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Tan Yun-Shan: The Pioneer of (Sino-Indian) Studies and Cultural Bridge between Indian and China 

  Haraprasad Ray

As one proceeds from Bolpur to Santiketan along the roads that are lined by pa/ash and ashok and muchkunda trees on the road to Ratanpalli, you are in a different world altogether inspite of the changes that have over taken Visva-Bharati An institution that was to represent India where she her wealth of mind and where the whole world found its shelter, has today become a mere centre of Bengali culture with its Tagore-Nama. It is only the world, to be specific, with China, the largest country of Asia and a major power in the world.

The French Sino-lndologist Sylvain Levi declined an offer to go to Harvard to teach at Santiniketan, Stella Kramrisch and Witernitz taught at this. University. C.F Andrews and William Pearson gave their lives to this place. When Pearson died he left all his money to Santiniketan.

Tan Yun-shan helped set up Cheena-Bhavana whose building is the most impressive structure in the Ashram. As per the late professor's statement, twelve teachers quarters were built near the Bhavana with the munificense of foreign donors mostly Chinese.

An extremely significant and unique feature of India-China relations is that while India has enriched the world with her philosophical and other intellectual wealth, with her vastly rich resources of folk, animal and strange tales, Cosmology and divinity, China has taken upon herself to preserve these priceless treasures for the benefit of Asia and the world. While India concentrated on unravelling the mystery of the universe, epistemology and the magic of rhetoric and prosody, China discoverd the beauty in nature, and the material needs of human beings, like paper, printing, compass and explosives. China also showed the world the need of recording the history of one's own country and the neighbours so as to draw lessons from the success and failure of the ancestors and also to show that commoners and elites outside the court are as important as the royalty. Whatever the material aspirations of the rulers, the historians and other writers depicted the world outside China under inspiration of the adage, "the whole world is our home" (Tianxia yiria), like our own ancestoys who considered the whole world as their own relatives.

We find the same Principle being materialized in the case of Cheena-Bhavana. Nowhere,has the dreams of Gurudeva been so magnificently manifested than in the handiwork of Tati Yuns-han and Prabodh Chandra Bagchi, that is, the Cheena-Bhavana.

While talking about Cheena-Bhavana we must take into account the immortal contribution of three great men. The fountain-head, the inspiration and the soul was of course Gurudeva. Next come both professors Tan Yun-shan and PC. Bagchi. While Tan built the edifice, the body, the crossbars, the sound and solid structure, the canopy and the like, with an eye to the ecology of the entire complex, Bagchi consolidated the edifice through constant study and discovery of the very foundation of our common civilization based on Buddhism. He gave a very scholarly and comprehensive survey of this phase of India China brotherhood.

The greatness of Tagore lies not only in his writings, but also in the undying impact that he made on the youths of India and China. No one was so deeply moved by the spirit of India-China brotherhood based on Buddhism as the Gurudeva. He endeavoured to bring back the golden period of what Tan-Chung has called the Buddhist twinhood. In doing so, he was presumably inspired by his vision to usher in an Asian material and cultural regeneration. His consciousness about this ideal was reflected long ago in 1881 (Bengali year 1288) when as youngman of twenty he wrote a carping criticism of the British in a review entitled "Death Traffic in China" in Bharari (May 98 number) it was a review of the English translation of Theodore Christlieb's German book The lndo British opium Trade". It shows deep interest he took in China even in his very early days in the last part of the article he quoted the Chinese emperor, Dao Guang as saying, I can never stoop so low as to make money out of the sin and suffering of my subjects.

Tagore's conclusion was vastly devastating and exposed the meanness of the then British Christians. He concludes, "It is written in the Christian scriptures:" If anyone smite you on one cheek, turn to him the other. "When the English Christians tempted the Chinese Emperor with a big revenue to be obtained by killing his subjects, the Emperor refused. He would not do thing so despicably mean. Doubtlessly, what this non-Christian Emperor did was a slap on the face of the Christian English. Unfortunately it had no effect".

