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 My First Lesson in Indian Studies: Reading Tan Yun-Shan's Travel Account 


 Wang Bangwei

The first time I came to know the name of Prof. Tan Yun-shan was over ten years ago. 1 had reached I had reached Beijing from Sichuan, and was a post-graduate student at the Institute of South-Asian Studies. of Beijing University. Partly because of academic requirements and partly because of my own personal idiosyncracy, I spent most of the time in the university library, looking for books and reading books. I wanted to find out all books related to India that were in the library and at least flip them over. Among the books I was searching for was one Yinciu Zhouyouji  (An Account of My Tour Around India) by Mr. Tan Yun-shan.

The copy of Yindu Zhouyouji in our university library “was a 1933 edition (22nd year of the Republic of China), published from Nanjing. The title of the book is enshrined by the calligraphy of Cai Yuanpei. It was a very old book with characters vertically printed and pages already turned brown. Evidently, it had been used by many readers.

My deepest impression about this book was its photographs one of which was that of Mahatma Gandhi. In the photograph, Gandhi was sitting cross-legged on the ground, his tie lean, upper body uncovered, with a piece of white cloth girdled around the loin. Below the photograph was’ an observation by Prof. Tan Yun-shan:

“Mr. Gandhi was from a rich family, but has no connection today with property or family. His wife and son have joined his other followers in toiling, from place ‘to place without warming their seats far the cause of national revolution and reconstruction of the society. AEI his clothes are &If-spun and self-woven with hardly any work of the tailor. In summers, he only girdles a piece of cloth (i. e. dhoti) around the loin; during winter he covers a shawl over his tipper body. Wherever he travels to, he carries the "Charkha" spinning wheel) along with him. Ail Indians into the “Gandhian attire” before paying him a visit; none appears before him in western apparel. Even European and American visitors follow such a convention. His diet is simple and frugal, mainly of goat milk and vegetables. Slaughterirqanjmats and consuming meat is a total taboo,”

The dust of the “Cultural. Revolution” had just settled down by then. Although I knew about Gandhi, but not much. In the books and article which I had read about Gandhi till then, there was more criticism than commendation. This book, however, was the. only one I came across which was totally in approbation of Gandhi, in spite of the fag that it, had been published so many years ago. It took me by surprise, but at the same the roused my interest in going ahead in’ reading, the book. To use a current parlance of those times, I wanted to “liberate my mind” a bit.

It was the book of Prof. Tan Yun-shan that had enabled me to know a lot about Gandhi the man and his feat from q-very different angle altogether. Here was freshness in my feeling. I still remember the impression which one chapter of the book left in me. White describing his own visit to Gandhi, Prof. Tan wrote what Gandhi had to say to him:

"Since my own country faces so many problems, I don’t have the opportunity to study China’s affairs. But I am aware of the fact that China has a very ancient and rich history and culture, the people of China are great and peace-loving- Such a great and peaceful nation can surely shoulder the great responsibility of safeguarding peace on behalf of the world.

If only China could harmonize its internal conflict and tackle her national problems through peaceful means, inbibing the spirit of Truth, l believe China can obtain salvation immediately”.

Frankly speaking, what Gandhi had said appeared to me a bit naive although the beginning paragraph was very aptly put, and the second paragraph was also well said. However, later I gradually understood that in total contrast with other so-called “Statesmen” or “politicians”, Gandhi was a truly towering personality in the history of India and also that of the world. His ideas, his spirit, his character and charisma, all were great. A part of such greatness lay in his naivity. But, unfortunately, this world of our’s is crowded with hypocrites or naive people who are frauds while the genuinely naive are far too scanty. History recognises heroes only by success, hence many think that naivity is worthless.

This travelogue was the first of its kind that I read about India. In the book, Prof Tan Yun-shan had accounted what he saw and heard during his travels in India, in addition to a description of India’s past, and present. He also dealt with the traditional friendship between China and India. All this helped me greatly to gain a concrete understanding of India.

Later, I came across many more books on India. f realized that what Prof. Tan Yun-shan had contributed to the revival and promotion of the friendly relations between China and India far exceeded a mere “travelogue”. Through many decades, he had tirelessly shuttled himself between China and India, for the promotion of Sino-Indian friendship, in the endeavour of uniting China and India in their common struggle against imperialism, and aggression. He launched the Sino-Indian Cultural Society and built up the Cheena-Bhavana through which he contributed a lot to the cultural interface between the two countries.

Later, I had the pleasure to know Tan Chung, the honourable son of Prof. Tan Yun-shan. We have met a number of times, either in Delhi or Beijing.. Every time we met, pondered over the inescapaMe topic of Sino-Indian friendship and Sino-Indian Studies and derived immense pleasure from our conversations. I was also fortunate enough to have travelled to Bengal, and to Santiniketan to visit the Cheena-Bhavana of Visva-Bharati. I can never forget the shady bowers and lush lawns of the campus. Even more unforgettable is the warm reception recorded to me by my Indian friends. The teachers and students of Cheena-Bhavana specially organized a meeting on the occasion of our visit and cordially invite8d me to speak. In my speech I mentioned about Prof. Tan Yun-shan. Like our Indian friends in Santiniketan, we have not forgotten all what Prof. Tan did for Sino-Indian friendship, just as we can never ever forget Faxian, Xuanzang and Yijing. We are all happy to see the happy state of the Sino-Indian relations today and we wish that it will grow from strength to strength.

Prof. Tan Yun-shan's birth centenary would be marked next year. On this occasion I quote a passage from his book here:

“Yes, China and India are two sister countries. This is what I have read from my childhood - a firm impression which can never be erased from my mind. I always feel that this land of India must be visited and the nation of India can never be ignored. That apart, her relations with China rates the highest among the things of highest importance. Leaving out the relations between the two countries in culture and history and focussing on just the current situation, I firmly believe that be it international peace or international revolution, be it the human civilization or the amity within the entire humanity, if China and India do not cooperate sincerely, do not make a common cause in their struggle, there would be no achievement whatsoever.”

Sixty six years have elapsed since Prof. Tan Yun-shan had-penned these words. Enormous changes have taken place in these sixty six years both in global development and in China and India. We have not only achieved independence, but have also obtained substantial progress in all fields. We now live together in a new era. The prospects of the twenty first century project peace and development as the main currents of the world. All of us who wish to see Sine-Indian friendship, be they Chinese or Indians are, to quote Yu Youren’s "Foreword" in Tan Yun-shan’s above-mentioned book, the “intermediaries between the peoples and cultures of China and India”. I think if we close our ranks in work and struggle, and fulfil our duty of improving the friendship between China and India, it would be the best way of commemorating Prof. Tan Yun-shan.



Dec. 18, 1997. 

(Translated by Bijoy Oas)


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