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Tan Yun-shan: A Cultural Envoy between China and India 


 Huang Xinchuan 


India is the close neighbour of China. Two thousand years ago the peoples of China and India have started friendly contacts and Cultural interactions, resulting in a profound fraternity. Such interactions commenced in the beginning of  the Qin Dynasty, which gradually increased during the former and Latter Han, and reached the climax during Sui and Tang. During Song and Yuan they became further deepened. After entering the modern era there has been a new development, with new input. The Sino-Indian cultural interaction was unique in the history of world cultural interaction was unique in the history of world cultural interaction. All the great inventions and creations, both spiritual and material, of the Indian people were introduced into our country with blossom and fruition. Hence, the great thinker and writer of China, Lu Xun, observed: “Since ancient times India has communicated with us, made great presentation to us, whether it is philosophical though, or religious belief, or morality, or art and literature, even brother and relatives would not be so generous”.

                When we look back at the history at the history of Sino-Indian interactions we cannot but remember the large number of Buddhist monks, scholars, emissaries, scientists, technical experts and merchants etc. Who had carved their ways out of the brambles with an undaunting spirit, braving heat and cold, embarking on long journeys, submerged by diligent work, creating remarkable careers which inspire both enlogy and tears. Some of them recorded their names in history, but many more have vanished into oblivion, According to historical records, from the end of Han Dynasty till the end of Song Dynasty, i. e. in the space of 1,000 years from the second to the 12th century A.D. There had been more than 150 scholars who had been frontline participators in the gigantic undertaking of translating the Tripitaikas [from Sanskrit of Pali into Chinese]. Among themthose whose details are confirmed by historical books included 70 monk-scholars from India. During the period from 10th to 13th century, there were 160-170 translation masters in Tiber among whom 70-80 were from Kashmir and eastern India.

                The most famous Indian monks who come to China from India were Kang Senghui, Buddhacinga, Buddhabhadra, Dharmaraksa, Bodhiruci, Paramartha, Kumarajiva, Subhadra sangha, Amoqhavajra, Vajrabodhi, Dharmadeva, Devabhaya, Dhanabhadra etc. Those who went from our country to India were Faxian, Xuanzang, Wang Xuance, Yijing etc. These personalities who had made outstanding contributions to Sino-India cultural interaction and friendship have evoked an enduring longing with affection among us. In 1994, we organised an international seminar commemorating the 1,650th birth anniversary of Kumarajiva at the Kizil Grothoes in Xinjiang. In 1997-98 India has had commemorative activities for Dr. P. C. Bagchi, famous Indian Sinologist and former Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati. In 1998, we shall be celebrating the birth centenary of the outstandin cultural envoy, famous Buddhistscholars, Prof. Tan Yun-shan.

                After India and China falling into colonies and semi-colonies, although the Sino-Indian relationship were hampered by the colonial authorities, friendly intercourses between the people of the two countries have never stooped. The people of the two countries have never stopped. The people of China and India particularly forget a common front fighting against the imperialist aggression. Leaders of the Indian National Congress led by Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas, Bose, and patriotic poet Tagore had all along cherished deep sympathy and the maximum support for the struggles of China for antiimperialist national and democratic revolution. In the beginning of this century Gandhi had expressed sympathy and support to the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. During the Anti-Japanese War. he sent a telegram of congratulations  to the Directorsof Cheena-Bhavana. Tan Yun-shan, expressing good wishes and warm regards for China. The poet sage of India. Togore, had had very profound affection for China. He admired the outstanding ancient Chinese culture, and repeatedly condemned the Japanese aggression. When China was in a precarious juncture, Tagore asked Tan Yun-shan to carry two letters back to China: one to the highest authority, Chiang  Kai-shek, another to the Chinese people. When he was the President of the Indian National  congress in 1937-38, Nehru launched the “China Day” movement, advocated a universl boycutt of Japanese goods, mobilizing donations to rush medicines and even sent a medical mission to China -- all concrete actions  in  support of China’s Anti-Japanes War. And about all this the first person to be informed by Nehru was Tan Yun-shan. In August 1938, Nehru visited chongqing, and the trip was arranged by Tan Yun-shan and the Sino-Indian Cultural Society. During this visit, Nehru presented “A Note onthe Development of contacts between China and India” (dated August 29, 1939) to the Chinese leaders in which he made seven proposals:

  1. To organize an efficient and regular service of information between China and India,

  2. To exchange visits between the special experts of the two countries,

  3. To establish contacts between the universities of the two countries,

  4. To have direct contacts by post between the movements of the two countries,

  5. To have Chinese representatives to attend the annual session of the Indian National Congress,

  6. To develop a common Sino-Indian policy Vis-a- vis great changes in Europe and the world,

  7. To establish direct contract between specialized organizations of India (like the All India Village Association at Warda, the All India Spinners’ Association at Ahmedabad) and China.

The highest Chinese authorities formulated on “outline of Sino-Indian Cooperation” based on Nehru’s suggestions, and promptly implemented it. All this not only boosted up the morale of the Chinese people, but also pushed the sympathy of the Indian people for China’s anti-war cause to its high tide.

