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Cultural Relations between India and China: The Tradition of Continuity

History of Cultural Exchanges

Both India and China, are not mere societies; they are civilizations. We do not know exactly when and how they started exchanging their cultural elements, but what we do know is that they grew in parallel and shared their cultural traits since the beginning of human history and this tradition of sharing has been continuing ever since.

Even before the transmission of Buddhism, the Shang-Zhou civilization and the ancient Vedic civilization in 1500-1000 B.C. showed some evidence of conceptual and linguistic exchanges. For instance,"wumingzhi" (nameless finger) in Chinese is called "anamika" (nameless) in Sanskrit and in Pali. Similarly, some ancient Indian literature mentions "chinas" referring to the Chinese people. The Mahabharata of the fifth century B.C. contains reference to China. Chanakya of the Maurya dynasty (350-283 B.C.) refers to Chinese silk as "chinamsuka" (Chinese silk dress) and "chinapatta" (Chinese silk bundle) in his Arthashastra. Likewise, the Record of the Grand Historian of Zhang Qian and Sima Qian has references to "Shendu", may be referring to “Sindhu” in Sanskrit.

In sixth century B.C., the birth of Confucius and Sakyamuni opened a new period of exchanges between the two civilizations. Emperor Ashoka’s propagation of Buddhism after his conversion in 256 B.C. brought both civilizations even closer. Ashoka’s bilingual (Kharoshti and Greek) edict points at extension of Buddhism in the direction of China and Central Asia. The trend continued in first century A.D. during emperor Kanishka’s period. His empire, with its capital at Purushpura (now Peshawar inPakistan), enabled Buddhist pilgrims and scholars to travel on the historic “silk route”. Kashyapa Matanga and Dharmaratna made the White Horse monastery at Luoyang their abode. Along the silk route, Khotan Turpan and Kucha became prominent centers of Buddhism and India-China exchanges. The great scholar Kumarajiva initiated efforts to collect and translate important Buddhist texts at a great Buddhist conclave in Chang’an (present Xi’an) where he stayed until his death in 413 A.D. and managed to have 98 major Buddhist canonical works translated into Chinese. He is widely believed to be responsible for bringing in Mahayana Buddhism and Madhyamika doctrine into Chinese philosophy. In the beginning of the fifth century A.D., Dharmakshema, an Indian Buddhist scholar came to China bringing with him the “Mahaparinirvana Sutra” which was translated into Chinese about the year 415 A.D. Meanwhile, the Chinese Pilgrim Fa Hein had left for India along the Silk Route and arrived there in 405 A.D. Batuo (464-495 A.D.) and Bodhidharma visited China; Xuan Zhang (604A.D.) and I Ching were students at the prestigious Nalanda University. All along, the Silk Road played a significant role in facilitating India-China cultural, commercial and technological exchanges. It also connected both of us with the people of ancient Persia and the Mediterranean.

Both civilizations also shared scientific knowledge. In eighth century, Indian astronomer Aryabhata's astronomical signs were translated into Chinese in the book "Kaiyuan Zhanjing" compiled by Gautama Siddha, an astronomer in Chang'an of Indian descent. It is also believed that he translated the Nabagraha calendar into Chinese. During the Ming Dynasty, navigator General Zheng. His arrival at Calicut in early 15th century is also a testimony of China’s ancient maritime linkage with India.

Modern Phase of Cultural Exchanges

Our exchanges continued during the days of our struggle for self-governance. In early 20th century, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore visited China twice, in 1924 and in 1929. Since 1911, Chinese scholars and intellectuals have been visiting and revisiting Tagore’s life, works and philosophy.

Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, whose mortal remains rest in the North China Martyrs' Memorial Cemetery in Hebei Province, sacrificed his life in the service of the Chinese people during the Sino-Japanese war. A part of the 1938 medical team of five Indian doctors, he stayed on in China working in mobile clinics to treat wounded soldiers. He was eventually appointed as Director of the Dr. Bethune International Peace Hospital built by the Eighth Route Army.

Both India and China began their journey of independent governance almost at the same time, India in 1947 and the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In 1955, the first Indian cultural delegation headed by then Deputy Minister of External Affairs Mr. A. K. Chanda visited China which was warmly received by the Chinese leaders and people during their tour. In the 1960s and 1970s Bollywood movies such as Do Bigha Zameen, Awara and Sree 420 of Raj Kapoor and Noorie struck an emotional chord in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. Even today, people on the street hum the tunes of the songs of these films. Movies like 3 Idiots and The Life of Pi have been well received in recent times.

Since 1988 both countries are bringing their people together through structured Cultural Exchange Programmes. The latest CEP signed in October 2013 during the visit of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s to China, provides for cooperation in a gamut of cultural fields including exchanges of visits of performing artists, officials, writers, archivists and archaeologists, organizing cultural festivals, film festivals and exchanges in the field of mass media, youth affairs and sports.

In 2003, Prime Minister Vajpayee had committed to build an Indian style Buddhist temple in Luoyang, Henan province and President Pratibha Devisingh Patil inaugurated the temple during her visit to China in May 2010. In February 2007, the Xuanzang memorial was inaugurated at Nalanda. In June 2008, joint stamps were released, one stamp depicting the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya and the other depicting the White Horse temple at Luoyang. A Centre for Indian studies was set up in Peking University in 2003. Chairs of Indian Studies/Hindi have also been established in Shenzhen University, Jinan University, Fudan University, Guangdong University and in Shanghai International Studies University. The 60th anniversary of the establishment of India-China diplomatic relations was celebrated with much fanfare in both countries in 2010. In March 2012, during President Hu Jintao’s visit to India for the BRICS Summit, leaders of both sides decided to celebrate 2012 as the "The Year of Friendship and Co-operation" and both countries resolved to further strengthen cultural exchanges between our peoples.