Tagore regarded China as India's lost brother, and it was to know and understand that lost brother that he visited China after a lapse of a thousand years after the golden period of Sino-Indian brotherhood. The first thing he did after reaching Beijing In April, 1924, was to convey India's deep love and shraddha (respect) to China.

We all know how much deep faith did the Chinese intellectuals like liang Qichao Xu Zhimo, Zheng tuo and many others reposed on Tagore for the new message of resurrection and progress. I need not dilate on that. Sisir Das and Tan Wen's Vitarkita Atithi (The Controvessial Guest) and some other writtings on the same subject have dealt in detail the ramification before and after the visit. We have two convincing examples of how Gurudeva changed the lives of disillusioned Chinese youths. The first one I am talking about is Guo Muoruo, new China's leader on the cultural front for decades and life president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was indeed a disenchanted Chinese student in Japan during the second decade of this century, and was inclined either to become a Buddhist monk or to commit suicide, and the more he sought encouragement from ancient Chinese writings the greater was his pessimism, until he discoverd a new message from the poems of Tagore in the English version The Crescent Moon. These poems changed him into a new man.

Tan Chung has written in a number of places (including a passing reference in this volume) that, Guo Monuo recoved his courage and optimism in life, after learning how to look at life's challenges with a calm and counageous heart.

Another remarkable scholar whose life was given a new direction was Tan Yun-shan. According to his eldest son, Tan Chung, Tan Yun-shan also fell into a mood of disillusionment similary to that of Guo Monuo after his arrival in Singapore in 1924. He used to go to the seashore and both his country's future and his own personal career appeared to him as an endless turmoil as the sea. He became a totally changed man after he met Gurudeva in 1927 in Singapore during Tagore's Southeast Asian tour. The next year, Tan arrived at Santiniketan, and new leaf in his life started. All told, Tagore seems to have exercised a magical spell on young Chinese minds when they lived in the age of turbulence."

Tan Yun-shan was a bunch of contradictions and complex mentality before the crucial meeting with Poet Tagore. All the patriotic and ambitious contemporary intellectual youths of his country (and Tan was no exception) trained their eyes on the direction of the Far West in the quest of a solution to save the country from the rot. There was a voice calling him to go to Europe exactly as Zhou Enlai, Zhu De, Deng Xiaoping, and many other future leaders of the Chinese communist movement was doing. Singapore was just his first slop on his long-distance travel. Meanwhile, he was a man also deeply imbibed in traditional oriental values, To him the ancient pilgrimage between China and India was far from dead. Tagore's lectures in China in 1924, and the warm welcome of him by eminent Chinese such as Liang Qichao and others had Kindled a revival of his great fancy for that pilgrimage. What he had regretted was that while Tagore's boat was sailing towards Shanghai, His boat was leaving Shanghai for the "South Seas" alsmost at the~same time. But, suddenly, the one he had longed to meet -- Rabindranath Tagore -- was presenting himself within easy reach -- in Singapore where he had just begun his wanderer's life. While he immediately went to Tagore's hotel as if climbing the Tai Mountain, he discovered to his pleasant surprise that the Tai Mountain was opening its arms to embrace him. Tagore was keen to look for someone who could help him to resurrect the "Great pilgrimage" from oblivion, and convert his Visva-Bharati into the modern version of a Nalanda University of ancient times, and even something more than that to re-enact the historical friendship and interface between India and China. It was as if destiny had arranged their historic meeting in Singapore.

After arriving in India in 1928, he started equipping himself for the historic task enjoined on him by delving deep into Indian philosophy, literature and culture with the help of the famous scholars at Santinlketan, and conducting Chinese classes at the same time for Indian scholars. During the vacations, he toured the various Buddhist shrines and the historical relics, and the impressions he gathered were put together in his travelogue yindu Zhouyou Ji (Travels in India) with the hope of creating interest about India among the Chinese youth.

