to send a message to the students in China. He wrote with his own hand the following message in English :

“Dear friend,

You must come again whenever you like. My message to the Chinese students is : -- Know that the deliverence to Chinese is through Ahimsa-pure and unadultrated.

Yours Sincerely,

M.K. Gandhi

As at Sabarmati, 4-5-31.

Since this visit they had remained in touch. At a later date when the Mahatma was on a hunger strike in Western India, Prof. Tan travelled there to visit him in prison. It would be a happy occasion for both of them to meet once again.

8. The Sino-Indian good-will missions

The inauguration of the Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana took place in 1937. From 1937 to 1962, a period of 25 years we witnessed an increase in the frequency of good-will missions from China to India and vice-versa, some of which were very extrordinary ones. The most outstanding event was the visit of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek in 1941. They saw the Cheena-bhavana and made a brief stay in the Utarayana, the Poet’s residence at Santiniketan. This occurred in the midst of the second world war, and China was a member of the Alliance. Next was the good-will mission of Chou En-lai, premier of the Peoples Republic of China, who visited Santiniketan in 1957. To honour him the Visva-Bharati University conferred on him an honourary doctorate. Later he donated many valuable books to the Cheena-Bhavana library. Prior to this there was the good-will mission of Venerable T’ai-hsu during the Sino-Japanese war and the mission of Tai Chi-tao, president of the Examination Yuan of the Nationalist government in 1940. As a pilgrim he visited various Buddhist sacred sites such as Bodhgaya, the Deer Park and so forth. He wrote an essay in Chinese tracing the historical relations between India and China and praying for its renewal. This document being engraved on a plaque was installed on a wall of the Cheena-Bhavana hall. During his visit to Santiniketan he made a donation towards the construction of a sacred shrine where Mr. Devendranath Tagore (father of Poet Rabindranath Tagore), a spritual leader of the soio-religious reform movement, had set foot on the soil of Santiniketan for the first time. From this humble beginning it has become the beautiful Visva-Bharati University as we see it today.

Moreover, there were private and semi-official missions to India in the 1940s and 1950s. One mission was led by Ting Hsi-ling and Hsieh Pin-hsin ( ) both were well-known writers, and the lecture tour of Prof. Chang Chun-mai who visited many cultural centers in India. It is obvious that Prof. Tan played a very significant role in some of these missions. For instance, he accompanied Mr. Tai Chi-tao to visit the Buddhist sacred spots and acted as a personal guide. The increased traffic of good-will missions between the two countries is an indication of their good friendly relations.

In the 1950s several good-will missions went to China from India, such as visit of Prof. S. Radhakrishnan, an internationally renowned philosopher, and later he became the president of the Indian Union ; The visit of Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit (sister of Jawaharlal Nehru), India ambassador to the United Nations, and the good-will mission of Pandit Sundarlal of Allahabad, India. When he returned to Allahabad, through the suggestion of the present author, he donated all the gifts he had received in China to the University of Allahabad Department of History museum for permanent exhibition. In addition there was an Indian Medical Mission of five physicians who went to China for relieving the sufferings of war victims. Among them one died in China. A book entitled, “One did not come back” was published to record the services of this mission. This must have occurred during the Sino-Japanese war years (1936-1945?).

Besides, there were individuals who had visited China or India in a private capacity. Unfortunately their activities or dates of their visits were shrouded in the mist of oblivion.

One may be surprised to learn that the leaders of the official Chinese good-will missions such as Ch’iang Kai-shek and Chou En-lai were paramount personalities of the Nationalist and Communist parties respectively. It appears that Prof. Tan was equally comfortable in the company of Ch’iang or Chou, and he was a good friend of both. This is because he was neutral, impartial and detached from any political party affiliation. Similarly the nature and purpose of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society and the Cheena-Bhavana have been non-political. This is proved by the fact that some housing units of the Cheena-Bhavana are named after Ch’iang Kai-shek : and Tai Chi-tao, and many valuable books donated by Chou En-lai have been preserved in its library. It should be borne in mind that Cheena-Bhavana means “An Institute for Chinese Learning”. Therefore, let us keep it in the way, and every Chinese should make a point of respecting its independent status.

9. P rofessor Tan’s way of life

Being throughly imbued with the teachings of great religions of India and China, Prof. Tan’s way of life reflected the essence of Confucian humanism and Buddhist universal compassion. He was an embodiment of sincerity, simplicity, modesty, humility, enthusiasim, determination and of being eveready to render a helping hand to the needy. In the area of religious observance, he used to recite Buddhist sutras, to worship the Buddha, to meditate and to practise Yogic exercises in addition to his official duties of teaching and administration. In the area of self-cultivation, the practice of T’al-chi chuan or Pa-tuan chin and a morning walk was his daily routine. He observed silence on Wednesdays, and would answer questions in writing if such an occasion should arise. On Sunday evenings an informal gathering for the imates of the Cheena-Bhavana was held. The participants observed silence for a few minutes. Then, he would recite the objective of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society and prayed for world peace. At the end of the session he would answer questions concerning current affairs or events related to the Visva-Bharati University. To participate in this event was optional. In a way, this might have been influenced by the evening service of Mahatma Gandhi.