Exchange of Youth delegation between Indian and China has been continuing since 2007. During the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao to India in November 2006, the two sides had agreed to launch a five year programme for mutual exchange of youth delegation. In this context, the China had invited five hundred youth from India over the next five years. Later, during the visit Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India in December 2010, the two sides agreed to continue youth exchange activities in next five years. Further, as part of the “Year of India-China Exchanges-2011”, China also invited 500 Indian youth to visit China within the year 2011. Reciprocal visits were also paid by the Chinese side each year. During the visit of President Xi to India in September 2014 the two sides recognizing the significance of youth exchanges in increasing mutual understanding, the two sides agreed to continue with the annual exchange of 200 youth from 2015 to 2019.

During the visit of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Premier Li Keqiang in 2013 the leaders designated 2014 as the Year of Friendly Exchanges between India and China. To mark this special year, Glimpses of India Festival was organized across several cities of China through 2014 showcasing Indian performing arts, exhibitions of modern Indian arts, depictions of Buddhism links between the two countries, food and film festivals. As part of the festival Kalashetra, Kathak Kendra Troupe, Sangeet Natak Akademi and a Bollywood Troupe from Indian Council for Cultural Relations visited China. Sangeet Natak Akademi performed at the Reception Marking the 60th Anniversary of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence at the Great Hall of People. Food Festivals were also organised in cities like Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai, Hong Kong to give the local people a taste of authentic Indian cuisine. Yoga Festivals were organized in the month of July, 2014 in Beijing, Shanghai and Dali in partnership with Department of AYUSH, Government of India. Buddhist Art Exhibitions were organized in cities like Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chengdu. Indian Film Festivals were also organized in cities like Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Qingdao, Hong Kong and Xi’an in partnership with Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.

During the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to India in December 2010, the leaders of India and China agreed on a project involving compilation of an Encyclopedia of India-China Cultural Contacts. The Encyclopedia of India-China Cultural Contacts was released in both English and Chinese versions during Hon’ble Vice President of India’s visit to China on June 30, 2014 in Beijing. The Encyclopedia features over 700 entries, encapsulating the rich history of contacts and exchanges between the two countries in the trade, economic, literary, cultural and philosophical spheres.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid a three day state visit to China from May 14th to 16th2015. Prior to the visit, Prime Minister launched his own ‘Weibo’ handle to connect withthe Chinese people. The details of the visit were first shared with the public via thisWeibo handle, and the handle has since become immensely popular among Chinese netizens. The Prime Minister’s visit was rich in symbolism, reflecting the growingcloseness between India and China. For the first time, President Xi Jinping travelledoutside Beijing to receive a foreign leader in Xi’an, in his home province of Shaanxi.President Xi also accompanied Prime Minister to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda – itself asymbol of the shared legacy of our two great civilizations – and organized a grandwelcome ceremony at the Xi’an city wall. Premier Li Keqiang joined Prime Minister atthe Yoga-Taichi performance with the world heritage site of Temple of Heaven as thebackdrop, the first ever such event, which highlighted the cultural connectivity betweenthe two countries. The two leaders even clicked a ‘selfie’ which went viral with over 33million hits on the Weibo. There were 24 agreements signed on the government-to-government side, 26 MoUs on the business-to-business side and two joint statements,including one on climate change Expanding people-to-people exchanges and culturalcontacts figured as a major theme of the visit. Prime Minister’s visit to the Great WildGoose Pagoda, joined by President Xi, and his attendance at the Yoga-Taichi eventalong with Premier Li exemplified the importance that our leaders attach to tapping theshared cultural heritage. Moreover, three new institutions: the Centre for Gandhian andIndian Studies in Shanghai, Yoga College in Kunming, and National Institute for SkillDevelopment and Entrepreneurship in Ahmedabad were launched.

On December 11, 2014, the 193 member UNGA approved by consensus with a record177 co-sponsoring countries including China a resolution to establish 21st June as"International Day of Yoga". In its resolution, the UNGA recognized that Yoga providesa holistic approach to health and well-being and wider dissemination of informationabout the benefits of practicing Yoga for the health of the world population. Embassy ofIndia Beijing and Consulates at Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong celebrated theFirst International Day of Yoga today on 21st June, 2015 in China. The event wascelebrated in more than 14 cities of China including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Qingdao,Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Kunming, Xiamen, Wuxi, Hangzhou,Wenzhou and Changzhou in which thousands of people participated enthusiastically.Several Chinese celebrities including musician Ms. Siqin Gaoli, actors Mr. WangBaoqiang, Mr. Du Yiheng, and snooker champion Mr. Ding Junhui gave personal videoendorsement messages, congratulating on the occasion of International Day of Yogaand inviting people to participate in the event.

Both India and China have vibrant cultures and vibrant people. Buddhism, Xuan Zhang, Tagore, Dr. Kotnis, Nalanda, Yoga and Cinema are only symbols of our long tradition of exchanges. They are testimonies of our shared heritage. The momentum has been set and the pace can only increase in the 21st century.

August, 2015