                After that, the Sino-Indian cultural Society under the leadership of Tan Yun-shan was instrumental to Tai Chi-tao’s visit to India which further strengthened the relations between the two countries. After the pacific war broke out, and the opening of the East Theatre by The Allied Forces, Chiang Kai-shek was appointed as the Commandar-in-Chief of the China Theatre. In order to break the British-Indian stalemate, mobilize the gigantic economic and military power of India as input into the Anti-Fascist War, and strengthen Sino-Indian cooperation, Chiang Kai-shek personally visited India. In this visit, Tan Yun-shan  arranged Chiang to visit Visva-Bharati Cheena-Bhavana and Calcutta, carrying out talks with Nehru. The above mentioned activities during the war time revealed that Prof. Tan was an ardent Patriot. For the sake of Anti-Japanese War he tirelessed shuttled between  the leading personalities of China and India, mobilized the support from all walks of life of India for China’s anti-Japanese war efforts, made a unique contribution to the liberation of the Indian nation and Chinese people to the final victory of the Anti-Japanese war.

                Prof. Tan Yun-shan was a renowned Buddhologist, Indologist, educationist and social activist Known in both India and China. In his early life, he was a student of China’s revolutionary senior Xu Teli, Zhang Zhizhao and Buddhist reformer ReverendTaixu (Tai Hsu) and other, receiving their revolutionary ideas. He participated in the Xinmin (New People’s) Association, New Cultural Books Society and the Progressive activities led by comrade Mao Zedong and other. Later, he started newspapers among the overseas Chinese in Singapore, Burme and other places, advocating new culture and new thought. He  created the Literary supplement “Xingguang” (star light) in Le Bao (Singapore Newspaper) and wrote in its first Editorial that “we want to light up the dark lonely  night with out tiny star light.”

                In 1927, he met Tagore in Singapore. On the poet’s invitation he went to Visva-Bharati to teach (in 1928), and settled down in India since then. While teaching in India, he wrote a large number of articles reporting and commenting on the modern development of India for the newspapers and commenting on the modern development of India for the newspaper and journals of China. During India’s second Non-Cooperation movement, he wrote several pieces for Dongfang Zazhi (Oriental Miscellany) like “The Indian National Congress of 1929 and the initial step of the Indian National Movement”, “The progress of India’s independence movement”, “My  visit with Gandhi”. These articles enabled the Chinese intellectuals to have a comprehensive understanding of the development of India’s national movement. His forceful comments registered a mental shoch in the minds of his compatriots in the motherland. He specially commended Gandhi’s doctrine of non-cooperation which mode an impact among China’s followers of Gandhism. In 1931, he wrote in Yindu zhouyou ji (An account of my tour round India) the information he had gathered about the Indian society, folklore, relation, monuments. India-British relationship and his observations. The book created certain impact in China. Yu Youren, who penned the calligraphy for the book, called him “an intermediary of the Chinese and Indian nations, of chinese and Indian cultures.” In 1935, he published another book Yindu Congtan (General talks on India). This book made a completed and indepth record about the colonial era of India During the Anti-Japanese War he brought out Zhonggo Yindu yu Dazhan Lunji (China, India and the War) and other books. They helped us to understand the positionsand contributions of China and India, and gave us a comprehensive and real understanding of the complicated in international relations.

                With a noble resolution of promoting Sino-Indian cultural interaion Prof. Tan Yun-shan went of Visva-Bharati. First, he initiated in 1931 and established in 1933 the Sino-Indian Cultural Society in China. Strengthening Sino-Indian friendly  relations  were originally the ambition and idealism of Tagore and Gandhi, In 1924 when Tagore visited Beijing, He proposed to him that “a ‘Sino-Indian Cultural Society’could be organized to facilitate mutual exchange of information”. Tagore immediately agreed and said that it was his idea before coming to China. He wished a spiritual reunion between the personalities to the two countries to give play to the oriental culture. This thinking of Tagore fitted the Sino-Indian fraternity cherished by Tan Yun-shan. In his Yindu zhouyouji, Tan wrote, “... specially the Sino-Indian relations is the most important of the most important. Apart from out relationship in the past, if we just consider the current situation, it is my firm conviction that if there is no real unity between the Chinese and Indian nations and without their joint endeavour they would achieve nothing be it the strif for world peace or that for world revolution, be it the cause of human civilization or that of that of the human fraternity.”Again, “If we want to save China, and save India, without the real unity of the two nations and their joint endeavour nothing can be achieved.”