Around 1931, both the poet and the professor felt the urgent need of setting up a permanent institution of Chinese studies and promote exchange of scholars between the two countries without which revival of old ties would remain a chimera. Tan carried this realization of the Gurudeva and his colleagues as well as his own Sense of urgency and left for China after stenjing for 3 years at Santiniketan. His visit to China was highly successful, the Sino-Indian Cultural Society was founded at Nanjing in 1933 through which donations of books and funds for the establishment of Cheena Bhavana were raised in China. An imposing building was erected and about a hundred thousand books in the form of traditional Chinese blockprints, modern printed editions of ancient classics and dynastic histories, journals and cllectanea enriched the library. It took several years of hard work before the fateful day for realization of the Gurudeva's dream. Cheena-Bhavana was inaugurated by Gurudeva in 1937 (on the Bengali New Year's Day). The building and the library were gifts of love from China, said Gurudeva. Donation of books continued till late fifties when Prime Minister, Zhou Enlai, after his visit to Visva-Bharati, gifted such valuable collections as Congshu Jicheng and Wanyoo Wenke and many other rare collections.

Cheena-Bhavana is the most prominent and beautiful structure in the Ashrama complex of Santiniketan where people come to see the rich collection and to enjoy the sight of the immortal artistic creations of such talented artists like Nandalal Bose and Vinod Behari Mukhopadhyaya whose defictions of the life and legend of Buddha enshrine the Cheena-Bhavana hall and corridor. These geniuses have done these murals not for material benefit but out of their sheer love for China, and for their passion to preserve our heritage and to inspire the posterity for building a permanent bridge of friendship between India and China.

On the front side of the building is engraved the four Chinese characters Zhongguo Xueyuan, the Cheena-Bhavana -- beautifully calligraphed by Lin Sen, the then president of the Republic of China. Outside the conference room on the ground floor, a bronze slab is fixed on the wall with exquite handwriting of Tai Chi-tao. The text is his essay on Sino-Indian cultural interface, and his impressions on Buddhist shrines visited by him, as well as his hope for the future improvement of India-China relations. The keen interest shown by prominent scholars and statesmen invests this institution with an importance that should inspire the younger generation in the study of Cultures and civilizations of India and China and Sino-Indian interface and Synergy.

Prof. Tan was a unique personality who combined the Confucian ethic with, Buddhist teachings highlighting the values of Ben (perfect virtue, benevolence) and Yi (righteousness) of the Confucian way of self-cultivation in synthesis with karuna (compassion,) Prajana (wisdom) and Ksanfi (forbearance) and other traits of Buddhism, thus upholding the highest value of both the countries. He emphasised the spiritual basis of our culture and ardently hoped that the two peoples set in this strife ridden modern world good examples so that other nations are inspired to emulate them. This was the best way of eliminating'conflict and war of ushering in listing world peace. In this way humankind would bring about datong (mahasamata) utopia in this globe where greed, insecurity, hatred and conflict would disappear, and the world itself would become a sukhavati dhame (abode of happiness) - a vision that embraces the happiness of all humanity.

Tan Yun-shan's views on history and philosophy were akin to that of the early Chinese historians and philosophers a view based on life cycle analogy. Men have their periods of birth, growth, maturity, senility and death. The dynamics behind this process is moral, and the lessons to be drawn from the study of dynastic rise and fall are the moral lessons. Thus, Tan remarks, when things get into one extreme, they are sure to get a reversal. Therefore, all the civilizations of the world must have their vicissitudes, and they evolve in rotatory motions, not in straight lines.

