IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
A MOSAIC LIFE OF ORDINARY UNIQUENESS
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.
Poet Tangore's visit to China and the
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.
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:
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.
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:
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."
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.
Professor Tan Yun-Shan and the renewal of Sino-Indian cultural activities
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.
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
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
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:
To study the advanced learning of India and China.
To facilitate the understanding of Sino-Indian culture.
To enhance the friendly fellowship between Indian and China.
To unite the two nations of India and China.
To create a lasting peace among mankind.
To promote a World Commonwealth.
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.
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.
some of the initial activities.
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.”
Mahatma Gandhi also sent a message to bless this historical event. His
“I hope this
Cheena-Bhavana is a symbol of renewed relations between India and
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
is a list of beneficiaries in India :
The University of Calcutta, Calcutta, Bengal.
The Uiversity of Patna, Bihar.
The Hindu University, Benares, The United Province.
The University of Andra, Andra.
The Bhandharkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, Bombay
The Venkateswara Oriental Institute, Tirubhati, South India.
The International Indian Cultural Institute, Lahor (Now in
The Maha-Bodhi Society, Sarnath, Benares, The United Province.
The Buddhist Association of Bengal, Calcutta, Bengal.
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.
An appeal for india’s independence
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.
A proposal for world peace
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.
supplement to the three poisons Prof. Tan added the following six evil
viewswhich should be discarded :
The evil view of individual and racial superiotity.
The evil view of private and national self-interest.
The wanton embition for social and political power.
The wanton ambition for personal and state vainglory.
The stupid fears and suspicions of others.
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 :
No state distinction
No racil distinction
No class distinction
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
His friendship with Poet Rabindranath Tagore
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 :
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.
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
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.
His friendship with Mahatma Gandhi
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
The Sino-Indian good-will missions
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.
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?).
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.
rofessor Tan’s way of life
rofessor Tan’s way of life
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.
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
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.
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.
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
is the mountain,
gaze in wonder.
I can’t be there,
mind goes yonder.”
of Iowa, USA
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced any manner without written permission of the publisher.