                Tan yun-shan busied himself in mobilizin gand organizing support in 1931 and 1933, shuttling between Nanjing and Shanghai. He obtained support from a large number of famous personalities in both politics and academics, like Cai Yunapei (Ts’ai Yuan-p’ei), Dai Jitao (Tai Chi-t’ao), Liang Shuming, Rev.Taixu, Xu Beihong (Ju Peon) etc. The Sino-Indian Cultural Society was formally inaugurated in Nanjing on May 3rd, 1933. Cai Yuanpei was elected its Executive President and Dai Jitao its Supervisory President, while Tan Yun-shan, its Secretary. The constitution of the Society issued at that time announced the tasks of the Society as “pursuing Sino-Indian Studies, channelizing Chinese and Indian cultures, cultivation Sino-Indian fraternity, uniting the people of India and China so that world peace will be prevailing and an ideal world of Grand Equality and Fraternity” will emerge.” The Indian chapter of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society was established the next year after Tan Yun-shan returned to Santiniketan. Tagore assumed Presidentship of the Society. Later after the Poet passed away, Nehru agreed to become its HonoraryPresident. The establishment of the Sino-Indian Cultural society saw it doing a great deal of work in strengthening the contacts between the scholars of the two countries, organizing mutual visits between famous personal ities of the two countries,organizing mutual visits between famous personal ities of the two countries, exchanging studentsbetween the two countries, presentings books to each other country’s institutions, mobilizing donation and relief for natural calamities etc. Prof. Tan always played central role and should red the major responsibilities. The Sino-India Cultural Society laid a good foundation idea-wise and organizationally for the future development of Sino-Indian friendship.

                The greatest achievement of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society was to help the Visva-Bharati (International University) of India establish the Cheena-Bhavana(Chinese Institution). During the preparatory stage of the Sino-Indian Cultural Society Tagore had started talking to Tan Yun-shan about the establishment of such an institution. In 1934, Prof. Tan came to China for help in raising funds for its establisgment. He carried from China for help in raising funds for its establishment. He carried from China Rupees  Fifty Thousand and 110, 000 volumes of books to India. Among the books he took to India some were very rare and valuable, e. g. the Ming Dynhasty edition of Daozang (the scripture of Taoism). In 1937, Gandhi could not attend the inauguration function of Cheena-Bhavana, but sent message to Tan Yun-shan and Tagore

In his inaugural address, Tagore said:

                Tan Yun-shan did commendable work in promoting the studies of Chinese and India Buddhism, as well as rearing up talents in Buddhist studies. He carried on his research in Sino-Indian Buddhist studies and his educational work while he was in Cheena-Bhavana, and has left behind 38 English writings and 10 odd Chinese writings, some of which are related to Sino-Indian Buddhist studies.He had considerable achievement in Buddhist studies. In 1979, in order to recongnize his achievements, Visva-Bharati conferred on him the highest honour -- Deshikottama. His keen interest in Buddhist studies led him to start building the world Buddhist Academy at Bodhgaya when he was an octogenarian. In 1980, when I first visited Visva-Bharati I was fortunate to see him. He talked to me about the prospect of the World Buddhist Academy and varous difficulties in establishing it. According to his plans, he wanted to build this Academy into the centre of Buddhist studies in the world. It would include the “southern Buddhism”, i. e. the Chinese-text  amd Tibetan-text Buddhism, linking up the “Southern” and “Northern” Buddhism with the world Buddhist studies. For the sake of establishing this world Buddhist Academy he set aside considerations of old age and fatique to go to HongKong and Singapore to collect donations. He also exhausted his own savings. His expectations were also rested on Chinese Buddhist organizations and devetees. When this writer visited Bodhgaya, I saw with my own eyes a huge building coming up from the ground, and a feeling of unbounded admiration for him sprang from my heart. His spirit of service is the very ramification of the ultraic doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism.

                Prof. Tan had all along been concerned with the activities of Chinese Buddhists. At Sarnath there had been a Chinese Buddhist temple which was built on by a Chinese mission on the imperial order of the Tangruler, but had vanished for many centuries. The Buddhist masters Reverend Davjie (Tao-chieh) and his disciple Deyu (Teh-yu) of the Fayuan Monastery had made a resolution to reviveit. They faced innumerable difficulties. Later, with the help of Prof. Tan Yun-shan and Indian overseas Chinese Qiu Qingchang and Liang Xiegui, building was completed, and was inaugurated in 1939. Today, this solemn edifice of the Chinese Temple eminently stands  put among temples of all other Countries, Symbolizing the long history of Chinese Buddhism. In 1940, Prof. Tan was instrumental to the visit to India of a Chinese Buddhist Delegation led by Rev. Taxiu who was the leader of the modern movement of reform of Chinese Buddhism. This further promoted the intimate contact between the Buddhist followers of both the countries.

                Viewing from all the above events we see that Prof. Tan Yun-shan was the foundation-layer for Sino-Indian friendship in modern times, and was an important emissary  of Sino-Indian cultural intercourse. He was the architect and builder of the  edifice of Sino-Indian friendship in modern times. With his persevering efforts and self-sacrifice, he had promoted the understanding and friendship between the intellectual and cultural circles of the two countries. Special mention shouldhbe made about his all-out efforts in awakening the sympathy and support among all walks of life in India for China when she was at the most critical juncture fighting the life-and-death battle against the Japanese aggression. Of Course, in his entire life he had encountered innumerable difficulties and obstacles which can be understood. 1998 will be his birth centenary. We shall for ever remember his feat, and march forward treating on the footsteps of Xuanzang and Tan Yun-shan with courage and confidence.


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