The period of 1942-43 was very critical for India with the launching of Quit India Movement when almost all the political leaders of India were either arrested by the British government or were in hiding against the interest of the war effort by the Allied Power against the Axis Powers. China bore the brunt of enemy attacks against the Allied Powers in the Eastern Hemisphere, but the main rear of the China Theatre, the lifeline of Anti-Japanese War was India. The Chinese leadership as well as the public were terribly worried about the Indian situation while their sympathies lay on the side of the Independence Movement. It was a crucial life- and-death moment for China against the Axis Powers. Tan Yun-shan realised the urgency of the situation and took a very bold and upright, "Appeal to conscience" on 24th September, 1942, he observed:

"The present political deadlock and situation in India cannot be allowed to last longer. It will do good to nobody but help the common enemy. He appealed to his Indian brethren to abandone the path of violence, and then, pleaded with the British to grant independence to India and in support of his arguments, he even quoted Confucius who says, "If names be not rectfied, words will not be in accordance with the truth of things, and affairs cannot be carried on to success. He then told Britain: "when you declare India independent and free, the name of India and the present war will be immediately rectified and the present deplorable situation of India as well as of the war will be entirely changed for the better. If you declare India independent and free just now, you will not only gain the heart of the 400 million Indian people, but also obtain the praise, enthusiasm and admiration of the United Nations." Such a courageous yet risky step could be taken only by a person of Tan Yun-shan's calibre who had deep love for the country, and who had indetified himself with the weal and woe of the people of India.

Tan Yun-shan's relation with Gurudeva was exactly like our Guru Shishya farampara (The preceptor and disciple) relationship, a relation of complete submission and surrender. He has adimitted in his writings that whenever he met Gurudeva, he "always felt a kind of divine light mingled with love, mercy bliss abd joy, pouring out from him upon me". He was so much enchanted by Tagore's personality that as per his own words "whenever I saw him, I always almost forgot everything, either bitter or sweet, happy or unhappy, good or bad. I really could not and like to put him any question or to request him to do anything for me." This is the true spirit of an antevasin (student disciple) of our ancient times.

Tan Yun-shan was quick witted and had a keen sense of humour. Once Tagore asked him, how different people of different nations viewed thing of beauty. In reply, Tan referred to a saying of Mengzi (Mencius) which runs as, thus "all men's mouths agree in having the same relishes, all men's ears agree in enjoying the same sounds, all men's eyes agree in recognizing the same beauty." Tagore smiled and said, "No, it is not always so. The young Chinese poet Susima (Xu Zhimo, the name is poetically rendered into Bengali by Tagore) who came here, you know, was quite a handsome person. I asked our girls if they appreciated his beauty. All of them said No." Tan Yun-shan interrupted: "Gurudeva, you may not believe your girls more than the Chinese sage. The girls might have felt shy to tell you that they, appreciated the beauty of a young Chinese poet,"

Tan Yun-shan can rightly be called the Xuanzang of modern China, Visva-Bharti for him was the modern Nalanda with Tagore Personifying the combined personality of Silabhadra and Kalidasa. Tan was responsible for reviving the broken intellectual bonds between India and China after an lnteerragnum of nearly one thousand years. Unlike Xuanzang who came to India to learn and carry her wealth of learning and philosophy back to China for the benefit of his countrymen,, Tan Yun-shan not only drank deep into the fountain of Indian culture, but imbued with the thoughts of benevolence and charity like a true Confucian,. He made India his second

home, and settled down at Santiniketan for teaching Indians the cream of Chinese culture and civilization. An ardent Buddhist scholar, deeply religious, unassuming and reticent, he represented all that is best in Chinese civilization. The Poets true disciple and friend, collaborator and co-worker, Tan was not a visionary but a man of action. He was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating personality in Visva-Bharati. In the course of a message, Mahatma Gandhi had described Cheena-Bhavana as the symbol of the living contact between India and China. Looking at Tan Yun-shan, one could rightly say that he symbolised Mahatma's ideal of that living contact in human form. In addition to the Buddha, Confucius and Tagore, he was also greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and Sri Aurobinda, and tried to evolve a synthesis of their teaching.

Although the unhappiest in the wake of the deterioration of Sine-Indian relations during the early sixties, Tan Yun-shan and his family never thought of leaving India (but most of the educated Chinese from Calcutta and Delhi had left India or were expelled by our government). He always wanted that his endeavour should be perpetuated even when he was no longer there, and for this task he had selected his eldest son Tan Chung, a highly accomplished scholar both in classical and modern Chinese, a poet, and a dedicated savant with a vision for future India-China relations.

