IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA
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
(An Account of My Tour Around India) by Mr. Tan Yun-shan.
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.
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:
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
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.
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:
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tan Yun-shan's birth centenary would be marked next year. On this occasion
I quote a passage from his book here:
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
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.
Dec. 18, 1997.
by Bijoy Oas)
©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.