During his lifetime many people showed him great esteem regarding him as an ambassador of Sino-Indian cultural revival, a scholar, a writer, a poet and even a Chinese Mahatma. As a tribute to Prof. Tan, Mr. A.K. Chanda, a former secretary of Gurudeva Tagore, had sent this message : “.... a perfect gentleman, a man of extreme charm and piety, and in fact a God’s own man.” This shows how he was respected by others.

Being a good father, he educated and brought up seven of his children, five sons and two daughters with great love and care. All are college graduates, two engineers, one specialist in Bengalee language, one artist, and three teachers in higher education. As a way of strengthening the Sino-Indian friendship one son and two daughters are married to Indian families. It is reported that these children have settled down in India, Canada and the United States.

Around 1971 Prof. Tan retired from the Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana and moved to Bodhgaya, where the Buddha had attained to his enlightenment, for the purpose of establishing a world institute for Buddhist studies. It was an uphill task for him to collect funds for this project. For a period of twelve years he could complete only one-half of the construction due to the lack of funds and other difficulties. In early 1983 he passed away peacefully in Bodhgaya at the age of 85.

A sad note may be added here. When Prof. Tan was very ill and alone, and owing to his extreme compassionate nature, he had entered his signature on a sheet of blank paper which was given to a Tibetan person as requested. After his death, making use of that piece of blank paper signed by him, the said forged a false claim stating thet Prof. Tan Yun-shan had gifted all the buildings and other assets to him. Such being the case, nothing could be done to recover the loss. It is an irony of fate that due to this treacherous fraud, the splendour of Prof. Tan Yun-shan’s immeasurable compassion and achievement will shine more brightly for ever.

10. Conclusion

The foregoing chapters may serve as a survey of Prof. Tan Yun-shan’s achievement is strengthening the link of friendship and cultural interchange between India and China in the 20th century. Now, both Gurudeva Tagore and Prof. Tan are no longer with, us there might be a bumpy journey ahead in Sino-India relations. We are of the opinion that it is the moral responsibility of our two countries to maintain the existing friendly ties through academic and cultural activities. It would be tragic, if this cordial cooperation should silently fade away due to negligence.

A few decades ago the present writer was privileged to pay homage to Gurudeva Tagore, and to sit at the feet of the revered Prof. Tan Yun-shan. In the capacity of a former student and colleague, I would like to share with my friends my personal impression concerning his good qualities. As the founder-principal of the Cheena-Bhavana and Secretary-General of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society he had multiple responsibilities. For a period of 45 years, he toiled indefatigably and sacrified the prime of his life in order to accomplish his mission. Further, in the capacity of an unofficial cultural ambassador, his modest residence at Santiniketan was used to entertain many distinguished visitorhis personal meagre resources. Inspite of all the difficulties he was generous and compassionate going out of his way to help anyone in need. He sympathized deeply with those who were in sorrow, and rejoiced the success of others. He treated his colleagues and pupils as his equals. He was always their sincere friend and guide. Such were some of Prof. Tan Yun-shan’s great qualities. We always cherist the memorable days spent in his company.

On the occasion of Prof. Tan Yun-shan’s centenary commemoration, I solemnly express my deep gratitude and appreciation, and salute him with a verse which was composed by Suma-ch’ien, the great Chinese historian of the Han dynasty, who had dedicated it to Master Confucius. It runs as follows :

“High is the mountain,

I gaze in wonder.

Though I can’t be there,

My mind goes yonder.”


W. Pachow

Professor Emeritus

University of Iowa, USA

October 10,1998.


Paul Demieville, (ed) Hobogirin Fascicule Annexe, Tokyo : Maison Fransco-Japonaise, 1941.

Rabindranath Tagore, Talks in China, Calcutta : Arunoday Art press, (Ca., 1942).

P.C. Bagchi, India and China : A thousand years of cultural relations, New York : The Philosophical Library, 1951.

V.G. Nair, (ed) Professor Tan Yun-shan and cultural relations between India and China Commemoration Volume, Santiniketan : An Indo-Asian Publication, 1958.

Tan Yun-shan, The Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana, Santiniketan : The Visva-Bharati Press, 1944.

My dedication to Gurudeva Tagore, Santiniketan : The Visva-Bharati Press, 1942.

Chinese studies in India, Santiniketan : The Visva-Bharati Press, 1942.

My devotion to Rabindranath Tagore, Santiniketan : The Visva-Bharati Press, 1942.

“My first visit to Gandhiji” in the [Sino-Indian Journal] Vol. I, Part II, and in Nair’s (ed) Commemoration Volume, pp.19-30.

Ways to Peace, Santiniketan : The Visva-Bharati Press, 1950.

An Appeal to conscience, Santiniketan : The Visva-Bharati Press, 1942.

W. Pachow, The collected works of W. Pachow (Pa Chow Wen-Tsun-- in Chinese), Taipei : The New Wen-feng Press, 1985.


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