IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
Tan Yun-shan can be described as the modern Xuanzang. As Xuanzang spent a
considerable part of his life learning Indian religion, specially Buddhism
and visited and stayed in Indian Buddhist universities, similarly Prof.
Tan has done his best to promote Chinese studies in India and spread
Indian thoughts in China through various means.
first encounter with him took place when as a post-doctoral fellow I had
joined Cheena-Bhavana of Visva-Bharati University at Santiniketan.
was proceeding to attend a reception of the visiting Chinese delegaton.
Though I had not been formally introduced earlier to Prof. Tan and Madam
Tan, I recognised them very well. Prof. Tan was walking with the help of
his walking stick towards the meeting place - the Uttarayan. I went to
Prof. Tan and Madam Tan and said, "Uncle, please wait. "Soon a
car of the West Bengal government was coming by the road, towards us.
Without asking anything, I stopped the car and put Prof. Tan and Mrs. Tan
inside the car and told the driver to take them to Uttarayan. The driver
replied that he was from Calcutta and he did not have any idea regarding
the place of the meeting. Prof. Tan who was sitting in the car held my
hand and said, "Neice, you also come with us." Thus we went to
the reception ground, and though he was ushered into the enclosure for the
distinguished guests, he made me sit in between himself and Madam Tan.
Thus our association started.
Tagore invited a good number of eminent scholars both Indian and foreign,
to build up Visva-Bharati. Prof. Tan was one of them who had lifelong
association with Visva-Bharati and who had dedicated his life, time and
energy to build up the Cheena-Bhavana of Visva-Bharati.
first met Prof. Tan in Singapore in 1927. Prof. Tan was a brilliant and
scholarly young teacher in Singapore at that time. Tagore was so
impressed, that he invited Prof. Tan to come to Visva-Bharati and teach
Chinese language. Of course, teaching of Chinese had started earlier there
and Dr. Lin Wujiang taught Chinese, Silvain Levi and Tucci also had
joined. But the Cheena-Bhavana was not born till then.
1928 Prof. Tan came to Santiniketan. In his own country he was a
meritorious student of traditional Chinese literature and culture. He was
born on 10th October in 1898. After the completion of traditional Chinese
courses, he made a comparative study of methods in the sphere of
traditional Chinese teaching, and western methods of teaching. Later he
took up research in western culture, philosophy and thoughts which was
completed in 1924.
Prof. Tan was coming to India in the month of September, in 1928, his ship
was caught in a storm. Then he wrote a poem on the Indian ocean and its
fury. In another poem he expressed his respect and love for India. As he
reached Santiniketan he expressed his joy in a third poem.
Santiniketan Prof. Tan was called "Tan Saheb" by the
Visva-Bharati community. He spent his life in constructive work, teaching,
studying Indian culture and writing. The Cheena-Bhavana and the
Sine-Indian Cultural Society became his centres of activities. When Tagore
visited China in 1924, discussions had taken place there about exchange of
scholars between India and China. For building a guest house for the
visiting Chinese scholars, Yugal Kishore Birla was to donate Rupees twenty
thousand to Visva-Bharati. But nothing happened. At his arrival, Prof. Tan
was till enthusiastic about the programme. Prof. Tan went back to China in
1931 and he met important persons, who could help him for making this plan
a success. Due to their help and co-operation at Nanking [Nanjing] the
Sino-Indian Cultural Society was established in 1933. Thereafter in 1934
the Society was formed in India by Prof. Tan and Tagore became its
president. Prof. Tan again went to China and started collecting funds for
construction of buildings which were needed at Cheena-Bhavana for its
library, guest house, hostels for teachers and researchers. He was
successful in collecting funds and at the same time he collected a good
number of books on traditional literature of China, Buddhism, philosophy
and religion, literature and history. In 1936, the construction of
Cheena-Bhavana was started and in 1937 it was completed. Apart from the
hostels, a few quarters for the teachers were also built.
Tan was not only the founder-Director of the Cheena-Bhavana, he was also
the Professor of Chinese Studies. He visited many institutions in India,
where he delivered lectures on Chinese culture and philosophy. He placed
emphasis on synthesis of Confucian ethics with the tenets of Buddhism. He
highlighted the values of human kindness, righteousness, Karuna
or compassion, Prajna or wisdom, and tolerance. He wished that the
people of China and India would set a good example by showing these
virtues even in the modern world, and should work jointly for world peace.
He always spoke about these ideas.
Prof. Tan heading Cheena-Bhavana, Santiniketan could attract many tens of
scholars from China. Afterwards many of them returned to China to become
the mainstay of Indian studies in China. Pachow and Jan Yun-hua
distinguished themselves as authorities in Buddhism in North America. They
all felt indebted to Prof. Tan. Several good will missions came from China
to Visva-Bharati and Cheena-Bhavana. In 1940 the Buddhist mission came,
and another good will mission came. In 1943, the cultural and educational
mission from China visited the Cheena-Bhavana. Chiang Kai-shek visited it
when he came to India in 1942. Later, Zhou Enlai also came and received
Deshikottama from Visva-Bharati in 1957.
Tan did not stay uninterruptedly at Santiniketan. He had to visit China
many times, for collecting funds, books, manuscripts etc. and arrange for
guest-scholars. Even when Dr. Kotnis, and the Indian medical team had
visited China during China's peril, Prof. Tan looked after this team
there. He was like an ambassador. In India also he had to give lectures in
different institutes or universities. He was busy in organisational work
as well as teaching, writing, publishing etc. Through the Sino-Indian
Cultural Society he published books and bulletins, where he mostly wrote
about cultural traditions of China, unity of all nations, equality and
friendship and about similar ideas.
was a quite, dignified, dutibound, just and affectionate person,
Cheena-Bhavana generally had paucity of funds. Prof. Tan led a very simple
life, completely dedicated to the cause of spread of education and the
ideals of Sino-Indian friendship and enhancement of positive thoughts
Tan was with him in his efforts. Prof. Tan brought up his children in that
atmosphere in such a way that all of them are following the path shown by
their great father.
Prof. Tan did not join any political activity in India, during the 1941
movement he apealed to the Indian political activists to avoid violence.
At the same time he appealed to the British government that India must be
given freedom. According to him there was no power which could refuse the
right to India to regain her independence.
have changed. Visva-Bharati became a central university. Secondly,
Sino-Indian relations suffered a lot due to harsh political situation. In
1959 Prof. Tan went to China, and he tried to ease the situation, But
there was no improvement. Both Cheena-Bhavana and the Cultural Society had
to suffer. As financial resources dried up, enthusiasm of some scholars
also became reduced. It became difficult even to pay Prof. Tan's salary.
Finally Visva-Bharati fixed an honorarium for him. But the institute
became reduced to the status of a language teaching institute only.
Gradually it lost its glory.
1971 Prof. Tan spent his time and energy to build the World Buddhist
Academy at Bodhgaya. At first the temple was constructed and he had a plan
to build it as an institute for study and research. Unfortunately he could
not complete the work in his life time. He expired on 12th February in
shall never forget that this eminent scholar and a great soul with a kind
heart had to come to receive me at the Gaya railway station. But we could
not find each other. When I wrote to him, he replied in such a way -I felt
both sad and happy. I was very fortunate as I could maintain sych a close
contact with this great scholar who was like a saint. Madam Tan used to
see me with a bunch of flowers or a few fruits,
is not possible for anyone to forget him, who had been in close contact
with him, such was his personality. His ex-students, and a few persons who
had worked under him cherished him with great regard and reverence. It is
not possible to describe adequately, his life and his work in these few
©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.