The greatest contribution of Tan Yun-shan to Bengal and to India is, to my mind, the priceless treasure that he had collected for the Cheena-Bhavana from different sources in China. In arranging such a gift he hoped that Indian scholars would be encouraged to study Chinese and to contribute towards advancing Sino-Indian studies and promoting mutual understanding. The Cheena-Bhavana owes its birth and growth to Professor Tan's herculean efforts. It consists of more than 100, 000 volumes of different collections, many of them rarely to be found even in China today. They include the Sung edition (lo-14th century AD) and the reproduction of what is known as the Dragon edition (1936 reprint) of the Buddhist Tripita along with many separate volumes of important Buddhist treatises. Ten set of the Shanghai edition of the Chinese Buddhist Tripitakas were presented to the library by the Chinese people, nine sets of which were presented by Professor Tan to different universities and institutions in India. This edition of the Tripitakas contains 1916 different work in 8416 fascicles most of which were translate into Chinese from Sanskrit. The Sanskrit originals of these treatises are unfortunately lost in India now. It took nearly a thousand years of hard labour to translate them into Chinese by translators numbering more than a hundred at a time, most of them great scholars, both indian and Chinese. The emperors patronized them and spent lavishly for this noble cause. Other collections vary from several voumes to over 800 volumes comprising such rare collections as Sibu seiyao, Sibu Congkan, Congshu Jicheng, Wanyou Wenku, Guin Tushu &hen, Cefu Wangui, Shuofu, the 24 dynastic histories in various editions, and so on, It is a pity that such a rich collection remains neglected on the shelves without being frequently consulted.

While addressing the annual convocation of Visva-Bharti on 7th 1989, the late Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi remarked "Rabindranath's ideals should not be turned into fossil to be kept in museums but should be interpreted in modern light." He further said, "Visva-Bharati cannot be allowed to degenerate into a minor provincial university." I don't know if he had Cheena-Bhavana in mind or not, if so, then it is only the inmates of Cheena-Bhavana who can turn this fossil into a blooming plant bubbling with life. It is these inmates who can act as the bridge between man and man, institution and institution, nation and nation, and as Mahatma Gandhi said in his message for the first issue of the now defunct Sino-Indian Journal in 1947, "I long for the real friendship between China and India based not on econmics but on irresistible attraction. Then will follow real brotherhood of man". But Alas! That real brotherhood is yet to begin because it is encomics that dominates all spheres of international relations today and not human sentiment.

In a private meeting with the Chinese intellectuals like Liang Qichao, Xuzhimo and others on 25th April, 1924 in Beijing, in reply to a question on the west's allegation against China's exclusive nationalism, (in other words sinocentrism ) Tagore had made a very apt remark. I quote a few sentences. He said, "China is not merely a geographical country. China means a culture and a civilization. It represents a fulfilment and progress of many social and human ideals. And surely the Chinese can expect from others freedom in that field, so that they can offer the results of their Sadhana, as their best gift to humanity."

We the Sinologues and the Sinologists are in the most advantageous position to understand the value of this gift, assimilate its essence and disseminate it.

Chinese is now a tool for research on both modern, medieval and ancient Indo-Chinese relations. What is more, Chinese records are the most authentic, continuous and comprehensive sources for reinterpretations and discovery of new data on Indian history, ancient and medieval. It also provides bread and butter to many who aspire for nothing more than introduction into modern Putonghua, the official vehicle of expression. The Defence, the Cabient Secretariat, the differnt Universities, the numerous prospering tourist agencies, the Business Houses, INSDOC and NISTADS of the CSIR, and so on, are too eager to utilise the knowledge of suitable linguists on handsome payments. And for all this, the people of Eastern India will remain forever grateful to Gurudeva and to Professor Tan Yun-shan for providing us with an excellent infrastructure and suitable milieu..

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